VOL. 133 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Younger Candidates Weighing New Political Moves
By Bill Dries
George Monger listened to his critics and his backers late last year as he contemplated another run for office 11 years after his first try.
Democratic state Rep. Raumesh Akbari pulls her qualifying petition Monday, Jan. 8, to run for the state Senate starting in the August primaries. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
Monger said his return to politics was dotted with people doubting his viability.
He even wrote the word “viability” on a piece of paper to contemplate whether it should stop his plan to run for Shelby County Commission or whether to disregard the word.
Monger told 25 supporters in southeast Memphis last week that he crumpled up the paper and threw it away.
Monger has pulled a petition to run in the Democratic primary for commission District 13, the seat currently held by Republican Steve Basar, who is seeking re-election starting in the May county primaries.
“Our campaign will have the best supporters and even better detractors,” Monger said. “I’m grateful for both.”
Basar faced a persistent Democratic challenger in 2014 to win his first full term on the commission, defeating Manoj Jain by 3,000 votes in a general election race with 13,500 votes cast total.
Basar and Monger each tout private-sector experience in representing a district that is comprised largely of southeast Memphis.
Basar frequently cites his experience in the medical industry, including his current job at Smith & Nephew. Monger touts his work in the music and entertainment industry, from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra to the Consortium Memphis Music Town group.
“In our district, we’ve got a lot of class A commercial real estate,” Monger said. “I’m very concerned that that one day could go dark if we don’t recruit and bring and develop talent in our county.”
If both emerge from the May primaries to advance to the August county general election ballot, the race will be one in a series of matchups testing new energy and new candidates in the reformed local Democratic Party.
Monger is not a first-time candidate, but he’s not a typical candidate returning after some time away.
The last time he was on an election ballot he was an 18-year-old candidate for the City Council who some political foes argued was too young to run.
Monger successfully pointed out to election officials that the age requirement was dropped when the city charter changed in 1995 to reflect three super district seats replacing at-large seats.
Monger lost to Janis Fullilove, who also upset appointed council member Henry Hooper in what was the largest turnover of seats on the 13-member council in the 50-year history of the mayor-council form of government.
Monger later won an appointment to the Shelby County Election Commission.
“Unfortunately, sometimes the wheels of government turn slow,” Monger said of his bid for a new voter registration system that is just now about to become a reality.
“Every election there was a problem. The question of does my vote count became real,” he said of the time. “I think people are discouraged by the political climate right now or have been. I think we are seeing the tide possibly turn.”
Monger, at 28, is the same age Raumesh Akbari was five years ago when she claimed the District 91 state House seat that became vacant following the death of state Rep. and House Speaker Lois DeBerry.
Akbari initially prepared for a low key re-election bid this year for a third full term in the House until state Sen. Lee Harris announced he was running for Shelby County mayor and would not seek re-election to the Senate.
After four years in the House, Akbari is a veteran of the Legislature, citing 24 bills she has passed despite Republican super majorities in both chambers.
Shelby County commissioner Justin Ford has also pulled a petition in the Democratic primary.
“We have a bill limit in the House,” Akbari said of what drew her to the race. “In the Senate you really can expand the amount of issues you are able to carry and cover per legislative session.”
Akbari is part of a generation of Democratic legislators who have never operated with a Democratic majority, after more than 40 years of Democratic dominance.
If Akbari takes the Senate seat, she could be one of five Democratic state Senators in a 33-member Senate.
“I find regardless of party, if we focus on those core issues that really are challenges across the state we can be successful,” she said. “I’m hoping though, that this next election will improve the numbers in the state Senate. We’ve seen that happen in races across the country, so why not Tennessee.”
Meanwhile, Tennessee Young Democrats president London Lamar announced the day after Akbari pulled her petition for the Senate that she would be running for the District 91 state House seat.
Like Akbari, Lamar said Democrats have to learn to balance working with Republicans while pursuing Democratic legislative goals.
“We have to build relationships with our legislators both Democrat and Republican – and make sure we are making bipartisan efforts to make really good progressive policy,” she said.
Lamar almost ran for the state House two years ago in what would have been a challenge of veteran Democrat Johnnie Turner. Her decision was already made this year well before Oprah Winfrey’s speech at Sunday’s “Golden Globe” awards that re-enforced her decision.
“What she did was remind us about what our truths are in our communities, what our truths are in regards to poverty,” Lamar said. “We have to be honest about are we being properly represented. We have to be honest about the leadership we have.”