It’s the quiet before the storm part two. Thursday morning the State House is scheduled to take up their version of the Norris bill, which as far as I can tell, hasn’t been amended one bit. I’m not even sure that any offers have been made to amend the bill, though I realize that the numbers are stacked against any hostile amendments.
Reaction to the passage of the Norris bill in the Senate was predictably negative. Former City Council Chair Harold Collins, who co-sponsored a resolution in the City Council to preempt any state action, framed the situation fairly well:
“It is an oxymoron for the leaders of this state to get in the business of local people. I wonder if they would have the same attitude that Memphians have today if president Obama would get into this legislation. I wonder what they would say then. They would be crying, this is a state issue. This is a local issue,” said Collins.
Mayor Wharton was none too happy about his name being invoked in Norris’ closing on his bill in front of the State Senate. In fact, based on this piece by Fox 13, I’d say he’s rightly pissed.
While early on in the process, Wharton took the more comfortable position of pushing for some kind of compromise, by the middle of January it became clear that those opposing the MCS Board’s actions weren’t having it and, would throw up any roadblock possible. All of his public statements since then have been consistent with the best interests of Memphians in this process: ensuring the right to vote on a local issue, protecting the idea of self-determination, and stopping the state from unilaterally and unfairly altering that right of self-determination through the passage of the bill currently before the state legislature.
But neither Norris nor Fox 13 had to dig back some 8 years to find Wharton’s “Shotgun Wedding” comment. In fact, he made that very comment at the end of 2010 in an interview with WREG’s Mike Matthews.
Words matter. And while I’m positive that Mayor Wharton has never shown any support for Norris’ bill, particularly as it is written today, that statement, which is in the public record, was bound to be used against Memphis and the interests of Memphians. It’s unfortunate that the Mayor didn’t think about that at the time.
Where we find ourselves today is not that different from yesterday. There will be no action on the bill today. The State House is scheduled to take up the bill tomorrow morning. Under normal circumstances, after the Thursday morning session most legislators leave Nashville for their homes across the state. However, Nashville is scheduled to get 2-4 inches of the snow that we’re expecting today, which may keep them out of session tomorrow. I wouldn’t pin too many hopes on that though.
The City Council is scheduled to meet tomorrow at 4:30. Whether or not the City Council will have the votes to pass a resolution to accept the surrender of the MCS charter is not known at this time.
By then the State House should have passed the Norris bill. From there it goes to the Governor, who hasn’t indicated whether he supports the bill or not. Even if he doesn’t support the bill, a veto wouldn’t give much protection or comfort to Memphians. In fact, a speedy veto makes the problem worse, placing the veto override vote before the legislature just days before early voting begins.
The legal questions involved in all of this are still very much open. Action by the City Council to head off the implementation of Norris’ bill may actually complicate the issue. For instance, if the City Council moves to accept the surrender, someone, most likely SCS or the state, will sue saying state law took that power away from them at some point. While that is going on, an election will be taking place, and it’s more likely than not that Norris’ bill will become law. Someone will have to bring a suit against the state on the Norris bill, but will the plaintiff in that case have standing to bring a suit when there is an unresolved question as to whether or not it applies to Memphis based on the actions of the City Council?
Again, this is a hypothetical and I’m not a lawyer. There are likely several avenues to deal with this that I’m not seeing at this time. That said, going forward there needs to be a comprehensive plan to deal with the potential negative impact any litigation may have on the outcome of the referendum vote based on the actions of the state, the city and the two school districts. In the absence of that plan, the questions may be too much for the average voter to process.
What was at first a radical but easy to understand action, has been contorted by Senator Norris and his Republican colleagues into an exercise of unnecessary interference and subterfuge. Its unfortunate, but somewhat predictable that we would be faced with this at this time. Actions such as the ones carried out by Norris and his House co-sponsors were the reason Commissioner Jones embarked on his transfer resolution in the first place. It should come as no surprise that these individuals, who have never had the best interests of Memphis at heart in the first place, would seek to muddy the water to further their policy of forced separation that, before manifested itself only in the form of seeking special school district status.
It is an unfortunate commentary on our time and the leadership of Tennessee, but it is a reality that we should get used to, at least for the next two years.
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