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VOL. 132 | NO. 241 | Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Diaz Makes Second Bid for County Commission Seat

By Bill Dries

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Geoff Diaz came to Memphis in 2010 with a lot of political experience and inside knowledge of how the legislative process works.


He moved to Memphis with his wife for her job at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and arrived just after the 2010 midterm congressional primaries. With Charlotte Bergmann as the Republican nominee for the 9th Congressional District seat held by Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen, he immediately signed on as her campaign manager.

“My background is in politics and government,” Diaz told a group of around 30 in East Memphis last week at the start of his campaign for the Shelby County Commission. “I came to Memphis and what they don’t tell you about Memphis is it takes you awhile to break into politics and government.”

Diaz ran for an open seat on the commission in 2014, won the GOP primary and lost to Democrat Reginald Milton in the general election by 5,781 votes in a three-way contest that generated 10,395 votes among all three contenders.

“I underestimated how much help a candidate needs,” Diaz said. “There are so many functions that need to go on in a campaign, you can’t keep track of everything.”

Four years later, Diaz and his family live in a different district and he is among the early contenders for what could be one of the busiest commission races on the 2018 ballot – the race for the District 5 seat Republican incumbent Heidi Shafer is giving up because of term limits.

He is one of four contenders who have pulled qualifying petitions – two Republicans and two Democrats.

An executive director of Crye-Leike Realtors, Diaz’s resume includes time as a policy analyst and correspondence aide in the late 1990s for Massachusetts Republican Gov. Paul Celluci and 12 years in Washington, D.C., on the staffs of U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Joe Skeen of New Mexico.

“I don’t like the palace intrigue that we are witnessing right now with the Shelby County Commission,” Diaz told the group. “But that’s the way it works sometimes. Personalities get involved and it just blows up. … I want to be a different county commissioner. I want to be one that finds common ground.”

Diaz is running in a district that is largely in the city of Memphis – home of the largest Democratic base of any county in the state of Tennessee – but also in parts of East Memphis and the suburbs that have a large Republican base.

“I think all politics are local. The voters are really the fulcrum that all of the candidates have to focus on,” he said. “If the voters are dissatisfied with whoever is in the White House, then obviously the people who share the president’s party are going to have to have an explanation for that or in some way are going to have to be able to endure that voter sentiment.”

Diaz has taken part in some of the protests around President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – federal immigration executive order.

It’s an issue Diaz says is ultimately local despite its national political footprint.

“These are young men and women that have been in the United States. They went to our schools. They work in our economy. They’ve only known the United States,” he said. “I’m Puerto Rican by descent. So I don’t have the immigrant background in terms of coming from a different country and living the immigrant life. This is the only country I’ve known.”

But Diaz has a different view on the matter despite his presence at rallies replete with denunciations of Trump for rescinding the executive order of his predecessor in the White House, president Barack Obama.

“The whole conversation about DACA – to me the debate’s in the wrong spot. President Obama did what he did by executive order because that’s the position he took,” Diaz said. “But that’s not a permanent solution. … Right now it’s uncertain because the president rescinded the order even though he delayed it until March. But that throws it to Congress, which is where it belongs.”

Diaz said his focus as a county commissioner would be on the environment, crime, education and workforce and economic development.

“I think robust debate is always healthy. We’ve gotten to a point in this country where we are afraid to talk,” he said. “We’re afraid to answer questions. I don’t think that’s right. I think whatever the answer is, if you agree with me or disagree with me, my job is to tell you what I think and you take that and decide if you support or oppose it. I don’t have to yell at you. You don’t have to yell at me.”

Diaz has worked as a volunteer and organizer of efforts at Kingsbury Middle and High schools in the core of the city.

“I think there needs to be a focus on the urban side because a healthy Downtown and a healthy urban core for the city means the whole county benefits,” Diaz said. “Things just start to improve when you take care of the urban core. If we focus on the city a little more and build economic development there, then I think the whole county will prosper.”

His potential rival in the District 5 Republican primary is Richard Morton of the Probate Court clerk’s office, who ran for General Sessions Court clerk as the GOP nominee two years ago, losing to incumbent Democrat Ed Stanton.

The potential Democratic contenders in District 5 so far are Michael Whaley, the founder of Memphis College Prep school, and Shelandra Ford, a county employee and CEO of Creative Graphic Designs.

The filing deadline for the May county primaries is noon on Feb. 15.

In other recent action in the primary races, County Clerk Wayne Mashburn has filed in the Republican primary for register.

William Chism has pulled a qualifying petition to run in the Democratic primary for Probate Court clerk. Chism’s most recent political outing was as an independent in the 2016 race for General Sessions Court clerk where he finished third behind Morton.

The busiest county commission race at this early point in the filing period is in District 9 where Ian Jeffries, a shop owner who as an activist with the New Black Panther Party went under the name Shango Jakuta, and Jonathan Smith have joined Adrian Killebrew, a self-employed business owner.

Jonathan Lewis, an appraiser for the Shelby County Assessor’s office, and Memphis City Council member Edmund Ford Jr. have pulled petitions for the Democratic primary. The District 9 seat is currently held by Democrat Justin Ford, the cousin of Edmund Ford Jr. who is term-limited.

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