VOL. 132 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 6, 2017
Harris To Run For County Mayor, Leave State Senate
By Bill Dries
State Sen. Lee Harris is running for Shelby County mayor starting with the May Democratic primary and will not seek re-election to the Senate.
“On the campaign trail, I plan to force a real conversation about creating more meaningful opportunities for our students and reducing poverty,” Harris said Wednesday, Oct. 4, in a written statement announcing his candidacy. “It’ll be one of the first times that this has happened in this community.”
Harris, who is also a former Memphis City Council member, was elected to the state Senate in 2014 from the council seat.
He joins former Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism in the May primary so far. And in the process has started a scramble for his state Senate seat which is on the ballot in the August state and federal primaries.
The Republican primary for mayor, so far, is a contest among Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir, Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos and Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland.
Contenders in the 2018 county elections cannot begin pulling qualifying petitions for the ballot until Nov. 17.
“I’m not in this for layups,” Harris told The Daily News. “I’m in this for real serious challenges.”
He also acknowledged that local Democrats face a challenge in the county elections after their nominees lost every countywide race on the general election ballot in 2010 to Republicans and all but one of the countywide races on the 2014 ballot.
The local party’s charter was abolished by the state Democratic party last year after years of dysfunction and the party was recently reconstituted with new leadership on its executive committee as well as the creation of a larger “grassroots” policy council.
Harris, who is Senate Democratic leader, has also been active in recent months with an effort to register more voters for the Democratic cause. When Harris arrived in Nashville three years ago, he was one of five Democrats in the upper chamber and has made the five among 33 a more vocal group on various causes even when they can’t find Republican crossover votes to pass legislation.
“We have to stitch together a really large organization and a broad coalition. Every part of the Democratic constituency is going to have to come together,” Harris said of his bid for mayor. “I am not one to sound overconfident. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a challenge. If we can put all of that together, we’ve got a shot. It’s going to take a functional Democratic organization. I’m going to do my part in that.”
He considered a challenge of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the 2016 Democratic federal primaries, a move that Cohen was critical of. They were both among the contenders for the open Congressional seat in 2006 when incumbent Harold Ford Jr. ran for the U.S. Senate. Harris called off the idea of running in 2016 before the move ever got close to being on the ballot and he and Cohen have since remained politically allied on various causes.
Harris was elected to the council in 2011and in 2014 upset Democratic incumbent Ophelia Ford to claim the state Senate seat he currently holds. A member of the Ford family had held the Senate seat since 1975 when Harris won that election.
The race for Harris’s Senate seat is another consideration for candidates who, at this early stage, are still considering various contests with contests where there is no incumbent seeking re-election the most attractive.