Appropriately, the first week of organized appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — centered on Monday's national holiday in his honor and the weekend preceding — focused less on the usual veneration attached to his name and rather more on the continuing challenge to change and human progress that his life represented.
That note was struck during last week's reconvening of the Tennessee General Assembly, when District 96 state Representative Dwayne Thompson formally asked legislative leaders to suspend business on April 4th and 5th so lawmakers could attend events in Memphis commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King.
In a letter sent to Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell, Thompson said, "Dr. King's death and the events leading up to it had a profound impact on the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and the entire nation" and that state leaders should have the opportunity of attend the Memphis ceremonies.
Thompson went on to say, "Suspending the business of the Tennessee General Assembly should be a rare occasion, but I feel this commemoration is justified as one of those times." Thompson said he was also working on legislation to encourage Tennesseans to observe this solemn occasion by recalling the legacy of Dr. King and heeding his call for unity, love, and compassion.
That was followed up with a press conference held at noon Monday in front of the Civil Rights Museum by members of the Shelby County Black Caucus of Elected Officials to denounce the reported remarks of President Donald Trump referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and several African nations as "shithole countries."
Speaking for the Caucus, state Representative Antonio Parkinson and Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner issued a statement calling Trump's remarks "embarrassing, classless, racist, and not representative of the values of the citizens that are represented by the members of the Shelby County Black Caucus of Elected Officials."
• Even as various local Republicans hanker after the state Senate seat of current Senate majority leader Mark Norris, doubts are beginning to arise as to whether the seat, presumably due to be vacated when Norris becomes a federal judge, will actually come open.
Although Norris' judicial nomination, made last year by President Trump, has been approved on an 11-9 party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Norris was not included in a confirmation vote by the full Senate this week that saw two other Trump nominees approved — Memphis lawyer Tommy Parker, a former assistant U.S. district attorney, for a seat on the U.S. District Court for West Tennessee and Nashville lawyer William "Chip" Campbell for a U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee position.
So Norris was back at the same old legislative stand this week as the General Assembly convened in Nashville, still functioning as majority leader, in which partisan role he told his fellow GOP Senators they should be "putting [their] best foot forward and telling people all the good things we've done."
As for his judicial future, Norris dropped hints that he could fail at confirmation, a prospect due to his record of having espoused in Nashville hot-button positions on issues like immigration, photo ID requirements for voting, and a series of measures relating to LGBTQ rights.
Norris, who told his fellow Senators, "Y'all may be stuck with me for a while," was quoted by the Tennessee Journal as saying he had felt "crucified for the sins of others during his Judiciary Committee hearing" and that he had doubts he could command the full component of 51 Republican votes in a final showdown vote on his confirmation.
In any case, Trump formally renominated Norris this week, a parliamentary action required because the Senate had recessed last year without voting on him.
But the senator may not have enjoyed the fact that Trump, speaking in Nashville this week to the Tennessee Farm Federation, garbled his name by referring to him from the stump as "Mark Morris, state Senate majority leader."