There was plenty of political activity when suburban voters went to the polls last week to vote in school board races.
And much of it had to do with a different set of elections, the county primary and general elections on the ballot in 2014.
As the polls were still open, more than 100 supporters of Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos gathered for her campaign kickoff at Ciao Bella restaurant in East Memphis for a $50-a-head fundraiser.
And many of those attending were going to similar events around town that same evening.
Touliatos and other contenders on the 2014 ballot aren’t ready just yet for billboards and television advertisements. A few have “push cards,” the printed cards they hand voters that list a brief bio and their list of accomplishment or goals.
But at this stage, candidates are building the framework that will allow them to contact voters on several fronts once voters are as attuned as they are going to be to the decisions on a ballot.
Voters are not there yet and probably won’t be until shortly before the May county primaries. After the primaries, there will be a lull and then the campaign to the August elections.
Touliatos, who is seeking re-election as a Republican, and her two potential challengers in the Democratic primary – Henri Brooks and Kenneth Moody – have to explain a job and function that isn’t as high-profile as mayor, Shelby County Commissioner or one of the numerous races for judge on the 2014 ballot.
But it is in the clerk races that the local parties show the deepest ideological differences.
“We’re basically the backbone to the court,” said Touliatos, who won the office four years ago, when Juvenile Court Clerk Steve Stamson did not seek re-election. “Our office does all of the clerical work for the court. In order for the court to run, it basically takes my office to do that.”
That includes the bailiffs who work in the courtrooms, taking child-support payments, seeing that summons are served and staffing the courtrooms with clerks to record minutes.
“Some people think that we have a lot to do with the children and the families,” she said. “We’re just like all the other clerks. We just handle the clerical work for the court.”
But Brooks and Moody are the latest Democratic contenders for the office who are likely to campaign on expanding the duties of the office.
Brooks, a former Juvenile Court employee and Tennessee House of Representatives member, has been a vocal critic of the court as a whole. Her complaint to the U.S. Justice Department resulted in the agreement between the court and Shelby County government to resolve conditions federal investigators said led to the disproportionate detention and harsher treatment of African-American juveniles as well a lack of due process in court procedures.
Democratic nominees for other countywide clerk positions have also run for those positions on platforms in which they vowed to extend services beyond the keeping of court records and administering funds that come into the office and are paid out of it.
Touliatos is taking the approach that most Republican contenders have taken over just as many county election cycles – an emphasis on no-frills administration of the office that focuses on consistency and doing the job with very few, if any, headlines.
“I just run the race that I need to run. I take every opponent seriously,” she said. “I’ll just run the same race I ran last time.”
She was among the nine Republican nominees in 2010 that swept every countywide office in that year’s August county general election ballot.
Among those attending her opening were Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and County Trustee David Lenoir – who were among the other Republicans elected countywide in 2010 – and Democratic Shelby County Commission Chairman James Harvey.