Politics » Politics Feature

Senate Stuff

Jim Kyle gets ready to run for governor as three Republicans take aim at Paul Stanley's seat.



It will soon be official, on Tuesday of next week, in fact. State senator Jim Kyle of Memphis, who in recent years has been serving as the Democrats' leader in the Senate, will officially declare his candidacy for governor in the course of a combination announcement/rally at the McWherter Library at the University of Memphis. Given the fact that Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, son of former Governor Ned Ray McWherter, is one of Kyle's opponents for the Democratic nomination, and perhaps the most formidable overall, Kyle's choice of venue can hardly be regarded as accidental.

A sample of what his website will look like was forwarded to the Flyer, containing the candidate's promise to stay in touch with his would-be statewide constituents via Facebook, making for one more high-tech vote in the candidate field of 2010. No less a conservative's conservative than U.S. representative Zach Wamp, a Chattanooga Republican who also aspires to be governor, is a tweeter's tweeter.

Kyle, too, is a devotee of Twitter. Indeed, it is by means of fairly constant tweeting that he has kept journalists and supporters aware of his intentions for the last several weeks.

• If modern technology is having its day in Tennessee politics, so is conservative politics — be that fact, coincidental, causative, ironic, or whatever.

Obscured in some of the schadenfreude experienced by Democrats during the Republicans' Paul Stanley debacle (see Editorial, p. 16) is the fact that Stanley's replacement as the state senator from District 31, one of the most conservative bailiwicks in the state, is going to be at least as conservative as the down-the-line Republican Stanley was, and possibly more so.

The main contenders in the Republican primary are state representatives Brian Kelsey and Steve McManus and Shelby County school board president David Pickler. The two legislators have voting records that hew to the right of the political spectrum quite as much as Stanley did, and Pickler, whose main concern for the last few years has been the conversion of the Shelby County schools into a special school district, is likely to go in that direction as well.

Democrats will undoubtedly field a candidate but one with little chance of winning.

• In the event that either Kelsey or McManus would win, the legislature's Republicans would find themselves with a bit of a problem in the state House of Representatives, which, as of the 2008 elections, has a Republican majority for the first time in history but only by a tenuous 50-49 margin.

Should the special-election winner be Kelsey or McManus, there would be a resultant vacancy in the state House. That would create a dead heat — 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats — with control of the House up for grabs going into the 2010 legislative session.

It is hard to imagine a more crucial turning-point issue. And who gets to name the replacement for Kelsey, who has already announced for Stanley's seat, or some other House member? The Democratic-controlled Shelby County Commission, numbering as of now eight Democrats and five Republicans.

And the commission's 8-5 split — a change from the previous lineup favoring Democrats 7-6 — exists because the body's Democratic majority exercised its numerical edge to vote in Matt Kuhn, a Democrat, to succeed David Lillard, who had resigned to become state treasurer.

The Kuhn vote was the result of significant pressure from local Democrats. But the degree of pressure would magnify enormously when the issue becomes that of controlling the state House of Representatives.

Commission chair Deidre Malone, a Democrat, acknowledged that circumstance when asked last week about her potential vote to fill a state House vacancy. "Wow!" said Malone, who had previously indicated she would support a Republican if the commission were asked to fill Stanley's Senate seat in a body with a comfortable GOP majority. But the House vacancy was clearly another matter. "I'd have to listen to the advice and wishes of other Democrats. I'm a good Democratic soldier," she said.

Of course, if Kelsey or another Republican House member should win the special election for Stanley's seat late this year, Governor Phil Bredesen (a Democrat, coincidentally, who took his lumps from the majority-GOP legislature in 2009) would then be asked to call another special election for the open House seat. Crucially, he would have up to 20 days to do so. After that, the Shelby County Election Commission could not schedule a special-election primary for another 55 days. Another 55 days would have to elapse before a general election could be scheduled in the House district.

Altogether, that's 130 days — a little more than four months, or the length of the average legislative session. In practice, the permanent succession would await resolution in the regular 2010 election cycle.

Looking at that prospect of Democratic control of the House for an entire legislative session, some Republicans might come to wish they hadn't arm-twisted the wounded Stanley into resigning. Meanwhile, Pickler would be sure to point the succession problem out to Republican voters as a factor weighing in his favor.

• The arm-twisting came later, but it came. By the end of last week, it had become irresistible.

The first tip-off that Stanley's days were numbered came when Shelby County Republican chairman Lang Wiseman, contending that "the time has come for this spectacle to end," issued a press release calling for the scandal-plagued Stanley to resign his seat, even if that opens the way to an immediate Democratic successor.

The next name Republican to call for Stanley to step down was state senator Mark Norris of Collierville, the Senate's majority leader.

And Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey completed the trifecta. Eliminating any doubt as to whether he had helped Stanley make up his mind about resigning, Ramsey, the Blountville Republican who presides over that body and had secured Stanley's resignation from his Commerce Committee chairmanship the week before, said in Memphis last Wednesday that he had communicated repeatedly with the reluctant Stanley on Monday and Tuesday of that week, urging that the senator vacate his seat altogether.

Ramsey said Stanley had offered some resistance to the idea: "He had a few reasons why he wanted to wait a day or two before he he resigned."

Ramsey was in Memphis at the Grove Grill in East Memphis for an Associated Builders and Contractors meet-and-greet affair, where he appeared along with two fellow gubernatorial candidates, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons of Memphis and Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam.

Answering questions after the ABC affair, Ramsey said that, after his initial verbal approaches, he had continued to insist that Stanley resign via text messages to the Germantown Republican. Stanley would eventually announce his resignation from the Senate late Tuesday afternoon.

Ramsey said, "I'm not sure Mark Norris ever talked to him, from what I've heard, but I talked to him about three times. ... I am relieved that it's over. I was very upset with Paul at the time over what he did. I didn't condone what he did. As a matter of fact, I condemned what he did."

Meanwhile, said Ramsey, he was "looking forward" to the forthcoming special election to fill Stanley's District 31 seat. The Shelby County Election Commission met this week to set the date at October 15th for both it and the special mayoral election.

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