This is the week that early voting for the November 6th election begins, and a glitch of sorts has already occurred at the offices of the Election Commission administrator, where, at press time on Tuesday, some 3,000 voter applications that met the registration deadline had not yet been formally added to the rolls.
A spokesperson for the Election Commission, Suzanne Thompson Cozza, said that efforts would continue through Tuesday evening to complete the process and that no voter who had met the requirements would be denied the opportunity to vote. At its Monday meeting, the Shelby County Commission heard from various citizens on the problem, and the body formally expressed concern.
- Rust Hall, Brooks Museum of Art
The thought was, as commission Chairman Van Turner emphasized, that persons who had registered but whose names did not appear on the Electronic Poll Book (EPB) as of Wednesday morning, when early voting begins, should ask for a provisional ballot — one whose bona fides could be checked before final totals were released.
Cozza said, however, that voters should instead ask poll workers to run a check through the Election Commission's application forms. If a voter's form is found and identified as valid, the voter's name will be added to the EPB and prepared for machine voting on the spot. Cozza said the process would take mere minutes.
Should a would-be voter's registration form not be immediately located, said Cozza, that voter would be issued a provisional ballot. "We're not turning anybody away," she said. • Though debates between senatorial and gubernatorial candidates may have dominated political news last week, there were many sub-plots in those statewide races.
The second of two debates between gubernatorial candidates Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee took place in Kingsport last week and, like the first, tended to focus on the issue of Medicaid expansion via acceptance of federal funding, which Dean supports and Lee objects to as amounting to a subsidy of a failed system.
The two gubernatorial candidates were at pains to express courtesy to each other, but all was not kumbaya on the campaign trail. The Dean team continued to regard Lee as having been guilty of misconduct for allegedly requesting a state trooper serving as a security officer for both campaigns to take a photograph of Dean at an event which was thought to be taking place at a Knoxville mosque but in fact occurred at a falafel restaurant. The trooper who told the Lee campaign about Dean's schedule was suspended for a day and taken off the gubernatorial security detail. No picture was taken.
The second debate between Senatorial candidates, Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Marsha Blackburn, also took place last Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville. Once again, Blackburn attempted to tie her opponent to a national figure of his party. In the first debate it was Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer. Last week it was Hillary Clinton.
Bredesen, who has minimized any connection to national Democrats, joked in his summation about the number of times Blackburn managed to say variations of the statement "Phil wanted Hillary Clinton to be president and gave her $33,400." In its report on the debate, The Tennessee Journal professed to have counted "more than 20 such references."
• A little over a month ago, when he appeared before the Shelby County Commission as a witness regarding a zoning case in Collierville, Mark Norris was still in a kind of limbo regarding his professional future. Still a state senator pursuing the duties of Senate majority leader, Norris had just seen the U.S. Senate gridlock relaxed via a deal between the Democrats and Republicans so as to allow a handful of President Trump's judicial nominees to be confirmed, and he had not been among them. Asked about the prospects for his own nomination to be passed through, Norris declined to express optimism. But last week the logjam was loosened again and Norris finally got his confirmation as U.S. district judge. The largest sigh of relief, however, may not have come from Norris.
No, those most likely to be delighted by the completion of Norris' ascension to the judiciary are the local political figures who have been eyeing a race for his state Senate seat from the moment Trump picked his name out of a hat in July 2017.
The most eager of these may be Heidi Shafer, just term-limited out of the Shelby County Commission after eight years of being a dominant member of that body, and chairman of it during her final year. Shafer, whose political skills were amply demonstrated during her commission tenure, has long planned on the Senate race and is prepared to move with her husband into the Collierville area, leaving the Shafers' Memphis residence to their college-age daughter.
Another probable entry is Shafer's former commission colleague David Reaves, a veteran also of the various incarnations of the Shelby County Schools board. Reaves boasts, "I already live in the district." It has long been rumored that a third contestant would be District 83 state Representative Mark White, but White has opted for remaining in the House, where, if successful in a reelection effort against Democratic challenger Danielle Schonbaum, he is likely to become chair of the education committee.
There apparently will be a third contestant, however. Former state Representative Steve McManus, who lost his District 96 House seat to Democratic Dwayne Thompson in an upset in 2016, has told friends he'll make the race and has the support of White, among others.
There could be other candidates — particularly if, as Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett has suggested, state law should require that the seat be filled by a write-in vote on the November 6th ballot. That option would apparently be invoked by an immediate resignation from the Senate by Norris. A resignation after November 6th would allow for a special election to be called for the New Year by Governor Bill Haslam. And intervening could be an appointment of an interim state senator by the county commission, which has an 8-5 Democratic predominance and might or might not be party to a gentlemen's agreement allowing a nominally Republican fill-in senator.
• The ongoing election in suburban Lakeland involves a controversy over a plan by the current administration, headed by Mayor Wyatt Bunker, to construct a new Lakeland High School and pursue various other urban developments. That issue was the main subject Monday night at a forum held at Lakeland Elementary School. The main participants were Bunker and two incumbent city commissioners in general agreement with him — Michelle Dial and Jeremy Burnett. Absent were mayoral candidate Mike Cunningham and several other commission candidates.
A fourth attendee, briefly, was City Commissioner Clark Plunk, who left the forum after the first question from the audience was read by moderator Frank Colvett: "Would you favor censure for a government official who uttered public racist remarks?"
The others present said "yes" to that. Plunk responded by calling the forum a "sham" and leaving. Plunk is the subject of a formal inquiry by the NAACP after the publicizing of a Facebook exchange in which Plunk touted a friend on a Memphis restaurant because "there aren't a lot of [n-words] there." Plunk had previously been involved in an incident in which he publicly opposed a gay youth taking his boyfriend to a Christian Brothers High School prom and characterized gays as "mean, cruel, spiteful people with an axe to grind." The Commissioner has contended that his Facebook account was hacked.