Politics » Politics Feature

November Ballot Features Several Contested Local Races

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In addition to the well-watched races for senator and governor and the key referendum measures on the ballot for Memphis voters, a number of key local contests remain to be decided: Contested Legislative Races

State Senate, District 29 (Millington, Memphis): Democrat Raumesh Akbari, who made a name for herself as a member of the state House, is favored over Republican Tom Stephens, a low-profile Republican in this traditionally Democratic area.

State Senate, District 31 (Germantown): Incumbent Republican Brian Kelsey, a lawyer, has rarely been tested on his home ground, where anti-crime and low-tax rhetoric usually keep him safe. He may win again, but he faces an unusual challenge from his Democratic opponent, political newcomer Gabby Salinas, a progressive whose backstory as a three-time cancer survivor fuels her campaign for Medicaid expansion. 

A Kelsey mail-out piece depicting him as "one of us" drew criticism from Democrats who regarded it as a dog-whistle reference to the fact that Salinas is a native Bolivian. Salinas, who is now on the verge of becoming a scientific researcher herself, emigrated to Memphis along with her entire family during her childhood so that she could receive medical treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

State House of Representatives, District 83 (Cordova, Germantown): Republican incumbent Mark White, who works as a conflict manager and facilitator, is in many ways a typical GOP conservative, but he gives extremism a wide berth and, if reelected,  stands to become chair of his body's education committee. He is opposed by first-time candidate and Democratic activist Danielle Schonbaum, whose father was employed at St. Jude and whose personal background as a CPA and workforce specialist stand her in good stead for legislative duty.

State House of Representatives, District 95 (Germantown, Collierville): First-term incumbent Republican Kevin Vaughan, a real-estate developer, hopes to defend the seat he won in a special election to replace the GOP's Mark Lovell, who, accused of sexual harassment, resigned under pressure after turning out incident-prone Republican veteran Curry Todd in 2016. Vaughan's Democratic opponent is Sanjeev Memula, a staff attorney at the Public Defender's Office and another new face.

District 96 State Rep - Dwayne Thompson addressing supporters last week - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • District 96 State Rep Dwayne Thompson addressing supporters last week

State House of Representatives, District 96 (East Memphis, Germantown): Democratic incumbent Dwayne Thompson, a retired human resources professional, took advantage of overconfidence of then-GOP incumbent Steve McManusin and, by dint of diligent door-knocking and significant financial aid from the state Democratic Party, won this seat in an upset in 2016. Though the area's demographics continue to shift toward working-class and minority voters, Republicans are working hard to regain the seat and are backing Scott McCormick, former Plough Foundation director and a political veteran as an ex-Memphis City Councilman and current member of the Shelby County Schools board.

State House of Representatives, District 97 (Bartlett, Memphis): Retired Memphis schoolteacher Jim Coley, the longtime Republican incumbent, has seemingly regained his equilibrium after a marital separation, followed by a debilitating illness, and is getting handsome backing for his reelection campaign from the state Republican Party, which is deluging district mailboxes with flyers documenting educational and other legislation accomplished by the relatively moderate representative. Coley is opposed by progressive Democrat Allan Creasy, a Midtown bartender and a vigorous campaigner, who hopes to duplicate Thompson's success of two years ago in capturing a suburban GOP seat.

State House of Representatives, District 99 (Northeast Shelby County): This seat was long a dependably safe enclave for veteran Republican Ron Lollar, whose unexpected death after the party primary this year resulted in an ad hoc GOP selection process for a successor, from which onetime state senator and outgoing county Register Tom Leatherwood emerged as the party nominee. Leatherwood's Democratic opponent is David Cambron, project manager for a local computer company and one of his party's most indefatigable activists. As the president of the Germantown Democratic Club, Cambron became the de facto chief recruiter for other local Democratic candidates this year and is largely responsible for the fact that Democrats, unlike Republicans, are competing in every legislative district. At a time when no one else seemed eager to take on the formidable Lollar, Cambron filled the breach himself.

Though no one seriously expects suspenseful returns on election night, the two U.S. House of Representatives seats directly affecting Shelby County are both being contested.  In House District 9, encompassing most of Memphis and parts of Millington and outer Shelby County, Democrat Steve Cohen, the incumbent since his first election in 2006, should have an easy time of it with the never-say-die Republican perennial Charlotte Bergman. Leo Awgowhat, more a performance artist than a candidate, is also on the ballot as an independent.  In House District 8, which includes parts of northern and eastern Shelby County in its West Tennessee expanse, first-term incumbent Republican David Kustoff faces off against Democrat Erika Stotts Pearson, who has a background as an educator and civil activist, and independent James Hart.

Suburban Races Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington are all holding municipal elections this year, and, in at least two of those cities — Lakeland and Germantown — the contests involve serious local schisms.

In Lakeland, a slate headed by current Mayor Wyatt Bunker is opposed by one led by FedEx administrator Mike Cunningham. The main issue seems to be that of Bunker's plans for Lakeland to build its own high school, a venture seen as unnecessary and unduly risky by his opposition. The situation is somewhat similar in Germantown, where Mayor Mike Palazzolo, an exponent of what he calls Smart Growth, embedded in a 20-year development plan, seeks a second term. He is opposed by Alderman John Barzizza, who expresses concerns about retaining the bedroom suburb's residential identity. (More about these contests next week, as space allows.)

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