Heading into the local primaries of the 2020 elections, we at O&AN took a look at some of the competitive races. As always we hope that citizens will research all candidates and their positions and come to their own decisions. But, based on our own research and positions, we endorse James Mackler for United States Senate, Sara Kyle for Tennessee Senate, and Brandon Thomas, Mike Stewart, Vincent Dixie, Darren Jernigan, and Torrey Harris for the Tennessee House of Representatives. We have highlighted other races where we believe serious consideration is due. For instance, while the majority of our staff will be voting for Jim Cooper for US House District 5, we believe Keeda Haynes warrants deserves consideration for her progressive platform.
United States Senate
James Mackler has built a strong reputation as a candidate in previous cycles: and he has a campaign war chest to take an honest swipe at the job. As a veteran and family man, he can appeal to key demographics in the Tennessee electorate. Yet, on important social issues, Mackler is a true ally. If you’ve been at Pride in the past few years, you’ve seen him there, even if you didn’t realize it.
U.S. House of Representatives
Tennessee 5th Congressional District
Incumbent Jim Cooper has represented his district since 2003, after previously representing the 4th Congressional District from 1983-1995. Cooper is definitely in the centrist wing of the Democratic party, though in key votes he did vote against laws withholding funding for sanctuary cities and against President Trump’s “tax reforms”—a massive welfare program for the rich. While early in his career, Cooper had a mixed record on LGBT rights—in 2006 he voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman (measure failed), but in 2007 he voted yes on HR3685, which would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation (here, we had to wait 13 more years for the Supreme Court to catch up with him). In more recent years, Cooper has earned extremely high marks from HRC (94% 2018-2020, and 92% in each of the two previous cycles. Cooper has also shown himself to provide, through his office, extraordinary constituent services that we worry a freshman congressperson could not replicate.
Cooper is challenged by Keeda Haynes and Joshua Rawlings—both progressives who have a keen interest in criminal justice and prison reform, healthcare, etc. Rawlings has highlighted LGBT rights as an area of interest as well. Keeda Haynes has significant support in the LGBT community as well.
Tennessee State Senate, with Endorsements
If a Democrat were to win District 20, it could play a key role in starting to shift the balance of legislative power in Tennessee away from a Republican supermajority—but to do that the Democratic candidate has to be able to beat incumbent Steve Dickerson, which is a double edged sword.
Heidi Campbell, Mayor of Oak Hill, faces Kimi Abernathy in the Democratic primary. Heidi Campbell has the political experience and backing to challenge the incumbent and provide her district’s citizens with capable representation. She has the proven ability to raise funds, and she has the backing of politicians from across the spectrum, with endorsements from Democrats Representative Vincent Dixie and Brenda Gilmore and Councilperson Emily Benedict to the Republican mayor of Belle Meade!
Kimi Abernathy, on the other hand, is a member of the LGBT Chamber who has supported LGBTQ causes actively, including being active against the adoption discrimination bill this winter. Abernathy has been endorsed by former Mayor Karl Dean, Trustee Erica Gilmore, Council Member Russ Bradford, and Council Member John Rutherford. Abernathy's experience as a school board member and an educational consultant will appeal to those focused on improving Tennessee's schools. Voters in this district will serve themselves well by researching both candidates.
To our friends in Memphis, this may go without saying, but Sara Kyle! She has never been afraid to show her support for the LGBT community, and for women’s rights.
Tennessee House of Representatives, with Endorsements
This is not a comprehensive recommendation as all of Tennessee’s 99 House districts are currently up for election. In the primary, many districts don’t even have a Democratic contender. And while it’s not always the case that a Democrat is always best, and in Tennessee it’s not always possible to see the difference, come the general election, (D) is the closest you’ll get to a safe vote in Tennessee.
If you live in a district without a Democratic candidate in the primary, consider voting in the Republican primary. Do your research and find the least bad of the options to vote for. Maybe they’ll win? Where we do have Democratic contenders, given the landscape of Tennessee state politics, and the overarching goal of breaking the Republican supermajority, the best candidate may be the one that can win, not the candidate that’s most ideologically pure. Vote your conscience, but consider the repercussions.
District 15 (Knox)
If you are looking for LGBT candidates to support outside of Nashville, Matthew Park is challenging incumbent Democrat Rick Staples, who has been in the House for three years. Staples has sponsored some important legislation, like a bill requiring law enforcement to notify Children’s Services when a minor is taken into custody, and a bill that denounces the use of taxpayer money to maintain monuments that symbolize racism, repression, or hatred. We encourage voters to research both candidates.
Brandon Thomas is unchallenged in the primary, but we want to put him on your radar now. This race TRULY is a potential to pick up a seat and is worth the investment of time and money. Thomas is LGBT and has worked officially and as a volunteer for Tennessee Equality Project over the last few years. Brandon will again face incumbent Mike Sparks, as he did in 2018, when Thomas earned almost 40% of the vote against the incumbent in his first attempt! Brandon has already been endorsed by the LGBT Victory Fund and from Elizabeth Warren.
Incumbent Mike Stewart Mike Stewart is the caucus leader of the House Democrats, providing key political marshalling for the caucus on political issues and supporting Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. Stewart has been a stalwart defender and dependable friend of the LGBT community in Tennessee. It was Stewart, at the behest of rights advocates, who petitioned the state’s attorney general for an opinion on whether transgender individuals were included in Tennessee hate crime statute. This forced the AG to issue the opinion that they were covered, making Tennessee for a time the first and only state in the Southeast to so protect transgender individuals. We endorse Mike Stewart and hope that he continues to provide the same steady leadership over the next two years, and beyond.
Stewart is facing a primary challenge from Pastor James C. Turner II (New Hope Missionary Baptist Church). Turner, who also has experience as a probation officer, is an impassioned advocate for his priorities, including youth development, healthcare, etc.
NOTE: Managing Editor James Grady resided in District 52 from 2002-2020. During those years, he was extraordinarily impressed by Stewarts constituent services. Shortly after the COVID pandemic truly hit, he received letters from Stewarts office with instructions for filing for support and offers of direct assistance. This was followed up by two personal calls over the next two months by members of Stewart's staff.
Incumbent Vincent Dixie is facing a primary challenge from Terry Clayton, whom Dixie defeated soundly in 2018. Dixie actively sought LGBTQ community support in 2018, and he and his family have regularly attended events and fundraisers for community organizations. A strong advocate for healthcare expansion and other issues of importance to our community, and all Tennesseans, Dixie has earned our endorsement again in 2020.
NOTE: In 2018, Clayton had a number of unfortunate incidents which we believe illustrate that he would not be a suitable replacement for Dixie: for instance, in 2018, during the election, his ex-girlfriend AND former campaign manager filed a protective order against Clayton for allegedly striking her in one incident and allegedly tried to back into her with his car.
Incumbent Darren Jernigan, a solid LGBTQ ally, faces off against Grant Medeiros. Medeiros is a member of the LGBTQ community in Middle Tennessee. Recently Medeiros has launched attacks on Jenigan for “not doing the job” he was hired to do and for making promises he didn’t keep—but in the context of a Republican supermajority, few agenda items of any Democrat have moved. Jernigan has, however, remained at the front lines of various fights, from working to limit payday loans to the fight against child marriage in Tennessee (Republicans are the party of family values, but can’t oppose child marriage?) to the absolute battle to make sure former Speaker Casada was held accountable.
Jernigan has a platform most of us support, and when it comes to core issues impacting the LGBTQ community, Jernigan supports us. Medeiros does have a platform most of us could support—but would he be any more effective working on our behalf? Medeiros deserves real consideration. But the real question might just be, are we better off with a veteran of the Supermajority wars, or with someone who can’t seem to see why many of Jernigan’s plans don’t pass the Republican’s muster? If this were our district, we would stick with Jernigan.
District 90 (Memphis)
LGBTQ Democrat Torrey Harris faces of against Anya Parker and Catrina Smith. Harris is a strong Democratic candidate who will support LGBTQ and women’s rights in the legislature. He has an endorsement from the LGBT Victory Fund. Please support Torrey Harris as he fights to win this seat.
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