"...Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love don't pay my bills...Money don't get everything, it's true,/But what it don't get I can't use..../I need money...That's what I want." — Barrett Strong, from "Money," 1960
Among the major candidates for governor, there are few candidates more similar in overall appeal than Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam and Shelby County district attorney general Bill Gibbons.
Both are congenial, soft-spoken, moderate Republicans with an appeal to genteel and crossover constituencies alike. Both can boast records showing competency in office. Both have been running for governor for at least a year.
There the similarities end. According to the last financial disclosure of gubernatorial candidates, due February 1st and released by the state Election Registry, Haslam had raised almost $5,800,000 since he began his candidacy, with some $4.2 million available for spending, while Gibbons had raised some $640,000 overall, with just short of $250,000 on hand.
It's easy to do the math. The Knoxville mayor has on hand roughly 17 times the amount of campaign cash that his rival from Memphis has. On the relatively cash-rich Republican side of the political line, Haslam is Number One, hands-down, while Gibbons trails not only the leader of the pack but the other runners.
Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp, for example, boasts total receipts of $2.57 million, with more than $1.8 million available for campaign use. State senator Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who serves in the dual office of lieutenant governor and speaker of the Senate, has raised a total of $2.75 million, with about $2.3 million available.
Equally revealing are the amounts raised in the last reporting period, from last July to last week. Gibbons had picked up some $225,000 in that period of time, and the rounded-out totals for his three GOP rivals were: Haslam, $1,850,000; Wamp, $1,370,000; Ramsey, $1,420,000.
In other words, not only was Gibbons cash-poor to start with, he has had progressively more trouble raising his financial levels as time goes on. It's as good an example as any of the adage that it takes money to make money. Top-dog Haslam used the adjective "humbling" to describe his reaction to his favorable financial fix; the word better describes Gibbons' actual situation.
Yet there were no immediate indications of a bail-out from Gibbons, though some influential local Republicans had made it clear they would have loved to see him switch from what they see as a no-win race for governor to a viable one for Shelby County mayor. (Bulletin: That appears to be obsolete with a declaration Tuesday of a mayoral candidacy by Sheriff Mark Luttrell.)
Ironically enough, Gibbons last week reiterated his standing challenge via letter to all other GOP candidates for governor to release full and unfettered accountings, to "go beyond what state law requires currently when it comes to releasing their sources and amounts of income and investments."
Said Gibbons: "We must have full openness about our finances to ensure public trust. Some candidates understand that, others do not. That's why I'm formally reaching out to the other Republican candidates, asking them to do the right thing by releasing this information to uncover the existence and scope of any conflicts or potential conflicts of interest."
On the Democratic side, the other Memphian in the race, state senator Jim Kyle, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, fares relatively better than Gibbons — both absolutely and in relation to the other Democrats running.
Kyle, who announced for the race in August and was making his first required financial disclosure, reported donations of $441,484, along with a loan from himself to his campaign of $300,000, giving him a cumulative total of nearly $750,000. He boasted some $588,042 in available cash.
That total stands up reasonably well against Kyle's Democratic rivals. The financial leader is Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, who reports total fund-raising of $1,053,173, with $402,868 of it since July 1st. McWherter has $620,000 in cash on hand. Trailing both among Democrats and among major candidates at large is former state House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville. She reports having raised $159,981 since July, making her cumulative total some $500,000, with cash on hand of $106,726.
But, while Kyle is clearly competitive with his fellow Democrats, he, along with Ramsey, faces a prohibition of further fund-raising until May 15th, the date on which sitting legislators can resume raising campaign money (regardless of whether the General Assembly is still convened).
There had been a move toward the close of the 2009 legislative session to free sitting legislators of such restrictions, but the bill to do so got tied up in the state House Calendar and Rules Committee. Neither Kyle nor Ramsey has been active in pushing for renewal of the measure in the current sessions — for P.R. reasons, one is tempted to say — but neither would turn down the opportunity to start adding to their totals ASAP.
• Speaking of money: As the Flyer first reported last week, Shelby County commissioner George Flinn, a highly successful radiologist and broadcasting magnate and a politician with the clear ability to self-finance if need be, all but formally declared for Congress in the 8th District.
Asked about rumors of an imminent announcement, Flinn, who has already hired members of a campaign staff, responded with this statement: "We'll be making an announcement about the race shortly. But let me be clear: This country is heading in the wrong direction, and I am going to be part of the solution. I am going to be part of a campaign to stop Nancy Pelosi's war on our economy and our conservative values. I will not sit by and watch the liberals shatter the American Dream and destroy our liberties, which so many people have worn the uniform to defend."
He subsequently filed a letter of intent to run with the Federal Election Commission.
Flinn's pending entrance into the race briefly left Tom Guleff temporarily as the only announced Republican candidate for Shelby County mayor, but that was before Luttrell unleashed a major bombshell on Tuesday by declaring for a race for county mayor.
• Money was also the underlying theme, as well as the explicit subject matter, of Governor Phil Bredesen's annual State of the State message, his eighth and last, to the General Assembly in Nashville Monday night.
Noting that the possibility exists of further stimulus funds from Washington, Bredesen nevertheless insisted that the state would have to budget as if dependent on its own resources: "There are many things we can't address from Tennessee and what I've tried to do is to concentrate on two things that we can: managing our own house — state government — to live within its means and continuing to look for ways to move forward on those things on which our future depends."
The governor continued: "It's nothing more than the commonsense idea that we're going to adjust our expenses to match our income, and we're going to be very careful about using money from our savings account."
What that came down to was a decision to cut funding for most state departments by 9 percent, with reductions of 6 percent for such divisions as Higher Education and Mental Health, 5 percent for Children's Services, and 1 percent for the Department of Corrections.
Escaping the knife altogether are the state's Basic Education Plan and its pension system.
• And money, or the lack of it, figured large, too, in Memphis mayor A C Wharton's "town hall" meeting last Tuesday night at the Hickory Hill Community Center in Southeast Memphis.
This was the second such public meeting called by Wharton since taking office. The first was at Breath of Life Christian Center in the Frayser-Raleigh area last November.
At last week's meeting, a demand for enhanced public services was voiced by attendees, especially in the area of trash collection. Wharton and Public Works director Dwan Gilliom promised next-day pickups of any reported open dumpings, and the mayor was firm on the subject of sanitation workers who chose not to report for work during the extreme cold temperatures of the last two weeks.
"I'm not going to put up with people deciding when they're going to work," Wharton declared.
But the city's straitened financial predicament was made obvious when the mayor confessed that, with funds low and with stray dogs (70 percent of which were pit bulls) packed three to a kennel at the animal shelter, "It's either that or we kill them. ... We don't have the capacity to pick up strays."