Shelby County’s Democrats began the election year with a determination to avoid the Republican sweep in countywide races that embarrassed and disempowered them four years ago and left many of them claiming election fraud at the hands of the GOP or the Election Commission.
Now, four years later, the same result has occurred — a Republican sweep, this time with federal election monitors on hand to guard against any tampering — and the local party is going to have to ponder that old chestnut so often attributed to Einstein or Churchill or some other historical eminence — the one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Whether that’s “insanity,” as postulated in the familiar old saw, or ideological weakness, or organizational incompetence, or bad luck, or just what, Democrats took another licking in the election of August 7.
In the end, the only Democratic winner for county office was the same respected office-holder whose victory two years ago had given hope of breaking the losing streak — Cheyenne Johnson, the Shelby County Assessor, who handily defeated the largely unknown Keith Alexander.
The Democratic nominee for Shelby County Mayor, Deidre Malone, ran creditably, it seemed, but never gained traction against Republican incumbent Mark Luttrell, who won with relative ease.
It was the circumstances of two key races that, months ago, had seemed possible rallying points, which insured the continuation of Republican dominance in local relations. “Judge” Joe Brown, the celebrity D.A. candidate who had been counted on to provide a boost for the ticket, and Juvenile Court Clerk aspirant Henri Brooks, who had begun the campaign year with laurels and concluded it in largely self-inflicted adversity, were both embarrassing losers — to incumbents Amy Weirich and Joy Touliatos, respectively .
Though Johnson was the only Democratic winner, several other party candidates managed respective outcomes in the mid- to high 40-percent change — including Criminal Court clerk Wanda Halbert, loser to the GOP's Ridchard DeSaussure; Circuit court Clerk candidate Rhonda Banks, beaten by incumbent Jimmy Moore; and Probate Clerk candidate William Chism Jr., loser to incumbent Paul Boyd.
Incumbent Republican Sheriff Bill Oldham beat Democrat Bennie Cobb, 60-40; GOP County Clerk Wayne Mashburn beat Democrat Charlotte Draper and independent Isaac Wright, with 54 percent; and incumbent GOP register Tom Leatherwood had irt over Coleman Thompson, 58-42.
One problem for the Democrats may have been that the local intra-party race that had seemed capable of driving some significant vote for the party — the 9th District congressional primary pitting four-term incumbent Steve Cohen against his latest challenger, lawyer Ricky Wilkins — saw a repetition of what is now a familiar pattern, Cohen winning with ease.
Despite generating what had seemed more interest at the grass-roots level than any of the last few Democratic primary challengers, Wilkins was beaten two-to-one, having failed to generate a protest vote or any anti-incumbent response of any dimension. His chances of doing a reprise in two years or mounting a race for City Mayor next year took a corresponding hit.
Cohen, on the other hand, emerged even more obviously than before, as the closest thing local Democrats have as a party leader for the long run. But another potential party star for the future, City Councilman Lee Harris, was headed for Cohen's old venue in the state Senate, having romped to victory over incumbent Ophelia Ford and Rickey Dixon in a District 29 race.
Though news of Ford's abysmal attendance record in the General Assembly, coupled with the electorate's memory of her serial embarrassments there, had seemed to make her defeat — the first by a member of the Ford political clan seeking reelection — certain, her 3rd-place finish, a shade behind Dixon, was unexpected.
In other local races, most of the outcomes in judicial contests were expected ones, with most incumbents being returned to the bench. The victory of state Senator Jim Kyle in the race for Chancery Court, Part Two, opens up his legislative seat for what could be an interesting local competition, with an opportunity for a new Democeatic face to emerge.
In what was not a partisan race per se, though it was undoubtedly affected by results elsewhere, longtime Juvenile Court magistrate Dan Michael, whose support was anchored in the GOP, defeated City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, who had harbored crossover hopes.
In contested races for the Shelby County School Board, incumbent Chris Caldwell edged out Freda Garner-Williams in District 1; Stephanie Love beat two opponents in District 3; Scott McCormick romped over David Winston in District 5;Shante Avant easily beat Jimmy Warren in District 6y; and former longtime state Representative Mike Kernell beat two opponents in District 9.
Statewide, appellate judges, notably Supreme Court Justices Gary Wade, Connie Clark, and Sharon Lee, all targeted in a purge campaign by GOP Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, swept to victory in retention races, as did Governor Bill Haslam in the GOP primary.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander scored a Republican primary victory, too, though he netted only a bare majority of the total vote in his race, with Tea Party challenger Joe Ca rr, who campaigned almost exclusively in Middle Tennessee, relatively close behind with 40 percent and Memphis physician/businessman George Flinn trailing in 3rd place.
Democrats had a real barn-burner in their primary for U.S. Senator, with Gordon Ball overcoming Terry Adams in a down-to-the-wire race involving the two Knoxville attorneys. The two Democrats were virtually tied until late returns opened up Ball's victory margin a bit.
SELECTED VOTE TOTALS
9th District, U.S. Congress: Steve Cohen 45,366, 66 percent; RickyWilkins 22,311, 33 percent; Isaac Richmond 872, 1 percent
Shelby County Mayor: Mark Luttrell (R), 90,470, 62 percent; Deidfre Malone (D), 52,376, 36 percent; Charles Nelson (I), 1,633, 1 percent; Leo Awgowhat (I), 0.3 percent
Shelby County Sheriff: Bill Oldham (R), 83,622, 59 percent; Bennie Cobb (D), 57,205, 41 percent
District Attorney General: Amy Weirich (R), 94,248, 65 percent; Joe Brown (D), 50,161, 35 percent
Shelby County Assessor: Cheyenne Johnson (D), 77,782, 56 percent; Keith Alexander (R), 57,002, 41 percent; John C. Bogan (I), 4,018, 3 percent
Criminal Court Clerk: Richard DeSaussure (R), 73,484, 53 p
ercent; Wanda Halbert (D), 65,588, 47 percent
Juvenile Court Judge: Dan Michael 67,917, 54 percent; Russell Sugarmon, 58,065, 46 percent
Shelby County Trustee: David Lenoir (R), 74,947, 54.99 percent; Derrick Bennett (D), 54,404, 39.91 percent; David K. Kemp (I), 6,9067, 5.07 percent
Circuit Court Clerk: Jimmy Moore (R), 74,785, 54.50 percent; Rhonda Banks (D), 62, 370, 45.45 percent
Juvenile Court Clerk: Joy Touliatos (R), 80,161, 56.97 percent; Henri Brooks (D), 53,776, 38.22 percent; Morrie E. Noel, 6,685 (I), 6,685, 4.75 percent
Probate Court Clerk: Paul Boyd (R), 72,114, 52.73 percent; William Chism Jr. (D), 64,501, 47.17 percent
Register of Deeds: Tom Leatherwood (R), 80,453, 57.78 percent; Coleman Thompson (D), 58,741, 42.19 percent.
Shelby County Clerk: Wayne Mashburn (R), 74,956; 54.26 percent; Charlotte B. Draper (D), 58,9862, 42.68 percent