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Crossing Party Lines

The question of partisan fidelity predominates, one way or another, in several pending races this election year.

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The election lists are still forming, but already the number of unusual developments in the 2018 election season are way beyond the norm. Several of them cast a bit of light on the question of partisan identity. Where to start? 

SHELBY COUNTY CLERK: Well, there was the fact that Danny Kail and his wife Sohelia Kail, both veterans of county government and both political activists, had each drawn petitions to run for Shelby County clerk as Republicans.

Note the verb form, "was." Danny Kail is well known in political circles as an active Democrat, who over the years has run unsuccessfully for both Probate Court clerk and Probate Court judge, losing the Democratic primary for clerk in 2010 in the first instance and gaining the Democratic Party endorsement for judge in 2014, though his opponent, incumbent Judge Karen Webster, somehow ended up being listed as the party choice on a semi-official local Democratic newspaper.

The two experiences combined to sour Kail, the county's former liaison officer on labor issues, on his future potential as a Democrat and led him to declare last fall, when he was serving as CAO for the Criminal Court clerk's office, as a GOP candidate for the county clerk's job. 

To the surprise of many, Sohelia Kail also drew a petition for the Republican primary for the same position.

The bottom line, explained Danny Kail this week, was that he decided to yield to his wife, whom he said he deems to be a superior candidate as a longtime budget analyst with the Sheriff's Department. So he is dropping out, and she was, at mid-week, scheduled to formally file for county clerk.

Others drawing petitions for the position are Republicans Arnold Weiner and Donna Creson and Democrats Shelandra Ford, Jamal Whitlow, and Mondell B. Williams. Weiner, Whitlow, and Williams have completed their filing.

SHELBY COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 10: This is another case of blurred political lines. Incumbent Commissioner Reginald Milton, a Democrat, seems destined to face an opponent in the party primary, one Vontyna Durham White, who has not only drawn a petition but has filed for the commission seat.

The surprise is that White has also identified herself as an adherent of the campaign of County Commissioner Terry Roland, a Republican, for Shelby County mayor. She turned up in Roland's company last week when the commissioner formally filed for mayor at the Election Commission, and she posed with Roland, along with other supporters, for a widely distributed photo of the event.

This sparked an immediate and impassioned thread on Facebook, initiated by a Democratic activist. Other Democrats joined in with their own negative reactions, to which White eventually responded defiantly, telling one critic: "I'm not colluding. I chose and have a voice to make my own decision to vote like I want to. ... I don't care who you vote for. Your voice is your voice." 

However unprecedented, White's public endorsement of Roland would not seem to violate any stricture of the election code. But the local Democratic Party has a primary board, appointed just last Saturday, which apparently has the authority to declare her an invalid contender in the party primary. That board has not yet met to consider the issue but almost certainly will at some early point.

STATE SENATE, DISTRICT 33: The question of party fidelity is also an issue in the reelection race of Democratic Senator Reginald Tate, who has drawn the ire of his party colleagues over the years for what some of them see as his collaboration with Republicans in the General Assembly.

Tate for some years held an office with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank which mass-produces sample legislation for its members in the legislatures of various states. Responding to criticism from fellow Democrats, Tate resigned his affiliation with ALEC. But he had acquired a primary opponent, health-care executive Katrina Robinson, who would seem to have hearty support of those Democrats alienated by Tate's political coziness with the GOP.

On the matter of association, Robinson has a potential problem of her own, though it has nothing to do with any choice on her part or actions of hers. Her sister Sherra Robinson Wright, was recently arrested in California in connection with the 2010 murder of her then husband, ex-University of Memphis basketball star Lorenzen Wright.

Robinson herself has not been implicated in any part of the legal proceedings, and says she has had very limited contact with her sister. She vows to run a viable campaign, steering clear of any publicity or distractions resulting from the Wright case. 

SHELBY COUNTY COMMISSION, DISTRICT 5: This East Memphis enclave — currently represented by Commission chair Heidi Shafer, a Republican — may be on its way to becoming a swing district on the 13-member commission (currently consisting of seven Democrats and six Republicans), and one sign of that is the fact that the four persons who have so far drawn petitions to run for it divide equally between the parties.

The two Republicans are Geoffrey Diaz and Richard Morton, both with activist backgrounds. The Democrats are Michael Whaley and the aforementioned Shelandra Ford, who is considering more than one race.

What makes this district somewhat striking is that two of the candidates — Republican Diaz and Democrat Whaley — are staking out centrist positions. Realtor Diaz, who has an Hispanic background, maintains a core group of Latino residents of the district, with whom he meets to discuss issues of diversity and programs for economic opportunity. Diaz is willing to declare himself a "moderate," something virtually unheard of these days among Republicans, who tend to prefer the self-description of "conservative." And Whaley, Tennessee director of an education-related non-profit agency, has engaged consultant Steven Reid, a prominent force in the past campaigns of Mayor Jim Strickland and GOP 8th District Congressman David Kustoff; Reid stresses his own candidate's intent to reach across party lines.

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