It took eight ballots and a good deal of to-in and fro-ing at the margins, but, in the end, a long-lived bipartisan precedent for filling vacancies died a death of attrition Monday, when the Shelby County Commission voted along party lines to give the commission seat surrendered by state treasurer David Lillard, a Republican, to Democrat Matt Kuhn.
For seven ballots, neither Kuhn nor his major Republican opponent, former commissioner Tommy Hart, were able to get the magic seventh and deciding vote, but, when Republican holdouts for Hart failed to take advantage of Democratic erosion in favor of Linda Kerley, the former GOP mayor of Collierville, Kuhns forces coalesced again and won votes from two Democrats Joe Ford, who had been voting for Hart , and J.W. Gibson, who had been passing since a first-round vote for Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon.
Thus perished a precedent that had held in filling vacancies of various kinds since the early 90s, when commission elections first became partisan. There was no disputing that District 4, the seat vacated by Lillard, was predominantly Republican, but it will now be held by Kuhn, son of the present county attorney and a former Democratic Party chairman.
Democrats, on and off the commission stage, permitted themselves a spell of rejoicing that ranged from jubilant to tentative to downright nervous, while the reactions of Republicans on the commission and elsewhere seemed to fluctuate between anger, resignation, and simple regret.
This was the second major disappointment for Republicans, coming on top of the recent election of a maverick Republican, Kent Williams, as Speaker of the Tennessee House, on the strength of his own vote and that of House Democrats.