Behind the Headlines – October 5, 2018

Behind the Headlines – October 5, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines
is possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The upcoming election,
new parks opening, and the death of Phil Trenary, 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’m joined tonight by a
roundtable of journalists, starting with Madeline Faber,
editor of High Ground News. Thanks for being here. – Thanks for having me. – Karanja Ajanaku
is executive editor and associate publisher of
The New Tri-State Defender. Thank you for being here again. – My pleasure.
– Along with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. We’ll start with, the
election is not far away. Early voting starts
October 17th. The actual election
day is November 6th. And one of the
big-ticket races, Bill, is the governor’s race,
and there was a debate this last week between
the Republican, Bill Lee, and the Democrat, Karl Dean. What were your takeaways? – The first general election
debate between Lee and Dean, and I thought that the
candidates stuck pretty close to what they’ve been saying
on the campaign trail, basically Dean defining
himself through his experiences being the mayor of Nashville
starting at the onset of The Great Recession and
through its economic recovery and Lee emphasizing his
political outsider status and what he calls his
executive experience running a company that
has 1,200 employees in Franklin, Tennessee. – Karanja, your
take, you were there? – I was there, I did
take particular notice of where the candidates
were on the issue of whether the TBI
should be brought in on office-involved shootings,
should they come in automatically or should
they wait to be called in. They had differences
of opinion about that with Mr. Dean thinking
that transparency would be served by having
them come in each time. And so I just thought
that caught my eye. I also thought that from an
African-American community standpoint that we
would be able to talk to either one of these
candidates if they were elected. The question is where does
the conversation start once you get in there,
’cause they do have some different positions
on some things, vouchers and
things of that sort. – Yeah, the voucher thing,
education was highlighted in some of the things. I was out of town,
unable to watch. Bill Lee is talking
about vouchers. Memphis has been a center
of education reform over the last five to 10 years. Do you hear people
clamoring for vouchers? I mean, we’ve got charter
schools, we’ve got school takeovers, we’ve got
a lotta school choice now. Is the next step vouchers
from what you hear and the people you interview? – I hear a divergence of opinion in all communities about
it, but what I do hear in terms of a consensus is
that we have to find a way to improve education, and
these two candidates are both saying that it’s a question
of what approach do you use. – Now, Bill, your
take on education. They talked a little bit about the Achievement School
District which was formed to take over
low-performing schools. It’s been heavily
involved in Memphis. There’s been some
amount of criticism that those schools that they’ve
taken over really haven’t particularly gotten off
the bottom of the barrel. We had
Dorsey Hopson on recently, the school superintendent. Your take on their
differences on education which has such an
impact on Memphis? – The candidates were
pretty much wait and see, and ASD, the Achievement
School District, will change to some
degree inevitably was where they
seemed to be on that. Lee brought up the
innovations on schools here and Shelby County schools
that have out-performed the ASD schools so
far, which I thought was pretty interesting. The voucher debate is an
interesting one locally because of course Brian
Kelsey, state senator from Germantown, is one of
the most vocal advocates for a pretty broad
voucher program. Here Dorsey Hopson,
the superintendent of Shelby County schools
who is an adamant opponent of the voucher school system,
of the voucher system, actually came out the
night of the debate in favor of Bill Lee,
endorsing him for governor, the first time that
he’s made any kind of endorsement in
a political race. – Is that, does anyone
think, I mean, the polls have Lee up by, you know,
polls are funky, but as much
as 9 to 15 points. I mean, does anyone think
that’s Dorsey sort of trying to, Dorsey Hopson trying
to latch his fate to the leading
candidate, and I mean, is it just a strategic position? I don’t know if you
talked to Dorsey about the reasoning behind that. – We reached out to
him, he was out of town. We do want to hear from him. There are a lot of
people in the community who want to know why he has
taken that particular position. – Yeah, but–
– I think that would be the simplest explanation
for what is kind of a surprising and bold
move, but he has said repeatedly that he’s not
angling to get a political position, but we’ll have
to wait and see on that. – Dorsey has, yeah.
– Yeah. – The other thing that
came up was pre-K funding, which has been a big issue here. The city, I mean,
universal pre-K, there were different approaches. And maybe I’ll turn
to you, Madeline. I think, if I remember right
from the accounts I read of the debate,
Bill Lee talked about a lot of kind of programs outside
government that would, privately funded, that
would do, that would help with mentoring, would
help with pre-K. I mean, your take in the
communities you’re in, that High Ground’s in,
the clamor or lack thereof for universal pre-K? – I think universal
pre-K is essential in many of our
Memphis neighborhoods, especially in helping
disadvantaged, children from disadvantaged
communities get a leg up. We’re also seeing nonprofits
and private groups kind of step up
to meet that need. We’re working on a story
now with High Ground News about an effort in Frayser
to train up early childhood providers in a superior
way to wrap around children who maybe have experienced
adverse childhood experiences and need kind of particular
care in helping them be educated and learn
in a solid environment. – You’re take on pre-K,
in an interesting debate. You know, Mayor Strickland
has made a big deal of it, the local philanthropic
community has, City Council, I mean, everyone wants
universal pre-K on same level. – Right.
– Virtually everyone, but then there are all these
differences of how to fund it, how to do it, what is pre-K and what is, quote,
quality pre-K. – Well, to me, it’s almost
as if there is the state discussion about universal
pre-K, and then there is the local debate within
Memphis and Shelby County that is a completely
different planet from the state discussion. We witnessed all of the
Republican contenders for governor in
the primary debate that was held here
earlier this year say that they’re absolutely
opposed to universal pre-K, but then once they found out
that a lot of their supporters in the audience for each
candidate were intimately involved in the universal
pre-K drive locally, they began to moderate
their positions. Lee didn’t come out and
say he was opposed to it. He said that he preferred
to work with faith-based organizations and had
concerns about it being quality universal pre-K,
which has always been part of the boilerplate
of the approach to universal pre-K here locally. Dean said that he was
for universal pre-K. – And there are lots
of, there are stats on kids who get pre-K, well,
it’s not universally accepted, but there’s a lot of
evidence, you know, quality, whatever that
means, high-quality pre-K that will lead to
kids reading better by third and fourth
grade, and I think it’s Mayor Strickland and
many others who use that as a kind of almost, I mean,
they harp on it constantly, and perhaps rightly, that
kids who are reading at level by third and fourth
grade go on to succeed at greater numbers than kids
who fall behind early on. Your sense, Karanja, on this
question of privately funded, philanthropically funded,
or faith-based funded pre-K and the government
getting involved? – Well, I’d like to see
from the African-American community more of
a private move. We have to do both, but
I think my main thing goes back to what
Madeline is saying is that I just really
think this universal pre-K is just so essential,
and while there are some varying reports, it
does seem to be tied to people’s ability to
be able to learn to read, particularly on grade
level by the time they get to the third grade. And then you look at crime
and things of that sort, and you start to
see a connection. I just think that
we’re gonna have to put a different emphasis
on our priorities relative to funding and
just bite the bullet on some things that we
just have to move on, and just think that universal
pre-K is one of ’em. – We’ll stay with schools
for a second, and Bill, the list of Priority Schools
was shuffled by the state, and several charter schools
are gonna be closing at the end of this academic
year, is that correct? This is a–
– Yes. – process the state goes
through, I think to some degree, in conjunction with local
government every year. – It’s also a requirement that
when this list is shuffled, and it’s not shuffled
every year, it’s shuffled over the course of,
I think, three years was the original plan that
hasn’t always worked out, but in this case, it did. So if they are on
the Priority list, which is the list
of failing schools, the bottom 5% in the state,
and they’re a charter school, then they automatically close under those
particular provisions. The list was interesting
because you also had some what are known
as Reward Schools, high-performing schools,
and you had a lot of those within the Shelby County
school system who were new to the list and who
maintained being on that list. – Maintained being on
the, you said they were Reward Schools, and so they
were doing well or not? – They’re doing well, yes.
– Yeah, okay, okay. We’ll move on, I jumped over
one thing which is, again, it is election season,
and we had President Trump in town this past week, he
was at a rally in Southaven. There’s a somewhat competitive
race, it’s a strange year in Mississippi, normally
not a particularly competitive state for
Democrats versus Republicans. Obviously we have the
Bredesen-Blackburn race, which is very
competitive in Tennessee. Thoughts from anyone on
President Trump’s visit here? – Well, the tact that
we took was to go and see if we could
find African-Americans at the Trump rally,
and we wanted to know what were they doing
there, you know, what do you see from Mr. Trump. Not why are you Republican, why
are you following Mr. Trump? And what we found was
a range of things, from business opportunities
selling T-shirts to lining up with
values, and particularly relative to things like gay
marriage, immigration policy, and things of that sort.
– Yeah, Madeline. – Well, I think we
should all recognize that this rally made
national headlines because of Trump openly
mocking Dr. Ford’s testimony last week, which was
shocking and difficult for many of us to hear,
but what I’m particularly worried about is the connection he made between one
woman’s statement about her sexual assault
and then connecting that to the extreme-edness, he said, of the Democratic party and
aligning those two things to sort of further throw
fuel on his candidate and create some more distance.
– Bill, your take. – This was the last rally in
a series of rallies that day. The president is
campaigning for candidates in the midterm election.
He was in Johnson City campaigning for
Marsha Blackburn. In Mississippi he was
campaigning for the interim Senator for that
Mississippi Senate seat that was held by Thad Cochran,
and he probably spent the least amount of time in his remarks
on that particular Senate race. It was like everything
that had been building up from the campaign trail that
day and watching television, which we know that’s where he
gets most of his information, all of that came spilling out
at the last rally of the day. And it really, in terms
of his goal of promoting Republican candidates
in the midterm election, you can look at it as it
worked because he stirred up his base, he got his base going. You could also look
at it as he cast a big spotlight on the
Kavanaugh nomination at the expense of those congressional
races in the midterm, and he may have stirred the
pot with the Democratic base who will react with
outrage and come out and vote in larger
numbers in November. – It’s interesting to
have a competitive race in Tennessee this year
with Phil Bredesen, who was a former
governor, a Democrat, known as more of a
conservative Democrat, at this time running
against a woman, Marsha Blackburn, a
Republican who’s been more on the right end of
things, I think that’s fair, I think she would
agree with that. Thoughts about how
Trump, just observations about how controversies
around President Trump have influenced
this statewide race. – I think that you
have seen it embolden the Democratic response to it, the Democratic backlash from it, and I think that the
Republican support for Trump and his policies has
always been there, has been pretty consistent. This is a red state,
it’s been a red state for the last 18 years in terms
of presidential politics. The question is how the
Democrats were gonna respond to it and were they
going to respond to it in great enough numbers
to affect elections. We know from our own
local elections here, being one of the two
blue dots in a red state, that there is a
blue wave this year. We’ll see in November–
– It was– – whether that
translates statewide. – It was what, 10 months
ago, 9, 10 months ago, we had Lee Mills, the Shelby
County Republican Party head and the head of the
Democratic Party, local Democratic Party,
Corey, whose last, person whose last name–
– Corey Strong. – Corey Strong, and I
remember very poignantly, it was after the
Doug Jones election, a Democrat winning in
Alabama over what many people thought was a very flawed
Republican candidate, a lot of accusations
around him and so on, and Lee Mills said that
we are gonna have to divorce ourselves
from President Trump. I mean, those were his
words, he was the head of the local Republican Party, and he talked about
how educated, suburban, traditionally Republican
voters were being turned off. At the same time, we’re
in a state, Tennessee, where Trump has tremendous, President Trump has
tremendous support, certainly in rural
areas, and as well as in some parts of urban
areas, certainly. But just this race,
the Bredesen race, the kind of moderate tone
he’s taken in some ways really speaks to this
really severe urban and rural divide in Tennessee,
well, true in many states, but thoughts on that. – It just seems prudent, I mean
it’s, Bill gave the numbers relative to where the state is. Marsha Blackburn
is clearly putting all of her horses
on the Trump road, and so Mr. Bredesen’s being
prudent about it, you know? And so it’s a fine
line to whether or not you’re gonna be able
to walk that way and be able to get
out that independent and Democratic base, but
I think that Bill is right that there is a blue wave, and
I think there’s a good reason to think that’s gonna continue, at least in this
part of the state. – Yeah, last
thoughts on that. So we’ll move on, one
more thing on the ballot, again, I mentioned early
voting comes up October 17th, the election day
is November 6th. Besides we’ve got,
what, statewide races for House and Senate, am I
right on that, Bill, that– – Yes, we do.
– We do. Some of those have been
effectively determined, many are effectively
determined in the primaries. But besides the Senate race,
the statewide Senate race between Bredesen and
Blackburn and the statewide governor’s race, obviously,
between Lee and Dean, we’ve got local
charter amendments, and they include
term limits for the, expanding terms limits from
two terms to three terms for the City Council
and the mayor and then some changes in
instant runoff voting. We pre-taped a show that
airs next week that goes very, very deep in the
weeds on these issues, the wonkiest show ever
done in the history of Behind the Headlines
with Steve Mulroy and Martavius Jones,
but they’re complicated and really important issues. So maybe frame up those
three charter amendments because I do think sometimes
those are the issues people go into the voting booth,
they know their candidate, they’ve seen the yard signs,
they’re voting on big-ticket governor and Senate
race, and then suddenly they’re confronted with
these seemingly wonky pieces of text about amending
the charter in somewhat cryptic fashion, so let’s
go through those three. – And even under the
best of circumstances, the wording on these
things is technical, and it is very difficult
to understand at best. So let’s go with
the simplest first, and that is there is a
city charter amendment that would extend the
current term limits on City Council and mayor
from two consecutive terms to three consecutive
terms, and that would apply immediately, meaning
that you have three City Council members
currently serving who are in their second
term who would be term-limited if this fails. If this passes, they
could run for a third term in office in the
2019 city elections. Now, instant runoff
voting, also known as ranked choice voting, the
question on the ballot is whether that
should be repealed. Voters approved it in a
2008 city charter amendment. Instant runoff voting is
where instead of voting for the one candidate that
you want to win an office, you go in and vote
for your first choice, your second choice,
your third choice, in some instances, you
can go to fourth or fifth, or you can do none of them, you can still just vote for one. This affects the seven single-
member City Council districts. It does not affect the other six super district council members. In those seven single
district council races, if no one gets 50%
plus one of the votes, it goes to a runoff
election in November for that particular district. Instant runoff voting would
say, no, there’s no runoff. What happens is,
nobody gets a majority, you go to the candidate who
gets the least amounts of votes, and you look at the second
choices on those ballots, and those votes are
distributed up the ballot. You do that,
eliminating candidates by their low vote totals
until you have a candidate who has the majority of
the votes by that count. And a third measure.
[Eric laughs] Yes, there’s a third measure.
[Eric laughing] The third measure
would simply eliminate the runoff provision
in the city charter, would say that these
seven council seats are gonna be treated
like everything else in city and county
government and state and federal government
and just say whoever gets the most votes in those races
wins, no majority required. – Yeah, thoughts on
these charter amendments. I mean, they are,
they’re really important. They’re wonky, we
kinda laugh about it because it’s complicated,
but they’re very important to how people are elected,
how long people serve, and the costs and
complication of elections. – They are important,
and we’re gonna start a series of stories in The
Tri-State Defender very soon to try to de-wonk
it, as you say. Maybe we’ll get Bill Dries
to help us out there. But isn’t in mind-boggling
to think that there was a passage of that
instant runoff voting thing, and no one seems to,
a lot [laughs] of people have no idea–
– It was passed in ’08, and it’s never been done.
– of what it is. And it just speaks
somewhat to the idea that we’ve just gotta
become more intelligent, generally speaking, relative
to this and every issue, and I think that even
gets back to our issue of education and being
able to teach our students how to be critical
thinkers about everything, and that gets back to
Trump and all of that. – Yeah, we got six minutes left, and I wanna touch
quickly on parks. There are two things. The River Park, I think
I’m saying that right, on the other side of
the bridge is opening, reopening, is that correct? – Actually, it’s the
Big River levee trails– – Thank you.
– which you needed a permission from, this is
73 miles of gravel trails that are atop levees in Arkansas that the Saint Francis
Levee board voted to reopen this month, and
they will open it again starting in March, so
quite a landscape out there if you haven’t been there.
– Across the Harahan Bridge, the Big River Crossing.
– Yes, it actually, yes, it starts in West
Memphis and goes further. – And another section, Madeline, of the Wolf River
Greenway which extends, ultimately will
extend all the way from the Ghost River way
out in Fayette County all the way to downtown,
a section of that is open around Kennedy Park
in North Memphis. You all have been, or
about to be writing about that or have
just written about it. – Yeah, so this
week, the section of the Wolf River Greenline
opened in Kennedy Park, and next week, the
section in Epping Way will open that’s 2 1/2
miles all together. I love that we’re
seeing the Greenway extend into Memphis
neighborhoods. I think that pedestrian
paths can only be helpful in increasing property
values, in decreasing crime in that you have
kind of a public area that’s flush with
people and lights. I hope that we see
further development of the Greenline into
Memphis neighborhoods. I know that The Heights
is working on developing what it’s calling The Heights
Line along National Street, which would ultimately
connect to the Greenline. – Where are The Heights,
for people not familiar with that neighborhood? – So The Heights Line
would connect at Chelsea with the Greenline,
and this would stretch from Summer and Bayliss.
– To the Wolf River Greenline. – The Wolf, yes.
– Not the Greenline. Just so we’re on the same–
– Wolf River Greenway. – Yeah, okay, yeah, okay, yep.
– Yes, Shelby Park Greenway, yes, to the Wolf River Greenway. So The Heights is our
current neighborhood that we’re focusing
on and that sort of, the neighborhood that
surrounds Summer Avenue. – And we’ve seen, you
know, this was a part, I mean, it’s a $60 million
project, this greenway, Wolf River Greenway, that it
would be built in sections, and I remember when they
were raising the money and when they were
talking about it and the early stories we
did back at The Daily News and on this show, they
were talking about it was important to be
in every neighborhood and that hopefully that
would spread the wealth of public access, not just
to the Poplar Corridor but all of Memphis,
your thoughts. – Well, it’s important
I think to get into every neighborhood,
but it’s also important that when you’re
doing the construction and things to bring this
about that the wealth opportunities are spread around. And one of the stories that
we’ve done relative to, or getting ready to do,
relative to Epping Way is just sort of looking
at minority contracting involvement in the process. – Yeah, a sad note to end on. Phil Trenary, who was the
CEO of the Memphis Chamber and formerly headed
up Pinnacle Airlines was killed this, I
guess a week ago now, and it was shocking and
sad for a lot of people. You talk about parks, you
talk about the Greenline, the Chamber under Phil’s,
Chamber of Commerce under Phil’s leadership
had put a big priority on greenways and green spaces. I’m, full disclosure, we
are a member of the Chamber, and I had worked on some
of that stuff with Phil and gotten to know him. It was so, it was horrifying
to have a prominent person shot in what looks like
a very senseless killing, a very random shooting. Thoughts with just a
couple minutes left, Bill. – Well as we–
– And I should note before, I’m sorry, I started
and cut you off. And I should note that
in the context of that is that since in the time
around when Phil was killed, he was one of 8, maybe
10 homicides in Memphis, and a lot of prominence
put on this ’cause Phil touched and was known
by a lot of people, but I don’t wanna
brush over the fact that there were a lot
of senseless murders in that same
timeframe, go ahead. – Right, and that is
the context of this. I think in a way, Phil’s death
calls even more attention to the general problem of
violence in our community because it highlights
that this is not a problem that is about one part of town. This is a problem for all
of us that we all need to talk about more, and
not just talk about it when it’s someone prominent,
but talk about this and work toward it
when it’s someone that we’ve never
heard of before. – Karanja.
– I was around the corner when it happened, and Bill and
I met out there on the scene. It’s horrifying on
multiple levels. And when you look
at the young people that are accused of
it, I really think we have to look hard
at their backgrounds and just how did we
get to this point. – Yeah, it’s accused,
16-year-old, 18-year-old, and 22.
– And 22. – Madeline, thoughts? – Well, just to touch on
the point, most immediately, I think we should be watching
the criminal justice process in this, especially
the 16-year-old who was in the car possibly
being tried as an adult. But I think that Phil Trenary
was such a light to Memphis and improved us in so many ways, and I think we could honor
his life and his work by not being afraid to walk
downtown and to continue to support the businesses
that he supported. – Yeah, yeah, Phil
walked, if you knew Phil, and Phil was a friend,
not a close friend, but a friend of mine, he
walked, he walked everywhere, people knew him to walk, he
took Bird scooters around. He was 64 when he passed
away, and he believed intensely in this city,
and it was very genuine. In public, you would
think a Chamber president would say that publicly
’cause that’s their job. Phil said it privately, he
said it, everything he sought, whether or not you agreed
with what the Chamber did, he sought to make Memphis
of all stripes better. And he was really a
very inspirational guy on that front, to me, in
terms of his commitment. He was a guy who could’ve been
doing a lot of other things and chose to commit
himself to Memphis. We leave it there, thank
you for joining us. Join us again next week. We’ll sit tight. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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