Underdog Pakis-Gillon Won't Give Kelsey a Bye in District 31 Race

Looks for crossovers in contest with heavily favored Republican....


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Democrat Pakis-Gillon at the Grays Creek meet-and-greet
  • JB
  • Democrat Pakis-Gillon at the Gray's Creek meet-and-greet
After a false start the previous week which saw a staff aide send out to the statewide media a draft of his resignation notice prematurely, state Senate candidate Brian Kelsey finally took the leap on Thursday, formally resigning from his District 83 state House seat.

That gives Governor Phil Bredesen 20 days to issue a writ for a special election in District 83, and if Bredesen acts on or before October 7th, the arithmetic of state law will permit a District 83 primary to be held on the same date, December 1, as the currently scheduled general election for the District 31 Senate seat which Republican Kelsey seeks.

A gubernatorial writ issued after October 7 would mean a brand new primary election, at a cost to the state of some $60,000 to $70,000. Kelsey’s Democratic opponent for the state Senate, Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, points out that, whether or not the special House primary can be scheduled on December 1, the subsequent general election would still cost the same amount of money. And that, she says, was always unnecessary.

Pakis-Gillon maintains that Kelsey didn’t need to resign, that the Shelby County Commission, at no cost to the taxpayers, could have appointed his successor, should he go on to win the state Senate seat. “Of course, he’s not. I’m going to win,” she added Thursday night, addressing a group of potential voters at a meet-and-greet affair in the Gray’s Creek area of suburban east Shelby County.

Kelsey, of course, would differ on both counts. First, he has noted that the commission, with an 8-5 Democratic majority, would probably install a Democrat to represent the predominantly Republican area — something that would amount, he says, to a disenfranchisement of the district’s voters.

And, secondly, Kelsey, like most observers, would be astonished if Pakis-Gillon, a diminutive homemaker and political activist, should actually pull off a victory in District 31.

The ongoing special election in the district, a longtime GOP bastion which encompasses parts of East Memphis, Cordova and Germantown, was made necessary by the resignation of the scandal-scarred former state senator Paul Stanley,

Pakis-Gillon knows the odds against her, but she thinks she can gain traction by a three-pronged strategy of talking up Democratic issues like jobs and health care, appealing to wavering Republicans, and pointing up Kelsey’s personal eccentricities.

On the latter score, she notes such Kelsey stunts as his waving an envelope stuffed with bacon during a floor debate on stimulus funds. “We don’t need to be the comedy routine on late night television,” she told the meet-and-greet group Thursday night, especially not when rejecting state or federal funds, the point of Kelsey’s display, arguably deprived the district of badly needed job opportunities.

Thursday night’s affair boasted the attendance of Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell, a longtime friend of the candidate, and several other attendees, like Luttrell, were Republicans. A number of these suburban residents professed concern over the guns-in-parks bill passed in the last session with the support of Kelsey and other GOP legislators.

“The Republican Party used to be known as the conservative party, as the party of common sense. They’ve left us. Will you become the senator of common sense?,” asked one man, who identified himself as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.

And when Pakis-Gillon had answered by expressing at length her own opposition to the gun bills passed in the last session, condemning the National Rifle Association for what she said were its arm-twistings and infusions of money, the man said, “Well, you’ve got one Republican vote!”

Another GOP attendee, who had been active in the campaigns of Republican state Senate majority leader Mark Norris, said, “For us to be comfortable, we need to have somebody in Nashville to deal with those issues we haven’t even thought about yet. Someone with maturity. I’m not impressed with the Republican candidate.”

These may be atypical voices, or they may signal a possible trend. The well-financed Kelsey remains an odds-on favorite, but Pakis-Gillon demonstrated at the Gray’s Creek meet-and-greet — where, among other things, she professed an open mind on tort reform measures — that she already had a modicum of Republican support herself and would be probing for more crossovers.

In any case, there’s a race on in state Senate District 31.

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