Kyle Survives Challenge from Tate, Continues as Democratic Leader

Fallout from 2012 primary may have influenced close 4-3 vote in party’s diminished state Senate caucus; Ophelia Ford's vote possibly the key.



Sens.Jim Kyle (l), Reginald Tate
  • Sens.Jim Kyle (l), Reginald Tate
It would seem to be painful enough for Tennessee Democrats that their party now holds only 7 seats in the 33-member state Senate — a fact leading to jokes that the Democrats could caucus in one of the Capitol’s now largely unused phone booths.

But that tiny remnant of a once dominant party proved large enough to indulge a little fratricidal bloodletting when it came time in Nashville on Wednesday to elect officers for the forthcoming 2013 legislative session.

Senator Reginald Tate of Memphis launched a challenge to Jim Kyle, also of Memphis, the party’s longtime leader in the Senate and a onetime possibility to become Speaker before the recent drastic shrinkage of Democratic fortunes in Tennessee.

The vote was 4-3 in favor of Kyle, who acknowledged later on that he was “disappointed” — either by the narrowness of the margin or by the mere fact of the challenge, which may have been the result of residual bitterness among some of the surviving Democrats stemming from the 2012 primary race between Kyle and fellow Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero.

Kyle would also voice a suspicion that Tate might have been encouraged to run against him by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the Republican Speaker of the Senate, with whom Tate has enjoyed cordial relations. More than most Democrats, Tate has proved willing to accept Republican initiatives — particularly on some of the school issues Democrats have tried to mount a resistance to in the last two sessions.

The vote was taken by secret ballot; so how the balloting went was subject to some guess work later on. Tate himself seemed fairly sure, though, of who the swing vote for Kyle was. At the Cannon Center in Memphis on Thursday night, where he made a brief appearance at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Tate was asked about his narrow loss.

“Yeah, it was Ophelia Ford,” he said, with a shake of the head sidewise.

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