For one thing, sentiment has begun to change within the close-knit group of Ford family members and advisers. Theyve gone from 60-40 in favor a month ago to 60-40 against, said a source familiar with behind-the-scenes developments. In particular, former congressman Harold Ford Sr., now living in Florida and working as a business/government consultant, is said to have developed serious doubts about the wisdom of his sons running -- at least in the current environment. Strategy talks among family members have focused on possible spill-over from problems now swirling up around John Ford.
The state senators difficulties originally stemmed from embarrassing disclosures about his multiple households in child-support hearings. These got national media attention and were joked about by Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Subsequently, questions were raised about the legitimacy of John Fords legal address. But the state senators situation became most grave when IRS filings in the child-support matter became public and revealed that a major component of his unexpectedly high income came from a financial relationship with a TennCare provider. The facts that Ford is a member of the General Assemblys TennCare oversight committee and chairman of another committee which handles TennCare legislation quickly raised conflict-of-interest issues.
The Senate Ethics Committee, chaired by senate majority leader Ron Ramsey, a Republican, has stepped up its investigation of the various Ford matters -- though public and media attention have figured larger than partisan motives. If anything, Fords senate colleagues, both Democratic and Republican, have signaled that they will not be rushed to judgment and intend to give their colleague every due consideration. Legislative leaders in both parties confide that talk of criminal prosecution may be off the mark, considering that the statutes governing the TennCare matter are more likely to provide penalties for the company which hired Ford than for the senator himself.
None of that serves to reassure the camp of Rep. Ford, which foresees the John Ford controversy as likely to garner serious media attention for some time to come. Accordingly, members of the congressmans political circle -- possibly without Rep. Fords direct knowledge -- have sounded out John Ford about the prospect of his cutting bait, even to the point of his resigning from the senate or, if necessary, pursuing plea-bargaining arrangements with legal authorities. By nature, the highly independent-minded senator is inclined to resist such counsel -- especially if he feels fortified by his senate colleagues.
Hence, the nightmare prospect for Rep. Ford that a U.S. Senate race by him would be endlessly connected in the public mind to open-ended media attention, lasting for months or even years, concerning his uncles notoriety.
The same thought has occurred to other Tennessee Democrats -- notably Governor Phil Bredesen, who was quoted over the weekend as saying the puboicity given state Sen. Fords problems "can't possibly be helping" the congressmans Senate ambitions. Said Bredesen, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press: "I feel very sorry for him because it is something that is beyond his control and not something he has had a part inÉ. I think the publicity against John Ford is hurting Harold and frankly that bothers me."
What may bother the governor, in particular, is the fact that, as a Democratic candidate for reelection, he will share the state ballot with his partys Senate nominee. The only other declared Democratic candidate for the Senate, thus far, is state Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. Nashville mayor Bill Purcell had at one time considered a race and, some say, may again.
Even those corners of the media that have thus far taken a Ford Senate candidacy for granted are suddenly expressing doubts. The Lebanon Democrat's Clint Brewer, something of a Ford confidante, noted this week that rank and file Democrats had begun to wonder about a Ford candidacy and added, "Of course, Ford has never actually solidified his intentions to run." And the Washington insiders publication The Hill recently wondered if the growing controversy over Joihn Ford may have affected the resonance of the Ford name statewide.
The congressman himself was elaborating to the media on previous affirmations distinguishing (and distancing) himself from his uncle and insisting that he still intended to run. But Rep. Ford told the Jackson Sun over the weekend that the race was still a year away and that, prior indications notwithstanding, he was in no hurry to announce.
Successors-in-waiting: Meanwhile, if Rep. Ford does in fact make the Senate race, whos in line to succeed him as the 9th Districts congressman? Two potential candidates have recently expressed interest: Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford, the incumbent congressmans uncle; and public relations man Ron Redwing, a former aide to Mayor Willie Herenton.
Commissioner Ford said Monday, Id be very interested in doing that. Im 51, the right age to be considering it, and my experience, as both city councilman and commissioner, has prepared me for it. Ford said his interest in public service had been whetted to the point that Id consider doing other jobs, too, like the school board.
Redwing is being seriously touted by a number of friends in local Democratic and government circles. I think Ive shown a serious commitment to the community and want to use my kills and talent to extend my commitment to the people of the 9th District, he said this week.
These two are but the harbingers of what could be quite a long list.
Chairs in transit: As of the weekend, the Shelby County chairpersons of the two major political parties were both on the move: Democratic chair Kathryn Bowers opened up the headquarters of her campaign for the state Senate on Saturday; and new Republican chair Bill Giannini got himself elected and installed on Sunday at the biennial Shelby County Republican convention.
Both Bowers and Giannini served notice as to the shape of their priorities.
State Rep. Bowers, speaking to supporters at her Elvis Presley Boulevard headquarters, promised to do everything in her power to forestall the TennCare cuts (323,000 from the current rolls) announced recently by Governor Bredesen but so far held up by judicial review. Two other candidates -- Shelby County Commissioner Michael Hooks and James Harvey --are competing in the forthcoming Democratic primary for the seat recently vacated by Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to county mayor A C Wharton. Four Republicans -- Mary Lynn Flood, Jason Hernandez, Mary Ann McNeil, and Barry Sterling --also seek the seat.
Giannini, elected by acclamation at White Station High School, looked ahead to the 2006 countywide elections and even further -- lamenting the upward curve of latest property reassessment and thereby targeting county assessor Rita Clark, a Democrat reelected only last year and not up again until 2008.
The GOP backstory: Ironically, though the new Republican chairman, unlike his last several predecessors, avoided a direct challenge, it was a near thing. Giannini, a relative unknown in local Republican ranks, at one had opposition from both GOP conservatives -- whose candidate, Terry Roland, finally accepted a place on Gianninis ticket -- and the party establishment, which tried unsuccessfully to recruit Germantown lawyer Kevin Snider to run against him.
Hooks back in: Though Bowers escaped one potential opponent when House colleague Joe Towns was declared ineligible for failure to pay past fines assessed by the state Election Registry, she saw another one, Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks, reinstated.
After listening to testimony from lawyers for both Hooks and the state of Tennessee, Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled in Hooks favor and ordered Hooks reinstated as a candidate in a forthcoming state Senate election. Goldin thereby struck down a prior adverse ruling against Hooks by the state Election Registry and state Election Commissioner Brook Thompson, who had declared the Shelby County Commission chairman ineligible to run for the seat because Hooks had not met financial-disclosure deadlines.
Reviewing a record that showed historic inconsistency between enforcement actions and deadline requirements of state and local election officials, Goldin said it would be fundamentally unfair and difficult to justify disallowing Hooks candidacy for the District 33 seat, vacated recently by longtime incumbent Roscoe Dixon, now an aide to Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton.
Expressing gratitude at the decision, Hooks said of the state officials who originally ruled against him: They dont have a hard on for Michael Hooks. Theyre just interpreting the law and trying to do their job. Further: I think the judge did the right thing to let the people decide who they want to be their state senator. It wont be determined by nit-picking or hag-nagging. Itll be on the issues.