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VOL. 124 | NO. 160 | Monday, August 17, 2009

Stanley’s Rise – and Fall

By Bill Dries

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Paul Stanley is a political result of the conservative backlash that with the 1994 mid-term elections gave the GOP majorities in the U.S. House and Senate for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Paul Stanley

Among the new Republicans going to Washington was Bill Frist, a Nashville transplant surgeon who emerged the winner in a six-candidate GOP field for the privilege of running against an entrenched and connected Democratic incumbent, Jim Sasser. Frist, who had never been politically active before, beat Sasser in one of the more notable upsets in a night of election upsets across the nation.

Stanley was already active in the Young Republicans in Shelby County, a group that traditionally has produced future party leaders. The local party, at that point, was a well-oiled machine that turned out the largest block of Republican votes statewide in a single county.

They did it with phone trees, backyard parties, ironclad organizations with real grassroots that reached individual wards and precincts. The local Republican Party also picked its races carefully and never forgot its existence as a ring around a city that was Democratic in its voting patterns.

The partisan politics of suburban Shelby County are as overwhelmingly Republican as the city’s partisan politics are Democratic.

But the politics of neither is limited to a D or an R behind a name. There is much that is political but not divided by a party line. It allows those who are curious about members of the other party to check out the loyal opposition and even work together in some campaigns, mainly those for non-partisan Memphis elected offices.

Shelby County politics went partisan in the 1992 county elections after a hard-fought debate within the local GOP executive committee.

Some local Republicans thought primaries and the resulting party labels would be divisive. Others in the party believed partisan primaries were a way of asserting conservative principles that couldn’t be ignored or watered down by the politics of personality. There was also a fair amount of questioning of the motives of the other side in the debate.

The primaries carried the day, and two years later, the Shelby County Commission became majority Republican with Republicans also holding nine of the 11 countywide offices, including county mayor.

The local Democratic Party still hadn’t embraced primaries and the party’s executive committee chose candidates to carry the party banner. The losses were so bad for the party that after the 1994 elections, there was an unsuccessful effort by some on the executive committee to oust then-party chairman Sidney Chism.

By the time Frist took office, five months after the county elections, Stanley was finance vice chairman of the local GOP and state chairman of the Tennessee Young Republican Federation. He went to work for Frist in Shelby County as a Frist field director, where he met Kristi Pruitt, the politically astute daughter of Germantown alderman Gary Pruitt who was interning for Frist.

Stanley was poised for a step up to elected office.

He ran for the Shelby County Commission in 1998, going for the District 1 seat Pete Sisson was giving up.

Stanley didn’t get past the Republican primary, a three-way contest involving Marilyn Loeffel, who went on to win the seat, and Scott McCormick, who had better luck a few years later in a run for City Council.

Loeffel was the family values candidate in the race. A founder of FLARE (Family Life America Responsible Education Under God), a citizens group known for its questionnaires that quizzed local candidates on topics such as abortion, homosexuality and prayer in schools. Loeffel also had years of experience working within the local party. She pitted her conservative credentials against Stanley and McCormick and won. Stanley and McCormick ran as pro-business conservatives.

Stanley accused Loeffel of starting a “whisper campaign” against him, alleging that he had been abusive during his first marriage to Judy Martin. Stanley said the claims were false even though Martin had filed for a protective order alleging that there had been physical abuse.

Stanley’s first bid for the Legislature in 2000 looked like it would be much easier at the outset. But that changed quickly.

Stanley filed to run in the Republican primary for State House District 96 when it appeared the seat would be open.

In his campaign literature, he referred to himself as a “family man” and included a picture of him with his wife, Kristi, their newborn son and the family dog, Shelby. His listing of issues included his opposition to a state income tax, as well as the need for TennCare reform and more discipline in schools.

Stanley seemed to have a clear path.

Incumbent state Rep. Joyce Hassell had run unsuccessfully in the local GOP primary for assessor earlier in the year. But after her loss, she reversed course and decided to seek re-election.

Gov. Don Sundquist got involved in the race, a rare foray into a contested primary election by a governor of the same party. He backed Hassell and took it a step further by being critical of Stanley.

Sundquist’s call for a state income tax during his second term as governor estranged him from many in the party, even the Shelby County branch, which was Sundquist’s home base.

The 2000 legislative session was a long one, running six months, which is very unusual in an election year for legislators. The session was more unusual because of Sundquist’s veto of the state budget approved by the Legislature.

Legislators overrode the veto, with Hassell voting to sustain Sundquist’s veto – one of five House Republicans to side with the governor. Stanley wasted no time in pointing out Hassell’s support of Sundquist.

Hassell again brought up the allegation that Stanley had been abusive toward his first wife. Stanley ignored the allegation and won the primary. He easily beat Democratic nominee Shea Flinn in the general election.

Stanley served four terms in the state House before running for the state Senate in 2006 for the seat being given up by Curtis Person Jr. following Person’s election as Juvenile Court judge that year.

Stanley won the election after being appointed by the County Commission to the seat for a brief time between Person’s resignation and the election.

He arrived in the Senate in the last days of Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker John Wilder, a Democrat from Mason, Tenn., who had support from a combination Democrats and Republicans and appointed legislators from both parties to chair committees.

Stanley’s transition also came at an agonizing moment for the Shelby County legislative delegation. State Sens. John Ford and Kathryn Bowers as well as former State Sen. Roscoe Dixon – all Memphis Democrats – had recently left the Legislature following their indictments in the 2005 Tennessee Waltz undercover corruption sting.

Republicans had managed to topple Wilder in their second attempt and install Blountville Republican Ron Ramsey as the new Senate speaker and lieutenant governor. The state House followed unexpectedly in the 2008 elections.

Stanley lasted just long enough for a quick look from the crest of the Republican wave before taking a sudden political tumble.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396