Commission to Decide on Interim Senator 

As the Shelby County Commission prepares to appoint an interim state Senator from District 30 on Monday, three of the eight hopefuls have a special obstacle to overcome: They are candidates in next year’s special election, and there is growing sentiment on the commission not to grant anybody a head start and to give the nod to a self-avowed fill-in instead.

The three two-way players, Democrats Kevin Gallagher and Robert Spence, and Republican Larry Parrish, are all likely to have serious support next year, (primaries are January 25th and the general election is on March 13th), and, even though whoever is appointed on Monday won’t be able to raise money once the session starts in early January, all are eager to get started now.

But several commissioners – like Steve Mulroy, who articulated what he described as a change of mind in last Wednesday’s series of interviews with the eight aspirants – are looking to name a short-termer instead.

That could narrow the contest to Shea Flinn, Melvin Burgess Jr., Joe Kirkland, Joseph Kyles, and Cordell Orrin, all Democrats who, like Gallagher, Spence, and Parrish, had an opportunity to present their credentials at length Wednesday, before a committee of the whole that was generally impressed and respectful.

Even Parrish, a conservative Republican whose chances of being appointed by the commission’s Democratic majority are limited, was given cordial treatment.

The lone exception was Spence, a former city attorney who has drawn fire for two circumstances – what some see as an over-readiness to exploit local government pensions and what others see as Spence’s compliant role in one-sided financial arrangements favoring HOOPS, the NBA Grizzlies’ management unit.

GOP commissioner Mike Ritz, in particular, gave Spence a relentless going-over in response to allegations made by lawyer Richard Fields and others charging Spence with facilitating the contract whereby a state/federal grant earmarked for a public transportation facility went to construct a HOOPS-operated commercial garage instead.

Spence had at least one stout defender, commissioner Sidney Chism, who angrily denied any improper actions by the former city attorney and charged that a smear campaign was under way.

Picking up some support for the interim position over the weekend was Flinn, a Democrat whose father is Republican commissioner George Flinn. But several of the others had good chances as well, and Spence, for all the barrage aimed at him on Wednesday, could not be counted out.

For that matter, nominations from the floor will be in order Monday, too. The commission might have a battle royal on its hands.

The other Democrat who has filed for the January primary is District 89 state Representative Beverly Marrero, who opted not to seek the interim appointment, since she would have been compelled to resign her House seat to do so.

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