Remember the old political adage: Whenever someone tells you it’s not about sex, it always is.

When they tell you that you shouldn’t take it personally, you should.

When they tell you it’s not about money, you can bet it is.

And when a Republican State Senator tells you that a bill isn’t about ethnic profiling, you can bet that it is.

Profiles in Lack of Courage

It’s no mere coincidence of the calendar that the Republican-controlled Legislature is passing a bill just before state elections that gives election officials the right to demand proof of citizenship.  In truth, this isn’t so much a bill about citizenship, but a bill to profile potential Democratic voters and to legitimize state-sanctioned harassment of them.

One thing about the leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly: Just when we think they’ve hit rock bottom, they always find one more thing to do to make our state look like a banana republic.

Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville thinks he’s reassuring us when he says: “I don’t think the members (of the Senate) feel there is a profiling concern here at all.”  Then again, we’d hardly expect this group to have a concern when they continue to play politics with legislation being passed in Nashville.

Finding Our Inner Arizona

Like guns in bars, this is legislation aimed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and to wrap it into the flag of election integrity and citizenship.

It’s in essence Arizona light.

Now we assume that American citizens have to take their citizenship papers to the polls in case some creaking, myopic election official asks us to prove we’re Americans.  Maybe the State Senate can send us insignias that we can wear on our coats when we vote that shows we’re “real Americans.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis was right when he characterized it as “very un-Tennessean.”  More to the point, it’s anti-American and harkens back to the xenophobic days of Father Charles Coughlan in the 1930s.

Unfunded Mandates

At a time when we need our legislators to tamp down the current of hate and nativism that runs through the halls of government, they stoke it for their own political ambitions.  And to show that they are tough law and order types, they give it a penalty of 12 years if someone lies.

It all begs the question – as so much of this political grandstanding does – of what enforcement mechanism the state will fund to do all this, or is this just another one of the unfunded mandates that Republicans used to rail about when Democrats were in power but which they now enact with regularity, shoving costs to local government.

In the medieval court that is our state legislature, all of this insular thinking sounds so clever and reasonable. It’s the Capitol’s version of Beltway thinking, where they operate in an echo chamber that drowns out the voice of the grassroots which has to live with their votes.

And to Senator Norris’s incredulity at a suggestion that this new election bill will lead to profiling, it was impressive to us that he could feign amazement with a straight face.

It’s Not That Easy Being Green

Speaking of ironic statements, back here at home, Interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford sees himself as a “green” mayor, but he’s not talking about his lack of experience in public management.

Rather, he’s talking about his commitment to the environment.  However, his recent romancing of environmental groups suggests that he needs some lessons in dating.

The leaders of the groups were called to the interim mayor’s office to hear his vision about a green future for Shelby County.  They left scratching their heads, since Mr. Ford didn’t make the meeting and the presentation by his stand-ins seemed to be stuck in the 1980s.  It was mostly about recycling when the leaders in the room most wanted to know the fate and future of Sustainable Shelby, our county’s first comprehensive plan for a sustainable community.

If the interim mayor wants to do something for the environment, smart growth, better transportation, livable neighborhoods and preservation of outdoor spaces, he should try reading Sustainable Shelby, the detailed plan of action that was developed by the smartest thinkers in county government and several hundred citizens and based on a countywide poll of what the public wants local government to do.  In other words, Mr. Ford isn’t thumbing his nose at Mayor Wharton.  He’s thumbing his nose at the many people who dedicated a year to developing a map for a sustainable future.

The Anti-Wharton

Unfortunately, Mr. Ford’s campaign strategy seems to be buily on disagreeing with whatever former County Mayor A C Wharton did or proposed.  It’s just hard to imagine that running as the anti-Wharton is enough for victory.  We envision strategy sessions with his political advisers as taking the Wharton platform and taking the opposite position on everything.  It’s a puzzlement why they think that opposing the Wharton agenda and turning back the clock in county government is smart, since Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has an approval rating in the stratosphere.

When it comes to pandering, it seems that he can match any Republican senator in Nashville.  But Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Mr. Ford’s opponent for county mayor, should be thrilled that in addition to opposing the highly popular Mayor Wharton, Mr. Ford is also anti-consolidation.  It is a highly popular issue inside Memphis, and although the interim county mayor is working hard to convince the folks outside Memphis that he’s their savior from the dreaded merger, the return on this investment by him will always fall short when it comes time for the suburban voters to go to the polls and actually pull the lever for a member of the Ford family.

There is no one more pleasant on the local political scene that Mr. Ford, but when he said at his ballyhooed Earth Day presentation, “I’m proud to be green,” truer words were never spoken.  When it comes to the hard work of being mayor, he is indeed green, as shown by his antipathy to all things sustainable and to a proposed budget held together by chewing gum and baling wire.

It’s one of those budgets that include projections based on vapor and economic conditions based on a Ouija board. It also is based on a hidden tax included as part of the Ford Administration’s budget projections.

Gaming the System

It’s part of gaming the system, and it seems only Andy Meek of the Memphis Daily News understands what’s going on.  It works like this: Local government is allowed after reappraisal to estimate an “appeals allowance” which is supposed to cover the amount of taxes reduced from appeals by taxpayers to their new appraisals.  This number is always too high, because the game is about finding the delicate balance that allows local government to increase the amount more than what’s needed while getting state approval.

The proverbial bottom line: Shelby County submitted a 21-cent appeals allowance, but it is likely to use only about half of that amount, if that. Nine cents has been used so far.  In other words, a 12-cent tax increase was effectively hidden when county government announced with fanfare that it would have no tax increase in this year’s budget.

When asked about the hidden tax increase, government officials always say that they guessed too high when they estimated property tax revenues, but the truth is they never intended to guess accurately in the first place.  In the end, county government had two choices: Reduce the county tax rate by 12 cents or pocket the about $15 million in new tax revenues created by it.  They chose the latter.

To be fair, so did city government.  It estimated a 16-cent appeals allowance, and it has only used 9 cents so far, according to Mr. Meek, adding that someone who owns a $150,000 house in Memphis paid $71 more on their combined tax bill last year than both governments needed.

As we’re learning more and more these days, government is not about public service.  It’s about service in the interest of personal politics.  Unfortunately, it’s become a staple in all levels of government.