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VOL. 129 | NO. 32 | Monday, February 17, 2014

Harris Questions Ford’s Guns-in-Parks Vote

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council member Lee Harris started raising funds and gauging support for a challenge of state Sen. Ophelia Ford last week by bringing up Ford’s vote earlier in the week in favor of the bill allowing guns to be carried in parks regardless of whether a local government bans the practice.


“I haven’t decided whether I will run for state Senate or not,” Harris said at the Thursday, Feb. 13, fundraiser at the Midtown home of attorney Isaac Kimes. “But I can guarantee you that if I do decide to run for state Senate and I’m lucky and I’m blessed enough to win that office, I will not vote for guns in city parking lots. I will not vote for guns on playgrounds or in city parks. I will not vote for guns in bars that sell alcohol.”

Harris sent out invitations to the fundraiser when Ford had not yet pulled a qualifying petition to run in the August Democratic primary for the District 29 seat.

She has since pulled her petition and filed it with the Shelby County Election Commission.

The Ford family has held the Senate seat since 1975 when John Ford was elected to the seat. He resigned following his indictment in the Tennessee Waltz corruption scandal in 2005, and his sister, Ophelia Ford, won the seat by 13 votes in a special election that was unsuccessfully contested by Republican candidate Terry Roland.

Harris cited his 2 1/2-year record on the council, including cuts in city funding to the Economic Development Growth Engine board, which he termed “corporate welfare,” to divert funding to the Memphis Area Transit Authority. He also pointed to the council’s decision to change the names of three Confederate-themed city parks and the passage of a city nondiscrimination ordinance that includes a ban on discrimination because of sexual orientation.

“We’ve gotten a lot done over the course of this 2 1/2 years. … But I’m at a moment where I think there’s more to do,” Harris told the group of several dozen people, including fellow council member Harold Collins and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy. “I believe that Democrats might be ready for change, and I believe that Democrats really need a voice on the state level and that this is a transition period and a time for us to try to see if we can have that voice.”

Kimes, who hosted a similar fundraiser at his home last year for Democratic County Commission candidate Jake Brown, also cited the need for change within and outside the local Democratic Party.

“I will not vote for guns in city parking lots. I will not vote for guns on playgrounds.”

–Lee Harris

“Right now, as it stands, our city mayor and our county mayor and our state senator are all over the age of 60,” Kimes said. “And they’ve been there for a long time. And that’s good. They’ve put in a long career, all of them. But we’ve seen the results, and right now it’s time for some change.”

Collins, whose district includes Whitehaven, echoed the sentiment.

“My concerns are why does it take so long for us to get stuff done in Memphis?” Collins said. “For the life of me, I can’t believe we’ve had so much leadership on the Democratic side but allowed communities like Whitehaven to go down the drain. That’s a lack of leadership, and we’ve been frustrated with that.”

Harris has until the April 3 filing deadline for the August state and federal primaries to make up his mind on challenging Ford.

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