The annual “Coon Supper” on the grounds of the Covington Country Club — held, as always, under the auspices of State Representative Jimmy Naifeh, the venerable former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives — took place Thursday night.
Yes, there was raccoon meat available, but most guests passed it by, having long ago taken their obligatory ritual bite of the sharp and somewhat acidic-tasting meat and having sworn off any more of it almost immediately. And, of course, there was ample fried chicken and pork barbecue, along with country-style vegetable dishes.
Here and there on the grounds, too, were tables laden with appetizers — cheese cubes, crackers, and dips, all in several varieties. And there were portable bars. Ask and ye shall receive. Just leave your dollar in the tip jar, if you don’t mind.
Whosoever wants to is invited to come to these affairs, timed for what is hopefully some penultimate point in the spring legislative calendar in Nashville, but the guests were predominantly politicians in and out of office, lobbyists, staffers from various governmental offices, state and local (including those of nearby Memphis and Shelby County), hangers-on, political rubberneckers, and, yes, media.
Taking a break from his mission, the genial Herron noted that none of the three Republicans running for the 8th District seat were on hand and seemed content with that, as he apparently would have been equally content had they all been there. “I wish them every success but one,” he said with perfect equanimity.
The squire of the proceedings, Jimmy Naifeh himself, was a mite less omnipresent than in years of yore — to the point that some on the grounds were asking, “Have you seen him? Where’s Naifeh?” The former speaker (but always “Mr. Speaker” on these grounds) was sighted at one point “looking for a place to sit,” as he frankly averred.
So, to be fair, had been Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a surprise drop-in who spent a lot of time holding court from his seat on the country club’s back patio.
Fisher was in and out of his chair, though, being asked more than most to stand and pose for a picture with this or that eager passerby.
One such was Shelby County Election Commission chairman Bill Giannini, one of the relatively few Republicans as such who roamed the grounds. Giannini had one other photo request. He wanted his picture taken with — who’d ‘a thunk it? — “Left Wing Cracker.” That would be Memphis blogger Steve Steffens, who happily obliged.
Other bloggers were on hand as well — hey, this is the 21st Century, after all. Among those present was Steve Ross of Vibinc and, as of three months ago, Speak Truth to Power. He, Steffens, and Memphis gonzo activist Mike Gatlin formed a trio for much of the evening.
Legislative luminaries were all about — like House Democratic caucus chairman Mike Turner of Nashville, who was on hand with his wife Dinah (“my oldest daughter,” he kept maintaining).
Turner delivered himself of what sounded like genuine optimism concerning his party’s election prospects this year. “We’re going to take back the House,” he said. “We’ve got the best candidate class we’ve ever had in an election year.”
Turner also noted hopefully than what he called a “détente” had come to exist between House Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville and Naifeh, whom Odom had spoken of disparagingly on a trip to Memphis back early in 2009. His remarks had not only infuriated the proud and then freshly deposed ex-Speaker, but had caused a schism in the party’s ranks.
That ill wind had blown some good to Turner, who, as a result of it, had become the Democrats’ undisputed point man in the House. But that, as head of a minority party, was a mixed blessing. “The Republicans can pass anything they want to,” he said resignedly. “But all they do is hot-button stuff. They put off the real business.”
There were other legislators on the grounds, like House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry. State Rep Johnny Shaw of Bolivar, House members Mike Stewart of Nashville, and Larry Miller of Memphis. Stewart was keen to know how the 9th congressional primary race between incumbent Steve Cohen and ex-Memphis mayor Willie Herenton was going.
Told that Herenton had been largely a no-show in the race so far, Stewart seemed genuinely amazed.
As usual, an early arrival at the Supper (and early exiter, too) was former governor Ned Ray McWherter. This being the year of a gubernatorial election and a night on which the candidates were off in Murfreesboro doing a forum together, the ex-governor’s son Mike was not present, not were Bill Haslam, Zach Wamp, or Ron Ramsey, though all of them, singly and in ensemble, were the subject of, much discussion.
Though it is pre-eminently a quasi-political gathering, the Coon Supper doubles as something of a social affair. And there again to chronicle the fact and observe the comings and goings was The Commercial Appeal’s Michael Donahue, his vintage frizzy hair serving as a sort of Daisy’s dock for the denizens of this landlocked Tipton County party.
Ah yes, there are parts of the world where it is forever 1975.
But time does go on, particularly in the highly fluid arena of politics.
“How long will you be doing these, Mr. Speaker,” host Naifeh was asked at one point in the evening. He assumed a look somewhere between bafflement and being puzzle-stumped and gave the slightest shrug, as if to say, When doth time end? What lieth beyond this vale? It will be a while yet, in other words.