March 31, 2009
Hamilton County political parties reorganize and reenergize
On Saturday, March 28, the Hamilton County Democratic Party and the Hamilton County Republican Party each elected four new officers to tend to party business over the next two years.
The new Democratic Party officers are Jeff Brown, Chair; Rodney Strong, Vice Chair; Margie Shorter, Secretary; and Joe Blass, Treasurer.
For the Republicans, Matthew Bryant will take over as Chairman, with Vice Chairwoman Delores Vinson, Secretary Liz Norris, Treasurer Brent Lambert, and Vice Treasurer Brandon Lewis.
I spoke with a Democratic activist on Sunday who expressed measured optimism about the new leadership. Other Democrats have been giving each other virtual high-fives on Facebook.
One Republican delegate responded to my e-mail with a statement that sounded relieved that the outgoing leadership did not try to keep control of the party.
We'll keep an eye on these new faces as the money-raising and candidate-recruiting gets underway for next year's elections.
Does anyone have a schedule for Green Party, Libertarian Party, or other local party organizational meetings? Do share.
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press
Posted by joe lance in at 10:29 PM
March 26, 2009
Former state senator arrested
Jeff Miller, who once held the seat now represented by Sen. Dewayne Bunch of Cleveland, was indicted along with his secretary, April Miles, and both were taken into custody by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation yesterday. The charges stem from allegations that the two conspired to overcharge Bradley County while Miller served as the delinquent tax attorney, and apparently planned to cover it up (if I read "conspiracy to commit aggravated perjury" the right way).
Mr. Miller escaped indictment in the federal sting known as "Tennessee Waltz" several years ago, though records showed that he had accepted money from the fake electronics recycling company set up to bribe legislators. A fellow Cleveland lawmaker, former Rep. Chris Newton, pleaded guilty and served a short sentence.
Miller was in the news in addition to that, too, due to an extramarital affair and subsequent very public divorce; and some in the blogosphere pointed out the cognitive dissonance in his sponsorship of a "marriage protection" bill, while he engaged in marriage-busting dalliances.
I bring all this up not to drag a person through it again, but just to point out that it seems there is a pattern of dishonesty that finally caught up with him. Please remember that an accused individual is innocent under the law until proven guilty. Let us hope justice is effectively served in this case.
See also: the Nashville Post
March 25, 2009
Politics ain't beanbag, but it ain't football, either
A rational citizen, by definition, praises and supports political leaders only when they do the right thing (regardless of motive), and criticizes and opposes them when they don't. It's just that simple. Cheerleading for someone because they're on "your team" is appropriate for a sporting event, not for political matters. Political leaders deserve support only to the extent that their actions, on a case-by-case basis, merit that support...
You might say that Greenwald is just stating the obvious. I mean, it seems clear enough, right? But how many people do you know--Republicans, Democrats, whatever--that need this reminder?
I've witnessed, and experienced myself, a mixed reaction to President Obama's first couple of months in office. I can no more stand the wanton worshiping from some on the Left than I can stomach the nearsighted naysaying from some on the Right.
Closer to home: I at first ran, then supported another contender, for an office which was won by the incumbent. Clearly I had an agenda that would have installed someone other than Ron Littlefield as Mayor of Chattanooga. However, now that the election is over, I consider it a productive and responsible plan to praise the ongoing administration when it makes sense--and, yes, to call them out when necessary.
So, even if I may question whether, as Glenn Greenwald suggests, progressives are better at displaying this political attitude than are their conservative counterparts (or, more to the point, I won't quibble over the numbers of each who will), I am glad he brought it up, because the real divide is between rational citizens (of whatever political stripe) and what can be described as shouters and haters, again from all sides of the center aisle.
March 23, 2009
Senate bill seeks increase in civics education
Tennessee's senior U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has introduced S.659, with co-sponsors Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, which aims "to improve the teaching and learning of American history and civics."
A new-to-me blog called the Posterity Project picked up the story, and asks readers to contact their Members of Congress to advocate swift passage of this bill.
On this blog I have advocated for an increased role for civic education in our classrooms. This legislation is just one step in that process, but it is a significant one that I hope Congress will pass quickly and send to President Obama's desk for his signature.
I agree with Mr. Belt. Whatever the inevitable evolutionary trajectory of this nation in our rapidly changing world, the importance of understanding how it works (and how it got here) cannot be understated. Our students should be given ample opportunity to learn these subjects from qualified educators, and so I applaud Sen. Alexander's repeated efforts toward that end.
HT: Post Politics
March 22, 2009
Who's running for governor in 2010? (Updated)
Well, we know that Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam (R) is, and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R) is, and former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan (D) is, and Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons (R) is.
And we think that U.S. Representative Zach Wamp (R) is, and there's a good possibility that Mike McWherter (D), son of former Gov. Ned McWherter, might.
[UPDATE 1: As alice points out in the comments, Sen. Andy Berke is thinking about it.]
We also know that entertainer Tim McGraw (D) is not, and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. (R) is not.
But back to Congressman Wamp: some, such as the Nashville Post's A.C. Kleinheider, are questioning whether he might be experiencing second thoughts. Is the GOP field too crowded? Is the money not showing up as expected?
Or, here's another angle: is Rep. Wamp perhaps uneasy about the prospects lining up to replace him? As Andy Sher reported in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble is the only declared candidate for the Third District seat Wamp has held since 1995. A few Hamilton County politicos are said to be considering a run: Sen. Bo Watson, Rep. Gerald McCormick, and Tennessee Republican chair Robin Smith. If I had to guess as to which one of the four above would be "blessed" by Zach Wamp, I'd have to say it's Robin Smith. However, she may not have sufficient backing to run, so is Wamp thinking about keeping his seat?
[UPDATE 2: I've been told by an anonymous source (unverified) that Rep. Wamp's favorite is, in fact, state Rep. Gerald McCormick.]
[UPDATE 3: It was announced today that Knoxville Mayor Haslam has gained the services of veteran campaigner Tom Ingram. Ingram, as you know, was instrumental in getting both of our current U.S. Senators elected, and has served as Sen. Alexander's chief of staff until this move. Hmm.]
I won't mind if you simply agree with Senator Watson, i.e., that it's early yet to be thinking too hard about such matters. We're all campaign-weary. Heck, the Chattanooga City Council race isn't over yet (in three districts, anyway).
But this gubernatorial election will be upon us before we know it, so you can thank me later for keeping an eye on it now (along with, and thanks to, several excellent compatriots).
UPDATE 4, 3/27: As alice pointed out in the comments, I didn't mention Sen. Andy Berke, though I think he's just shrewdly raising his name recognition for other opportunities, at this point. But my real omission was that of Ward Cammack, and I thank the City Paper of Nashville for the reminder. Cammack is scooping up seasoned operatives like Mark Brown, and will likely be a force in the upcoming contest. But, yes, it's early yet.
Blogs on bailout bonuses
One of my longtime favorite local blogs waxes salient, in a post by smijer, on the question of whether the bonuses paid by troubled insurance giant AIG to its employees should be returned, in light of the billions put up by taxpayers to bail out said firm.
Now we learn that Obama's treasury [secretary] and Chris Dodd - the very clowns ready to pull the trigger on legislation to get the bonuses back - are the ones that made sure they could get paid to begin with.
All this noise. The bonuses are bad, and Obama+Treasury+Dodd should have let the stimulus stipulations nullify them. But it isn't worth going back to get now. With the energy and noise being put into this, something useful could be accomplished.
One dollar provides forty days of clean drinking water
WDEF's Joe Legge reports on an effort by area restaurants to raise awareness (and a few bucks) for UNICEF's clean water program. Participating eateries will charge one dollar for a glass of water.
For every dollar raised, UNICEF will provide clean drinking water to a child in a third world country for 40 days. [...] According to UNICEF, [w]ater-related diseases are the second largest killer [of] children under the age of 5.
Be sure to read the comments left by News 12 visitors. What is your reaction to them?
March 13, 2009
Test post from iPhone
I'm checking out the Movable Type interface in Safari on the iPhone. I like.
If needed, I could post to this blog from anywhere I have phone service -- though some might say that's what Twitter is for. Also: copy and paste, Apple. Please.
That is all. Carry on.
March 10, 2009
Voter turnout critical in City Council runoffs
Chattarati editor David Morton has put together a good analysis of the April 14 runoff election in the 1st District, with a look at how the Lookout Valley community could play a deciding role:
The importance of Lookout Valley on this District should not be understated. The quiet suburb exists outside of the downtown milieu, primarily accessible via I-24, located across the river from the remainder of District 1. [...]
What sets Lookout Valley apart, however, is high voter turnout.
Deborah Scott, the challenger attempting to unseat Councilwoman Linda Bennett, isn't content to rest on Lookout Valley resident and former rival Joe Graham's endorsement alone. At Tuesday's Chattanooga City Council meeting, Ms. Scott addressed the Council during the time reserved for public comment, and questioned the decision to hold early voting at only the Election Commission office just off Amnicola Highway, when a number of voters in the March 3 general election early-voted at the Northgate Mall location. (Typically, early voting is held at three locations: the Election Commission office, Northgate Mall, and the Brainerd Recreation Center on North Moore Rd.)
Ms. Scott and her husband, Dr. Wayne Scott, were armed with specific election results to support their opposition to the move (which several members of the City Council defended by saying that it would keep costs down), and stopped just short of insinuating that the decision to use only the Amnicola location was designed to protect the incumbent. (Or, maybe they did insinuate it. You'd have had to have been there in order to decide for yourself.) A twist on the situation is that Deborah Scott has campaigned on the need for more fiscal responsibility from the Council, yet election accessibility concerns cause her to reverse positions with them.
Whether or not having only one site open for early voting will affect the outcome is, I suppose, a matter for post-election analysis at this point. As outgoing Councilman Dan Page pointed out, all precincts in the district will be open on Election Day. The larger point is that, in these three runoff elections, getting voters to the polls is what will decide the outcome, even more than usual.
Peter Murphy, who captured a plurality in District 9 on March 3, has a built-in advantage in that the Missionary Ridge precinct, which is his home turf, had among the highest turnout in the city. J.T. McDaniel, the second-place finisher, could still pull off a win by uniting the non-Ridge sections, but half-gentrified Highland Park is the wild card. Regardless, turnout is key.
In District 8, Andrae McGary is buoyed somewhat by an endorsement from Dennis Clark, but he will have to rally supporters in order to beat incumbent Councilman Leamon Pierce. Like District 1, an upset is possible here.
I really hope that these three districts see a voter response that's respectably higher than the appalling 18% found in the general election.
March 6, 2009
Tragedy on two wheels
This past week, two relatively well-known Chattanoogans were killed by automobiles while traveling by motor scooter and bicycle, respectively.
From the Chattanoogan, Tuesday, March 3:
Ellen Pitman, 51, was critically injured after she was hit on her motor-scooter in the 3800 block of Brainerd Road.
And from the same site, Friday, March 6:
A bicyclist traveling in the 1000 block of Ashland Terrace became entangled with a truck and was killed Friday morning.
He was identified as David L. Meek, 51, a biking enthusiast who was active in the Chattanooga Bicycle Club.
Along with the deepest sympathy for the victims' families and friends, one surely feels sorry for the drivers of the car and truck. But the sobering message in this horrible pair of stories is that if one is the least bit careless or distracted, and hits a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle, it is too late, most of the time, to be sorry about a lack of attentiveness.
Of course safety is an issue with all manner of transportation, but two-wheeled traffic is harder to see, and requires those of us in larger vehicles to pay extra attention to our surroundings. A vocal minority has complained about the presence of bicycles on thoroughfares, but the law is clear: share the road.
I hope that if there is any good to come of these events (and, for that matter, the recent and absolutely numbing death of a schoolboy in East Ridge), it is that we drivers will be mindful of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists in and along our path.
May peace be with those devastated by these and similar events.
March 4, 2009
One election night, at least three different moods
Volunteers, family, and friends gathered in ballrooms, cafes, and homes across Chattanooga Tuesday night to watch televised election returns. The winners celebrated, the losers commiserated, and those headed for the April 14 runoff steeled themselves for another month on the campaign trail.
I began my rounds at Eastgate Town Center, where Councilwoman Carol Berz (District 6) and Councilman Russell Gilbert (District 5) held a combined event. (Mr. Gilbert was unopposed.) Cheers went up as each update to hit the screen showed Ms. Berz maintaining a commanding lead. A DJ played R&B classics and the wine flowed. Obviously I had to get somewhere more interesting than this blowout, but before I left I assured the two most skeptical people in the room, Carol and daughter Jenni Berz, that their victory was secure. Marti Rutherford would have had to have won about 80% of the remaining votes to upset, and that, as we now know, didn't happen.
I went to the Chattanoogan hotel next, where the Rob Healy campaign held its watch party. By contrast, this was a much stuffier affair, even if it hadn't yet turned somber. These are people used to polite cocktail environments, and they played their roles as if on cue. There was a glimmer of hope in some eyes, but when I talked to the people that really knew how to read the score, I could see that they grasped that it was over, even if they wouldn't say so. And then suddenly it was, and Rob Healy was giving a gracious concession speech. He asked people to keep the party going, but I could tell it was a lost cause.
Shortly thereafter, I ascended the stairs inside the Terminal Brewhouse to the top floor, where District 8 candidate Andrae McGary's wife Cheryl greeted me warmly. I looked around the room and saw a diverse and impassioned group of citizens who were casually upbeat despite the fact that their candidate finished second in the race. Andrae entered to enthusiastic applause, and gave a quick and rousing talk. He sounded genuinely humble and hopeful as he rallied supporters toward a goal that has simply been moved forty or so days hence.
Afterward, I caught a brew or two with Chattarati founder John Hawbaker. We discussed the dismal turnout, the three districts in which a runoff election is needed, and, well, other stuff. The bartender recognized me as the candidate who had dropped out. All in all, it was a good night.
I was of course disappointed that Rob Healy lost, but I hereby pledge, as a concerned citizen, to work with Mayor Ron Littlefield in every way possible during the next four years to make this the best city in the world.
Finally, to the 105 people who voted for me (accidentally or otherwise): thanks, even though I hope you follow directions better next time. Heh. There is a lot to say about this foray into politics, abbreviated though it was. Stay tuned.
March 2, 2009
Election picks and predictions: Chattanooga City Council
As a sometime candidate, I had the unusual experience of having a front row seat for part of this campaign season. In addition to the mayoral candidates, I got to meet most of those running for Chattanooga City Council, since a few of the forums had us all there at once.
I don't know if meeting and/or being face-to-face with the candidates gives one a significant advantage over those voters who only hear about them through the media, but it cannot hurt. After all, candidates go door-to-door for a reason. A printed flier or a radio ad just isn't the same thing.
I've attempted to "do the homework" as well as rely on being in the right place at the right time to evaluate the contenders in person. In forgoing the illusion of objectivity, a commentator should be able to back-up a recommendation (or, for that matter, a mere prognostication) with sound reasoning. Right? But truthfully, there is always more research that can be done, and time is the enemy. Regardless of how prepared I am, here are my picks and predictions for the 2009 Chattanooga City Council elections. Unlike Chad Newton's, they're not a joke--but don't take them too terribly seriously, either.
Councilwoman and current chair Linda Bennett is running for reelection, and is being challenged by Lookout Valley denizens Joe Graham and Deborah Scott. I like Joe (I didn't get to meet Ms. Scott), and I thank both of these fine citizens for spending the time and energy to join the process, but I didn't hear enough breadth in either of their platforms. It's great to be on the lookout for wasteful spending; terrific, in fact. But the role of council member should employ several additional functions, and I'm not sure either of the challengers is ready.
An argument could be made that having two or more anti-establishment candidates helps the incumbent, as the others will split the vote. My sense is that Bennett would win if only one of the challengers were in the race, so a second term should be fairly easy for her to attain.
Councilman Dan Page is one of two current representatives stepping down, and two well-qualified candidates have put forth great efforts toward being the one to succeed him. Pam Ladd is organized and and has a wealth of civic and business experience. George Patten has tapped into some generous funding, and is also no slouch when it comes to life experience. Were I in this district, it would be difficult to choose between them, despite some stark differences in their respective political leanings. Our municipal elections are nonpartisan for a reason. Either of these two would serve well, and I don't think I should pick Pam simply because I've known her longer. But if I were voting, that may well indeed be what I'd do.
The fact that Ms. Ladd has organized labor on her side likely gives her the edge in this contest. Money is important in elections, but bodies at the polling places are the ultimate winner.
Remember in 2007 when Marti Rutherford resigned, after an investigation found that renting an apartment in one district, while one's primary home is in another, violates the residency requirements for holding elected office? Well, here we are again. While steps may have been taken to ensure slightly more compliance with the letter of the law, the spirit of the law remains broken. Ms. Rutherford, for all her passion about neighborhood issues (which, I should here emphasize, is much appreciated), exhibits a pattern of behavior that seems to scoff at any number of regulations and matters of ethical propriety (not just those related to residence). Therefore, I consider that there is really only one qualified candidate on this ballot, and that is Councilwoman Carol Berz.
And let me note that I do understand that political pettiness led to the district being redrawn around Ms. Rutherford's neighborhood. That, however, is not an excuse for running in District 6. As I've heard so many say, "if you're that passionate about representing District 6, (really) move into the district already, and run." A final note on this worn-out topic: as another round of redistricting nears, I will be first in line to support the reinstatement of Rutherford's Hemphill home into the 6th District, as I think Brainerd, in general, needs to be more united in electoral terms. That's a different topic for a different (though somewhat imminent) day.
Now, the big question: will her supporters be able to "bring back Marti" as the signs implore, or will a significant fundraising advantage--and, again, union support--return Dr. Berz to serve a full term? This will be one of the most closely watched races tomorrow, and I will be updating Twitter with live reactions as the results begin to come in. I am calling this one for Carol Berz, but will be watching for signs of an upset.
Councilman Manuel "Manny" Rico is opposed by two challengers, Mahmood Abdullah and Clifford Eberhardt. This district, which comprises the Alton Park and St. Elmo communities, among others, has had the misfortune of seeing the ugliest political race this season. But the story begins a few years ago, when Councilman Rico made some questionable remarks in the press that caused some to perceive a bias against African-Americans. Boy did that come back to bite him (whether deservedly or not, you decide), as Messrs. Abdullah and Eberhardt each made disparaging statements during this campaign regarding Rico's ethnicity and immigration status (he is a Texas-born American citizen of Latino heritage).
Manny Rico seems to have become somewhat more professional in the intervening years, and he is well-liked in the St. Elmo area, which, frankly, typically votes in higher numbers than do the other precincts. He will very likely win reelection, with which this blog sees no great problem. Ideally there would be a candidate that drew people together, especially in a district so diverse, but I suppose we'll have to wait for that person to show up.
Councilman Leamon Pierce is also opposed by two challengers, Dennis Clark and Andraé McGary. While I, along with practically this whole city, deeply appreciate Mr. Pierce's length of service and his absolutely impressive civil rights record, I hope that voters in this district take a good look at Mr. McGary. I haven't been this impressed by a candidate for local office in a long time. He has a formidable background in community service for being quite young. His passion, his sincerity, and his demonstrated grasp of current and future issues make him an easy pick over the other two candidates.
Whether or not the enthusiasm surrounding McGary's campaign will translate into votes is an important question. Pierce obviously has the advantage in name recognition (even from negative press about an assault charge, on which he was recently exonerated). The good news is that a couple of young guys with no past political experience entered the process, ran positive campaigns, and got residents excited about an election that could have been very dull and uninspiring. No matter what happens, that indelible mark has been made, and future would-be candidates should use it for encouragement.
The other open seat in this election has five great candidates running to fill it. That makes my job very difficult, as it is hard to pick just one, and it is nearly impossible to tell which one will emerge as the winner without access to scientific polls or trusted sources on the ground. The candidates are Quenston Coleman, J.T. McDaniel, Thomas Mott, Peter Murphy, and Jackie Thomas. The district is considered to be "black," and indeed has been represented by African-Americans; this may be a disadvantage for Mr. Murphy, who is a white attorney and resides on the relatively affluent Missionary Ridge that overlooks much of the sprawling, gerrymandered district. I contend that the citizens of District 9 would not go wrong by being a little bold and electing him as their representative, as I believe that he is the most qualified.
I long for the day when concerns about race just don't enter into the discussion, but I'm not sure we're there yet. If you're a resident of this district and you feel that Murphy would not adequately represent your interests, I can dispute that but I can't change your mind. Jackie Thomas is a strong candidate who has solid ideas for progress and change. J.T. McDaniel is one of the nicest people I've ever met (not that that alone is a qualifier, but it goes a long way), and is a successful businessman. Thomas Mott is a dedicated advocate for his community. Quenston Coleman has been very active in civic affairs. I think I just listed them in the order that I would choose them, but I honestly have no idea how the numbers will come out tomorrow.
Unfortunately, there are no challengers in Districts 2, 4, or 5. Well, I'll give Councilman Russell Gilbert a pass in the Fifth, as he's only been in office since his November 2008 election. But it's particularly disturbing that Council members Sally Robinson (2nd) and Jack Benson (4th) drew no opposition. That's not to say that I automatically want to see either replaced; I just prefer to have choices, and civil debate about how best to move forward helps, if nothing else, to justify one's decision to return an incumbent to office.
Chattanooga, you'd better get out and vote tomorrow. Thanks.