Politics » Politics Feature

Updating the Scoreboard

Holden's still holding, John Ford's back, and Chumney's keeping the door open.



At a meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission Monday that had to be excruciatingly painful for SCEC administrator Rich Holden, the two minority Democrats on the commission called for Holden's firing and for more commission oversight on procedural reforms.

For the most part, Holden kept his head down stoically and scribbled away on a notepad throughout a prolonged assault from commissioners Norma Lester and George Monger (and earlier from audience member and local thespian Jo Lynne Palmer, who cited him by name in an attack on "this Republican-dominated Election Commission, [which] due to redistricting and deliberate misdirection has denied the right of many registered voters in Shelby County").

He was rescued from immediate danger by the three majority Republicans on the commission, but indications were that even they were biding their time, pending receipt of a report on the local situation from state election authorities.

The showdown was preceded by relatively placid discussions about adding the category "Hispanic" as a racial classification to voter registration forms, the establishment of filing and withdrawal deadlines for the November 6th election, and, finally, the certification of the August 2nd election results. That last issue, especially, went down unexpectedly smoothly, but the tension level in the room had risen almost palpably.

It began to simmer and finally exploded when Chairman Robert Meyers referred to his recent decision to have the commission's database and general operations reviewed by "outside vendors" (from the Election Systems and Software Company, proprietors these days of Diebold election machinery). That, as everyone knew, was a step prompted by the glitches that have plagued commission efforts, most embarrassingly the fact of some 3,000 voters having received erroneous ballots for the August 2nd election.

The vendor matter conflated into further heated discussions regarding ongoing investigations by state officials of SCEC's serial problems. Both Monger and Lester complained that "the administrator" had attempted to blame everyone but himself for the problems ("the slave hands," as Monger put it). They asked for a vote on a resolution to give the commission per se, rather than Holden or other administrative figures, authority for overseeing and approving reforms, procedures, and internal modifications.

That resolution failed on a party-line vote, but it was followed by an even stronger one from Lester asking for the resignation of Holden. This, too, would fail by the same 2-3 vote. But, tellingly, GOP commissioner Steve Stamson made a point of noting that his vote came down to a matter of waiting on the completion of an official audit of the commission's efforts by the state comptroller's office. He said later that, pending the audit, he was keeping "an open mind."  

Lester said she was contemplating writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice for it to intervene. Monger cited what he said was a pattern of disrespect for "the election commission and the board under this administration," and Meyers was kept busy denying that the election commission administration had "misled" the public or state authorities about responsibility for the spate of problems or that it had tried to pass the blame onto the commissioners.  

On the latter point, Lester pointed out that the SCEC board had not been informed of important decisions — such as the fateful decision to delay precinct assignments, pending county commission reapportionment — much less had it approved them.

A final point of dispute came when Meyers announced his intention to hire a management consultant group, Caissa Public Strategy, whose proprietor is former Republican election commissioner Brian Stephens. The Democratic members suggested that consultancy should be bid out instead, and the matter was deferred until the commission's September meeting.

• After almost five years in prison, former state senator John Ford, looking slightly older and acting modestly subdued but otherwise looking not much the worse for wear, came home Monday — sort of.

Actually, his home for the moment isn't exactly his, and it's only temporary, though it's right across the street from familiar surroundings: the Joe Ford Funeral Home, operated by his brother Joe, who, like the once legendary state senator and other members of the Ford clan, is a former public official and an undertaker by trade.

Ford, who once was chief operating officer of N.J. Ford Funeral Home, may re-enter the family business. All he said Monday about the future was that he planned "to do great things." That was uttered with a hint of the old cocky John Ford smile, and he said, "You watch what I do. I am not down. I am not out. I am way out front."

Ford spoke briefly with television reporters from the back seat of the federal vehicle that delivered him from a federal confinement facility at Yazoo City, Mississippi, to his new domicile, Dierson Charities' halfway house on Winchester. He'll live in the halfway house for at least the next week before entering a period of house arrest, presumably at one of his former residences.

Before his downfall, which stemmed from his arrest in 2005 and later conviction on charges of bribery and extortion relating to the FBI's Tennessee Waltz, Ford maintained several residences for the multiple households inhabited by the wives and children of his serial marriages and relationships. He drove expensive automobiles, affected a Beau Brummel wardrobe, and indulged in lavish tastes of various kinds.

But, in addition to these trappings of fame and position, Ford was also a respected and powerful legislator, courted and depended on by the needy and deserving as well as by the unscrupulous and self-serving. And, history will doubtless tell, responsive to each.

He couldn't be faulted Monday for a lack of positive outlook. "All I can say is, a minor setback to a great comeback," he said. He had gone through "you know, an incredible bad experience, but I do not look back. I look forward."

Ford said he had "a tremendous story to tell." And as the car began to move out of idle to take him to the doorway of his bare-bones new digs, he promised the media scrum, "We'll talk later."


• Perhaps also to be heard from again is Carol Chumney, the former city council member and longtime legislator, who lost to District Attorney General Amy Weirich in the county general election of August 2nd.

A portion of my August 9th post-election print column, based on an election-night conversation with Chumney lasting several minutes, cited her as having said the D.A.'s race — her third losing one in a row — "would be her last foray in elective politics as a candidate." The column continued: "'I'm going to focus on my law practice,' Chumney said stoically. 'No more politics.' She was reminded of the old saw about 'never say never.' She shook her head. 'No,' she said firmly. No denial here."

I was impressed by Chumney's apparent acceptance of a difficult situation, and I stand by that original report. In the next day or so, however, I received a number of emails from Chumney, 14 in all. Some contained grace notes concerning my coverage and my dropping by her election-night gathering. Others addressed her race and, in a somewhat random manner, the issue of her running again:

"I don't recall commenting on that one way or the other. ... Keep in mind I was recruited by the local Democratic Party to run as a candidate this time. I do have a thriving law practice, and will continue to be involved in the community. ... Who knows — maybe I can do more as a private citizen. ... And I have over 44,000 people who want to help us make a difference in this community — so that's a great start."

The upshot was that she desired a "correction" on the issue of shutting the door on running again and referred to a formal statement she put out after the election results: "We ran a positive campaign based upon a platform of bringing equal justice and the highest ethics to the job. I am so thankful for all of those who stood with us in that effort. While there were overwhelming odds against us of being outspent 10 to one, we made a strong showing.

"I am returning to the private practice of law and serving my clients and wish Amy Weirich the very best in her position as district attorney."

Respecting Chumney's wishes, I added a note to the online version of that column concerning her effort to clarify what her position was. Crowded out of last week's print edition by breaking news, notice is now taken of it here.

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