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VOL. 131 | NO. 72 | Monday, April 11, 2016

August Primaries Feature Intra-Party Challenges

By Bill Dries

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Two years after a disastrous slate of races for countywide offices, there is a move among younger Democratic partisans in Memphis to shake up the Democrats who represent the city in the Tennessee Legislature.

Three veteran Democratic state House members from Memphis drew primary challenges from what appears to be a ticket of younger Democrats at the Thursday, April 7, filing deadline for candidates in the Aug. 4 state and federal primary elections.


Tennessee Young Democrats leader London Lamar filed in the District 85 primary as one of two challengers to incumbent Johnnie Turner.

Political newcomer Skip Ledbetter is challenging District 86 incumbent Barbara Cooper.

And Black Lives Matter activist Tami Sawyer filed for the District 90 seat held by John Deberry.

Sawyer, director of diversity and cultural competence with Teach For America, was among the organizers of the first Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Memphis in 2014.


“At this critical time in Memphis and Shelby County, we need legislators who will not sit on the sidelines and will fight for policy changes and new laws that will position more people to succeed,” Sawyer said at the filing deadline in a written statement.

A different kind of intra-party challenge emerged at the deadline in the Democratic primary for state Senate District 30.

Former state Sen. Beverly Marrero is challenging incumbent state Sen. Sara Kyle in a political skirmish with a backstory.

The district is a combination in the most recent redistricting for the 2010 U.S. Census of the two majority Senate districts represented by Marrero and Jim Kyle, Sara Kyle’s husband.

Jim Kyle and Marrero ran for what became the same Senate seat in the 2012 legislative primaries.

He won.

Two years later, Jim Kyle was elected the Chancery Court judgeship and there was no time to hold primary elections for the special election to fill the Senate seat.

The local Democratic executive committee chose Kyle’s wife, Sara Kyle, over Marrero to be the party’s nominee. And Sara Kyle won the special general election for the two years remaining on the four-year term of office that began in 2012.

In the 2016 Republican state House primaries, Collierville incumbent Curry Todd has three primary challengers for the District 95 seat.

They are former Shelby County Schools board member Diane George, Delta Fair promoter Mark Lovell and Dana Matheny, all of Collierville.

State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, meanwhile, was effectively re-elected at the filing deadline. He had no opposition – Democratic, Republican or independent.

That was also the case with four of the 14 state House incumbents representing Shelby County in Nashville – Republicans Jim Coley and Ron Lollar and Democrats Joe Towns and Karen Camper.

The candidates who met Thursday’s filing deadline have a week to drop out of the races they’ve filed in, if they wish.

After that deadline, the Shelby County Election Commission will certify the names for the August ballot.

The winners of the state and federal primary elections on the Aug. 4 ballot advance to the Nov. 8 general election and a ballot topped by the presidential general election.

Also at Thursday’s filing deadline, the Republican primary race to fill the 8th District Congressional seat Republican incumbent Stephen Fincher is giving up drew a field of 13 contenders – seven from Shelby County and four from Jackson, Tenn.

The seven Shelby County contenders are: Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell; former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn; state Sen. Brian Kelsey; Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood; former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff; Raymond Honeycutt of Bartlett; and David J. Maldonado of Collierville.

The four Jackson contenders are: Hunter Baker, a Union University associate professor of political science; marketing and advertising executive Brad Greer; George Howell; and Terminix inspector Dave Bault.

The other contenders from outside Shelby County in a district that includes rural West Tennessee are Ken Atkins of Mason, Tenn., and David Wharton of Union City.

The 13 Republicans are part of a total of 22 seeking the seat – four Democrats and five independents.

“Obviously it’s going to be hectic,” Luttrell said Thursday of the size of the Republican field.

His entry in the race was the political wild card of the filing season after four other Shelby County contenders declared they would be in the race within hours of Fincher’s surprise announcement.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, representing the 9th Congressional District, drew three Democratic primary challengers at the Thursday deadline in what looks at this early stage like the lightest challenge Cohen has had since running for the open seat in 2006.

His challengers in the primary are Shelby County commissioner Justin Ford, M. Latroy Williams and Larry Crim, a past candidate for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination statewide.

Crim is listed in the Shelby County Election Commission filing with an address in Antioch, Tenn., near Nashville, that is in the 5th Congressional District.

In the five nonpartisan Shelby County Schools board races on the August ballot, incumbent chairwoman Teresa Jones and board member Scott McCormick were unopposed and effectively re-elected at the filing deadline.

Incumbent board members Stephanie Love, Kevin Woods and Miska Clay Bibbs each had challengers.

School board terms are staggered by state law. In two years the other four seats on the nine-member Shelby County Schools board will be on the ballot.

The two countywide judicial races – Circuit and Chancery – to fill out terms of office to 2022 were contested at Thursday’s filing deadline, as was one of the two races for Bartlett Municipal Judge. Incumbent Bartlett Municipal Judge Dan Brown had no opposition at the deadline.

The Aug. 4 ballot also features a countywide general election race for General Sessions Court Clerk between Democratic incumbent Ed Stanton and Republican challenger Richard Morton. Each won primary elections in March to advance to the August ballot.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751