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Looking Ahead to 2020 Elections

Original article published on Memphis Flyer by Jackson Baker ( available here

Torrey Harris
Torrey Harris

The elections of 2020 are just around the corner. Chief interest right now, and likely to remain so for a while, is the race for president, of course. Just under 20 active candidates remain in the Democratic field, and some 12 of them — including newcomer Tom Steyer, he of the billlion-dollar war chest and two years’ worth of pro-impeachment commercials — were holding forth on a nationally televised debate stage in Ohio this week.

President Donald Trump, looking to his re-election, still reigns supreme among Republicans, though he has drawn a surprising number of challengers in his party, including, to date, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, former Congressman and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. It is a bit chancey to call these gents “primary challengers,” though, in that slavishly loyal GOP state organizations are canceling their scheduled 2020 presidential primaries about as fast as these challengers have announced themselves.

Statewide, Tennesseans will be eyeing the race to succeed Lamar Alexander, who is retiring from the U.S. Senate. Most attention so far has been focused on the Republican contest between former state economic development commissioner and ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who has what would appear to be an outright endorsement from Trump (who announced Hagerty’s Senate bid) and Manny Sethi, a Nashville physician and author of books on medicine. 

Lest one be skeptical of Sethi’s chances, it should be recalled that former Senator Bill Frist, also of Nashville, managed a similar leap from medicine into politics back in 1994. Ultimately, transplant surgeon Frist would decide he’d had enough of Washington, but he had managed to become Senate Majority Leader before that final change of heart.

A Memphian, Marquita Bradshaw, is the latest declared Democratic candidate for the Senate seat. Bradshaw is a board member of the state Sierra Club and has worked for the American Federation of Government employees and the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center. She joins in the Democratic race James Mackler, the Nashville attorney and Iraq War vet who has been running ever since the close of the 2018 election season.

Mackler, it will be remembered, had declared for the Senate seat vacated last year by Republican Bob Corker but stepped aside to make room for former Governor Phil Bredesen, who lost decisively to the GOP’s Marsha Blackburn. (Incidentally, one signal that the president’s hold over his party could be weakening came last week from Blackburn, a Trump loyalist, who nevertheless made public her serious disagreement with the president’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, leaving the Kurds, American allies, at the mercy of a Turkish invasion. Nashville, as it happens, is the location of the largest number of Kurdish émigrés anywhere in the nation.)

One legislative race in 2020 will be a reprise from 2018. Torrey Harris, a human resources administrator for the Trustee’s office,, will try again to knock off longtime state Representative John DeBerry in District 90. In his previous shot at DeBerry, Harris pulled 40 percent of the primary vote and hopes to improve on that showing this time around.

As before, Harris is pitching his appeal to mainstream Democrats irked at DeBerry’s well-established habit of voting with Republican House members on social legislation. The incumbent’s latest provocation to the regulars was his vote in the House for last session’s education voucher bill, which passed the House by the margin of a single vote.

The bill, a key part of Governor Bill Lee‘s legislative package, was rewritten several times in order to attract enough votes for passage — the last time so as to apply only to Shelby County and Davidson County (Nashville). Ultimately, the bill gained several votes from representatives who were promised that their localities would not be affected by it but was opposed by most legislators from the two counties where it applied.

Harris’ announcement statement said in part: “We need someone fighting for the hard-working people here — that means supporting the push for money for our already underfunded public schools instead of giving it away. … DeBerry could have been the vote that tied up this legislation.” Harris also promised to be “bold about human rights … LGBTQ equality, racial justice, and reproductive health justice.”

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