VOL. 132 | NO. 229 | Friday, November 17, 2017
By Bill Dries
The Shelby County Election Commission is moving its Downtown office Friday, Nov. 17, the same day that candidates can begin pulling qualifying petitions there and at its Shelby Farms offices to run in the 2018 county primaries.
The move from offices on Washington Avenue to a building next to it at 157 Poplar Ave., which is already an early voting site, will not interfere with issuing the petitions. But the Downtown offices will be closed for every other function.
And the moving theme is entirely appropriate as some of the candidates in later elections are already settling their organizations into campaign headquarters.
Williamson County businessman Bill Lee, part of the group of six Republican contenders in the August statewide primary, opened his Memphis headquarters Wednesday in the Poplar corridor.
Democratic contender for governor Karl Dean is among the candidates in the upcoming election year who are starting to set up shop locally as candidates in the May county primaries begin pulling qualifying petitions for the first of three elections in 2018 on Friday, Nov. 17. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
The chairman of Lee’s Shelby County campaign is attorney and former Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lang Wiseman.
Wiseman’s connection to Shelby County Republicans combined with the Memphis office being Lee’s first headquarters outside of Williamson County is designed to demonstrate to the state’s largest single county base of Republicans that Lee is committed to the county.
That’s a critical point for local Republicans in a statewide race that lost it’s only Shelby County contender when state Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville was nominated for a federal judge’s position by President Donald Trump.
Further east along Poplar Avenue, Democratic contender for governor and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean opened his Memphis headquarters Thursday evening.
And the same strategy applies for what is the largest base of Democratic voters in the state in a statewide race that also has no contenders from Memphis.
For candidates in the race for governor and the U.S. Senate – both open seats – the first election is in August. But a statewide race in Tennessee given its geography and diversity politically and culturally requires an early start.
That’s what brought U.S. Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin to Tiger Lane last month to tailgate as the University of Memphis football team played Navy at the Liberty Bowl.
Black, a contender in the Republican primary for governor and chairwoman of the House budget committee, sported Tigers logos and colors as she touted Republican leadership of state government.
“Our state is in really good shape,” she said. “We have low taxes. Economically we are doing well in a number of areas. Yet there are other areas where people aren’t doing as well. So, I think the mood in this state is generally pretty good.
“We can even do better in a number of areas,” she said. “We can do better in our education. We can do better economically for those rural areas. And here in Memphis, I think you all are just on the brink of breaking out.”
Allison Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State who unsuccessfully challenged Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014, talked with Democrats in Cooper-Young about Democratic hopes nationally while in town for the Rhodes College homecoming weekend.
“Get up, get out and get loud,” said Grimes, a Rhodes College alumni. “I think we are seeing a lot of people who have never been a part of either political party coming out to have their voices heard. They are figuring out how things work and how they can make a difference.”
The qualifying petitions that candidates can start pulling Friday are for the 23 county offices on the May 1 county primary election day. Early voting is April 11-26.
The deadline for the candidates to file their petitions and get on that ballot is noon on Feb. 15 with another week for any who have filed to withdraw if they have second thoughts or get talked out of a race.
The May ballot features six open seats on the 13-member Shelby County Commission. Eight of the 10 countywide positions on the August ballot, including Shelby County mayor and Shelby County sheriff, are also open seats with no incumbents.
That could make the filing period a bit different. Some incumbents like to file at the start of the period to leave no doubt that they are defending the offices they hold.
The dominant factor in the open seats is term limits. But it’s not the only factor.
The county charter limit of two consecutive four-year terms doesn’t apply to Juvenile Court clerk. But Clerk Joy Touliatos is running in the Republican primary for mayor after serving two terms as clerk.
The May primary race also features Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland and Trustee David Lenoir who are term-limited in their current positions.
“I think you are always campaigning, you never stop campaigning,” Touliatos said of the early start all three in the Republican pack got well before the first day to pull petitions. “But you have to be respectful of people’s time.”
Through New Year’s, Touliatos says her campaign is more of a “grass roots effort” that will become “more aggressive with the first of the year.”
In the Democratic mayoral primary, state Sen. Lee Harris is linking the local primaries to national politics, primarily the presidency of Donald Trump.
“This is going to be hard,” Harris told supporers at one of his early events last month, three weeks after his surprise entry into the race. “But I do believe we can flip Shelby County blue.”
While Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried Shelby County in the 2016 presidential general election with 60 percent of the vote, Republicans have dominated the last two elections for the countywide offices on the ballot in 2018.
They won every one of the nine countywide offices in 2010 and nine of the 10 on the ballot in 2014 – the only exception being assessor, which moved from the other even year election cycle for the first time in 2014.
Harris has told supporters and those still making up their minds that Trump’s presidency has heightened partisanship and made it more difficult even for local elected leaders to deal with issues like poverty in Shelby County.
“It is dire out there,” he said. “I’m running because this kind of conversation is long overdue. We also have got to have the ability to get along with one other. And that is being tested every single day.”
At the outset of the filing period, Harris faces former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism in the Democratic mayoral primary.
The winners of the primaries advance to the Aug. 2 county general election that also includes primary elections for state and federal offices, including the races for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and the Tennessee Legislature.
The August ballot is also where the county non-partisan elections for Shelby County schools board and several special elections for judicial vacancies filled by appointments made by Gov. Bill Haslam will come into play.
The winners in those primaries advance to the Nov. 6 state and federal general election ballot.