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VOL. 128 | NO. 47 | Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Political Season Begins

By Bill Dries

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There was a brief time last year when it looked like 2013 would be that rare political creature in Memphis politics – an off-election year.

A citywide sales tax increase referendum in the late summer or fall is probably going to continue the unbroken string of more than 10 consecutive years with at least a special election on a ballot locally. Outside Memphis there are municipal elections in Lakeland and Arlington.

And even when there are off-election years, that doesn’t mean it is a year without politics.

Both local political parties will be electing chairmen for new terms this month and in April.

Current Democratic Party chairman Van Turner is not seeking another term after four years as chairman.

Both local political parties elect chairmen for a one-year term at the conventions every two years and the chairmen usually seek and get a second one-year term in the off-convention year that follows.

Turner touted President Barack Obama carrying Shelby County in the 2012 elections as Tennessee went to Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Democratic candidates got swept in the 2010 countywide elections, losing all nine countywide races to Republicans.

“We’re still fighting in the countywide elections,” Turner said. “I think if we can galvanize the Democratic base and get good candidates, we can have better results countywide.”

Turner also said “factional fighting” has taken its toll on local party efforts in a county where Democrats countywide probably outnumber Republicans but don’t turn out to vote as a majority.

“Everybody knows this. I think figuring out what’s going on and correcting what is going on is the task of the next chairman and the next executive committee over the next decade,” Turner said. “I think our key to countywide elections is presenting a candidate who will have crossover appeal. … Someone who is just an attractive candidate, who is the best person for that position. I think that’s where we really have to focus.”

Whitehaven businessman Terry Spicer, local party parliamentarian Bryan Carson and longtime party activist Jennings Bernard are vying to succeed Turner in a contest to be decided at the April 6 local party convention at Airways Middle School.

Party leaders held a $10 a ballot straw poll Tuesday, March 5, in Overton Square to raise money to pay the cost of putting on the local party convention.

Spicer brought two busloads of teenagers and young adults from Whitehaven to the gathering in a private party room at Side Street Grill. The bar manager quickly guessed many were under the legal age of 21 for the bar and said they would have to leave.

Spicer’s backers said it was a private gathering that they should have been permitted to attend. But Spicer had the group quickly file out of the business and back onto the buses. Carson took the straw poll in which totals for each candidate were not announced, but approximately 400 ballots were cast. And Spicer made his point that he will be a force to be reckoned with at the March 16 party gathering in which delegates to the April 6 convention will be selected.

Local Republican Party chairman Justin Joy is expected to seek another term as chairman at the March 24 GOP convention.

Joy claimed the chairmanship without opposition two years ago as tea party activists made their presence known and claimed several seats on the party’s steering committee.

Meanwhile, candidates in the 2014 county primaries and general election are about to announce their intentions.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is expected to seek a second term on the Republican side and could kick off his re-election effort in the late spring.

Former Shelby County Commissioner Deidre Malone, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary, is weighing a second bid for mayor.

She ran in 2010 and since then has built her public relations and marketing firm while working in the campaigns of others as well as the pro-schools merger referendum campaign in 2011.

“I look at all of the things that are going on now when it comes to education and when I was on the commission, my big focus when I was chairman was on school funding, single-source funding,” Malone said of the discussions that were a prelude to the schools annexation push. “So we’re going to look at it. We’re going to see what other Democrats are interested. But right now I’m really torn because I’ve been focusing on my business and I’m really loving that.”

Malone said she expects to make her decision sometime during the summer.

Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and state Sen. Jim Kyle are also considering the Democratic primary race.

Reporter Sarah Baker contributed to this story.

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