Some potential visitors are telling Tennessee tourism officials they won’t visit the state after the CEO of the Tennessee Tourism Association sent out an e-mail comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee.  “And I can’t say I blame any of them,” Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development told The Tennessean. “We certainly feel this was inexcusable and unacceptable.”

So inexcusable that the tourism association on Monday removed Walt Baker as CEO and severed ties with his marketing firm, Mercatus Communications.  Baker said it was just a little joke — a little joke that he sent to lobbyists, an aide to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and the president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.  The little joke has cost Baker’s firm contracts with the Metro Arts Commission, the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Baker has apologized, and several Nashville officials have apologized for him. “I hope that those who know me realize that the message was not intended to be malicious or hurtful in any way and can find it in their hearts to forgive me,” Baker said in an e-mail to Nashville’s Metro Council.  And he apologized on TV in an interview with WKRN now on YouTube”>.

NashvilleScene.com appeared to be the only Nashville media outlet to post the offending e-mail, which is an otherwise sort of funny yarn about a guy running into Tarzan at the store and reminiscing — until it gets to the final passage:  “I asked about Cheeta, he beamed and said she was doing good, had married a Lawyer and now lived in the White House!!! ”  Then, there’s a photo of a chimp and Michelle Obama.

Some commenters to Nashville Business Journal defended Baker.  Said one:  “I don’t know who to ask or talk about this with, but wouldn’t you think the various pictures of George W. Bush compared to chimps and other primates be offensive as well?”  But we can’t recall any photos comparing Laura Bush to a chimp.

Bingoing on: Alabama Circuit Judge Robert Vance says Attorney General Troy King — not the governor — has authority over an anti-gambling task force that has been raiding electronic bingo casinos and has ordered King to advise him by March 22 on whether he supports the raids.  The Montgomery Advertiser noted that King said last month that he might take control of the governor’s task force if it continued to pursue the “ill-advised and reckless approach” of trying to raid electronic bingo casinos without search warrants.  But he hasn’t moved to do so.  Gov. Bob Riley said he will appeal Vance’s ruling.  At a Saturday rally in Montgomery, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged the crowd to go back to their hometowns and “test the law just as they did at VictoryLand,” one of the casinos temporarily shut down by the task force.  State Sen. Paul Sanford, a Huntsville Republican, said he will introduce a new bill to put the matter to a statewide vote.  Another senator’s earlier bill failed to get enough votes to even be debated.

Dew Droplets: The Florida House Speaker has issued an edict banning cellphone picture-taking in the House chamber … State Sen. Mike Michot, chairman of the Louisiana Senate Finance Committee, says he wants public schools to start using Internet-based textbooks … Florence, South Carolina, has approved a daytime curfew for young people who should be in school … Florida’s python hunting season began this week … Candidates for mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, debated at a forum that was translated into French, Spanish and Swahili … Tennessee has changed the time for scheduled executions from 1 a.m. CST to 10 p.m. … New Orleans is considering an ordinance that would prohibit awarding city contracts to convicted felons.

Check out our News and Opinion Feeds for a lot more Southern happenings.

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Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor

Ron Taylor was born and raised in Georgia and worked more than 40 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter and editor and as an online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. He served for a time as the newspaper's regional editor, overseeing coverage of the South. He is co-author, with Dr. Leonard Ray Teel, of Into the Newsroom:  An Introduction to Journalism and has conducted workshops in the Middle East on feature writing.