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VOL. 128 | NO. 113 | Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chism Pushing for Younger Democratic Contenders

By Bill Dries

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Candidates in the 2014 elections for Shelby County Commission emerged at Commissioner Sidney Chism’s political picnic over the weekend.

Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism says he will remain involved in local politics but won’t run again.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

Chism renewed the annual event this year after a year’s absence in which he ran what is expected to be his last race – a bid for General Sessions Court clerk in the Democratic primary. He lost to Ed Stanton, who went on to win the general election.

“I think I’m going to sit it out,” Chism said Saturday, June 8. “By the time I finish this term I will be 74 years old. If I run again, I’ll be 78 before I come out of it. Some of us have gotten to the place that we need to have trained younger people to take our places.”

Chism is one of six county commissioners who cannot seek re-election in 2014 because they have served two consecutive terms in office.

As Chism walked the hills and trails of the picnic site on Horn Lake Road, three candidates for the County Commission in the 2014 elections made their debut.

Countywide school board member Patrice Robinson is running in commission District 9. Reginald Milton, executive director of the nonprofit South Memphis Alliance, is running for District 10. And attorney and former local Democratic Party chairman Van Turner is running for District 12.

“It’s really early,” Robinson said of the effort.

But she and any other contenders are running with a new set of district lines that convert the commission from its current set of four districts with three elected members per district and a single-member district to 13 single-member districts.

For candidates it means more work. Candidates normally spend much of their time just introducing themselves to voters. In 2014, the commission contenders will also be questioning voters about which of the new smaller districts they live in as well.

Chism’s picnic has always been nonpartisan, open to Republicans and Democrats, no matter who Chism might be backing in a particular race.

Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, seeking re-election in the 2014 Republican primary, had the biggest presence at the picnic with some new campaign paraphernalia with the word “re-election” added and some old material from 2010 using the word “elect.”

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell also stopped by the picnic. Luttrell hasn’t formally announced but is expected to seek a second four-year term in 2014.

Chism was politically active before winning a seat on the Shelby County Commission in 2006. The retired Teamster union leader was a key financial backer of Willie Herenton’s historic 1991 bid for Memphis mayor. And he is former chairman of the local Democratic Party.

“I can’t stay out of it. I’m going to do something,” Chism said. “I’ll either be two or three things, working for somebody in the political arena as a consultant. But I can’t stay out of politics. … But we’ve got to get new people.”

And those new contenders should not be candidates who rely on the elected positions to make their living for the foreseeable future, jumping from one office to another as they hit the two consecutive term limit in the county charter.

“You don’t have to be rich. But you should be independent of the system when it comes to financing,” Chism said. “If you are not there, you are subject to do some things that you shouldn’t do.”

Democrats lost every countywide office on the county general election ballot to Republicans in 2010. But they won two of the three countywide offices on the much smaller 2012 county general election ballot.

Chism is among those in the party, including new party Chairman Bryan Carson, who say the party has to move away from the same group of perennial candidates running and not winning.

“The Democratic Party has been running four or five candidates on a consistent basis that even the Democrats don’t have enough confidence in them to be able to win and perform,” Chism said. “We’ve got to get away from that.”

But those candidates have proven capable of winning the primary elections, which generate a much lower turnout than the general election.

“They can always win that. But they never win a general because even Democrats don’t turn out to vote for them,” Chism added. “We’ve got to start promoting good young candidates that can move this city forward.”

But finding such a candidate is very much in the eye of the beholder. Chism wasn’t a fan of New Path, a political group with a goal of bringing new faces to the ballot that challenged him in the past.

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