In the same way that subtle changes in the color of leaves signal the onset of a new physical season, the increased number of fund-raisers in Shelby County — several each week and sometimes overlapping — are a reliable harbinger of the approaching 2018 election season.
A case in point was the fact that Shelby County Republican rank-and-filers had to choose Thursday of the week before last between paying homage to county sheriff candidate Dale Lane, beneficiary of a fund-raiser in Whitehaven, and rendering an ear (plus coin of the realm) to mayoral candidate Terry Roland at Southwind Country Club.
To be sure, neither candidate is yet assured of being the Republican nominee next year, although the chances of Lane, who has no name GOP opponent on the horizon yet, are better in that respect than those of Roland, who knows he has a serious race for county mayor, with fellow Republicans David Lenoir and Joy Touliatos as primary opponents, and very likely a name Democrat if he gets to the general.
But there are some card-carrying Republicans who want to support both Lane and Roland, and, unless they could clone themselves on Thursday, there was no way they could do both — not in person, anyhow. Both are looking not just for an audience and a vote, but for the fund-raising dollar.
As Roland said in his pitch to the crowd at Southwind: "I need the money, the money to get our message out. The people I'm running against are some very wealthy people."
And, lest that appeal come off as too abject, Roland rephrased it with a cultural allusion: "I didn't know I was going to be running against Mr. Drysdale, but I guess I am."
The "Mr. Drysdale" in question would be the wealthy banker/bankroller played by actor Raymond Bailey in the vintage '60s TV sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. That many members of Roland's fund-raiser crowd guffawed in appreciation is some indication perhaps of one of the demographics he is counting on for support.
County Trustee Lenoir was being cast by Roland as someone in league with the county's political/financial establishment. Nor did the commissioner overlook his other GOP opponent, Juvenile Court Clerk Touliatos, about whom he said this, clearly tailoring his remarks to a suburban constituency:
"The other one that I'm running against, if you look at the people that's supporting her, it's the people you're fighting right now; it's the pro-consolidation people, okay? And Jim Strickland is one of her lead dogs. Let me tell you this: If she gets to be the mayor, then you might as well say that Jim Strickland will have free run of the whole county."
This attempt at drawing a connection between city Mayor Strickland and a candidate running for county mayor foreshadows what could become a serious leitmotif in the politics of 2018. On Monday of this week, Roland, in his guise as county commissioner, had no difficulty persuading fellow commissioners to hold off on approving an interlocal agreement with the city on financing a new sports arena.
Right now, as it happens, the city and county are at loggerheads on several issues — that of de-annexation, for one (a co-speaker at the Roland fund-raiser was Patty Possel, an activist in that movement and a forthcoming GOP candidate for the District 96 state House seat now held by Democrat Dwayne Thompson). Another is the recent decision announced by Strickland shutting off any new taps on the city sewer line by county developments.
• Across town, on the same day that week, in Whitehaven, a former county commissioner, James Harvey, was hosting an event for Lane, the county director of homeland security, who is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee for sheriff next year.
At least half the crowd was African American, a good sign for a Republican candidate, especially one likely to be facing a credentialed black candidate, Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner, as the Democratic nominee for sheriff. And Bonner, let us remember, drew an appreciable number of white folks to his recent kickoff at the Racquet Club, among them current Sheriff Bill Oldham, who was elected eight years ago as a Republican and who made a point of endorsing Bonner.
While clearly we are not yet in a post-racial political environment — and may never be — both candidates will be pitching in all directions. A good thing, that.
Incidentally, Harvey, who was elected to two terms as a commissioner as a Democrat, spoke at some length in his introduction of Lane, making the point that he himself had crossed the party line and was now a Republican. Make of that what you will.
In his remarks, Lane, as usual, stressed his intention to focus on combatting youth violence.
• Another recent fund-raiser was the one held last week at the Donati law office on Union for County Commissioner Van Turner, who is unlikely to attract any serious opponents of his reelection next year but is taking no chances.
A goodly crowd showed up for that one, and, as is fairly often the case, much of the drama lay in who was there to see and be seen. In the case of the Turner event, it was Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd, a former state representative and Democratic congressional candidate who, as was noted recently by the Flyer, has signaled an interest in re-entering active political life as a candidate for county mayor.
More show-and-tell is due this week, with Germantown Democrats awaiting an appearance at their monthly meeting on Wednesday night by state Senator Lee Harris, who is also floating a possible mayoral bid (actually co-floating one with his University Memphis law school colleague and former County Commissioner Steve Mulroy; don't ask).
And, apropos that aforementioned city/county dichotomy, two potential cross-overs are in play: City Councilman Ed Ford has a fund-raiser Wednesday night for his bid for county commission District 9 (now held by the term-limited Justin Ford). And conjecture continues about a possible Democratic primary race for county mayor by former council stalwart, now Chamber of Commerce veep Shea Flinn.