VOL. 129 | NO. 67 | Monday, April 7, 2014
2014 Campaigns Hit the Streets
By Bill Dries
With the April filing deadline behind them and early voting for the county primaries a week and a half ahead, those running for elected office in Shelby County this year kept a full weekend schedule.
Campaign openings and forums crowded political calendars Saturday, April 5, with candidates weighing which events would have more undecided and approachable voters than candidates. Several candidates were planning to move quickly from event to event and bring out campaign workers for Saturday’s Downtown parade to mark the reopening of the renovated National Civil Rights Museum.
Behind-the-scenes work remains on changing the minds of some who made last week’s filing deadline for the August ballot of state and federal primaries as well as nonpartisan judicial and school board races.
Those who made last week’s deadline have until Thursday, April 10, at noon to withdraw.
The judicial offices on the August ballot are up once every eight years, which makes the attorneys and judicial incumbents among the most reluctant of campaigners – and among those who watch the closest for potential opposition. This year, half as many judicial incumbents are running unopposed compared to eight years ago.
In the 40 judicial races for state court judgeships, 10 incumbents were unopposed at the filing deadline, and five judicial races had no incumbent running.
In August 2006, 20 incumbent judges ran unopposed. Only one judicial race didn’t have an incumbent – Juvenile Court judge, which doesn’t have an incumbent again this year.
One contender in the nonpartisan school board races on the August ballot was the envy of other politicos.
Miska Clay Bibbs, director of community engagement for Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school organization, claimed the District 7 seat on the Shelby County Schools board by virtue of being the only candidate to file in the race. She is the only non-incumbent office seeker of any kind to win at the filing deadline – a rare feat in Memphis politics.
Among the other school board contenders is former state Rep. Mike Kernell, who lost a re-election bid two years ago to fellow Democrat G.A. Hardaway in one of two new state House districts in Shelby County combined as part of the state Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting process.
Kernell, who was elected to the Legislature in 1974, said his experience could help Shelby County Schools.
“I want to keep myself busy because I still want to contribute. I started so young,” he said. “I’m not ready to go out to pasture.”
At last week’s deadline, Memphis City Council member Lee Harris answered the major question about the August ballot, filing to challenge state Sen. Ophelia Ford in the Democratic primary for District 29, the Senate seat held by a member of the Ford family since 1975.
In a letter sent to potential supporters Thursday, Harris said, “I’m running because I believe folks are ready for change. … The last time she ran for re-election, no other candidates even bothered to file. She already has more than $21,000 in the bank. The race is against an entrenched incumbent and is only winnable if everyone pitches in.”
Raising the money necessary for the challenge was a major concern for Harris, who conducted a “listening tour” to gauge support before taking the leap at the deadline. At times, the listening tour got some chuckles at political events Harris attended. But Harris held to his stance that he was still considering whether or not to challenge the best-known family name in Memphis politics.
He was still gathering signatures and saying he was undecided at a Wednesday evening fundraiser Downtown for Heidi Kuhn, a candidate in the May Democratic primary for Probate Court clerk.
Kuhn, like others in partisan county races, runs on the May ballot to win a place on the August ballot.
Kuhn is director of training and workforce development for Shelby County government, her latest post in a 15-year career in county government.
She told a group of 30 at The Rendezvous that she wants the clerk’s office to be more transparent and sensitive to bereavement issues.
Kuhn is part of a seven-candidate primary field challenging Republican incumbent Paul Boyd, who advances automatically to the August ballot because he has no primary opposition.
The race to come in August is part of a larger campaign by Republicans to keep the nine countywide offices its candidate won four years ago and by Democrats to avenge the sweep of countywide offices the Republicans made in 2010.
But in many of the primary races for offices that Democrats hold in county government, Democratic voters will decide in May between incumbents and challengers.