September 2010 Archives

I'll not name the Memphis political insider who linked to this Washington Post article on Facebook with the leadline, "Other black mayors grapple with forces that led to Fenty's downfall." The article focuses on how and why Washington mayor Adrian Fenty went from popular, tough reform-focused African-American mayor to losing primarily because of his unpopularity with black voters. It also mentions Newark mayor Cory Booker and Detroit mayor Dave Bing and the similar challenges they face. A quote from Cornell Belcher, a black pollster who was an advisor to President Obama's campaign in 2008 (and did some work for Nikki Tinker's campaign), gets at the article's core thesis:

"Ethnic politics is still very much alive and well in big-city politics. Can you bridge the ethnic politics, or at least not trigger them in a negative way? Yes. But you have to be strategically cognitive of it. You can't pretend that race doesn't matter, because we are somehow post-racial."
I bring this up because it was hard not to miss the Facebook post's implied "hmmm" aimed at Memphis, which will decide next year whether to re-elect A C Wharton as mayor. That's one of the challenges that landed in Wharton's lap when he was the overwhelming choice in last year's special election to complete the unfinished term of former mayor Willie Herenton -- he only gets two years to prove he is worthy of another four years. Given his popularity and fundraising prowess, it's hard to see anyone giving Wharton much of a challenge, although delusions of election grandeur are deeply embedded in Memphis politicians of all races, genders and parties.

The general gist of the Post article and of an interview that ran this morning on NPR was that black mayors risk alienating the black voter base when they embrace reforms so popular with white (and black) urban policy experts. You could feel that tension recently when Wharton explained to a mostly-white crowd of bicycle-transportation activists that he has been chewed out by people irritated at his decision to staff City Hall with someone focused on bike and pedestrian issues. The city is of course spending a lot of money on other so-called "stuff white people like" -- a skatepark in Tobey Park, the almost-completed Wolf River Greenway in east East Memphis -- and the challenge for Wharton is explaining to anyone questioning the project is explaining how those are amenities for everyone and that, yes, retaining affluent white families will be key to sustaining the tax base needed to help less fortunate individuals and families.

Anyway, another link to The Post article is here, and click here for NPR's conversation this morning. One final quote from The Post article:

The new generation is what Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, describes as "uber-pragmatists"-forging alliances with corporate interests and prosperous suburbs, encouraging gentrification, hiring outsiders to fill key jobs, inviting in private foundations that see the inner cities as testing grounds for their ideas.

Philip Thompson, a professor of urban studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls them "technocrats," who view most problems in terms of management and resources, rather than culture or politics. 

Haslam endorsement site has been used before.



NASHVILLE - The Haslam for governor campaign is touting a "major endorsement announcement" for Wednesday morning -- at Joslin & Son Signs, 630 Murfreesboro Road, in Nashville. The campaign won't say whether the endorsement is by the National Federation of Independent Business, which already lists its endorsment of Haslam on its website.

UPDATE: Surprise, surprise: it WAS the NFIB.

Twelve years ago, NFIB used the same business -- its owner is an NFIB leader -- for its endorsement of then-governor Don Sundquist's re-election. The federation, which primarily represents small businesses, rolled out a huge sign - "NFIB Loves Sundquist!" - at that 1998 event.

A few months later - after Republican Sundquist defeated the hapless John Jay Hooker and was inaugurated to his second term - the NFIB was expressing major disappointment in its endorsee for asking the state legislature to approve a new tax on businesses based on employee compensation. That plan soon morphed into a state income tax proposal, which was eventually defeated in favor of a sales tax increase.

"Gov. Sundquist has been a friend to small business in the past," NFIB's Tennessee spokesman at the time, Matt King, said in early 1999. "Our feeling is, this is the wrong direction.  This is going to devastate some small businesses." (King is now Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's top aide.)

The NFIB endorsed Republican Van Hilleary over Democrat Phil Bredesen in the 2002 governor's race.   


Steve Cohen meets Meryl Streep


WASHINGTON - Who's that woman in glasses and a heavy necklace posing with U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.? Why, it's actress Meryl Streep.

The Hill newspaper ran the photograph in its Thursday edition after snapping it Tuesday night. Streep was the guest of honor at the National Women's History Museum event Cohen attended.

Cohen said this morning that they talked about Tennessee's historic role in passing the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote before she was led off to be seated with "higher rollers."

The Hill also pictured Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran's black-tie appearance at this week's PEN/Faulkner Awards for Fiction event.

Winfield Dunn to stump for Charlotte Bergmann


WASHINGTON - Former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn will be in Memphis Oct. 9 for a fundraiser breakfast for 9th Congressional District Republican candidate Charlotte Bergmann, he confirmed this afternoon.

"She is our nominee and from all that I've been told she's a fine person with excellent credentials, and it's on that basis I agreed to come down and lend what influence I might to her efforts," Dunn said. "She's someone I look forward to meeting."

Bergman is running against Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen.

Dunn, 83, is a Republican and served as governor from 1971 to 1975. He is also working, he said, on behalf of GOP candidates Diane Black in the 6th Congressional District seat held by retiring Democrat Bart Gordon and the 8th Congressional District seat held by retiring Democrat John Tanner.

"I believe this particular year is the one in which great things are going to happen," Dunn said.

The location of the Dunn-Bergmann event wasn't immediately available to press spokesman Howie Morgan.

On a related note, tonight is the grand opening of the Bergmann headquarters at 925 South Yates, her campaign manager, Sharon Ohsfeldt, said. The event is from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Both gubernatorial candidates will patrol Memphis and West Tennessee for votes this week, with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, the Republican nominee, heading this way Tuesday and Wednesday and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee, spending much of his weekend in these parts.

Interestingly, though McWherter is around here this weekend, it is not scheduled to coincide with a Rhodes College football game -- McWherter's son, Walker, is a 6-0, 190-pound freshman linebacker for the Lynx, who are 2-1 on the season.  It also seems interesting that the Democratic candidate for governor isn't scheduled to make some visits to churches in Memphis to try and motivate stronger turnout from Democratic voters.

Haslam spent two days in Shelby County last week, but it will have been more than two weeks since McWherter made a public visit here. Rhodes does have a home game next weekend, so perhaps he'll be back sooner.

Find their full schedules below:

8 a.m.: Roundtable discussion with University of Memphis administrators. U of M Campus University Center, Room 305. 9:30 a.m. Tour UT Health Science Center with UT interim Pres. Jan Simek and others. 920 Madison Ave. 11 a.m. Visit and tour the Civil Rights Museum. 1:30 p.m. Meet with law enforcement officials from Tipton, Lauderdale, Haywood, Fayette and Shelby counties. 1801 S. College St., Suite 106, Covington. 2:15 p.m. Tour the Hydratek facility with its management team in Covington. 240 Industrial Rd, Covington. 2:30 p.m. Crissy Haslam will visit and tour the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf in Germantown. 7901 Poplar Ave, Germantown. 3:30 p.m. Hear an update on the Haywood Co. Megasite. Haywood County Courthouse, 1 N. Washington Ave, Brownsville.

8 a.m. Shepherding the Next Generation. Jackson. 10 a.m. Medtronics
1800 Pyramid Place, Memphis. 12:30 p.m. Hutchison Upper School, Memphis.
7:30a.m. Gibson County Prayer Breakfast in Milan 11:30 a.m. Old Timer's Restaurant Meet and Greet. 7918 C. St., Millington.
There are no public events scheduled at this time.

Ag Groups To Hold Fincher Fundraiser


WASHINGTON - Farm commodity lobbyists are hosting a Capitol Hill Club fundraiser for Stephen Fincher, the Republican seeking Tennessee's 8th Congressional District seat, on Tuesday.

Lobbyists for the Cordova-based National Cotton Council, the USA Rice Federation, the Georgia Peanut Growers and the Vidalia Onion Business Council, as well as the American Veterinary Medical Association are hosting the breakfast, which costs $1,000 for political action committees and $500 for individuals.

On Thursday, Tennessee's Republican Congressional delegation, led by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, is hosting another breakfast at the same location.

Whether the candidate will appear at either event could not be immediately ascertained.

Fincher, a row crop farmer, receives cotton and other subsidy payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an issue raised by Donn Janes, one of his independent, tea party-supported opponents.

For those who do not receive emails from campaigns, ICYMI stands for "In Case You Missed It" and is actually an effective tool used to pepper journalists with news they feel deserves to be understood and distributed. We don't always agree (or have the time or resources), but it's not a bad communications practice. So, ICYMI ...

Bartholomew Sullivan brings us this piece today looking at tea-party candidate Charlotte Bergmann, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional district. Bergmann, the Republican nominee, is drawing a salary from her campaign, which strikes Cohen and others as extremely odd, even if it is technically legal. On Sunday, we explained that Cohen has indicated he won't invest many resources in the general-election contest with Bergmann, although Democrats here and around the country are saying the party needs to be doing all it can to motivate its base to turn out for the Nov. 2 midterms.

Out of Nashville, Richard Locker reports on the platform Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Haslam pitched at an event on Monday, with a focus on five key areas. Rick also has a report on awards given to Tennessee legislators by advocates for the environment.

And if you have not already, check out Marc Perrusquia's remarkable project on famed Civil Rights photographer Ernest Withers and his connection with the FBI as, apparently, a paid informant.

We've run across some worthwhile pieces recently. See below for the links:

Everybody wants a more efficient government, it seems, and everybody's got their own public policy version of the killer app to make it happen. Now along comes former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw with what is a pretty radical op-ed piece in The New York Times titled, "Small-Town Big Spending."

The PBS Newshour snagged a very interesting breakdown of presidential approval ratings by various kinds of places where people live. President Obama is most popular in what is labeled the "Industrial Metropolis" and least popular in "Mormon Outposts" and "Evangelical Epicenters." Interestingly, his popularity has risen the most since the election in "Tractor Country" and dropped the most in "Immigrations Nation." Swivel has the entire breakdown right here.

Public Policy Polling points out that if the 2008 voting turnout had matched the expected voter composition of the 2010 elections, John McCain might well have defeated Barack Obama (instead Obama's raw-vote margin of victory was the largest in history by a non-incumbent) -- McCain would've won Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida if those voters saying they plan to vote (or not vote) in 2010 had  comprised the 2008 electorate.

But Democrats are trying to find reasons to muster optimism, as evidenced by this Washington Post op-ed written by the man who in 1994 was among the first Democrats to predict the Republicans would take the house for the first time in 40 years. Brief summation -- at least this time the Democrats see the tsunami coming and still have time to rally the troops and limit damages.

And that rallying of troops, it more and more appears certain, will involve reminding voters how much they did not -- and still do not -- much approve of President George W. Bush's handling of economic matters. This USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 71 percent of Americans believe Bush deserves blame for the bad economy. The bad news for President Obama and the Democrats -- those who believe President Obama deserves blame for the bad economy is at 48 percent, up from 32 percent last year. Predictably, the poll showed a gulf in partisanship. "Republicans by 4-1, 44%-10%, were more likely to give Obama a great deal of the blame than Bush. Democrats by more than 20-1 targeted Bush: They said the former president bore a great deal of the blame; just 3% said that of the current one."

Haslam chances at win -- 95.1 percent likely

Over at The New York Times, the most excellent statistical guru Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight has launched its analysis of gubernatorial races nationwide. Keeping in mind these are pure numbers-based forecasts without factoring in, for instance, the popularity of the McWherter name in rural areas, the verdict for Tennessee shows that Democratic nominee Mike McWherter has work to do. Applying what little polling data is available (which FiveThirtyEight weights according to various factors, including historical accuracy and bias by the polling company) and mixing it with other empirical data, FiveThirtyEight right now is 95.1 percent certain that Republican nominee Bill Haslam, the mayor of Knoxville, will prevail.

There is some good news for McWherter -- FiveThirtyEight sees the election growing tighter by Nov. 2, predicting a final margin of victory for Haslam of 55.0 percent to 42.2 percent.

According to the site, much of the forecasting model relies on its successful Senate forecasting model: "The basic blueprint of taking a robust average of polls, supplementing them with some demographic information and then using them to project the final standing of the candidates remains the same." There are tweaks, including the assumption that races between nonincumbents for governor tighten as election day draws closer.

Things can change. In the 2008 presidential election, which FiveThirtyEight nailed (it only missed Indiana), the final few months of the election showed definite swings, with John McCain at one point, during and after the Republican convention, looking more likely to overtake Barack Obama. Alas for McCain supporters, that evaporated after the financial crisis and the first presidential debate at Ole Miss.

At closed-door event, Republicans giddy about prospects of redistricting


 NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republicans are downright giddy over the prospect of being in charge of legislative and congressional redistricting next year for the first time - apparently few more so than Tim Skow, head of a downtown Nashville GOP luncheon club called First Tuesday.


First Tuesday's guest speaker today was Memphis lawyer John Ryder, Tennessee's Republican National Committeeman and chairman of the RNC's redistricting committee. Skow's e-mailed invitation to First Tuesday members for today's meeting gave a glimpse of what Democrats might expect from Republicans in the redistricting process next year if the GOP retains its majorities in the state legislature, as expected.


"You want to know what we can do 'legally' to make the DEMS scream as a result of redistricting?" Skow wrote in the e-mail. "For years our cry has been 'Win the Pen in 2010' - then we can redraw  the line for Congress, the State House, and State Senate WITHOUT any input from the dreaded DEMs! - Well, John Ryder is our party's legal expert on this critical issue - and it will be John who leads our fight in court if (or WHEN) the DEMs sue because they don't like the way WE draw the lines. (don't know about you but I can't wait to hear the whining coming from the DEMS when the new lines become public should we 'Win the Pen in 2010' and redraw the lines!)" (sic)


We should note here that these are Skow's words, not Ryder's. 


That kind of buildup naturally drew the attention of the press. But when five reporters -- including me -- arrived to chronicle the revelation of the grand strategy, Skow barred entrance, declaring it a closed event. The club is private and, of course, has every right to close its meetings. First Tuesday's monthly meetings attract a mixture of grassroots Republican activists and Capitol Hill officials. For example, Nashville lawyer Linda Knight, a member of the state's Ethics Commission, attends frequently.


Before Skow was elected its chairman, the group's meetings were routinely open to reporters who occasionally dropped by to hear what officials, candidates and insiders had to say.


Skow alternates where he places the blame for the current sometimes-open, sometimes-closed policy. Occasionally, he says the law firm that hosts the meeting in its expansive conference room, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, must clear the presence of reporters lest they spy some client  who prefers privacy. Other times, he's said that particular month's speaker doesn't want the coverage. And other times, he's just simply noted First Tuesday's status as a private club that can admit whomever it wishes. Sometimes, reporters are allowed in.


Today though, Skow declared: "It's a members meeting....  If a candidate wanted you here, we'd be glad to do it. All the people who are attending the meeting were well aware that it's a Republican Party meeting, okay? A dues-paying members meeting, okay?"


Skow later said reporters need only let him know in advance so he can clear their presence with Waller Lansden.

UPDATE: Ryder -- a cross between an expert attorney and a college political science professor -- walked across the street to the Legislative Plaza pressroom to give the ink-stained wretches there our own briefing on the status of the reapportionment process. (A report on that appears separately in our print and online editions.) 

Ryder said he did not ask Skow to keep the press out and said he basically told the First Tuesday members the same thing he told us -- that the redistricting will have to be "fair and legal" in order to pass constitutional muster and the courts. Because Tennessee has "tilted Republican" -- as evidenced, he said, by the general trend of statewide elections in recent years -- a majority of legislative districts will reflect that.

YouTube Video Seeks "Accountability" for Fincher Loan


WASHINGTON - Somebody is trying to make 8th Congressional District Republican candidate Stephen Fincher's $250,000 bank loan, after declaring no assets or savings in his financial disclosure to the House clerk, look suspicious.

A new YouTube video circulated this afternoon by the press secretary of his Democratic opponent, Roy Herron, makes the case that Fincher has not explained how he was able to obtain the bank loan or what collateral he put up for it if he is in fact without assets or savings. Fincher's disclosure to the House clerk listed no bank accounts, no assets and income of $60,000 last year and $124,000 through May of this year.

Covington lawyer Houston Gordon, a former Democratic party chairman and candidate for the U.S. Senate, wrote to the U.S. Attorney in Memphis last week asking him to look into the accuracy and adequacy of Fincher's required disclosure to the House clerk. A Fincher spokesman said the effort was a "sideshow" and that Fincher has complied with all necessary disclosure requirements.

The video shows repeated examples of Fincher himself saying that the person voters send to Congress should be held accountable. He even suggests that if he's elected and he isn't accountable, voters should go get a rope and hang him.

The soundtrack is from the O'Jays "For the Love of Money," with the refrain, "Money, money, money, MONey."

See the video, whose provenance is at the moment unknown, here.

When filibusters required a special bag

The filibustering on the filibuster brought the reminder of a maneuver attributed to former Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver back when senators really did have to go to great lengths to extend debate to obstruct, delay or otherwise kill legislation that otherwise had 50-plus votes. A Wall Street Journal article earlier this year on the filibuster mentioned how former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond once dehydrated himself prior to taking the floor, so that he would not need to leave to use the facilities.

According to the article:
To avoid the same problem, Sen. Estes Kefauver (D., Tenn.) once rigged up a bag so he wouldn't have to leave the Senate floor.
One quarrel with that article, however -- the author unfairly lumped Kefauver and Thurmond together as southern senators who used the filibuster to stop civil rights legislation from going to a vote (the legislation had majority support but could not get past the filibuster). Kefauver and fellow Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr. were among those rare southern senators most often opposed to filibustering civil-rights legislation; both deserve credit for taking courageous political stands, along with President Lyndon Johnson (a former southern senator himself), in favor of civil rights legislation.

This archived piece from TIME spells it out:
The entertainment was a filibuster, staged not by Deep Southerners−the most frequent filibusterers of recent years−but by liberal Democrats, notably Oregon's Wayne Morse and Maurine Neuberger, Tennessee's Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore, Texas' Ralph Yarborough. Some of them, over the years, had conspicuously denounced Southern filibusters against civil rights measures. Ex-Republican Morse (he quit the G.O.P. in the midst of the 1952 campaign) once called filibustering a "disgraceful and contemptible procedure," and has been one of the Senate's most vociferous advocates of rule changes to shut off filibusters, even though in 1953 he set a senatorial wind record with a speech lasting 22 hours and 26 minutes.

Tenn-Ark-issippi looms large on House map

For political junkies, this is a pretty killer app from The New York Times and statistical guru Nate Silver, who has brought the algorithmic magic of his website to the Gray Lady. Several maps are available for viewing, showing every U.S. House, Senate and Governor race shaded based upon whether polls and voting history suggest it is Solid Republican (dark red), Leaning Republican (light red), Tossup (yellow), Leaning Democrat (light blue) or Solid Democrat (dark blue).

There are a total of 35 yellow "tossups" listed and you can't help but notice that, depending on the day, three of the tossups surround Memphis: Arkansas 1 (Democrat Chad Causey vs. Republican Rick Crawford), Mississippi 1 (Republican Alan Nunnelee vs. incumbent Democrat Travis Childers) and Tennessee 8 (Republican Stephen Fincher vs. Democrat Roy Herron). You'll be hearing and reading a lot about those races, since they are crucial to whether the Republicans can gain the majority of House seats.

Nowhere else on the map can you find three close races in such close proximity; indeed, the three districts, all of which border the Mississippi River and in fact are contiguous, could theoretically form one state (one very economically distressed state, but still). Call it Tenn-ark-issippi? Tarkissippi?

More filibustering . . .

One of the interesting things about the current debate over whether the filibuster is unconstitutional, necessary to prevent majority overreach or whatever your viewpoint, is that views can flip depending on which party controls the Senate. In 2005, it was Democrats who extolled the virtues of the filibuster, because they were using it to block some of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees. Back then, there were calls by Republicans to trigger what some called the "nuclear option," which would have meant eliminating the filibuster on judicial nominees and likely would have led to the elimination of it altogether.

In 2005, at least a few liberal bloggers (here and here) were advocating that Democrats allow the filibuster to meet its demise, on the theory that political movements run in cycles and Democrats would have the majority at some point. And in 2005, many conservatives were saying use of the filibuster at that time by Democrats was wrong, unconstitutional, obstructionist, etc.

See excerpts below from the liberal bloggers in 2005 begging the then-minority Democrats to cut a deal with Republicans to break the filibuster:

Matthew Yglesias:
As conservative activist Jim Boulet Jr. has wisely argued in a memo to his comrades, the filibuster is crucial to conservatism. By his account, without it, majorities would exist to raise the minimum wage; reform labor law to make new union organizing easier; ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment; reduce greenhouse-gas emissions; and close the "gun-show loophole." . . . In the past, of course, the filibuster is most famous for its role in delaying the dawn of civil rights. Less well known is that it was integral to the defeat of Bill Clinton's health care plan in 1993. If liberals ever get another chance to go for comprehensible health-care reform, the filibuster will once again rear its ugly head.
Nathan Newman
So the filibuster allows conservatives to block any decent policy proposed by progressive leaders, then when those conservatives are in office, they pass watered down versions of policies they know are inevitable, then take political credit for them. This is the broader political problem of the filibuster, which is that it creates continually divided and thus unaccountable government. And unaccountable government is used by conservatives to block policy under Democratic-dominated governments, grab credit for (halfway) measures when they are in office, then play faux populist games to run against a government conservatives may ultimately control.
And then there was this in 2005 from the conservative Weekly Standard:
Suddenly Democrats are wrapping themselves in the Constitution. Emphasizing his commitment to maintaining the filibuster as a way to stop President Bush's judicial nominees, Senate Democratic whip Richard Durbin said last week, "We believe it's a constitutional issue. . . . It's a matter of having faith in the Constitution." The trouble is, the filibuster is nowhere mentioned, or even implied, in the text of the Constitution.
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