Aug 09 2014

Groundhog Day for Shelby County Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in elections
Bryan Carson talks to Fox13 about the night's losses

Bryan Carson talks to Fox13 about the night’s losses

Thursday night’s election results are disappointing in a lot of ways. But they should also serve as a wakeup call…much like they did in 2010.

We had some candidates that were a drag on the ticket. Many candidates didn’t run effective (or any campaigns). Most didn’t raise enough money to be effective (or in some cases, relevant).

I tend to agree with the following statement Congressman Cohen made to Fox13:

“Some of our candidates made mistakes,” the congressman said,. “Our attorney general candidate Joe Brown had no business bringing up any personal issues with Amy Weirich and that turned a lot of people off. The Democrats in general and Ms. (Henri) Brooks’ problems turned people off too. Those two things I think cost Tarik Sugarmon, Ms. Banks, Mr. Chism and Ms. Halbert their jobs.”

But one group that’s not responsible for the losses are voters…contrary to what SCDP Chairman Bryan Carson said to WREG:

Bryan Carson is drawing a line in the sand. He’s got a message for those who call themselves Democrats and voted for Republican candidates running for Shelby County offices.

“I wish those Democrats would go ahead and just sign up and be Republicans. Go ahead and join the party because we don’t need you. You don’t support us,” said Carson.

Carson says he’s hurt by the outcome of this election. About 20 percent of the Democrats who voted cast ballots for Republicans running for county office.

Crisis of Competence and Confidence

As I said in this Facebook post, this is one of the dumbest statements after an election that a Chair could make.

If voters don’t like your candidates, you should examine why instead of blaming the voters.

Let’s see:

Two candidates arrested for being stupid.
Those same two candidates said enough stupid to fill a set of encyclopedias of stupid.
The one candidate at the top of the ticket who projected competence (Deidre Malone) got tagged with the incompetence of the other two.
News cycle after news cycle was lost to these two doing stupid stuff…news cycles that could have been about issues absent their indiscretions.

Much of the bottom of the ticket did nothing, raised nothing, ran no campaign.

There was one bright spot. Look at Cheyenne…we need more Cheyenne’s.

She’s competent. She keeps her nose down. She doesn’t say dumb things. She does her job well and happily, without grandstanding.

We need a truckload of folks like Cheyenne.

Party Failures

The Shelby County Democratic Party didn’t do itself any favors.

According to state disclosures (I didn’t see the most recent pre-eletion disclosure listed), the party never had more than $16,000 on hand throughout the election cycle, despite having several large events that combined should have brought in tens of thousands of dollars.

In addition, the party spent more time with intra-party struggles than with building a volunteer base, or getting its message out to voters.

This has been a consistent problem with the party structure.

The Executive Committee isn’t the party…they’re representatives of folks who call themselves Democrats.

The Chair isn’t the party…the chair is the representative of the Executive Committee to the public.

People who pull Democratic primary ballots are the party. Both of the above groups are accountable to people who call themselves Democrats…and should be held accountable by them.

That’s been forgotten.

What’s being built?

This is the question local Democrats need to be asking themselves. You need look no further than our partisan opponents to see what building looks like. The TNGOP has embarked on a massive training campaign, we have nothing equivalent.

Not all of this falls on the local party. Both the local and state party shoulder some of the blame for not developing candidates.

But damn. The biggest damn Democratic party organization in the state can’t get their shit together enough to put on some training? We can’t get it together enough to train up volunteers, operatives, and candidates to help propel us to victory?

That’s the problem, not crossover voters. Voters react to the choices before them. If those choices are bad, or look crazy, they won’t vote for them…period.

Even before the data is out, I’m willing to wager that Cheyenne got some GOP crossover. Why? Because she exudes competence.

Ed Stanton Jr. did the same in 2012.

That’s the lesson, not purity tests.

Conclusion

Its easy to blame storm…and I’m not trying to do that in this post. But Chairman Carson’s statement is out of line.

Confidence of competence wins elections…not the “consonant” behind the person’s name.

Building a bench of competent, consistent campaigners, operatives and candidates is the task of the party.

There’s four years to do this, and we already know which seats we need to be targeting.

Hopefully, the party will choose to stop his own blame storm and start working on building something positive.

Election Coverage

A Déjà Vu Election: Cohen Breezes, GOP Repeats Countywide Romp of Four Years Ago, and Appellate Judges Hang On

Democratic Divide Widens in Election Results

Kyle Veazey On Politics: A day after, going deeper into Thursday’s results

Shelby County Democratic Party Looks To Rebuild Following Losses

Aug 07 2014

Go Vote!

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Just Do It!

Just Do It!

I know I’m a little late. Had some blog related issues to deal with.

Go vote in the Shelby County elections!

Polls are open from 7am to 7pm today, Thursday, August 7th.

Don’t forget to take a photo ID!

Here’s a list of approved ID’s.

Not sure who’s on the ballot? Here’s a sample ballot.

Not sure where to vote? Click here to find out.

Seriously people. No excuses. If you don’t vote, you can still complain…but no one will take you seriously.

Take some time and be a part of shaping tomorrow’s County leadership.

(And vote in the state/federal primary while you’re there)

Jul 09 2014

Playing to his base

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County

The suburbs get a tax break this big...the city? Well, about that...

The suburbs get a tax break this big…the city? Well, about that…

Every once in a while someone does something that makes you wonder if they think you’re stupid.

You’ve probably felt what I’m talking about a time or two.

They give you that look.

They slight you in some way.

Or they sell you on a tax cut in an election year, to hide the fact that they gave someone else an even BIGGER, and unjustified tax cut.

If you left Monday’s Shelby County Commission meeting with that taste in your mouth, there’s a good reason…that’s exactly what happened.

Bad Taste in your mouth

In setting the County’s tax rate Monday, the Shelby County Commission gave a 5-cent tax cut to everyone outside of Memphis, and a 1-cent tax cut to people inside Memphis.

How’d they do that? They got rid of a 4-cent rural school bond passed years ago for the construction of Arlington High school.

The bond was only paid by residents in the former Shelby County School District because they got a school out of the deal. Tennessee’s ‘rural school bond’ law, allows a County to issue bonds, set to be paid by a specific group of people for a school, without matching funds for the other schools in that county. So for years, folks outside Memphis have been paying this additional 4-cents for the bond that paid for the construction of Arlington High.

Well, now that the old Shelby County Schools are no more, and only Arlington and Lakeland are using the Arlington High School, folks out in the ‘burbs don’t wanna pay that extra 4-cents for a school that’s not part of their district. And for Arlington and Lakeland to raise enough money to pay the four something million bucks of debt service would have meant raising their County tax rate something ridiculous, and that just doesn’t play in an election year.

So instead Mayor Luttrell,led by Harvey Kennedy talked some hapless County Commissioners into turning their backs on their constituents, to vote for a bigger tax cut for folks they don’t represent.

Fun times huh?

Turncoats

Do they really represent Memphians?

Do they really represent Memphians?

In all, four of the seven votes for this tax ordinance came from folks whose districts primarily represent the City of Memphis.

They are: Heidi Shafer, Steve Basar, James Harvey, and Justin Ford…who you may remember also has a residency question, that apparently no one is interested in pursuing at this point (maybe I’ll file a complaint with the District Attorney General).

These four think its just fine for Memphis to carry the load for the ‘burbs…which is what voting for this tax rate did…while getting nothing in return but more tax incentives for sprawl and the continued hollowing out of the city core.

Apparently, in Memphis, that’s the way we ‘represent’ Memphis. Way to be, folks.

But to add insult to injury, these four didn’t vote for adding in the matching funds that would have come with new construction to the newly constituted Shelby County Schools. Nope. They just ignored that completely, even as the School district has tens of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance for their buildings.

Way to put education first guys.

Playing the Game

Dance with those who brung ya

Dance with those who brung ya

But as bad as these four are, Mayor Luttrell’s assertion that they just want to “normalize” the tax rate is a slap in the face to Memphis.

Of course, Luttrell’s electoral base isn’t really in Memphis, as the map to the right shows. In fact, its out east and north…the burbs.

So what Mayor Luttrell has done is he’s bought Millington, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, Germantown and Collierville a tax cut at the expense of Memphis.

That’s what I call taking care of your own.

What’s more, this goes against some of Mayor Luttrell’s own policies. His website talks about smart growth, but in fact, “normalizing” the tax rate…which really means taking people off the hook who were happy to pay a little bit more before, does nothing to encourage ‘smart growth’. If anything, it encourages sprawl.

But Mayor Luttrell isn’t really interested in the kind of redevelopment and revitalization of the inner core of the city that most ‘smart growth’ advocates long for. His administration hemmed and hawed at a plan to make tax dead properties productive again.

This was something that passed unanimously on the Memphis City Council, but on the County side, anything that benefits Memphis, even if it also benefits the County coffers, is looked upon with scorn.

That’s really ‘smart’ if you ask me. /sarcasm

Conclusion

Its a month before an election, and it would be silly not to expect election year politics to enter into issues like the budget and the tax rate. But I don’t think anyone expected that Mayor Luttrell, a guy who went out of his way to court Memphis moderates in 2010, would do something so brazenly against their interests.

Sure, most of his administration he’s been able to rest on his ‘nice guy’ persona…and there’s no doubt, every time I’ve had the opportunity to meet the guy, he seems genuinely nice. But ‘nice guy’ doesn’t equal ‘working in your best interest’.

That’s the primary problem I have with this policy, it helps one group literally at the expense of another.

That hardly seems like something a ‘nice guy’ would do, but it’s definitely something a guy who’s well versed in hard nosed pandering to your base would do.

Jul 06 2014

Defining the Residency Process

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County, shenanigans
County Commissioner Henri Brooks filing her petition for Juvenile Court Clerk - via her Facebook Page

County Commissioner Henri Brooks filing her petition for Juvenile Court Clerk – via her Facebook Page

On Monday, the effort to determine if County Commissioner Henri Brooks does indeed live in her district will come before the County Commission again.

This time will be different, as the Commission will have to begin the process anew in the wake of a completely expected and predictable ruling by Chancellor Kenny Armstrong.

Reports of the ruling (which can be found here, here, here, and here) say Chancellor Armstrong gave Brooks the injunctive relief she was looking for (effectively stopping the current effort to declare her seat vacant), and call for the Commission to set up some kind of trier of fact (either the Commission itself, a designee, or a court) to: 1. Determine where Brooks actually lives, and then 2. Determine if the seat is, in fact, vacant…before going on to seek to fill the vacancy.

One of the problems of this whole affair is that the Commission relied on Administration policy to determine residency, believing that Commissioners should be treated as normal employees hired through the HR process.

But this is not the case. HR only handles paperwork for the purposes of payroll and other basic employee issues, not the hiring process. That duty falls to the voters, which is one reason this administrative investigation didn’t pass muster.

The other, of course is that the investigation didn’t actually determine where Brooks lived, which is problematic.

A third problem is that the investigation was treated as fait accompli instead of something that should be seen as the plaintiffs evidence, up for cross examination, and contestable by countering defense evidence…which would also be crossable by the County Attorney, some other plaintiff attorney, or even the Commission. Then, with the Commission acting as a tribunal…as set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-48-106, they could rule one way or another based on the facts presented.

Making the Rules Stick

One thing that we’ve learned from this affair, is the Commission (and likely all other elected officers) cannot fall under common employee standards or rules as set forth in County HR policy. The Commission has the power to set its own rules for dealing with issues relating to qualifications of its members…not the administration or any other administrative function.

This is a simple separation of powers issue.

So, the Commission must adopt a process by which these issues are to be dealt with, and pass it by a majority to avoid these complications in the future.

This could be done by amending the Permanent Rules of Order (which I could not find online by the way), or ordinance (either three readings or by vote of the electorate).

Regardless of how its done, standards must be put in place detailing due process (evidentiary rules, burden of proof, and the appropriate venue (who will be the trier of fact…either the Commission, or some external body designated by the Commission)).

Ultimately, the Commission itself would have to act on the recommendation of any external organ, which the Commission regularly does anyway.

The long and the short of it is, this isn’t complicated. This is the way legislative branches of local governments work anyway. It should be the way they work for the purposes of residency or even other membership qualifications as well.

And even though this process may be set up by ordinance or an amendment to the Permanent rules, it would still be up for Judicial Review, because that’s how things work in the good ole U.S. of A.

Starting Over

So the Commission will have to start this whole thing over on Monday. By the time they actually act on it, the issue will likely be moot.

The last Commission meeting before the next term is August 18th. Any action after that point would have no tangible effect other than making a show of it, and any action before that point will probably end up back in court unless the aforementioned rules are in place.

Also, Commissioner Brooks will be able to vote any rules going forward, because regardless of how you feel about her, people are still innocent until proven guilty in this country (though you’d be hard pressed to know that’s the case far too often), meaning Brooks could seek to gum up the works or amend the standards in such a way that is beneficial to her if she wanted to.

In any case, the incoming Commission, which will take office in early September, should seek to quickly address this issue and make rules for itself that would establish an internal administrative and final judgement process to clarify the boundaries of the issue. This would hamper frivolous charges from being brought based on personal or political vendetta, and make it simple for people to understand what was kosher and what wasn’t.

This process may already be set forth in the Permanent Rules, but if it is, and the Commission followed it up to this point, it doesn’t pass muster in the eyes of the Court.

Conclusion

Residency may seem like a simple issue, but as with so many things that revolve around the legislative branch of any division of government, it can get complicated quickly.

This is because legislators are loathe to make rules for themselves, and often set up easy outs in the rules, which makes them about as rock solid as swiss cheese.

Of course, we all expect people to be honest and forthright…especially if they are serving in public office. We’re not surprised when it doesn’t happen, or we perceive that it hasn’t happened.

Ultimately, until the rules for dealing with residency questions are defined for elective office the issue will continue to end up in court. Hopefully, the proposal Commissioner Ritz presents on Monday will set up a process that both meets the needs of the Commission for dealing with questions of residency qualifications for elective office, and addresses the due process concerns already ruled on by the court.

That’s the only way to get to an end game in this controversy…and even still, it may be that the Commission has enough bigger fish to fry that the issue rolls over to the next term.

Jul 03 2014

Stupid, stupid, stupid

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, Shelby County, shenanigans

Please just stop talking

Please just stop talking

One of the things about working the 3rd shift, is that you’re often greeted with tomorrow’s news today…or at least the news most people didn’t see before they decided to disconnect from the constant influx of news items, large and small, that we’ve come to accept.

So it was with both surprise and resignation that I saw reports around midnight Tuesday (going into Wednesday) of Judge Joe Brown’s ridiculous statements about DA Amy Weirich’s sexual orientation. The video, by the time I started looking for it, had been removed, but everything lives forever on the internet. Fox 13 has snippets of the video up now (Memphis Flyer has the whole ugly affair).

Wednesday afternoon, Bryan Carson, Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee released a statement distancing the party from Brown’s out of line comments.

Poor Excuses

Brown has blamed “mavericks” who are helping his campaign. He should ask them to stop helping. They’re not.

Prejudice isn't monochrome

Prejudice isn’t monochrome

But Brown’s excuse doesn’t take away the fact that he said these things, as if sexual orientation was some kind of disqualification for office. His excuses fall flat. His justification that he has “gay friends” sounds strikingly similar to claims by white people who have a “black friend” but still tell racist jokes.

Back in March I stuck my neck out for Brown and now I wish I hadn’t. I’m not willing to say what happened in Juvenile Court that day was a stunt…but rather, it seems to be the behavior of a man who exercises no self control, who speaks before he thinks, and who either hasn’t found or doesn’t possess a line between his famous television persona and who he is as a person/candidate.

Its unfortunate.

There are real issues to contrast against Weirich’s administration that have not only gone unsaid, but have been completely lost in the cult of personality that is the only thing the Brown campaign has going for it.

From police coercion in confessions,and filming of officers with cellphones, the Rape Kit debacle,a nd her anti-immigrant stance on U-Visas (h/t Brad Watkins)…to the unacceptable number of Juvenile cases that end up in adult court, or her unwillingness to publish a freakin’ annual report to inform the public about the doings of her office.

There are lots of reasons to want to look for an alternative in the DA department. But Brown just can’t get past himself to actually do it…and that means another cycle of defeat for the folks who put their faith and trust in him, and eight more years of the aforementioned bad policies from the Shelby County District Attorney’s office…which will have devastating effects on people from all walks of life, but mostly poor minorities.

The Pre-Post-Mortem

But lets not kid ourselves, Brown’s shenanigans in the wake of months of campaigning in absentia are just the beginning of the disappointments for this election cycle.

I started writing my post-mortem for this cycle a couple of weeks ago. It sounds premature, but considering the lack-luster effort brought by too many candidates on the Democratic slate (Brown included), and the Party’s inability to raise funds, I don’t see this ending well for candidates from my party.

There have been some exceptions. Deidre Malone’s campaign for Mayor has been active and effective. I’m not counting her out. She’s a smart lady, and a fighter.

Cheyenne Johnson has kept her campaign discipline this cycle as well. I think she has a good chance to win re-election.

On the Commission side, many candidates are running unopposed. Most of those that have opposition are in relatively safe districts. But District 13 is different. Its a split district on a good day. Candidate Dr. Jain has mounted an impressive effort. He’s a smart guy that the County Commission will need in the upcoming term.

I only hope that these smart candidates don’t get dragged down by the distractions that others on the slate have created. Guilt by association is a real thing in politics.

And the distractions have been far too many. Between Brown’s foibles, Henri Brooks’ shenanigans, and candidates running on name recognition alone rather than putting together a bona fide county campaign, its looking like its going to be a tough year for Democrats countywide.

Just after the County primary elections, I made a prediction about turnout placing it in the 130,000 range. What I didn’t say is that at 130k voters, Democrats are in a footrace in countywide elections. Its more likely most of them will lose. If you’ve heard me speak about turnout in Shelby County, you already knew this.

I didn’t explicitly say that in May because I wasn’t as sure as I am now. Based on what I’d observed in the primary, and the results…the 5000 Democrats who didn’t vote for Joe Brown, the 10,000 that didn’t vote for Bennie Cobb, the 12,000 that either didn’t participate, or didn’t vote for Henri Brooks…those are indicators that should have caused unease with Democratic leaders. I don’t see that a single Tums was consumed in the wake of those results…and no one asked me what I thought so… yeah.

Time to Triage

Democrats may make up 68% of the voting public in November, but only 20% of those Democrats show up in August. That makes every countywide race a serious contest.

At this point, Democrats need to be realistic, and focus their donations and volunteering efforts on the people who are actually trying to win.

Deidre and Cheyenne are the top prospects on the Countywide ballot.

For the Commission, Jain is the only candidate in a split district that could take a seat from the GOP, but Reginald Milton, in Dist. 10 has a 3-way race that could split in unpredictable ways. Both have been working hard in the community.

I’m not sure who a second tier might be at this time. So few have raised any money, its hard to tell who’s viable. Most of the Clerk campaigns seem to believe the (D) next to their name will help them coast to victory, which is both wrong and a big part of the problem.

Running for office is hard. If anyone knows it, I do. If I decide to run again, there are scores of things I will do differently.

I hope some of the candidates not mentioned take note, and get their organizations up and running in a hurry. Because theres no letter in the alphabet you can put next to your name that will get you instantly elected.

You have to show up, not show out, and prove to the public why you’re the best choice for the job.