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VOL. 129 | NO. 165 | Monday, August 25, 2014

Kyle Senate Replacement Process Slows

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Bryan Carson has slowed down the process of picking a Democratic nominee for the state Senate seat Jim Kyle is giving up effective Sept. 1 to become a Chancery Court judge.

KYLE

And Kyle himself is seeking a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General on how the process should work.

Those on the local Democratic Party’s executive committee had been set to select a nominee at a meeting Thursday, Aug. 28, for a special general election on the Nov. 4 ballot with local Republicans to use a similar method in naming their party’s nominee.

Because the primaries in regularly scheduled state legislative elections were already on the Aug. 7 ballot, in which Kyle was elected to the nonpartisan judicial position, there isn’t time for primary elections before the November state and federal general elections.

But the jockeying for the Democratic nod in the predominantly Democratic state Senate district prompted a schedule for coming up with a nominee before Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has issued a writ of a vacancy and special election. That, in turn, prompted some Democratic leaders to question whether anything could happen until Haslam acts and to question the rush to a nominee.

Carson sought guidance from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron last week and, based on that, called off plans to select a nominee this week.

In a Wednesday email to party leaders in Shelby County, Herron said he and Carson agreed “that a bit more time would be helpful to gain definitive word from our lawyers on the good questions that are being raised.”

Herron has party attorneys working on definitive answers.

Meanwhile, the selection of a Democratic nominee has drawn varying levels of interest, from former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, former Tennessee Regulatory Authority member and Tennessee Public Service Commissioner Sara Kyle – the wife of the exiting state senator – and several state representatives in the Shelby County delegation to Nashville.

Combine that with questions about whether executive committee members from state House districts partially in the Senate district can vote on a nominee even if they don’t live in the state Senate district and you have the makings of a political drama close on the heels of the August county general elections.

And those lining up on different sides of the legal questions were often on opposing sides in the last election season on questions of the party’s tactics and approach in the unsuccessful attempt to win more countywide offices from Republicans.

Some party leaders have said they fear a lawsuit challenging the nominee selected if there aren’t some definitive answers to questions on the technicalities before the local party proceeds.

Herron settled at least one, the question of when the executive committee members should select the nominee.

“I commit to you that it will not be before there is a vacancy,” Herron wrote. “But it will be before the deadline for getting a nominee to the election officials.”

Herron also offered that he believes an executive committee member who represents any portion of the Senate district but doesn’t necessarily live in it can vote and that the executive committee vote must be open and not by secret ballot.

But Herron also said he is having party attorneys research and issue a legal opinion on both questions as well as whether it takes a majority or a plurality to select a nominee.

If a sitting state House member gets the nomination, it poses even more complex legal questions about what happens to their seats on the November ballot.

The potential disruptions to the Shelby County delegation are the second in a series that began with the once-a-decade redistricting of the Legislature because of the U.S. Census. The Republican majorities in both chambers approved a plan that put several Democratic incumbents in the House and Senate in the same district just as the Democratic majorities did to several Republican incumbents in the redistricting that followed the 1990 U.S. Census.

Kyle and Marrero were among the Democratic incumbents, running against each other in the 2012 Democrat primary for the redrawn Senate District 30. Kyle won the primary election and went on to win the general election for a four-year term of office.

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