Gillespie, Salinas will vie for state House District 97 seat

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 07, 2020 1:05 AM CT | Published: August 06, 2020 11:42 PM CT

A showdown is brewing for the state House District 97 seat between Republican John Gillespie and Gabby Salinas, who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2018.

Gillespie, a grant coordinator at Trezevant Episcopal Home, rolled past Brandon Weise, an employee of the Shelby County Register of Deeds Office, in the Republican primary for District 97 in the Bartlett area.

Salinas, a former researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, rolled past Ruby Powell-Dennis, Alan Creasy and Clifford Stockton in the Democratic primary.

The winner will replace Republican state Rep. Jim Coley, who is stepping away from the General Assembly for health reasons.

By 10 p.m., Gillespie had picked up 3,626 votes to Weise’s 1,001. Coley is friends with both candidates but endorsed Gillespie in the race.

“My team had a lot of support on the front end. I entered this race over a year ago and really kind of hit the ground running back in August of last year when I started meeting with voters and business owners and hearing what everyone was talking about and the things they felt were important,” Gillespie said.

He plans to focus his campaign on rebuilding the economy and bolstering education, especially vocational and technical education.

Salinas picked up 2,454 votes, Ruby Powell-Dennis collected 1,240 votes, Creasy won 661 votes and Clifford Stockton received 432 votes, in the primary.

Two years after losing a state Senate race to incumbent Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey, Salinas said her organization was a key to victory in this primary.

“We were very much committed to voter contact and obviously that was more challenging in a COVID world,” she said. “However, we made 24,000 calls into the district starting last year.”

The campaign focused on getting people to the polls and talking to them continuously, whether sending out information on absentee voting or providing masks to combat the virus, especially early in the pandemic.

“I believe how you get there matters, and obviously having a position in state government would elevate what I can do. But you don’t have to be an elected official to start doing the work,” she said.

Salinas said she wants to base her campaign platform on Medicaid expansion to obtain federal funds, raises for K-12 education and stabilizing education in a COVID atmosphere.

House District 99

State Rep. Tom Leatherwood eased past Lee Mills in the battle for the state House District 99 seat Thursday, capturing another two-year term in a head-to-head Republican primary battle.

Leatherwood, an Arlington Republican and longtime Register of Deeds in Shelby County, captured 5,237 votes to Mills’ 2,599 votes. No Democrat is running in the race.

Leatherwood could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but Mills said he conceded the election to his competitor in an amicable conversation and wished him luck for the next two years.

Leatherwood outspent Mills heavily in the race, about $120,000 to $16,000. Mills calculated that special interests poured tens of thousands more into mailers and phone calls backing Leatherwood, and he said Gov. Bill Lee made a robocall for Leatherwood Wednesday and visited the area for him as well.

Mills campaigned with the mantra that Leatherwood is a career politician while Leatherwood banked on “experience” as a former state senator and county seat holder.

The candidates also differed on the governor’s Education Savings Account program, which Mills said he would have opposed. Leatherwood voted for the program on the House floor after opposing it in a subcommittee. The program is on hold because of litigation.

A FedEx pilot, Mills said the campaign boiled down to backing for Leatherwood from ESA advocacy groups.

“I think COVID-19 was a detractor. You really couldn’t campaign,” Mills added.

House District 98

Incumbent state Rep. Antonio Parkinson defeated Charles A. Thompson winning 4,256 votes to 720 votes. No Republican candidate is running for the seat.

House District 90

Torrey Harris, a human resources director for Shelby County government, defeated hair salon owner Anya Parker and Southwest Community College teacher Catrina Smith in the Democratic primary.

Harris will face state Rep. John DeBerry, an independent in the November election.

DeBerry, who was not on the August ballot, was forced to run as an independent after the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee voted to take away his status as a bona fide Democrat.

The state Legislature passed legislation in June enabling DeBerry to run as an independent because he had been removed after the deadline passed to qualify otherwise.

Harris picked up 3,829 votes to 1,752 for Smith and 1,160 for Parker.

He credited the win to hard work and support from across the state.

“The way we worked our community to make sure we touched the lives of Black people, Black women, millennials, working people, I think that’s what pushed us over the top,” Harris said afterward.

No Republican candidates are running the state race.

Asked if he’s ready to go up against DeBerry in the fall after losing to the veteran legislator two years ago, Harris said: “Is DeBerry ready for us, because we are prepared. There are going to be things we’re going to have to go through or do in order to be successful in October and November, but we will win. We will not lose a seat.”

Harris said his district has “a lot of fight for” in terms of education and criminal justice.

House District 88

Incumbent state Rep. Larry Miller capture the Democratic primary over Orrden Williams, winning 4,334 votes to 885. No Republican is running for the seat.

House District 86

Longtime state Rep. Barbara Cooper defeated Dominique Frost and two other challenges in the Democratic primary.

Cooper received 3,926 votes to Frost’s 1,533 votes. Austin Crowder won 140 votes and Joann Wooten-Lewis picked up 319 votes.

Cooper will face Republican Rob White in the Nov. 3 election. He picked up 1,432 votes running unopposed in the Republican primary.

House District 85

Jesse Chism won a second term, defeating Alvin Crook in the Democratic primary.

Chism received 6,730 votes to Crook’s 1,481 votes.

House District 84

Veteran state Rep. Joe Towns Jr. defeated Dominique Primer to capture the Democratic primary.

Towns picked up 4,233 votes to Primer’s 2,571. Towns caught the public’s attention this year when the state Registry of Election Finance levied a $22,000 fine against him for failing to file campaign finance reports on time for more than a year, dating back to 2018.

The Registry is being sued by a reporters’ advocacy group, which claims it violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by holding an email vote on a settlement between Towns and the Attorney General’s Office without giving public notice. The vote was held one day before the qualifying deadline at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Registry held another vote publicly in July to reaffirm its initial vote and potentially allay problems with the lawsuit.

Senate District 30

Incumbent state Sen. Sara Kyle defeated Marion A-Williams in the Democratic primary.

Kyle won 10,173 votes to 3,980 for A-Williams.

Senate District 32

Incumbent state Sen. Paul Rose defeated Scott Throckmorton in the Republican primary to set himself up for the Nov. 3 election. He will face Julie Byrd Ashworth, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Rose, a Covington construction company owner, won a special session two years ago when Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris stepped down from the post to take a U.S. District Court judgeship.

Rose got 11,752 votes to 4,704 for Throckmorton.


John Gillespie Gabby Salinas Torrey Harris
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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