Legislative Races: Potentially dramatic change was in the offing for the next session of Tennessees General Assembly, as two Middle Tennessee Democratic state senators -- Jo Ann Graves (Clarksville) of District 18 and Larry Trail (Murfreesboro) of District 16 fell to Republican challengers Diane Black and Jim Tracy, respectively. As Memphis lawyer John Ryder, the GOPs immediate past national committeeman from Tennessee pointed out, That gives Tennessee its first elected state Senate majority in history.
A survivor, though, was the Senates presiding officer, Lt. Governor John Wilder of Somerville, who turned aside a challenge from Republican Ron Stallings. And the speaker of the state House of Representatives, Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, won an easier-than-expected victory over Dr. Jesse Canno, his GOP opponent.
Although Republicans had a net gain of one seat in the House, the Democrats -- and presumably Naifeh -- will maintain their power, with a seven-vote majority. What happens in the Senate, where nominal Democrat Wilder has in recent years functioned as a de facto nonpartisan leader, is still uncertain. The Senate speaker has had the declared support of three GOP senators, including Shelby Countys Curtis Person, but Ryder predicts that there will be a grass roots demand from Republicans that the GOP get to name one of its own as speaker.
All the incumbents in Shelby County and its environs held on to their seats. That included Democrat Mike Kernell in state House District 93, who won over Republican John Pellicciotti with somewhat greater ease than he had in 2002, when the two first tangled.
At a Republican rally in Shelby County on Monday night, Pelliocciotti had been fatalistic. Id like to flatter myself that what I do or what Mike does in our campaigns will make the marginal difference that elects one of us or the other, said the young businessman. But the fact is, I think these local races, where theyre close, will be driven by the Bush-Kerry race. Whoever does the best job of getting their voters out for president will determine the outcome in District 93, too, I think.
And, though President Bush won Tennessee handily, Kerry would carry Shelby County by 52,000 votes, which was marginally better than his Democratic predecessor Al Gore had done against Bush, then the Republican governor of Texas, in 2000, and that fact may have confirmed Pelliocciottis stoic forecast. (Local Republican chairman Kemp Conrad would suggest, however, that Republicans gained proportionately more than Democrats in Shelby County voting from 2000 to 2004.)
Another Democratic House member, Beverly Marrero, turned back Republican Jim Jamiesons third try for the District 89 seat, and Democrat Henri Brooks easily beat Republican D. Jack Smith, a former Democratic legislator, in District 92. Ditto with Barbara Cooper over George Edwards in District 86.
Two local Republicans, House GOP leader Tre Hargett and newcomer Brian Kelsey, won easy victories over Democrats Susan Slyfield and Julian Prewitt in Districts 97 and 83, respectively.
School Board Races: Two upsets and one narrow escape dominated results in the five contested elections for the Memphis board.
In the closest race, incumbent Wanda Halbert of Position One, At Large, profited from the halving of the anti- vote between her two major opponents, second-place finished Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Robert Spence. But her Board colleagues Willie Brooks in District 1 and Hubon Dutch Sandridge in District 7 were not so lucky, falling behind newcomers Stephanie Gatewood and Tomeka Hart, respectively.
Gatewood won outright. Sandridge will get to fight another day, however, since Hart failed to get an absolute majority; the balance of the vote went to third-place finisher Terry Becton.)
Patrice Robinson defeated Juanita Clark Stevenson and Anabel Hernandez-Rodriguez Turner in District 3. And Dr. Jeff Warren defeated Rev. Herman Powell in a battle of newcomers for the right to succeed the retiring Lora Jobe in District 5.