July 2010 Archives

Much ado about an income tax that is dead, buried



 NASHVILLE - If there's been a campaign season filled with more irony and contradiction than this one, I don't recall it.


Today, in the midst of the Republican gubernatorial primary's slugfest over taxes, Democrat Mike McWherter's camp issued a press release accusing Republican Bill Haslam of "lying" about Haslam's father's role in supporting a state income tax in 1999.


The issue - fought between Bill Haslam and Zach Wamp on the Republican side - is how big of a role Jim Haslam II, Bill's father, played.  Jim Haslam was one of four board members of a group called Citizens for Fair Taxes, organized by Democratic Nashville businessman Clayton McWhorter (who, ironically, considered running for governor in the 1990s) to support Republican Gov. Don Sundquist's tax reform push in 1999.


CFT was in the news when it was founded, and it was widely reported at the time that "Big Jim" Haslam was a board member.  A Sept. 11, 1999, Commercial Appeal article that I wrote noted Jim Haslam's board membership while reporting that the group planned to spend $1.8 million on its campaign in support of tax reform. including a statewide TV ad that likened Tennessee's tax system to a Ford "Model T" - antiquated.


The ad did not specifically advocate for an income tax, nor specifically for Sundquist's plan, but instead said that the state budget crisis at the time "is real" and "needs to be fixed."


Bill Haslam vigorously denies Wamp's charges that if he is elected governor, he'll consider a state income tax.  Wamp bases his charge on Haslam's father's role in the 1999 effort and the fact that Bill Haslam pushed through a 13 percent property tax hike in his first year as Knoxville mayor to close a budget deficit.  And the fact that the state faces a much larger deficit next January when the new governor takes office and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal economic stimulus money ceases flowing to the state.


But the irony of McWherter weighing in on an issue about whose father did or didn't support an income tax is, of course, that McWherter's father Ned McWherter actually did propose a state income tax plan when he was governor in 1991 - the first serious run at an income tax since the 1960s. Like Sundquist's a decade later, it failed to win legislative approval.


This is a good place to note the utter nonsense of raising the specter of a state income tax in the first place.  The last time it was on the table a decade ago, it led to a bitter 3½-year legislative battle that involved protests at the State Capitol - and the legislature soundly rejected it.  In the decade since, most of its erstwhile supporters have either been voted out of office, retired or changed their minds on the issue.  Republicans now control the General Assembly. Other than a handful of Memphis legislators, no one campaigns in favor of an income tax.


In short, there is no chance that an income tax will pass the Tennessee legislature in the foreseeable future. But of course, the phrase "state income tax" retains a powerful ability to arouse political passions. 


The gravamen of McWherter's press statement today was not the income tax itself but rather that Bill Haslam "lied" when he told The Associated Press Wednesday that his father did not play a leading role in the 1999 effort.  "He (Wamp) makes it sound like my dad was out leading the effort, which is not true," Haslam was quoted as saying.


As noted, Jim Haslam was one of four publicly identified board members of CFT.  It's up to voters to decide whether that constitutes "leading the effort" - and even whether or not what Jim Haslam, now 79 and retired, did 10 years ago as one of Tennessee's top business leaders matters in his son's race for governor, when his son has pledged opposition to a state income tax.


Rather than viewing the whole affair as irony, it's likely that Mike McWherter - who faces no opposition for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next Thursday - is trying to inoculate himself against a potential general election attack over his own father's advocacy of tax reform a generation ago and perhaps also trying to influence the outcome of the GOP primary.  A Tennessee Newspaper Network poll last week indicated Haslam would be his most formidable opponent in the general election.

In an item we published this morning about the Shelby County Democratic Party and some of its nominees trying to stop the distribution of fraudulent ballots, it should have read that Regina Newman Morrison (candidate for Trustee), Corey Maclin (County Clerk) and Minerva Johnican (Criminal Court Clerk) were concerned about entities identifying themselves as "Memphis Democratic Party" and "Shelby County Democratic Club." The Memphis Democratic Club is very much alive and well and out stumping for candidates it believes serve the best interest of voters.

Essentially, a suit that will be heard on Friday claims that M. Latroy Williams and Charlotte Draper, both of whom lost in the May primaries, have been misrepresenting themselves on ballots from those made-up entities. Some ballots being distributed at polls are also falsely claiming endorsements have been made by Democrats in state legislative primaries.

The Memphis Democratic Club, by the way, did surprise some by endorsing 9th Congressional District incumbent Steve Cohen over former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton.
We're working on a story on crossover voting in the Aug. 5 elections -- Republicans in the 9th District asking for a Democratic primary ballot to vote in the 9th Congressional District race between Steve Cohen and Willie Herenton and Democrats countywide who may be asking for Republican primary ballot in order to have a say in the GOP gubernatorial race.

Over at Speak To Power, local blogger extraordinaire Steve Steffens (aka the Left-Wing Cracker) flagged a report indicating that in Davidson County, signs are that Democrats there may well be voting in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Steffens floats two theories:

First, it could be that Democrats are crossing over to vote for whomever they believe is the weakest possible opponent for McWherter, which would mean a boost for Zach Wamp or Ron Ramsey. However, the second option is a scary one: it could be that they have determined that McWherter cannot win in November, and they are crossing over to vote for Bill Haslam, so as to prevent the more rabid aspects of the GOP from taking over the state.
Steffens says he hopes it is "the former," but I sent him a tweet yesterday disagreeing. You hear this line of thinking from a lot from partisans on either side of the ideological divide; call me naive or idealistic, but I think it's a dangerous path to go down. Elections are so often determined by macro, structural issues that rooting for the other side's weakest or least-qualified candidate for purely partisan reasons is cynical at best and destructive at worst.

This is not the NCAA Tournament we're talking about, where fans hope the No. 13 seed will upset the No. 4 seed so their favorite team has a weaker opponent. The fact of elections is that your party or your candidate just might lose -- maybe even for completely illogical, unfair, irrational reasons -- so it seems to me that in the best interest of a county or state or nation, we all should root for the two best candidates make it to the finals. In the 2008 presidential election primaries, Republicans often indulged in this game, running out to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- the notion of which would be the "weaker" candidate changed over time. And now you hear some Democrats saying the same thing about Sarah Palin -- that they hope and pray Republicans make her their 2012 nominee because she'll be easier to defeat.

Unlike basketball, the winner in a political contest can have an impact on all of our lives. I say it's in our best interest that parties nominate the best possible candidates -- not the candidate you think gives your party its best shot at winning. Because what happens if your candidate loses? Better that the other side has put forth a competent, well-meaning nominee.

Fincher not in D.C. for D.C. fundraiser


WASHINGTON - Stephen Fincher, the 8th District Republican and darling of the National Republican Congressional Committee is having a D.C. fundraiser this evening, but the candidate won't be attending it, his campaign confirms.

Fincher will be addressing the Tipton County Republican Party tonight, his senior advisor, Matt McCullough, explained.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who campaigned in Tennessee with Fincher this summer, will be there, his spokesman, Chip Lake, said this afternoon.

The D.C. fundraiser quickly became campaign fodder today as the Ronald Kirkland campaign sought to bring it to the public's attention with some levity.

"Today, Stephen Fincher cemented the fact he is the favorite candidate of the Washington Establishment beyond a shadow of a doubt," Kirkland campaign spokesman Brent Leatherwood said in a statement.

"While Ron Kirkland is busy gathering support from Tennesseans of all walks of life, Stephen Fincher is busy coordinating a D.C. fundraiser with the Washington insiders who have been trying to manipulate Tennessee voters from the beginning about their handpicked candidate. He is so tied to these D.C. insiders they don't even need him to be physically present at the Capitol Hill Club tonight to try and raise money for him!"

He added: "Frankly, Mr. Fincher's hypocrisy has Lane Kiffin furiously taking notes."

The fundraiser is hosted by Westmoreland and U.S. Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and Peter Roskam, R-Ill.

In the same broadside, Leatherwood takes the Fincher campaign to task for a mailer that misspells "Tennesee."

Polls show 11-point Haslam lead, jobs as top issue

We're part of the Tennessee Newspaper Network, which is running a series of stories this week based upon the data generated by a poll which had a primary purpose of gauging how things stand in the Republican gubernatorial primary between U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and state senate speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

Each candidate put their own spin on things, but the poll, taken last Monday through Wednesday, showed that among 400 likely Republican voters, Haslam had  level of 36 percent support, Wamp was 25 percent and Ramsey was at 20. Each candidate had his own interpretation of the numbers, with Wamp and Ramsey also saying that this race is difficult to poll because voter intensity is so hard to gauge in this environment. They are also saying that given how much money Haslam has spent -- Wamp says it will be $15 million by the time the primary ends -- he has not built any kind of unassailable advantage. Wamp believes Haslam is the quasi-incumbent, given his visibility in advertising, and the old political wisdom says that undecided voters -- about 20 percent, according to the poll -- usually do not break for the incumbent.

Today's story in the series focused on the issues most important to Tennesseans, and by a monumental margin, the economy and jobs came out on top, with 54 percent choosing it. No. 2 was the related issues of government finances, taxes and spending, at 22 percent. The 625 Tennessee likely voters questioned by Mason & Dixon polling put so-called "hot-button" issues like health-care and immigration far down the list, at 8 percent and 6 percent.

Early-voting keeps going Republicans' way

In today's editions, we updated early-voting numbers, which continue to trend toward Republicans. True, a slight majority of people are asking for Democratic ballots, 54.1 percent to 44.9 percent, but that's a huge change from 2008, when after a week of August early voting more 69 percent of people in Shelby County were asking for Democratic ballots. In fact, Friday and Saturday represented the best two days for Republicans, in terms of percentages, with right at 48 percent of the nearly 11,000 voters asking for Republican ballots.

One issue we plan to research -- whether or to what extent Democrats in Shelby County may be asking for Republican ballots in order to have a say in the Republican gubernatorial race between state senate speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. The Democrats have only one gubernatorial candidate, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, and voters in the state have been bombarded by messages from the Republicans.

For likely Democratic voters registered outside of the 9th Congressional and unable to vote in the Steve Cohen-Willie Herenton race, there is some logic to voting in the GOP primary, since most political observers expect the GOP nominee to be a huge favorite in the November general election. For Shelby Democrats in the 8th Congressional District, there is further motivation for voting in the GOP primary -- the GOP slugfest between Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, Jackson physician Ron Kirkland and Stephen Fincher, the gospel-singing farmer from Frog Jump, Tenn., who has the backing of the national Republican apparatus in Washington, D.C. Since Roy Herron is the de facto Democratic nominee in the 8th for the general election, Democrats may be trying to help elect whichever candidate they believe would present the most favorable matchup for Herron.

Whatever the reason for the improvement in the ratio of requested Republican ballots, the most ominous sign for Democrats may be the so-far anemic turnout by registered black voters. So far, there have been 18,204 votes by registered white voters, or 44 percent of all early votes, compared to 13,198 registered black voters (31.9 percent) and 9,932 (24.0 percent) by those who fall into the "other" category, which tends to represent newer and/or younger registrants who did not disclose race when they voted. When you consider that much of the optimism by Shelby County Democrats was anchored in 2008 success countywide, that's a very disappointing trend. In 2008, registered black voters made up 40.7 percent of early votes vs. 29.1 percent for white registered voters.

Interestingly, the conventional wisdom has been that Republicans running countywide like mayoral candidate Mark Luttrell would need to gain significant crossover votes from Democrats to beat interim county mayor Joe Ford. Thus, you get Luttrell strongly denying ever publicly supporting Republican presidential tickets in 2004 and 2008. However, if these trends continue, Luttrell and other Republicans may not need many crossover votes at all to win. That said, we doubt you'll see any commercials by Republican countywide candidates touting their tea-party credentials.

DC article brings talk of secession to GOP gov. race

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, in town to rally voters for his gubernatorial campaign, brushed aside a report out of from The National Journal's Hotline that opened by saying Wamp "suggested TN and other states may have to consider seceding from the union if the federal government does not change its ways regarding mandates."

Standing in front of The Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Wamp explained that he felt the reporter had taken a story about his opposition to the Affordable Care Act in a direction he never intended go. The story said Wamp "lauded" Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a "patriot;" Perry has floated the idea of secession, although Wamp emphasized Friday, while standing in front of the state's largest public hospital, that he intended to send a message to the reporter that he wants the health-insurance reform passed this year repealed.

"Of course no one wants even the talk of secession, no one wants that," Wamp said. "But the fact is we have a conflict. We need to resolve the conflict. And we need strong, tough governors to step up, not, you know, status-quo blueblood, it's-my-entitlement-to-be-governor people."

That last was, of course, a shot at Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who Wamp contends is "in trouble" in the campaign. Wamp and Haslam have been lately trading shots in campaign advertisements and on the campaign trail.

Haslam, campaigning in Middle Tennessee Friday, responded to the Hotline's report about Wamp and secession.

"I can promise you that if I'm governor we won't secede from the union. Period," Haslam said.

Haslam added: "I really don't know what Zach is thinking on that. The country had that experiment 150 years ago. Do we have issues in the country? You bet. But is this still a great country? You bet. I think most Tennesseans are committed to making America better, not leaving it."

Early-voting numbers update: GOP still improving

Using some of the information from yesterday's early-voting blog post, we pointed out in today's print edition that Republican turnout in early voting is much more competitive with Democratic turnout than had been the case in 2006 or 2008.  

A breakdown of yesterday's numbers from the Election Commission showed the trend continued on Thursday -- 45.6 percent of the 6,735 who voted all around Shelby County asked for Republican ballots, and 54.3 percent asked for Democratic ballots. Once again, the longterm meaning of this is not good for Shelby County Republicans, but the short-term trend is reason for celebration, since in 2006 and 2008 Democrats held closer to a 65 to 70 percent edge in ballots. Republican party leaders tell me that the very best days in 2006 and 2008 would see 42 or 43 percent of voters taking Republican ballots. Republicans have done better every day of satellite early voting than they did in 2006 or 2008.

Also ominous for Democrats is the lackluster turnout of registered black voters. The trend continued yesterday when 2,981 who showed up were registered white voters (43.8 percent) compared to 2,217 registered black voters (31.9 percent) and 1,547 classified as "other (22.8 percent). So far, 13,322 (7.4 percent) of the 180,324 registered white voters have cast ballots compared to 10,037 (4.8 percent) of the county's 207,452 black voters and 7,029 (3.3 percent) of the 212,767 in the category of "other." I always have to include an explanation of the racial classification of voters. Essentially, those registered as black or white are most likely to be older voters and those as "other" for the most part are younger or more newly-registered voters who chose not to disclose their race when registering. The reason election officials ask for race dates back to the advent of voting-rights laws, because authorities wanted to track voting numbers to make sure there was no discrimination or other chicanery at work.

In 2006, with much-larger advantages in numbers, Democrats still narrowly lost several countywide seats. Unless the Democratic candidates can prevent cross-over voting in the local elections, Aug. 5 could be a depressing night for the local Democrats who came into 2010 fully expecting to take most if not all countywide seats.

Early vote numbers give GOP reason to believe

Republicans in Shelby County are not exactly popping champagne corks yet, but don't be surprised to hear Republican leaders in the county apply the famous Mark Twain quote about the rumors of their demise being greatly exaggerated. The Shelby County Election Commission is showing robust turnout in early voting, and a closer look at the numbers suggests Republicans are much more motivated this year than they were in 2006 and 2008.

It is very early yet, but the three days of expanded early voting at 20 satellite locations have seen 45.1 percent of voters ask for Republican ballots in the state and federal primaries vs. 54.8 percent for Democrats. How is that good news for Republicans? One week into 2008 early voting, 69.3 percent of voters were choosing Democratic ballots vs. 30.6 percent wanting Republican ballots.

So the first three days of voting suggests Republicans have gained almost 15 percentage points from two years ago. Also keep in mind this -- we are already hearing from election officials that many Republicans residing in Memphis's 9th Congressional District are again choosing to participate in the Democratic primary (rather than the Republican gubernatorial primary) so they can vote against former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton; if that is true, it's not hard to project a 50-50 breakdown in turnout between Democrats and Republicans, an enormous difference from the November 2008 presidential elections when the Republican ticket got only 35 percent of the vote.

One other piece of evidence supporting the Republican comeback in Shelby County -- registered white voters are far outperforming their percentage of the electorate from 2008. So far, many more registered white voters have voted (10,351 or 43.8 percent) than registered black voters (7,820 or 33.1 percent) and those classified as "other" (5,482, or 23.2 percent), which covers voters who either declared another race or chose not to disclose race. In 2008, the full early-voting period saw black registered voters make up 43.2 percent of the early vote compared to 37.5 percent for white registered voters and 19.3 percent in the unclassified "other" category.

This is all hugely important, because Democrats have been basing their hopes of a sweep of countywide offices on the performances in 2006 and 2008. But in those years, it's important to recall just how poisonous that "R" label was, and, in 2008, just how much energy Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton brought to Democratic-minded voters. In 2006, despite the anti-Republican mood, Democrats still narrowly missed winning several county-wide seats; if Republican turnout is up from four years ago and Democratic turnout is down, it could mean for a very disappointing -- and unexpected -- county election for Democrats.

Of course, it could just be an early strong push by Republicans that Democrats will match and then overcome. Early voting continues through July 31.
Mark Luttrell is issuing a challenge to the local Democrats supporting Joe Ford for Shelby County mayor -- and that New Yorker named Ford who was in town this morning to endorse his uncle -- to find one instance of him showing public support for Republican presidential candidates over the last 10 years. "Find me one instance where I ever came out publicly for Sarah Palin, John McCain or George Bush," Luttrell said. "You won't find it."

Democrats have lately been pounding Luttrell for being a conservative Republican who, they claim, was the local county chairman for the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign and Bob Corker's campaign for U.S. Senate -- against Harold Ford Jr., who was in town today from New York to endorse his uncle (quick online story here). Ford Jr. went so far as to associate Luttrell with the tea party movement. Luttrell is fighting back hard against that line of attack, saying he has always run nonpartisan campaigns and conducted himself as sheriff in a nonpatisan manner.

"They see their chance for winning is appealing to partisanship," Luttrell said. "We've got to be able to pull divergent groups together -- Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives -- to work toward a common goal."   

Luttrell also said Democrats are being loose with the truth when they claim that he is advocating for a new jail during the campaign. Ford Jr. and other Democrats were describing that as Luttrell's main idea for economic development, something Luttrell strongly denies. Luttrell said as sheriff he did present the Shelby County Commission with options that included building a new jail, but also offered alternatives like more funding for drug court, mental-health and other diversions and speeding up the adjudication process.

Luttrell has consistently said during the campaign that the does not believe now is the time for the county to consider adding debt to build a new jail, although he does believe it would save taxpayers money over the longterm.

"I've never been a proponent for a jail to be the key to our economic development," Luttrell said.
In case you missed it on the main commercialapppeal.com front, Harold Ford Jr. will be in town Wednesday to publicly endorse his uncle, Joe Ford, in the Shelby County mayoral race. This is not exactly unexpected, although of course if the former five-term Congressman did not make some show of support, people would hold that against the candidate. Some might point out that the vigorous campaigning of both Ford Jr. and his father, Harold Ford Sr., did not help Joe Ford in the 1999 Memphis mayoral contest with Willie Herenton.

We suspect Ford Jr. may help his uncle by going on the attack against Republican mayoral candidate Mark Luttrell, the Shelby County sheriff. When Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester came to town earlier this summer for a rally, he pointed out that Luttrell had served as the county campaign chairman for Bob Corker's campaign for U.S. Senate against Ford Jr. (Luttrell also was a county leader for the McCain-Palin campaign). Don't be surprised if Ford Jr. takes the opportunity to speak directly to those Shelby County Democrats considering crossing over to vote for Luttrell, to remind them that whatever his moderate stance on issues in this race, he was and is still a local leader of the Republican Party -- the party of George W. Bush and the party hostile to President Obama's agenda.

On Monday, Luttrell emphasized his desire to not "stray" too far from "the center" into more those "emotional issues" that have consumed Republican politics like immigration, health-care reform and guns and stay focused on those things "that we know on Sept. 1 we will be facing in Shelby County." He said: "Sometimes campaigns get off track into emotional issues." That may not be what many voters in Luttrell's suburban Republican base want to hear, but Luttrell knows he cannot win this election without persuading Democrats to vote for him.

Joe Ford on Monday was eager to paint Luttrell as a partisan right-wing ideologue: "I'm a progressive Democrat and he's a conservative Republican."

We'll be at The Peabody today to talk to Ford Jr. It should be interesting.

The candidates for governor head West again


All three Republican candidates for governor are campaigning in West Tennessee the rest of the week:


Bill Haslam:

Wednesday: Henderson, Collierville.

Thursday:  Milan, Huntingdon, Paris, Clarksville, Springfield, Hendersonville and Lebanon.


Zach Wamp:

Thursday: Milan, Dyersburg, Bells, and Madison and Fayette Counties.

Friday: Memphis: 8 a.m: meet and greet with Shelby County Republicans at Perkins, 1571 Sycamore Road. 1:15 p.m: "Memphis Matters" press conference at 50 North Dunlap Street, then tour LeBonheur Children's Hospital. 5:30 p.m.: meet and greet in Munford


Ron Ramsey:

Wednesday: Trenton, Jackson

Thursday: Lexington.


From a Cookeville Starbucks




COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - Fun on the campaign trail for governor today: first half of the day with Congressman Zach Wamp in Gallatin and Lebanon, then over to Cookeville for part of Day 4 of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's early vote bus tour.


The congressman was ebullient, predicting that momentum in the Republican primary has shifted his way since last week's statewide televised debate at Belmont University. (Unfortunately for him, that was the last one before the Aug. 5 primary. He's asked for more but that isn't likely to happen.)


Wamp said that large numbers of undecided voters, plus former backers of his two GOP rivals moving toward him, especially - he said -- those of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. "With all due respect for him (Ramsey) -- and there is tremendous respect for him - there comes a time when even your most ardent supporters say, I don't want to be a spoiler here and I don't want to cast a vote that won't make a difference.


"That's what a lot of people are now saying - that he is a distant third and is not going to be competitive and therefore we're seeing, hearing and feeling that people are saying we're going to close ranks before it's over," Wamp told reporters outside the Sumner County Administrative Building where he greeted early voters.


Inside the colonial-style county building, in a nice atrium at the center, are wonderful black and white photographs of Gallatin and Sumner County scenes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The county is a big tobacco producer.


Ramsey spent the day doing several events today in Hawkins County, adjacent to his home Tri-Cities region. He announced his endorsement by the Tennessee Firearms Association, which pushes to remove restrictions on where guns may be legally carried.

An endorsement letter by Nashville lawyer John Harris, the association's founder and volunteer executive director, said that Ramsey's voting record has "demonstrated a strong and consistent support of the rights of (Tennesseans) as protected by the Second Amendment...even when others have questioned the justness of standing up for constitutionally recognized rights that might seem to them to be unnecessary."


Ramsey has targeted gun owners, handgun-carry licensees and Tea Party activists for support.


Mayor Haslam toured areas north of Knoxville today but had left his big rented campaign bus before a pack of Nashville-based reporters caught up with his entourage in Cookeville. Campaign aides said the mayor was summoned by Gov. Phil Bredesen to meet with undisclosed business executives considering moving 750 jobs to Tennessee.


But his father, "Big Jim" Haslam, Bill Haslam's wife Crissy and daughters Leigh and Annie campaigned in Cookeville, on the picture perfect courthouse square and at the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency.


Jim Haslam, 79,  founded Pilot Corp. 52 years ago with a single service station and said Wamp's TV attacks on the family-owned national chain of travel centers - its 2009 settlement with the state attorney general of price-gouging charges in the wake of Hurricane Ike in 2008 - hurt him.


"Of course," he said. "We've been in business 52 years and we have based our business on three things: doing the right thing, working hard and being accountable. I will stack up Pilot's record as a corporate citizen up against anyone's."


*   *   *

Earlier today, Wamp downplayed the results -- to be released Sunday -- of statewide polling in the governor's race underway this week by Tennessee media. He said that such polling does not take into account where voting is heavy and where it's light.


"There's going to be a wide spread in intensity, like the eastern part of Shelby County where a huge early voting turnout is underway. They've got the county mayor's race and sheriff's race that is turning out voters. I'm encouraged because I'm strong in Germantown, Collierville, Millington and other areas in Shelby County. That's one thing that a survey is not going to tell you," Wamp said.


"If you're in the hunt, election day could very well swing one way or the other depending on the intensity, the activation and the momentum. There's no doubt in my mind that in the last eight days since the debate,  the momentum is with our campaign. Prior to that, 36 percent were undecided and I believe we're wining the vast majority of them, plus a major shift away from Ramsey and a lot of Haslam supporters are coming our way once they saw the debate.


"I think Bill Haslam is a very nice man but I do not think that he is either the man or the leader that his money says he is and I think that's the issue that a lot of people are now talking about. A lot of people come up to me and say he's trying to buy it isn't he."

County mayoral politics = blowout city since '70s

The fantastic Commercial Appeal research library helped us with today's story on the county mayoral race by tracking down numbers from past races for the position. For whichever reasons, the position has never featured a competitive race, unless you consider the Roy Nixon's 1975 victory in the very first contest, with 45 percent of the vote to John Ford Canale's 33 percent, to be "close." In the last 30 years, the closest margin of victory came in A C Wharton's 2002 blowout of George Flinn, when he got 62 percent of the vote and finished 47,690 votes ahead despite Flinn spending more than $1 million.

Whether this year's race will be "close" or not may depend on your definition of "close." Interim mayor and Democratic candidate Joe Ford said his polls show him with a lead of six percentage points, while Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, the Republican candidate, said the polling he trusts most has shown him with a consistent double-digit advantage. Luttrell, however, is certainly running like it's very tight, aggressively seeking votes from Memphis Democrats by touting his record as sheriff -- and hoping they will forgive him for beng the county chair of both Bob Corker's 2006 senate campaign and the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign.

As the story points out, the result of a close race appears to be a campaign that forces both candidates to run campaigns that do more than just attempt to galvanize their respective voting bases.

Click on the jump to see the results of previous county mayor races:

Analyzing strong first day of expanded early voting

Locally, Republicans and Democrats will find ways to spin the numbers to their advantage, but Monday's opening of satellite sites for early voting appears to give early credibility to the notion Republicans are spreading that they will be more motivated than in 2008 or 2006. In all, 7,468 people turned out, a huge jump from the first day of expanded early voting in the $1 million May county primaries, when only 2,372 people bothered to show up. Of the 7,408 who requested primary ballots, 3,257 (or 44 percent) wanted Republican ballots and 4,151 (or 56 percent) wanted Democratic ballots.

How is 44-percent turnout good news for Republicans? In the big-picture, long-range view, it is not. But it looks good when compared to 2008, when Republican presidential candidate John McCain could only muster 35 percent of the vote in Shelby County. Whether that improvement of nine percentage points can hold is another matter -- Democrats have been running up the score on Election Day, not necessarily during early voting.  And it is also worth noting that the first day of early voting at satellite sites can be misleading, because all campaigns make a strong push on Day 1; it is the strongest campaigns which will outperform over the two-week duration of early voting, applying expensive technology and old-fashioned volunteering to get out the vote.

For more information on early voting, check out the Shelby County Election Commission's website at www.ShelbyVote.com. There is a link on the left-hand side for "Early Voting Daily Totals."

Some CBC members back Cohen -- The Washington Post


WASHINGTON - The Washington Post gave Steve Cohen a nice shout-out this morning, noting that members of the Congressional Black Caucus have endorsed him and that none have endorsed his opponent, Willie Herenton.

The story appears under the headline: "To Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Steve Cohen remains an admired outsider."

The story quotes U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., "the civil rights hero," saying of Cohen: "He's a wonderful member, he's a solid and good Democratic vote. That district had a black representative, they had a father and later a son. And the voting record of Steve Cohen is just as good as any African American member."

It said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., "heaped praise on Cohen."

The story noted that Cohen initially sought membership in the CBC but was told it was reserved for black members.

It also notes that Cohen's opponent in 2008, corporate lawyer Nikki Tinker, was endorsed by the late CBC member Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, who died later that year. The two were Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters. It didn't mention Tinker or Jones by name.

The Post didn't mention other names, but Cohen's Judiciary Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., endorsed him in 2008 and again this year. Other members of the caucus giving Cohen the thumbs up this year are U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., Shiela Jackson Lee, D-Calif., Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Diane E. Watson, D-Calif., Lacy Clay Jr., D-Mo., Robert C. Scott, D-Va., and Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

Early voting sets good pace, expands today

Make of it what you will, but the totals from the first two days of early voting show a brisk pace, with the Shelby County Election Commission precinct getting more than twice as much business on Friday and Saturday as it received in the May county primaries -- 775 people made it Downtown to vote vs. 350 who did so on the same two opening days of early voting in May.

Counting the absentee ballots and those votes picked up at nursing homes, 1,432 people cast ballots, which was 527 more than on the first two days of early voting in May. More people asked for Democratic ballots for state and federal primaries (993, or 69.3 percent) than Republican ballots (369, or 25.8 percent) -- not a big surprise given that getting Downtown would be inconvenient for the bulk of suburban voters. Of course, a voter can ask for a Republican primary ballot but vote for Democrats in the county general elections (or vice versa).

Early Voting expands to satellite locations today and continues through July 31, going from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays at all locations. On Saturdays at the Election Commission (157 Poplar), it runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but at satellite locations Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Satellite locations:
Agricenter (Rotunda Hallway),  7777 Walnut Grove
Anointed Temple Of Praise (Youth Room),  3939 Riverdale
Baker Community Center, 7942 Church
Bellevue Baptist, 2000 Appling
Berclair Church of Christ, 4536 Summer  
Bethel Church,  5586 Stage
Bishop Byrne High School, 1475 E. Shelby Drive
Factory Outlet (Suite 106), 3570 Canada  
Collierville Church of Christ,  575 W. Shelton  
Dave Wells Community Center,  915 Chelsea
Glenview Community Center, 1141 S. Barksdale
Greater Middle Baptist Church (Fellowship Hall),  4982 Knight Arnold
Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church (Family Life Center),  70 N. Bellevue  
Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church (Fellowship Bldg)., 3045045 Chelsea  
New Bethel Baptist Church (Family Life Center), 7786 Poplar Pike
Pyramid Recovery Center, 1833 S. Third
Raleigh United Methodist Church,  3295 Powers  
Riverside Baptist Church,  3560 S. Third
Shiloh Baptist Church, 3121 Range Line Road
White Station Church of Christ,  1106 Colonial

Some 2nd Quarter Campaign Finance Reports Are In


WASHINGTON - Some campaign disclosure reports were available prior to tonight's midnight deadline, but many were not, including the 9th District's for Willie Herenton and Steve Cohen.

Marsha Blackburn, seeking a fifth term representing the 7th Congressional District which includes parts of eastern Shelby County, raised $81,786 from individuals and $137,050 from political action committees in the quarter ending June 30. She spent $114,914 in the three-month period and has $768,672 in cash on hand.

The report for Democrat Greg Rabidoux, Blackburn's opponent in November, was not available.

The independent expenditure committee created by 8th Congressional District candidate Ronald Kirkland's brother, Robert Kirkland of Union City, reported spending $614,140 in the second quarter. It spent $84,545 in the first quarter. Under federal election law, an independent expenditure committee cannot coordinate its activities with a candidate's own committee, and the brothers have agreed not to speak with one another for the duration of the campaign.

None of the 8th District Republicans candidates' reports were available Thursday evening but should be posted on Friday.

John Tanner, who will retire in January from the 8th District seat he's held since 1989, didn't raise any money in the second quarter but spent $40,659, including $35,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Maxine Smith backs Cohen


WASHINGTON - Maxine Smith, the woman who helped make Willie Herenton the first black Memphis City Schools superintendent in 1978 and later the first African American mayor of Memphis, has endorsed incumbent Congressman Steve Cohen in the 9th District race in a radio ad that begins airing Friday.

"For twenty years, I watched as Steve never gave up the fight to create the Tennessee Education lottery which has generated billions of dollars for the HOPE college scholarship, and educational programs," she says in the 30-second spot.

The Democratic primary vote is Aug. 5.

"A fighter, a thoughtful and proven leader, whose rise in Congress includes a chairmanship appointment, his election to Regional Whip and consistent 'A' rating from my organization, the NAACP, all prove that Congressman Steve Cohen continues to provide exemplary leadership and representation for the people of the 9th Congressional district. On August 5th, I'm going with Steve Cohen," she says.

The ad joins one recorded by former Congressman Harold Ford Sr. that began airing today. Cohen got a written endorsement from President Barack Obama on Tuesday, a day after a slate of local politicians, including former interim Mayor Myron Lowery and Sheriff's candidate Randy Wade, put their names in Cohen's column.

Herenton, at a press availability earlier this week, said he wasn't seeking endorsements.

Haslam to launch "whistle-stop" bus tour from Memphis Friday


 NASHVILLE - When Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam leaves Memphis late Friday after three days of campaigning in and around Shelby County, he'll head east in a new campaign bus on a whistle-stop, cross-state tour that runs through the end of early voting July 31.


The bus tour kicks off in Memphis and will work its way across Tennessee over the following two weeks to encourage early voting. Early voting in the Aug. 5 primary starts Saturday.


The bus tour ad early voting end five days before the primary, in which Haslam, the Knoxville mayor, is competing with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.


Wamp has traveled the state in a colorful converted recreational vehicle emblazoned with a giant photo of the congressman and his campaign logo. But the 45-foot long bus, with room for about 24 people, is a first for the Haslam camp, which heretofore has traveled small in a GMC sport-utility vehicle.


The Haslam campaign is still mapping out the tour, spokesman David Smith said today, but the plan is for the bus to stop frequently for the candidate to meet and greet voters. At some stops, Haslam supporters will stage rallies. Others will likely include stopping on courthouse squares and shaking hands with residents.


"It will be a whistle-stop tour and will be visiting all three grand divisions multiple times," Smith said. The Saturday stops are tentatively scheduled in Trenton, Humboldt, Jackson, Murfreesboro and Clarksville.


Wamp and Haslam are both campaigning in Memphis today, mining for Tennessee's largest single bloc of GOP primary voters. Wamp heads east to the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas for the rest of the week. Ramsey has no visits to the Memphis area listed on his campaign website.



Haslam's campaign scheduled in Greater Memphis for Thursday and Friday:


7:30 - 8:30 a.m. Speak Woodburn Farms, 15480 Highway 64, Somerville

8:45 - 9:30 a.m. Speak S&P Café, 7029 Highway 64, Oakland, followed by a tour of Oakland city hall and fire department through 10:30.

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.  Speak to Fayette County Homebuilders Association meeting at Somerville Bank & Trust, 16790 Highway 64, Somerville

2:15 - 2:45 p.m. Participate in an economic development roundtable with McNairy County Mayor Jai Templeton and others at McNairy County Courthouse, 170 West Court Ave, Selmer



8 - 9 a.m. Haslam will host a campaign rally at his Memphis campaign headquarters, 845 S. White Station Road

9:50 - 10:45 a.m. Speak at Hard Rock Café, 315 Beale

11:25 - noon Speak at Commodore Villages, 4486 Babe Howard, Millington 

12:30 - 1:10 p.m.  Speak at Arlington Travel Center, 4935 Airline Road, Arlington

1:30 - 2:10 p.m. Speak at Homebuilders Association offices, 776 North Germantown Parkway, Cordova 

3 - 3:45 p.m.  Stop at the Forest Hill Animal Hospital in Germantown, Irene Rd, Suite 102

 4 - 5:15 p.m. Knock on neighborhood doors in Collierville. 700 block of South Tree 

6 - 7:30 p.m.   Speak at a meet and greet dinner at Gill Ranch, 7901 E. Holmes Rd


Quick thoughts on Ch. 3 sheriff's debae

Technical difficulties derailed our plans to post during Shelby County sheriff's debate.
See below for quick thoughts posted onto Twitter. I'm working up a separate for the website and will post more later.

1. May need to start calling Wade just 'W' for George W. Bush-esque habit of speaking. Best (worst?) today was referring to 'Alabama' immigration law.
2. Wasn't fair in '60 w/Nixon either, but boy TV lights made Oldham sweat. Hard not to recall his heart issues when saw that.
3. On substance, very little changed. Wade pushes community support, deputies endorsing him, jail alternatives for nonviolent offenders.
4. Oldham stresses experience as law enforcement leader @ MPD & as chief deputy, points to Wade's lack of command experience.
5. Immigration question interesting. It revealed Oldham toes conservative GOP line & Wade calls AZ law racist and unconstitutional.
6. But mostly, Wade & Oldham were polite and friendly. Oldham even asked Wade how he liked 1 month of married life.
7. Finally, speaks volumes of 9thDistrict: Oldham rejected quasi-Herenton endorsement, Wade giddy Oldham got it.

Hip-Hop ad targets Flinn in the 8th


WASHINGTON - Can George Flinn beat this rap?

The independent expenditure committee set up by 8th Congresssional District Republican Ronald Kirkland's brother has begun airing an ad in Memphis, Jackson and Nashville markets attacking Flinn's hip-hop themed FM 107.1-KHXT radio station.

It also says Flinn can't vote for himself in the election because he's not a resident of the district. Tennessee law doesn't require residence within a Congressional district before an election.

"Would you vote for a Memphis politician who doesn't even live in our district for Congress?" a woman's voice asks in the 30-second ad. "How about a radio mogul whose station promotes gang violence, drug abuse and insults women? Well, George Flinn is that man."

The ad concludes: "You are not our neighbor. You don't care about our youth. And you don't share our values."

Kirkland's brother Robert set up an independent expenditure committee to work on behalf of the campaign and produced the latest ad. Federal election law prohibits independent expenditure committees from coordinating with a candidate's own committee, and the brothers have agreed not to communicate until the race has ended.

The 8th District race to replace retiring Democrat John Tanner is one of the most-watched contests this election year. The GOP candidate will face state Sen. Roy Herron in November. Stephen Fincher is the third GOP contender in the race.

Flinn owns the 107.1 radio station whose web site on Tuesday pictured a man extending his middle finger as well as a picture of Flinn himself. The web site describes the station as having "the most unique and exclusive position in the Memphis market. Hip-Hop Music is the message music of the 21st century and HOT 107.1 brings the culture and style of the new millennium to Memphis radio."

Flinn spokesman Paul Ciaramitaro called the ad "a desperate attack by the brother of a politician who hides and lets others do his dirty work while he tries to cover up his liberal record.

"Ron Kirkland directed bundles of campaign cash to some of the most liberal, pro-abortion politicians in Washington while they were foisting Obamacare upon the country. Worse, Kirkland cheered the socialist stimulus bill when it became law. Ron Kirkland ought to stand up and face his liberal record, fight for himself and denounce his brother's illegal campaign tactics."

"George has been forthright about his residence and his radio interests from the outset of this campaign," Ciaramitaro continued. "The ad is cherry-picking one station out of over forty. It's a station to which George doesn't listen. Robert Kirkland conveniently fails to mention the Christian or children's radio stations that Dr. Flinn also owns."

Robert Kirkland's spokesman, Brad Greer, responded: "We are proud to support Ron Kirkland who has chosen to sing in his church's choir rather than promote the harmful music Flinn's station pushes. Flinn now touts that he also has Christian stations. We suppose Flinn will make a buck with any type of music that sells. Sad.

"The Kirkland's and I live here in this district and will continue to legally promote Ron's candidacy in an exercise of free speech. We are proud to call the 8th congressional district our home, and its residents our neighbors."

Debates this week ... and early voting!

The final chance to see the gubernatorial candidates debate on TV is tonight, with WMC-TV Channel 5 deserving kudos for showing a live debate in prime time at Belmont College in Nashville between the three Republicans and Democrat Mike McWherter. It starts at 7.

At least two other televised debates hit this week, with WREG-TV Channel 3 using its "Live at Nine" show for debates Wednesday and Thursday morning. Sheriff candidates Randy Wade and Bill Oldham go first on Wednesday at 9 a.m. and county mayoral candidates Mark Luttrell and interim mayor Joe Ford go Thursday at 9 a.m.

And last but certainly not least, early voting begins Friday at the Shelby County Election Commission at 157 POPLAR AVE., SUITE 121, going from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting expands to 20 satellite locations around the county next Monday, July 19.

Finance reports will make for interesting reading

First on today's agenda, at least for the politicians and their campaigns, is the deadline to submit their campaign fundraising disclosures. Go here to see them for yourself.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, we already know that Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam was most proud of his haul, since his campaign announced far ahead of time that another strong period pushed it past the $8.7 million mark. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga took another week to decide to trumpet that his campaign had exceeded $4 million, which he says will allow him to advertise on network TV until the Aug. 5 election day, and he contends that's an impressive total given that he's running against what he describes as a wealthy family collecting IOUs from around the state.

State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey we know sent out one of those last-chance-to-donate solicitations at the end of June, but the silence from his campaign on his fundraising either means they're not proud of it or, if they are, they wanted to wait to give it more of a news hook. The Associated Press's fine political reporter, Erik Schelzig, reports that an outside group called Tennesseans for a Better Tomorrow has filed with the Internal Revenue Service as a so-called 527 group in order "to make independent expenditures to support Ron Ramsey's candidacy for Governor of Tennessee." That is a classic way to allow a campaign to go aggressively negative,  Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer told Schelzig: "The lion's share of advertising by a 527 is negative. So in all likelihood, they will support any candidate by attacking the opposition."

Locally, it's going to be interesting to see fundraising totals in the races for Shelby County mayor and sheriff, with Republican candidate Mark Luttrell expected to post a big number (we'll be looking to see who the funders are ... and whether many of them represent crossover Democrats).

In the races for Congress, we'll be watching to see how the Republicans in the crucial 8th Congressional District compare to Democrat Roy Herron; to see if former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton has had any success at all in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th; and if Clarksville college professor Greg Rabidoux is getting the kind of backing he will need from big Democratic supporters in the 7th to make incumbent U.S. Rep. and uber-Republican Marsha Blackburn at all uncomfortable in the general election.

Mark Luttrell: More political than you think?

We've been running profiles of some of the marquee candidates in the Shelby County general elections, and today comes investigative guru Marc Perrusquia's treatment of county mayoral candidate Mark Luttrell, who currently serves as sheriff. We'll have another Joe Ford piece soon. Last week, we ran profiles of sheriff candidates Randy Wade and Bill Oldham.

Perrusquia reveals in Luttrell a candidate who may not exude charisma but appears to have a keen political instinct and privileged connections that date back to his high school days at Bartlett High School.

Yet the real Mark Luttrell -- a 6-foot-4 Baptist father of three grown children, a grandfather, history buff and avid hiker often seen traipsing through local cemeteries and neighborhoods with a walking stick -- doesn't always jibe with his polished, public image.

For starters, he isn't as reluctant a politician as one might think.
Lots of information and opinions on the Republican gubernatorial primary in today's Opinion section at The CA -- we'll provide the links to the editorial board's endorsement of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, to Otis Sanford's near-endorsement of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and the Tennessee Newspaper Network's comprehensive survey of all four candidates' views on the issue of health care. But if you are a serious reader, it's well worth your $2 to run out and get a copy -- or hit this link to get one of the all-time great products, home delivery of the newspaper to keep you well informed.

The editorial board, which includes citizens, settled on Haslam in part because its view that the Knoxville mayor has the "temperament" to work well with others and proven executive experience. But Otis Sanford clearly came away from the board's interview with Zach Wamp very impressed. The board will have to decide in November whether to recommend Haslam, Wamp or State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey against Democrat Mike McWherter (who is running unopposed in the Aug. 5 primary), but the view from the editorial board members seems clear -- they see Haslam and Wamp as good choices.

In the news pages, our Nashville correspondent, Richard Locker, was at the Davidson County GOP picnic Saturday, where if you had just landed in Tennessee with no prior knowledge of the state of things, it would be obvious that Haslam's opponents consider him the clear leader. Wamp and Ramsey have not been shy over the last 18 months pointing to what they see as Haslam's conservative deficiencies, but as early-voting looms (it begins Friday), the fact that they are increasing the attacks speaks volumes. When he was in town last week, I asked Wamp about Ramsey and the congressman suggested that "conservatives needed to close ranks" and vote for Wamp. though Wamp did not specifically say a vote for Ramsey is a wasted vote, that was certainly the implication.

Here is the piece on all of the candidates' views on health care, with Knoxville providing this break out of all the questions and answers.

GOP gubernatorial candidates in Nashville Saturday, debate Monday



NASHVILLE - The action in Tennessee's gubernatorial primary is here in Music City Saturday, where all three Republican candidates are to greet and speak at the Davidson County GOP Picnic in Centennial Park, under a pavilion near the Parthenon, from 11:30 to 1:30.


 We'll have a report on that online Saturday afternoon and in the newspaper Sunday morning.


With only a week to go before the onset of early voting July 16, the GOP primary is entering its final stretch. The candidates have to file their campaign financial disclosures next week.


After the Nashville picnic, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey heads to Somerville for a gathering at Woodbridge General Store on the courthouse square at 5:30 p.m., according to his website. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will knock on doors in a Murfreesboro neighborhood, then campaign in Williamson County. And Congressman Zach Wamp heads to McMinn County.


   *    *    *



The last major statewide televised debate of the primary is set for Monday night, with all four candidates scheduled to participate: Democrat Mike McWherter and Republicans Bill Haslam, Ron Ramsey and Zach Wamp.


Monday night's meeting is actually more of a town hall forum-style event than a debate. It originates from Nashville's Belmont University and will be aired live from 7 to 8 p.m. on WMC-TV, Channel 5, in Memphis.


Several University of Memphis political science students and faculty members are gathering to watch the debate on the U of M campus and will be connected via Skype, to Belmont. 


   *   *   * 

Of the candidates who have released next week's campaign schedules by late Friday afternoon, Congressman Wamp of Chattanooga plans visits to Big Shelby - on Tuesday and Wednesday.


He plans to attend a meet and greet with Shelby County Republicans at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at LaHacienda, 3491 Poplar, followed by "multiple campaign and finance meetings in Shelby County" Wednesday morning. Past experience indicates that those events are usually closed to the general public and the media - but if the Wamp camp releases any public stops, we'll let you know.


   *   *   *


Wamp picked up the endorsement today of Murfreesboro gun manufacturer Ronnie Barrett, whose Barrett Firearms manufactures large-caliber rifles used by the U.S. military. Barrett's name became well known around the State Capitol this year when he got into it with the Tennessee Department of Transportation over its refusal to grant an easement for a new access road to his plant alongside Interstate 24. He asked the state legislature to force TDOT to grant approval for the new access.


The failure of the measure may have contributed to his backing of Wamp over Senate Speaker Ramsey, who last week won the endorsement of the Gun Owners Association of America.  Citing his work in the legislature to loosen longstanding restrictions on guns, Ramsey has campaigned hard for the support of gun activists, including the state's 300,000 handgun-carry permit holders. 


Barrett is quoted in Wamp's press release:


"Whenever Tennessee sportsmen and gun owners needed a friend in Congress, Zach Wamp stood strong with us to protect and defend our 2nd Amendment rights, (and) that's why he's always received an A rating from the National Rifle Association. We need that same strong backbone and consistent support from our next Governor, and I'm convinced that Zach Wamp will be that man."


Ramsey spent Friday in his home region, the Tri-Cities, where several Republican state legislators from the area endorsed him. They included Sens. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, Mike Faulk, Kingsport, and Steve Southerland, Morristown, and Reps. Dale Ford, Jonesborough, Matthew Hill, Jonesborough, John Lundberg, Bristol, Jason Mumpower, Bristol, and Tony Shipley, Kingsport.



Technical difficulties

Due to a weaker-than-expected computer battery, and a lost signal, we had to shut down the blog on the Mayoral debate for the last 25 minutes or so. Just one of those things that happens as we try to bring you flavor and information as quickly as possible.

Read the full story on the debate on commercialappeal.com.



There are a series of questions from the panel on consolidation. Ford continues to take his stand against the merger, saying he doesn't see anything the City of Memphis can provide to the county. He said there are plenty of services from hospital to the health department that county government funds, so there already is some consolidation.

Luttrell, for the first time, says he is opposed to consolidation because, after seeing a draft of the proposed charter, he sees it as too big, and doesn't like the direction it took on law enforcement. Mainly, Luttrell said law enforcement should be under the sheriff.

He said Ford not only voted on establishing the Charter Commission, but dedicates some of the county administration staff to the Charter Commission.

Ford said Luttrell has "flip-flopped" on consolidation.

How about a merger?


While not talking specifically about consolidation, there is a question about combining the police and sheriff's office to handle law enforcement countywide. Ford uses the opportunity to say he has oppposed consolidation all along, including fire and police

Luttrell also says he opposes combining law enforcement, but if they are combined, they should be under the sheriff, and not a police director or other appointed position.

Ford on representation


FOrd said that while he is a Democrat, he is representing citizens across the county. He notes work all thorugh the suburbs, the balanced budget and the success of the Med.

He says he has not opposed his Democratic party.

Luttrell says there are partisan politics, but he hasn't seen issues that break down on party lines. He can't give any example of such a politcal party breakdown on any issues.

First question


Ford deals with the question of whether he double-crossed citizens and county commissioners by running after he said he would not run if he was appointed seven months ago.

Questioner Jackson Baker says Commissioner Mike Ritz says he wouldn't have voted on Ford if he knew the interim mayor would run.

Ford said he doesn't feel like he misled anyone, and was not aware of RItz's position. He heard from voters who wanted him to run, and he had unfinished business. He mentions the funding of the Regional Medical Center as one of those accomplishments.



And here we go


Both candidates appear stern and stone-faced as Joe Birch and Ursula Madden  introduces everyone.


Ford promotes his work with the Regional Medical Center, including millions of dollars in federal funds for the hospital announced earlier today. He notes that he presented a balanced budget.

Luttrell talks about turning around the SHelby County Sheriff's Department, once considered among the worst around.

Studio Magic


On several occasions, during the pre-debate discussions, it is noted that the studio is the same location that hosted professional wrestling on Saturday mornings. Anchor Joe Birch has noted that combatants, such as Jerry Lawler, 'Handsome' Jimmy Valiant, Terry Funk and The Rock before he was the Rock , and went by the ring name Flex Kavana, performed on the set.

There is some hope that the verbal jousting between the two candidates will have the same spirit as some of the promos by the grapplers who formerly worked in the studio.

Starting Lineup


Here is the starting lineup for tonight's Shelby County Mayoral Debate:

Representing the Democrats: Interim County Mayor Joe Ford

Representing the Republicans: Sheriff Mark Luttrell

Moderators: WMC-TV Anchors Joe Birch and Ursula Madden

Panelists: Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer; Karanja Ajanaku, executive editor of the Tri-State Defender and Jonathan Lindberg, publisher of the Main Street Journal.

Timekeeper at the Bell: Peg Watkins, president of the League of Women Voters


Welcome to the debate


We will be blogging live from the Shelby County Mayoral debate between Interim Mayor Joe Ford and Mark Luttrell, the Shelby County Sheriff. The hour-long debate will be shown live on WMC-TV Channel 5 beginning at 7 p.m.

The debate is presented in partnership with the League of Women Voters and the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals.

Commercial Appeal publishes online Voter's Guide

Kudos to digital news guru Michael Erskine and the crew of Commercial Appeal interns -- Amy Barnette, Emily Greenberg and Mike Mueller -- for putting together an online Voter's Guide for the upcoming Aug. 5 elections.

It lists basic information on candidates running for offices in the local Shelby County general election and the primaries at the state and federal level. You can check it out at http://www.commercialappeal.com/voter-guide/.
The Memphis Bar Association sent its "Judicial Qualification Poll" to more than 3,000 local attorneys and got 795 responses. MBA this year changed its questionnaire so that it asked respondents to vote definitively on the question of "Which candidate is best qualified to serve?" In all, there are five judicial races, but just two in which there are no incumbents.

In Criminal Court Division 3, assistant district attorney Bobby Carter just edged prominent criminal defense attorney Gerald Skahan, 207-188, with 171 offering no opinion and Glenn Wright (90 votes) and Larry H. Nance (82 votes) also receiving more than 10 percent support.

In General Sessions Criminal Court Division 7, Janet L. Shipman (125 votes), William D. "Billy" Bond (115) and Bill Anderson Jr. (79) combined to receive more votes than the other 17 candidates combined. Rhonda W. Harris (47) Bryan A. Davis (42) and Herb Lane (35) each got more than 5 percent of support from those who had an opinion. Nine of the 20 candidates got 15 or fewer votes as "most qualified".

In the other three races, MBA respondents seemed to approve of the incumbents, with Circuit Court Division 4 Judge Lorrie Ridder (520 votes, or 79.3 percent of those with an opinion) and General Sessions Division 10 Judge Lee Wilson (376 votes, or 71.1 percent) getting huge majorities, with Circuit Court Division 8 Judge Rynette N. Hurd (287 votes, or 49.3 percent) well in front of Bob Weiss (149 votes, 25.2 percent), Venita Martin (76 votes, or 13.1 percent) and JoeDae Jenkins (70 votes, or 12.0 percent).

For more information, visit www.MemphisBar.org.

And now Wamp....


A press statement just issued by Congressman Zach Wamp's Republican gubernatorial campaign, on the Obama administration's lawsuit to block enforcement of Arizona's immigration law:

"Legal immigration has helped make America great. But illegal immigration threatens our public schools, hospitals, safety and finances Unfortunately the Obama administration is once again putting their political interests ahead of the people's interests.  And they're wrong. We need a law like Arizona's.  Firm but fair. And if the federal government won't enforce the law, then as governor, I will."

Now McWherter weighs in against Obama suing Arizona


NASHVILLE -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter has joined Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey (see below) in opposing the Obama administration's court battle against Arizona's immigration enforcement law:

"I think the administration is wrong on this one. Arizona's trying to get a handle on the immigration policy because of Washington's total failure to deal with the real problem. Immigration has become another political football in Washington and this lawsuit only continues the game, rather than solve the problem. We need to control the border, crack down on businesses that employ illegal workers, and give businesses the tools to quickly and reliably verify a job applicant's status," McWherter said in a press release today.


Ramsey strikes again, two days in a row


NASHVILLE - Just when you're wondering whether Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has folded his Republican gubernatorial campaign  - his website lists no campaign events until Saturday and his TV ads have all but disappeared - his camp issues another communiqué today: "Ramsey Decries Obama Administration's Move to Sue Arizona Over Immigration Law."


"Just when you think it unfathomable that Washington can get any crazier, they announce news highlighting just how out of touch they are with mainstream Americans. I've said before that I fully back Arizona's efforts to enforce immigration law and secure their borders from the scourge of violence and crime that illegal immigration is causing in their state.  In fact, when I am elected the next conservative Governor of Tennessee, I will enact a similar measure."


Just when you think it is unfathomable that a serious gubernatorial campaign can shoot itself in the foot any more, the candidate who has made a dominant campaign theme of his (failed) efforts to sue to block enforcement of a law that he believes is unconstitutional (the national health reform act), he issues a statement opposing the President for suing to block enforcement of a law that he believes is unconstitutional.

   *   *   *

This comes a day after Team Ramsey charged (see below) that GOP primary rival Bill Haslam "counts liberals such as environmental crusader Al Gore and Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper as supporters."

Asked the basis of its contention that known Democrats Gore and Cooper are supporters of Haslam, Team Ramsey responded Tuesday night by saying it meant that Haslam has "actively donated financially to Gore (1988) and Rep. Cooper (2002)."

Hmmm. So because Haslam contributed to the Gore and Cooper camps 22 and 8 years ago, they support him?

By that reasoning, does Haslam's $5,000 contribution in 2006 to Ramsey's state legislative political action committee, Raampac, mean that Haslam should count Ramsey as a supporter?

    *   *   *

Team Ramsey has added more campaign stops to its website - but none before Saturday's obligatory visit to the Davidson County GOP picnic. Ramsey also plans to stop by the Somerville courthouse square at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, participate in next Monday's statewide televised debate from Belmont University, appear on a conservative radio forum in Nashville Tuesday morning and stop by a Henry County tea party rally July 15 in Paris.

That's a vigrorous campaign schedule only nine days to go until the start of early voting?

Ramsey attacks Haslam; Wamp back in Greater Memphis


NASHVILLE -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey went on the attack against his opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, this afternoon - essentially calling him a moderate disguised as a conservative.

As has become the norm in this year's gubernatorial race, the attack did not issue directly from the candidate's own mouth at a public event where he could theoretically be challenged or at least pressed for supporting details, but rather by a media communiqué issued by the campaign, "Team Ron Ramsey."

In the statement, Ramsey charges that "He (Haslam) counts liberals such as environmental crusader Al Gore and Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper as supporters. He has actively and financially supported both of them. He's helped lead one of the country's most radical gun control groups - Bloomberg's Mayors Against Guns - until 2008 when it became politically expedient to withdraw from said group. Regardless of his millions of dollars spent on ads that say nothing, Tennesseans are smart enough to see through his fluffy commercials and realize he's not the 'real deal' at all."

Ramsey's communications director, Rachel Taylor, did not respond to requests for details on its claim that Gore and Cooper - both Tennessee Democrats - support Haslam, a Republican. Unlike Haslam, Wamp and Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, the Ramsey camp has not released a public campaign schedule for this week and there were not listings under "Events" on the campaign website, where it scheduled campaign stops by the candidate are usually listed.

Haslam did resign from an organization of mayors created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to combat gun crime, after he says that it strayed from its original mission toward advocating more restrictions on guns.

In today's press statement, Ramsey also cited an "endorsement" of Haslam by a liberal Knoxville political blog, knoxviews.com.

"When liberal rags are publicly choosing Mayor Haslam as their best hope for August 5th, alarm bells should be ringing for our state's conservative voters," said Ramsey.

UPDATE: Taylor responded Tuesday night and it turns out that that the charge that Haslam counts Gore and Cooper as supporters is not quite what they meant.

"We know he's been on their team. Haslam has endorsed them. That's all we meant. Haslam has - on record - actively donated financially to Gore (1988) and Rep. Cooper (2002). That's what he has to explain. Why did Haslam support liberal Democrats financially?" Taylor said.

So let's see: the donation to Gore was 22 years ago, either when the "liberal Democrat" was making his first unsuccessful run for President as a moderate, or when he was gearing up for his 1990 U.S. Senate re-election campaign - the year the GOP didn't really put up a candidate and William R. Hawkins (remember him?) served himself up as the party's nominee and lost to Gore 233,324 votes to 529,914 and carried not a single county out of 95?

The Haslam camp weighed in on the attack, almost gleefully noting that the knoxviews "endorsement" was intended humor.

"Of course Senator Ramsey doesn't like our ad because it points out that Mayor Haslam is the only candidate with executive experience," said Haslam spokesman David Smith. "If that wasn't embarrassing enough for the state senator, giving credence to an obscure liberal blog that is clearly making fun of Republicans represents a new low."

Finally, Ramsey has added plans for at least one public campaign appearance this week: a stop at the Davidson County GOP picnic Saturday.

* * *

The other Republican in the gubernatorial primary, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga, brings his campaign back to the Memphis area Wednesday:

* 7:30 a.m. -- Meet and greet Tipton County Republicans at Coffee in the Attic, 112 Court Square East, Covington.

* Morning -- Campaign meetings in Shelby County, including The Commercial Appeal editorial board.

* 12:15 p.m. -- Meet and greet Fayette County Republicans, Wood Bridge General Store, 111 West Court Square, Somerville.

* 2:15 p.m. -- Speak to Fayette and Shelby County Homebuilders Association, at Somerville Bank & Trust, 16790 Highway 64, Somerville.

Herron completing Dem fortifications in 8th District

If Republicans are really going to take back the House and wrest control from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Tennessee's 8th Congressional District is almost a must-win. It has long been considered one of 20 or so "toss up" seats that will present a main battleground in the November general election. Because part of the district leaks into northern Shelby County and much of it receives its TV network feeds from Memphis stations, we're hearing a lot these days about the main Republican contenders -- Jackson physician Ron Kirkland, Memphis radiologist and radio magnate George Flinn and Stephen Fincher, the gospel-singing farmer from Frog Jump that the the Washingtion, D.C., Republican establishment is supporting. That campaign, to be decided in the Aug. 5 primary, has grown gradually more hostile.

And Democratic state senator Roy Herron, who will be his party's nominee, is loving it. Today his campaign announced it had surpassed more than $1.5 million in fundraising and has $1.2 million cash on hand. Republicans in Shelby County will acknowledge they are worried about this seat, because they see the Republicans beating one another up and Herron biding his time, digging trenches and saving his best ammunition.

The release from the Herron campaign, with a subhead that reads "Herron banks funds for General Election while Republicans attack and spend freely in nasty primary, is after the jump.

Memphis getting general election preview today?

Richard Locker lets us know that Memphis and Shelby County will be entertaining visits from gubernatorial candidates today -- Democratic businessman Mike McWherter and Republican Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. McWherter, son of former two-term Tennessee governor (and longtime powerful House speaker) Ned McWherter, will be his party's nominee, though Haslam of course is in the midst of a tough battle for the Republican nomination with U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga and Ron Ramsey, the Tennessee Senate Speaker.

McWherter plans to speak at the Benjamin Hooks Library at 11:30, then "work" at Neely's Interstate BBQ at 2265 South Third in Memphis as part of his "Mike Works!" campaign theme.

Haslam plans a full day speaking to and meeting votes in the Memphis suburbs, followed by a tour of LeBonheur Children's Medical Center. Haslam's schedule is: 8-8:40 a.m., speak and meet at Sterling Place, Walker Spring Drive in Lakeland; 8:45-9:45 a.m., speak and meet at Old Timers Cafe, 7918 C Street, Millington; 10-11 a.m. speak and meet at Harlow's Donuts, 5055 Airline Road, Arlington; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. speak and meet at Fresh Slices, 6600 Stage Road, Bartlett; 4-5:45 p.m. tour LeBonheur Children's Medical Center, be interviewed by a child patient and meet employees.

What makes these concurrent visits most interesting is that polls have shown Haslam growing in popularity and building his lead as the campaign and his advertisements capture the attention of the wider swath of mainstream Republican voters. Haslam, Wamp and Ramsey all make much of this loooong campaign -- it really started in earnest in Jan. 2009 -- but until late spring, the conventional public wasn't watching closely. For Wamp and Ramsey, an optimistic (but not unrealistic) view would suggest that Haslam's huge edge in money has helped him reach voters, but now as the campaign winds toward the Aug. 5 finish line (not to mention the July 16 end of early voting), they can still be persuaded that they, and not Haslam, will be more reliably conservative, if elected. The unasked question in a primary, however, is whether primary voters care more about red-meat conservative legislative priorities than they may about sizing up a candidate's executive and managerial abilities.

McWherter's campaign is already throwing some criticism at Haslam, before the primary, which either suggests the campaign assumes Haslam is going to be the nominee or that the campaign might rather face Wamp or Ramsey. Or, perhaps, it's as simple as McWherter wanting the Republican battle to be as bruising and expensive as possible.

Gubernatorial candidates motor toward finish line

Good stuff here from The CA's veteran Nashville correspondent, Richard Locker, examining how the Republican gubernatorial candidates are maneuvering headed into the final month of campaigning -- and a bit on how Democrat Mike McWherter is already taking shots at Haslam (which might tell you something about how he views the state of the race).

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam continues to dominate fundraising. His campaign announced Thursday the total has reached $8.7 million. This war chest has enabled Haslam to mostly fly above his opponents' fire with a nonstop statewide television ad blitz.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville has focused his campaign on winning the votes of Tennessee's 300,000 handgun-carry permit holders and an unknown number of hard-right conservatives like tea party backers. He's hoping there are enough of both to win the three-man GOP primary. He plans to spend Sunday afternoon at a Mid-South Tea Party-sponsored Independence Day event at Shelby Farms -- one of his rare visits to Shelby County.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga on Thursday put up a new TV ad featuring his family and country and gospel music stars -- plus personal-finance guru Dave Ramsey -- attesting to Wamp's "deep faith," "courage," "character" and "integrity."

The Willie Herenton-Steve Cohen battle in the 9th Congressional District's Democratic primary is featured in Politico in a story published today on the publication's website. It's a decent summary of things already well-known here, including that Herenton, the former Memphis mayor, has barely raised any money against an incumbent, in Cohen, whose campaign fundraising might surpass $1.5 million by the end of the campaign (Cohen, by the way, predicts he and not Herenton will be the one to receive a donation from the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee).

There is no dateline on the story, written by Jessica Taylor, so we assume it was done mainly over the phone. It does manage to bungle Herenton's campaign message, which as we know is the very simple "Just One." Meaning, can't Tennessee get "just one!" African-American face in the Congressional delegation? In two places, Politico says the slogan is "we just want one," which to our ears reminds us of the old Eddie Murphy stand-up routines where he would imitate white voices: "We. Just. Want. One."

The beginning of the story also is a bit unfair to Herenton, who in every appearance we have witnessed first and foremost emphasizes what he says are his superior qualifications for the seat. While Cohen and his camp emphasize Cohen's long legislative career and strong reputation for legislative acumen, Herenton believes Congress would benefit from the knowledge and understanding he accumulated as superintendent for one of the nation's largest school systems and mayor of one of the nation's largest municipalities. But the beginning claims that Herenton will "tell you straight up that the election is about one thing: race."

It is true Herenton will tell you race should be a very important factor, and that he wants black voters in the 9th District to take into account the fact that there is very little chance voters in Tennessee's other eight districts, all of them majority white, would ever vote in large numbers for a black candidate. But to be fair, he's pushing other issues, too -- his resume and issues like same-sex marriage, urban education and opposition to medical marijuana or legalization of it in any form.

Cohen again emphasizes his legislative accomplishments, the support he receives from many African-American members of Congress and so many influential African-American Memphians who have great influence in the black community. The piece quotes City Councilman Myron Lowery, the interim mayor after Herenton's resignation last summer, as an example of why Cohen is supported by black voters. It also quotes Cohen saying that internal polling makes him feel "very, very, very good" about the state of the race.

Will local Dems infiltrate GOP events?

This DNC project, called the "Accountability Project,"  could be interesting. Essentially, Democrats have created a program that encourages its partisans to attend Republican events and get audio and/or video that they then upload to a central website. Will the Republicans create a similar program? I would be interested to hear if any Democrats in the area a) have heard about this b) plan to participate and/or c) really believe a local Republican would be unwise enough to say something to an audience that might embarrass the party.

Whichever way you lean, of course, it takes a special kind of temperament to attend events where the opposing party is confidently proclaiming how awesome is its political philosophy (and how abhorrent is your side's political philosophy). In launching the project, Democrats are citing the infamous 2006 moment when Virginia senatorial candidate George Allen used a slur aimed at the Democratic partisan actually holding the video camera hoping for such an incident. It's easy to forget now, but when Allen was in Memphis earlier that year for the 2006 Southern Republican Leadership Conference, he was considered a serious contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. That video and his subsequent upset loss to Jim Webb set back his national ambitions considerably.
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