Decision Delayed

Personal tragedies postpone naming of new county commissioner.



Shelby County commissioners will have a little extra time -- two weeks' worth -- to determine a successor to Linda Rendtorff, the former 1st District commissioner who resigned last month to become director of community services for county government.

The delay is the result of two unexpected deaths last week in the immediate family of Commissioner Joyce Avery. Originally, the commission was to have resolved the appointment issue at a specially called meeting on Monday of this week. That meeting was held, but only so that a bare quorum of commissioners could reset it for Monday, October 18th -- a week after next Monday's regular meeting, which will deal with normal agenda items.

The commission had met on Wednesday of last week to interview some 14 candidates for the position. Midway through those proceedings, Commissioner Avery was informed by cell-phone of the death of her daughter and left, but, after a lengthy interval, questioning of candidates continued. (Commissioner Avery also learned of a brother's death over the weekend.)

Those interviewed last Wednesday were (in order of appearance): Derrick Bennett, Wyatt Bunker, Mike Carpenter, George Flinn, Randy Hendon, Jeffrey Hines, Philip Kantor, Lester Lit, Charles McDonald, Steve McManus, Billy Orgel, Mike Ritz, Karla Templeton, and Mark White.

The delay in effect means that jockeying for the position -- which, according to various commissioners, has been intense, involving repeated lobbying by candidates and their backers -- will continue to percolate, perhaps changing the current state of things.

As of now, the leading candidates for the position -- based on stated or generally understood commitments to them by members of the commission -- would seem to be Orgel, Bunker, and Ritz. Close behind are Carpenter, Flinn, and Templeton -- all of whom are on somebody's "fallback" list in case of deadlock.

The one consideration that commissioners generally agree on is that whoever succeeds Rendtorff should be, like her, a Republican with a record of party activity. That principle was stated by commission chairman Michael Hooks, a Democrat, who pointed out that the body's Republicans, with their technical 7-6 majority, could have named one of their party members to succeed Democrats on prior occasions but had not done so.

Debate Season: As the November 2nd general election approaches, Holy Spirit Catholic Church will be the site for a series of debates this month on politically related subjects. The schedule is as follows:

n Monday, October 11th: "How Sacred is Life?" Democrat David Cocke will debate Republican Paul Stanley on such issues as stem-cell research, abortion, and preemptive military invasions. Dr. Pete Gathje will serve as "Catholic voice," and Joe Birch of WMC, Channel 5, will moderate.

n Monday, October 18th: "Justice and the American Dream." Democrat Jim Strickand will debate Republican David Kustoff on matters ranging from job out-sourcing to fair wages to social security. The Rev. Bill Parham will serve as "Catholic voice," and Channel 5's Ron Childers will moderate.

n Monday, October 25th. "What is a Life Worth?" Democrat Kathryn Bowers will debate Republican Kemp Conrad on issues including health care, the death penalty, and euthanasia. The Rev. Father Joe Tagg will be "Catholic voice," and Channel 5's Bill Lunn will moderate.

Report Card: Tennessee politicians get a failing grade on the 2004 National Political Awareness Test from Project VoteSmart, a nonprofit organization which polls candidates for their positions on issues during campaign seasons.

Noting that Tennessee candidates were "among the least likely in the country to provide issue information to voters," a Project VoteSmart press release this week goes on to say that "only 21 percent were willing to expose their positions on the issues they will have to deal with on the public's behalf, if elected."

Of the 26 candidates for congressional positions who were polled, eight -- or 31 percent -- returned Project VoteSmart's questionnaire. Of these, four were Republicans (out of nine GOP candidates altogether), four were third-party or independent candidates (out of nine), and none were Democrats (out of eight polled).

Candidates with Memphis-area constituencies who returned their questionnaires were 7th District Republican congressman Marsha Blackburn and 8th District GOP candidate James L. Hart. Not returning questionnaires were 8th District Democratic congressman John Tanner, 9th District Democratic congressman Harold Ford, and 9th District Republican candidate Ruben Fort.

Legislative candidates from the Memphis area who complied were: (among Republicans) Brian Kelsey, House District 83; John Pellicciotti, District 93; and Mark Norris, Senate District 32; (among Democrats) Julian Prewitt, House District 83; Barbara Cooper, House District 86; and Steve Cohen, Senate District 30.

State House candidates not complying were: (among Democratic candidates) Joe Towns, District 84; Larry Turner, District 85; Kathryn Bowers, District 87; Larry Miller, District 88; John DeBerry, District 90; Lois DeBerry, District 91; Henri Brooks, District 92; Mike Kernell, District 93; Susan Slyfield, District 97; and Ulysses Jones, District 98; (among Republican candidates) George Edwards, District 86; Jim Jamieson, District 89; Dolores Gresham, District 94; Curry Todd, District 95; Paul Stanley District 96; Tre Hargett, District 97; and Bubba Pleasant, District 99.

Democratic Senate candidate Jim Kyle in District 28 did not return a questionnaire, nor did Democrat Joe Pete Parker in District 32; Republican Johnny Hatcher did not comply in Senate District 30; nor did independent Mary Taylor-Shelby in District 30.

A complete tabulation of responses by candidates in various issue categories, as well as information about candidates' financial disclosures, biographical information, and interest groups' ratings is available at

n The contest between Democrat Joe Pete Parker and incumbent Republican Mark Norris in Senate District 32 took an unusual turn last week, as Parker issued a lengthy statement accusing Norris of being, in effect, soft on abortion.

Said Parker: "I am strongly opposed to abortions and will always vote against this procedure except for rape and medical reasons."

Party positions being what they are, it is rare these days for a Democrat to be challenging a Republican on grounds of being insufficiently pro-life, but in any case Norris was promptly upheld by the Tennessee Right to Life organization, whose president, Brian Harris, issued an official endorsement of Norris.

Said Harris in a news release: "West Tennessee should be commended for sending a leader of Senator Norris' caliber to Nashville. During this session Senator Norris' demonstrated leadership was critical in helping to move forward meaningful pro-life protections and policies. His clear commitment to promoting respect for human life is matched by his compassion and concern for the women, children and families of this state."

The organization commended Norris for his sponsorship of a variety of bills, including one calling for a specialty pro-life license plate and another seeking a "public vote" on the restoration of former state laws outlawing abortion.

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