A map may be one of the most valuable tools of the coming campaign season for the Shelby County Commission.
Two contenders in the 2014 commission races and elections kicked off a joint fundraiser in East Memphis last week with campaign handouts that included a map of the districts they are each running in.
Reginald Milton is running in the May 6 Democratic primary for commission District 10 and Van Turner is running in the Democratic primary for District 12. The general election is Aug. 7, 2014.
“It picks up at Hickory Hill Road and Winchester and goes out to Winchester and Hacks Cross,” said Turner, as he opened his remarks to the group of around 100 at Owen Brennan’s restaurant.
In the 2006 commission elections, eight of the 13 members were elected to their first term. Much of the turnover was the results of term limits of two consecutive terms for those on the commission.
Eight years later, six of the 13 commissioners are term limited, promising another turnover on the legislative body whose ideological and party divide has become more pronounced in those eight years.
But it won’t be a turnover like that seen in the 2006 elections. There are other factors at play.
Everyone, incumbent and challenger and those campaigning for open seats, is running in new districts.
With the 2010 census as its guide, the commission district boundaries have been redrawn with commissioners redistributed among them for the 2014 elections.
The commission currently has five districts, four of which are represented by three members each. And the fifth district is smaller with a single representative.
For the 2014 elections and new term of office that begins Sept. 1 that changes to a commission with 13 single-member districts.
Milton is executive director of the South Memphis Alliance, a nonprofit organization for foster children and foster care that is part of an effort to revitalize the Soulsville neighborhood in South Memphis.
“I don’t wear a suit all the time. I’m a community organizer and I do it from the ground level,” he told those at the fundraiser as he cited political advice from his father. “He said don’t waste your time with people who promise what they are going to do for you. … Ask yourself what has this person been doing. What have they been providing? Where is their commitment?”
Turner is an attorney and former chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party. He is also former president of the Ben F. Jones chapter of the National Bar Association.
After four years as local party chairman, Turner is familiar with the promise and challenge county elections hold for Memphis Democrats.
Democrats have majority status in the overall count of eligible voters countywide, keeping in mind that voters in Tennessee do not register by party and partisan primaries are “open” – meaning voters choose what primary to vote in at the polling place.
But the Democratic majority that leaders of both parties acknowledge depends on voter turnout and general election votes are affected by the ability of crossover candidates carrying the banner of both parties.
Local Democrats banked heavily on the majority status in the 2010 countywide elections and lost every countywide general election race to Republican candidates. The party retained the seven-vote majority on the Shelby County Commission.
Democrats made up some ground in 2012 with incumbent contenders winning two of the three countywide general election races on the smaller county ballot that year.
Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway said city and county government suffer from “a deficit of leadership.” His comments were an indication that the ability to win a low turnout primary next May shouldn’t be enough to represent the party in the general election.
“You get the government, you get the leadership you deserve. You get what you vote for,” he told those at the fundraiser. “At some point, we’ve got to start looking at character, looking at leadership qualities.”
Milton and Turner each cited recent commission decisions on funding for local public schools as a key issue for commission candidates. Milton also said it is important to build a voting block on the commission on such vital issues, which was the reason behind the joint fundraiser.
“You can elect one person,” he said. “But it takes six more to help you pass anything. And you need more than one person.”
Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Terry Roland was to kick off his re-election campaign with a Saturday, July 27, pancake breakfast fundraiser to be held at Richland Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.