VOL. 129 | NO. 174 | Monday, September 8, 2014
Democrats Choose State Senate Nominee
By Bill Dries
When Shelby County Democratic Party leaders gather Monday, Sept. 8, to pick their party’s nominee in the November special general election for state Senate District 30, it will also be an indication of how deep the wounds run from the party’s disastrous August election outing.
A group of executive committee members for the Shelby County Democratic Party will be picking the party’s nominee for the state Senate seat Democrat Jim Kyle gave up when he took office this month as a Shelby County Chancery Court judge.
Republican steering committee members chose former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn Thursday as the Republican nominee.
He was chosen by acclamation and without opposition in a complex, seldom-used procedure under state law that required a detailed legal opinion from the Tennessee attorney general’s office to map out the process for both parties.
Local party members from state House districts within the Senate district are choosing the nominees because there is not time for a primary election under state law.
The Democratic contenders for the nomination are former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, who lost her place in the Senate two years ago when she and Kyle were redistricted into the same district; former state representative and Memphis City Council member Carol Chumney; and former Tennessee Public Service Commissioner and Tennessee Regulatory Authority commissioner Sara Kyle, who is Jim Kyle’s wife.
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson had considered joining the group of Democratic contenders. But he announced last week he would not attempt the move to the state Senate because he would have to abandon his re-election bid to the state House on the November ballot before the local party makes its decision on a Senate nominee.
Because he is running unopposed for the House in November, a bid for the Senate nod would have left his state House seat open to anyone who declared as a write-in candidate.
Parkinson also said the most important factor in his pass on the nomination was “the possible fracturing of the Democratic Party.”
The party is fresh from losing every countywide race on the August ballot except the race for assessor. And the losses increase the volume on the local party’s ongoing debate about whether it needs a new strategy and a better way to appeal to independent voters.
Meanwhile, three of the losing Democratic nominees filed suit in Chancery Court last week contesting the results, the latest court challenge by losing Democratic contenders in countywide elections since 2006. All of those legal challenges have been dismissed.
Flinn enters the state Senate contest fresh from coming in third statewide in the August U.S. Senate primary, which was won by incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.
“This is a tough race,” Flinn told Republican leaders at the East Memphis meeting in Clark Tower. “We are underdogs. But that’s never stopped us before. … We’ve got a good chance.”
The state Senate district is predominantly Democratic. But Flinn said there are undecided voters who could tip the balance and add another Senate seat in Nashville to the Republican supermajority in that chamber.
Flinn’s U.S. Senate primary campaign this summer was heavy with his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Whoever wins the state Senate seat could find themselves voting on the terms of a deal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee as Gov. Bill Haslam has signaled he could propose such an expansion.
Any deal that Haslam might take to the Tennessee Legislature faces strong opposition from the Republican supermajorities in both chambers before any terms are known.
Flinn, a physician, said he isn’t sure how he would vote on such a proposal.
“Of course, I would like to see it expanded,” Flinn said. “It depends on what it does downstream as far as a state income tax. I don’t see how to balance the two, and I would love to get in there and get the details of it.”
Flinn’s concern about a state income tax reflects Haslam’s concern that while federal funds would fully pay for the first three years of a Medicaid expansion and would pay 90 percent for the following three years, the state could face having to fund more of the cost in the years beyond that.
Proponents of the expansion say the state could pare back TennCare, which is Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, in that event.
“Where are we going to get the money?” Flinn said. “I don’t want that to roll to the state. I see the need every day. I’m treating people with no insurance. I’m treating people on TennCare. I’m treating people on Medicare. … It’s a tough balance.”