If Tennessee Republicans are able to achieve a majority in the state Senate after next year’s elections, they may choose a Democrat to lead them. That’s if they follow the example of state Sen. Curtis Person (R-Memphis), who extolled the virtues of Lt. Gov. John Wilder (D-Somerville) at a well-attended fundraiser for Wilder Thursday night at the Memphis home of city councilman Jack Sammons. Person, who has held legislative office since 1966 and has been opposed only twice during that period, left no doubt as to his own loyalties. After toasting Wilder for empowering the Senate “as independent body” some three decades ago, Person said flatly, “If the Republicans gain control of the Senate next year, I want it known that I’ll vote for John Wilder to be Speaker once again.” Person’s statement was reminiscent of remarks he and other leading Senate Republicans made on Wilder’s behalf three years ago when the Lt. Governor was challenged for his Senate seat by Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt, who had gained the GOP nomination but got limited support from partymates statewide. Wilder won that one easily. Since surviving two purge attempts by Democratic factions in the '80s, Wilder, a sturdy octogenarian who does two vigorous bicycle rides a day, has presided over the Senate as the choice of a bipartisan coalition. During brief remarks at the fundraiser Thursday night, Wilder quipped, "I think more people like me in Memphis than they do in Nashville." Other senators present at the fundraiser, where Wilder was introduced by FedEx founder Fred Smith, included Democrats Steve Cohen and Jim Kyle, both of Memphis, Jo Ann Graves of Gallatin, Don McCleary of Jackson, and Doug Henry of Nashville, and Republican Mark Norris of Collierville. Also attending were state Mental Health commissioner Virginia Betts, state Secretary of State Riley Darnell, state Comptroller John Morgan, state Treasurer Dale Sims, and numerous other politically influential members of both major political parties.


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