County Mayor-elect Harris Resigns State Senate Seat

Special to The Daily News

Shelby County Mayor-elect Lee Harris officially takes office on Saturday, Sept. 1, but his four-year term in the state Senate doesn’t run out until Nov. 6, leaving the Shelby County Commission to decide whether to appoint a replacement. The Daily News/Houston Cofield

County Mayor-elect Lee Harris announced his resignation from the state Senate on Wednesday, a day before he is sworn-in for the county post he won earlier this month.

Harris, a Memphis Democrat, submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Bill Haslam as well as to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell. Harris defeated Republican David Lenoir in the Aug. 2 county general election to succeed Mark Luttrell as mayor.

“I am fortunate,” he wrote to Haslam, notifying him of his election to a new seat. “Shelby County is the largest county in our state and a county with unlimited potential. However, according to advice from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, state law prohibits county mayors from serving in any other elected capacity.”

Harris requested his resignation be effective at 11:59 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31.

He won’t officially take the mayor’s office until Saturday, but his four-year term in the Senate doesn’t run out until Nov. 6, leaving the Shelby County Commission to decide whether to appoint a replacement.

“It truly has been an honor serving in the Tennessee General Assembly these past four years,” said Harris, who was leader of the Senate Minority Caucus. “While the Democrats have been in the minority during my time in the Legislature, it didn’t stop us from being effective. I am proud of the work we accomplished during my time in Nashville.”

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat who chairs the Senate Minority Caucus, sat next to Harris in the Senate chamber and watched his leadership style up close.

“We will miss him in the Senate, but I can’t wait to see the work he does as mayor of Shelby County,” Yarbro said.

State Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, also called Harris a “true leader” in the Senate and predicted he would show the same characteristic as Shelby County mayor.

“Lee really had a knack for getting into the grit of legislative issues and tackling them with force,” Kyle said.

Harris sent a letter to County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer urging the commission to leave his Senate seat vacant for the next two months, according to a statement.

State Rep. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, captured the Democratic primary over Justin Ford and faces Republican Tom Stephens in the Nov. 6 general election. Akbari collected 14,854 votes and Ford 10,572 in the primary, while Stephens won 3,872 in the heavily Democratic 29th Senate District.