It is generally accepted these days that women, as a specific voting bloc, have a significant influence on political events -- often determining the outcomes of elections, as in 1992 and 1996, when their disproportionate preference for Bill Clinton over his Republican and independent rivals arguably accounted for the ex-president's victory in those years.
And in recent years women have increasingly run for -- and won -- political office. Both in the national Congress and in the Tennessee legislature, they play prominent roles, and when it came time recently for members of the Shelby County Commission to fill a vacancy in their ranks, there was such momentum to add a woman to the Commission that a relative newcomer and virtual unknown, Bridget Chisholm, was elected to the traditional African-American seat.
A number of recent and pending events underscore the growing prominence of women in local society and government.
Two women, Davidson County Sheriff Gayle Ray and state Representative Marsha Blackburn, have recently made a point of floating their candidacies for the office of governor.
And in the wake of U.S. Senator Fred Thompson's announcement last week that he would not seek the office, the prospective candidate list is sufficiently fluid that both Ray, a Nashville Democrat, and Blackburn, a Republican from suburban Brentwood, may have a real opportunity to impact the race.
Paula Casey, a longtime Memphis women's activist and a partisan of yet a third prospective female candidate for governor, expressed satisfaction at the gubernatorial ambitions of Ray and Blackburn. "I'm glad to see women's names finally being mentioned in this state for an executive position. Both have excellent credentials," Casey said. But she felt compelled to add, "However, neither major party is known for supporting women. I'll just be the most surprised person in the country if these women get support from either party's infrastructure."
(Casey's own choice is another Nashvillian, Tennessee Association of Business education director Sharon Bell, a Republican who made an unsuccessful race in 1994 against veteran Democratic state Senator Doug Henry.)
A Germantown woman prominent in Republican affairs, Cherrie Holden, has decided to publicly resign from the 32-member Board of Governors of the local chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Holden, who is also a member of the state Board of Education from Tennessee's 7th Congressional District and was a state coordinator of the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, has for the last year been one of five officers in the local NARAS chapter, holding the position of secretary-treasurer. She is business manager for High Stacks Records, which specializes in gospel recordings but recently did a retro album featuring the music of former Stax artists.
Her resignation is not meant primarily as a statement directed at the local chapter or even at NARAS at large, Holden says. She intends it as a protest against what she sees as alarming tendencies in the popular music industry -- notably its acceptance of that nitty-gritty street variety known as rap.
Holden's letter of resignation from the Board of Governors goes as follows:
"Our chapter has grown so much in the past several years and our industry has greatly changed. Along with these changes has come a very different focus for our organization. We have moved from a representative organization to a membership organization. The recognition of our art has also changed. No longer is there honor in rewarding the music industry's finest for bringing the world music as a form of art. We find our industry now rewarding and lifting up the avocation of hate and violence through anger-filled lyrics of spoken-word obscenities known as Rap. We applaud beautiful young teenagers dressed up to allure, singing words that imply explicit knowledge well beyond their years. These are the role models that influence the youth of our nation.
"Thomas Carlyle once said, 'Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine.' I believe, as did Carlyle, the unique gifts we are given by God are to be used to offer this world refreshment from the daily struggles we face. So strongly do I believe that we have lost our focus that I feel I must resign from the organization that is lauding these things of which I wholeheartedly disagree. Once I believed that my service on this board could perhaps slow down or even reverse this disturbing trend by filling one position to hold an anti-vote. I was wrong and perhaps thought too highly of my personal ability to influence in this matter. I encouraged several of you serving now to join me in this effort. My apologies to you for leaving though I do encourage you to listen to your convictions.
"I hope that one day soon our country will understand the significance of rewarding that which is pure and wholesome and uplifting. I love you all and appreciate the opportunity to have worked with you."
Holden said she had been somewhat aggrieved when the Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia won a Premier Player award from the local NARAS chapter. "They're angry and hate-filled," she said. "We should not glorify that stuff. I've mainly been on the board to represent the local gospel community and spotlight them. If that [rap] is what the people want, I can't approve it. I guess I'll just make room for somebody that agrees with the philosophy of the organization."
Holden said she had a telephone conversation Tuesday with local NARAS director Jon Hornyak, who called her from Los Angeles, site of this week's Grammy Awards celebration. "He understands my position," Holden said. "He said his position was one of free speech, that he didn't want to exclude any genre of music. I can understand that, too."
Several prominent local women will be honored at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 11th, at the 17th Annual Women of Achievement dinner at Marriott East on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.
Awards at the dinner, timed for Women's History Month, will be presented to the following: Dr. Janann Sherman (Vision); Anne W. Shafer (Courage); Cordell Jackson (Initiative); Lois A. Freeman (Steadfastness); Debbie Norton, Jalena Bowling, and Denny Glad (Determination); Jodie Gaines Johnson (Heroism); and the late Marion Keisker (Heritage).
In last week's column and in the Flyer editorial, the term "Lincoln's Birthday" appeared several times as a descriptor of this year's annual banquet of the Shelby County Republican Party.
The actual name of the affair, chief event on the local GOP's annual calendar, is the Lincoln Day Dinner, of course, and this columnist, who has attended many a Lincoln Day Dinner over the years, so described it. It came out the other way because of a proofreading error.
Like every other careful newsgathering organization, the Flyer has copy editors who check copy for misspellings, typos, and deviations from the paper's accepted style. In a "Politics" column of some two weeks back, a proofreader's alertness was able to substitute the right name ("RU486") for a wrong spelling of the now available (and controversial) abortion pill.
Every once in a while an intervention is not so lucky. As all local Republicans know, Lincoln Day is a formal occasion at which they celebrate "Honest Abe" as one of the founding eminences of their party, not a celebration of the Great Emancipator's birthday. In fact, some years Lincoln Day is not even held in February.
One of the rituals of the Lincoln Day Dinner is that each year two prominent local Republicans, a man and a woman, dress as Abe and Mary Lincoln. This year's "Lincolns" were former Shelby County Commissioner Ed Williams and his wife Sue.
Williams is now the official county historian and can probably tell anyone who is interested the details of each and every local Lincoln Day Dinner. In fact, he'll do it at the drop of a top hat. -- JB