It is no secret that state representative Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has further political ambitions — most likely, as a would-be successor to 7th District U.S. representative Marsha Blackburn if and when she decides to move on (or maybe even if she doesn't).
Kelsey, who was first elected to the state House in 2004, is one of the new breed of take-no-prisoners conservatives who have dominated state Republican ranks in recent years. In 2007, when a temporary state surplus allowed the legislature's Democratic leadership to distribute excess funds to members as community-improvement grants, Kelsey called it all "pork," put a few slabs of bacon into an envelope, and made a show of returning his share to House speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
"Brash" is a word that has often been used to describe Kelsey — by some of his Republican colleagues as well as by aggrieved Democrats. Bashful he's not.
The young House member signaled his determination to make waves in two different actions over the past week. First, he proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would put to rest any residual questions about the constitutionality of a Tennessee income tax — "for once and for all," as Kelsey put it.
Next, Kelsey teamed up with state senator Reginald Tate of Memphis, a Democrat, to propose legislation that would, in effect, abolish the residency restrictions on Memphis police — thereby rendering moot the hot-button issue that has plagued the Memphis City Council and divided it along racial lines.
Whether or not Kelsey's legislation passes, he has pulled off something of a coup merely by gaining Tate, an African American, as a co-sponsor of a bill that would nullify any residency requirements "to be or become a full-time or part-time law enforcement officer for any law enforcement agency employing at least 2,000 full-time law enforcement officers." Only the Memphis police force is encompassed by that description.
For most of this year, proposals to relax residency restrictions on Memphis police — now mandating residence in Shelby County — have resulted in a series of 7-6 votes against, with blacks uniformly opposing the change and whites favoring it.
Kelsey and Tate scheduled the formal announcement of their bill on Tuesday, even as members of the council seemed resigned to fall back on a compromise resolution to offer police recruits bonus payments to relocate in Shelby County.
By comparison, Kelsey's proposal for a constitutional amendment to close all potential legal loopholes that might allow a state income tax is backed by 38 of his GOP colleagues and is relatively uncontroversial — though a proviso that would extend the ban to any and all versions of a local payroll tax could generate some opposition in Shelby County, where the idea of such a tax has been floated across party lines, most recently by county mayor A C Wharton.
In any case, the income tax amendment would require passage by both the House and the Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a favorable vote in a statewide referendum which couldn't happen until 2014, at the earliest.
By contrast, the police residency bill would go into effect immediately if passed by both houses and signed by the governor. Its enforcement mechanism would be a provision to allow the state to withhold "all revenue derived from seized, forfeited, or confiscated property." In the case of the Memphis police, that could mean an annual loss in the millions of proceeds from drug busts.
• Shelby County's two political parties will be looking for new people at the helm in 2009.
Incumbent Republican chairman Bill Giannini is presumed not to be a candidate for another term, and his potential successors being talked up so far are Lang Wiseman and Scott Pearce.
Democratic chairman Keith Norman is also expected to step down, though he has not indicated so formally. It is uncertain which Democrats might be contenders for the chairmanship, but the names of current vice chair Cherry Davis and former vice chair Desi Franklin are among those most often mentioned.
Another change facing Shelby County Democrats: They will lose one of their current three members (Myra Stiles, O.C. Pleasant, Shep Wilbun) on the county Election Commission with the convening of a Republican legislative majority in the New Year. State law mandates a 3-2 split, favoring the majority party, in each of Tennessee's 95 counties.
• At the state level, Robin Smith, who succeeded to the Republican chairmanship when former chairman Bob Davis went to work for Fred Thompson's ultimately abortive presidential campaign, has already been elected by acclamation of the GOP executive committee for a full term in her own right. Smith, an aggressive promoter of the party's legislative ticket in this year's election, saw her efforts crowned with GOP control of both chambers of the General Assembly.
Things are not so upbeat among state Democrats. Current chairman Gray Sasser, on whose watch the partisan changeover took place, plans to step aside, and the race to succeed him comes down to two contenders, both of Nashville: longtime party treasurer and onetime state Democratic executive director Chip Forrester, who was first out of the box, and Charles Robert Bone, son of a prominent party fund-raiser.
The Democratic race looks like an arm-wrestling match. Forrester, who has tirelessly proselytized for his prospects across the state, has built up some decent grass-roots support among members of the party's executive committee. But Bone is being aggressively promoted by mid-state congressmen Bart Gordon and Lincoln Davis, the latter a gubernatorial prospect for 2010. Governor Phil Bredesen is reportedly acquiescent on Bone's behalf.
The issue will be resolved at a meeting of the Democratic executive committee in Nashville on January 24th.