Uncertain Terms

An appeals court's ruling confuses the outlook for next year's elections.



Clearly, the political waters have been roiled by last week's state Appeals Court decision invalidating the two-term limits provision voted for by 81 percent of participating Shelby County voters in a 1994 referendum. The two-to-one decision by the three-member court, in response to a suit by three affected members of the Shelby County Commission, will alter the course of next year's elections.

Within hours of the decision, local Republican chairman Bill Giannini was denouncing it to a meeting of the East Shelby Republican Club at the Pickering Center in Germantown. In his audience, however, was at least one loyal Republican who greeted the ruling, which overturned a previous Chancery Court decision, with satisfaction.

That was Juvenile Court clerk Steve Stamson, who privately pointed out the obvious: Two potential future opponents of his -- litigating commissioners Walter Bailey and Julian Bolton -- would most likely run for reelection instead.

Not only that: Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, also affected by the decision but not an active litigant, might be brought to rethink her commitment to run against Stamson's wife Debbie in the GOP primary for the open Shelby County clerkship. Or so Stamson hoped.

Watch this space for an elaboration of some of the likely consequences of the ruling, currently under likely further appeal by county government -- a circumstance which makes it difficult for any number of political hopefuls to do their eeny-miney-moes. Senatorial hopeful Ed Bryant unveiled a campaign strategy Monday night that will lean heavily on West Tennessee, home base for current Jackson resident Bryant -- who served both as U.S. attorney for the state's Western district and as 7th District congressman. And Bryant left little doubt that Memphis would be the lynchpin of that strategy.

Stressing his "electability" at a fund-raiser hosted by supporter David Pickler in Collierville, Bryant noted that in his 1996 reelection bid against then Clarksville mayor Don Trotter, his Democratic opponent, he polled enough votes in Shelby County alone to beat Trotter in the 15-county district by more than 100 votes.

The former GOP congressman named John Ryder, John Bobango, and Steve West as de facto local coordinators.

Bryant said he expected current 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr. to be the Democratic nominee and said Ford would be a "formidable" and heavily funded opponent. Apparently discounting what some Republicans see as baggage the Memphis congressman might carry into a race, Bryant added, "I'd be running against him, not the Ford family." Two contenders for the 9th District congressional seat which Ford would vacate had formal coming-out affairs this week. One was Ralph White, pastor of Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church and a former Democratic candidate for several offices. Another was businessman/consultant Ron Redwing, a longtime former assistant to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton and a onetime candidate for county register.

In a field which so far boasts no heavyweight names from the pool of local officeholders, White and Redwing, both well-known members of the Memphis political community, have to be reckoned as serious entries. Last week another verse was sung in the ongoing duet between Memphis state senator Steve Cohen and Governor Phil Bredesen. The two issued overlapping and competitive press releases, both announcing the bestowal of more than $3.8 million in unclaimed lottery prize money on state after-school programs.

Cohen, who attributed the outcome to earlier legislative efforts by himself and former state representative Chris Newton (R-Cleveland), also said he was still considering a Democratic primary challenge to Bredesen. The state senator has also indicated he is looking at a race for district attorney general. In an e-mail this week, Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker, a leader of the state's Minuteman movement, which makes a point of opposing illegal aliens, stressed the fact that so far he remains the only declared Republican candidate for governor. Former GOP legislator Jim Henry recently dropped out of the running, and current Nashville state representative Beth Harwell continues to hold back from announcing. But Ryder, a GOP strategist, said he thought that someone else would be "drafted" as a candidate. Ryder suggested Republican Senate leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville and state senator Mark Norris of Collierville.

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