Politics » Politics Feature

Matchups and Mix-ups

Some of the August races to watch. Plus: No easy path for the Norris bill.

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Perhaps no one has told Charlotte Bergmann that the race for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 9th District is over. Unfazed by the presence in the race of former Shelby County commissioner George Flinn, Bergmann continues to campaign as though she regards the contest to be up for grabs.

Though she is now, and is destined to remain, well behind Flinn in financial wherewithal, Bergmann, the GOP's 2010 nominee, hopes to do such catch-up as she can. She has booked the Crescent Club for a $50-a-head fund-raising breakfast on April 24th and has challenged Flinn to debate publicly with her — a traditional underdog ploy.

Either Bergmann or Flinn is sure to be up against it in the general election if, as expected, incumbent Democratic congressman Steve Cohen — he of the million-dollar war chest and the freshly confirmed endorsement of President Barack Obama — is the opponent. It would seem, however, that Urban League head and Unified School Board member Tomeka Hart, seemingly ill-matched against Cohen in finances and support network, has the same never-say-die attitude as Bergmann. With this Thursday's withdrawal deadline approaching, Hart was still a candidate.

On the eve of that deadline, several races on the August 2nd ballot were looking especially interesting:

District Attorney General: Incumbent Republican Amy Weirich, a 2010 gubernatorial appointee to succeed current state safety commissioner Bill Gibbons, will square off against Democratic nominee Carol Chumney, a former state representative, city council member, and mayoral candidate. Ominously for Chumney, Weirich is steadily amassing both campaign funds and bipartisan support.

Shelby County Commission, District 1, Position 3: Two well-regarded newcomers named Steve will compete for the seat vacated by former Commissioner Mike Carpenter, now director of a Nashville-based education lobby. They are businessman Steve Basar, a Republican, and blogger/audio-visual tech Steve Ross, a Democrat. Basar is favored in the heavily GOP district.

Assessor of Property: Real-estate appraiser Tim Walton will carry the GOP banner against Democrat Cheyenne Johnson, whose incumbency will give her an edge.

General Sessions Court Clerk: The candidates are interim Democratic incumbent Ed Stanton Jr., Republican Rick Rout, and independent Patricia McWright Jackson. Since party networks count for a lot, the race is essentially between Stanton, who upset the favored Sidney Chism in his primary, and Rout.

State Senate, District 30: Redistricting by the legislature's Republican majority landed two veteran Democrats, Beverly Marrero and Jim Kyle, in a radically changed district. Marrero is the current seat-holder; Kyle, the state Senate's Democratic leader, has moved over from District 28, which has been transplanted elsewhere in Tennessee. Their primary will be intensely competitive, especially if, as expected, U.S. representative Cohen, Marrero's longtime friend and Kyle's longtime party rival, lends a hand.

State Representative, District 85: In this predominantly Democratic inner-city district, incumbent Johnnie Turner is opposed by city code enforcement inspector and party activist Eddie Jones. Again, incumbency tilts toward Turner, a longtime local eminence in the NAACP and widow of former state representative Larry Turner.

State Representative, District 90: Democrat Jeanne Richardson saw her Midtown bailiwick of District 89 shifted over to Middle Tennessee during reapportionment, and, rather than running against incumbent representative Antonio "Two-Shay" Parkinson in District 98, her new abode, Richardson opted to make a two-block move into District 90, where she grew up. She has been promised support there from Democratic liberals aggrieved with incumbent John DeBerry, a businessman/minister who often votes with Republicans on social issues. Though an underdog, Richardson should make things competitive. Ian Randolph is also a candidate.

State Representative, District 93: This southeast Memphis working-class district is the site of another showdown between Democratic incumbents — Mike Kernell, who has logged more than 30 years as the district's representative, and G.A. Hardaway, whose District 92 was, like Richardson's, shifted elsewhere in Tennessee during reapportionment. Kernell has an unbeaten record against a variety of comers, and Hardaway, an African American, hopes to gain from the district's black majority status.

State Representative, District 96: Incumbernt Republican Steve McManus has drawn primary opposition from Jim Harrell, an activist who conducts the GOP's monthly Cordova Breakfast Club.

State Representative, District 99: Incumbent Ron Lollar has at least nominal primary opposition from political newcomer Tom Stephens.

Shelby County Unified School Board, District 1: Inevitably, given the shrinkage from a 23-member interim board to a trimmed-down seven-member body, incumbents will be opposing each other. In District 1, Chris Caldwell (county commission appointee) vies with Freda Williams (Memphis City Schools holdover)and Rev. Noel Hutchinson.

School Board, District 2: County commission appointee Teresa Jones faces Tyree Daniels.

School Board, District 3: Commission appointee Raphael McInnis is opposed by Shelby County Schools holdover David Reaves.

School Board, District 4: MCS firebrand holdover Kenneth Whalum Jr. faces commission appointee Kevin Woods.

School Board, District 5: Former longtime SCS chairman David Pickler is opposed by Kim Wirth.

School Board, District 6: Commission appointee Reginald Porter faces Jonathan Lewis.

Only Unified School Board chair Billy Orgel, in District 7, is unopposed.               

• [Note: This early (and abbreviated account) was written on hard-copy deadline as the first of two bills by state Senator Mark Norris was being considered in House Education Committee. Subsequently the bill was amended to apply only to Shelby County and was passed to House Finance Ways and Means. The other Norris initiative, to enable referenda and school-board selection for municipal school districts, hit a snag, at least temporarily, when the House declined to admit the two enabling amendments.]

As the state House education committee convened Tuesday for its latest go-round on a bill by state senator Mark Norris to facilitate suburban municipal school districts, it was becoming clear that resistance from elsewhere in Tennessee and in state government, as much as from Shelby County itself, might stand in the way of that bill and a related measure by Norris (R-Collierville), the Senate majority leader.

As several mayors from potentially affected Shelby County suburbs sat waiting, consideration of HB3234, the House version of Norris' SB2098, which would advance the date of eligibility of new municipal school districts. ran into a snag.

It became clear that the distinction, between local and statewide application, stood in the way of final passage of HB3234, concerning which not only Democrats Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis), former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington), and Democratic caucus chair Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) had expressed reservations, but also Representative Bill Dunn of Knoxville and other Republicans, publicly dubious about opening the door to new municipal school districts in their areas.  

Testifying against the bill were Shelby County Unified School Board member Martavius Jones and Patrice Robinson.

Both committee chairman Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville) and legislative education adviser Chuck Cagle (the latter upon request and without taking sides) commented on potential difficulties in allocating governmental funds in the event of new municipal districts.

Also addressing the committee, on behalf of the bill, were Bartlett mayor Keith McDonald, as well as Jim Mitchell and Tim Fite, the heads of Southern Educational Strategies, consultants to the suburbs.

Dunn wondered aloud about alternatives to municipal districts as such: "Is there not a better way to do this?" McDonald replied that chancellor models, which allow for diversification short of independent districts, "have not been very successful." Jones then mentioned the "Multiple Achievement Paths" model recommended by the Transition Planning Commission.

McDonald suggested that "cooperation" between clearly separate districts was to be preferred — to which Dunn cracked that "from what I've read," not much cooperation occurred in Shelby County. Even so, he suggested, "Why don't y'all just come up with cooperative agreements rather than all this other stuff?"

The debate was still going forward as the Flyer went to press on Tuesday, but, whatever the ultimate resolution of the Norris bill in committee on Tuesday, the ultimate message was clear: These newest bills on behalf of the suburbs would have many more hoops to pass through than did the original Norris-Todd bill of February 2011, which passed quickly, all Republicans voting in lockstep.

During the debate, Chairman Montgomery had raised the prospect of continuing discussions later in the week.

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