October 2010 Archives

The 8th District's empty lectern


JACKSON, Tenn. - Jackson's Steve Bowers said at outset of the 8th Congressional District debate he moderated at Lane College Thursday night that the decision facing the district's voters is an important one for the region. "These congressional seats don't open very often," Bowers said.

The last time the seat had no incumbent running for re-election was 1988 when John Tanner won the seat. He replaced Ed Jones, who won it in 1969. And Jones succeeded Robert A. "Fats" Everett, who won it in 1958. Everett frequently uttered the memorable phrase, inscribed on his statue at the Obion County Courthouse, "If a man don't want to work, he hadn't ought to hire out."

Which is relevant in this election, given Republican Stephen Fincher's failure to show up at the Lane College debate - or any of the other half-dozen or so debates, forums and joint appearances that were either held or proposed to be held for the 8th District candidates since the Aug. 5 primary. Since winning the GOP primary, Fincher's backers have run the most expensive Tennessee congressional campaign in history, thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars cascading in from Washington special interest groups either contributing directly to his effort or spending money "independently" on his behalf.

Lane College emphasized Fincher's absence by setting up a lectern with his name on it, like the other three that had actual candidates standing behind them - Democrat Roy Herron and independents Donn Janes and Mark Rawles. Unlike Union University, which folded its tent after Fincher refused to debate there and substituted separate appearances by only Fincher and Herron before small groups on different nights.

At Lane, before an audience that grew to nearly 100, Herron, Janes and Rawles engaged in a spirited but civil discussion of the issues for an hour and a half. Bowers allowed the candidates to engage with and rebut each other. Unlike the pseudo debates televised in our statewide elections, Bowers simply presented the candidates with the topics and let them go at it rather than engage himself in a self-aggrandizing game of "gotcha" with them.

Fincher, 37, came under fire from all three for boycotting the event. "Stephen Fincher has said we need someone with courage to stand. I couldn't agree more," said Herron, 57, a state senator and lawyer from Dresden. "If you send me to Washington I'll show up and I'll stand up. I won't be afraid to release my tax returns and to list my asset and liabilities on legally required forms. I won't be afraid to stand up for you."

Janes, 45, a computer consultant from Brighton, landed a zinger. Referring to a recently released list by a congressional watchdog citizens group, Janes said "There's a website that I believe Mr. Fincher is going to get on soon - it tracks the 15 most corrupt politicians in Washington."

But actually the attacks on the vacant lectern were a small part of the evening. Herron, Janes and Rawles discussed in some detail their views on topics like the national health reform, Social Security, immigration, jobs, education, American competitiveness, the national debt, government spending and the spiraling budget deficits, energy policy, gays in the military. They agreed on some, disagreed on others.

The audience left Lane College last night having a pretty good feel for how Herron, Janes and Rawles feel on those topics and what they'd do if elected to represent the 8th District's people in Congress. Fincher and his Washington backers are spending a lot of money on TV ads that tell very little about his positions on much of anything.

Janes told the crowd at one point: "This is a job interview, folks. If an applicant didn't show up for a job interview would you hire that person?"

Cohen meets Dr. Ruth


Congressman Steve Cohen was given a shout-out at The Pierre Hotel in New York City earlier this week when he attended the "50 and Fabulous: Celebrating 50 years of Women's Advances Since The Pill."

Cohen was recognized for his long support of women's reproductive health issues. Fellow Memphian Cybill Shepherd was the emcee for the event. The late birth control advocate Margaret Sanger was honored with an award given to her son, Alexander Sanger, and there was a tribute to Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem.

Cohen said he was seated at a table with sex therapist and radio personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Fincher outpaces Herron in money race


WASHINGTON - Republican Stephen Fincher continues to outpace Democrat Roy Herron in the 8th Congressional District money race, Federal Election Commission filings indicate.

Following last Friday's third quarter disclosures, which showed Fincher raising $866,026 to Herron's $764,705, both candidates have filed supplemental reports.

In them, Fincher has raised $35,500 since Friday from individuals and from political action committees such as Lorillard Tobacco, General Dynamics, Merck, Pfizer, and cotton and from congressional campaigns in Missouri and Georgia.

Herron received $19,000 in new contributions from an employee of the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Miss.; lawyers from Dunlap and Dyersburg; a veterinarian in Cookeville; and unions representing painters and operating engineers.

New York Times visits Tenn-Ark-Issippi

One of top political reporters for The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny, parachuted into the Delta to provide the scene for a more general story on that endangered political animal known as the white Southern Democrat. Zeleny begins: "The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction."  Zeleny was in Jonesboro last week when President Clinton visited to stump for Chad Causey, the Democratic nominee in Arkansas' 1st Congressional District (farm broadcaster Rick Crawford is the Republican nominee, though the times had a typo calling him "Rick Scott"); Clinton also hit Little Rock and later was in Oxford, Miss., to help out Democrat Travis Childers (the incumbent who is facing Republican Alan Nunnelee).

Here in Jonesboro, the First Congressional District has not sent a Republican to Washington since 1873. But the retirement of Representative Marion Berry has created the best opening that Republicans can recall, with Mr. Obama and his party viewed with suspicion. Democrats see the district as a firewall if they are to retain a foothold in the South.

Former President Bill Clinton, who spent his career navigating between his party's liberal sensibilities and the far more centrist instincts of Democrats in his home region, visited the district last week, passing through Batesville and Paragould before arriving for a rally in Jonesboro. He warned voters, "You are being played," and urged people to cast ballots with their economic self interest in mind.

"If it's a referendum on Democrats against some imagined perfection, we'll get whacked," Mr. Clinton said in a brief interview. "If it's a real, informed choice, we'll do fine."

At every stop, the Democratic Congressional candidate, Chad Causey, stood at Mr. Clinton's side, smiling as the former president offered a lesson on the economy, a defense of Mr. Obama and a plea for voters not to act out of anger on Election Day. Mr. Causey allowed Mr. Clinton to do most of the talking, but he pledged not to be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration or a Democratic Congress.

The story (which also references Roy Herron in Tennessee's 8th) reminded me of the many maps produced after President Obama's victory in the 2008 election, many of them showing that the only counties that increased their vote for the Republican nominee started up in northern Appalachia and swung down through the south. More interesting to me were the maps that showed percentage of white vote (gleaned from exhaustive exit polling) captured by Obama. There was no getting around the fact that no matter the political climate, white southern voters -- especially white southern men -- are not disposed to support Democrats. There are myriad reasons for this and I won't argue them here, but suffice to say that for Democrats to win in the south, they must either make more inroads with white voters -- especially white men -- or make darn sure nonwhite voters are motivated to come out and vote.

And as we have pointed out, so far in early voting here Shelby County, it is clear white voters are much more motivated to turn out (latest report showed 53.6 percent of early voters are registered white voters and only 20.3 percent are registered black voters, with the "other" category at 26.2 percent probably carved up similarly).

Links to maps are below:




Nationally there is quite the fuss over some of the debates between federal candidates in the Nov. 2 midterms, but none may be more important than the debate happening this evening in Jonesboro between Arkansas 1st Congressional District candidates Chad Causey (Democrat) and Rick Crawford (Republican). The Causey campaign sent an email earlier all but promising their candidate would go after Crawford for his past financial problems, what they say is his past support of privatizing social security and using high sales taxes to raise govenment revenue.

You can follow it live at the ABC affiliate in Jonesboro, KAIT 8, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Republicans swamping polls, Dems trickling in

Plenty of time remains in early voting -- it's available until Oct. 28 for the Nov. 2 elections -- but early numbers show that even in Shelby County, one of the most reliable Democratic counties in the nation, Republican voters are more motivated and more activated. We ran this story today looking at the numbers from the first three days of early voting, and there is no good way for Democrats to explain them.

Democratic county chairman Van Turner pointed out that the party is making efforts, but even he was already looking ahead to 2012 when President Obama will be on the ballot. Meanwhile, those involved with Republican Charlotte Begmann's challenge of incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen are downright giddy at the numbers, which they say provide empirical evidence that their campaign slogan -- "Charlotte Bergmann Can Win" -- is on the money.

It will be interesting to see if Cohen revs up his campaign, just in case. However, many of the key people involved in his Democratic primary victory over Willie Herenton are no longer involved.

As we also point out, most of the strongest-turnout precincts are in the suburbs, so it raises the question how much consolidation is driving the continued surge of voters from Republican strongholds.

Reporters from publications with national reach are descending on various congressional districts this election season to write the 'definitive' piece examining what is happening in this midterm election, but none will come closer to explaining the dynamics affecting voters and candidates than our own Bartholomew Sullivan's in-depth look at the 8th Congressional District contest featuring longtime Democratic state senator Roy Herron from Dresden and political newcomer Stephen Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer from Crockett County recruited to represent the Republicans.

Go read it, but some of Bart's opening paragraphs really lay things out well.

In this era of slick television campaigns, when image is everything and substance is blurred, the race for the open West Tennessee congressional seat offers candidates so strikingly different that their pre-packaged story lines are best ignored.

After all, being a congressman is not about driving old trucks or singing gospel songs. It's serious work, demanding thoughtfulness, imagination, sometimes even courage, not slogans and shotguns.

The two main candidates, Democrat Roy Herron of Dresden and Republican Stephen Fincher of Crockett County, have deep ties to rural West Tennessee. The independents Donn Janes of Brighton and Mark J. Rawles of Jackson are a more significant factor than would be normal in this year of upset victories for tea party-affiliated candidates.
Bart talked to a Union University professor, Sean F. Evans, who has a strong feel for the pulse of the district.

The district has 40,589 voters in Shelby County and stretches through 19 counties from Millington and Jackson and Clarksville to the Kentucky state line. Evans says most of the counties in the district elect Democrats locally but generally have trended toward the GOP in recent presidential, gubernatorial and senate elections.

"I would say that, if it was not a wave election, like it is, Roy Herron would probably be the favorite," Evans said. "What potentially hurts him in this election is he's been in politics for years and years in a year when being in politics is not necessarily a positive."

Fincher, Evans said, "better reflects the typical voter in West Tennessee, at least on a demographic level."

Schools forum & CA's school board endorsements

Speaking of Memphis City Schools, tonight there is a forum hosted by Stand For Children from 6 to 8 p.m. at the MCS Teaching and Learning Academy, 2485 Union Ave. You can RSVP by e-mailing memphis@stand.org or calling 417-9691.

Our editorial board made its recommendations for those two MCS board seats being contested. I'll not list them here, but click the link -- they provide sound reasoning for picks that might surprise people. That's not to say that, on a personal level, I may or may not disagree, but as a neutral third-party, I can only say there are candidates in both races that had good arguments for getting the vote of this parent of Memphis City Schools students.

Online Voter Guide great resource for Nov. 2 elections

Our commercialappeal.com news leaders, Michael Erskine and Gary Robinson, shepherded our online Voter Guide into publication, and we have updated it for the Nov. 2 elections. With early voting beginning today and running through Oct. 28, it is a great resource to check out and pass along: www.commercialappeal.com/voter-guide/.

Tough role for Memphis City Schools board members

Our Viewpoint package on Sunday was devoted to the Memphis City Schools board, with a column from Wendi Thomas about the often thankless role played by the nine members and a rundown of candidates for the two seats being contested in the Nov. 2 elections -- At-Large Position 2 currently held by Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. and District 6 held by Sharon Webb. The incumbents in District 2 (Betty Mallott) and District 4 (Martavius Jones) are not being challenged.  We also ran candidate capsules listing background, education and main campaign messages.

Here is Wendi's story, plus some recent columns she's devoted to the issue of Memphis City Schools:
  • From Sept. 2 asking the question, "What is our individual and collective obligation to other people's children?"
  • From Aug. 12 appealing for good people to come forth and offer themselves as candidates for the MCS board. And from Aug. 22 rebutting "claims of conspiracy" that she was trying to target specific board incumbents for ouster.

Don't just complain. Become an election worker.

Today's story advancing the opening of early voting focuses on promises the Shelby County Election Commission is making about improving in the wake of the now-dismissed lawsuit losing Democrats filed over the Aug. 5 county general election, which they alleged was so filled with mistakes that it made the results "incurably uncertain." Chancery Court judge Arnold Goldin ruled they had delivered no evidence showing intentional fraud or illegality, but as voters hit the polls beginning at 10 today, doubts are going to be fresh in some voters minds -- no matter the assertions by Commission officials that elections are more efficient and less prone to error than ever before.

Finding good workers to put on the election is a big emphasis from the Commission and its administrator of elections, Rich Holden. They didn't say this, but I will -- voters of all stripes are much more apt to whine about the inevitable messiness of the democratic process than to step up and try and make it less messy.

Holden told me: "The most important thing is the elections are conducted by the voters. The No. 1 problem in every jurisdiction in American is getting enough workers -- quality workers -- to conduct an election."

Some of this came up at the trial, with lead Commission lawyer Sam Muldavin basing his opening argument on those nonpartisan Commission civil servants who have worked in some cases for decades with relatively meager resources and relying on part-time workers to conduct elections. In his ruling, Goldin chose to read from the deposition of Dennnis Boyce, the 17-year employee who inadvertantly loaded the wrong database of early-voters into the Aug. 5 Election Day electronic poll books. It's worth reading:

"I want to say this one thing. You know we are a very small staff at the Election Commission, we work our tails off each election and anything that goes awry or anybody that does not double check or anything like that, we are on them all the time. ... We don't mess around. We have an honest staff that works here, some of them have been around a long time, and I just wanted to say, for the record, for us to go through this process and to be claimed to be dishonest in some kind of way, is really a slap in the face. Because we do this all the time. This is what we do."
Holden encourages anyone interested to call the Election Commission at 545-4125 or go to ShelbyVote.com for more information. "I would challenge the voter," Holden said, "that if you walk in to vote and you don't like what's being done on the other side of the table, then change sides, become an election official and solve the problem."

We put this brief on B1 today because it should be considered a a big deal that Columbia University historian (and Memphis native) Kenneth T. Jackson is speaking in town tonight. Given his scholarship on the history and growth of suburban America, it will be interesting to see if anyone gets him to address some of the recent rezoning decisions by the City Council, as well as the controversy over the Union Avenue United Methodist Church location that CVS wants to convert into a drugstore.

When I first read Jackson's remarkable book, "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States," I had no idea he was from Memphis. The book really opens your eyes to the ways in which local, state and federal governments really subsidized the creation of American suburbia and primed the pump that led to so much white flight (and now, middle-class flight). Though some part of me may have known it took taxpayer dollars to create the interstates, roads, sewer systems and artificially cheap energy necessary to sustain suburban living, Jackson's scholarship lays it out in surprisingly accessible detail.

The brief is below:

Columbia University professor Kenneth T. Jackson, one of the nation's pre-eminent historians and an alumnus of Memphis City Schools and the University of Memphis, will speak at 7 p.m. today at the meeting of the West Tennessee Historical Society at Memphis University School's Wunderlich Auditorium.

At Columbia, Jackson is the director of the Herbert H. Lehman Center for the Study of American History and the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences. Jackson's seminal book, "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States," is considered one of the most important works of history in the latter decades of the 20th century.

Reprinted 29 times in paperback and five times in hardcover, "Crabgrass Frontier" was the first full-scale history of the development of American suburbia and has been described as an often critical examination of "how 'the good life' in America came to be equated with the a home of one's own surrounded by a grassy yard and located far from the urban workplace."

Among Jackson's other major works are: "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York," "The Dictionary of American Biography," "Scribner's Encyclopedia of American Lives," "Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery," "The Ku Klux Klan in the City," "American Vistas," "Empire City: New York Through the Centuries," and the "Encyclopedia of New York City" (seventh edition due in 2010).

The new Haslam TV ad and the West Tennessee megasite


NASHVILLE - Two of my colleagues in the Legislative Plaza press room are giving me grief for the lame approach I took in today's print article on Republican Bill Haslam's new TV ad, which leaves the distinct impression that Haslam saved the West Tennessee megasite.

I'll acknowledge that the conventions of daily mainstream journalism forbid me from saying outright that the Haslam ad is a gross exaggeration of his role. So let me lay out the facts as they were related to me and as I know them and you Dear Readers and Voters - as always - decide for yourselves whether it is or it isn't.

* * *

The new Haslam for Governor ad features colorful Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith in his cluttered office and on a bulldozer talking about how Haslam, the mayor of Knoxville, helped him advance the megasite - a large-scale industrial site that local and state leaders hope will lure a major manufacturing plant and jobs to Haywood County, not far east of the Shelby County line.

Smith says in the ad:
"I'm a hundred percent Democrat. Never voted for a Republican governor.... 'til now.
"Tried for five years to develop this megasite. We needed the rural jobs. No luck.
"So I got a little help from some Democrats and one great Republican mayor. A guy named Haslam. Soon these dozers will be rolling.
"I'm voting for the man: Bill Haslam. I don't care if he's a Whig -- or a mugwump."

* * *

Mayor Smith is an honorable man. He's been mayor of Haywood County 19 years and has worked hard to bring jobs there. He doesn't take credit for the megasite idea but there's no doubt he's worked harder than anyone else for several years to create it.

Near the end of the 2009 state legislature, Republicans in the Senate unveiled a plan to delete from the state budget most of the $30 million that Gov. Phil Bredesen had requested to buy the land for the project. Republicans have a 19-14 majority in the Senate and at that time, a 50-49 margin in the House of Representatives. The threat was real and immediate. Mayor Smith told me Monday that at that point, in May or June 2009, he called Haslam and asked him to talk with Senate Republicans from the Knoxville area in support of restoring the megasite funding. Smith called because Haslam, who had been running for governor for four or five months, had been through West Tennessee, learned about the megasite and expressed support for it. Smith said Haslam had met with West Tennessee officials in Jackson just before the budget action in Nashville, talking about the region's economy and the megasite.

"I had just gotten a letter from Mayor Haslam about the meeting we had in Jackson. Got it the day before the money was pulled (from the budget) as a matter of fact," Smith told me. "His letter made the statement that the West Tennessee Megasite had great potential and he was looking forward to supporting it when he got to be governor. This was in May or June 2009, when the Senate Republicans pulled the thing. I picked up the phone and I called Mayor Haslam and asked him to talk to the senators in the Knoxville area to see if we could get the money back in. It was in the House version. And low and behold, a day later the Senate puts the money back."

Haslam campaign spokesman David Smith said Monday that "Mayor Smith called up Mayor Haslam, who understood and appreciated what Mayor Smith was doing and the potential impact the megasite could have in West Tennessee. He wanted to help out any way he could, so he made some calls to help raise awareness of the importance of the project." Spokesman Smith (no known relation to Mayor Smith that we know of) would not say specifically who Haslam called. "He called appropriate state leaders and encouraged them on the potential economic and jobs impact of the megasite," he said.

* * *

From Mayor Smith's perspective in Brownsville, of course, Haslam played a role - and no doubt he did. But there is more to it than that.

When the Republican plan - which also proposed to cut pre-kindergarten, a solar farm adjoining the megasite and other things - came out, Democrats went on the offensive to restore the funding. Bredesen publicly called the GOP plan "stupid" and said it wasn't a budget plan at all but "a political document." The Senate Republicans released their plan just before Bredesen was to depart on a job-recruiting trip to Europe, where he planned to pitch the megasite to industrialists looking to build in the U.S.

"The Haywood County thing is a huge potential development in one of the poorest counties in our state," Bredesen said on June 11, 2009. "I'm within 72 hours of getting on a plane to try to go sell it to people who are actually interested in it. I can't even imagine why you'd pull that out of the budget. It doesn't do anything for the budget. And I think that was stupid, if you want a specific example."

I reported on June 12, 2009, that "given the unexpected level of the criticism by the governor and Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said lawmakers will likely restore the megasite and solar farm. He said the Republicans never planned to fully slash the money for those projects." There was no mention at the time of Haslam.

* * *

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, who handled the state budget legislation in the Senate, said Monday that in his public and private meetings with the Republicans during the 2009 budget battle, "they never mentioned that they had communications with (Haslam). As the sponsor of the bill, I'm unfamiliar of any Haslam influence. I never had any communication with Bill Haslam or anyone connected with Bill Haslam. I never had any senator tell me that Bill Haslam thought this (megasite) was a good idea." Kyle said the new Haslam ad is "beyond an overstatement. The governor put that megasite in the budget, maintained and tried to keep it in the budget. Republican senators took it out of the budget and the governor had some words for them and they put it back in." Kyle also credited Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, and Reps. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, and Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, with fighting for the megasite's funding.

* * *

So I called two Knoxville area Republican senators Monday and asked whether Haslam had called them last year during the budget battle to urge them to restore the megasite funding. Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He told me: "I know that we had some contacts with him (Haslam) and he had indicated he thought it was important for economic development for the state. We had a whole lot going on about the budget and the best I recall, he and I did have a conversation about economic development and the importance to the state being out front - that now was not a time to be cutting back on economic development. I don't know if it specifically related to that particular site or not. We got all sorts of calls about a number of issues. I do recall having a conversation with him about the importance of economic development. We also had reduced some of the funding for economic and community development because they had a lot in their reserves, but I can't recall specifically whether he said 'megasite' or whether it was just a general conversation about economic development and making sure it stayed whole."

Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, said: "I know that Mayor Haslam has been a constant advocate on behalf of economic development activities of the state and I was well aware at the time that he was in favor of the project." I asked her if Haslam's position played a role in the megasite funding being restored. She replied: "I think it was an all-hands-on-deck effort and Mayor Haslam was an important part of a Republican chorus of idividuals who advocated on behalf of that economic development project. Mayor Haslam's advocacy on behalf of the project in West Tennessee was very strong at the time and it was an important part of that project."

* * *

There is a postscript. When Haslam called Smith about a month ago and asked him to do the TV ad, Smith, a Democrat, agreed to do it. But when the video production crew hired by the Haslam camp showed up in Brownsville, Mayor Smith said he wasn't entirely pleased with the script presented to him.

"They didn't want me to give credit to Democrats," Smith said. "That got to be an issue the day of filming. I just told the director, 'I'm going to be perfectly honest with you: Mayor Haslam is not the reason that the megasite's here but he certainly helped me - but so did a lot of Democrats,' and I named off several. 'I'm not going to say something that's not true, number one, and if I've got to take that out, then I'm not going to do the ad'," Smith said.

Smith wanted to add the words "So I got a little help from some Democrats..." in front of "one great Republican mayor." The director balked. "I couldn't get the campaign staff on the phone," Smith told me. "So I got the mayor (Haslam) himself on the phone and he approved the wording on the ad, which shows me the kind of fellow he is and the kind of governor I think he will be. This crap about Democrats can't work with Republicans and Republicans can't work with Democrats - this country is going to go to hell if that's the attitude we're going to continue with."

* * *

That, campaign spokesman David Smith said today, was the message the ad was intended to convey. "The message is that Mayor Haslam will work with everybody."

Can we get a local taxpayer receipt?

Speaking of taxes and explanations, check out this cool breakdown of where your federal tax dollars go -- a taxpayer receipt that some say the IRS should reproduce and send to everyone. What would be cool is if someone come up with a localized version of the breakdown -- maybe show us where each dollar out of $1,000 property-tax dollars goes, where each dollar of $1,000 of sales taxes goes, etc.? As City Hall reporter Amos Maki has oft reported, close to 70 percent of city tax dollars go to fire and police services -- so good luck finding cuts not involving the (rightfully) beloved first responders.

Here is a link to an example of a federal taxpayer receipt, which I am putting below. The idea comes from a group called Third Way.


Videos give mayor's take on budget, school funding

Via Vimeo, Mayor Wharton's office put out some sharply-produced web presentations on how City of Memphis got into this school funding fix that has painful budget cuts and tax raises on the table. They sent them out via email, Facebook and Twitter. Ah, remember when the mayor of Memphis tried to shape the narrative by calling a big press conference at City Hall to lecture reporters on his version of reality?

Anyway, the first is titled "How Did We Get Here," and features some 2008 anti-school board audio from City Council members Harold Collins, Wanda Halbert and Myron Lowery that future political opponents may find useful. The caption to it reads, "A short video explaining the origins of the dispute between the City of Memphis and Memphis City Schools regarding school funding."

How Did We Get Here? from Mayor Wharton on Vimeo.

The second, titled "Property Tax Pennies," actually was updated later Friday with some adjustments, but it basically points out that while City Council slashed the city's contribution to Memphis City Schools in 2008, it did not slash taxes and instead spent tax revenues elsewhere. Its caption reads, "A brief explanation of the Memphis City Council's 2008 cut in school funding to Memphis City Schools and the impact on the tax rate."

PROPERTY TAX PENNIES - updated from Mayor Wharton on Vimeo.

Our man in Nashville, Richard Locker, trekked his way to Martin yesterday to see if he could get Stephen Fincher, the Republican nominee in the 8th Congressional District, to answer questions about the $250,000 unsecured loan and strange campaign finance disclosures in which he claimed to have no assets, not even a checking account (yet seems to have the money to live in a huge house and send his kids to private school). Democratic nominee Roy Herron has been hammering Fincher about it.

Rick also threw out a basic question The CA always asks candidates running for an office that either directly or indirectly includes Memphis -- if elected, what's he going to do for the city? And suddenly the story took a whole new turn.

Despite having been a candidate since late last year, Fincher made at least three declaratory statements that Memphis was not, in fact, a part of the 8th District. As you can see at this link, a not insignificant part of the the district is located in Memphis (much of Frayser, some of Raleigh). In terms of population, it takes up a sizable chunk -- and many of those voters are of course Democrats, which is why many believe if Republicans are in charge of redistricting, at a minimum Frayser will be thrown into the 9th District.

From Rick's story:

"I'm in Memphis a lot and see lots of folks. They're close to us and part of the district. ... The city of Memphis is not in. But we're going to work for the state and country to do what we can. Memphis is a key part of the 8th District. I mean it's close to us."

Asked if the district lines don't extend into the city, he said, "Into Shelby County. Just into the county part. I don't think we have the city part. I don't think the city of Memphis."

Campaign manager Paul Ciaramitaro said "Frayser," and Fincher said, "Frayser is, okay, yes."

Fincher's campaign is continuing to describe these issues as frivolous distractions from what they say is the most important issue facing the voters -- the fact that Roy Herron is a Democrat who would support Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. As my story last weekend pointed out, that's the main message coming from all Republican nominees running in hotly contested Mid-South congressional races.
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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

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