Two Tennessee Democrats on the Move 

Fitzhugh at headquarters opening

Photographs by Jackson Baker

Fitzhugh at headquarters opening

 If voters need a little help in brushing off the dust of the now completed May 1st county primary elections, two candidates in the forthcoming state primary elections of August 2nd may have the right formula.

Craig Fitzhugh, Democratic candidate for governor, and Gabby Salinas, who's running in the Democratic primary for the state Senate in District 31, indicated to supporters on successive weekends that they know how to infuse a little energy into their stump appearances.

Fitzhugh did on Saturday, April 21st, at his local headquarters opening on Poplar Avenue, which ended with the place shaking to the strains of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best," rendered by a torch singer and band, both in excellent form. The performance was a tribute to the fact that Fitzhugh, a native of Ripley in West Tennessee, had the aforesaid Turner as a baby sitter growing up.

And on Friday, April 27th, not quite a week later, Salinas combined a 30th-birthday celebration with a campaign meet-and-greet at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn, and that one concluded with several numbers by Los Cantadores, a mariachi band par excellence, including the piece de resistance, a song called "De que manera de Olvido" ("How can I forget you?") which was played in memory of Salinas' father Omar Salinas, who died some years ago, along with her sister Valentina, in a tragic automobile accident.

click to enlarge Gabby Salinas
  • Gabby Salinas

However, the rest of the extended Salinas family, which hails from Bolivia originally, was on hand with numerous local supporters for the celebration — one that flowed naturally and exuberantly around a candidate with movie princess looks and a killer backstory. Not only did Gabby Salinas survive the auto crash that killed two family members, she has survived three separate bouts of cancer, courtesy of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital — including a case of Ewing's Sarcoma and two instances of thyroid cancer.

For all that hardship, Salinas went on to earn a PhD in pharmacology. She has abundant energy and, as she demonstrated in her remarks to the crowd that turned out for her event, a firm knowledge of what she stands for. The main plank in her platform is a backing for Medicaid expansion, a determination she shares with her current Democratic primary opponent, LeBonheur Hospital chaplain David Weatherspoon, who was briefly profiled in this space last week.

The two state Senate candidates, Salinas and Weatherspoon, draw from similar constituencies, as, for that matter, do Fitzhugh and his rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. All four cite health care as their number one issue. Others are education, jobs, child care, the needs of the underserved. As Fitzhugh put it, "We all do better when we all do better. I'm not worried about the folks in the skyscrapers. I'm worried about those living in the shadows of the skyscrapers."

Fitzhugh, accompanied to his event by son Tom, wife Wendy, and their newborn child, cited his roots as a West Tennessean. He called himself a "supporter of Memphis" from birth on, one who learned to spell by learning the letters of the now-defunct HumKo shortening plant, which he'd see on trips from the city on Highway 51 North.

Like Salinas, Fitzhugh, currently the Democratic minority leader in the state House and one beloved by his troops, knows he's got a tough primary fight.

So does Salinas. "I'm a tough lady" she says, and she figures that, having beaten cancer, her ultimate election opponent, the formidable Republican incumbent in District 31, Brian Kelsey, would be easier pickings.

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