The crowded field of candidates to succeed outgoing state representative Joe Kent in House district 83 (Southeast Memphis, Germantown) have made a series of appearances together lately.
Seven candidates are seeking the seat. They include six Republicans -- Chuck Bates, Brian Kelsey, Mark White, Stan Peppenhorst, Pat Collins, and Charles McDonald -- and Democrat Julian Prewitt.
As is usually the case in legislative races -- particularly within primaries -- differences of opinion tend to be subtle and shaded. Even so, the candidates can be distinguished from each other on the basis of their stated priorities.
Bates, for example, is a less-government conservative with a background in financial management. He advocates a lower sales tax and even more cost-cutting than Governor Phil Bredesen has pursued. An abortion opponent, he emphasizes social and moral issues more than the others. Having opposed Kent two years ago, he was first in the race this year.
Collins, a retiree, accordingly professes a primary interest in issues affecting senior citizens, stressing tax, health-care, and crime issues. He is especially interested, he says, in efforts to freeze or reduce property-tax levels for seniors.
Kelsey, a lawyer and a Republican activist of long standing, is another by-the-book conservative, calling for state surplus funds to be returned to strapped local governments and viewing with alarm such expenditures as those for planting wildflowers along the interstate.
McDonald, another lawyer with a background in college teaching, is the "angry" candidate, taking special issue with what he considers the "poor quality" of government services across the board.
Peppenhorst, a career teacher, emphasizes health-care and education and aspires, he says, to supplant former state representative Carol Chumney, now a City Council member, as an exponent of child-care.
White, a businessman and another former teacher, decries "taxes, taxes, taxes" and favors incentives for small businesses. He says that, as a young man, he took the advice of the late Mayor Henry Loeb to delay his advent in politics until he had built a career in the private sector.
Prewitt, who also has a background in both business and education, is newly de
clared as a Democrat and considers economic development his primary goal. He says he wants to see "the invisible hand" of the economy at work.
Discussions between the candidates have so far been gentlemanly; that could change as the August 5th primary approaches.
The long-running feud between Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen and state senator Steve Cohen, both Democrats, continues to simmer. Speaking at a recent fund-raiser for the local Democratic Party at the New Daisy on Beale, Cohen clearly had Bredesen in his sights when, by way of extolling presidential candidate John Kerry, he delivered this blast: "If you want a manager, get a Reagan or a Bush! If you want a leader, get a Democrat. John Kerry is a leader."
The remark came just after Cohen criticized recent legislation, backed by Bredesen, that reduced maximum benefits under state workers' compensation codes, and the senator's use of the word "manager" parroted one of the budget-cutting governor's favorite self-descriptions.
Cohen and Bredesen were frequently at loggerheads during last year's deliberations on the means of enacting and managing the state lottery, on behalf of which Cohen had labored 17 years.
· Shelby County commissioner Bruce Thompson argues that his posture in commission debate on county demolition projects was recently mischaracterized by Chairman Marilyn Loeffel. Loeffel had made a point of observing Thompson's absence from the commission's vote on the measure and suggested that he might have recused himself altogether -- on the grounds that Thompson's wife Jeni works for a high-tech company that would expand into one of the areas vacated by demolition.
Thompson noted that he had requested and received an opinion from county attorney Brian Kuhn advising him that the ordinance involved no potential conflict of interest on his part. Even so, said Thompson, he had abstained both from discussions of the measure and the final vote on it.
Thompson and Loeffel, both Republicans, have frequently clashed on matters of both style and substance.