Apr 12 2014

‘Bangers, Budgets and Bosses…a week in Memphis

So it was kind of a weird week in Memphis. That’s not unusual I guess, but the way things worked out leaves a couple of bad tastes in my mouth…so, I’ve taken to writing aging for now.

‘Bangers

Open carry is one of those things the NRA and groups like it have been pushing just about everywhere in the South.

I’m not a fan of open carry laws because I just don’t think its necessary, and when you remove the requirement that people get proper training to carry a firearm in public, you endanger public safety and the safety of the person carrying the firearm.

On the other hand, I’ve always found the argument by the “conceal-carry” set that a concealed firearm is somehow a “crime deterrent” disingenuous. If its concealed, its more likely you will have it stolen when someone with a gun in their hand gets the jump on you. If its concealed its less likely to give a potential armed criminal pause. If its out there in the open, it may cause someone to think a little before they act…or just kill you first and take your gun to continue whatever violence they intend to commit.

In any case, the bill passed the State Senate, but according to the linked report, will die in the State House because:

“Every gang-banger in Memphis will end up packing. Can you imagine?” – Rep. Steve McDaniel

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

McDaniel lives in a little town on I-40 over 100 miles from the nearest “Memphis gang banger”, but apparently there’s enough fear of such a thing in tiny Parker’s Crossroads, TN, that it would stop him for falling in line with the Tennessee Firearms Assn..

It probably helps that the filing deadline has passed and there’s no time to primary him they way they did Debra Maggart.

Betsy brought up the problem with that logic, though I’m not really sure what her point is…

But my buddy Cardell Orrin wins the day with this response to the specter of an “Open Carry Tennessee”…

I have no idea if this will pass the State House, but I hope it doesn’t.

All this proposal will do is lead to more accidental shootings and other mishaps, of which there are already plenty in this country.

Budgets

Its budget season, which is one of my favorite times of year…because you get to see policy both in action and inaction (see what I did there).

Tennessee Budget

The State rubber stamped Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget down to the dollar…leaving out promised money for teacher raises, tuition freezes, and other critical stuff. A proposed additional $2m dollars for rape kit funding was also struck down, because…Memphis. State lawmakers just hate us for some reason.

Shelby County Government Budget

Shelby County Government also released a proposed budget which was praised for lowering taxes and providing raises for County employees.

Looking into the guts of the proposal, it seems that while overall revenue is down by about $53m (due primarily to fewer federal government transfers) property tax collections are projected to increase by just under $2m (which accounts for the penny).

470 employees will be lost, most of them (440) due to the end of the Shelby Co. Head Start program. I haven’t seen news about who, if anyone, has received the federal funds for that program.

This is an election year, so a tax cut, even a small one, is a political instrument as much as anything else. After last year’s hike, any cut will be trumpeted to the hills.

In reality, this budget is a continuation budget. There’s no new great vision or direction to be seen. There’s no great look at what the County Administration wants the County to look like going forward other than “the same”. And with all the structural problems the County has (that they largely ignore) its hard to feel really good about this budget…unless all you care about is the political viability of using a tiny tax cut as a means to garner votes.

Shelby County Schools Budget

The County Schools also released their initial budget proposal to the County Commission to accolades from the body. The budget includes a reported 2316 real job losses and 2380 jobs that move to the six municipal schools.

The real way to look at this budget, is not against last year, but the last year of MCS, since the remaining SCS schools are primarily former MCS schools. Here’s a top level breakdown:

12-13 MCS 14-15 SCS
Employees 13,031 12,818
Enrollment 104,829 117,154
Pupils per employee 8.04 9.14
General Fund 901,799,827 961,298,645
Per student expenditure $8602.58 $8205.43

It should be noted, these numbers represent a “top level” funding and employee count, rather than an actual representation of where and how the money will be spent. So while the “per pupil” and “per employee” numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction, the reality of that will be determined by how the real budget works out…and some deeper digging into the guts of the numbers.

This represents the lion’s share of education funding for the County, but a true picture of education funding won’t be available until the six municipalities present their budgets to the County Commission. How those six seek to claim the remaining 20.6% of county money could possibly be an interesting fight.

University of Memphis

One budget I haven’t paid that much attention to in previous years is the U of M budget. But its an important one, that represents nearly $500m in spending in the area.

This year’s budget represents the first full year of re-prioritizing the University in the image of interim President Brad Martin…whom one must assume is acting on behalf of his friend and former employee, Gov. Bill Haslam.

What’s not certain is if the faculty will endorse the proposal, or if tenured members of the faculty will use their relative safety to fight back against these budget cuts and other proposed changes to the University.

Of course, tenure or not, a certain level of caution should be exercised, as the State government has shown a great deal of disdain for tenure generally (particularly in public education) and probably wouldn’t hesitate to change the rules to suit their desire to quash anything that challenges their supermajority status.

This will be a new area for me this year, but I think its as important as anything. The future of the U of M will play a big role in the future of the County.


The City of Memphis is set to release its budget proposal on Tuesday, so nothing to report there right now. Also, if this year follows previous years, the proposal itself won’t look much like the final budget, as priorities and funds are shifted.

Bosses

A Commercial Appeal article published after Thursday’s Democratic Mayoral Debate, quotes District Attorney candidate Judge Joe Brown as saying he’s something akin to a political boss. Brown was answering a question about the value of his endorsement in the upcoming May primary.

Here’s the actual quote:

If you’re a candidate, is there some value in having Joe Brown on your side? Are you hearing that a lot?

“Yes. In other words, who’s going to make the tough decisions? Alright, you want to do this, you want to do that. You can either work it out yourselves or if you can’t, I pick who I’m going to support. When I support you, that is important to your candidacy. … I’m not going to endorse in every race, but when there’s a big knock-down, drag-out, I’m trying to” — he was interrupted here by a well-wisher.

“So in other words, I smooth it out,” he said, returning to the conversation. “It’s called being boss.”

You view yourself in that role?

“No, that’s what they want,” he said.

Who? Bryan Carson?

“Sorta, kinda,” he said. Then, he characterized how the party talked him into running for district attorney, and his reasons for seeing opportunity there against incumbent Republican Amy Weirich. – via the Commercial Appeal

There’s no question that DA candidate Joe Brown could play a major role in the outcome of the August election. But some things are far less certain:

1. Brown’s influence on a May primary in which he has no competition. The May primary election has historically had incredibly low turnout.

2. The balance between Brown’s influence and the organizing efforts of the three Mayoral candidates (along with the other candidates in the primary contests).

3. Brown’s actual role as a boss.

Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson had this to say about the latter:

“He doesn’t have a role,” Carson said, adding a few moments later, “he has no influence on the Shelby County Democratic Party.”

So, not a boss?

“That was his characterization,” Carson said. “What I did, we needed a candidate for the top of the ticket.” – via the Commercial Appeal

I have a big problem with the characterization of anyone as a “boss”.

First of all, the bosses of old had patronage jobs to toss around. While this is still the case (to some degree) the depth of that influence has diminished in a world of greater scrutiny and dwindling budgets.

Secondly, Brown not only has no such jobs to dole out, but also hasn’t really been involved in local politics in any measurable way until recently.

Finally, the notion of a boss is a rally point for the opposing party. August is set to be a sleeper…except for local races, and for Brown to give the County GOP anything to rally on other than their slate of candidates isn’t particularly helpful.

But there’s another reason…the idea of a “boss” gives the perception of corruption…because of all of the things I listed above. That’s something we really don’t need.

We don’t need a return to the era of “bosses”, despite what some seem to think. The “boss” era in Memphis politics may be looked back on as a golden age, but it also set up all kinds of trouble that we’re still dealing with. More than I care to get into at this point.

Truth be told, there is no one in elective office in Shelby County, with the possible exception of State Sen. Mark Norris that has the political power to be called a “boss”. The political power structure is too diffuse to sustain such a person.

Further, I would argue that no elected official is seeking or could in any way lay claim to the title. There’s too much dissent, and not enough carrots or sticks being used to execute such power.

So while the notion of a “boss” and the perceived power and stability that title might hold for some may seem attractive, it just isn’t likely to happen here again. That’s something that presents both a challenge for the future, and a net positive for those who are willing to forge alliances to get needed things done in the community.

Unfortunately, there remains a “boss mentality” in the area…something that will take a long time for us to get over. The kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” that many feel for the era of bosses, and the new era of the unspoken “bosses” that play a large role in anointing political leaders in the area, is a bigger problem to deal with.

That’s another post for another time. But suffice it to say, we don’t need another boss, and Brown, even if he may think of himself as one…isn’t one.

Jan 02 2014

No one’s gonna build a door for you

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Don't wait your turn...TAKE your turn

Don’t wait your turn…TAKE your turn

Opportunity is a funny thing. It’s a bird that never perches…as one man put it. It is fluid, and dynamic, and fleeting.

You often don’t know you’ve missed it until its gone.

So today’s news that Sara Kyle won’t seek the office of Governor, seems in a lot of ways like a missed opportunity…for a lot of people, and not just Mrs. Kyle.

Let me first say, I don’t begrudge Kyle her decision. She has real-world things to deal with…and that’s something everyone involved knew from the beginning. Its also not surprising because as the proprietor of the Draft Sara Kyle website, I hadn’t heard a thing from any of the folks that motivated me to spend my time or energy on the project since September.

I’m not begrudging them either…just sayin’.

But it does give Democrats a teachable moment…if nothing else, and that is “Don’t wait your turn”. Because time moves fast. Faster than you think. And opportunity moves faster…especially when you’re sitting still.

And the unfortunate thing about Kyle’s potential but not realized entrance into the Gubernatorial race is that for many people (but not all), the opportunity to mount a challenge has passed them by.

That doesn’t mean Democrats won’t have a candidate. It just means it will be harder for them to get organized in time.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. – Milton Berle

Terry Adams (D) for US Senate

Terry Adams (D) for US Senate

Terry Adams is a Democrat…challenging Lamar Alexander for one of Tennessee’s US Senate seats.

I met Terry in September at Jackson Day.

He’s a young, successful guy that has ties to all three divisions in the state.

And even though, back in September, the odds of him having a chance against Lamar! looked long, he did it anyway. He built a door.

See, back then all folks could think about was that Lamar!, a former Governor of Tennessee, US Dept. of Education Secretary, and two term Senator was too well loved by the state to warrant a challenge.

Then in early December, a Vanderbilt University Poll found that Lamar!’s approval rating sat at just 49%.

Now, if Adams had waited for his opportunity, it might have whizzed by. He built a door.

It still remains to be seen if Adams can mount a full throttle challenge to Lamar!. As of Sept. 30th, Lamar! had some $2.8m in his campaign coffers. But the point is, Adams wouldn’t even have a prayer if he had waited for his opportunity.

He has one now, and I hope that you will consider supporting him in his campaign.

Building your door

Too often I hear people talk about “waiting their turn”. This is a notion based on the old days of politics when bosses ran things. There might be bosses in the GOP, but the Democratic party is a free for all right now in dire need of leadership, and with lots of opportunity for fresh faces.

There’s no reason you can’t be one of them.

Friday, January 3rd is the first day you can pull a petition for state or federal office. There are 99 State House seats, 17 State Senate Seats, 1 Gubernatorial, 1 Senatorial, and 9 US Congressional races that are waiting for people to file. And don’t get me started on all the local races that will be open statewide this year. For many of them, you can already pull a petition!

Filing is easy. Just 25 signatures from registered voters in the district you seek to represent. Click the link for a more detailed description of the requirements.

But it doesn’t happen if you don’t decide to build a door and take your opportunity.

Democrats in Tennessee have got to stop waiting and start building doors if we want to find our way out of the woods. That may make some of the old guard uncomfortable…but then, you’re not likely to move when you’ve made a permanent indention in your cushiony seat now, are you?

Jan 02 2014

A “must watch” for all Tennesseans

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Investigative reports can play an important role in understanding what’s going on behind the scenes in business, government, or any institution, but it ain’t cheap. Media outlets, especially TV outlets have fewer resources and smaller staffs to do these kinds of things.

Watching NC 5’s “A Question of Influence” is not only important for people all over Tennessee…so they can see what’s happening behind the scenes, its also important to reward them by watching it at their website.

Doesn’t cost you a thing.

Here’s part 1. Go check out the other 6 parts at their website, and get your learn on.

Happy new year.

NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather

Dec 31 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the State (TN), 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in Policy, State Politics

This is part 2 in a series of 3 posts (part 1 is here) that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey – The State Senate strongman, and person who’s actually in charge of the state has had a downright awesome year. He can say whatever the hell he wants and knows he only has his constituents to answer to, all while ensuring the good Governor doesn’t get to mamby pamby on his conservative credo, by offering legislative strong-arm tactics as a response to even the slightest flinch of liberality…(is that even a word? Who cares, this is Ramseyland…the dictionary is full of liberal lies!)

Sure he had a run-in with the twitter, but no one in Ramseyland pays any attention to that stuff….or the impact of public policy on people for that matter. Nope, its all horse racing and cow milking contests for legislative coverage…and legislators these days…so Ron Ramsey can carry on to enjoy the spoils of his office…as the true head of state.

2014 Outlook – What could go wrong?

Education “reform” – Reform is a tricky word. It literally means “to make changes”. You’ll note, there is no value statement in that definition. For years many have looked at Education Reform as a positive. Any change was seen as good. When “No Child Left Behind” was passed, it was good, until it wasn’t. The more recent batch of reforms, which include a doubling down on testing, more oversight of teachers, less pay for teachers, and teacher evaluations based on student performance on said testing, has been focused on…teachers.

This doesn’t mean its been a good year for education. Just “reform”. The results of that “reform” will take years to calculate…though this years test scores were hailed as a victory. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re adequately educating out kids…we’re just passing more tests now.

2014 Outlook – More

“Friends of Bill” Haslam – Y’all got your taxes cut on investment income, and a whole bunch of you FOB’s (friends of Bill) got gubament contracts to boot! Way to go rich people!

2014 Outlook – Cake

Honorable Mention: TN House Democratic Caucus – Its a long-shot, but I have to give a shout out to the only currently functioning state Democratic organization right now…the TN House Democratic Caucus. Sure, they’re not flashy…and they haven’t developed a stable cast of characters beyond leadership, but at least they’re doing something…which is more than I can say for their colleagues across the plaza.

Usually timely, and pretty well on point, especially since the session ended. The House Caucus is still a work in progress. But they’re working, which is more than I can say for…oh never mind.

fitzandturner1

2014 Outlook – Keep the faith

Losers

Hospitals/sick people – One lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the decision to not expand Medicaid, the other lost the opportunity to not go into financial ruin just because they were sick. Both suffered. But who cares, right? At least the state is screwing over President Obama’s signature legislative achievement! That’s all that matters these days in Tennessee.

2014 Outlook – sicklier

The poor – Speaking of screwing people over, 80% of everyone in the US is on the brink of poverty. What does that have to do with Tennessee? We’re in the bottom 25% of all the states in the US, which means we’re more screwed than most everyone else. Yay us!

2014 Outlook – poorer

Unemployed – It took all year, but preliminary numbers from the Dept. of Labor show that unemployment finally dropped to 8.1% down from 8.5%. Don’t get too excited. Future drops will only reflect those who no longer qualify for unemployment because their benefits weren’t extended by the Feds. State politicians will take this and try to sell you that things are getting better. They aren’t and things getting better for working people isn’t anywhere on their menu.

2014 Outlook – Still out of luck

Rural Communities – If there’s one thing that guaranteed the GOP’s victory in 2010, it was the support of rural communities. Which is why its puzzling that rural communities are getting screwed over so hard under GOP rule. I mean, screwing over Nashville and Memphis (and soon Chattanooga and Knoxville), that’s a no-brainer. But when most of your elected officials owe their position to rural folks, screwing them over as well is…well…ballsy to say the least. But that’s what’s happened. Unemployment is high, hospitals are closing their doors, and the only opportunity right now is the opportunity to move or continue to suffer.

The worst part is, there are no signs folks in rural TN see the connection. They’re still buying in to it being Washington’s fault.

2014 Outlook – #DANG

Teachers – If any one group has gotten a raw deal in the past several years its teachers. At once blamed for “failing schools” and tasked with bringing up achievement, teachers have had their pay cut, lost the right to collectively bargain, and had more paperwork thrown at them…which takes time away from doing what they trained to do…which is teach. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves.

2014 Outlook – Lots of retirements

Draw

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do. Gov. Bill Haslam – To say that 2013 was an unremarkable year for Bill Haslam is to say that the remarkable revelations about his administration were largely either ignored, or didn’t get the full hearing they deserved. From contracts to cronies, to the intense pressure to eschew his moderate image to both save himself the indignity of a primary, and avoid a standoff with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and his band of merry men. And then there’s the PILOT investigation, which shined a light on the inner workings of a company he both benefits greatly from, and seeks to minimize in the public as just a little company his family owns. For all the stories in Tennessee this year, at least from a political perspective, Bill Haslam, his family, his friends, and his general impotence as a state leader… those were the stories…even if they didn’t get the full hearing they deserved.

The saddest part is it looks as if Haslam will run unopposed from the Democratic party…unless someone steps in at the last second to be the sacrificial lamb, which means Tennessee will never hear a full accounting of these stories, and will have no alternative if they decide they don’t want the teflon coated co-governor at the front and center of state politics…at least in appearances.

You’ll note, I haven’t even gotten into the depths of his relationship with the Lt. Gov., who pulls the real strings in the state. There’s just not enough time. But pay attention, and see if the two cross. I think you’ll find they won’t publicly. The Governor just doesn’t have the juice to take him, or any other legislative leader, on.

2014 Outlook – Shady, with a side of puppetry.

Dec 11 2013

Haslam’s sick joke

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

When it comes to writing letters that read like press releases, the office of Gov. Bill Haslam has it down pat.

It may be the only thing they do well, other than cow-tow to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

But when it comes to putting pen down to paper to actually propose a plan…one that he even is pushing for…its just too much for him to muster.

So this morning when I heard him talk about his “Tennessee Plan” on an endless loop…a plan that, by the way, only exists in his head, MY head nearly exploded because I knew it was a crock.

Haslam was in town yesterday on a (campaign) swing through the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. It wasn’t an official campaign swing mind you, but it might as well have been.

I mean, for God’s sake, he talked about increasing income inequality as if he actually gave a crap about it. Of course he had no idea about how to fix it or anything else. He just knows its there…not why. (look in your Medicaid expansion policy crystal ball Governor)

Haslam’s been shadowboxing with the Feds on Medicaid expansion for months. On Monday, he released a letter detailing his oft parroted complaints about Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But there’s one problem with this craftily written letter/press release…

His plan still only has a name, no real details

In fact, the Governor has sent no real details to the Feds of what his “Tennessee plan” would be…which is why when the Tennessee House Democratic leadership calls the whole thing a farce, they’re being too kind.

This is messaging over meat.

This is the healthcare policy equivalent of “let them eat cake”.

This is complete and utter BS.

The Governor has no real plan to expand Medicaid, even though 63% of the state wants it.

What’s more, there’s no plan to have a plan. Just more talk, more wait and see until the money runs out.

Its sick.

So when working people who don’t have insurance at work get sick, the Governor will continue to not understand why they’re getting poorer…even though healthcare costs have traditionally outpaced the inflation at a rate higher than anything but college tuition.

This is called “willful ignorance” and its sick that the Governor thinks he can tout it as “leadership” and not get called on it.