This project is going forward, said Governor Phil Bredesen to tumultuous applause Thursday night. The subject was a proposal for state funding to begin the process of transplanting the law school of the University of Memphis to a downtown location, upgrading it in the process.
The audience which heard this happy news, at a fundraising event for Bredesen at the East Memphis residence of city councilman Jack Sammons, included many representatives of the University of Memphis, who hatched the relocation project earlier this year in an effort to shore up the schools long-term accreditation.
The American Bar Association had put the university on notice that its present law school facilities on Central Avenue were considered inadequate.
The move, into the landmark Post Office building on Front St., which would be extensively renovated for the purpose, would ultimately cost some $41 million, said Law School dean Jim Smoot, one of several university officials to have lobbied the governor on the point.
I think this is what you call a full-court press, said the governor about the university groups efforts.
Bredesen kept a smiling and relaxed demeanor despite the presence across the street of demonstrators protesting his paring of the TennCare rolls, a move he defended again Thursday night as necessary for budgetary reasons.
Inviting me is one way to get demonstrators to show up at the end of your driveway, joked the governor, who said he had spoken with several of the protesters and urged the attendees at the fundraiser to do so. These are good people, he said.
The governors appearance in Memphis came at the end of a day in which the members of his recently appointed Citizens Advisory Panel on Ethics held the last of several statewide meetings at the universitys Fogelman Center.
Presided over by former state Attorney General Mike Cody and former state Senator Ben Atchley of Knoxville, the meeting was attended by several local legislators, including state Senators Steve Cohen of Memphis and Roy Herron of Dresden, and state Representatives Paul Stanley and Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Dolores Grisham of Covington.
Cohen called for ratcheting up the current "cup-of-coffee" law to the end of eliminating all lobbyist-funded favors for members of the General Assembly -- a point that was seconded by Stanley and Kelsey.
Asked how much legislation was currently initiated by lobbyists rather than members of the Assembly, Cohen answered bluntly, "Almost all of it."
Grisham, who said she and two other relatively short-term Republican legislators shared the services of a single staffer, called the absence of adequate staffing for legislators "unacceptable." It meant, she said, that increasingly legislators are forced to use lobbyists as sources of advice on legislation. "The good ones will give you both sides," she said.
At one point, panelist Lyle Reid, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, probed into the basic function of lobbyists. Among those called upon to answer was current lobbyist and former legislator Rufus Jones of Memphis, who provided one of the afternoon's best laugh lines.
"The first thing you've got to do is get a client," Jones said. "You can go up there and lobby all day long, but if you don't have a client, you're in trouble!"
The panel will shortly report its findings and recommendations to Governor Bredesen.
New problems for Dixon
One of the former legislative figures whose indictment in the recent Tennessee Waltz scandal was a major reason for the ethics panels creation took another jolt on Thursday.That came when assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza announced that former state Senator Rosce Dixon was subject to indictment and prosecution on matters unrelated to his previously alleged extortion activities in relation to the bogus FBI company eCycle Management. Dixon was forced to resign as an aide to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton when he was indicted on the eCycle matter in late May.
An obviously shaken Dixon told reporters Thursday that the government holds all the cards and you get to spread your arms and get nailed to the cross. It certainly appeared that the government had stepped up its pressure on Dixon possibly to encourage a plea change on the prior charges.But neither Dixon, who had said only last week that he was wiling to stand trial on the eCycle charges, nor his attorney, Walter Bailey, indicated that any change was likely in Dixons existing Not Guilty plea.
District Attorney General Bill Gibbons filled the upstairs room at the downtown Rendezvous restaurant Tuesday night for a fundraiser/reception that drew many of Gibbons fellow luminaries in addition to a large crowd of other supporters.
Among those attending in support of Gibbons 2006 reelection effort were both Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County mayor Wharton. Reaffirming his previously announced endorsement of Gibbons, the often controversial Herenton joked, I hope I do him more good than harm.
In his remarks, Gibbons compared his efforts to punish the guilty and to protect the innocent to law-enforcement measures pursued in New York City in the 90s under the administration of then Mayor Rudy Giuliani.