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New Look Department

As the General Assembly convenes, there are some differences …

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NASHVILLE — First, some bona fide good news of a bipartisan sort: In his State of the State message last week, Governor Bill Haslam unveiled some serious lagniappe for Memphis: $45 million for a new community health facility at the University of Memphis; $62 million for renovations at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; $15 million to match an outlay by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for treatment of childhood obesity and genetic disorders.

Haslam also proposed selling the Donnelly Hill State Building, a white elephant in the downtown government plaza, but wants to see the employees of that building relocated elsewhere downtown. In any case, Haslam cannot be accused of being inattentive to Memphis' needs in the time-honored mode of Nashvilledom.

• On the weekend before Haslam's speech and the legislature's first active workweek, the state Democratic executive committee met on Capitol Hill and elected a new chairman, former state senator Roy Herron of Dresden, who succeeds two-term chairman Chip Forrester of Nashville.

As if in refutation of the fear of some progressive Democrats that he'll be too conservative, Herron delivered an energetic acceptance address endorsing the goals of President Obama and paying at least indirect homage to the views of previously suspicious pro-choice Democrats. He also began loosing daily email blasts, like one attacking "the radical and reactionary Republican politicians in the legislature and U.S. Congress."

Among other encumbrances to his victory over party treasurer Dave Garrison of Nashville was publicity given an 11th-hour statement from fellow Dresden Democrat Mike McWherter, the party's 2010 gubernatorial candidate and son of former Governor Ned McWherter, who disclaimed any involvement of his family with the Ned McWherter Center for Rural Development, created by Herron while in the Senate, and asked for a name change.

Herron and other sponsors of the legislation, former Representative Mark Maddox and current House minority leader Craig Fitzhugh, said they would happily get together with Mike McWherter and discuss the request, which continues to puzzle some Democrats.

Herron, Maddox, and Fitzhugh also said they derive no income from the taxpayer funds which founded the center.

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