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VOL. 129 | NO. 48 | Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shelby County Party Heads Look Ahead to Primaries

By Bill Dries

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March 7 "Behind the Headlines"

http://bit.ly/1iswbQc

As Shelby County Democrats try to improve on losing every countywide office to Republicans in the 2010 county elections, party leaders are also warning political figures who identify as Democrats not to cross party lines.

The second round of censures for supporting Republicans by the party’s executive committee this year included Shelby County Commissioner and former Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Sidney Chism as well as state Rep. Joe Towns and state Sen. Reginald Tate. State party executive committee member Hazel Moore was also censured by the group for attending a fundraiser for Republican Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore along with Towns and Tate.

Chism was censured for speaking against Democratic nominee for sheriff Bennie Cobb who is challenging Republican incumbent Bill Oldham in the August county general election.

CARSON

“Typically in the past, I think it’s been overlooked,” said Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Bryan Carson on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “But this year, we’re not going to tolerate that. … Perception is everything and our code of ethics basically says if you violate our values, our Democratic principles, by supporting or endorsing or raising money for Republicans you can be censured.”

JOY

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

For Shelby County Republican Party Chairman Justin Joy, the challenge isn’t party loyalty with a slate of countywide incumbents from four years ago. It’s complacency.

The Republican Party has similar loyalty provisions, but for Joy they don’t come into play when the candidates winning the primaries are also winning the general elections.

“There certainly is a very important role that the two-party system plays and those lines have to be maintained,” he said. “But that being said, Shelby County, whether you are a Republican or you’re a Democrat – you not only need your base to vote for you, but you need a very substantial amount of crossover vote. … It’s important to appeal to a very broad base of Shelby County voters.”

The overall turnout for the same set of county primaries four years ago was 10 percent.

Carson thinks that could be the percentage again this year. If he can’t change that, Carson wants to change what happens after a hard-fought Democratic primary.

“In the past, people tended to get upset,” he said. “If someone loses, they have their supporters frowning on the Democratic nominee. At the end of the day, we’re all Democrats.”

Joy termed such censures a “fine line” to walk. The censure risks further alienating those who didn’t feel they could support the party’s nominee for reasons that might be valid.

Joy makes a distinction between those who go a different way but don’t “publicly” support the other party’s candidates.

But Carson’s strategy has already shown some results. Former local Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner, who is running for County Commission this year, publicly apologized for attending a fundraiser for Republican Trustee David Lenoir on behalf of his law firm. Three party members censured before the current election cycle were declared back in line with the local party after they too made amends.

Carson’s challenge is to move the party ticket away from familiar faces who have lost multiple times but also to do better in retaining the party loyalty those faces insisted was theirs by virtue of being Democrats and winning primaries with about a 10 to 15 percent turnout.

Coleman Thompson, the party’s nominee over multiple primaries for Shelby County register, is back. But when Linda Harris pulled a petition to give former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown some competition in the coming Democratic primary for Shelby County district attorney general, Carson immediately said he and the party’s leadership considered Brown to already be the party’s nominee and challenger to Republican incumbent Amy Weirich.

Tate is one of seven Democrats in the 33-member state Senate. He was elected chairman of the Shelby County legislative delegation last year primarily with the votes of Shelby County Republicans in the group.

Towns and Tate are each seeking re-election this year starting with the August state legislative primary elections. And the censure does not block them from seeking re-election in the Democratic primary, at least at this point.

The party censured Shelby County Commission Chairman James Harvey earlier this year for attending fundraisers for Republican candidates as well as winning the chairmanship with the votes of five of the six Republicans on the commission.

Meanwhile, Joy said despite initial concerns about a move to single-member County Commission districts in this busy election year, he thinks Republicans could make some gains in a 13-member body where Republicans are now a six-seat minority.

“The plan that we have now, I think does present some opportunities,” Joy said. “The geographic boundaries of the districts are smaller. At least in theory you don’t have as many people to reach in order to be victorious on election day.”

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