Legislative Specials in Tennessee and Georgia

The big contest today is for mayor of Atlanta, but we also have a couple of legislative special elections I'm watching. First, in Tennessee, ...
by | December 1, 2009

The big contest today is for mayor of Atlanta, but we also have a couple of legislative special elections I'm watching.

First, in Tennessee, voters are picking a replacement for Sen. Paul Stanley, a Republican who left office after a sex scandal earlier this year. This seat looks like a pretty easy hold for Republican Brian Kelsey, who resigned from the state House of Representatives to run.

The district includes some Memphis suburbs and parts of the city itself. It appears to have a pretty strong Republican lean. Stanley easily won his open-seat race for the seat in 2006. The Republican candidate also won easily in 2002. Just as importantly, Kelsey has raised vastly more money than Democrat Adrienne Pakis-Gillon. What's more, there's a Republican primary for Kelsey's old House seat today, which could draw more G.O.P. voters to the polls (the Democrats don't have a contested primary)

Still, there are a couple of reasons I'm at least vaguely keeping my eye on this contest. One is that when Kelsey and Pakis-Gillon ran unopposed in their respective primaries in October, Kelsey only scored 869 more votes than Pakis-Gillon (or less than 54% of the total vote).

The other is that Kelsey ducked a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I've noticed several candidates in legislative special elections avoiding debates this year and every time it happens I'm mystified.

Most newspapers practically ignore legislative special elections unless they have some broad significance (e.g. control of the legislature is at stake). If a debate gets coverage at all, it's a few hundred words noting what the candidates said. This isn't a presidential debate where a candidate's every word and gesture is under the microscope.

The one thing newspapers love to cover, though, is when a candidate doesn't debate. Besides arguably doing a disservice to the voters in his district (or at least the few dozen who would have attended a debate), Kelsey earned himself some bad press for no obvious reason. Still, I'd be pretty close to shocked if he loses.

In Georgia, we have four runoff special elections. But, three of those involve Democrats running against Democrats or Republican running against Republicans -- in Georgia in legislative specials all candidates run on one ballot in the primary.

The fourth one is more interesting. It pits Democrat Darrell Black against independent Rusty Kidd for the 141st district seat vacated by Democrat Bobby Parham. This district leans Democratic. Almost all of the voters are from Baldwin County, where President Obama won 52% of the vote last year.

Yet, Kidd looks like the favorite based on the 44% of the vote he won last month in the four-way, all-candidate primary. Why does Kidd stand a good chance of becoming the only independent in the Georgia House? The Macon Telegraph offered some context before the primary:

There's Rusty Kidd, son of Culver "the Silver Fox" Kidd, who represented the area in the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate for about 42 years.

...

Though the race is technically nonpartisan, party politics enter into it. Kidd's father was a well-known Democrat, but he has declined to give a party affiliation despite pressure to do so. He filed for the office as an independent.

...

The House Democratic Caucus has jumped on the race, supporting Black and targeting Kidd, who is the presumed frontrunner, at least in part because of his family name.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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