June 2010 Archives

Black bar association makes court recommendations

Memphis's Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association released its recommendations for judicial offices on the ballot for the Aug. 5 elections, along with endorsements for clerk positions that deal with the courts. The chapter was founded in 1966 to "address the unique needs of African-American attorneys," according to a press release, and it conducted 30-minute interviews last weekend with those candidates who submitted applications.

For Circuit Court Clerk, its committee selected Gina Higgins (Division 4) and Venita Martin (Division 7); in General Sessions Criminal Court it chose Carolyn Watkins (Division 7) and Lee Wilson (Division 10); and, in Criminal Court, Glenn Wright got the nod in Division 3. In court clerk races, the chapter chose Democrats Minerva Johnican (Criminal), Sondra Becton (Probate) and Shep Wilbun (Juvenile).

The Memphis Bar Association is not making endorsements but did ask its members to participate in what it calls a "Judicial Qualification Poll," and will release those results before early voting begins on July 16.

Link to Mayor Wharton's virtual town hall

Mayor Wharton's office is hoping folks will go to the four sites participating in tonight's virtual town hall, but the office has provided a link for those who can't make it:  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/virtual-town-hall-062910.

Click here for more information on where to go for the event, which begins at 6 p.m.

Last week's ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States significantly narrowing the use of the so-called "honest services" fraud law that prosecutors from around the country employed to fight corruption is one of those decisions that the public doesn't much follow but that will have a huge impact on how public business is done. It was used here to prosecute John Ford and was a key part of the federal investigation into whether former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton improperly mixed public and private business.

The CA's own Marc Perrusquia gave a nice overview of what that ruling may or may not mean. At the left-leaning muckraking political website, Talking Points Memo, the ruling was given not one but two treatments. And at the online magazine The Root -- which provides commentary from "a variety of black perspectives" -- a writer bemoaned the Supreme Court decision

Does Sidney Chism picnic really make an impact?

One of the striking things about the now traditional summer picnic hosted by County Commissioner Sidney Chism is how few people that attend actually appear to be paying attention to candidates as they speak. And those that are paying attention often are other candidates, political insiders or members of the media. Chism, also a key strategist for 9th Congressional District candidate Willie Herenton, told a freelance photographer from The CA that he expected a few thousand people to attend. It's possible that many people eventually flowed in and out, but in the period when the marquee politicians made speeches, there were never more than a dozen people actively listening in front of the stage -- which this year was a giant portable that could have held a 7-piece band and dancers.

There were a few hundred people scattered around different parts of the complex down on Horn Lake Road, many partaking of the free food and drink (including some members of the media who will not be named) but the stage was so far away that the speaking became background noise. When Chism spoke, he seemed aggravated by the lack of attention, and at one point, while Shelby County Democratic Party chief Van Turner was exhorting people "make some noise," City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. complained to nobody in particular: "We gonna lose if that's all the noise we make."

Here's the story we ran Sunday about how the Democrats believe they will sweep all 10 county-wide offices on the ballot, including mayor, to take complete control of county government. Even Republicans agree this is a real possibility, and it would be a remarkable development, given that going into 2008, the Republicans controlled 10 of the 12 countywide offices. Check the story's lively comment section out -- up to 84 comments at last count.

Virtual Town Hall with Mayor Wharton on Tuesday

The Wharton administration is making the mayor and members of his administration available to the public Tuesday via what it calls a "Virtual Town Hall," whereby citizens go to one of four locations to participate. The idea is that the mayor and his administration can reach more citizens at once using simple technology -- those attending will be able to watch via video conference (we presume on a big giant screen) from those locations and ask questions. One possible benefit to this is that citizens from different areas can get a better idea of the cross-section of concerns that the mayor's office addresses every day.

The event begins at 6 p.m. sharp, according to the release, and the locations are:

  • Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Avenue
  • Orange Mound Community Center, 2572 Park Avenue
  • Bert Ferguson Community Center, 8505 Trinity Road
  • Whitehaven Library, 4120 Millbranch Road
There will be online streaming available for those who cannot make it to those locations, with details to be available later at the City of Memphis website.
If 9th Congressional District candidate Willie Herenton's insistence on avoiding involvement  in the Shelby County Sheriff's race did not already seem like a tacit endorsement of the Republican nominee, Bill Oldham, then you should have heard Herenton and his close aide, Michael Gray, talking to Oldham at the Sidney Chism picnic on Saturday. The Democratic nominee, retired deputy sheriff Randy Wade, has been the district director for Herenton's opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, and Herenton's plea for support from the community based in part on his race and connection to the inner city has not as yet embraced Wade, who received more votes in the Democratic primary than the top two Republicans in their primary.

Gray, a former Memphis Police Department officer who worked under Oldham, approached me and said that The Commercial Appeal "could fill up a page" with positive descriptions of Oldham's abilities as a law enforcement leader. "I've been knowing him since he was a lieutenant on the police department and when he was a lieutenant he was this way, and when he was a captain he was the same way, when he was an inspector he was the same way, when he was a director he was the same way and when he was the chief, he maintained," Gray said. He added: "Just speaking as Michael Gray, I hope he wins."

At which point Oldham was approached by Herenton, who as Memphis's mayor elevated Oldham to interim director of MPD where he served for nearly a year before retiring when Herenton said he wanted to conduct a national search for the fulltime post. Herenton told Oldham: "I'm not going to get involved in this race, but one thing I can say about you, I worked with you in law enforcement and you are an honest professional," Herenton said. "I never had any reason to question your professionalism or your integrity." Whether that was an indirect shot at Wade is hard to say, though it was well reported that in a debate last week Wade aggressively went after Oldham over expense-report issues at MPD -- which Oldham says are unfounded accusations.

To provide equal time, it's certainly worth pointing out that Wade has more than his share of conservative Republicans supporting his run, many of them former colleagues of Wade's (and, one might suppose, potential future employees of Sheriff Wade should he win). Go check out his presence on Facebook or his campaign finance disclosures and they are not hard to find. One key supporter has been John Harvey, information technology guru now with MPD and former deputy sheriff who ran for sheriff in 2006 on what was primarily an anti-Mark Luttrell platform. Some of Wade's ideas about using technology to innovate strategies involving incarceration and law enforcement show the influence of Harvey and his brother, Jim, a high-ranking MPD officer also well-respected for his technology chops. 

Sunday forum on campaign finance issues

After you finish watching Argentina-Mexico in Sunday afternoon's World Cup quarterfinal, head on over to the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library to get a dose of public policy. The Public Issues Forum is hosting a forum 3 p.m. Sunday on campaign finance titled, "THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY ON OUR DEMOCRACY -- Facts and Implications of the recent Supreme Court Decision allowing unlimited Corporate Contributions to Campaign Finance."

Dr. Heather Larsen-Price, an assistant professor in the University of Memphis's political science department, will be one of the panelists, along with U of M law professor Steve Mulroy, a county commissioner with expertise in election law.

According to a press release, "The Public Issues Forum is a Memphis voluntary association, which sponsors programs to inform and educate the public on current issues and seeks to reinforce the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States."

Democratic connections in 8th District GOP Primary


WASHINGTON - In the continuing battle over who in the 8th District Republican primary has closer connections toDemocrats, NashvillePost.com's "PostPolitics" blog tells us today that Stephen Fincher voted in this year's Democratic primary.

We already knew that he and opponent Ronald Kirkland had voted in Democratic primaries in past years, and Fincher's campaign has made a big deal about Kirkland's campaign contributions to Democratic candidate-friends.

A recent Fincher television ad criticized Kirkland for a willingness to work with politicians on the Democratic side of the aisle, and asked, "Is this really a time to reach across the aisle?"

If Democrats lose as many seats in November as some predict but still retain control of Congress, a Republican from the 8th District would be required to work across the aisle, or be irrelevant. If the GOP wins a majority, crossing the aisle could be seen as magnanimous, even statesmanlike.

The stridency of the anti-Democratic Party rhetoric in a district currently represented by a popular conservative Blue Dog Democrat and where many still consider themselves conservative Yellow Dog Democrats may work for the Republican constituency both sides are aiming at. Perhaps it polls well. But it could certainly backfire in a region rife with anti-partisan Tea Partiers voting in their first GOP primary who care little about Ds and Rs.

For the record, Fincher's spokesman, Matt McCullough, said this about the 2010 Democratic primary vote:

"The attacks from Dr. Kirkland's campaign are as misleading as they are laughable. In Crockett County, where Stephen has lived his entire life, there are no Republican primaries for local office. His two options were to vote in the local primary or not participate in the political process at all. Dr. Kirkland's hypocritical attacks are intended to divert from his own record of voting in four Democrat primaries and contributing to Democrat candidates, both personally and through organizations he's led. That's the real issue here."

We'll see.

Reminder: Sheriff, mayoral debates tonight

Say this about county mayoral candidates Mark Luttrell and Joe Ford -- they are not flinching from standing side-by-side at debates/forums hosted by various entities. If a voter is unaware of how Luttrell and Ford stand on issues for the Aug. 5 election, it won't be for want of access to the two men. They go at it again tonight at 6 at Advent Presbyterian Church at 1879 North Germantown Parkway in an event sponsored by the Cordova Leadership Council. There are at least two more debates/forums scheduled between the two.

At 6:30 p.m., the League of Women's Voters of Memphis/Shelby County is running a debate between Shelby County Sheriff's candidates Bill Oldham and Randy Wade at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Tuesday night at 7 at the First Baptist Church of Lakeland, all four men will be at a Partnership Lakeland meeting for a forum.

And on Thursday night at 6, New Path is hosting a meeting at the Hooks Central Library called "Who Wants to be a Candidate - Deciding to Run, Running, Serving." According to the Facebook invite:
"This panel will address the issues that candidates and elected officials face including:
- Making the decision to run for office
- Campaigning for office
- Election day results
- Serving after election day"

The panel includes Desi Franklin (City Council candidate), Bill Morrison (City Council), and Dr. Freda Williams (School Board Commissioner)."

Ron Ramsey (hearts) Cohen . . . sort of

Updating a post from last week where we pointed out that campaign HQ openings by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Tennessee state senate speaker and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey represented opposite ends of the state and political spectrum, I did tell Ramsey that media here like to ask other politicians if they are endorsing Cohen or Willie Herenton, Cohen's opponent in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary.

Ramsey, of course, would never wade into a Democratic primary, but he wanted it made clear that he respects Cohen and is fond of him personally -- which may or may not be something Cohen's campaign welcomes. Said Ramsey: "I did serve about 10 years in the state Senate and he is a very good friend of mine. He and I may have differed on issues, but the thing about Steve, he'd be right up front with you. If he had a difference, he'd tell you, 'I have a difference.' I was adamantly opposed to a state lottery, I don't think the government ought to be in the gambling business, but that did not affect our friendship at all. I like people like Steve Cohen, that even if they don't believe like I do, at least they will tell you where they believe, they will stand there and don't back down."

Cohen v. Herenton: The 'for-the-children' card

Throughout the week, I'm planning to post snippets of quotes drawn from recent appearances by both U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and his opponent in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary, former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton. I'll try to identify specific common issues Cohen and Herenton have addressed heading toward the Aug. 5 election, with early voting beginning on July 16.

Today let's start with some of the back-and-forth over Herenton's campaign theme, "Just One," which is a not-so-subtle appeal to black voters in the 9th District to take into account the fact that Tennessee does not have one African-American politician among its 11 representatives in Washington, D.C. Both Cohen and Herenton referenced how they believe the representative can shape the worldviews of children of the 9th District, though of course they came to different conclusions.

Here was Herenton, at his "free-for-all" press conference when he unveiled the "Just One" camapaign theme: "I saw in one of Congressman Cohen's newsletters they had  group of kids . . . they were all African-American kids and they were visiting the Congressional delegation and I said, 'Oh my God. If a black kid is looking for somebody that he or she can identify with, that they can aspire to be, they couldn't see it in that delegation.' " He later explained: "There was not a kid there, African American out of the slums, that could have had any aspiration from looking at that group that, 'I could be a member of Congress.' There is something wrong with that."

On Saturday, at the grand opening of his satellite campaign headquarters in Whitehaven, Cohen talked about the value of a community where black children recognize that a white representative is willing to fight for them and their families: "In this community I think it's important to have a person, a Caucasian, in one of those offices who works with with African-American community, who gives the African-American community the understanding that they are not alone, that there are people in the Caucasian community that share their issues, share their goals. ... It's not a black person white person thing. If you take all the offices that are all held by African-Americans, it divides the community, it doesn't give young African-Americans the opportunity to look up to a white elected official who has their interest at heart. I see that when young children come to Washington, I see them on the steps, I pose for pictures with them. They don't care if I'm white or black. I'm Congressman Cohen, they've seen me on TV, I take the time to speak to them, I take the time to express my knowledge about the capital, explain to them about Congress. And that's all they care about."

Rasmussen poll: Haslam popularity grows steadily

At the Ron Ramsey campaign headquarters opening, the state senate speaker characterized Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's lead in the Republican gubernatorial primary as small and easily made up. He cited a Rasmussen Reports poll released on Thursday that he said showed him tied with Wamp and with Haslam holding only a six-point. However, that poll was not measuring support in the Republican primary; it asked likely voters about hypothetical general-election matchups with Democratic candidate Mike McWherter. And even using that metric, Haslam is the front-runner -- the one Republican to get to 50 percent vs. McWherter (50-32) with Ramsey and Wamp both showing 44-33 advantages.

Rasmussen reported that 20 percent of voters held no opinion and suggested that the most telling finding involved the "very unfavorable" and "very favorable" ratings, and on that score, Haslam again comes out on top, with 23 percent of voters seeing him "very favorably," a number that has grown 11 percent since March and is well ahead of the only 6 percent of voters who view him "very unfavorably." That 17-point positive gap is not good news for Wamp or Ramsey, who have aggressively campaigned against Haslam trying to point out negatives to conservative voters. Ramsey, despite serving as the state's de facto top state-government Republican for the 2009 and 2010 sessions of the General Assembly, is seen as very favorable by only 11 percent of likely voters (and very unfavorable by 11 percent, as well) . Wamp comes in at 17 percent very favorable and 10 percent very unfavorable, a 7-point positive, while McWherter is at 17-14, with a 3-percent positive gap. 

Team Ron Ramsey opens HQ in East Memphis

Ron Ramsey officially opened his campaign headquarters in East Memphis by standing on an actual soapbox and declaring that not only can he win the Republican gubernatorial primary, but he can carry Shelby County on the way to the victory. Optimism abounded in the small office-front on South Yates near Poplar, with the conviction among the supporters that Ramsey, the state senate speaker, has much stronger, more proven conservative credentials than either of his rivals, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga. That, declared Ramsey and State Rep. Mark White of Memphis, will draw voters to Ramsey and he hopes to seal the deal by painting Haslam as the "establishment candidate" and by portraying Wamp as a career Washington politician with a record of to Congressional earmarks.

"Look at my record, I encourage you, and it will predict what I'm going to do in the future," Ramsey said. "Look at my opponents' record to predict what they are going to do in the future and I think it's hands down I'm ready to be the next governor of the state of Tennessee."

That the headquarters happens to be across the street from a graveyard and is much smaller and less visible than Wamp and Haslam's Shelby headquarters did not come up, though Ramsey did acknowledge Haslam holds what he characterized as a "small" lead despite outspending him "four to one." Haslam's campaign would suggest Ramsey is understating the lead, and Wamp has made the argument that Ramsey cannot beat Haslam. Keeping his conservative base energized and optimistic may be Ramsey's biggest challenge as we head toward the July 16 beginning of early voting for the Aug. 5 election.

"We can win this thing and it's going to take people like the conservatives in this room that don't like the direction of our country and want to turn this state and this union around," Ramsey said.

(We ran a smaller version of this story in today's print edition.)

Cohen and Mrs. Obama: Coming soon to a billboard near you?


Every chance Steve Cohen gets, he reminds people that he supported President Obama for president when the cool thing to do among Mid-South Democratic politicians was to jump aboard the Hillary Clinton train (like, for instance, both of Memphis's black mayors).

obama-cohen.jpgSo we're wondering when you'll be seeing this photo, taken from Cohen's campaign website, of Cohen with First Lady Michelle Obama at a recent White House barbecue. There may not be a more potent message for him among those black voters in the 9th District that Willie Herenton (who supported Hillary AND Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander) than his unstinting support for President Obama during the campaign and now as an increasingly important member of Congress. A voter on Tuesday questioned why Herenton touts his alliance with Alexander, whose leadership role in the Senate has made him one of President Obama's harshest critics.

Because make no mistake -- whatever loyalty black voters in Memphis may or may not still feel toward Herenton, there is no questioning their strong support of President Obama. There is also no small amount of resentment among black voters for anti-Obama sentiment, when they believe Obama was handed a huge mess to clean up. That point of view was predicted by the clever and sometimes insightful rapper Mos Def during the 2008 campaign, appearing on Bill Maher's provocative HBO talk-show.  I included his comment in a story we ran the weekend before Obama's inauguration in 2009 that I think gets at what many black and liberal voters feel about backlash among many voters about President Obama:

"I know he's going to be president, because the country is in worse shape than it's ever been. And you know what happens when that goes on. When there's any institution, on any(thing) going down, they're finding the black dude: 'It's your account. You are head of the department.' "

Tale of two campaigns -- Cohen, Ramsey HQ grand openings

There may not be two Tennessee politicians who are farther apart on, well, everything than U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and state senate speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville. It might take more than nine hours to drive from Cohen's Midtown house near the Memphis Zoo to Ramsey's house around the way from NASCAR's famous Bristol Motor Speedway -- which is probably about half the distance that separates them ideologically, from Cohen's consistent liberal approach going back to his political start in the 70s to Ramsey's accelerating conservatism.

Today at noon in East Memphis, at 925 South Yates near Poplar, Ramsey is opening his Shelby County campaign headquarters. As the key member of Tennessee's General Assembly, Ramsey's on-the-ground campaigning in Memphis has lagged behind that of his GOP rivals, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. It will be interesting to see who comes out to show support for Ramsey in Shelby County.

Saturday from 1-3 p.m. in at Whitehaven Plaza on Elvis Presley Blvd., Cohen is opening his Whitehaven campaign headquarters, which is significant because his opponent in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary, former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, is ramping up his efforts to force black voters who make up a majority of the Whitehaven area factor race into whether they vote to retain Cohen (who is white) or give the 70-year-old Herenton (an historic black political figure) another political chapter. The huge financial advantage held by Cohen has been apparent with advertisements promoting his event -- and featuring influential African-American supporters like civil-rights pioneer Maxine Smith, Olympic gold medalist Rochelle Stevens and Shelby County Sheriff candidate Randy Wade. And the music entertainment at the event, we presume, is also costing the campaign some of its cash.

Wednesday's county mayoral forum at Germantown Country Club, conducted by the suburban-based Shelby County Chambers of Commerce Alliance, featured 10 questions that were submitted to candidates Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell ahead of time. Most of the questions also included preambles that provide insight into the worldview that prevails in Memphis's suburbs. There are many facts and figures in the document marshaled to justify that point of view, and whether you agree or disagree, it's vital to understanding the priorities of those with influence and power in Memphis's suburbs.

Bartlett Chamber of Commerce president John Threadgill graciously passed along the document, which you can read by either clicking the jump (at bottom) or get the PDF here:
Breakfast with Mayoral Candidates June 2010.pdf . Keeping in mind that the Alliance wanted to really focus the candidates on issues unique to suburban businesspersons, it was interesting that none of the questions asked either candidate to discuss their plans for improving things in Memphis -- the city where vast numbers of suburban residents work, play, shop, etc.

The most striking omission -- no questions about The Regional Medical Center at Memphis (but three dealing with consolidation). As Threadgill acknowledged after the forum, leaders in hospitals and medical industries that more and more contribute to the quality of life in the suburbs are very, very concerned about the survival of The Med. The Republican gubernatorial candidates fighting for votes in the Shelby suburbs have expressed those same concerns -- if The Med does not survive, it will have an enormous impact on hospitals in the suburbs specifically and the delivery of quality medical services in general for suburban residents. That's not just because of The Med's trauma center; if the poor and uninsured patients no longer have The Med, they will inevitably soak up resources at private and nonprofit facilities.

Threadgill and Germantown Chamber CEO and President Pat Scroggs said much care was put into crafting the questions, and Threadgill explained the omission of The Med by saying, "That question has been asked so many times." As I pointed out to him, consolidation has been asked many, many times too -- and the chambers devoted three of 10 questions to that issue despite an acknowledgment in the document that "the candidates are basically on the sidelines" when it comes to the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission's work. On The Med, however, whoever is elected mayor on Aug. 5 will have a huge impact on the future of the public hospital that so many say is so vital.

So read over the document: Breakfast with Mayoral Candidates June 2010.pdf. To be fair, the questions did work well to guide a very substantive conversation between Ford and Luttrell that revealed some important differences on important topics, especially when it came to economic development. More on that in an article we plan to publish on Sunday.

Full text of document available after the jump.

"I don't care how close to white he looked ..."

From approximately 6 p.m. Tuesday until noon today, I got to experience about 45 minutes of Willie Herenton's campaign stump speech (to the Voices of Raleigh/Frayser Community Action Network), two separate 90-minute debates between county mayoral candidates Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell and about 45 minutes of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam's visit with The Commercial Appeal's editorial board. That's a solid four and a half hours of political speech over the course of 12 waking hours -- and I've yet to watch President Obama's speech (I did, however, catch the replay of the stupendous goal from Brazil's brilliant fullback, Maicon).

There are many leftovers worth sharing from Herenton's appearance, but I'll just offer this appetizer, where Herenton was trying to make the case that race-based voting by white Tennesseeans has made it impossible for an African-American candidate outside of Memphis's heavily black 9th District to win a congressional race. "Why is it that Harold Ford Jr., I don't care how brilliant he was or how close to white he looked, it wasn't plausible he could be a senator?" Herenton fervently believes that the history of white voters failing to support qualified black candidates because of race justifies his making the case that black voters in the 9th Congressional District ought to take race into account when deciding between himself and incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. Many of the black voters I talked to Tuesday insist they are undecided, that they like Cohen's record and ultimately will decide which candidate best represents their views. Many admitted that they believe Herenton is making a valid point, but want to take other factors into consideration.

Herenton Campaigns in 7th District


WASHINGTON -- A quick check with the Shelby County Election Commission this morning reveals that former Mayor Willie Herenton's campaign stop on Tuesday, at Exline's Pizza on Stage Road, is in the 7th Congressional District.

Herenton is running for the 9th Congressional District seat held by Steve Cohen. The Democratic primary is Aug. 5.

Trevenia Freeman at the election commission said the 6250 Stage Road address is not listed in voting records because it is a business, but both 6100 Stage Road and 6600 Stage Road are in Bartlett and in the 7th District.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., represents the 7th Congressional District and has no primary opponent. She'll face college professor and lawyer Greg Rabidoux in the general election in November. Blackburn's office also confirmed the Stage Road address is within her district.

If you have not already heard, The Commercial Appeal is preparing for the departure of Otis Sanford, currently what we call the Opinion Editor though that does not begin to fully capture the role he plays for us. The University of Memphis has recommended him to the Tennessee Board of Regents to take over the Helen and Jabie Hardin Chair of Economics/Managerial Journalism, but, fortunately for us, he will not leave until the end of the year -- after this important 2010 election season has finished. And even after he leaves the newsroom, Otis will continue to write his weekly column. For a longer look at Otis's fascinating career, go here and jump to page 12.

In honor of Otis, check out some of the recent Opinion pieces, including Otis's analysis of why Memphis Mayor A C Wharton decided not to fight the City Council and public opinion on the issue of pay cuts for the city's highest-paid employees.

Otis and the editorial board (including citizen members) met with Wharton and Robert Lipscomb, the city's director of housing and community development, and came away impressed by the Wharton administration's plan to "right-size" city government by utilizing the BRAC process (Base Realignment and Closure) the federal government employs to find savings and efficiencies with the Armed Forces. The idea is to create a commission that looks at every corner of city government and makes recommendations that the City Council would approve with an up or down vote.

The Tennessee Newspaper Network's coverage of the gubernatorial campaign continued with a look at the distinctions between candidates on the issues of campaign finance and constitutional offices. Here is the article and our sister Scripps-Howard newspaper publication, the Knoxville News-Sentinel, has a great reproduction of the grid listing the candidates full responses to questions. Knoxnews.com also has a nice utility that allows readers to look at responses candidates have made on various issues and a database of campaign contributions.

You doesn't have to call 'em "Dr."

Because of this story out of Alabama, with Dr. Robert Bentley surprising the state by winning his way into a runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, we decided to check with the two doctors running in Tennessee's 8th Congressional District's Republican Primary, George Flinn of Memphis and Ron Kirkland from Jackson. Were they considering following Bentley's lead in Alabama to petition for the "Dr." to appear next to their names on the ballot? And would they consider copying Bentley's ploy of legally changing their first name to "Dr." in an effort to market themselves to voters at the polls?

So we asked -- they both will stand without the "Dr."

From the Flinn campaign: "Dr. Flinn has no plans or desire for a legal name change. He will appear on the ballot as "George Flinn."

From Kirkland's campaign: "He will appear on the ballot as 'Ron Kirkland.' "

Forums upcoming: Mayor, 8th District, Sheriff

As we get close to one month away from the July 16 beginning of early voting, more forums and debates are popping up on the calendar. There are at least two prominent events this week, and one early next week.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., county mayoral candidates Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell have agreed to debate for the Greater Bartlett Council of Associations at the Bartlett Municipal Center (5868 Stage Road) in Community Room A. Ford, the interim mayor and Democratic nominee, and Luttrell, the Republican county sheriff since 2002, have agreed to appear for 90 minutes, with each of them getting opening and closing statements and taking questions in between.

On Thursday night at 7:40, the Mid-South Tea Party is hosting some candidates in Tennessee's 8th Congressional District for a debate after their general meeting. That meeting is also being held at the Bartlett Municipal Center, 5868 Stage Road. As of last week, Republican candidates Dr. Ron Kirkland, Dr. George Flinn and Randy Smith had agreed to participate, with Stephen Fincher, who is backed by the National Republican Congressional Committee, not attending. Independent Donn Janes, a Brighton resident who works in Memphis, will have the backing of many Tea Party members at the meeting. Democratic candidate Roy Herron has not committed but organizers are hopeful he will attend. You can email questions to info@midsouthteaparty.org.

Next Monday (June 21), Shelby County Sheriff candidates Bill Oldham (Republican) and Randy Wade (Democrat) will participate in a forum organized by the League of Women's Voters of Memphis/Shelby County. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library at 3030 Poplar Ave. Questions can be submitted to lwvshelby@comcast.net, by fax 327-4864 or in person during the forum. Questions will be reviewed by a panel to ensure they are compliant with the forum guidelines:  (1) Only issue oriented questions are allowed.  (2) No personal, redundant, or derogatory questions will be accepted.  (3) Questions or challenges by one candidate directed toward another are not allowed.

Kirkland rips "childish partisanship" of Fincher


WASHINGTON - The 8th Congressional District race has turned predictably ugly in a way that is beginning to show something of the personalities of the candidates involved. This time, it's Stephen Fincher beating up on his Republican opponent, Dr. Ronald Kirkland of Jackson, and Kirkland slugging back.

In his latest television ad, Fincher approved a message attacking Kirkland for agreeing to work both sides of the aisle if he's elected to the seat from which John Tanner is retiring.

"Most Republicans want to fight the Obama, big government agenda, but Ron Kirkland says he'll work with Democrats instead," a woman's voice says. Then there's a clip of Kirkland saying he'll - gasp - "try to work with Democrats."

You know, the people currently in the majority in Congress.

The ad goes on to say that Kirkland "and groups he lead" have even given money to "liberal Democrats." It ends by saying, "Is this really a time to reach across the aisle?" The ad has images of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Charles Rangel.

Kirkland came back with a fast counter-punch in a message e-mailed to The Commercial Appeal and supporters Friday. Perhaps the most effective line: "Now is not the time for the childish partisanship of inexperienced young men."

In the message, Kirkland said Fincher, the presumed front-runner, is attacking him because he's fallen behind.

"Sadly, that is what Stephen Fincher is doing here - listening to his Washington handlers instead of the people of Tennessee," Kirkland says.

Kirkland acknowledges he's willing to work "with anyone of any party and any background to enact conservative policies that will save our country and serve the best interests of Tennesseans." He also acknowledges that he has given money to Democrats who are friends (he went to high school with Tanner). But he makes clear that the contribution an organization he belonged to gave to the presumptive Democratic candidate in the race, Roy Herron, was not a personal contribution to Herron.

Kirkland concludes: "Mr. Fincher is a nice young man, but this kind of D.C.-style false attack campaign shows just how out of control his campaign is and how D.C. insiders are controlling everything he does. Tennesseans are fed up with these kinds of deceitful tactics from his campaign."

And with that, he closes the woodshed door.

Subjectively objective poll results

One political rule of thumb is that candidates who allow results of polls to go public -- through leaks or dropping off crosstabs on a journalist's front porch -- are those who are happy with the results. Back before he started seriously tapping his substantial campaign war chest, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam wasn't talking much about polls of the Republican gubernatorial primary, but U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga was. While it is true that Wamp continues to assert with great confidence that he is the front-runner and, in his opinion, has the backing of the conservative base, it is now Haslam's campaign that is not exactly unhappy that results of their polling have gotten out.

A memo to the Haslam campaign from Whit Ayres is everywhere now, and we also obtained a copy. It shows Haslam pulling ahead of Wamp, with 37 percent support from a sample of "600 respondents drawn from a list of past primary voters who said they are likely to vote in the Republican primary." According to Ayres, Haslam's support has tripled from 13 percent in January, jumping to 27 percent in February (justifying the $1 million in TV ads during the Winter Olympics) and steadily growing to 37 percent in polling taken June 1-3.

Wamp has held steady, going from 21 percent in February to a high of 26 percent in May and now 24 percent in June. State senate speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville is at 15 percent. The huge caveat here is that this is the candidate's own polling, although one would think that with the money Haslam has available, there is not much reason for him to pay a pollster to cook the books -- it's not like he's desperate to impress donors (though arguably he'd like to demoralize opponents). Wamp continues to assert this is down to a two-man race and that Ramsey is tilting at windmills (definitely NOT mountaintop windmills, but maybe mountaintop-removed windmills?). This poll allows Haslam supporters to say that Ramsey is closer to Wamp than Wamp is to Haslam, though a Wamp supporter could say that Ramsey's conservative base, should it abandon the state legislator, could put Wamp right on Haslam's tail.

Polls can be fun, but to the credit of these candidates, they've mostly focused on substantive policy in their campaigns. And now that the legislative session is over, Ramsey will have more time to campaign and prove he can expand his base.

Yes, but Haslam's wife is from Memphis ...

Hot from the politics email comes this from Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's campaign: "UT MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH BRUCE PEARL ENDORSES HASLAM FOR GOVERNOR".

As we just told a member of the Haslam campaign staff, "You know, we thought Mayor Haslam really had a chance to win Memphis. And when can we expect that John Calipari endorsement?"

To be fair, there are plenty of Tennessee fans in Shelby County who will vote in the Republican primary, and even the most avid Tiger basketball fans know, deep down, that Bruce Pearl is indeed a master at evaluating, recruiting and coaching talent. And, as evidenced by his appearances here, Pearl knows how to excite the base (and antagonize opponents).

Haslam's trump here -- beyond the biggest asset in Shelby County being that, as he put it, he "married a Memphis girl" -- is that Memphis resident and Saks Incorporated Chairman and CEO Brad Martin's many connections include close ties with several former Tiger basketball players. At the opening of Haslam's headquarters in East Memphis, former Tiger star and administrator Dexter Reed was one of several African-American Democrats showing their support. Former Tiger guard and charge-taking expert Jon Albright was also there.

To give equal time here, we'll point out that Wamp received a vigorous endorsement from national TV and radio financial talk-show star Dave Ramsey -- an anti-debt zealot whose callers provide financial horror stories many of us enjoy because they make us feel better about our own financial management. Ramsey is one of several high-profile Wamp supporters holding fundraisers over the next several weeks (country music stars past and present T.G. Sheppard, John Rich, and Ricky Skaggs, among others).
Despite this story about a report that Bass Pro fails to deliver for communities who give the company big tax breaks in return for megastores, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Robert Lipscomb, the city's director of housing and community development, told The Commercial Appeal's editorial board this morning that they are very close to finishing the deal to remake The Pyramid into a Bass Pro megastore.

At the meeting, Mayor Wharton responded (sort of) to the harsh criticisms thrown at him from his predecessor, 9th Congressional District candidate Willie Herenton,
in a Wednesday press conference. Wendi Thomas responded much more directly to Herenton's assertion that he did not "give a damn" about the controversies that arose over the Memphis Animal Shelter and the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center. Meanwhile, 9th District incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen continues to try and persuade voters that he's focused on getting things done in Washington that voters care about -- filing a bill to aid non-violent offenders on Wednesday.

Wharton and Lipscomb were actually visiting to talk about long-term budget strategies, which is a reminder to go and read about the final budget approved Tuesday by the City Council, with a slight alteration on Wednesday at the request of Wharton to free up more funds aimed at recruiting businesses and promoting economic development.

In Nashville, the General Assembly finally adjourned, six weeks after they had hoped, and several last-minute votes made it, some did not. One bill that got killed was a super speeding bill, and another was a push to ban red-light cameras. It is interesting how little public attention is given to the deaths and injuries on our roads, given the human toll taken every day. We were reminded of that tragically when a 9-year-old in DeSoto County died in a wreck yesterday. We ran a story in December pointing out one of the most dangerous places for anyone in the Mid-South is, indeed, inside a vehicle.

In suburban government developments, a lot of candidates are lining up in Germantown, including a legitimate challenger for Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy, and Bartlett ponders whether to give raises to its elected officials.

Wharton's response to Herenton criticism

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton was at The Commercial Appeal this morning to meet with the editorial board in a meeting that had been previously scheduled. Although he and Robert Lipscomb, the city's director of housing and community development, were here to talk about long-range budget strategies, Opinion Editor Otis Sanford asked Wharton if he wanted to respond to the harsh criticism lobbed at him Wednesday by his predecessor, 9th Congressional District candidate Willie Herenton.

Though Wharton chose not to engage Herenton directly, what he said certainly sounded like a strong rebuttal. Some of Wharton's statements about the importance of the Memphis Animal Shelter and the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center certainly serve as potent rejoinders to Herenton's declaration that he did not "give a damn" about the controversies over them.

Read the whole thing here at this link.

Herenton campaign theme: "Just One"

Not to be confused with the James Ingram song, "Just Once," 9th Congressional District candidate and former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton unveiled his new campaign theme, called "Just One" with the numeral "1" carved into the middle of the letter "O". It is not exactly a subtle message to voters that the Herenton campaign believes Tennessee deserves at least one African-American representative in Congress. "Can't we get just one?" Herenton said at a long press conference earlier today.

Here is the link to the quick web story. We'll have more later this afternoon and even more in tomorrow's print edition.

Special prize to someone who can rework the old James Ingram tune into a campaign theme song -- either for or against Herenton. Lyrics to "Just Once" after the jump (and you've got to admit, even the original lyrics can be interpreted as describing much about the relationship between Willie Herenton and the city of Memphis):
We'll be going over to Herenton Campaign HQ for the 11 a.m. "free-for-all" as the campaign is advertising the press conference. Though the campaign would never admit it, that is exactly the sort of attention-seeking event you are much more likely to see from a candidate trying to play catch up. Candidates who believe they are ahead or who feel they have momentum rarely take such risks. Willie Herenton, of course, has never been accused of going by any conventional political script. So it should be fun; whether it turns out to be insightful remains to be seen.

If Herenton is indeed far behind incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary -- as one recent poll strongly indicated (though with a high margin-of-error) -- it will be yet another piece of evidence that black voters are NOT as influenced by race as some want to believe. As many political scientists and black political experts so often point out, white politicians have received much more support from black voters over the years than black politicians have from white voters (that's true even if you start the timeline in, say, 1980 or 1990).

The argument can be made, more and more, that black voters care deeply about substance -- public policy matters. I was away with my family last week in Alabama when U.S. Rep. Artur Davis -- a young black Harvard-trained lawyer -- was "stunned" in the Democratic gubernatorial primary by Ron Sparks, the state's 56-year-old white Agricultural Commissioner. Davis got only 38 percent of the vote, and analysis of election results show that he lost in large part because black voters in his base of Birmingham and his congressional district abandoned him. Here is Chuck Dean of The Birmingham News:

In predominantly black counties such as Wilcox and Perry, Sparks got 70-plus percent of the vote. In Greene, Marengo, Lowndes and Hale counties, Sparks picked up 60-plus percent of the vote. In Pickens, Dallas and Macon counties, Sparks got 50-plus percent of the vote. Davis lost his home county, Jefferson, where Sparks racked up 58 percent of the vote. Davis won only a single majority black polling place in all of Jefferson County. He even lost his own polling place -- Southtown Housing Community Center -- by a handful of votes to Sparks.
And why did Davis lose? Many who follow politics closely in Alabama say that those black voters punished Davis for voting against policies they supported, most notably the way in which he opposed national health-insurance reform. He was the only African-American congressman to oppose health-care reform, and it was one of many stances he took that positioned him as a moderate. But that move away from the left cost him in the primary. This is what Birmingham-Southern College political science professor Natalie Davis told the News:

"It's stunning. It's absolutely amazing. You can't thumb your nose at your base, and that is what Artur did when he voted no on health care. Still, when you look at how Davis lost a race that was so much his to win, it's just staggering."

Can Willie Herenton be polled?

If you haven't yet, go read Otis Sanford's insightful (as usual) piece on what a recent poll seems to be suggesting about marquee races on the Aug. 5 ballot, including former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton vs. incumbent Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District Democratic primary (Cohen appears to hold a huge lead, with 62 percent of respondents saying they will vote for him vs. only 9 percent for Herenton) and the county mayor race between Joe Ford, the interim mayor, and Mark Luttrell, Shelby County's elected sheriff (Luttrell holds 49-33 lead, according to the poll). Otis provides the various details on the poll -- the huge caveat being that the pool of voters was weighted evenly between black and white voters (200 black voters, 200 white) -- and upon my return Monday from a week away, he and I talked about what the poll may or may not mean.

At first blush, it appears to show that some large portion of the 79-percent of voters for Cohen in 2008 will stick with that investment in 2010. Yet, it reminds me of the discussion we had before the 2007 Memphis mayoral election with pollster Steve Ethridge, when he presented the results of a poll we commissioned on the mayor's race between Herenton, Carol Chumney and Herman Morris. That poll showed Chumney and Morris in striking distance of Herenton, but Ethridge stressed that an unusual number of people were refusing to participate in the poll. If most of those refusing were Herenton supporters, then support for Herenton was stronger than the poll indicated. And if you considered that some large number of "undecideds" were in fact Herenton supporters -- was anyone really undecided about Herenton in 2007? -- then the polling was not far off from the 42 percent Herenton got in that election.

Which is all to say this -- the striking 62-9 result of the Herenton-Cohen side of that poll may not mean the former mayor has no chance. If we assume that some significant portion of respondents chose not to participate and are in fact Herenton loyalists, then give Herenton a huge number of the "undecideds", he could chip away at Cohen's lead between now and mid-July, when early voting begins. Herenton's camp, of course, claims that you can't accurately poll his support, anyway.

So keep that in mind. Or, equally valid, consider that maybe Otis's column may accurately capture some of the reasons why many voters -- including black voters in Memphis -- may not want Herenton to replace Cohen.

Back from hiatus

We plan to crank up Eye on Politics as the weather grows warmer and the politics (and policy debates) start to heat up. We're still working out some kinks, but during the work week, we intend to provide regular updates and insights into politics and public policy that impact folks in the Greater Memphis area.

Forgive the sporadic posting over the past few weeks. We intend to return to regularly-scheduled political blog programming over the next few weeks, and expect to provide lots of interesting fodder as we head toward the Aug. 5 elections (and beyond).  

While not an avalanche of policy news, Monday saw progress on some vital issues for the city and county, and we expect to see more today when the City Council votes this afternoon on the budget.

In reaching a settlement over control of Beale Street, Mayor Wharton brought his legal experience to bear, saying that "A good settlement beats out a bad lawsuit any day." Essentially, Performa Entertainment Real Estate, John Elkington's company which has filed for bankruptcy, has agreed to give Memphis back control of the entertainment district, though some financial terms of the settlement are favorable to Performa. Under former mayor Willie Herenton, the city had spent millions in legal fees, including more than $2 million to Ricky Wilkins to pursue a case against Performa.

Education reporter Jane Roberts was at Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church last night, where local ministers called for the City Council to give Memphis City Schools the $57 million it cut in 2008, citing a desire to stop what many members believe is double taxation of Memphis taxpayers -- once in county taxes and once in city taxes (no other Shelby County municipalies contribute municipal taxpayer dollars to their schools). Interestingly, City Council member Harold Collins and school board president Martavius Jones were in agreement on one point -- they believe it's vital that the legal appeals process be exhausted so the city and the schools will have definitive guidance from the courts about what funds, if any, Memphis is obligated to contribute to MCS.

"We'd be pushing the can down the road," Jones said, responding to Rev. LaSimba Gray's demand that the city drop the appeals. "If we abandon this appeals process, we will be at the same junction in five, 10 or 15 years. The whole purpose of the appeals process is to get a final answer."

The County Commission took care of some business on Monday, with a local bottler getting highest priority status for some federally-backed job-creation bonds, Ann Pugh getting the nod for General Sessions Criminal Court judge and supporters of the local county agricultural extension service applauding the Commission's decision not to reduce its funding.

Interesting Ag Extension story. Really.

County government writer Daniel Connolly's report on the County Commission continuing to keep the same level of funding for the local agricultural extension service brought to mind a national piece from December that drew a lot of attention. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, provided a fascinating look at the impact of the federal government's creation of the agricultural extension program. Gawande described the creation of a system in which the federal government inserted itself into agricultural policy but stopped well short of nationalization, and asserted that health-care in the United States could benefit from a similar approach.

In 1914, Gawande points out, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service, and by 1930 there were more than 750,000 demonstration farms that spread the gospel of more efficient, effective practices, thereby reducing waste and increasing yield.

What seemed like a hodgepodge eventually cohered into a whole. The government never took over agriculture, but the government didn't leave it alone, either. It shaped a feedback loop of experiment and learning and encouragement for farmers across the country. The results were beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Agree or disagree with Gawande's overall thesis, the article is an eye-opening look at the important role the local agricultural cooperative services played in the United States. And puts into perspective the Commission's decision to keep funding at the same level for our local office.
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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

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