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Politicians Call the Roll in Memphis and Nashville


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Tennesseans whose names were still circulating in the grapevine, as of mid-week, for possible appointive positions in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump were U.S. Senator Bob Corker, 7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, former state Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty, and former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis. Corker is receiving steady mention as a possible Secretary of State; the others are not pinpointed for any particular office. • A fascinating sidelight to last week's election of officers by Democratic members of the General Assembly in Nashville was the elevation by his party peers of Memphis state Representative John DeBerry (District 90, North Memphis/Midtown) to the position of "Leader Pro Tem," a largely honorific (or, as the Tennessee Journal termed it, "undefined") position. DeBerry, a businessman/preacher with a distinct talent for oratory, is a former chairman of the legislative Black Caucus who often votes with House Republicans and has for years been on the hit list of Democratic progressives. He was most recently opposed by activist Tami Sawyer, who gave him a serious run for the money in this year's party primary.

Though he did not attend the reorganizational meeting last Friday in Nashville, DeBerry was nominated for the Leader Pro Tem position by fellow Memphian Karen Camper, who was quoted as saying DeBerry, a House member for a quarter century, had been "on the sidelines" of party activity for some years and needed to be "pull[ed] back in."

DeBerry's opponent in the intra-party balloting was Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville, whom he defeated in secret-ballot voting.

Representative Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley was reelected House minority leader by unanimous vote of the caucus. Also reelected unanimously was Representative Mike Stewart of Nashville as caucus chair.

Besides DeBerry, other Memphis Democrats and their caucus positions are: Joe Towns, assistant minority leader; Raumesh Akbari, House floor leader; Antonio Parkinson, caucus vice chair; Karen Camper, caucus treasurer; and Larry Miller, one of three Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee. 

Other party members elected were  JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga, minority whip; Harold Love Jr. of Nashville, caucus secretary; and Johnny Shaw of Bolivar; and Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, the other two Democratic members of the legislative joint fiscal committee.

DeBerry was one of three General Assembly members in a "legislative roundtable" scheduled for Wednesday of this week in Memphis by the National Federation of Independent Business. The other legislators on the bill for the luncheon event, held at Regions Bank on Poplar, were state Senator Lee Harris of Memphis and state Representative Ron Lollar of Bartlett. Moderator of the event was to be NFIB state director Jim Brown.


• Two Republicans familiar to Memphians were among the three vying last Saturday for the position of state party chairman in Nashville. The winner, by a 33 to 26 margin over current state GOP executive director Brent Leatherwood of Nashville, was Scott Golden, a Jackson resident who has served as a district staffer for both outgoing 8th District Congressman Stephen Fincher and current 7th District Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

Running third in that contest was former Memphian Bill Giannini, now of Nashville, who served a term as chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party.

• The Shelby County Commission spent a good deal of time on Monday not making up its mind on pending business, but it did resolve one hanging matter — that of an ordinance to liberalize penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The ordinance, proposed by Van Turner and Reginald Milton, would have paralleled measures passed by the Memphis and Nashville city councils, giving law enforcement officers an option to misdemeanor charges — that of writing $50 tickets for possession of a half ounce or less.

On its third and final reading, the proposed county ordinance failed by a vote of four to six, with votes in support coming from Memphis Democrats Turner, Milton, Walter Bailey, and chairman Melvin Burgess

One opponent, Republican Terry Roland of Millington, contended that a vote in favor would prejudice the chances of  passing legislation favorable to medical marijuana in the General Assembly. Another, GOP member David Reaves of Bartlett, said that sentiment in favor of liberalizing marijuana penalties was growing, even in his suburban district, but his constituents opposed the measure.

In any case, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has opined that state law would prohibit any local jurisdiction from proceeding with such legislation on its own.

Having to deal finally with a done deal, co-sponsor Milton got one matter off his chest. He proclaimed that the debate on the ordinance, from beginning to end, had largely been an "Alice in Wonderland" saga. He cited a ranking member of the Sheriff's Department, who had told members that a half-ounce bag of marijuana (apropos of God knows what) would set a buyer back by $32,000.

Milton held up a cellophane baggie filled with chopped-up greenish leaves (presumably oregano) and wagged it as an example of the "fantasy" that "everybody here" knew better than. (In fact, one way or another, the going street rate for such an amount of marijuana would be closer to $200 than $32,000.)

"I'm right, and you're wrong," Milton declaimed to opponents of his measure. Then he let the baggie, and the matter, drop.

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