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VOL. 128 | NO. 72 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Carson Takes Charge of Shelby Democrats

By Bill Dries

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The new chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party says the 2014 big ballot of county elections will require more than a conclusion that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Shelby County.

Bryan Carson is the new chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. Carson was elected at the local party convention this month after two rivals for the post dropped out of the race. He serves a one-year term, and the chairman is usually re-elected to a second term by the party’s executive committee.

(Photo: Bill Dries)

Bryan Carson was elected chairman of the local party Saturday, April 6, at the county party convention. He succeeds Van Turner who served four years as party chairman and did not seek another one-year term.

Carson was elected by acclamation after two other contenders – Jennings Bernard and Terry Spicer – withdrew from the race.

Carson works in the epidemiology department of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He has been on the local party’s executive committee for several years serving as parliamentarian of the local party. His mother is Gale Jones Carson, who is a former local party chairwoman and is currently on the state Democratic Party’s executive committee.

“We want to make sure we have strong qualified Democrats who not only can win the primary but win the general election,” Carson said.

Shelby County Republican Party Chairman Justin Joy expressed similar sentiments about the local GOP battle plan following his re-election last month to another one-year term as chairman of his party.

In the last three years, candidates running under the banner of both local parties have proven past victories and pre-election assumptions about who has the majority and momentum don’t mean much on Election Day.

Local Democrats were confident they were the majority countywide in 2010 and ran a slate of nine candidates for countywide office who campaigned as a ticket. They all lost as Republican contenders claimed every countywide office on the ballot.

Two years later, Democratic candidates took two of the three countywide races on the general election ballot despite a higher turnout in the solidly Republican suburbs for municipal school board referendum questions on the ballots there.

In the third race, Republican District Attorney General Amy Weirich retained her position easily over Democratic nominee Carol Chumney.

Carson is drawing a distinction between being able to win in the local primaries, which generate a much lower turnout than general elections, and being able to win a countywide general election.

“If someone is stronger than you, why get in their way?” he asked. “If this person can come out in the general election and take the whole thing … that’s who we want in office. That’s who we want on the ballot.”

But it is not always that easy. Party chairmen can’t stop someone from picking up a qualifying petition and filing to run in the primaries, which are less than a year away.

And a candidate who believes he or she can win the primary will often believe they can take the general election as well, especially if they’ve won both before.

“No matter what you hear, we are alive in Shelby County,” convention Chairman David Cambron told the several hundred people for the convention at Airways Middle School. “We are the Democratic capital of Tennessee.”

But Memphis Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway appealed for Democratic help in changing the Republican super majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee legislature in the state capital, Nashville.

“Democrats, send us some help,” Hardaway said. “We’ve got some nonsense going on in Nashville that nothing can help but electing more Democrats.”

Changing the balance of power in the Tennessee legislature will take more than a general resolve to win elections.

Both local parties have settled into an unspoken truce when it comes to challenging incumbents of the other party for seats in the Tennessee legislature within the Shelby County delegation.

The 2014 elections will also see some structural changes, most notably in the Shelby County Commission, which goes to a set of 13 single-member districts with the 2014 elections. The commission currently has four districts represented by three commissioners each and one single-member district.

In 2014 there are more districts and they cover smaller areas.

But the commission races in 2014 will still be about the seven-vote Democratic majority on the body, the only victory Democrats had in the 2010 election cycle.

Jake Brown, who worked to turn out the Memphis Democratic base as part of the Democratic field office in Memphis in 2012, is interested in running in commission District 10, a smaller version of the district now represented by Democrat Steve Mulroy.

The general area is where Republican precincts meet Democratic precincts. The seat has been held by Republicans and Democrats and is considered the swing seat on the body.

“I found that when you are talking about local issues, there is a lot of stuff that crosses party lines and I think there is a lot of potential to work together,” Brown said of his interest in the commission race. “I think it is generally understood that a candidate cannot win that district seat without getting some crossover vote.”

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