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VOL. 123 | NO. 11 | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Primary Voting Begins Today

By Bill Dries

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Early voting in the Feb. 5 Tennessee presidential primaries and the primaries for Shelby County property assessor and General Sessions Court clerk opens today.

Shelby County voters begin making their choices in the presidential races as the contenders are focused on the coming South Carolina primaries.

Presidential possibilities

But with the race for both nominations undecided, there are indications Memphians will be seeing more of the presidential contenders and their campaigns than they have since the 1980s.

The Republican contest features two familiar faces, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The campaigns of Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are already at work wooing high-profile local party members to their respective causes.

Unlike Democrats, GOP primary voters will vote for more than a presidential candidate. They will also vote for delegates pledged to that candidate. There are at-large delegates and delegates representing each of the three congressional districts that include Shelby County.

The length of the list reflects how competitive the race remains.

State Election Coordinator Brook Thompson expressed some concern about the length of the delegate slates.

"It may just turn out to be such a large ballot in the counties that have a heavy Republican turnout, that I'm concerned about how long it's going to take," he said recently.

Ron Paul has a slate of 21 at-large delegate candidates. Thompson has 19 and Huckabee has 16.

It's local too

The four local primaries are a mixed bag. Two already are decided because there is only one candidate. Democrat Cheyenne Johnson advances to the August general election in the race for assessor. Republican incumbent Chris Turner is unopposed in his party's primary for General Sessions Court clerk.

Turner will face the winner of the Democratic primary showdown between Otis Jackson and Jerome Payne, an attorney. Jackson narrowly lost a general election race for county clerk in 2006.

The passive primary experience for Turner is new. The former state legislator said it is the first time he's run unopposed in his political career.

"I guess who's best qualified to serve would probably be the No. 1 issue," he said as he touted technological advances that allow those with cases in the courts to see documents via computer or check on the status of their cases by phone. "It's certainly a big difference from the way law was practiced years ago."

Johnson, chief administrative officer of the assessor's office who has the backing of outgoing Assessor Rita Clark, will face the winner of a four-candidate Republican primary. Johnson, like Turner, was surprised to emerge without primary opposition.

The Republican candidates are local GOP chairman and real estate broker Bill Giannini; Betty Boyette, a candidate for City Court clerk in the 2007 elections; Randy Lawson, former Germantown city technology manager; and John C. Bogan, a 15-year employee of the assessor's office who ran four years ago but ran an inactive campaign.

The strategy in 2004 was to have a consensus challenger to Clark in the person of former Assessor Harold Sterling. Sterling had name recognition the others didn't have, but he still lost to Clark in the general election.

"I and a bunch of others decided we just weren't going to spend any money on it," said Bogan, a deputy assessor, as he talked about why he decided to stay on the ballot this time. "It's really a haphazard, loosely run organization. They're strict on the budget and making sure that they punch the time clock and all of the other stuff. But when it comes to the customer, the same standards don't apply.

"I'm very underfunded. So, I'm going to be fighting an uphill battle. I threw my name out there and we'll see what happens."

PROPERTY SALES 32 252 16,449
MORTGAGES 35 120 10,207
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,041 39,585
BANKRUPTCIES 52 188 7,785