Something of an irony may be shaping up for 2014, the next fully fledged political year in Shelby County. (One year out of every four is in theory election-free in Memphis and Shelby County, and 2013 is one such year; a plethora of special elections has somewhat jimmied the cycle in recent years, however.)
The main local entrée on next year's political menu will be the race for Shelby County mayor. Incumbent Republican Mark Luttrell is considered a certainty to run for reelection, and there is of yet no consensus among Democrats as to who should oppose him.
One name that is always mentioned in such a context is that of state senator Jim Kyle, the Senate's Democratic leader. After a pro forma period of letting his name float, Kyle normally withdraws his name from consideration. Next year could be different, if for no other reason than Kyle's frustration with being a member of an increasingly powerless minority in Nashville.
Last week, the formative one for the 2013 session of the General Assembly, was a rough one for Kyle, who seems to be on the losing end of a campaign for a rules change requiring the dominant Republicans to hold their caucus meetings in public.
Moreover, having barely won reelection as leader of the truncated Senate Democrats with a 4-3 victory late last year over fellow Memphian Reginald Tate, Kyle last week saw Republican members of the Shelby County delegation engineer the election of the GOP-friendly Tate as delegation chairman over state representative Antonio Parkinson, whom Kyle had supported.
If Kyle should once again reject a race for county mayor, a very real Democratic prospect is Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy, who is term-limited from running for reelection in 2014. The commissioner often serves as point man for Democratic initiatives and did so again of late with his proposal for a wage-theft ordinance.
As a white Democrat with significant Poplar Corridor appeal, Mulroy might indeed be able to marshal a strong campaign against Luttrell, and he is inclined, as are most politicians, to aspire upward rather than laterally, which would be the case if he sought a Memphis City Council seat in 2015, as some have suggested to him as an alternative.
The aforementioned irony in a Luttrell-Mulroy race would be a limited one, actually — confined to the fact that the current mayor was himself an outspoken advocate for action against wage theft during his race for mayor in 2010. The then sheriff and mayoral candidate told a gathering of Midtown progressives, as we reported at the time, that he favored "legal alternatives to the incarceration of the mentally ill and stepped-up actions against 'wage theft,' the exploitation of workers, mainly Hispanics, by unscrupulous employers."
Luttrell was a virtual nonparticipant in the recent county debate over wage theft, however. Mulroy's county ordinance, which was directed against such offenses as employers' holding back employees' wages or declining to pay overtime, was narrowly rejected on its third reading on Monday after a systematic campaign against it by local business organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce.
Crucial to the outcome was the conversion of Democratic commissioner James Harvey from proponent of the ordinance to opponent.
A companion wage-theft ordinance, sponsored by Myron Lowery, is still pending in city council. • Planned Parenthood, the venerable provider of what it describes as "high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care for millions of women, men, and teens" and which has been under consistent attack of late by social conservatives, in and out of government, for its enabling of abortion procedures, has a big night planned for Tuesday, January 22nd.
In tandem with the Center for Research on Women (CROW) at the University of Memphis, Planned Parenthood is sponsoring an event entitled "Religion, Law, and Reproductive Rights: The 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade." The event, which has numerous local sponsors, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the University of Tennessee Medical Association, includes a documentary film and a panel of speakers from the ranks of law, politics, and local clergy.
The free event will be held at the U of M's University Center Theater from 6 to 8:30 p.m.