August 31, 2005
Stories, Fresh and Stale
Much to his co-chair's surprise, State Senator Mike Williams (R-Maynardville), who shares the leadership of the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics with House Majority Leader Kim McMillan (D-Clarksville), plans to introduce legislation this week aimed at much-needed ethics reforms in the General Assembly. I did not get a chance to meet Senator Williams at the recent meeting where I saw and heard him, but I came away impressed with his no-nonsense approach to lobbyists and ethics. He seemed very open to the yet-unfinalized reform ideas being gathered by the Citizen Advisory Group, and his active listening may have contributed to his moving forward on a proposal.
Bob Krumm asks why registered lobbyist and Chair of the Davidson County Election Commission, Eddie Bryan, is making political campaign endorsements. More from Bob: where does Ophelia Ford live? And, via Simply I, still more from Bob on the audacity displayed by indicted Tennessee Waltzer Kathryn Bowers to take a taxpayer-funded trip to Seattle while facing trial on Federal corruption charges. Just read Bob Krumm, all the time. It's easier than me having to do all these links.
Speaking of taxpayer-funded trips: Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield is headed for Korea, China and Japan, along with staffers and possibly others, on multiple upcoming occasions. I must say that I really don't get this. The purported reasons are 1) to attract manufacturing firms to the emptiness called Enterprise South (okay, we need "more better" jobs here. But do we want to bring in companies that will send the profits back over to China, or should we be fostering, where possible, local endeavors whereby the owners can re-invest in the community in more ways than two?) and 2) to consult with Asian municipal leaders on planning and design. Um, do we need to pay for them to go all the way to Asia to do this? I'm thinking that Louisville is a pretty cool town, or Indianapolis, and they're just right up I-65 via I-24. I'd even spring for Albuquerque, but Hitachi City seems a bit ambitious. Since Littlefield made mention of his past trips to China during his campaign, I don't know that this is not just a convenient excuse to go back, sister city Wuxi notwithstanding. (Note: according to the linked article, the trip to Hitachi City will be covered by the host, not by us. I still get the impression that the City's travel budget is now completely blown.)
The Pensieri blog dismisses all GOP Senate primary polls up to this point, and asks for an outsider to conduct one. I concur, except that I think that they should wait. Polls mean very little at any time, but especially at this stage.
TeamGOP's blog sounds exactly like liberal Democrat trial lawyer John Wolfe in their recent attempt to attack Bob Corker. I mean, exactly. Did they get their hands on that infamous "power structure" pamphlet that was circulated early this year during the Mayoral race? Why would they base a blog entry on this veritable gadfly's rather zany publication? Jeff Ward, watch out for those black helicopters.
Okay, I've probably ticked off enough people for now. More later.
August 30, 2005
Intrigue on Death Row
I guess I'm not the only one who smelled a rat when I learned of Suge Knight's shooting.
However, I didn't conclude that he shot himself; rather, I hold that he had himself shot.
What makes me think so? I am really unsure. But in some very weird way, this unlikely notion about this violent event comes closer than anything else to explaining a dream I had the night after it happened. I won't go into the dream's details, but I will say that I awoke from it, twice, and each time returned to a continuation of the same dream. That is strange enough in and of itself. (I learned of the shooting the next morning, so it's not like I had any lingering thoughts with which to concoct any dreams.)
Just another thing to think about: the wound's location and damage were pretty benign for a rival gang attack. He may have had a piece that went off accidentally, but until someone proves otherwise, I'm sticking to my crazy theory that he [perhaps wanted to incite something and] took out a false hit on himself.
Rosalind Kurita's Message Hits in DC
I was recently tipped to a good new blog out of the nation's capital (from the Center for Public Integrity's Leah Rush). The blog is "Under the Influence" by Leah's fellow Center employee Bill Allison, who bills it as "[a] real-time investigative project on political interests in Washington." It's non-partisan, and the only ideology present seems to be the desire for the public to know what groups are buying what influence in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Even better, Bill Allison picked up on Bill Hobbs' recounting of yesterday's "blogger lunch" with U.S. Senate candidate Rosalind Kurita, particularly on Kurita's slate of ethics reforms she would introduce in Washington should she be elected our next Senator. (Allison also commends Hobbs for initiating the Nashville political bloggers' lunches -- to which I add complementary applause for co-conspirator Sharon Cobb -- and to which I also add this announcement of my plan to start up something very similar right here in the Scenic City.)
While I don't think she has a very realistic chance of winning that election, it is remarkable (to me) that her voice is carrying as far as it is. Who knows? Perhaps this type of notice will garner her some big (and many small) donations, and, just maybe, we'll be looking at a Corker-Kurita matchup in next year's general election. I certainly wouldn't complain about that.
UPDATE: Whew. I took a chance and "clipped" one entry just to see what would happen. After all, I had assumed that I had lost all of my other ones, so what could it hurt? I clicked the "Clippings" tab, and there were all of my entries. Heads-up to any other Bloglines users out there: I guess this is how to get them back. Weird. The anecdote below might be interesting, but is probably not now, if it ever was.
My default feed-reader, the not-so-sophisticated Bloglines (a property of AskJeeves), has a "Clippings" feature that allows me to set aside blog items and news stories I come across so that I can link to them later. In the words of their site:
Clippings allow you to save particular articles for later review. When you scroll through the contents of a feed, you'll notice a "Clip/Blog This" link under the article summary. By clicking on that link, you'll add that particular item to your 'Clippings Tab.' To view a previously saved clip, open the 'Clippings' tab and click on an item. You can sort and organize your Clippings just like you can organize your feeds, to make later retrieval easy. If you want to remove an item from your Clippings Tab, delete it by clicking on the clicking on the 'Delete Clip' link in the pane.
Well, I just went there to retrieve the stack of stuff I'm very late in getting to your attention, and the list is coming up empty. It looks like I've been "clipped" (think: while running). I had all kinds of tasty stories from recent days just waiting there to pass along to you, and I'm afraid my collection is gone. I know they're still out there, but the trouble to go get them far outweighs the time I have to do so.
Yech. I think it's time to search for a better solution.
Any suggestions? This sucks.
August 29, 2005
"Mr. Lyle," Mr. Lyell, and Where a Lie'll Get Ya
The Governor's Citizen Advisory Group on Ethics -- a dozen-or-so-member panel commissioned by Governor Phil Bredesen to recommend reforms in Tennessee government after several legislators and lobbyists were indicted for bribery and other charges -- came to Chattanooga on Thursday, August 25th accompanied by a grassroots outcry louder than the rumble of 15,000 Harleys with hardly any local attention whatsoever.
The Citizen Advisory Group is holding its business meetings in public locations around the state, and is asking for input from citizens into the process of formulating their recommendations. The Chattanooga meeting was focused on lobbyists, lobbyist spending, lobbyist campaign contributions, and disclosure of lobbyist fees -- get the theme? There were apparently four invited "stakeholder" guests, but five showed up. From my perspective, the left-to-right (speaking spatially, not politically) order of guest panelists was:
- Leah Rush, Director of State Projects at the Center for Public Integrity
- Mike Williams, State Senator (R-Maynardville), Co-chair of the Joint House/Senate Ethics Commission
- Drew Rawlins, Executive Director, Tennessee Registry of Election Finance
- John Lyell, board member, Tennessee Lobbyists Association
- Mark Greene, President, Tennessee Lobbyists Association
The session was divided into two parts. The stakeholder panelists answered questions from the Commission members first, while the press and the public looked on. After a brief break, the public were invited by moderator Mimi Bliss to enter the dialogue.
After the introductions were completed and a draft copy of an "aspirational statement" on conduct was distributed and read, former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Lyle Reid started off the questioning with a basic inquiry: "Why do we need lobbyists to advocate to the legislature?"
I should first tell you that the two lobbyists (Greene and Lyell -- the latter being the "unexpected guest" -- I guess he thinks he always deserves a seat at the table) were on the defensive before the first question was asked of them (especially Lyell), and the tone didn't vary much from then on.
The consistent answer from the lobbyists, as to the citizens' need for them, was that our part-time legislature hasn't the time nor the staff to fully research every angle of the some 3,000 bills that are introduced in a session. "Lobbyists are people legislators can depend on to tell them the truth," Lyell said. Veronica Davis-Coleman asked at one point, "but aren't most of those 3,000 bills written by lobbyists?"
The biggest issue the two Lobbyist Association members had with proposed reforms is with disclosures of clients' spending and lobbyists' income. Mark Greene: "a lobbyist's salary isn't relevant to how a Member votes."
Former Chattanooga Times publisher Paul Neely made the issue more pointed. "Are you saying that the success of lobbying doesn't reflect the wealth of resources invested in it?" "No, it doesn't," said Lyell. Ms. Rush responded with a graph showing the relativity of lobbyist expenses to their salaries. Salaries apparently outweighed expenses 13:1. (I couldn't see the graph.) "But isn't it the lobbyist's job to persuade legislators to vote in favor of their clients?" continued Neely. Lyell: "You don't understand the technique. A good lobbyist presents both sides of the issue." Later, Senator Mike Williams stated his opinion that lobbyists actually tend to confound issues by not being forthcoming with all the pertinent information.
Bishop Joseph Walker of Mt. Zion church in Nashville opined that the "least, last, left-out" members of society need disclosure because it would "restore credibility." He echoed Justice Reid's earlier query as to who lobbies for the poor and uneducated by stating that these cannot get a "seat at the table."
Mark Greene took a sudden turn and lashed out at TIGER and similar grassroots organizations for raising the question of disclosure to begin with. He asked why no one was calling for financial disclosure from these groups, since "grassroots efforts are more effective than lobbyists" at influencing legislation. (I had to stop and scratch my head at that one.)
Lyle Reid countered that lobbyists are an integral part of state government in Tennessee -- he called them a "de facto third body of the legislature" -- and asked why the public doesn't have a right to know whom is getting paid, and how much, to influence the laws that affect them. (Side note: I have this habit of "pegging" people on some strange kind of morality/likeability scale within very short periods of exposure to them. I have to be in the same room; TV or telephone encounters, for example, yield nothing. It's probably not the wisest undertaking, but it's innate and automatic. FWIW, Lyle Reid (or "Mr. Lyle" as Senator Williams twice called him by honest mistake) was immediately "pegged" as downright heroic. Comment otherwise if you must.)
Tennessee Baptist Convention President James Porch asked about the process of, and qualifications for, becoming a lobbyist. "All someone needs...is a client," quipped Drew Rawlins. It is really that simple. I could be a lobbyist today, if someone will go with me to Nashville and sign a form saying that they're paying me to be one. This brought up the inevitable subject of the Tennessee Waltz sting, when Greene claimed that the two "bagmen" indicted along with five sitting (and one former) legislators "were not registered with any clients." I have to call that a lie, for I do not believe it was a mistake. Charles Love may not have been properly registered under E-Cycle, but he certainly was (is?) a registered lobbyist. How would Love top the list of lobbyists who have under-reported campaign contributions if the Chattanooga Times-Free Press didn't have reason to consider him a lobbyist? Yeah. (In case you're wondering, I "pegged" Greene and Lyell too, as soon as each of them spoke. I'll use a metaphor to describe my reaction to them: one had to be careful to avoid slipping in the oil that quickly pooled around their chairs. Especially Lyell's.)
Though a lot of talk was about how lobbyists work to get bills passed, there is the opposite aspect, wherein lobbyists block legislation (and thus often stand to receive a contingency fee* -- a payment that is outlawed in the Federal government and in all but 14 states). Several members of the Advisory Group stated something like "if the lobbyists oppose a piece of legislation, it has absolutely zero chance of passing." The somewhat melodramatic Representative Tommie Brown (D-28) said during the citizen-input session that she has left committee meetings many times "with tears streaming down" her cheeks after critical pieces of legislation were killed by lobbyist influence. (Brown was one of three members of the Hamilton County House delegation in attendance. The others were freshmen Gerald McCormick (R-26) and Bo Watson (R-31). Neither Senator was there -- not that I expected to see Ward Crutchfield.)
*Clarification: contingency fees are tied to specific bills, but not only to bills that are successfully opposed. They may be paid when a specific piece of legislation passes that benefits the lobbyist's client. "I'd prefer to call them bonuses," John Lyell stated. Not surprisingly, he doesn't want them disclosed (let alone banned).
Before I forget, I'd like to thank Emily Richard, media contact for the Citizen Advisory Group, for providing me with a press kit on my arrival at the event.
This Is Cute
Who Will Be the Last Waltzer on the Floor?
This just in: not only is Chris Newton, State Representative from Cleveland and the only GOP-affiliated legislator so far indicted in the FBI bribery sting, resigning his seat (effective November 1st), he is scheduled to change his "not guilty" plea at a hearing tomorrow morning in Federal court.
Senators Bowers, Crutchfield, and (formerly) Dixon: are you paying attention?
Senator Crutchfield, since Charles Love has pleaded guilty to passing you illegal money, and since now it appears that the other recipient of his envelopes is going to enter a new plea as well, why don't you do the right thing and resign from your elected position?
I'm not attempting to advise you, sir, on how to conduct your legal defense. That's your business. But as bad as this situation now looks, it is our business (that is, the citizens of District 10, of whom I am one) to deal with you publicly on the matter of our representation in the Senate. And I, for one, would appreciate the honorable gesture represented by an immediate resignation.
The Senator's e-mail address is: email@example.com
I've Found Bubba!
..yes, that Bubba. He's temporarily hanging out at Facing South.
August 28, 2005
Curtis Adams Doesn't Get It
Even if I were supporting Curtis Adams -- my current County Commissioner -- for re-election, I would stand by this post's title. In today's Chattanooga Times-Free Press (page B5), Kathleen Baydala writes that Adams will "let his record and reputation speak for him" in the upcoming election, as opposed to, say, formulating a message that will address current constituent concerns in a post-millennial context. According to the paper, Curtis Adams has been on the Commission for 18 years.
Eighteen years ago, Ronald Reagan was President (and Curtis Adams was elected as a member of the opposition party, in which he remained until just this year), and I was a sophomore in college. Now I am a professional, I have a family, and there is a whole new crop of college entrants, most of whom were just being born when Adams joined the County Commission. Just about all of them will be eligible to vote in next year's election. What is his message to them?
At the very least, Adams could develop a new message for campaigning that would be based on his recent political-party switch. That would give voters something to consider. It appears, though, that he thinks he is entrenched enough that he doesn't need a current message. He seems content to rest on his [laurels? for what?] and assumes that the octogenarian vote will smile on him and be enough to assure his victory.
"Either (voters) like me or they don't," he is quoted as saying in the paper. Dude -- first of all, it's not about whether or not I like you. I probably do, even though I've never met you. It's about whether you are positioned to be the most effective elected representative for District 8 in the years 2006-2010. What have you to say? Secondly, there is a host of voters -- the aforementioned younger set, people who are becoming more civic-minded, and any newcomers to the district, whether from across town or across the country -- who really don't know if they "like you" or not, nor what your positions are on anything.
Mr. Adams' opponent, John Bailes, has realized from the beginning that a winning candidate needs to craft and promote a message to District 8 voters. That alone deserves your attention, and I feel that once you have heard his message, you will clearly recognize that he is the best choice for this office in the next term.
August 27, 2005
Zogby Online Polling for Fred Thompson in '06 Gov Race
I just completed one of those polls that Marc Zogby sends to his e-mail list. I have read plenty of opinions that decry the accuracy of these particular surveys, but I occasionally complete them and am interested in the outcome anyway, however scientific (or not). Online polling beats phone calls hands-down, so anything I can do to help improve their accuracy, through increasing their usage and therefore the amount of scrutiny placed on them, I will do. (I just hate the ones that have all the non-political questions included.)
I did this one because it is specific to the mid-term elections. It was disappointing that the poll only covered statewide races, because I would be curious to see what names were in the Congressional set; but one thing jumped out at me for sure: in addition to the predictable match-up questions on the Senate race (pairing the 5 major declared candidates as well as Beth Harwell against each other in a few different primary and general combinations), there was one question pitting Phil Bredesen against Fred Thompson in the gubernatorial race.
No other name was included (hey, that's kinda unfair to our friends Hooker and Whitaker). No Beth Harwell, no Jim Henry, no Ron Ramsey; just Fred Thompson.
Does Zogby know something that I don't? Or did he fashion his poll questions based only on the latest rumor that any of us has? How active is the effort to recruit Thompson to run against Bredesen? Or, has his name been slipped in there in order to gauge what the support would look like, and thus help him decide?
If someone in the GOP (or anyone else) wants to let me know, I'll thank you greatly. I think a Thompson-Bredesen race would make the 2006 elections even more exciting than they already promise to be. Could I find myself supporting two conservative Republicans for statewide office??
August 26, 2005
Far be it from me to go without at least briefly acknowledging the 85th anniversary of one of the most positively progressive changes this nation has seen.
Since I was born in the late 1960s, it's hard for me to imagine a lack of voting rights for anyone, but I can appreciate the women's suffrage movement by hypothesizing about the lack thereof. I just had dinner with the wife, her very pregnant sister and their very pregnant cousin. You mean to tell me that the very segment of the population who carries each one of us for a number of quite less than comfortable months inside their bodies, then agonizingly delivers us into the world, was not [and in some places, yet, is not] able to have a say in government?
It is difficult for me to think about our nominally being a "democratic republic" for so many years with the votes cast by only white men. Those who resist forward change today would do well to look back and realize exactly the kind of repression they're fighting to keep.
The scary part is, some of them do realize it, and fight for it anyway.
August 25, 2005
Ruining My Reputation
This post is to issue a public apology to John Bailes and his campaign staff and supporters for not making it to the Back-to-School rally at Eastgate.
What was supposed to have happened: after I got through at the Citizens Advisory Commission on Ethics meeting, I was going to go home, grab the guitar and gear, and head over to the Bailes event.
What happened: the [vapor lock or fuel injection or ignition relay] problem that my old car has, but has after sitting out in the heat of Summer only, kicked in bigtime, and I sat in Chattanooga State's parking lot for over two hours trying to start it. By the time I got home, the rally would have been wrapping up. I regret that this car trouble had to happen on this very day -- the day I would have otherwise gotten to jam with none other than former Hamilton County Executive Dalton Roberts.
I hope Messrs. Bailes and Roberts both know how much it affected me to miss the event, not only because I don't like presenting even the slightest image as "the guy who doesn't show up," but because I truly wanted to help with the campaign rally.
I recorded the odometer reading on the car -- didn't have much else to do at the moment -- at 222,670.1 miles. Even though it let me down in a big way today, I can say that this has been an extraordinarily reliable vehicle (1990 Honda Accord LX 2.2-litre 5-speed, if you need to know) for many years, and I'll buy from Honda again. If they'll just lower the price a bit on their hybrids, I'll gladly go that route. Shortly before 6:30, as the baking sun began to wane, the car started as if the previous two-plus hours hadn't happened at all.
By the way, several people asked if they could help, including two mechanics who converged on my open-hooded plight at around the same time and offered lots of assistance (even if they, too, were thwarted by the car's stubbornness). I'd like to "shout out" to Josh, currently of Ron's Automotive at Wilcox and Shallowford, and to JoJo, of the former JoJo & Che Automotive Shop in Cleveland. Both were well-versed in Honda repair, but unfortunately neither had his tools on site. (I didn't have any money, so it probably worked out for the best.)
I'm working up a post on the Ethics discussion, and will get that online as soon as I can. I took a lot of notes, as the afternoon was chock full of enlightening and blog-worthy moments.
Talk Ethics with the Governor's Panel: HERE, TODAY
If you can, please go to Chattanooga State on Thursdaytoday at 1:30 and participate in the Citizens' Advisory Group's discussion of Ethics.
I'd imagine that we Chattanoogans and Hamilton County residents (and, for that matter, Bradley and Marion County residents) had a few nerves touched when a few of our local elected officials were caught up in an FBI sting. However, that shouldn't be our focus here.
The Waltzers didn't just violate good ethics; they broke existing laws. So don't go to the panel to talk about these criminals.
Instead, go to ask our government to enact legislation that will allow us citizens to see documentation of the [legal, but] unduly influential financial transactions that take place among lobbyists and legislators. Disclosure is the name of the game, folks. When we know how the money flows, we can make informed decisions on election days.
Suggest to the Governor's Advisory Group that they seriously study the State of Washington's Public Disclosure Commission, not just to copy, but to garner ideas that they can then formulate into the best solution for Tennessee.
August 24, 2005
Utah Cops Kick, Teargas Teens in Brutal Concert Crackdown
[UPDATE 9:30 PM EDT:] Although earlier Google searches turned up much less information, I have located sites this evening that thankfully provide some more details. According to Utah Indy Media and its cited television coverage, the officers were employees of the Utah County Sheriff's Department, not the Utah State Police [which is where I made initial contact, see below] or the DEA [the allegation of which I saw floating around the net]. There is a better write-up at WikiNews. Finally, I'll leave you with a comment I found on freerepublic.com:
"Our founding fathers knew that keeping people from getting high was the most critical aspect of our new country. That's why they made the entire Bill of Rights disposable if drugs are involved.
Oh, wait. No they didn't."
I have contacted the Government of Utah regarding this story, and I will update you readers with any information they provide, as well as with any other accounts I discover.
This kind of thing cannot be allowed to happen. The "camouflage attire" part would be comical if the "assault rifles pointed at people's heads" part didn't so grimly overshadow it.
Though the jackbooted troops apparently confiscated some video records of the incident, at least one got away and is posted at the link above. Watch it, read the eyewitness report, and spread the word.
If you still aren't enticed into clicking, read this excerpt:
The police were rounding up the staff of the party and the main promoter went up to them with the permit for the show and said "here, I have the permit." The police then said, "no you don't" and ripped the permit out of his hand. Then, they put an assault rifle to his forehead and said "get the [f word] out of here right now."
August 22, 2005
Reactions to Property Tax Increase Vote
I was all old-school with my pen and pad, so I couldn't post as soon as some did, but you know by now that Commissioner Casavant's 26-cent levy increase proposal passed by an expected 5-4 vote (the 5-4 part was expected all along, but the question was which way it would go). Voting "Yes" were Commissioners Gregory Beck (5), Richard Casavant (2), William Cotton (4), Larry Henry (7), and Charlotte Vandergriff (3). The "No" votes came from Commissioners Curtis Adams (8), Bill Hullander (9), Lou Miller (6), and Chairman Fred Skillern (1).
A majority of those in attendance stood and applauded after Dr. Casavant's second amendment -- the 16-cent increase earmarked for the school system -- passed.
What was interesting to me was that the funds to add on to, replace, or build new school buildings come out of the General Fund increase (the 10-cent; specifically, 3 cents of it) instead of the Schools fund increase. Three middle schools and two elementary schools will either be added to or replaced; and two new high schools are promised, for East Brainerd and Signal Mountain.
The most confusing part for me was the discussion of "interlocal agreements" and transportation measures. I'll appreciate edification from readers on exactly what changed, or didn't.
So, on to the reactions:
Curtis Adams seemed a lot more cautious in his statements than he has in many previous ones. Does his turn away from the more caustic rhetoric signal an acknowledgment that his hold on District 8 is precarious at best? More later from his opponent (John Bailes). Adams did attack Harry Austin for this past weekend's editorial, and I get the impression that if you're a renter, he just doesn't represent you. He speaks only for actual property owners.
Greg Beck's main defense of voting for the increase actually seemed to be the raises for County employees (law enforcement, healthcare, corrections, and EMS) that he felt had been held back for too long. I know from an insider what those working in the County Jail put up with every day, so I concur that their families deserve our support.
Dr. Casavant, in addition to making the proposals, commented on the fact that our schools are known for their innovation in faraway places, despite the disrepair and low teacher salaries. He lamented the fact that the recent gross increases to school revenue have largely come from residential tax base growth, instead of industrial.
William Cotton talked a lot, but I didn't write down much. He says a lot without saying much, in my opinion. Quite rhetorical.
Larry Henry seemed like he was relieved after delivering his vote, and said that he will continue to stand firm, regardless of the intimidation that has been levied at him. He requested that, from now on, the Commissioners base their decisions on numbers and not on personality differences -- an obvious reference to Skillern's and Adams' anti-Register vendetta. The most poignant thing he said is that he also finds that the schools' management is not the most efficient with taxpayer money, but he can no longer use that as an excuse to avoid helping the teachers and students. He said this to some pretty fervent applause.
Bill Hullander delivered by far the least relevant and most bizarre comments (exceeding those of Cotton, even). He said that, though he would have been able to vote "Yes" on the original budget, the "extry" things included via Casavant's increase just didn't seem right "since our country is at war." Huh??? Please tell me, Bill, what that has to do with anything. He just doesn't think of his vote against the increase as "saying no to the County workers" [in terms of their getting a raise]. (Explain that one, too.) He would like to see us put up billboards that tout how much, in dollar figures, the school system receives from the County (uh, Commissioner Hullander, would you propose a tax increase to fund the billboard rentals???). I've got to be careful of a slight conflict of interest here, but it seems to me that Bill Hullander represents the McKee Foods Corporation, and that's about it. They could do better (as could the citizens of District 9). One more time (because he used it twice): "extry."
The post-vote statements were led off by a Lecture from Lou (Miller). She made a valid point after she was through scolding those in attendance who applauded the tax increase, though. She wants the County to work harder with the state legislature to ease the property tax burden on Seniors and others on fixed incomes. I agree. But in later comments, she emphasized her viewpoint that neighborhood schools (since "the neighborhood is anchored by the church and by the school" -- this grated on me as much as County Attorney Rheubin Taylor's "in Jesus' name we pray" in his invocation) are needed more than other types. I disagree.
Fred Skillern sang the one song he knows about "running the schools as a business" (it's a song whose chorus has repeatedly been echoed by the School Board member from his district). Earth to Fred: the profit from a good school system is not money; it's well-educated graduates who can compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. That costs money, but it won't make you any. District 1 voters, you know what to do -- aw, hell, what am I saying? We can pretty much give up on District 1. I'd vote to cede that area to Rhea County, as it'd be a more congruous alignment.
Charlotte Vandergriff said that her "Yes" vote on the increase wasn't a difficult decision, given the circumstances in which the schools currently find themselves. When Republicans talk this way, one has to assume that the situation is indeed serious.
After several citizens thanked the Commission for the vote (except one, Libertarian extremist Daniel Lewis), the meeting was recessed and I caught up with John Bailes, who is a candidate in the 2006 election, District 8 (currently held by Curtis Adams).
I asked him for his thoughts on the session, and he summed it up nicely: "it showed that accountability and fair funding do not have to be enemies." Although Bailes feels that the levy increase approved today merely restores funds that have eroded in recent years (he cited librarians, guidance counselors, coaching supplements and teacher pay), instead of providing a true increase, he expressed optimism that the perceived schism [between the Commission and the Schools Administration] will no longer be used as a "punishment." He also pointed out that -- for District 8 residents, specifically -- today's approval of a modest tax increase is mitigated by the recent state-mandated rate decrease related to the appraisal cycle (a point that, I should mention, directly and accurately counters Bill Hullander's complaint that "this happened during appraisal").
I agree with John Bailes, too, in his assessment that today's bipartisan decision did much to overcome the divisions between the School Board and the County Commission, and will lead to a new era in our local government.
I'll be proud to help place Mr. Bailes into that government by voting next May and August.
Now This Is What I'd Call "Tooting Your Own Horn"
It's always nice to see folks strengthening the bonds between Christianity and Capitalism.
I never did like Phil Driscoll's sound, but my horror was made complete when I had the misfortune of watching "Handel's Young Messiah" or whatever that abomination was called, well over a decade ago. I still haven't erased the memory of him butchering the aria "The Trumpet Shall Sound."
I don't believe in Hell, yet I think there ought to be a special place reserved there for operators of these "ministries" who scam the clueless. (That's not to imply that I absolve the clueless for being so.)
Make that Call after You Get Home
Clarksville Police have some current internal problems, but their department gets one thing right:
The most interesting parts, to me, are these two statements:
"Although actions like dialing the phone and finding your phone to answer an incoming call take your eyes off the road and pose a great danger to yourself and others, the greatest danger comes from the conversation itself," Stalder said.
Recent research shows that drivers that are using a hands-free cell phone have the same distraction risk as a driver using a hand-held phone.
Read the article.
Now I'm off to the County Commission meeting. More later..
August 21, 2005
So Much to Cover..So Little Time
Dangit if I didn't wish I could forego sleep and just blog all night instead. However, my family and my health and, oh, a few other things (one of them spelled J-O-B) come first. And I haven't played a guitar in WAY too many days -- that's sure to be unhealthy.
Let's take a quick walk through some of the recent news and opinions, and maybe your calendar will allow you time to submit substantive comments that round this out to more than a mere "executive version."
And, with that, I'm going to have to leave. I'll blog the other stuff later. There's so much, but in the immortal words of Milne (through Pooh), "it's nearly eleven o'clock... time for a little smackerel of something."
August 19, 2005
John Jay Hooker's Value
You may consider John Jay Hooker to be a less-than-serious choice for your vote on election day (ahem, just about every one of 'em), but I seriously recommend reading this one article, if you read or listen to anything at all by the man.
If we citizens will step up and run for office, following Hooker's example, without these (as he terms them) non-voter contributions directing the content and intent of campaigns, some of us will get elected some of the time, and those first steps will be the first leg of the long journey back to freedom and self-rule.
Lucy Kaplansky and Jennifer Daniels
Did anyone make it to Nightfall tonight to hear these two songwriters? Your thoughts? I'm not that familiar with Lucy Kaplansky, but I consider Jennifer Daniels to be one of the best there is in her genre.
In other recent musicness, a couple of bloggers did go hear Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers last night. I wish I could have.
Evangelical Physics [Was: "Hey, Mark Rose"]
I usually try to post on Chattanooga, Hamilton County, and Tennessee politics, elections, government, civics. I also add some personal thoughts about education, music, nature, and the occasional free advertising for favorite businesses. You won't, for example, find any of that "Camp Casey" business or stem-cell debates or political races in other states (though I did do one post that mentioned the "runaway bride" and it got my hit count up considerably just by having her name on here for search engines to find).
Today, though, I'm deviating a little because I found, via a post on John Cole's Balloon Juice, a story that deserves as much attention as it can get.
Come to think of it, this story's subject can be considered a state issue, and even a local one, because of our proximity to the infamous Rhea County, and because I'm sure we'll see plenty of "debate" in our state and local education climes, just like they already have in Kansas.
An excerpt from the story (borrowed in full from Balloon Juice):
Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory
KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held “theory of gravity” is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.
“Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, ‘God’ if you will, is pushing them down,” said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.
Burdett added: “Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, ‘I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.’ Of course, he is alluding to a higher power.”
Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world’s leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.
At last I have an answer for Mark Rose's Question #3, which reads: "Gravity is an invisible, non-magnetic attraction between two physical objects. It's what keeps the Earth in a nearly symmetrical orbit around the sun, and prevents us here on Earth from flying off into space. Please explain how gravity came into being without an intelligent designer."
The slide shown in the background of the image below depicts the formulas that explain Intelligent Falling:
The full article can be found here.
August 17, 2005
Romancing the Stone
I've had the fortune of knowing Martin Swinson for nearly 16 years, and during that time I've seen him grow from a coffee drinker to a coffee enthusiast to an outright coffee expert to, well, "coffee god" may be a little extreme, but at least on a Chattanooga scale, there's certainly room for him in the pantheon.
Who is Martin Swinson? For purposes of this post, he's the roaster for one of several boutique coffee roasting companies in this burgeoning town, Stone Cup Coffee. Stone Cup has quite a history with me as well, as I used to visit their Riverview location for a cup after baking all night and flinging sandwiches all morning at the now-long-dead Bagel Market; then they moved down to Frazier Ave into the former Blue Angel; and now, in case you didn't know, they occupy some really sweet digs in the new Frazier Place building just next door. But before there was ever a Stone Cup, there was Jennifer Stone, with whom I worked -- for Martin Swinson, no less -- at a mall [ugh] coffee & tea store which shall remain nameless. As bad as working in the malls* was, enough good has come of those earlier days to make it all worthwhile.
So, what has this to do with anything? Nothing, except that I want our city to know that, among the choices for a good cup of coffee in this town, Stone Cup ranks in the top three (and that, for me, they are numero uno). It's not just that I've known these people for a while. It's that the coffee holds up to my very exacting standards for flavor, freshness, and even fair trade.
If you don't want to take my word for it, just check out CoffeeReview.com, where Kenneth Davids -- the veritable Zeus of coffee -- "cups" and rates samples that are submitted for his impeccable review. Several of Stone Cup's submissions have rated in the high eighties. That's no mean feat, y'all. The most recent one to rate this well is their Costa Rica SHB, Central Valley Monte Cristol ("SHB" stands for "strictly hard bean" and is a grower's/buyer's distinction for the utmost in quality raw product). I've sampled this myself, and I give it a similar rating. Costa Rica is a tricky coffee to roast, and Martin manages to bring out the maximum flavor in this relatively mild bean. He does similarly well with Panama, and right now I'm testing out his take on Nicaragua. I'm one day into the bag, and it's going well.
One of my favorite Stone Cup offerings is the organically-grown bean they get from Timor. Wow. I've always enjoyed Indonesians -- Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, and coffee's other namesake, Java -- but this Timor is frighteningly good, as it is so balanced that the body just sneaks up on you, and you realize after you have swallowed a sip that you've just had an incredibly full and complex flavor (it's comparable to the Sulawesi that we used to have at my old stomping grounds in DC).
I asked Jennifer the other day if I could link to Stone Cup's website, and she said that it is currently down for re-vamping. I will therefore put up a link when it comes back online. In the meantime, stop by and visit. For those of you who are more into cappuccino, latte, mocha, or even less coffee-related things (hey, they even recently started serving beer), you'll find great choices, as well as sandwiches and other eats.
So, here's to wild success for Jennifer, Martin, and the rest of the crew at Stone Cup: I raise my darkly glistening brew to you.
*I know that I'll probably incur the wrath of La Covenosa Nostra by giving such love to Stone Cup without mentioning their darling, Greyfriar's (but see, I just did), but suffice it to say that Ian's product is in that same aforementioned top three. Ian and I also worked together, ten or so years ago, in another local mall, at a sister nameless coffee & tea store. The seeds for good coffee in this town were sown in those barren surroundings. Nothing could make me happier than to see that all three of these folks (Martin, Jennifer, and Ian) are now providing the citizenry with coffee (and tea; don't forget the tea) that are on a par with any uppity ol' Northwest beaneries.
Answer to sdavick on Property Taxes
Since my own blog censored my comment for some reason, I'm posting an answer to a question asked in comments to a previous post.
sdavick, your question makes perfect sense, and I think I was actually trying to answer your second question the first time around, but I should have just looked it up and done the math instead of throwing out numbers. Here's the deal. A piece of property assessed at $100,000 will currently rate $765.25 annually in County taxes (not counting any city taxes). This is figured by $100,000 x .25 x .01 x $3.061. That last figure is the current County rate. If the rate went up $0.55, it would be $3.611. Therefore, using the same formula, $100,000 x .25 x .01 x $3.611, we get $902.75, for a difference of $137.50 (just a bit higher than I guesstimated) per year, or $11.46 per month.
Yes, $11.46 per month can impact a budget (even though it's less than one 12-pack of Sam Adams..), but another factor is that the assessor typically hits lower than current market value (given the housing boom, and all), so a piece of property market-valued at $100,000 may only assess at, say, $87,000 and that would be the starting point for the above formula. (This last part is more speculation; don't take it as gospel. Also, others may have experiences with higher-than-market assessments, but I've not heard of any.)
Hope this helps.
A Schoolhouse Divided..
This morning, the Hamilton County Commission heard from citizens regarding the County budget and the school system.
These days, I prefer not to get into the rhetorical battle of calling anti-tax-increase Commissioners names, or calling pro-education citizens "thieves," but to instead look for real solutions to this ongoing problem.
Face it, folks: the public schools here are performing remarkably well, given their funding circumstances. There are many factors that contribute to those circumstances; the six-year reprieve on an increase in property taxes is but one of those factors. I stand back and look at the charges of mismanagement and waste that are leveled at the Board and Administration, and I look at the epithets (some of which I'm sure I've hurled myself, regrettably) launched at Commissioners Adams, Skillern, Miller and Hullander (and then there's Larry Henry who's caught somewhere in the middle), and I get the sense that there are truths and falsehoods in each.
Could the school system's Administration find ways to cut costs? Sure. However, the monstrous climb of health insurance alone is a hard obstacle to avoid. Textbook publishers are another set of profiteers that hold the schools, teachers, and students hostage with their gouging.
Could the County officials budget better, so that the existing property tax rates would be sufficient to fund [what should be] our number one priority? Absolutely. But it could be that, given all of the other factors, we citizens just need to deal with the rising public costs just as we deal with the inflation of our private bills.
I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't help for anyone to be so firmly entrenched in an ideological position that potential solutions can't be appropriately reviewed. The Register-haters and those who hate "the Five" do equal damage, and the victims of this damage are -- yes, I'll say it -- the children.
To those who spew venom at the Central Office (including School Board member Rhonda Thurman): you try staffing the Administration with people who will "run things" for much less, and see where the quality goes. That's not a sacrifice I think safe to place on the backs of students and teachers. The Board, who are elected by the citizens, hire good people for a reason. And we ought to think our children, and our neighbors' children (and that goes for all of us who do, did, or plan to educate our children in non-public schools), worth hiring the quality personnel.
To those who truly think that "more money" is the only solution: get a grip. There are smarter ways to go about living with what we have. Let's stop the tirade for a tax increase, and look for other ways first; then, if it's absolutely true that nothing else can be done, let's use reason and common sense to convince our fellow citizens that, as painful as it might feel, our future depends on well-educated youth.
I guess we'll see what happens on Monday. The most important thing is for all of us to be involved.
August 16, 2005
All We Need Is Radio Transcript
I'm trying to track down the details, but I've heard that Congressman Zach Wamp has "threatened to sue" if the audio of his recent two-hour spot as a guest on WGOW is re-broadcast.
Hearing something like that makes me immediately ask, "Why?"
I didn't listen to the original broadcast -- nothing against Jeff or anyone else over there at Talk102.3, but I just don't get into call-in radio. (I think it was long-ago mornings on end of a local "swap shop" in Martinsville, VA that turned me off.) Therefore, I have no idea why A) local attorney and two-time Wamp opponent John Wolfe wanted to re-broadcast the show or 2) Rep. Wamp would have such a problem with the call-in session being aired again.
Did anyone listen?
All I know at this point is that Wolfe did not re-broadcast the show, originally aired last Tuesday Wednesday, in his weekend time slot, but that there are actions afoot to get the tape rolling* and on the airwaves. That says something to me, but I'm not sure what.
If nothing else, the group that is trying to get the show re-broadcast is looking to record its transcript -- which the station owns outright and can do with what it pleases -- using actors, and play that instead. That would be kinda funny to hear. Who would they get to play Zach Wamp? Any takers?
I'm still struggling with why, and for that matter, for what, exactly, Congressman Wamp would "threaten to sue" if the show gets aired again.
More to come as this story develops.
*(hey, the first time I worked at a radio station, we still used reels of tape, so forgive me for not digitizing my reference)
Genesis of an Exodus?
Maybe it became too apparent, in these sessions of the joint Ethics Committee, that a "cooling-off period," wherein legislators would have to wait a year (more time is needed, in my opinion) before becoming lobbyists, would be enacted in the next session. Undoubtedly there were other reasons, too, but the fact is that House Minority Leader Tre' Hargett is taking a lobbyist job with Pfizer, Inc.
Get it while it's hot, Tre'. (Is it Tre, Tre', or Tré? Someone help me and I'll use the definitive.) You'll be safely ensconced by the time a "cooling-off period" is law.
My question is: how many more will jump ship for the same or similar reasons? How many will resign their seats because they know that some of their activities will be illegal as early as next year? (I'm not suggesting that they would resign based on conscience, but on expedience.)
This is more evidence that the (un)ethical atmosphere in Nashville knows no political party. Imagine it: you're a sitting legislator, and you have someone "knocking on your door" who was, just months before, in a top leadership position in the General Assembly. It's someone who knows "how things work" and can wield muscle. And he works for Big Pharma. (Keywords: prescription drugs, healthcare, TennCare, Medicaid.)
I'm happy for Mr. Hargett, who, at the same age as moi, is poised to make a heck of a lot more money for to raise his family than I'll likely ever see. I'll also give him the benefit of the doubt, as a total stranger, that he'll use his position wisely and not to unduly influence the process by which the people of Tennessee govern themselves, until he proves otherwise. I just won't be holding my breath, meantime.
I will, however, be waiting to read some of my favorite bloggers' reactions to this news.
UPDATE: Bob Krumm, who indeed is one of my favorite bloggers, has posted.
UPDATE deux: Matthew White, another one of my favorites, has weighed in with a personal view of the news. And Sharon Cobb asks, "Where's the outage [sic]?" She links to the Tennessean's story, which quotes car-horn-enthusiast Steve Gill sounding a lot like what I said above, regarding the timing of this decision.
But How Much Are the Votes Worth?
As a follow-up to yesterday's post (Tennessee's recent ranking by the Center for Public Integrity), I'm linking to the Knoxville daily's take on it because of this one comment by Anne Carr, board member of the Tennessee Lobbyists Association.
"I also don't think [disclosing lobbyist salaries/spending] tells the public what they need to know," she said. "There's a misunderstanding of what lobbyists do. It's not going around arm-twisting."
But, Anne -- and I realize that it's considered "intellectually dishonest" to back up a position with a single anecdote -- I practically had my arm twisted by a lobbyist while I was still in the qualifying stage to run for the legislature. This lobbyist flat-out told me [I'm paraphrasing because it's been over three years], "I'll sign your petition to get on the ballot. But realize that if you do get elected, you can expect us [lobbyists] to be knocking on your door the first day you're in office. Those legislators who are good to us like to have us come knocking; and those who aren't, don't like to see us coming, but we come knocking anyway." I thanked the guy for his signature, and left his home with a new understanding of how the process currently works (in this case, how roads get built in this state). There was ever the faintest hint of a threat in how he admonished me to be one of the legislators that are considered to be "good to" the lobbyists.
Somehow I didn't get the impression that I was involved in a unique experience there.
A few days later, I was talking with Representative Tommie Brown (D-28), whom I met at the Election Commission office during a special meeting. She described a technique she has used in the past (I don't know how frequently) to create new legislation. In brief, the process is a mock House floor session held locally (at a public locale in the district), where members of the community (anyone can attend) play the roles of legislators and discuss issues that lead to bill proposals. Rep. Brown then takes those proposals on which there is consensus, gives them to the Legal Committee for a "legalese brush-up," and submits those as actual pieces of proposed legislation.
Compare that process to corporate- and special-interest-written proposals that usually make their way to the front of the line. Consider it in light of the fact that the national average of spending by lobbyists is about $130,000 per legislator (and know that Tennessee's average is almost certainly much higher). Can the voters in a legislative district confidently assume that their ballot marks are worth more than the lobbyist's dollars? Hmpf. I don't think so, at this rate. Count in the donations to re-election campaigns for these yes-men and -women [the only disclosed lobbyist spending in this state], and you can begin to see the problem. Campaign fundraising is tied directly to "performance" as a legislator, in terms of being "good to" the lobbyists' employers.
When you vote in 2006, please do your best to find out exactly how legislation "originates" from your State Representative's and State Senator's desks, and give that information its due weight in your decision. I'll do my best to help provide you the information.
August 15, 2005
We're Number 45! We're Number 45!
Okay, so here's yet another example of our not needing an expensive study to tell us the obvious, but our being glad that someone put together the evidence and analyzed it for the more skeptical among us.
The front page of yesterday's local Sunday paper alluded to the fact that Tennessee is ranked 45th in the nation (including the federal government) when it comes to transparency about lobbyists, their activities, the flow of money through them, and so on. Big news, huh? I, for one, feel so much better after knowing that we're so far ahead of Pennsylvania (doesn't PA have an elected state auditor??).
And, as if we needed more proof, Washington (state, let's be clear) was ranked at #1. No kidding. All one has to do is visit their website, read about the Public Disclosure Commission that has been in place for over thirty years, and ponder this for just a moment, before one is utterly convinced that the good folks up there in the Northwest corner have the best solution going. (That's not to imply that it couldn't still be better.)
Mission Statement The Public Disclosure Commission was created and empowered by Initiative of the People to provide timely and meaningful public access to information about the financing of political campaigns, lobbyist expenditures, and the financial affairs of public officials and candidates, and to ensure compliance with disclosure provisions, contribution limits, campaign practices and other campaign finance laws.
Vision Statement We build public confidence in the political process and government.
Tennessee, wake up: we don't need more laws restricting day-to-day activities; we simply need disclosure like this, and the people will review the disclosed information and make informed choices about whom to re-elect (or NOT to).
Bob Krumm briefly blogged this before I got a chance to, so my hat tips in his direction. I like what he has to say, both in his title and his post.
August 12, 2005
Whatcha Doin Sunday?
This is the image of individual freedom, of keeping government out of personal lives, of using a rational basis to arrive at common law, of eschewing a state religion:
Ooops. I might have pasted the wrong URI there. That looks like the gaggle of wingers who will be speaking railing at "Justice Sunday II" in Nashville, day after tomorrow.
Some bloggers will be inside, others will remain outside. I'm staying in Chattanooga, but I can hopefully crank up the blog a few times to provide something at least partially on the level of the "rapid responses" that were so popular in 2004's presidential nominating conventions.
County Commission Adopts Ethics Code, Itches to Appoint Love Replacement
But is it binding?
No, according to the authors. The "comedy part" of this (only the wife will get that inside joke) is that William Cotton was the commissioner who reportedly asked if the ethics code is law. (I wonder how related that question is to yet-unresolved aberrations in the 2002 primary election for his district.) Principle 2: "A county commissioner should be vigorously dedicated to the democratic ideals of honesty, openness and accountability in all public matters involving county government."
Curtis Adams would do well to read and abide by Principle 3 (for the short time he'll remain in office, that is). "A county commissioner should model decorum, respect for others and civility in all public relationships." [Was "model" meant to be the verb there, or did they leave out a word?]
Here's one for the whole crew: "A county commissioner should strive for excellence and continuous learning in personal development and in all operations of county government." (Principle 5)
In other Commission news, it looks like Adams and Skillern are hungry for a taste of what it used to be like before the school merger: a school board member appointed by the Commission! Oh, the power! Although I think we all agree that Charles Love should resign immediately, I can't help but see, through the thin veil of consternation, two pairs of good ol' boy hands gleefully rubbing together.
Boys, here's your bucket of cold water: one hand-picked board member + Rhonda Thurman = still not enough to execute your personal vendettas against Superintendent Register. Say, that r'minds me: we have good challengers running in districts 4, 6, and 8. Who's going to step up in District 1?
August 11, 2005
Harold Ford, Junior is going to be in the neighborhood soon, according to your local Democrats.
His primary rival, State Senator Rosalind Kurita, is sticking to virtual visits for now, but somehow I suspect that she'll be here in person soon too.
Let's get more local. John Bailes, candidate for County Commission in District 8 (where this blogger and family happen to live), has a new website. The race for this seat is being taken very seriously, I take it, by the incumbent, the challenger*, and the local press alike. Good. I hate it when I try to drum up energy for a local race and, if I were forced to admit it, the thing is a total yawn. It's discouraging, but I have this bug. This time I mean it, like all the other times, and there is something to mean.
*Curtis Adams is the incumbent, and John Bailes is the sole declared challenger.
Side note: Bailes' seems to be the first site in any local race here to include the PayPal donation feature.
I realize that there are many people (too many) who don't really know who their current Commissioner is. I got to thinking, "where on the County website could I go to find my entire slate of elected officials?" The answer? Nowhere. I found that Shelby County's Election Commission website has this, among other cool things, but I want to develop something that will allow a person to see only the complete list of the positions electable by voters at his or her residence. I want to include the candidates, too, during each election season, and not just the current officeholders. I am digging through design ideas, but I don't have the resources necessary for what I really would like to see.
I will ask for feedback on an interim layout, just so I get something out soon. It won't have the feature I mention above, but it will hopefully convey the necessary information to interested parties (now, the question: how to attract the currently uninterested?). (Another question: why do some style components work as expected in IE6 but not in Firefox? And a disclaimer: I haven't bothered to put in required navigation. In fact, this is in a very raw state.)
August 10, 2005
When you go to the polls, take my advice;
Vote John Jay Hooker, and vote for him twice.
Basil Marceaux I is not the only one who runs for multiple offices (I think I've seen June Griffin's name around a ballot or two, too): the always scintillating John Jay Hooker plans to be on the ballot in the Democratic primary for Governor, and in the general election for US Senate (as an Independent).
Reactions in the blogosphere are only really interesting because Mr. Hooker attended BlogNashville, made a splash there, and then started a blog of his own. Nevertheless, here are some.
Adam Groves matter-of-factly points it out. (Interesting comment there by Sharon.)
SayUncle says it's cool because Hooker left a comment on his blog (this is not a pissing contest, but candidate Carl Twofeathers Whitaker left one on mine).
Jeff Ward, however, is not impressed. After all, this occurs with much regularity.
Ethics Proposals: Are These the Right Moves?
Several proposals for ethics-related program activities were printed today. My favorite among TNDP Chair Bob Tuke's list is more disclosure of gifts given by lobbyists to legislators. Paul Ney, legal counsel to the state Republican Party, gets my attention with that same one; the "cooling-off" period for legislators before they can become lobbyists; and forbidding lobbyists from serving on state boards or commissions. The Republicans' list was quite a bit longer than that of the Democrats, as they were published in the main Knoxville daily. I'm not sure that means anything, though, as some of the GOP's wish list items are clearly retributive for specific individuals' past actions. (The same can be said for at least one of the Democrats' items.) Note to all General Assembly members: you're all supposedly adults. Pettiness won't get us anywhere. That said, it does look like some good compromise can be achieved from these respective starting points.
When the full legislative session begins in 2006, many of us will be looking at the Senate in particular, since almost all of the E-Cycle indictments, plus the looming investigation of Jerry Cooper's real estate dealings, affect State Senators. I agree and disagree with Bob Krumm's assessment of the Senate's disarray. Yes, the body is out of control; and yes, Lt. Gov. Wilder demonstrated that he missed the entire point; but control of the individual Senators should be in the hands of those Senators, not in those of their chamber's elected leader. To clarify, I do not disagree with Bob's suggestion that a new vote be held to determine who will lead the Senate going forward. Whether or not the corruption is linked to Wilder's, er, distracted state, he appears to be ineffective in general, and that's not good for the State.
Senator Jeff Miller did not attend the special session. I could be wrong, but I think he could have convinced the person presiding over his court case to move it back a little. "Your Honor, I regret to cause any delay to this proceeding, but an urgent matter with dire consequences for the people of Tennessee demands my immediate attention." Is that so difficult?
Whatever. If he doesn't stop squirming about this G he took from an undercover FBI agent, he might not last much longer on the committee, anyway.
Most importantly, I ask the citizens of Hamilton County to weigh in on the proposed ethics reforms -- yes, even before an agreed-to list materializes. Too little? Too much? Right or wrong focus? Oh, and it won't hurt my feelings at all if you skip writing your comments here, and instead just send them directly to your elected officials (you can find e-mail addresses, as well as look up which districts you're actually in (provided you can read an outline map), on the legislature's website).
August 9, 2005
I Said, "United" Front Against Corruption
Corrupt Legislators Might Not All Be Democrats/Newton. Imagine it.
In my view, the right to know what happened to Senator Miller's $1000 doesn't belong to the Tennessee Democratic Party, it belongs to the people of Tennessee (particularly to those who reside in Miller's district). I feel likewise regarding the $200 that Rep. Lois DeBerry flushed down the Tunica toilet. Information about that is not Republican property. Both of you, all of you, stop being so partisan. This issue affects all of us, even those who are bipartisan or transpolitical.
The troubling part of Miller's reaction is:"My word is good. So my word stands." Um, we could ask Mrs. Miller about this "good" word -- or does "I promise to be faithful to you" not count?
Sorry, that's enough about the man's private life. I simply pointed to this public information as it is a potential warning sign.
Moving on, we have another Democrat being investigated by the legislative ethics panel, but not for involvement with E-Cycle bribes. This is rich: "The subcommittee assigned to investigate Cooper, with aid from an attorney, is headed by Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, who was chairman of the Ethics Committee when it looked into the same matter in 2003." Well, he didn't find anything then, did he? Maybe Senators Person and Southerland can help dig up some truth now that Senator Cooper is officially "an unindicted co-conspirator."
From the same KNS article, some recommendations by the Registry of Election Finance:
Giving the agency authority to subpoena records from political candidates or lobbyists. Currently, the Registry itself has no subpoena authority, though if it takes a case before an administrative law judge, the judge can issue subpoenas. Typically, that only happens when a person assessed a penalty decides to appeal the case into court.
Giving the agency authority to conduct random audits of reports filed by candidates or lobbyists.
Authorizing the Registry to levy bigger fines on lobbyists for failing to file required reports. Currently, the maximum fine for a lobbyist in such a case is $750 per violation, though a candidate failing to file a required report can be fined up to $10,000.
Allowing penalties to be assessed against the treasurer of a campaign fund. Current law allows fines only against the candidate.
Authority to suspend lobbyists from practicing their profession when they fail to pay a fine assessed against them and authority to block political action committees from making contributions when they fail to pay fines.
Seven hundred fifty bucks seems like it would be "worth it" all too often for lobbyists who could avoid disclosing a whole lot more by simply paying the fine. Let's take those recommendations to heart, but let's just go ahead and implement a Public Disclosure Commission (directly elected, of course) and give them the keys to the jailhouse.
New Anti-Littlefield Blog (and I mean Anti-)
Need some extra apoplexy in your diet? Want to know how a certain "lesbian athiest" (give her time, she'll learn to spell it, too) feels about the current mayor?
What? Both of those wrapped in the same vitriolic package? Too good to be true.
Hey, I voted for Ann Coulter. I too have thought the Littlefield administration a smidgen on the quiet side, so far. However, I made a point of congratulating and supporting our new mayor, complete with his faults and shortcomings, and I will continue to do so, even as I remain watchful that Chattanoogans are being served with the best possible municipal government. It is possible to be simultaneously cooperative and critical.
This one will be interesting to watch. I'm most interested in learning any information [facts only, please] related to this question: "Is it because he made a deal with a [recently indicted] state senator to trade the support of his political machine for a job for his daughter?" What deal, Billy? Gimme some raw data.
August 8, 2005
This Oughta Put Two Feathers in the GOP's Hat..
In 2002, Carl Twofeathers Whitaker ran as an Independent candidate for Governor of Tennessee and finished a mere two places behind Van Hilleary.
Early this year, I noted that he had picked up the endorsement of, and was planning to run as both member and candidate of, the Independent America First Party of Tennessee.
Now Mr. Whitaker is considering a move into the major leagues, so to speak, by trying out for the GOP team. (Does this change his status with IAFPofTN?) After all, some Republicans think Hilleary'd be toast even if he did decide to switch to the gubernatorial race; and no other candidate has made him- or herself readily apparent.
The story is here (registration or BugMeNot! required). Your comments are welcome.
Election Commission Website to Improve?
According to the Chattanoogan.com's report, during an exchange between voter representative Floyd Kirkpatrick and newly-sworn-in Administrator Bud Knowles, Mr. Knowles said that improvements are coming to the Election Commission's rather pitiable website. As my good friend would say, "whow."
In case you've missed all of my earlier rants, here's the short version of history:
Shortly after former Administrator Fran Dzik took over from her predecessor (the inimitable -- and that's both good and bad -- Carolyn Jackson), the Election Commission website went away. I went to check it, and it was just gone. When it finally, finally came back online, it was just one page, with minimal info on that page (because there were "some inaccurate data" included somewhere in the former site, I was told). Now there are a few links, including precinct addresses and an outdated election calendar, but, for example, look at the election results. Soddy-Daisy. Yes, those are important to Soddites and Daisians alike, but they replaced the April 12 Chattanooga runoff results, which in turn replaced the Chattanooga General results from the month prior. The point is, why can't one select from an archive of past results? Why are so many of the documents in PDF format, especially the sample ballots (which take a blue million years to download)? Can't they find someone who can code these things in HTML? I would offer my humble but reasonably adequate services, for just compensation by my fellow citizens..
I'll keep following the main point of the Chattanoogan article, and do a separate post on the Westside precinct as the story develops. I will also keep an eye on the Commission's website, to see if these promised improvements meet the citizens' needs. I'll be happy if they do; I'm not just looking to carp about something. If they do not, however, I'll keep on until at least the minimum requirements are met.
One last thing: I'll only count as "improvements" any additions that provide more/better service than the former site did. The rest is just called "putting back what they took away."
August 5, 2005
Fords Likely to Keep State Senate Seat
Absentee and Early Voters preferred Representative Henri E. Brooks, but last-minute pushes by the Ford campaign, including the disembodied voice of former Congressman Harold Ford, Sr making a mechanized appeal, must have worked. Ophelia Ford won the Democratic Primary in State Senate District 29 by 20 votes. She captured 30.91% [my math was on vacation today] to Brooks' 30.45%*. She's therefore the Democrats' choice to replace her ousted brother.
There's another way to look at this, though. I don't necessarily feel that election results where there is low voter turnout are a good indicator of how the general public's wishes are met. The extreme end of this line of thinking is "only 1,336* District 29 voters want Ophelia Ford to be their next Senator." (Well, if more had, why didn't they go say so?) I am not well-trained in statistics (uh, that was my earliest class that semester), so I won't go into all of the mitigating factors in between, but I wouldn't call Ms. Ford's a "solid" mandate.
The Republican primary was won rather lopsidedly by Terry Roland. There will be one Independent candidate facing Roland and Ford on September 15. (Any candidate with "Prince Mongo" as part of his or her name in print is worth at least a cursory (or should that be "curiousory"?) investigation.)
In the other special primary election held yesterday, Gary Rowe won the District 87 House seat by default, since no Republican or Independent candidates qualified. (Geek alert: I'm disappointed that Kathryn Bowers hadn't resigned her District 33 Senate seat after being arrested in "Tennessee Waltz," because such would have predicated a special election in 2 positions that were both vacated by the same person.) The Commercial Appeal story says that Rowe's celebration was cooled somewhat by the 2.6% turnout for this race. No kidding!
I suppose the primary message here is that most voters or voting-age persons simply didn't care who should represent them. I'm tired of sitting over here "tsk"-ing, yet don't know how to turn up the volume on my PA. Less than 5% turnout is inexcusable, but how do we (Memphians, Chattanoogans, Tennesseans, Americans) change that?
August 3, 2005
JoAnne Favors Needs Our Help
First, read Bob Krumm's take on a Chattanoogan.com article that had escaped my attention until now.
[cue music: "Joanne" by Orion the Hunter]
Okay, ya back? Let me reiterate, in case you went surfing for a while:
The former District 5 Hamilton County Commissioner, now a "rising star" in the Democrat-controlled State House of Representatives after she defeated Brenda Turner (whew) in the '04 primary, JoAnne Favors, told reporters -- actually told them, it wasn't just a Helen Thomas Moment™ -- that the legislative ethics commission, of which she is an appointed member, isn't needed. I hope she clarifies this or retracts it or something very soon. I am disappointed, to put it mildly.
Oh, and she's the Vice-Chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. Local Dems, what say you on this? Is this, I'm assuming, an individual's statement and thus thoroughly unrepresentative of the Party's position on ethics in our government?
I went and did some yard work in between starting this post and pushing "Publish," during which time I did some more thinking on these statements. I suppose it's fair to argue that we really shouldn't need to pass new laws to instill ethical values into our legislators. Ethical behavior is, um, a prerequisite of achieving my vote -- and you're darned sure not to get another one if you start slipping once you're in office.
Rep. Favors also makes the point that many lobbyists are intelligent and that they even help teach the General Assembly members things. I can't but agree. I'm sure that the very people who are running things have a lot of teaching to do. They can also supply pre-packaged legislation, and, boy, that's handy. Never mind that the legislation is written to benefit the lobbyists' employers, regardless of the voters' interests. Yes, never mind..
That's the problem in Nashville (and, I'm sure, in state capitals around the country). The unethical behavior (most of which is technically legal), until a big "scandal" hits every decade or so, is blatantly disregarded -- by the press, yes, and by the public.
Wait a minute. By the public? It's true. Oh, crap. WE'RE the ones to blame. Maybe JoAnne Favors is right. Maybe this ethics panel on which she sits isn't what is needed. Maybe even my call for a Public Disclosure Commission like Washington's would not be enough, if we citizens just sit back and let the rottening happen.
But I will take what I can get, and if a legislative ethics commission is a means that can help get us to these other ends, then let us not have its members decrying its very existence.
I look forward to hearing from Representative Favors and/or her colleagues in her party organization.
Additionally, I will continue to earnestly ask all of you, and everyone else really, to wake up, pay attention, learn what's going on, how you're governed, by whom, with money from where. I think it's only just to do that for ourselves.
By the way, did you notice Bob Krumm's new blog look? He's sure representin' in that picture. I wonder if he has plans for a term or two in the gubmint himself?
August 2, 2005
One Down, n to Go
I may have watched too much "Law & Order" (no, I haven't; I don't think one can) but I agree with Adam and Mike that things have to be looking fairly grim for the remaining indicted persons. The prosecution surely wanted something, and so they offered Mr. Myers enough to make him sing. It will be interesting to hear what his arietta reveals.
August 1, 2005
Moore's the Pity?
Lawyer and blogger Nathan Moore, whose site feed somehow doesn't work with Bloglines and therefore causes me to miss his updates, but whose site is worth manually visiting (so I should), wrote an ambitious post that obliquely compares Senate candidate Bob Corker to President Ronald Reagan.
I've noticed before that Moore has declared his support for Mr. Corker. I have been pleased to find that not all GOP bloggers in the state are bunkered down in the radical right.
The usual suspects are, though, giving Nathan Moore the what-for over his piece. Even the very respectable Matt White takes the "what were you thinking?" side, but my favorite post on this so far has to be Rob Huddleston's. I'll just jump right to the very end, where he says
I mean, he might as well have signed off with "Roll Tide!"
Though I'm sure to be told that the remark was made with tongue firmly in cheek, this so very neatly encapsulates what is wrong with so many partisans -- Democrats and Republicans. This is why "politics" is a dirty word. ("Civics" is the clean alternative, if you ask me.) You know what? It's not football. When partisans act as "fans" of a "team," they lose sight of the goal.
The more disturbing aspect of Mr. Huddleston's post is echoed in others as well. This is straight out of evangelical Christianity:
I want to be clear that you still haven't [had your Republican credentials questioned]. I am certain that you are a Republican. After all, you are the leader of the Davidson County Young Republicans and attended a law school, George Mason, that has produced many fine conservative attorneys (an accomplishment not many institutions can claim). However, I have to question your claim of following "conservatism." I sincerely hope that you do eventually come back to our school of thought, if you have strayed from the path.
Just substitute the word "Christian" for "Republican" and replace the listed credentials with things like "you're a deacon" or whatnot, and there you have it. This "more conservative than thou" attitude, complete with its condescending "I'm praying for your return to the fold, brother" is to be the undoing of the Republican Party.
I'm not going to try and speak for Nathan Moore, but my take on his Corker-Reagan comparison was a lot simpler. Ronald Reagan won re-election to the White House by a huge landslide because he attracted voters from all parties, all philosophies. Bob Corker will win election to the US Senate by a similar aggregate of voters who "agree to agree" that his impressive personal history and his ability to get things done are what Tennessee needs.
The claims made by the far right that Bob Corker is somehow lacking in principle or conviction don't hold water; but if they really want to end up with a waffler, they'll go ahead and nominate Bryant, whom Harold Ford, Jr. will roundly defeat in the general election, and then we'll have his (Ford's) finger testing the wind from a Senate office window. If Republicans want to beat Ford, they'll nominate Bob Corker; and if Democrats want a conservative whom they can trust to be representative of all but the most "fringebound" Tennesseans (right or left), they'll vote for Bob Corker as well.
Maybe, instead of picking Reagan, Nathan Moore could have drawn his Corker comparison to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said: "The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters."
Special Election for 2 Assembly Seats: Primary
This Thursday (8/4), voters in Senate District 29 will go to the polls to select their parties' nominees to replace John Ford, who resigned after being indicted in the recent FBI sting dubbed "Tennessee Waltz."
Amazingly enough, John's sister Ophelia (nice name, by the way) is in the running (though she reportedly lived in another district until this opportunity arose) and is making blog news in some noticeable places.
Also up for grabs in Thursday's primary is the Democratic spot for Ford's Waltzing partner Kathryn Bowers, who left her House District 87 post when she won election earlier this year to the District 33 Senate seat (which had been vacated by yet another who would end up indicted in the sting (Roscoe Dixon)). (There's, like, some kind of revolving door over there in Memphis, I think. Plus a requirement that people have the last name as much as possible. Remember Lois DeBerry? John DeBerry is one of the candidates running for John Ford's old seat.) I don't know of any Republicans (or others) in the running for the House 87 seat. According to the article linked above, there are four Democrats in the race. I will update the pages with the winners of the primaries -- this close in, I don't feel the need to list all the contenders.
Now, if you're like me, you're wishing that there were a couple more elections being held this week -- namely, for Bowers' District 33 seat itself and, of course, for District 11 10 (duh, Joe; sorry, Senator Fowler), right here at home.