Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Voting for Equality in Shelby County on August 5 (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I reviewed the known positions on LGBT equality and campaign outreach to equality voters of candidates for Shelby County government. Part 2 is devoted to Primaries for the Tennessee House of Representatives and Governor.


The Grand Prize for the Democratic and Republican Parties in Tennessee in this election year is the House of Representatives. The Senate will likely remain in Republican control in 2010. In the 2008 election, the Republicans won a one-seat majority that gave them control of the House of Representatives. The Republican leadership of the House thought their day had finally arrived. However, 49 Democrats voted for Republican Kent Williams of East Tennessee as Speaker of the House in exchange for a power sharing arrangement on House committee assignments. The surprise election of Williams upset the Republican House leadership.

The stakes are even higher in 2010. The 2011-2012 General Assembly will use the results of the 2010 U.S. Census to reapportion election districts for U.S. Congress, the State House and the State Senate. If you are a Democrat, there is a real concern that districts redrawn by a Republican controlled House and Senate will reduce the number of districts that elect Democrats in the State House, State Senate and U.S. Congress for an entire generation.

My read on either side of the partisan aisle is that most of the incumbent House Representatives and Senators from Shelby County are in relatively safe districts without primary opponents. I'll limit my comments to a few exceptions in Democratic Primaries.

House District 85

Johnnie Turner (D). Turner was appointed to replace her husband Larry Turner after his death by the Shelby County Commission. Both have been friends to the LGBTQ community. When Johnnie Turner served as the Executive Director of the Memphis office of the NAACP, she spoke in favor of the Shelby County Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance mentioned above. The LGBT policy positions of her fellow Democratic opponents, Edgar A. Babian and Eddie Jones, are not known.

House District 87
Incumbent Karen Camper (D) is an equality advocate who co-sponsored a house bill that would add gender identity to Tennessee's hate crime law. The views on LGBTQ policy of opponent Justin Settles are not known.


The Republican primary for governor includes 5 candidates, three of them are competitive. Check out their views on adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples.

Congressman Zach Wamp (R) has served 8 terms from Tennessee's Third District (Chattanooga, East TN). In those 8 terms, Wamp has earned a consistent 0% rating on the HRC Score Card. Wamp is also a member of The Family, the fundamentalist organization that helped set up the proposed Ugandan death-penalty for gays law. Wamp has little to offer LGBT equality voters.

Senator Ron Ramsey (R) is currently Tennessee Lt. Governor and leader of the Senate. In 2006, he supported the anti-marriage amendment that was approved in 2006 and prohibits recognition of civil marriage of gay or lesbian couples.

Bill Haslam (R), Mayor of Knoxville, appears to be the most moderate of his peers. Haslam has not publicly supported or opposed any LGBT legislation, but he did offer the following response to the fatal shooting at the LGBT-friendly Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville:

It is often easy to make these tragic events, which are far too frequent, about the community in which they occur. Knoxville is a caring, compassionate city where diverse viewpoints are shared and respected. Every person, regardless of race, religion, age, sex, or sexual orientation is a person of human dignity and a valued member of our community.
Democrat Mike McWherter has no opposition in the primary, but be sure to note his responses on the adoption issue. When he was first asked about the issue, McWherter said he opposed adoption by gay couples, but he later changed his position to say:
My personal preference is to see children placed in the care of loving, traditional families, but I do respect our current system that allows for judges and other authorities to make the final determination on what’s in the best interest of a child.
Do you have any additional information about the LGBT policy positions of any of the above candidates? If so, please share in the comments. We can’t vote for equality if we don’t have all the facts.

Part 3 of Voting for Equality in Shelby County will cover the races for the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Congressional Districts.
- Jonathan Cole

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