Aug 19 2014

Slow your roll…

Posted by Steve Ross in elections

Just because he won, doesn't mean his seat is vacant

Just because he won, doesn’t mean his seat is vacant

With the election of State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) to the Chancery Court here in Shelby County, there will have to be a process to fill his State Senate seat.

On the face of it, this all sounds simple enough, but State Law has complicated the issue, as it is known to do, and that’s causing a bit of controversy surrounding the process of selecting a Democratic nominee to replace the Senator.

See, most people who didn’t know any better would think there’d just be another primary election (possibly on the date of the State/National general election in November), followed by the general election (sometime thereafter), but that’s not the case.

Because of the timing of Senator Kyle’s as yet unannounced resignation, select members of the Shelby County Democratic and Republican Executive Committees will have to select a nominee to the November General election.

How you get to that point, depends on how you read the law.

The State Party’s Prescription

Late Sunday night, the County Party sent members of the Executive Committee an advisory on who should be a part of the Caucus. The release, which is covered here, calls for a meeting of the Executive Committee on August 21st to determine the process, then the beginning of nominations on August 28th.

Now, setting the process early isn’t a bad thing. And there’s nothing that prohibits the Party from doing so before there’s actually a vacancy. But setting the beginning of the nominating process for any time before there is a vacancy is problematic.

In legaleese, the issue isn’t ripe (or ready for action).

Until Sen. Kyle submits his resignation to Gov. Haslam (as prescribed in TCA §§ 8-48-104) and the Governor issues a writ of election, there is no vacancy to fill.

So beginning any process to fill an unrealized vacancy is jumping the gun.

What if Sen. Kyle suddenly decides he likes the State Senate and doesn’t want to resign (unlikely, but possible)?

Truth be told, Sen. Kyle is in the driver’s seat, until the very moment he transmits his resignation to the Governor (sometime before he is sworn in as Chancellor). At that point, its up to the Governor to issue a writ. When that happens, then and only then is the process in the hands of the County Party.

So, to recap: Setting up a process before the a vacancy has occurred isn’t entirely bad, but starting the actual call for candidates before the vacancy occurs is problematic.

But that’s not the only problem with the party’s plan for filling the, as yet, non-existent vacancy.

Reside versus Represent

In the Draft release sent to the Executive Committee, the state process quotes Tennessee law.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 is the relevant section of code for this circumstance. But what the code means is another thing entirely…and especially here in Shelby County, where, by virtue of our size, and the bang-up job the Tennessee General Assembly did on gerrymandering the heck out of the House Districts, it gets complicated.

Here’s the relevant section that everyone’s quoting:

(d)(3) If a vacancy as described in subdivision (d)(1) occurs after the sixth Thursday before the primary election, the members of the county executive committees who represent the precincts composing such senate district may nominate a candidate to appear on the November election ballot by any method authorized under the rules of the party.

“represent” is bolded for emphasis

Now, this all sounds easy enough, except, the County party isn’t organized by precincts or State Senate Districts, we’re organized by House districts. And those House Districts are all over the place when it comes to crossing with Senate District 30.

Click to enlarge Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white  Overlapping districts are in orange

Click to enlarge
Senate Dist 30 is bordered in white
Overlapping House Districts are in orange

Here’s an idea of what that looks like.

As you can see from the image on the right, there are a lot of House Districts that intersect with Senate Dist. 30, and none of them are completely inside the district.

In all, there are 8 of Shelby County’s 14 House Districts that intersect at some point with Senate District 30. They are House Districts: 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 93, 97, and 98.

If you’re an Executive Committee member representing one of those districts, you represent every precinct in that district

And that’s where the TNDP’s plan fails or the County Party misinterpreted the statute.

Here’s the email sent out to Executive Committee members announcing the Special Called Meeting. You’ll note that the final paragraph says this in part:

Per State Statue, Executive Committee members who reside in Senate District 30 and House District Chairs representing Districts that overlap with District 30 will make up the Caucus that will be responsible for electing a person to fill the Senate District 30 vacancy.

again, bolded for emphasis

Now, go back to the statute I quoted above. Nowhere does it say the people who “represent precincts” in the Senate District must also “reside” in the district.

We are a representative body, elected by people in all of the precincts of our district, as set forth by our bylaws which are approved by the State Party.

Excluding anyone who represents anyone in District 30, no matter how small of an area, is effectively creating a class of plaintiffs that could sue, effectively tying the outcome of the process up for a very long time. I don’t think anyone wants that. I certainly don’t.

Sure, that will mean there will be more than 40 people (more than half of the Executive Committee) participating in the process, but the people who chose to participate in the Ward and Precinct Caucus last year, as well as the Convention, selected people to represent them in matters of this nature.

Doing anything (purposefully or inadvertently) to ignore that process effectively disenfranchises them and ultimately makes them a part of any lawsuit class that might arise from getting it wrong.

Party Rules

Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-14-202 (d)(3) mentions “party rules” near the end of the quoted statute. It should be noted, that means how the winner is named, and nothing else…ie: majority of the vote or a plurality.

The party can set the rules in that manner, but the statute is clear on who is a qualified elector…and the Party can’t change that.

As for the method, that may be less clear. But it bears noting that in primary elections, a majority, as prescribed by the State party’s plan, is not the method normally used. Here’s the portion of TCA §§ 2-8-113 that applies.

(a) On the fourth Thursday after a primary election, the state coordinator of elections shall publicly calculate and compare the votes received by each person and declare who has been nominated for office in the primary or elected to the state executive committee. The candidates who receive the highest number of votes shall be declared elected or nominated;

bolded for emphasis

As we’ve seen in nominating procedures in the County Commission…voting until there’s a majority can yield unexpected and bizarre results. It can also lengthen the nominating time a great deal.

I can find nothing in state law that would mandate either a “most votes/plurality” position, nor a “majority” position for a caucus, but I would submit that the plurality will cause the process to run more smoothly, with less possibility of confusion.

Everyone understands the concept that the person with the most votes wins.

Final Thoughts

In the wake of some of the less pleasant things that have occurred in both State and County politics of late, the last thing either group wants to see happen is controversy arise in the act of fulfilling a fundamental process of these entities.

We have a full month before this has to be decided. Heck, we have nearly 10 days before Senator Kyle must resign to be sworn in as Chancellor.

Its critical we get this right.

For that reason, I hope both the Shelby County Democratic Party, and the Tennessee Democratic Party will take a step back and reconsider the process they’ve laid out thus far.

That may mean voting on the process issue closer to the Sept. 4th meeting (which would give the potential electors time to review any new process that arises). But voting on a potentially flawed process now only means more confusion in the end.

We can make this clean, clear, and completely right with the law if we keep ourselves from rushing through the process.

I hope we’ll take a step back and make sure we get it right.

Apr 18 2013

cRAAM Session

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Yesterday was a pretty huge day, and I’m not talking about the massive CNN fail regarding an arrest in the Boston bombing case.

Nope, I’m talking about right here in Tennessee.

Here’s what Senator Jim Kyle had to say about the Ram-it-through budget session yesterday.

Sen. Jim Kyle with some serious truth about governing

Sen. Jim Kyle with some serious truth about governing

Gramatical errors in the heat of battle, and on twitter for that matter, be damned…he’s right.

Yesterday the Tennessee House and Senate approved the Governor’s budget, largely sight unseen.

One member of the House GOP caucus even complained that, and I’m paraphrasing – “…his constituents didn’t send him up here to vote on a budget without reading it.”

But that’s what happens when the date session ends is more important than the content of the bills that are passed.

Today, the legislature should adjourn for the year, which is comforting in one way, but also terrifying.

Terror in the Error

Legislative efficiency shouldn’t be measured in time. But that seems to be the measure the GOP leadership in the House and Senate prefers to measure their success.

When the legislature closes today, it will mark the shortest session in recent memory. But lets not confuse that with a lack of legislative decisions that will negatively impact people in this state for years to come.

Truth be told, there are plenty of ridiculous and unnecessary bills that were rammed through the legislature, and very little dissent on the majority side to stop them in their tracks.

The high point of dissent seems to be focused on just how dumb or widespread the dumb should be, as we saw will the killing of the Voucher bill, though other measures died in recent days as well.

A full accounting of what passed and what didn’t may take weeks to complete, but the budget decisions, and in particular the cuts, will be felt for some time.

Meals for Wheeler Dealers…Seniors, not so much

One of the most heartless decisions cuts $2.3m from the “Meals on Wheels” program. According to the Tennessean, the cuts would impact over 1000 seniors and deliver 150,000 fewer meals in the state.

What’s most sick about this decision is that the state has a projected $100m surplus in the upcoming budget year. In the past, these budget projections have been conservative. This year alone, we anticipated a $200m+ surplus. We hit that mark last month, with three more months in the fiscal year left.


While the policy implications of the session that’s about to end will leave folks like me with weeks of work, we can’t forget the political implications of ending session early either.

Legislators can’t raise money during session until after May 15th. Ending session early means nearly a whole month of fundraising for folks.

While it may seem that this additional opportunity would be evenly distributed, the truth of the matter is the party in power has a distinct advantage over the minority party. Don’t think for a minute that this reality is lost on the GOP.

While the public face of a early end to session will be focused on the idea of “efficiency” that I mentioned above, behind the scenes there will be a great deal of work done to secure the political future of the majority party with an eye toward expanding their ranks in 2014.

Of course, neither group can start collecting anything until session ends. Once it does I’ll have a list of resources for you so you can not only follow the action, but support Democratic candidates.

Mar 13 2012

Sen. Kyle Defends The “UnDo Can’t Do” Bill – #SB2762

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

One of the more onerous bills that passed out of last year’s session was HB0600 dubbed the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act”.

Sponsored by Glen Casada (R) of Franklin, the bill sought to remove the ability of a local government to set certain ground rules in contracts.

That’s shorthand for enacting non-discrimination ordinances.

Here’s Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D) Ripley from last year laying out one of the critical flaws of HB600.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

You can watch other video from the debate here and the whole video here.

Almost a year since the passage and nullification of Nashville’s CANDO ordinance, Sen. Jim Kyle (D) Memphis is leading a push, sponsored by Metro Nashville and Shelby County government to repeal the repeal.

Here’s his opening statement:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

A member of the Nashville Metro Council also spoke in favor of the bill, but what is more interesting to me are some of the questions for the sponsor. Here’s an exchange from Sen. Mike Faulk – (R) Church Hill:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

You’ll notice that at the end of the clip, Sen. Faulk seems to get it. I don’t know if he agrees or disagrees, but he gets it.

Even Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) Collierville seems to be somewhat swayed, despite past efforts to overrule local control of government.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Of course, some were just trying to get a few specific words. In this case Sen. Stacey “Don’t Say Gay” Campfield – (R) Knoxville tries and fails to extract the words “discriminating against religion” out of the sponsor and supporters. Watch if you dare:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

You can see video of the whole discussion here.

At the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to let local government…you know…govern. In the wake of the passage of HB 600, that’s a lot harder.

I’m not sure if the bill has a chance in hell, but I’m glad Sen. Kyle is pursuing it and I hope his colleagues on both sides of the aisle will too.

Sep 20 2011

Jobs Tour Kicks Off – #TNJobsTour

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Elected officials meet with business owners, innovative leaders

MEMPHIS – House and Senate Democrats kicked off their statewide jobs tour Monday with events in Memphis and Brownsville addressing education, infrastructure and job training.

“We heard about how Tennessee is a great environment for business, but we also discussed the economic and educational hurdles to job growth that exist throughout the state,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.

Members of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce joined representatives from Autozone, ServiceMaster, Belz, Medtronic, Monogram Foods, Fogelman Management, Smith & Nephew, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Memphis Workforce Investment Network for a breakfast roundtable with House and Senate members.

The discussion centered on the need for clearer career paths in the state’s education system in order to streamline transfers and increase the number of college graduates. Several employers noted there is a growing gap between jobs coming to the state and the workforce’s current skill set.

“We are hearing from employers that job creation and education go hand-in-hand,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. “As state lawmakers, we can play a role in creating educational opportunities that increase job opportunities.”

Monday afternoon, jobs tour officials toured the West Tennessee Megasite as well as the University of Tennessee Solar Farm, two of the largest economic development sites for West Tennessee. Elected officials spoke with supervisors to find out the next steps in putting Tennesseans to work at both sites.

“The West Tennessee Megasite is our region’s greatest chance to attract the same kind of major investment we have seen with Volkswagen and Hemlock,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. “West Tennessee deserves the same kind of opportunity that other areas of the state have enjoyed.”

On Tuesday, the jobs tour continues in West Tennessee with stops in Jackson, Martin and Dresden. Media availability Tuesday will be held at noon at the Tour Residue Regency Pad Corporation, 480 Public Wells Road in Martin.

Jun 13 2011

Is HB0600 The Worst Bill of 2011 Session?

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Taken at the Justice for All rally yesterday


For those of you who weren’t following along HB0600 was drafted just days after the introduction of Nashville’s CAN DO ordinance, an ordinance that requires vendors who contract into business with the city to follow rules against GLBT workplace discrimination.

The point of HB0600 is to roll back any such local ordinances and make it impossible for any local government to provide any more protection for any class of citizen beyond the protections the state allows.

This was billed as a “pro-business” bill, which is why its strange that David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee helped on the legislation, until you remember the whole anti-gay part, then it makes perfect sense.

As with so many of these hastily written, discriminatory bills, HB0600 not only stops cities and counties from enacting non-discrimination ordinances that are in line with their community standard, it also effectively hurts people from all walks of life.

Yesterday at the Justice for All Rally those in attendance heard about one group of people who were never mentioned but who could be targeted as a result of this bill.

Today, I stand here at First Congregational Church as we unite with various non-profit organizations, work groups and interested citizens in our community to voice our concerns at the “Justice for All Rally”.

The SAD (Special Access to Discriminate Act) HB600/SB632 Act, which will affect many individuals in our community with disabiliteis or without a disability. The SAD Act will affect individuals, who use Section 8 vouchers or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) as a means to obtain housing in the community. The SAD Act will allow landlords to refuse housing to individuals, who are disabled (like me) or depend on Section 8 or SSI as their only source of income.

How will the SAD Act affect me and especially my brothers and sisters with disabilities? It will affect me because if my physical conditions get worse and I am needing to quit my full-time job then most likely will lose my apartment. If I lose my apartment and major source of income then will become homeless on the streets of Memphis once again for the fourth time. If for some reason I lose both job and incoem then will need to find another place to live because of not being able to afford apartment.

The SAD Act will cause me to become homeless again especially since I have no family, who will take me into their home so I wouldn’t become homeless again. I would need to depend on SSI so the SAD Act will cause another traumatic experience in my already complicated life.

In my heart it makes me very sad and upset at times the SAD Act was passed in the first place. How can our political leaders create such a monster in the first place? Were the citizens made aware of the SAD Act being considered to pass before they voted on the bill? I never heard anything about it and this makes me very sad to know our political system is failing those individuals (like myself) with disabilities, who at times have no choice but to depend on our government for respect but at the same time protection from danger or discrimination. Is it too late to change the SAD Act like it use to be so our citizens with disabilities and other groups can get the respect and diginity they deserve as citizens?

I stand here today representing individuals with disablities along with my brothers and sisters represented by other groups in the community. We need to make our voice heard loud and clear this afternoon the SAD Act is wrong and needs to changed to its original act.

Thanks for your time in listening this afternoon.

Marian Bacon
Memphis Tennessee

This morning Nashville Metro Councilman Mike Jameson as well as several other citizens and TEP filed a lawsuit in state court.

Councilman Jameson asked a pretty pertinent question in the In Session post, one that I asked myself during the debate over the issue:

“The state legislation was disguised as an effort to ensure consistent business regulations across Tennessee counties. But that was a Trojan horse pretext for getting this passed. Every county has unique zoning regulations, unique employment regulations and so forth. Why is it only now, and only on the issue of discrimination, that we suddenly need uniformity? If every county now needs to be identical, should we abolish city councils across the state?”

So yeah, this may be the worst bill the legislature passed this year.

Soon after session ended Sen. Jim Kyle filed a bill to repeal HB0600. Head over to his new snazzy website to thank and encourage him.

Of the 132 legislators in the State House and Senate, only 7 Democrats voted for the bill. Their names and links to their legislative offices follow. Maybe you should ring them up and ask them what they have against city governments, home rule charters, the disabled and God only knows what else. Ask them why they would vote for a bill they

HouseEddie Bass, Charles Curtiss, John DeBerry, Michael McDonald, Joe Pitts, and John Mark Windle.

SenateCharlotte Burks.

As for the Rebulblicans? Call any of them. Not a single Republican voted against the bill. House | Senate

There’s still a lot of legislation to pile through from this session, but as it stands HB0600 may be the most widely destructive bill that was supposed to be “targeted” at a specific constituency.

Lets hear it for unintended consequences.