Democratic State Sen. Reginald Tate Faces First Challenge in August Primary

By Bill Dries

Democratic state Sen. Reginald Tate opened his campaign headquarters in the Mendenhall Square shopping center in a storm.

The downpour outside mirrored the political storm Tate faces in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary from the first opponent he has faced since claiming the District 33 Senate seat in 2006.

The challenge by Hickory Hill business owner and nurse Katrina Robinson revolves around just how much of a Democrat Tate is.

“I’ve never sided with anybody. I don’t side. I was taught better,” Tate told a group of 30 supporters in an early start to the opening as a band set up on a stage in the storefront. “I don’t approve the message. I am the message.”

Reginald Tate

The campaign has included audio and video of Tate between committee sessions in Nashville venting to a Republican lawmaker his frustration with Democrats questioning his party loyalty.

Tate was one of several former or current elected officials censured by the Shelby County Democratic Party for disloyalty before the local party’s charter abolition and reformation earlier this year.

“I don’t like the lies. But I won’t take time out to respond to it. But I will tell you guys, there is not one time I sold anyone else out,” Tate told his supporters. “I work for $20,000 a year. It won’t pay my car note. I can’t take nothing under the table or on top of the table. I’m too tall to hide.”

Tate is a business owner whose businesses include A&R Bar-B-Que and Architect Inc.

Katrina Robinson

In 2015, Robinson founded The Healthcare Institute Inc., a vocational training school for health care jobs including a licensed nursing program with a $1.6 million federal grant.

She’s also been active in the local Democratic Party, the Greater Memphis Chamber and is chairwoman of the Shelby County Government Ethics Commission.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to state politics. So as we canvass and knock on doors every day we talk to voters about who their representatives are,” Robinson told supporters last month at the opening of her campaign headquarters. “Anybody who represents you, you should know who they are. Sometimes it’s harder to get through to people that state politics is much more important.”

Knowing who represents you is something Robinson has been preaching since she began her run.

“All I can say is I’m a real Democrat and so now we know I’m the only Democrat in this race,” she said when asked directly about Tate. “And I’m going to fight to be in the position that is there for Democrats.”

Tate was elected to the Legislature in a regularly scheduled election in 2006 after he was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by Kathryn Bowers when she resigned after her indictment in the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting. In a quirk in state law, Tate was appointed to the seat by the County Commission for less than a day.

The sting that charged and led to the conviction of several state legislators from the Shelby County delegation prompted a series of other special elections and a general shuffling of the delegation.

That was followed in 2010 by Republican majorities in the state House and Senate followed by Republican super majorities.

Tate says he has worked with those super majorities while remaining a Democrat.

“I’ve gotten the most black judges elected, the most people put on boards. There is nothing I am doing that does not benefit Memphis. … I’ve brought more funds to this city. I’ve probably done more than anybody other than John Ford,” he said referring to the veteran Democratic state senator who served federal prison time in the Tennessee Waltz investigation.

“The exception with him was he had a majority of the Democratic Party. Mine is the Republican Party in the majority,” Tate said. “But I still walk that same walk. I still do that same talk. If I’m up there again it’s going to be the same way. I don’t lose. I don’t bow down.”

Robinson says her challenge of Tate is not all about Tate but the district which covers a central part of South Memphis, most of it south of Interstate 240, but a solid portion of it north of the interstate as well.

“What’s important to them is health care. What’s important to them is education. What's important to them is jobs,” she said. “It’s important to have somebody that knows what has to be done for this district and not the other districts. A lot of times we don’t have the jobs that pay us what we need to be paid in order to make a living.”