The trial of former state senator Roscoe Dixon, which began this week in federal court, is not the first judicial reckoning accorded a defendant in the now legendary Tennessee Waltz saga. That honor belongs to former Hamilton County commissioner William Cotton, who was tried and found guilty in a Chattanooga trial that ended in February.
Several other principals -- including Memphis bagman Barry Myers, a likely key witness against Dixon -- have pleaded out. But Dixons has been widely anticipated as the first contested trial involving a state legislator (former state representative Chris Newton of Cleveland pleaded guilty to extortion and is currently serving a prison term) and, as such, is expected not only to put the fat in the fire but to generate abundant sizzle in the process. To his credit, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton ordered the resignation of Dixon, who had taken a ranking administrative job with county government, immediately upon getting news of the former legislators arrest. But the fact remains that Dixon was able to move fairly easily from one high-level position in government to another, even as he was under FBI scrutiny for the actions that would result in the several counts against him. .
Only weeks before the Tennessee Waltz scandal hit in May of last year, another Memphis legislator who would end up as one of the arrested, then state representative Kathryn Bowers, had won a special state Senate election to succeed Dixon. And the aforesaid Myers had, just before that, been seriously considered by the Shelby County Commission as a prospect to hold the Senate seat on an interim basis. Also charged and arrested in the Tennessee Waltz scandal, though months later, was sitting commissioner Michael Hooks, who had opposed Bowers in the state Senate election. .
Though accusations have been made by Dixon and others that the FBI sting targeted Democrats in general and blacks in particular, several factors weaken that case. One is that prominent white legislators -- Newton and Senate eminence Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga -- were also arrested and indicted. And Newton was a Republican. The still mushrooming Abramoff scandal in Washington, involving Republicans in the main, is further evidence, if more were needed, that political corruption is bipartisan. The simple fact of the matter in federal court this week is that government itself is on trial. But finger-pointing at politicians wont do, either. Virtually all of the accused in the Tennessee Waltz were publicly elected officials, but they got there by the votes of their peers and constituents. Thats us. The Hindus say of the world one observes: I am that. In that sense, we are the ones on trial this week, not just Dixon. We are that. .
Memphis and the Mid-South suffered a severe loss last week with the death, after a prolonged illness, of Bill Herrington. The former Commercial Appeal staff artist, along with his devoted wife Shirley, who survives him, was an indelible and agreeable part of the local political scene. His life, too, was an art.