Last Friday in this blog I mentioned the stormy Steering committee meeting I attended Thursday night. I didn’t feel comfortable blabbing about what went on since, as Chairman Justin Joy said, it is the appropriate place for party grievances to be aired, rather than in public displays of disunity.
The Flyer’s Jackson Baker attended the meeting, which was a tip off that something was brewing, as was the presence of County Commissioners. Baker writes what happened in this piece from The Flyer:
When the Shelby County Commission meets on Wednesday — which in theory is a committee day — its first order of business will likely be another effort, after a failed one two weeks ago, to approve the committees and chairmanships appointed by chairman Justin Ford.
But not only is that prospect very far from being a sure thing, Ford’s chairmanship itself may be at stake.
This Commission, elected in August, reached gridlock in record time — before it could even complete the routine reorganization that begins a new four-year term. But if Democrat Walter Bailey, who moved to refer Ford’s appointments back to committee at the Commission’s September 22 meeting, can hold his coalition of six Democrats and one Republican, Steve Basar, he can hold off the rival coalition of five Republicans and one Democrat, Ford, who went the other way in September.
The key to what happens is Basar, the Republican member who was last year’s vice chair, a position that used to be the stepping stone to the chairmanship, but who saw all but one of his party-mates deny him their votes to become chairman. Clearly aggrieved, Basar turned up at Thursday night’s meeting of the Shelby County Republican steering committee at Clark Tower to voice a complaint about that.
Unlike others, Basar said, he would not go public with his version of events or name names. He then proceeded to do both. As he put it, the vote for chairman had been a case of betrayal, not only of himself but of Republicans in general. And he put the onus on GOP Commission colleague Heidi Shafer, not just for voting for Democrat Ford but for nominating him in the first place.
Shafer’s version was considerably different. She pointed out that Basar had not been the only Republican candidate. Terry Roland, the second-termer from Millington (and also an attendee Thursday night) had also been nominated, she said, and he had come closer to winning than Basar had, netting five votes during an early ballot.
And between her statements and those of Roland and Commissioners Mark Billingsley ad David Reaves, all of whom had finally cast their votes for Ford at the chairmanship meeting and all of whom were on hand Thursday, a fuller account of events emerged. In this version, the Commission’s Democratic majority had made it clear that only on one condition would they honor the old, now largely defunct, “gentlemen’s agreement,” whereby the parties would alternate the chairmanship year by year. Since Democrat James Harvey had been the last chairman, the old standard would argue for a GOP chair.
But the Democrats’ condition for returning to the rotating tradition had apparently been absolute unanimity on the Republican side for a single candidate. That was not to be. For whatever reason, Basar could not come up with any Republican voters other than newcomer George Chism, whose relations with Roland had been chilly since they had competed for a Commission seat back in 2000.
“It was obvious that we weren’t going to be unanimous, and the real choice came down to two Democrats — Walter Bailey and Justin Ford,” Shafer said, contending that Bailey, supported by every Democrat save Ford, was steadfastly opposed to Republicanism and to the agenda of County Mayor Mark Luttrell, while Ford was “fair-minded” and frequently voted on the same side of things as GOP members.
This sentiment was endorsed by Billingsley, Reaves, and Roland, while Chism, who was also present, kept his silence — leaving Basar effectively isolated and subject to lecturing on party unity and support of “conservatism” from such committee members as Jane Pierotti and Arnold Weiner, who chimed in with Shafer et al. Billingsley added criticism of Basar for having voted with Democrats to defeat his erstwhile proposal for giving Germantown, which lost three flagship schools to Shelby County Schools, the opportunity to vote for an SCS board member.
Finally, Roland made a show of offering an “olive branch” to Basar, whom he and the other Commissioners entreated to rejoin their ranks on the chairmanship and committee issues, and, to stormy applause from committee members, he and Basar shook hands.
However, when he was asked as he was leaving the meeting how he would vote on those matters, Basar was non-committal, saying only, “I will do what I want to do.”
Which leaves things unresolved going into Wednesday.
This is an accurate description of what was said, only emotions were quite high. Whatever his reasoning, Basar was so clearly alone in his stance that something is amiss in his thinking. I respect the other commissioners and their arguments made sense.
Perhaps other Republican leaders and/or his constituents will bring him back into the fold. He only won election the first time by a few hundred votes. This August, as Arnold and Jane pointed out, many came to his aid to convince voters that he was the better choice than Dr. Jain and that he would stay true to his base. Will he listen?