Bully Pulpits

A loser in last fall's leadership fight, Ford finds new ways to show his flag.



U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., whose bid to become House minority leader fell short back in November, continues to find avenues for his governmental ideas -- styled "moderate" or "centrist" by most pundits but generally called "results-oriented" and "pragmatic" by the congressman and his spokespersons.

Democrat Ford was co-featured with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain at this week's annual dinner of the Washington Press Club, one of several venues -- the National Press Club and White House Correspondents dinners being others -- that are considered prime showcase opportunities inside the Beltway.

For the occasion, Ford availed himself of speechwriting help from Al Franken, the well-known comedian and Saturday Night Live grad. But, besides conforming with the tongue-in-cheek aspects of the occasion, which will be emceed by club president Adam Clymer of The New York Times, Ford is likely also to spell out some of his views on budgetary matters, according to his chief of staff, Mark Schuermann.

The Memphis congressman has just been named to the House Budget Committee, where, said Schuermann, he will have the opportunity to serve three terms before returning to his former base on the Education Committee.

"He'll obviously get to lobby for his education ideas on the Budget Committee," says Schuermann. Equally obvious is that Ford will have a new -- and conspicuous -- platform to vent his ideas in general. The congressman, who last year lost to current minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California, has not closed the door on future leadership bids if Democrats continue to fail to achieve a House majority.

Ford was tapped for the Budget Committee by ranking Democrat John Spratt of South Carolina, well known as a moderate on fiscal matters.

· Meanwhile, Tennessee's new governor, Democrat Phil Bredesen, continues to signal a moderate, cost-cutting approach -- one that has caused some to recall a Vietnam-era joke, in which a citizen who voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 instead of Democrat Lyndon Johnson, the landslide winner, said: "People told me if I voted for Goldwater I'd see this country involved in an interminable military quagmire. Well, they were right!"

In the contemporary Tennessee version, the lament is from a voter for Bredesen's defeated GOP opponent, self-described fiscal conservative Van Hilleary. "They told me if I voted for Hilleary, I'd see state government programs cut to the bone! Well, they were right" goes the refrain.

In fact, Bredesen has used his weekly cabinet meetings -- three of which have been held so far -- to advertise a series of forthcoming cutbacks. This week, he floated trial balloons for shifting state road funds to education and perhaps holding back portions of the state-shared tax proceeds upon which Tennessee's local governments have depended.

Bredesen's picks for his cabinet, incidentally, have earned good reviews for being chosen more on merit than on patronage considerations. The three Memphians named so far are less well-known in political circles than has usually been the case with gubernatorial appointees.

The three are: Kenneth S. Robinson, named this week as state health commissioner; Gina Betts, commissioner for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities; and John A. Keys, commissioner of Veterans Affairs. Rev. Robinson, a minister of St. Andrew A.M.E. Church here, has an extensive background in community health initiatives. Betts, the former president of the American Nurses Association, had been serving as director for health policy at UT-Memphis after a previous stint as senior adviser on nursing and policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Keys had been for many years the director of veterans' affairs for Shelby County.

· The Public Issues Forum of Memphis, a public-affairs organization founded in 1994, will inaugurate its 2003 calendar with a forum on TennCare, the state's ever-beleaguered health-insurance system, to be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at First Congregational Church on South Cooper.

A panel will examine TennCare, which faces renewed cuts under state budgetary restraints, from a Memphis and Shelby County perspective. Panel members include: Dr. Cyril Chang, professor of economics at the University of Memphis; Dr. David Mirvis, director of the Center for Health Services Research at UT-Memphis; and Don Voth, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Mental Health Summit. Happy Jones will serve as facilitator.

· Although two other candidates -- Jerry Cobb and Arnold Weiner -- are contesting the issue, Kemp Conrad is considered the odds-on favorite to be named the next chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party at the party's forthcoming convention, to be held at White Station High School on Sunday, February 23rd.

Conrad's troops were in great evidence two weeks ago during the local GOP's reorganizational caucuses. A transplanted Georgian, Conrad headed up the local party's minority outreach program during the past year.

Outreach will be an implicit theme of the GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Adam's Mark Hotel this Saturday. Featured speaker will be U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, one of several prominent African Americans (two others being Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice) in the Bush administration. ·

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