Behind the Headlines – November 2, 2018

Behind the Headlines – November 2, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines
is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The race towards election day, an economic
development overhaul, and more tonight on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, president
and executive editor of The Daily Memphian. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Karanja Ajanaku, editor of The New
Tri-State Defender. Thanks for being here again.
– My pleasure. – Along with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. We’ll start, I’ll
start with you, Bill, I mean, we have a whole
lot of really tight races and races that are getting
a lot of attention, particularly for a mid-term,
off-cycle election. Do you wanna start maybe with
voter turnout to this point, or do we start with
the four lawsuits and then we’ll break
down the various races and the various initiatives? But maybe a little backdrop
on where early voting is and some of the lawsuits and
then we’ll get Karanja in. – Well, let’s start with
the voter turnout because that’s kinda the big
overarching story at this point. As this program airs,
early voting has ended. As we’re taping this
show, it is the last day of early voting, so we don’t
know the final number yet, but we do know
that the early vote for this mid-term election
had already exceeded the total early voting
turnout for this same election cycle in 2014 and 2010, not as big an early
voting turnout as in the 2016 presidential
general election, about 40,000 fewer as we’re taping the program.
– On Thursday, that we’re taping.
– But nevertheless, evidence of a big voter
mobilization on both sides and statewide going
into this election. – Yeah, and Karanja,
your thoughts again on the turnout so far
and the kind of energy or attention that the
election is getting and then maybe
into the lawsuits. – Well, on the broader
scale, I would say it’s a great thing that we
have such participation. I mean, it’s a
democratic republic, and as the people
participate, so goes the deal. We’ve been seeing
among certain quarters this heightened interest in
getting people out to vote, and it made a difference
in the earlier election, and so there’s a lot of
hope that there will be a similar type of
turnout that will affect the November 6th election. There’s been a lot of
things that’s been happening that could affect that, but
we talked about the lawsuits and the court cases, but
people like Earle Fisher and those are saying that
they are stayin’ the course relative to helping people
do what they need to do to be able to vote
on election day. – Yeah, lawsuits,
where do we stand? – We have had four of them
so far, three of them filed before the early voting
period even started. The latest one was, involved
voter registration forms. There were numerous voter
registration projects here, even with about 80% of the
city’s voting age population already being
registered to vote. We had numerous ones who
were there, which also serves to promote voter
turnout among those who are already
registered to vote. The Election Commission
said they were overwhelmed by this and that they
had a number of forms that were incomplete,
couldn’t be completed, but that they were trying
to notify some people. So the Memphis
branch of the NAACP and the Tennessee
Black Voter Project went to chancery court,
and the judge granted their request that the Election
Commission work with them, provide lists to them
so that they could help to contact the voters
and more importantly to keep in place this process
that the Election Commission has used during
early voting in which they’ve alphabetized
as best they can all of the incomplete
voter registration forms and have a central help desk,
and if one of those voters comes in and says
I’m here to vote, they looked ’em up on the poll
book and they’re not there, then they can say let
us call the help desk, see if your form is
there, and in essence, re-register them
to get ready to go. The judge ruled that that would stay in place for election day. The Election Commission
made an emergency appeal to the Tennessee appeals court, and the Tennessee
appeals court said no. If someone comes in like
that on election day, they have have to vote the provisional
ballot under state law. They kept in place that
the Election Commission had to notify all of the
voters who had problems with their forms, but
the rest of the ruling by Chancellor Jenkins,
the appeals court said no, that’s no longer in place. So that was the latest. Before that, we had other
suits about early voting also aimed at
election day as well and provisions for that, so. – And let’s stick with the
one we just talked about, and Karanja, I think you
mentioned Pastor Earle Fisher who’s an activist and head
of a church in Whitehaven, New Abyssinian Church,
has been on the show once or twice, there’s
a lot of sensitivity of turnout of provisional
ballots, do they get counted. There’s skepticism
among some people that if you don’t get
a ballot that’s counted on or before election day
that it won’t be counted. And it’s been interesting
to watch social media that there is this
kind of call to action if you’ve had any
difficulty anywhere, being turned away from
voting, they didn’t have your name on file, turn
to us, turn to someone, you know, it’s an interesting
time about this sensitivity to allowing people to
vote and then enabling and encouraging people to vote. Thoughts on that. – Well, people
should take advantage of the options
that are out there if there any uncertainty
about where to vote or if they can vote and
things of that sort, and Memphis NAACP and others
have long been doin’ that, but you’re right,
there are newer groups that are making themselves
available to do that. But back to this court
thing for a second. You know, one of the
things that struck me, I sat through the
hearing as did you, and obviously Linda Phillips
with the Election Commission said that they’re
already in the process of doing this notification
and they will continue to do that, the judges
orders notwithstanding. But when I was listening
to the testimony, there just seemed to
be a tone that I know that I and others
found disturbing. I think Alexander
Wharton asked her, the attorney for Memphis NAACP and the Tennessee Voter Project, “Are you concerned about
these 4,000 to 6,000 people “that are in this, are in limbo, are you concerned about that?” And so she said, “Well,
of course I’m concerned.” But it was just the way
that she answered that and the fact that it seemed
to have to be brought out that just projects a
tone to some people that the Election
Commission just really isn’t progressively concerned
about people voting. And right or wrong, it can
have a chilling effect. Now, these provisional
ballots do concern people. I mean, Election Commission
says, look, every ballot will be counted,
there is no fraud, but there is a sense
among some people that there’s something tainted
about the provisional ballot and that it has
a chilling effect on people exercising
their right. – Well, and we should
point out that if you cast a provisional
ballot, first of all, you don’t vote on the
touchscreen voting machines. They say, look, we’re gonna
have to work this out later and figure out if you
are a qualified voter, so mark this ballot, we
will seal it in an envelope, and then a group of people
meet after election day and look at it and look at
your voter registration form, anything else surrounding
your registration and say yes, this
ballot should be counted or this person should
not be counted. So the totals from the
provisional ballots will not be in the unofficial
election night totals. They will be in
the audited results that the Election
Commission then certifies. – And 4 to 6,000,
I mean, on one hand doesn’t sound like a lot
in an area of 1.2 million, but in truth, I mean, these
elections at this local level, particularly in
a year like this, can be decided by a very
small number of votes. And so it isn’t,
it’ll be interesting to watch how that goes. And there was a poll,
and it was like, as we kinda go
into breaking down some of the specific
big issues of races, there was a poll Cygnal,
C-Y-G, I can’t pronounce that, that came out that
said that just in terms of the level of
interest statewide, that they asked people to
rate their level of interest on one to ten, and
80% said, yeah, they’re a nine or ten in
terms of level of interest, which polling that confirms
what we’re talking about and seeing in terms of
people getting out there. Let’s talk, you know,
obviously for those who haven’t been paying attention,
they shoulda been, but they haven’t been, the
charter referendums briefly, Bill, and where we stand
on IRV and term limits. – Okay, these were
two of the other court cases that were involved. First, there was one in
which the Save IRV group and several–
– That’s IRV being instant runoff voting.
– Instant runoff voting. – Which gets complicated
where it’s a different kind of system of
how you do runoffs if somebody isn’t
a clear winner, and it was approved
by the council, or and improved by a
referendum, excuse me, what, 8 years ago, 10 year ago.
– 10 years ago. – It’s never been used,
and this is an effort, the critics will
say, to get rid of it before it’s ever been tried.
– Right. – Okay, go ahead.
– The ballot question that you will be voting
on on this ballot would repeal instant
runoff voting, also known as
ranked-choice voting, which applies to seven,
the seven single-member district city council races. So the group Save IRV
and several candidates first attempted to
have a chancellor take all of these
questions off the ballot, repealing instant runoff voting, doing away with the runoff
provision in the city charter, and extending the term
limits of the city council and the mayor from
two consecutive terms to three consecutive terms,
they wanted the chancellor to take all those
off of the ballot. Chancellor Jim Kyle said no,
the time to challenge this is if and when these
particular ballot questions are approved by voters, if
they’re approved by voters. So then, we were back in
court with the same group of plaintiffs also on
this particular question about the matter of the
city council approving $30-$40,000 in city funding
for what the council calls a public information
campaign to tell people what’s on the ballot, according
to the council members. The critics who filed
the lawsuit said this is a political
piece that’s going out in support of these referendums, and it should not be allowed. Again, Chancellor Jim Kyle
said that’s really premature– – They have the right
to spend that money. – Yes.
– To authorize and spend that money separate whether it should be.
– Under city ordinances, under other provisions. And he said this issue,
too, is not ripe. – Your thoughts, Karanja,
when you saw the headline, or you know, where you may
have been there in council, actually, when they voted
to spend $30-$40,000 on what critics will say
was an effort to support, get people to vote
down IRV, which, and vote down the
term limit referendum which was in their
self-interest, that you had this
public body passing, you know, spending
public money to support their self-interest
and extend their, potentially extend their terms. – I wasn’t in court at that
time, but I did hear about it, and my first thought
was that thank God there are people like
Bill Dries [laughs] and others of use
whose job it is to keep an eye on
what’s goin’ on. I mean, we just really
have to turn up the juice as journalists in
terms of being able to monitor what’s goin’ on. I mean, giving people
the benefit of the doubt that they’ll do the right thing. We gotta keep the spotlight
on ’em too and say, hey, is that really
the right move to make? And it doesn’t surprise me
that they’re makin’ that move, and we’ll see if it goes
to court where it falls. – And I should say,
we actually invited, tried to invite city
council members to come on to talk about it and
talk about the decision, and we weren’t able to
get more than one or two on one side of it on,
so maybe down the road, we’ll be able to
talk about that. – It was a very
interesting discussion, even though it didn’t, you
know, it wasn’t directly on the ballot question,
but you had this whole discussion about,
with Allan Wade, the city council attorney
saying, well, look, the Save IRV folks are
trying to monopolize the debate on this. He said absolutely the
city council advocates for passage of these referendum, of these referendums,
these ballot questions. It did that when it approved
them to go on the ballot. – What is the money
earmarked for? – The money is in the
city council’s budget. In the overall city–
– I mean, how do they wanna spend that $30-$40,000? – Probably with
direct mail pieces or pieces handed
out at the polls, some kind of pamphlet or
brochure or some card. – And do we know if
they spent that yet? We don’t know, okay. – Yeah, it might wind
up showing up between, in the gap between early
voting and election day. That seems the
most logical thing. – Can either of
you remember a time when that’s happened before? – Oh, they’ve done it before–
– (Eric) They have. – In past decades,
in fact, they did it, the council put out a
public information campaign in 2008 for instant
runoff voting. – In favor of… [laughs]
– When that question was on the ballot, yes.
– That’s funny. Okay, I mean, it’s just,
it’s really strange. I mean, it’s very,
it is very strange. And again, no one’s
saying that it’s, I’m not saying it’s somehow,
it’s just a strange dynamic when you have people voting
for their self-interest in that, in such a way. Maybe we go into, term limits
also is on the referendum in terms that we,
you mentioned that. Maybe we’ll go to the suburbs. We have actually some
competitive races potentially, or a lot
of attention on the race in Germantown where Mike
Palazzolo and Barzizza, whose first name
I’ve just forgotten– – Right.
– Are running. You wanna talk about
that for a second? – Yeah, this is kind
of a continuation of what’s become a
pretty dominant feature of Germantown’s
political landscape, and that is you have, like
the other suburban cities, Germantown has a school
system that it runs and that it supports partially
with city sales tax funding. So all of the suburbs
now are relying on the sales tax revenue
to partially fund their school systems
that they control. That means that development
in some of these communities has become very controversial,
especially in Germantown which billed itself
as a bedroom community for a lot of years. So you’ve had a turn in
leadership which has said there is a way to
balance residential and commercial development
within Germantown. You have another group
of people who’ve said that’s not what
we signed on for. We signed up to live
in a bedroom community, and we not only don’t like
the increased commercial development, we don’t
like the apartment complex that prompted the city to
put in place a moratorium. – Yeah, it is interesting,
and you also have some, I mean, a lot of attention
on a race in Lakeland for Mayor Wyatt
Bunker who used to be on the county commission
against Mark Cunningham. A lot of people would say
that that, you know, Lakeland, the real fight is about a high
school and whether they want a high school and whether
they wanna spend it. And it is funny, Karanja,
it reminds me of arguments, when you start talking
about the town councils or city councils of the
suburbs beginning to argue about the spending on education and the capital improvements
and how do we support, education becomes
this huge line item when you take that on as the
suburban communities took on we deconsolidation happened,
and it reminds me of fights in the Memphis city
council or, you know, some decades ago about
how we spend our money on education and is it,
are we spending enough or are we not spending
enough, you know? And even back to when I was,
my first job as a reporter in Connecticut in
little towns, you know, that was the biggest fight,
it was the fight between the, maybe the older people
said, I don’t have kids, I don’t wanna spend so much
in taxes on the schools and the families
coming to those towns who would say, no, no, I want,
you know, computers, and I want more spending
and I want more teachers. That tension’s
interesting to play out. – It’s interesting,
but it brings to mind when you’re talkin’ about it
how important it is for us, no matter if you
live in the city, if you live in the county,
or wherever you live, you gotta be an
informed citizen, okay? You’ve gotta do all that
you can do to make sure that you’re up to speed
on which way do you go. When I worked at the
Commercial Appeal, I used to cover Germantown
and Collierville, and particularly
Collierville and those places when they were sleepy
sorta little places like you’re talkin’
about, but even then, you could see the sorta the
seeds of that conversation and contention about
what is it we’re gonna be in terms of this bedroom
kind of community and how do you balance, you
were talkin’ about that earlier. And so when you’re
talkin’ about it now, it seems like it’s just an
evolution of what’s goin’ on. And the key to any
evolutionary process like that is how well the people,
no matter where they live, can keep up with what’s goin’ on and vote the right people.
– Yeah. And also interesting
with Germantown, and we’ve had Mayor Palazzolo on and prior to that,
Mayor Goldsworthy, and talking about Germantown
being landlocked, essentially, not having a big
industrial base. Its tax base is residential
and whatever amount of office and retail
it has, it doesn’t have some of those other big
sources of tax income. And again, with Lakeland,
they’ve got that, is it the Lakeland town center, do I have that right, I
mean, big developments and those things–
– Yeah, The Lake District. – Come into question, so
it’s interesting to see the way things going
from sleepy suburban bedroom communities to
Memphis to their own independent cities
with their independent school districts and the kind
of tensions that come up. Another local race,
maybe talk about Kelsey, Brian Kelsey, the state
senator of some, what, 12 years now, maybe 14
years he’s been in office running against a kind
of upstart campaign in Gabby Salinas, and
Brian Kelsey’s raised a huge amount of money, I mean, hundreds of thousands of
dollars that he’s been able to raise,
spending a lot of it. Some polls show Gabby
Salinas quite a bit behind, but it speaks to this
sort of strange year where can an upstart candidate
on the Democratic side take down a more
traditional Republican established state
senator in a heavily, what is traditionally a
heavily Republican district. – Yes, it also speaks
to the reorganization and reformation of the
local Democratic Party, and one of the first
things that the new Democratic Party in
Shelby County did was to say, here’s
what we’re gonna do. We are going to have a candidate in every single legislative race that covers the
Shelby delegation. That’s three of the
five state Senate seats that are on the
ballot this time, and all 14 of the
state House seats whose districts
cover Shelby County. They said, we’re gonna have
a candidate in every one, we don’t care what the
odds are of our candidate, whether the district
is 99% Republican, we are going to run a candidate
in all of those races. That’s quite a bit different
because before that, the incumbents,
Republican and Democratic, really had kind of a
gentleman’s agreement with each other that you don’t
challenge our incumbents, we won’t challenge
your incumbents. That all changed with
this, and the result is races like this
where you not only have the two parties going
at it, you have a lot of money from the state
parties coming in for this. Brian Kelsey, even back to
his career in the state House, never adopted the
philosophy that he was not going to take any
challenger lightly, so some of this is a
pattern on his part. But you’ve had Governor Bill
Haslam come in and endorse Kelsey’s reelection effort,
you had Marlo Thomas of St. Jude Children’s
Research Hospital come in and do some
door-to-door campaigning over the weekend with
Salinas who not only works at St. Jude but
has been a patient at St. Jude as a child. – Yeah, your thoughts on
this race, I saw you nodding, thoughts on that race and that, the Democratic Party sort
of, it’s retooling itself over the last year or two. – Well, Gabby Salinas, it’s
just a really good story that I see resonating with
a lotta different people, and it’ll be interesting to
see if that general interest in her story has some legs that
will get people out to vote. We are also in that
cycle where we’re seeing just a lot more participation
on the part of women throughout the country and
certainly in the South, and we’ll see whether that can
float her up toward the top. When we were covering the
hearing a couple of weeks ago, well, really, last week, about
the voter registration form, and I was just sorta talkin’
to some of the Republicans that were in the
audience, and even there, there was some acknowledgment
that the Democratic Party that they’re dealin’
with now is not the Democratic Party of
just a couple of years ago, that they are feeling
these stronger candidates. And I really heard some
even direct support and acknowledgement for
the job that Corey Strong is doing there.
– Who’s head of the Democratic
of Shelby County. And I do remember, and I’ve
probably quoted this too often, but we had Corey Strong
from the Democratic Party and Lee Mills, who
at the time was head of Republican Party on–
– Still is. – Still is, excuse me,
back in probably November of last year, it was
right after the Roy Moore loss in Alabama, and I
remember Lee Mills saying, “Look, we do have a
bit of Trump problem. “I mean, we do, with
educated suburban women, “Trump is not that popular, and we have to find a
way,” and his quote was, “We need to divorce
ourselves from Trump.” Trump is obviously president,
and Trump is very popular among Republicans in
Shelby County, but they, even back then, were
recognizing a bit of a problem. That, we’ll use
that as a lead-in with just a couple minutes left to talk about the
big statewide races for Senate and
then for governor. On the governor side,
the polls show Bill Lee, the Republicans seeming to
really pull away from Karl Dean. Karl Dean obviously, I
think as we tape this, is actually in town campaigning, so I don’t wanna write anything
off ’cause it’s, you know, that’s the way to look,
embarrassing and dumb– – And his–
– But he has pulled, Bill Lee has pulled
away by, you know, 15-plus points in
many of the polls. – Yes, and to be fair, his
campaign’s talking points are, include that as of late, the
polls may have tightened, so this is the kind
thing that goes on– – Yeah.
– Toward the end of campaigns. You have talking
points, you have polls, and then you have what really
happens on election day. – Yeah, and the big one, again, just kinda rushing
a little bit here, is the Senate race with Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn,
which is very tight. The poll, the Cygnal poll I
mentioned maybe is a little, has Blackburn a
little bit ahead, but I don’t know, your thoughts
on the first competitive Senate race in a long,
long time in Tennessee. – Well, I think that
Cygnal poll is a little bit Republican leaning,
but even it shows that like a
six-point difference, 2% undecided, and another
4% margin of error, so it’s right in
that balance there. You know, thinking
about Lee, though, his camp says that their
numbers look different and that it’s down
to single digits and that for them,
it’s holding their own in the rural areas and
being able to show big in the urban areas, in
particular Shelby County, which hence his presence
here this weekend. – Yeah, with just, we
could talk more election, but again, just with a
couple minutes left, Bill, maybe tee up where we
are with this proposal for an economic
development overhaul. This gets back to EDGE, the Economic Development
Growth Engine, oh, I can’t believe I
know that acronym now, that does PILOTs and
other sort of incentives and its relationship to
the Chamber of Commerce and who is selling the
city, who’s bringing businesses in,
retaining businesses, and the relationship
between those two entities has been in flux over the
last six months or year. – Right, and we had Memphis
Mayor Jim Strickland on the show several
weeks ago, and he said he has a plan that he is
keeping under his hat, so to speak, and
he talks and tries to build consensus around it. But some of the points
that he talks about are showing up in what
is the emerging plan from the city ad hoc
group, and it includes some of the same
points that the county ad hoc group is talking
about, and it’s basically that the discussion has moved
beyond what should EDGE do and gone much further
than that to say whatever our effort is, it
needs to be more comprehensive, it needs to focus on
growing existing businesses, it needs to focus on
a lot more research and a lot more drilling
down to figure out what industries do we really
want to go after for Memphis, not what comes up
on the horizon, but what do we really want here. – 20 seconds, thoughts on this? The county’s also doing
a similar sort of task, so things you wanna have
seen or think you’ve heard that are of interest in this. – Well, certainly Mr.
Strickland was talkin’ about the importance of
getting rid of silos and looking at this
regional approach, and just reading the
story that I reported it and some of the people
that were there, and they’re saying, well, who
really is against that idea in large measure, but
what they wanna see is some real specifics
about how do we go about growing our businesses
and just what is gonna be the balance with some
of the incentives and PILOT programs that we use. – All right, we
will leave it there. We’ll do, I’m sure, a whole
show on those proposals as they go forward,
but that’s all the time we have this week, join
us again next week. Good night. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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