As fewer than 2,000 voters participated in the latest of 11 elections in Shelby County in a three-month span, the independent candidate in the Nov. 21 special general election for state House District 91 filed suit against state election officials in U.S. Federal Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
Raumesh Akbari won the Democratic primary special election Oct. 8 for state House District 91 in a race that saw just 5.4 percent voter turnout.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
Raumesh Akbari, an attorney making her first bid for elected office, won the Democratic primary special election Tuesday, Oct. 8, in a race that saw an unofficial voter turnout of 5.4 percent.
The seven Democratic contenders were running for the state House District 91 seat held for 41 years by Memphis Democrat Lois DeBerry. The former House speaker pro tempore and longest-serving legislator in the House died in July.
Akbari is a Cordova High School graduate who earned her law degree from St. Louis University School of Law in May 2009. She works in the small business her parents opened in 1981, Akbari Corp., where she handles hiring, employment law and compliance.
“Truly the role of a state representative is to be a voice for the people in that district,” Akbari said last month at a forum at Magnolia First Baptist Church featuring all seven Democratic candidates. “The minute you start serving yourself instead of those in your community, you are no longer representing that district.”
She also told those at the church forum that she is aware that, if elected, she will serve as a Democrat in a legislative body that has a Republican supermajority.
“It is very difficult to get things accomplished, but you must never stop fighting for those who have put you in office and who have put their faith in you,” she said. “There are currently no black attorneys in the Tennessee House, and I can bring a new perspective in that way.”
Akbari also talked of seeking a balance in conventional public schools and charter schools that operate as part of Tennessee’s public school systems.
Akbari advances to a Nov. 21 special general election in District 91 in which she will face independent candidate Jim Tomasik. There were no Republican candidates in the heavily Democratic state House district.
Tomasik filed his qualifying petition as a Libertarian but is listed as an independent.
Tomasik's federal lawsuit
Tomasik and the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, of which he is chairman, filed suit Tuesday in Nashville federal court against Tennessee elections coordinator Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, seeking injunctions to be listed on the Nov. 21 ballot under the Libertarian Party heading, just as Akbari will be listed under the Democratic Party heading.
Tennessee law for getting a party heading and designation on a general election ballot requires a “new or minor political party” to submit a petition signed by enough voters to total at least 2.5 percent of the number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the most recent election.
Tomasik claims in the lawsuit that the state laws make it “virtually impossible to meet the petition deadline for minor political parties of 90 days before the general election.”
In the case of a special election, such as the one to fill DeBerry’s seat, state law requires the special election to be held within 100 to 107 days from the date the governor issues a writ for an election.
“In fact, it has been 45 years since a new political party was recognized by the state of Tennessee by way of petition for even a regular general election,” reads the court filing by Tomasik’s attorneys, Gary Blackburn of Nashville and James C. Linger of Tulsa, Okla.
Blackburn and Linger claim the state laws for ballot access “set an unconstitutional burden,” including an “unconstitutional infringement upon political association.”
Akbari had the support of state Rep. Barbara Cooper in a primary race featuring lots of new faces, including Terica Lamb, a business owner and employee of the Shelby County Trustee’s office, who came in second in the unofficial returns.
Third place went to Kemba Ford, the daughter of former state Sen. John Ford, who was making her second bid for elected office, following a 2011 bid for the Memphis City Council.
First-time contender Joshua Forbes placed fourth, ahead of Clifford Lewis, who has run for office before and has served on the local Democratic Party’s executive committee.
Doris DeBerry Bradshaw, a cousin of DeBerry and the sister of state Rep. John DeBerry, finished sixth in the unofficial returns, followed by labor official Kermit Moore, who, like Bradshaw, was making his first bid for elected office.
The returns become official when they are certified by the Shelby County Election Commission after an audit.