On Monday, a day that was destined to see momentous decisions made elsewhere in the Memphis social/political firmament (see Cover Story, p. 19), the Shelby County Commission, perhaps wisely punted some of its remaining year-end issues down the road — voting to put off naming an interim state representative for the seat of the late Ulysses Jones and backing off from a vote on overriding a key veto by Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell.
The veto was of a resolution, introduced last month by Commissioner Heidi Shafer and narrowly passed, that would allow county departments to opt in or out, at will, of Luttrell's proposed new unified county office for IT services. Shafer had seven votes for passage but seemed to have encountered difficulty picking up the eighth vote she needed for an override.
The question became moot when most commissioners, clearly as much for convenience as for conviction, decided to support a delay proposed by Commissioner Henri Brooks, who wanted to wait until the state attorney general could issue an advisory on the likelihood of lawsuits from department heads relating to the effect of IT unification on their proprietary computer information.
Unless Attorney General Robert Cooper states an opinion in time for the commission to hold a special meeting before the end of the year, the veto automatically becomes permanent.
The postponement of naming a successor to Jones until the commission's January 24th meeting means, as commission members conceded, that the winner of the January 20th Democratic primary will be appointed as interim representative a week or so after the General Assembly is getting down to serious business.
The field of candidates includes Antonio "2-Shay" Parkinson, Stephanie Gatewood, Jannie C. Foster, and Brenda Oats-Williams, with the actual race most likely to be between Parkinson and Gatewood.
• Wednesday of last week was a day of seasonal good cheer at the Peabody as various messengers brought their glad tidings to a ballroom filled to capacity for the annual banquet of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.
David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, was there with a simple and apparently heartfelt message: "Thank you, Memphis, for having the NBA!" Chamber president John Moore celebrated "Memphis Soul," Phil Trenary of Pinnacle Airlines expressed his happiness at having relocated to a new downtown headquarters, and Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell professed satisfaction with each other and with certain prospects just ahead.
One of those prospects — the relocation of a vast new Electrolux plant to Memphis — was formally announced by Governor Phil Bredesen, who was introduced to the audience by Matt Kisber, who has served Bredesen as the state's commissioner of economic development.
Bredesen, who had been in Memphis the week before to take part in a ceremony on behalf of the "Books from Birth" program and had thought that might have been his last trip to the Bluff City as governor, said he welcomed the opportunity to appear in Memphis once again to bring the "good news" of the Electrolux relocation.
The 700,000-square-foot plant, to be located at the Pidgeon Industrial Park on Presidents Island, represents a $190 million investment and will bring some 1,200 jobs, in addition to supplier jobs and other ancillary benefits, said Bredesen, who noted that Electrolux already had one plant operating successfully in Tennessee at Springfield.
Kevin Scott, the CEO of Electrolux, jokingly expressed thanks to "Al Gore, who invented the Internet," a possible reference to the fact that news of the plant relocation had already spread across cyberspace in advance of his coming. Scott noted that Electrolux, which makes Frigidaire appliances and other products, is the "largest manufacturer of cooking goods" in North America.
He expressed gratitude to local and state governments for providing "a strong financial support package" (reportedly $20 million from both Memphis and Shelby County for infrastructure improvements and another $92 million from the state of Tennessee).
The new plant essentially will be an upgraded version of the existing Electrolux plant at L'Assomption in the Canadian province of Quebec, where — simultaneous with the celebratory atmosphere in Memphis — area political and business figures were lamenting the loss of the facility there, which will be closed down.
"Far too many times we've been on the bad end of that," said Wharton, speaking on WKNO's Behind the Headlines show afterward. "We've watched it ... and so I know how we feel. We find out after the fact, and it isn't a good feeling."
The mayor discounted concerns about the city's share of start-up costs, preferring to refer to them as an investment. "We're the minority investor," he said, and the city stood to recoup its contribution at a ratio of "a minimum of 2 or 3 to 1."
• The ill wind that blew down Democratic electoral hopes in November may have blown some good to West Tennessee Democrats.
In the aftermath of the election debacle that left Democrats with only 34 House seats —- compared to the Republican Party's 64 (with Kent Williams of Elizabethton, erstwhile speaker and "Carter County Republican," a de facto independent), the party's leadership has shifted back westward.
This is the region which provided the Democrats their leaders (John Wilder of Somerville as Senate speaker; Jimmy Naifeh of Covington as House speaker) during their most recent decades of domination, now gone.
On Wednesday, a reduced party caucus, meeting in Nashville, elected Representative Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley to lead the Democrats in the state House (succeeding Gary Odom of Nashville). They also named two Memphis representatives — Joe Towns and Lois DeBerry, as assistant party leader and floor leader, respectively. Yet a third Memphian, Representative John DeBerry, was a contestant for the position of minority leader.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, named three West Tennesseans as their principal officers. Jim Kyle of Memphis returns as Democratic Senate leader, Lowe Finney of Jackson was elected caucus chairman, and Beverly Marrero of Memphis was named secretary/treasurer. The Democrats' vice chair is Andy Berke of Chattanooga.
Local Democrats were perfectly aware that the shift of responsibility their way was in part a reflection of the party's losses elsewhere. And they were under no delusions as to what to expect from the new GOP majority in Nashville. "I think she'll be fair. I hope so," said state representative Larry Miller of the House Republicans' nominee as speaker, Representative Beth Harwell of Nashville. Miller knew better than to expect that any Democrats would be appointed as committee chairs, but he still harbored hopes that his party might have a shot at some subcommittee chairmanships.
The legislature's Republicans also named their officers. They renominated Ron Ramsey of Blountville as Senate speaker and Mark Norris of Collierville as Senate majority leader. Mark White of Memphis and Barrett Rich of Somerville were nominated for GOP whip positions in the House to serve with Harwell.
• Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is alive and well in Washington, having just been the bagman for a deal between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans. The $858 billion package includes extension of the Bush across-the-board tax cuts for two years, a reduction in the estate tax, and, as a kind of throw-in, extension of expanded unemployment benefits through 2011.
The House completed congressional action on the bill Thursday, voting its approval 277-148 and sending the bill to President Obama for his signature. It is a mixed bag by any standards, and, according to 9th District Democrat Steve Cohen, who voted against it, something very like the proverbial bag of switches.
Cohen, calling the package a "seven-course meal with wine" for the wealthy, explained his reasoning in a speech on the floor of the House. He focused on the bill's shrinking of estate-tax obligations on the wealthy, with, among other things, a $675,000 exemption rising to "$5 million per person and $10 million per couple." Cohen said, "The benefit to the heirs of the richest people in this country is unbelievable, unfathomable. And what that means is, you'll have a continued concentration of wealth in a few families — lords, so to speak, princes, that have monies beyond what anybody needs to have in this nation and not contribute to others."
The bill's provisions, including the extended tax cuts, meant deprivation for "the children, the aged, and the needy in years to come." The resultant deficits will be "so great," he said, that when it comes time for cuts, "the cuts will come to the ones who are most in need."