Politics » Politics Feature

Bipartisan Crossovers in Mid-South Primary Races



Very soon, with the completion of the May 1st Shelby County election, local political attention will shift to the forthcoming Round Two election on August 2nd, when the county general election takes place, along with primary voting for state and federal positions.

Some of the races may reflect the same bipartisan impulse that was spoken to last week in a forum for Republican county mayor candidates. All three GOP hopefuls — Terry Roland, David Lenoir, and Joy Touliatos — expressed a preference for reverting to the pre-1994 status quo, when there were no primaries for county offices and candidates typically had support from both sides of the party line.

Party primaries for countywide offices came into being because the parties petitioned the Election Commission to allow them, of course, and it would take action by the self-same parties to revert to the older, nonpartisan system.

Meanwhile, the ties of strict party affiliation are loosening somewhat on their own. At the statewide level, retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker generated a lot of attention last week when he let it be known that, while he formally supported fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn's bid to succeed him in the Senate, he would not be campaigning for her, and he said a number of flattering things about former Governor Phil Bredesen, Blackburn's future Democratic opponent, calling him a "friend" and expressing his confidence that Bredesen, if elected, would do a creditable job as the Senator, as he had in earlier stints as Nashville mayor and governor.

At least two Democrats running for local office are getting the same sort of support from influential figures with well-known histories of backing Republican candidates and causes. Ed Roberson, who has served as campaign finance director for several GOP candidates — notably former Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson — is enthusiastic about Democratic state Senate candidate David Weatherspoon, who is competing with fellow Democrat Gabby Salinas for the right to oppose GOP state Senator Brian Kelsey in the fall.

Roberson, who agreed to serve as Weatherspoon's finance director, believes that Weatherspoon, who serves as chaplain at Le Bonheur Hospital is the kind of moderate, public-spirited Democrat, keen on expansion of health care benefits, that Republicans can also feel good about.

Similarly, District 5 county commission candidate Michael Whaley, an education administrator, is getting substantial help from political consultant Steven Reid, who — while not tied to either political party — has worked for Jim Strickland, Memphis' middle-of-the-road Democratic mayor, and 8th District Congressman David Kustoff, a firm Donald Trump ally who is conspicuously right of center.

• Meanwhile, both heat and light are still being generated in county primary races. A major fracas of sorts has erupted in the District 8 county commission Democratic primary to determine a successor to the venerable Walter Bailey

The controversy revolves around veteran lawyer and former Commissioner Julian Bolton, who has been under contract to represent members of the commission as an advisor and who has been championed by the commissioners, in the face of official resistance from Mayor Mark Luttrell's administration, to be the commission's fully fledged full-time lawyer.

Bolton has been supporting another lawyer, J.B. Smiley, in the multi-candidate District 8 primary race, as has the departing Bailey. Simultaneously, three Democratic Commissioners — Reginald Milton, Van Turner, and Willie Brooks — are backing the campaign of candidate Mickell Lowery, son of former longtime Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery. Tempers have frayed to the point that at least one of the Lowery supporters has intimated that Bolton may see his commission contract at risk if Smiley fails to win.

"I'm not worried," Bolton says. "I've helped all those members with their races in the past, and they'll like J.B. just fine if he wins. It'd be good to have his legal expertise on the commission."

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