VOL. 129 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 7, 2014
Fields Begin to Gel for May and August Ballots
By Bill Dries
With two weeks to the filing deadline for candidates in the May Shelby County primary elections and two months to the deadline for those in the August state and federal primaries and county nonpartisan elections, the fields have solidified enough that some political players are weighing their prospects for a late entry before the filing deadlines.
The latest name to surface is Memphis City Council member Lee Harris, who is kicking off an exploratory committee to look at running in the August Democratic primary for Tennessee Senate District 29, the seat currently held by Democrat Ophelia Ford and held by a member of the Ford family since 1975.
Harris won election to his council seat in 2011. Next week’s fundraiser to kick off the exploratory look is $40 a person. Part of the exploration will involve how much Harris is likely to raise through his campaign committee, called “Lee Harris Ready for Change.”
Through Wednesday, Feb. 5, 157 qualifying petitions had been issued by the Shelby County Election Commission for candidates on the Aug. 7 ballot, including independents running in the partisan county general elections. Of the 157 petitions, some pulled by a single candidate for multiple races, 38 had been filed with the Election Commission. The filing deadline is April 3 at noon.
Of the three Tennessee Senate seats covering Shelby County on the August primary ballot, only Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey in District 31 has no opposition from either party so far.
Seven of the 15 Tennessee House incumbents from Shelby County are running unopposed so far.
In the nonpartisan judicial races, the power of incumbency tends to count for more when there are open seats among the several divisions within a particular court.
In the three parts of Shelby County Chancery Court, incumbent Chancellors Walter Evans and Kenny Armstrong had no opposition through Wednesday, and each had filed his re-election petition. But in Part 2 of Chancery Court, where incumbent Arnold Goldin is not seeking re-election because of his appointment to the state appeals court that takes effect in September, there are nine potential candidates so far, but none of them had filed as of Wednesday. Six of the nine have pulled multiple petitions for other judicial races on the same ballot.
Seven of the 10 incumbent Shelby County Criminal Court judges are running unopposed thus far. But in Circuit Court, only two of the six incumbent judges who have petitions out or who have filed are without opposition at this point: Division 6 Judge Jerry Stokes and Division 9 Judge Robert Childers.
A total of 93 petitions had been pulled through Wednesday evening for the May 6 county primary races, and 28 of the candidates had filed their petitions. The filing deadline for the county primaries is Feb. 20 at noon.
At the two-week mark, incumbent Republican District Attorney General Amy Weirich and Republican Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar still had no Democratic or Republican challengers. Only one of the five other commission incumbents seeking re-election is without primary opposition so far. That is Republican Commissioner Heidi Shafer.
Seven of the other 10 incumbents holding countywide office have no primary opposition at this point: Democratic Assessor of Property Cheyenne Johnson, Republican Trustee David Lenoir, Republican Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos, Republican Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn, Republican Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood, Republican Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd and Republican Sheriff Bill Oldham.
All seven have potential opposition in the other party’s primary.
In the Sheriff’s race, both Oldham and his likely Democratic challenger, retired sheriff’s deputy Bennie Cobb, have filed their qualifying petitions. So far, Cobb has no opposition in the primary.
Cobb ran four years ago in the Democratic primary for sheriff won by Randy Wade. Oldham emerged from a crowded Republican primary field for the open position as incumbent Sheriff Mark Luttrell ran for Shelby County mayor.
The difference in the sheriff’s race four years later shows the power of incumbency.
Both Cobb and Oldham could still draw primary opposition. Such is the fluid nature even with two weeks to the filing deadline. Potential candidates weigh their options carefully, looking for what seems to be the right opportunity. And candidates considering the same race often try to persuade each other to consider another race or to run next time.
Those discussions continue even after the filing deadline. Every candidate who files a qualifying petition by the first deadline then has another week to withdraw from the ballot if they choose.