TN 8th District: A Matter of “Roots” 

Luttrell at the Rotary Club

Jackson Baker

Luttrell at the Rotary Club

It has often been remarked that — the current fatigue with incumbents notwithstanding — the best way of running for a public office is to hold one already. Such would seem to be the case with Mark Luttrell, Shelby County's incumbent mayor and the presumptive man to beat in the highly competitive Republican primary for the 8th District congressional seat.

click to enlarge Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell

How this maxim seems to work was demonstrated Tuesday, when Luttrell was invited to share his tidings with members of the Rotary Club of Memphis at the University Club, one week after his Memphis counterpart, Jim Strickland, had appeared. As was the case with Strickland, the county mayor was asked to deliver a non-political address, and, in keeping with the request, proceeded to deliver a nuts-and-bolts summary of his governmental situation.

He did so, and, unlike Strickland, was able to issue a series of optimistic financial forecasts. No looming deficits (something of a budget surplus, in fact), no prospect of a tax increase, and the good news that the Shelby County economy, after years of conteracting, had actually grown to the tune of one whole percentage point.

It was only in the brief Q&A that followed Luttrell's remarks that he got a bona fide political question, and it was to the point: Why was he running?

The mayor seemed grateful for the opportunity to explain. First of all, he was term-limited as mayor, and he still maintained an urge to serve. Secondly, as a native of Crockett County and other points in the district, he was, he said, "the only one in the race who was deep roots" in both the urban and rural spheres. He had waited, he said, a month or so after incumbent Stephen Fincher announced he would not run again "to see who would step up" and decided it needed to be himself.

Never was a collective "dis" delivered more gently.

• Meanwhile, David Kustoff, one of the four other major rival entries from Shelby County and the one, his supporters insist, who is the true rival to Luttrell for the affections of Shelby County Republicans in the 8th, promptly set out to nourish those roots with a three-day tour of the district.

The tour began Monday in Covington, continued to Somerville, and finally to Germantown, for an opening of the candidate's Poplar Avenue headquarters. Some 125 supporters and observers were on hand, as former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and Shelby County Commissioner Mark Billingsley took turns introducing Kustoff, a former U.S. Attorney for Shelby County. 

Kustoff's tour continues on Tuesday, with stops in Jackson, Huntington, Camden, Paris, Dresden, and Alamo. On Wednesday, the candidate will be in Dyersburg, Tiptonville, Union City, Trenton, and Brownsville.


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