My posts will appear in three parts: County Elections, Primaries for Tennessee House and Governor, and U.S. Congress.
But let me begin with some explanation. Only TEP PAC can endorse or make contributions to candidates for state and local office. The information offered here will include TEP PAC’s endorsements and additional information that you can take to the voting booth with you.
I will try to limit my comments to candidate positions on LGBTQ issues. Mainstream media often don't ask about our issues but do cover other important policy positions of candidates that should also be considered before casting your vote.
I have relied on first hand knowledge, various news media and other reliable sources before posting this information. I encourage you to add to this body of knowledge with one request: Keep your comments constructive, objective and factual. Let’s do our best to educate each other in the democratic process.
If you are not sure if you live in a candidates district, you can verify this information on your voter registration card or at the Shelby County Election Commission website: http://www.shelbyvote.com/.
SHELBY COUNTY MAYOR
The two major candidates for Shelby County Mayor are Interim Mayor Joe Ford (D) and Sheriff Mark Luttrell (R).
Before Ford was appointed by the Shelby County Commission last Fall to replace Mayor A.C. Wharton, he served on the Shelby County Commission . Ford appeared at TEP’s Ice Cream Sundae Social on June 27 to ask for your vote. Last year, TEP supported an employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy (see below). The original ordinance would have protected employees of county government, government contractors, and businesses in unicorporated areas of Shelby County. Ford voted against the original ordinance in a committee vote but later voted for a substitute resolution that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
At a Mayoral Forum sponsored by the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee last April, Ford was asked if he would support an ordinance that established workplace protections for gay, lesbian, bi and transgender employees of the county and county contractors like the non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Commissioner Steve Mulroy in 2009. Ford was first to answer among his opponents that he voted for the resolution that passed last year while still serving on the Shelby County Commission. Ford said that the county does not currently discriminate on the job. Ford said he could not commit to the ordinance without seeing the actual wording.
Sheriff Luttrell has no legislative record on LGBTQ issues, but it is worth noting that he was in charge of the Shelby County Justice Center when Duanna Johnson was beaten by Memphis Police officer Bridges McRae. The videotaped beating of Johnson showed that Sheriff Department employees did little to nothing to intervene while Johnson was beaten. Luttrell defended his staff as reported in the Commercial Appeal (June 8, 2008):
Sheriff Mark Luttrell, who oversees the jail, said Thursday that the nurse didn't ignore Johnson, but performed a visual assessment of Johnson and determined the injuries weren't life-threatening. A few minutes later, the nurse tended to McRae while Johnson rocked back and forth behind them.
Since Johnson, not McRae, suffered the most severe injuries, it is strange that Luttrell would offer such a defence with no offer to review how Sheriff Department employees should respond at the jail when fellow law enforcement officers lose control. Luttrell seemed more concerned about the videotape being leaked to Duanna Johnson’s attorney at the time:
The Shelby County Sheriff's Office is investigating how an attorney got a surveillance videotape of their law enforcement lobby, which showed a Memphis police officer beating a suspect. The sheriff's office made one copy, which was given to MPD as part of the investigation of the incident, said sheriff's spokesman Steve Shular.
As Sheriff, Luttrell made no attempt to reach out to the LGBT community following the incident at the jail. We still don’t know what kind of training Sheriff Department employees receive for dealing with transgender detainees.
In deciding who to vote for, I plan to consider the following:
- Which candidate will do the best job in following the new county non-discrimination policy that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity?
- Which candidate would be the most supportive of reintroduction of a stronger employment non-discrimination ordinance for county employees and employees of county contractors (who aren’t currently covered by county policy)?
SHELBY COUNTY SHERIFF
The reality on this race is that there is not a lot of concrete information available on the LGBTQ policy positions of the Democratic or Republican candidates for County Sheriff. To my knowledge, neither candidate has responded to direct questions on LGBTQ policy issues, but there are some indirect ways to compare these candidates. Both candidates have extensive law enforcement experience.
Randy Wade (D). Candidate Randy Wade's position on LGBT policies is unknown. However, Wade has worked in Congressman Steve Cohen's home office in the Ninth Congressional District. Cohen is known for holding progressive positions on GLBT issues (see below). By association, Wade may lean in the same progressive direction.
Bill Oldham (R). I know even less about the Republican candidate. Sometimes not showing up to certain events can be a good sign. Bellevue Baptist Church, a frequent stop for Republican candidates, hosted a "Stand for the Family" rally (aka anti-gay and anti-choice hatefest) on March 29, 2010. While campaign supports with stickers appeared for a few conservative Republican candidates for Sheriff, neither Oldham nor his campaign supporters were observed to attend. I freely admit that may be giving Oldham more credit than he may deserve.
If given the opportunity, I would ask the following of both candidates:
- Do you believe that Sheriff Department employees should be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression?
- Do you support diversity training that includes discussion of LGBTQ people for department employees?
- How should the Sheriff Department treat transgender detainees?
If you know how the candidates respond to these questions, please post their positions.
SHELBY COUNTY COMMISSION
Most of the races for the 13 seats for Shelby County Commission were decided in the May 4, 2010 primary because the opposing party did not offer a candidate. Commission District 5 is the only exception. For that reason, I’ll offer brief comments on each position.
County Commission District 1, Pos. 1
Mike Ritz (R). Incumbent Commissioner Ritz voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. But, Ritz did vote for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Ritz was the only Republican to vote for the resolution.
County Commission District 1, Pos. 2
Heidi Shafer (R). Candidate Shafer hopes to replace Dr. George Flinn on the commission. She has no legislative record on LGBTQ issues, but I have heard reports that she actively campaigned for Tennessee’s anti-marrriage amendment ballot referendum in 2006 that prohibits recognition marriages of lesbian and gay couples.
County Commission District 1, Pos. 3
Mike Carpenter (R). Incumbent Commissioner Carpenter voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009 and the substitute resolution enacted in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
County Commission District 2, Pos. 1
Walter Lee Bailey, Jr. (D). Mr. Bailey is no stranger to the Shelby Commission having served many terms. He will be returning to the commission after a one-term break due to term limits. Mr. Bailey actively campaign for the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. He spoke eloquently in favor of the legislation at a Unity Rally at First Congregational Church on May 31, 2010 and before the Shelby County Commission the next day.
County Commission District 2, Pos. 2
Henri E. Brooks (D). Incumbent Commissioner Brooks voted for the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009 and for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
County Commission District 2, Pos. 3
Melvin Burgess (D). The candidate’s views on LGBTQ policy issues are unknown.
County Commission District 3, Pos. 1
James M. Harvey, Sr. (D). Incumbent Commissioner Harvey voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. But, Harvey did vote for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Harvey pledged support for a full ordinance for the next term and received the endorsement of TEP-PAC.
County Commission District 3, Pos. 2
Sidney Chism (D). Incumbent Commissioner Chism voted against the original employment non-discrimination ordinance in May 2009. Chism sponsored and voted for a substitute resolution in June 2009 that allowed a change in Shelby County government policy that protects county employees from discrimination based on “non-merit factors”, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
County Commission District 3, Pos. 3
Justin Ford (D). The son of Joe Ford, Justin Ford’s position on LGBTQ issues are unknown.
County Commission District 4, Pos. 1
Chris Thomas (R). While serving as Shelby County Probate Court Clerk, Thomas stood with Bellevue Baptist Church’s Pastor Steve Gaines, a small group of right-wing preachers, and Commissioner Wyatt Bunker outside the Shelby County Administration Building to oppose the Shelby County employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy. Thomas is the white-haired, white man at the beginning of this Commercial Appeal Video arguing with the Rev. Elaine Blanchard and Midsouth Peace and Justice Center’s Jacob Flowers.
County Commission District 4, Pos. 2
Wyatt Bunker (R). Where to begin? Incumbent Commissioner Wyatt Bunker sponsored the “hate fest” in front of the Shelby County Administration Building on May 26, 2009 opposing the Shelby County employment non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Steve Mulroy (See story here). Bunker also launched viscious slurs during the Shelby County Commission hearing of the employment non-discrimination ordinance. Commerical Appeal blogger Alex Doniach reported: “In light of the growing crowd, Commissioner Wyatt Bunker asked whether ‘those who identify themselves as men would give up their seats for those who identify themselves as women.’”County Commission District 4, Pos. 3Terry Roland (R). Candidate Terry Roland spoke against the employment non-discrimination ordinance during the Shelby County Commission hearing on June 1, 2010. He bragged about it during his campaign in the Republican Primary before last May.
County Commission District 5
This district is considered the swing-seat on the County Commission. It is the only district that was not decided in the May primary.
Steve Mulroy (D). Incumbent Steve Mulroy sponsored the employment non-discrimination ordinance on the Shelby County Commission in the Spring of 2009. He also enjoys the endorsement of TEP-PAC. Steve has appeared at local Pride events and other events sponsored by LGBT organizations. He not only deserves your vote, but your support as a campaign volunteer and contributor.
Dr. Rolando Toyos (R). Dr. Toyos is Commissioner Mulroy’s Republican opponent for this swing seat on the commission. Toyos grew up in the Bay Area of California and has a much more sophisticated view of GLBT people than many of his peers in his party. He’s not considered to be an opponent of LGBT rights, but if he were to win this seat, it would jeopardize the current non-discriminatory policy established for Shelby County government.
Judicial candidates are prohibited by the judicial canons of ethics from taking positions on policy issues, but there are a handful of honorable mentions.
General Sessions Criminal Court Division 7. There are 20 candidates in this race. Two of them have attended TEP events to ask for your vote. Billy Bond shared some ice cream in search of votes the TEP Ice Cream Sundae Social on June 27. Bill Anderson, Jr. attended the monthly meeting of TEP's Shelby County Committee on June 28 to ask for votes.
Criminal Court Judge Division 3. Candidate Gerald Skahan has attended two meetings of TEP's Shelby County Committee and the June 27 Ice Cream Sundae Social seeking votes from LGBT and allied voters.
Other Honorable Mentions on Shelby County Government elections.
The following candidates have attended and supported TEP events seeking votes from LGBT and allied citizens in 2010:
- Corey Maclin (D) for County Clerk
- Regina Morrison Newman (D) for County Trustee
- Coleman Thompson (D) for Register of Deeds
- David Winslow Upton for State Democratic Executive Committee District 30. Upton deserves much credit in advocating for the employment non-discrimination legislation enacted by the Shelby County Commission in 2009.
- Dave Cambron for State Democratic Executive Committee District 31
- Adrienne Pakis-Gillon for State Democratic Executive Committee District 31
Part 2 of this series will focus on competitive primaries for Tennessee Governor and the State House of Representatives.
- Jonathan Cole