Friday, May 27, 2005

Good Ol' Southern Politics

Yesterday was a pretty big day in the state of Tennessee...or so I thought.

I would have thought that a day that began with the FBI briefing the governor at 6 a.m., and saw a few state legislators standing handcuffed in front of a federal judge, some legislators' offices raided, and a midday press conference from the governor was big news. Apparently not. A quick glance at the websites of the national news media organizations shows a collective yawn for the story. The New York Times and the Washington Post had brief stories. Most of the other news organizations have the story in one form or another, but it's not a top story. You have to dig past the stories of holiday travel woes (imagine that - there's going to be travel woes on a holiday weekend - who'da thunk it?), the runaway bride being charged, and the latest on Michael Jackson and the guy on the crane.

Anyway, here's what happened. The FBI has had a sting operation called Tennessee Waltz going on for a couple of years. They set up a dummy company called E-Cycle Management Inc. and starting shopping around for Tennessee lawmakers that might be willing to do a little business for them. E-Cycle was billed as a computer recycling firm that would buy old computers, refurbish them and resell them. The ostensible goal of the sting was to get the lawmakers to pass a law allowing the state to sell the company their old computers. The bill, which has been winding its way around the legislature for most of the year, had seven sponsors. Some of these lawmakers supported the bill because it makes sense to recycle old computers instead of throwing them in a landfill. Others supported the bill because they got their palms greased a little (allegedly).

Yesterday, the FBI sprang into action with indictments and search warrants. Three Democratic state senators and one Republican state representative were charged with conspiracy, extortion and bribery. Most of the names will probably be unfamiliar to you - Ward Crutchfield, Kathryn Bowers, and Chris Dixon. The other lawmaker is more well-known not for who he is, but because he's a member of the famous Memphis, Tennessee Ford family. John Ford is the brother of former longtime U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the uncle of current U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Harold Jr. recently announced that he will be running for the U.S. senate seat that Bill Frist is planning to vacate in 2006.

John Ford is the black sheep of the Ford family. He's been in trouble with the law since 1980, when he was stopped by a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer for topping 100 mph. Since then, he's had several brushes with the law. Once, he was accused of pointing a gun at a fellow motorist during a little road rage incident. After denying that he owned a gun, a search warrant turned one up. Once he was was accused of threatening some utility workers who were blocking his driveway with a shotgun. There was also a little scandal involving Ford and his two families, one with his wife, another with his girlfriend. There have also been several brushes with the Tennessee Senate Ethics Committee (such as it is) with some of his shady business and political deals. In the indictments handed down yesterday, Ford was charged with accepting the most money in the sting, $55,000, and was also charged with three counts of attempting to threaten or intimidate witnesses. He allegedly threatened to kill anyone who was an FBI agent or who set him up.

A former state senator, Roscoe Dixon, and two others, Charles Love and Barry Myers, were also nabbed in the sting. Dixon allegedly took some money while he was still a Tennessee legislator. Love, a lobbyist and a member of the Hamilton County School Board, and Myers, a Memphis community activist, allegedly served as bagmen and go-betweens who shopped the company around to willing lawmakers. The FBI says that the investigation is still on-going and there may be more arrests.

Well, maybe it's not as newsworthy as the traffic woes or the guy on the crane (is he still up there?), but it was still a mighty exciting day around my neck of the woods. If you're interested, the Nashville newspaper the Tennessean probably has the best coverage of the events that doesn't require site registration or subscription.


At 9:13 AM, Blogger Robbie said...

Holy Cow! Why in the world this is more important news?!? That Ford sounds like a real character and people continue to vote for him???


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