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Complicating Harold Ford, Jr’s nascent bid for the Tennesse Governor’s mansion is the fact that Uncle John, a former state Senator, has been sentenced to 66 months in prison for taking bribes. The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the scoop:  

John Ford sentenced to 66 months in prison

John Ford was sentenced to 66 months in prison this morning for his April conviction of accepting $55,000 in bribes in the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz public corruption investigation.

U.S. Dist. Court Judge J. Daniel Breen carefully noted his interpretation of advisory federal guidelines that suggest enhanced punishment for factors such as the amount and number of bribes, threatening witnesses, acceptance of responsibility and the fact that Ford was an elected official.

The judge said he was not convinced that Ford truly believes he did anything wrong and that the sentence must be a deterrence to others.

“The court is not convinced that a reduction for acceptance of responsibility is warranted in this case,” Breen said. “This trial reflects a person of greed and avarice, but at the same time a man with the ability to help others. This is the tragic dichotomy of this case.

“The sentence, therefore, should reflect the serious nature of this offense.”

Breen said he would impose no fine.

Ford, who showed no reaction to the sentence, will remain free pending notification from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons when and where he will report.

Ford, 65, was one of 12 lawmakers or aides charged in the sweeping statewide investigation, 11 of whom have pleaded guilty or been convicted in trial.

Earlier this morning defense attorney Michael Scholl criticized the media and the government for “the persecution of John Ford” over the years.

“What I have seen is John Ford singled out in all of this,” Scholl told the judge, noting that other legislators have been convicted and faced lighter sentencing. “John Ford could have gone out and robbed and shot somebody and he would be facing less time than he is now. What I want to emphasize here is all the good that John Ford has done. We can’t just wipe out 30 years in the legislature.”

Witnesses have testified that the county has suffered in money it gets from the legislature because Ford is no longer there, Scholl added.

He also issued a plea for the judge to consider Ford’s support responsibilities for seven of his 12 children.

“John Ford has suffered for two years,” Scholl said. “They have taken everything he has. One of the things I’ve seen in this case is the awesome power of the government.”

Federal prosecutor Lorraine Craig said Scholl’s comments reflect the problems that the government has with Ford.

“He has been persecuted? He has suffered?” she said. “Is it a surprise that his family and friends did not see the side that we saw on those (undercover) tapes? This was Mr. Ford, the man who makes the deals. The man who goes first class. That’s the Mr. Ford we saw.”

She said Ford accepts no responsibility for his offense.

“The only thing he says he did wrong was that he trusted too much,” Craig told the judge. “No one persecuted Mr. Ford. He is here in this courtroom because of his own criminal conduct.”

 Speaking of Memphis Politics, Nikki Tinker, the corporate protege of Harold Ford, Jr is ramping up her campaign to take back Tennessee’s Ninth Congressional District for the Congressional Black Caucus against Steve Cohen.  The Memphis Commercial Appeal has the scoop:

WASHINGTON — Nikki Tinker began her 2008 campaign for the 9th Congressional District seat the night she lost the Democratic Party Primary to Steve Cohen last August by just 4,459 votes.

Cohen did too.

Cohen, who is white, says voters in Memphis will consider the job he’s doing rather than his skin color in deciding whether to re-elect him. Meanwhile, he tells anyone who will listen that he votes with the sensitivities of a black woman.

He and others suspect that a recent brouhaha among members of the Baptist Ministerial Association over his support of hate crimes legislation may be the opening salvo in a battle that Tinker would like to have center on, as she puts it, changing “the face and pace of our leadership.”

Tinker did not respond to repeated phone calls for this story, but her Washington-based spokesman, Cornell Belcher, explained Friday that she’s not interested in talking issues or Cohen’s record yet.

“Here’s where we are, to be straight with you: At this point, we want her talking to voters and raising money,” said Belcher, a partner in Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies. Talking about her differences with Cohen “is something that we really would rather not get into right now. … It will come, but it’s just not going to come right now.”

Cohen isn’t waiting. He says he doesn’t know where his opponent stands on most issues, and points out she’s never cast a legislative vote.

Tinker has spoken to the ministerial association and arranged for the company she works for as general counsel to provide a free airplane ride to members of the ministers’ congregations in June — after declaring her candidacy. Pinnacle Airlines flew the group in circles around Memphis on June 23 but, through spokesman R. Phillip Reed Jr., said the flight was “not directly or indirectly associated with the Tinker for Congress campaign.”

The ministers say the hate crimes bill passed by the House would limit what they could say about homosexuality from their pulpits, although the language of the law indicates it won’t. It’s pending in the Senate.

Among those who suspect that politics is involved in the hate crimes issue is Downtown developer Henry Turley, who has been Cohen’s campaign treasurer since he ran for the Shelby County Commission in the late 1970s.

“You can’t help but wonder, is this an effort to discredit Cohen?” Turley said last week. “It certainly makes you wonder since it’s an incorrect or spurious charge. …Why would they make that incorrect statement? … Why would someone say that unless there was an agenda?”

The issue didn’t draw fire during Ford’s terms. Records show Ford co-sponsored the hate crimes bill, broadening federal jurisdiction over crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, four times between 1997 and 2004 and voted for it in 2005. His stance never made headlines or drew criticism from the churches.

Turley said Tinker’s prodigious fund-raising in 2006 was impressive and he attributed it to two things: the influence of her boss, Philip H. Trenary, CEO of Pinnacle Airlines, and her endorsement by the pro-abortion rights group Emily’s List, whose acronym stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast.

Some in Memphis publicly objected to Tinker receiving the February 2006 endorsement, saying Cohen’s abortion rights bona fides were better established, but hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in for Tinker from across the country.

A spokesman for Emily’s List, Ramona Oliver, said last week that no decision on an endorsement in the 9th Congressional District race has been made.

Cohen acknowledges he’s asked “a few people at the national level” to help derail future Emily’s List endorsement. The group endorses women only.

“I’d be shocked if Emily’s List would get involved in this election,” Cohen said.

African American State Senator Vivian Davis Figures is gearing up to challenge ignorant confederate incumbent U.S. Senator Jefferson Sessions in 2008

MOBILE — Democratic State Sen. Vivian Figures said Saturday she is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions in the 2008 election, pledging to give Alabama “new progressive leadership.”

Figures, 50, made her announcement at Mobile Government Plaza where she began her political career in 1993 on the City Council. She moved from the council into her husband Michael Figures’ legislative seat after his death in 1996 and has served 11 years.

Sessions, 60, also of Mobile, won his second term in 2002 and will seek re-election. No other challengers have announced plans to run.

Senator Figures is delusional if she thinks she can win in Alabama.

Turning to Louisiana, State Treasurer John Neely Kennedy announced his change of party from Democratic to Republican in preparation for a run for U.S. Senate against Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, in 2008:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

BATON ROUGE — State Treasurer John Kennedy has switched political parties and will seek re-election to a third term this fall as a Republican, he announced Monday.

The change immediately vaults Kennedy to the top of the list of potential challengers to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La, who is up for re-election to a third term in 2008 and is considered vulnerable by national Republicans.

Kennedy has been publicly considering the party switch for months, and he has become an increasingly ascerbic critic of Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on a variety of spending issues. 

In an e-mail message to supporters, Kennedy cited “certain fixed, bedrock principles” that he believes are more in line with the Republican Party than the Democrats, and said GOP officials have been more responsive to his proposals in recent years.

“For the past several years, it has increasingly been the case that those public servants who have embraced my ideas and my philosophy of trying new approaches are primarily Republicans,” Kennedy wrote.

He had been courted to switch parties by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and met recently with senior White House aide Karl Rove to discuss the matter.

The switch comes at a time when Republicans are losing ground nationally, having lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in the 2006 mid-term elections, but appear to be ascendant in Louisiana, where U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, enjoys a wide lead in the governor’s race.

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