Jul 18, 2022 - Politics

Democrats vie for Tennessee state Senate seat

Animated illustration of three different people wearing an "I Voted" sticker.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The Democratic primary to replace retiring state Sen. Brenda Gilmore has evolved into a fundraising arms race.

Why it matters: Congressional redistricting eliminated a reliable path to higher office for Nashville Democrats. That makes the city's state Senate districts all the more significant for ambitious local politicians.

Between the lines: The top candidates in the Democratic primary for State Senate District 19 are former Metro Councilmember Jerry Maynard, former Councilmember Ludye Wallace and social justice activist Charlane Oliver.

  • Democrats Rossi Turner and Barry Barlow are also on the ballot.

By the numbers: Maynard and Oliver have amassed impressive fundraising numbers in a condensed time frame.

  • In less than three months, Maynard accrued $178,391.
  • Oliver brought in $131,501 for the quarter ending June 30.
  • Wallace reported $14,901 in total receipts on his most recent disclosure.

State of play: Maynard —who has worked as an attorney, pastor and consultant — was a council member from 2007-2015. During that time, Maynard was especially outspoken in support of Nashville General Hospital.

  • Oliver is a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and one of the city's leading activists. She co-founded the well-funded nonprofit The Equity Alliance, which focuses on voting rights and other social justice issues.
  • Wallace is a legacy leader in North Nashville. He served on the council for many terms, including 28 years on the budget and finance committee. He also served as president of the local NAACP chapter.

Maynard's sales pitch: Maynard tells Axios his experience as a city lawmaker is the primary reason voters should pick him to represent the diverse district that stretches from Goodlettsville to Antioch.

  • "We're running a very clean, positive message about our experience. We're hoping I distinguish myself by making the case that I'm running to be a legislator, not a protestor."
  • Maynard counts Gilmore, former Mayor Karl Dean, Councilmember Sharon Hurt, state Reps. Vincent Dixie and Harold Love Jr., and Tennessee Tribune publisher Rosetta Miller-Perry among his endorsements.

Oliver's sales pitch: Oliver cites her work to expand voting access in Tennessee, which put her organization at the center of legal battles with the state over voter registration efforts and absentee voting during the pandemic.

  • "It's going to be a question of whether people want more of the same, or if they are ready for a change," Oliver tells Axios, adding that she is a leader "who's going to hold the line and really ask the tough questions and fight for our people."
  • Oliver has endorsements from former Mayor Megan Barry and Metro Council members Bob Mendes, Zulfat Suara and Freddie O'Connell. School board chair Christiane Buggs and public defender Martesha Johnson also back her campaign.

Wallace's sales pitch: Wallace, too, believes his background makes him the right person for the job.

  • "Having an inexperienced person learning the process in the state legislature during these important times would place Nashville in a serious disadvantage," Wallace says in a statement on his campaign website.
  • Wallace's campaign sent get-out-the-vote text messages last week from the influential North Nashville pastor the Rev. Enoch Fuzz, who endorses him.

Be smart: Election Day is Aug. 4. Early voting is underway now.

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