Shelby County: 2018 Electoral Reality Check 

As might be expected in a county that, despite its ostensible Democratic majority, consistently elects Republicans in local partisan races, the 2018 Shelby County mayor's race is developing faster on the GOP side than on the Democratic one.

Among Republicans, Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland announced for mayor more than a year ago, Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos announced week before last, and County Trustee David Lenoir reports he will definitely be announcing for the office this month. (Lenoir also pointedly notes that there is no basis for recent rumors suggesting that he is interested in seeking the state Senate seat of Mark Norris, recently nominated for a federal judgeship.)

No Democrat has yet made a formal announcement, though former commissioner and interim state Senator Sidney Chism has made it clear privately that he will run. County Commissioner Melvin Burgess has made broad hints that he would like to, and state Senator Lee Harris and former county Commissioner Steve Mulroy, both of whom are University of Memphis law school professors, are still in the flip-a-coin stage of deciding which one of them will run. (Mulroy was a candidate in the Democratic primary four years ago.)

Democrats would seem to have some reason to be more optimistic about the race for sheriff after last week's annoucement, before a huge and diverse crowd at the Racquet Club, by current Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner, an African American who, in the course of 37 years, has worked himself up from a jailor's job.  

click to enlarge Bonner with incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham, who endorsed him. - JB
  • JB
  • Bonner with incumbent Sheriff Bill Oldham, who endorsed him.

Bonner was introduced and endorsed by the current Sheriff, Bill Oldham (elected eight years ago as a Republican). Said Oldham: "I'm going to do something that my predecessor [then sheriff, now county Mayor Mark Luttrell] didn't do for me. I'm going to fully endorse Floyd Bonner."

Though other candidates, Democratic and Republican, are expected to announce, Bonner is the clear favorite on his side. The Republican most likely to succeed is Dale Lane, the county's current director of the Office of Preparedness.

When local Republicans gathered two weeks ago at the Great Hall in Germantown for the Master Meal Banquet (sponsored annually by the East Shelby Republican Club), it was in the immediate wake of U.S. Senator Bob Corker's much-publicized questioning of President Trump's "stability" and "competence," but, publicly at least, the local GOP gentry still seem inclined, left-handedly or otherwise, to toe the line of loyalty.

State GOP chairman Scott Golden said this from the dais: "When Donald Trump was elected president, we knew that the media wasn't going to cut him any slack. ... Do not be sidetracked by the news of the day ... because at the end of the day, Hillary Clinton is not president. And remember: The worst Republican on any given day is better than the best Democrat."

Eighth District U.S. Representative David Kustoff, in his turn as a follow-up speaker, was even more upfront in his support of the president. Denouncing what he said was nonstop "fake news," Kustoff said, "You can't get any other news. I am proud to stand behind this president. I am proud to stand behind Donald Trump."

One of the revealing features of the annual banquet comes early on, when the M.C. of the event —in this year's case, Golden — calls the roll of public officials present.

It is always a revelation of sorts to be reminded just how numerous the GOP contingent is in Shelby County officialdom, and the process is prolonged further by the inclusion of nonpartisan attendees (judges, for instance), who feel obliged to show their flag at the event.

Candidates in ongoing races get their names called, too. One of the intriguing GOP primary matchups for next year that surfaced at the event was that for county clerk between longtime party factotum Arnold Weiner and former Democratic mainstay Danny Kail, who at present is CAO at the Criminal Court clerk's office.

In a way suggestive of musical chairs, Wayne Mashburn the current county clerk, reportedly intends to run for register, while current Register Tom Leatherwood will be seeking the office of Circuit Court clerk to succeed Jimmy Moore, who will not be running for reelection.

The move-alongs of Mashburn and Leatherwood are prompted by the term-limits provisions of the county charter.


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