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VOL. 129 | NO. 31 | Friday, February 14, 2014

Democratic Commission Majority Could Be Safe in Elections

By Bill Dries

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With a week to the filing deadline for candidates in the May 6 Shelby County primary elections, it looks as if Democrats will retain their seven-member majority on the Shelby County Commission.

The commission switches to a set of 13 single-member districts with the 2014 elections instead of the current structure of one single-member district and four districts each represented by three commissioners.

Commissioners drew their own district lines, and the results of their work and the majorities they built into those districts are shown in the decisions by prospective contenders in both parties. Experienced candidates usually look at voting-age population numbers and primary election turnout within the district’s precincts before deciding whether they have a realistic chance of winning.

Seven districts didn’t have any prospective Republican candidates at the one-week mark from the noon Thursday, Feb. 20, deadline to file qualifying petitions.

In four of the districts, no prospective Democratic candidates have pulled petitions one week before the deadline.

Republican incumbent Heidi Shafer is unopposed so far in the District 5 primary. But she could face opposition in the August general election from Democrat Tanya Bartee, who has a petition out but has not yet filed, according to the Shelby County Election Commission.

The District 4 Republican primary is, at present, a match-up between Mark Billingsley and Ron Fittes, with the winner to meet Democrat Jacqueline Jackson in August. Jackson had not filed her petition at the one-week mark. If she does, she would be unopposed in the primary, at least for now.

Commissioner Steve Basar remains the only one of the six incumbents seeking re-election who has no opposition.

That could change, and other candidates could effectively win at the filing deadline if those who have pulled petitions decide not to file.

Of the 44 citizens who have pulled petitions in the primaries for the 13 commission seats, only 14 had filed to run a week from the deadline.


Attorney and former local Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner has potential opposition in the District 12 Democratic primary from Douglas K. Winston, who has not yet filed.

Turner’s effort is one of the higher profile district campaigns. Turner celebrated his 39th birthday a week late at a Feb. 8 fundraiser at The Peabody hotel that drew an endorsement from Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

“We may not like it as it is today,” Wharton told the room of more than 100 supporters. “But don’t make your decision on our county as it is today.”

Turner said he is a proud Democrat but added he wants to be seen as “a good candidate first – a candidate who just happens to be a Democrat.”

“I was born and raised in Whitehaven. I had opportunities to go elsewhere,” he said. “But I decided to come home, and I thought Memphis was worth coming back to.”

If Turner is unopposed in the Democratic primary, he will still face opposition in the August general election from Alvin Crook, who is running as an independent and has already filed his petition.

Crook has said he is running as an independent to emphasize the need for change and to reflect a nonpartisan approach he would take on the commission if elected.

Since the dawn of partisan county election primaries 22 years ago, no independent candidate has ever won an election to a county office in which primaries precede the general election.

Of the 11 countywide offices on the ballot, seven incumbents – all Republicans – have no opposition thus far in the May primaries. All 11 countywide incumbents, including one Democrat and 10 Republicans, are seeking re-election.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell filed his petition Tuesday morning at 8:45 a.m. Luttrell has opposition from perennial candidate Ernie Lunati in the May Republican mayoral primary. There are four likely contenders for mayor in the Democratic primary.

Democratic Property Assessor Cheyenne Johnson has opposition in that primary from Lorie Ingram. Republicans Keith Alexander and Mary Royko have filed in the companion primary for Assessor.

The general election matchup for Shelby County Sheriff between Republican incumbent Bill Oldham and Democrat Bennie Cobb could be set at the filing deadline if no one else files by then in either primary.

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