Tennessee will hold its primaries on August 6, alongside the contentious Republican Senate primary. Republicans currently hold an 28-5 majority in the Senate and a 73-26 advantage in the House and are seeking to expand both. While the state isn’t competitive as a whole, there are several competitive state legislative primaries to keep an eye on.
State Senate District 20 (Map): Democratic Primary (Abernathy vs. Campbell)
In this Davidson County district, two women filed to run against embattled incumbent Steven Dickerson (R). Veteran educator Kimi Abernathy and Oak Hill mayor Heidi Campbell both serve on local government boards and both boast the endorsements of several community leaders. Abernathy received contributions from former Nashville mayor Karl Dean, 2016 Democratic nominee Erin Coleman, Knoxville mayor Indya Kincannon, and State Rep. Lamar London.
Campbell carries the endorsements of State Sen. Brenda Gilmore, State Rep. Vincent Dixie, Nashville Councilmember Emily Benedict, and former State Rep. Gary Moore. Both women are Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidates and advocate for strengthening firearms laws. While they share broad policy beliefs, the main difference between the two candidates comes in the policies that are the cornerstones of their campaigns. Abernathy cites her top issues as expanding Medicaid, increasing equitable funding for public schools, and tackling the state’s opioid epidemic.
In her campaign, Campbell is prioritizing fiscal responsibility, strengthening environmental protection laws, and increasing infrastructure funding. Four years ago, Dickerson won by 12.52%, but this district has rapidly shifted left alongside many affluent suburbs around the country.
State Senate District 26 (Map): Republican Primary (Templeton vs. Walley)
Two men with extensive government experience filed to run in this southerly west Tennessee open district. Jai Templeton is a former Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Tennessee and previously served as the McNairy County Mayor. Page Walley was a State Representative in the 1990s before going on to lead both the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs; he is currently serving as the Vice Mayor of Bolivar, Tenn.
Templeton earned the valuable endorsement of retiring State Sen. Dolores Gresham, but Walley carries the backing of several local community leaders. In addition, Templeton received contributions from several Political Action Committees, including $10,000 each from the Growth and Opportunity PAC (funded by 2018 gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd), and the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education. Walley received a few PAC donations, including from former Speaker of the Tennessee House Beth Harwell’s PAC, but nowhere near the monetary amount that Templeton received.
Both candidates agree on many issues; for example, both want to expand rural broadband internet access and value the 2nd Amendment. However, there are a few specific policies that one candidate mentions that the other does not. Templeton, with his sizable donation from the state teacher’s union, advocates for increasing teacher pay and public school funding, while Walley wants to fully develop the Memphis Regional Megasite as a method to bolster job growth.
State House District 6 (Map): Republican Primary (Hicks vs. Van Huss)
Rep. Micah Van Huss is being challenged for reelection by local home builder Tim Hicks in this Johnson City-based district. Van Huss has faced questions over his legislative priorities after he introduced a resolution to deem CNN and the Washington Post as “fake news.”
While both men seem to largely agree on most social issues, they face a deep divide over education. Hicks, son of late State Rep. Bobby Hicks, wants to increase teacher pay and access to vocational training, while Van Huss voted in favor of Gov. Lee’s controversial school voucher program. Hicks is centering his campaign around a fresh start for the region, including the state’s approach to the opioid epidemic that is hitting northern east Tennessee especially hard.
Hicks carries the endorsement of a collection of Washington County officials, including Jonesborough mayor Chuck Vest, as well as a $5,000 contribution from the Housing Industry PAC. Van Huss is largely reliant on PAC donations for raising money this cycle, including $7,500 from House Majority Leader Will Lamberth’s PAC.
|Micah Van Huss*||$23,623.11||$3,870.00|
State House District 7 (Map): Republican Primary (Hill vs. Alexander)
Rep. Matthew Hill is being challenged for reelection in this Washington County district by funeral homeowner Rebecca K. Alexander over his lack of experience outside political office; Hill was first elected in 2004 at the age of 25. Hill has focused his time in the General Assembly on decreasing business regulations and cutting taxes, although he does have a dubious record with hints of corruption.
This cycle, Hill is the subject of negative mailers and TV ads from the East Tennessee PAC, with topics ranging from his unpaid taxes to contributions from land developers. For her part, Alexander is running a mostly positive campaign focusing on de-regulation of the agricultural industry and supporting public schools. The latter plank of her platform might be her reason for challenging the incumbent, as Hill voted in favor of the school voucher program.
The vast majority of Hill’s campaign funds come from various PAC donations, including PACs associated with members of the Tennessee Republican Caucus leadership, but no PAC has donated to Alexander. She carries the endorsement of a couple of local officials, including the Washington County Trustee Rick Storey. Interestingly, Hill recently voted against a measure to remove a bust of Confederate General and Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol.
State House District 15 (Map): Democratic Primary (Mckenzie vs. Park vs. Staples)
The primary for this Knoxville-based district is competitive not because of a retirement, but because of Rep. Rick Staples’s misuse of campaign funds. This scandal only adds to his previous legal issues regarding unpaid bills and opens an opportunity to replace a battered incumbent. Sam Mckenzie, a former County Commissioner, and Matthew Park, a technology consultant, both announced their campaigns after Staples resigned from his leadership post with the House Democratic Caucus following a sexual harassment complaint.
Mckenzie’s campaign highlights the issues of criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion, and increasing public school funding. Park’s, on the other hand, is unabashedly progressive, focusing on issues such as marijuana legalization and advancing pay equity. The only candidate to receive money from PACs in this primary was Staples; a strong variety donated to his campaign this cycle, but only the Jack Daniels PAC and the Tennessee Bankers Association PAC donated more than $2,000.
Mckenzie received contributions from former Knoxville Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders, while Park received money from Virginia Couch, the Democratic candidate for Tennessee House District 18. There has been some concern among Black leaders of East Knoxville of what Park, a white man from South Knoxville, winning would mean for issues exclusive to the Black community. It is worth noting that the 15th district has consistently elected Black representatives since the 1960s.
State House District 16 (Map): Republican Primary (Bounds vs. Carringer)
This open seat in north Knox County was caused by Rep. Bill Dunn’s surprise retirement after Knox County Board of Education member and retired school teacher Patti Bounds announced her primary challenge over his vote in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher program. After Dunn said he would not seek reelection, Michelle Carringer, a Knox County Commissioner, also jumped into the race.
Both women share similar views on cultural issues; they value the 2nd Amendment and vow to protect the sanctity of life. Their largest difference appears to be in the field of education; Bounds is a stark advocate for public education, while Carringer is more open to charter school funding and school vouchers. Bounds received support and contributions from several local politicians, including State Sen. Richard Briggs, former Board of Education member Amber Rountree, and former Knoxville Vice Mayor Jack Sharp, as well as the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education.
Carringer carries the endorsement of two retiring representatives: Dunn and Rep. Martin Daniel for the 18th House District. It should be noted that, while Carringer out-raised Bounds, the bulk of Carringer’s funds come from several $1,000 donations made by members of her extended family. There has been an influx of outside spending in this race by a pro-school vouchers organization; these mailers target Bounds by attempting to tie her to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
State House District 18 (Map): Republican Primary (Mannis vs. Oster)
This seat in west Knoxville opened when Rep. Martin Daniel announced his retirement following a surprisingly close election in 2018. The two candidates in this primary are Eddie Mannis, a local business leader and former Deputy Mayor, and Gina Oster, a realtor. Mannis, fresh off a loss in the Knoxville mayoral race, has focused his campaign on decreasing business regulations and implementing a school voucher program.
Oster highlights her promises to keep taxes low, advocate for increased vocational training, and decrease subsidies to corporations. Mannis earned the endorsement of the Tennessee branch of the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s school voucher organization, Tennessee Federation for Children, and received contributions totaling $2,000 from the Haslam family and $3,200 from Jenny Boyd, wife of 2018 gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd.
For her part, Oster received donations from the incumbent Rep. Daniel and a couple PACs associated with members of the Republican leadership in the Tennessee House. Majority Leader Will Lamberth’s Lamberth PAC donated $1,500 and Assistant Floor Leader Chris Todd’s Todd for a Better Tennessee PAC donated $1,000.
State House District 71 (Map): Republican Primary (Byrd vs. Carroll vs. Welch)
Rep. David Byrd, who has been accused of sexual assault by three separate victims, is being challenged in his run for reelection by Lewis County Commissioner Austin Carroll and retired Savannah city manager Garry Welch.
Previously, Byrd was considering retirement due to pressure from leaders within the Republican House caucus and the governor’s office, but he decided to file for reelection instead. In his campaign, Carroll emphasizes the issues of increasing access to vocational training and supporting small-scale farmers. Welch is focused on the issues of expanding access to rural broadband and supporting military veterans.
Both challengers speak on their belief that the local representative should be a unifying figure for the community, instead of being divisive and sowing discord. Both Byrd and Carroll signed a pledge advocating for congressional term limits. Interestingly, the Family Action Council of Tennessee, an anti-LGBTQ and fundamentalist religious group, donated to Byrd’s reelection campaign this cycle, after reports of his past crimes were widely circulated.
State House District 76 (Map): Republican Primary (Darby vs. Doster vs. McMahan vs. Priestly)
The incumbent in this district did not file for reelection, so the Republican primary is a wide open field with many local politicians running. Greenfield community leader Tandy Darby, Weakley County Commissioner Dennis Doster, small business owner John McMahan and farmer Keith Priestly all filed to run in this race.
Darby is campaigning on his support for public education and lowering farming regulations, Doster is focused on supporting small businesses and keeping taxes low, and McMahan is running with an emphasis on fully funding the I-69 infrastructure project and combating the opioid epidemic. Priestly is focusing on attracting industry and economic development to the district as well as fostering increasing cooperation between the local municipalities.
Darby received $5,000 from the Tennessee Education Association Fund for Children & Public Education as well as $1,000 from Randy Boyd’s Growth & Opportunity PAC; he also carries the endorsement of former Congressman Stephen Fincher. Doster carries the endorsement of a few local officials including Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and fellow Weakley County Commissioner Larry Taylor. McMahan received a $2,500 contribution from the TN8 PAC. Another Weakley County Commissioner, David Hawks, withdrew from the race but will still appear on the August ballot.
State House District 90 (Map): Democratic Primary (Harris vs. Parker vs. Smith)
This primary is an interesting one. The incumbent, John DeBerry Jr., was disqualified from the Democratic primary ballot by the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee, but his Republican colleagues introduced a bill that would allow him to run as an independent in November. DeBerry has said that he plans on doing so, but he has not yet qualified for the November ballot. In his place, three people have filed: Torrey Harris, a community activist that challenged DeBerry from the left in 2018, Anya Parker, a hair salon owner that led the charge against HB 1809 (a proposed bill to eliminate licensure requirements for several professions), and Catrina Smith, an educator at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Harris is a fierce opponent of Governor Lee’s school voucher plan, while Parker argues that education funding should not be linked to standardized test scores in order to more equally fund the different public school districts. Smith would like to expand access to vocational training opportunities. Harris focuses on increasing workforce development programs, Parker believes that the state should raise its minimum wage and Smith hopes to increase business investment by fighting neighborhood blight.
Harris carries the endorsement of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Tennessee AFL-CIO and Future901, which donated $5,500 to his campaign. Parker earned the endorsement of Leaders of Color, a group aimed at training Black and Brown individuals for public office, and a charter school group called Our Children, Our Choice TN, which also contributed $7,000. Smith has the endorsement of the Tennessee Education Association, which donated $2,000, and a collective $3,000 from a few local union posts.
|Torrey Harris (Q1)||$3,653.62||$6,825.37|
State House District 92 (Map): Republican Primary (Cuevas vs. Tillis vs. Warner)
Rep. Rick Tillis is being challenged in his reelection campaign by Marshall County Commissioner Vincent Cuevas, and small business owner Todd Warner. Cuevas supports permitless carry legislation and is a vocal advocate against Gov. Lee’s refugee resettlement proposal. Warner, who is almost entirely self-funded, based his campaign around social issues such as abortion access and immigration reform.
Tillis, brother of US Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), was forced to resign from his leadership position in the Republican House caucus after his anonymous Twitter account bashing his Republican colleagues came to light. He is focusing his campaign upon his record in the legislature and continuing economic development in the district. Tillis received the majority of his campaign contributions from PACs, including $7,500 total from two PACs tied to the distillery and whiskey industry in Tennessee; he also received contributions from former Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, and a few of his Republican colleagues that are still in leadership positions. Tillis has been the subject of negative mailers that he alleges were a product of the Warner campaign.
State House District 97 (Map): Democratic Primary (Creasy vs. Powell-Dennis vs. Salinas vs. Stockton)
With the incumbent retiring due to ill health, this open seat in the Memphis suburbs has enticed many Democratic challengers. Allan Creasy, the 2018 Democratic candidate, is back with his campaign to expand Medicaid, reign in payday lenders, and increase public school funding. Ruby Powell-Dennis, a former elementary school administrator, is committed to fighting school voucher programs and equalizing funding from the state between school districts.
Scientist and cancer survivor Gabby Salinas is running to expand Medicaid, increase teacher pay, and strengthen firearms laws. In 2018, Salinas barely lost to State Sen. Brian Kelsey in District 31, which overlaps with this district. Director of the Memphis Education Fund Clifford Stockton III emphasizes the need to reform the state criminal justice system and encourage economic mobility.
Creasy carries the endorsements of a number of local politicians and the Future901 group, along with a $5,500 contribution from them. Powell-Dennis earned endorsement from State Reps. Karen Camper and Harold Love Jr as well as the charter school group Leaders in Education Fund. Salinas received contributions from several local unions totalling $6,000 and an additional $1,000 from the 314 Action PAC, a group dedicated to electing scientists. Stockton received some consulting help from a different charter school group, Our Children, Our Choice TN.
|Clifford Stockton III||$396.15||$4,646.56|