Early voting in the state of Tennessee will begin on October 13 and the general election will take place on Nov. 2. After careful consideration of the candidates and their positions, Out & About Newspaper is making the following endorsements.
No endorsement. It’s hard to know whether to be more discouraged by Democrat Mike Wherter’s waffling on the adoption ban legislation our community routinely faces or Republican Bill Haslam’s fundraising efforts for Rep. Stacey “Don’t Say Gay” Campfield who is running for the State Senate. We’re not aware of any open, concerted effort to reach out to our community on the part of either candidate.
Districts 1 through 4: No endorsement. There’s not even a remote chance that a pro-equality candidate will win any of these seats.
5th District: Congressman Jim Cooper. Cooper has a record of support of mainstream equality legislation by co-sponsoring the hate crimes law passed in 2009. He is also a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. His opponent David Hall in contrast openly supports the Federal Marriage Amendment which would write discrimination into the Constitution. He has also tried to make Congressman Cooper’s support of equality a negative issue by conducting push polls against him on gay rights. The choice is clear.
6th District: No endorsement. It’s too bad Ben Leming didn’t win the Democratic primary. The winner, Brett Carter, hasn’t taken any public positions on equality issues. In fact, he recently brushed off a question about same-sex marriage during a forum. He also angered progressives in the district by calling for the resignation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. His chief plus is that he isn’t Diane Black, his opponent. As a state senator Black famously tried to dodge constituents who wanted to meet with her about the adoption ban legislation filed in the General Assembly.
7th District: Greg Rabidoux. Despite running in an uphill battle against incumbent Marsha Blackburn, Rabidoux has campaigned aggressively in the sprawling 7th district. Backed by labor groups, he has embraced Tennessee’s progressive community. Blackburn, in contract, tried to block marriage equality in Washington, D.C. She opposed the hate crimes law and has shown no support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
8th District: No endorsement. Neither Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron nor Republican opponent Stephen Fincher has taken a significant stand on equality issues. Fincher makes a passing reference to supporting “traditional marriage” on his website, but that is sadly standard fare for Tennessee politicians. Nevertheless, the absence of anti-gay campaigning leads us to recommend a vote for Herron, but we don’t have sufficient information for a full endorsement.
9th District: Congressman Steve Cohen. Cohen has been a co-sponsor of the hate crimes law, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and safe schools legislation. We would love to see him and Congressman Jim Cooper cosponsor the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, but given the choices we have this election cycle, both Cohen and Cooper are head and shoulders above their opponents.
State Senate Races
7th District: We offer a non-endorsement in this Knoxville seat recently vacated by former Senator and now Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. State Rep. Stacey Campfield, the notorious sponsor of the Don’t Say Gay bill, is running for the seat. He has also been openly critical of OUTReach: the LGBT & Ally Resource Center at the University of Tennessee. We call on equality advocates in Knoxville to cast a vote for anyone but Campfield. His Democratic opponent is Randy Walker.
21st District: No endorsement. We miss Jeff Yarbro. He and 58th district House primary candidate Steven Turner set the bar really high in terms of outreach to the Nashville GLBT community. When members of our community have met with incumbent Sen. Henry about important policy issues, he has not shown much interest in dialogue until recently when he attended the celebration of the anniversary of the Metro non-discrimination ordinance. He is said to have become more progressive on the adoption ban legislation over the last two years.
His Republican opponent Steve Dickerson noted his own support of adoption by gays and lesbians in a recent interview. Henry is likely to win reelection. We hope he learned from his close call in the primary that progressives in his district are eager for a new direction in the 21st. If that means Sen. Henry develops a constructive relationship with Nashville’s GLBT community, then that’s a positive outcome.
29th District: Senator Ophelia Ford. Sen. Ford is a co-sponsor of the bill that would add gender identity and expression to the current state hate crimes statute. We need all the support we can get in the Senate for that bill and we hope that voters in the 29th district do all they can in terms of volunteering and fundraising to return her to the Senate.
State House Races
28th District: Representative Tommie Brown. Dr. Brown was one of seven members of the TN House of Representatives who voted against the marriage discrimination amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. She has also spoken out in the House k-12 education subcommittee against the Don’t Say Gay bill.
45th District: Dr. Charles Ihrig. Dr. Ihrig has run an aggressive campaign and reflects a more progressive alternative to Rep. Debra Maggart who famously attacked adoption by gays and lesbians in 2007.
49th District: Rep. Kent Coleman. Rep. Coleman is chairman of the important House Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of the hate crimes bill.
50th District: Rep. Gary Moore. Rep. Moore helped secure the support of the Nashville Firefighters for the Metro non-discrimination ordinance.
51st District: Rep. Mike Turner. Turner’s GLBT constituents report a positive, constructive relationship with him.
53rd District: Rep. Janis Sontany. Sontany’s GLBT constituents report a positive, constructive relationship with her as well.
55th District: Representative Gary Odom. A few years ago, Rep. Odom spoke out against an effort to remove sexual orientation from a bill involving employment at Watts Bar Marina. His district includes a large GLBT constituency and he has consistently had an open door to the community.
56th District: No endorsement. Although Democrat Matt Kenigson has campaigned hard and reached out to progressives, incumbent Rep. Beth Harwell, while not always agreeing with the GLBT community, has had an open door for constituents. She is likely to win the seat and there is no reason for her GLBT constituents to abandon their efforts to continue to build a relationship. She may be in the run for Speaker if Republicans maintain control of the House.
59th District: Representative Sherry Jones. This is one of those races where the choice of our community should be unanimous. Rep. Jones has worked against discriminatory adoption bills, while her opponent Metro Councilman Duane Dominy worked against the Metro non-discrimination ordinance. He has shamefully asked where Rep. Jones was during the May floods. Rep. Jones was doing her job in the Legislature fighting for the people of her district including flood victims. The voters in the 59th should not be fooled. Dominy is opportunistically using the May flood to attempt to secure a spot in the Legislature so that he can govern from the far Right.
60th District: No endorsement, but a recommendation. This race pits two Metro Councilmen—Sam Coleman and Jim Gotto against each other. Both voted against the Metro non-discrimination ordinance that passed in 2009. However, there is an important caveat. Both sponsored an alternative ordinance that was first amended to include sexual orientation but not gender identity. Then it was amended to included gender identity. Gotto voted against the version that included gender identity, but Coleman stood by the bill, even though it was made inclusive against his wishes. He has subsequently reached out to the GLBT community, while Gotto has not. So we recommend a vote for Sam Coleman and remain hopeful that he will continue to grow in his support of our issues.
64th District: We offer another non-endorsement. Republican candidate Sheila Butt has written a children’s book against same-sex marriage. She also touts her membership in the American Family Association and Concerned Women of America, two anti-gay organizations. We urge voters in the district and volunteers throughout Middle TN to work against her election. Her Democratic opponent is Rep. Ty Cobb.
85th District: Rep. Johnnie Turner. Rep. Turner has spoken out against the Don’t Say Gay bill and she has a good relationship with the Memphis GLBT community.
89th District: Rep. Jeanne Richardson. As the House sponsor of the hate crimes bill and the bill that allow one to change the sex designation on a birth certificate, Rep. Richardson is one of the leaders in the Legislature for equality.
93rd District: Rep. Mike Kernell. Rep. Kernell has also been the sponsor of pro-equality legislation and he has been a consistent ally.