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Fathers and Sons

As the twigs are bent, so will they grow -- sometimes in unexpected directions.

by JACKSON BAKER

The sons of some famous political fathers are making news -- or attempting to -- in their own right. Rick Rout, the son of outgoing Shelby County mayor Jim Rout, is, as of now, the only candidate who has declared for the chairmanship of the county Republican Party to succeed current chairman Alan Crone in intraparty balloting next year. Rout has had business cards printed proclaiming his interest.

And Sir Isaac Ford, the youngest son of former 9th District congressman Harold Ford Sr. and brother of current U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., seems determined to remind voters of his presence on the August 1st countywide ballot as an independent candidate for Shelby County mayor.

On his own initiative, said a spokesman, young Ford recently solicited posters on the theme of how to improve education from students at the 64 city schools found to be substandard in recent state testing. And, the spokesman said, he was scheduled to honor some 85 entrants at a banquet at Jillian's.

Other members of the Ford family, including the former congressman, are still presumed to be backing the mayoral candidacy of Democratic nominee AC Wharton, who faces a well-financed challenge from Republican nominee George Flinn, an independently wealthy doctor and broadcast magnate whose main concern right now is bringing aboard the partisans of defeated mayoral rival Larry Scroggs.

If Isaac Ford's independent candidacy, which has attracted minimal attention so far, gets any traction, it may have to be factored into the total picture too.

Young Ford has set forth his mayoral program in a series of position papers, some of which espouse ideas that are, to say the least, potentially controversial. One such proposes that African Americans in the county should receive "billions of dollars worth of local bonds, federal money, state money, and local big businesses' money" as "reparations" for slavery.

· Meanwhile, state Senator John Ford (D-District 29, Memphis) professes to be unconcerned about his Democratic primary challenger, civil rights attorney Richard Fields, who has indicated he will confront Ford rigorously on several alleged breaches of propriety in office.

"Nobody's going to be paying any attention to that guy. He's got no standing at all," said Ford, a long-term senator and member of an established Memphis political family.

The senator, who chairs the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee and belongs to a number of other influential legislative panels, says he plans to do no active campaigning. "I don't need to. The people are already coming to me on their own," he said.

Ford and his brother Joe Ford, an interim Shelby County commissioner who has been newly nominated by Shelby County Democrats to continue in that role, were conspicuous Thursday in their attendance at a fund-raiser for Shelby County Circuit Court clerk Jimmy Moore, who runs on the Republican label and is being opposed this year by Democratic nominee Dell Gill, a frequent candidate.

Moore, a onetime member of the local Democrats' Finance Committee, has generally enjoyed backing across party lines and has been especially favored by members of the Ford family.

· 7th District congressman Ed Bryant (R-Henderson), now opposing former Governor Lamar Alexander in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Fred Thompson, is boasting his showing in a straw poll conducted in Nashville this week by a would-be successor, state senator Mark Norris of Collierville.

The poll, conducted by Norris in a hospitality suite at the Renaissance Hotel after the annual Statesmen's Dinner last week, showed Bryant the primary winner over Alexander by a margin of 296 votes to Alexander's 163. Though acknowledging the sampling is "not scientific," Bryant has mentioned it in a news release and in several public appearances, including one Friday at Memphis' downtown Plaza Club.

For his part, the usually unflappable Alexander has fairly sputtered with contempt about the announced strawpoll results, saying at the formal opening of his Memphis headquarters on Poplar Avenue Saturday that Bryant's claim didn't "even deserve a comment." Aides took a lighter approach, with both Kevin Phillips and Josh Holley, his press liaisons, saying the straw poll wasn't "worth the [figurative] straw" in it.

Both the former governor and Holley defended as accurate their own home-grown poll results from Whit Ayes and Associates, which show, among other things, that Alexander leads Bryant everywhere, even in the congressman's 7th District bailiwick -- attributing such results to "name recognition."

Alexander, whose basic contention is that he would make a stronger opponent for Democrat Bob Clement in a fall race, said not even a Bryant victory in the primary would disprove such a thesis. "I am better able to attract independents and Democratic voters," he said flatly.

Norris' straw poll showed him as the winner over his several rivals for the GOP 7th District congressional nomination, with 145 votes, 36 percent of the total. A spokesman for second-place finisher Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County dismissed the poll as meaningless and cited the results of Blackburn's own straw poll, taken at her headquarters and showing her to be the unanimous winner. ·


A Game Of Chicken

The GOP contestants for Congress in the 7th District scrap at their first forum.

by JACKSON BAKER

Last week saw the first major gathering involving all major aspirants for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 7th District, and the candidates' strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies were on abundant display.

The forum, which took place at Pickering Community Center in Germantown, featured Marsha Blackburn of Williamson County, Forrest Shoaf of Davidson County, and Sonny Carlota, Brent Taylor, David Kustoff, and Mark Norris, all of Shelby County.

All except Carlota, a mild-mannered Philippines-born physician and frequent candidate in Lakeland elections, can be said to have serious designs on the seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Ed Bryant, now seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.

Shoaf may be regarded as a bit more of a long shot than the others, each of whom has some degree of established name ID, but the diminutive Nashville barrister and military veteran is playing catch-up with a series of radio ads which promise, among other things, that he'll go to court to try to block any income-tax legislation passed by the General Assembly.

State senator Blackburn's appearance in Shelby County was by no means an unusual event; she's spending what aides describe as "a couple of days" in the Memphis area every week, knowing that, while the 7th sprawls all the way from the eastern edge of Memphis into the periphery of Nashville, big Shelby can account for as much as 40 percent of the total Republican vote.

Her statewide fame as an archfoe of higher taxation and big government is not quite as well established in the Memphis area as elsewhere, but she's doing her best to update Shelby Countians, preaching the gospel of across-the-board spending cuts, selective deregulation, cracking down on driver's licenses for aliens, and, most of all, diehard opposition to a state income tax.

She has her work cut out for her in Shelby inasmuch as it is home for lawyers Kustoff, who ran the crucially successful Bush campaign in Tennessee in 2000 and Norris, her state Senate colleague who represents the county and parts of two adjoining ones, as well as Taylor, a Memphis city councilman who has assiduously worked the district's rural stretches.

All the candidates professed themselves opposed to what some (funeral director Taylor, especially) call the "death" tax and some refer to as the "inheritance" tax; all professed alarm about government spending and the threat of more taxes; and all toed the line as opponents of abortion. Needless to say, they all favored job development.

The differences were mainly those of style: Each of the male candidates delivered his remarks while standing behind the table at which they all were seated. Blackburn opted, Liddy Dole-style, to walk back and forth between the table and the overflow audience.

Kustoff, riding a wave of brand-new and well-received TV commercials, emphasized his key role in winning Tennessee for the Bush ticket; Norris played up his service as a county commissioner and legislator; and Taylor, in general, sounded a populist note on behalf of the hinterlands he has cultivated (sometimes by donating leftover council-reelection money to local parties in the district).

All was not mere boilerplate and politics as usual, however. An encounter between Taylor and Norris, one which could reverberate quite late into the primary campaign, drew the most attention.

Norris, an inventive politician who has mastered the art of holding his ideological ground while making personal connections across various lines, had readied a gimmick for the evening.

In part designed to establish contact with the audience, in part designed to counter what he would later term "a whispering campaign," it began with the affable state senator's toting up to the front of the room several paper bags. Norris, best known as a lawyer, announced (with a slight but meaningful glance in Taylor's direction) that he wanted to set to rest a "rumor going around" expressing doubts about the legitimacy of his simultaneous identity as a farmer.

Reaching into one sack and pulling out a half-carton of eggs bearing his name and campaign logo, Norris said he wanted to give away egg cartons, as long as they held out, to each person present, "and I can guarantee you," he said, they were all laid on his Collierville farm and personally harvested by himself.

As the crowd murmured in appreciation of the ploy, Taylor suddenly interjected, "You know, when he put his hand in that sack, I didn't know whether he was going to come back with something from the back end of a chicken or from the back end of a horse." To which Norris shot back, "You probably wouldn't know the difference."

The show of combat between Norris and Taylor indicates not only differences in style, of course, but also the degree to which they, along with Kustoff, whose style is more above-the-bar, will be competing intensely for the common Shelby County base.

Each of the three can demonstrate mathematically that, even with votes split between them, Blackburn's Williamson County vote would not be enough for her to win. What each of them may not realize as fully as do observers at the Nashville end of the district is that Blackburn -- who must, of course, cope with Shoaf's competition on her home ground -- may not be so easily confined to her base constituency. (Her Senate colleagues, especially, regard her -- for better or worse -- as a statewide force.

To judge from this first encounter, the battle for the 7th in Republican ranks can be expected to be intense, colorful, and perhaps even bruising. ·

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