Leatherwood wins primary in District 99 race, unopposed in November

No Democratic nominee means another term for incumbent

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 05, 2022 1:38 AM CT | Published: August 05, 2022 1:37 AM CT
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Rep. Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington, will serve another two-year term in Tennessee’s House District 99, after winning 72% of more than 9,000 votes cast Thursday in a race against a familiar foe, Lee Mills.

The numbers include early voting, Election Day and absentee totals, but are unofficial until certified by the Shelby County Election Commission. Regardless, Leatherwood will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. No Democratic challenger qualified, giving the representative a likely victory ahead of the 113th General Assembly, which convenes in early 2023.


‘It’s not about policy, it’s about personality and effectiveness’


The race took on a bit of a sideshow earlier in the campaign when questions arose about whether Mills’ residence, despite being in the Arlington town limits, was within District 99. A Chancery Court ruling was necessary to clarify the problem, allowing Mills to challenge the District 99 representative.

Leatherwood was encouraged by the early voting numbers, noting his “proven conservative record was known to the voters.”

He had 4,139 votes to 1,698 for Mills in early voting. Those numbers held as the Election Day numbers rolled in.

“There were a lot of distortions and deceptive information thrown out there about me,” Leatherwood said. “In a race, you don’t know what will stick and won’t stick, but I am blessed with an informed constituency that didn’t fall for that, and I am so very thankful.”


Shelby County GOP state office candidates outnumbered, but outspending Democrats


Leatherwood will continue serving the district, which encompasses northeast Shelby County, including portions of Lakeland and Arlington. Two days ahead of the election, Leatherwood expressed little concern about the outcome, noting he’s won and lost elections but his faith keeps him anchored despite the result.

Mills faced a predicament in April when Mark Goins, the state coordinator of elections, questioned his residency claiming his house was in Fayette County, and thus outside District 99. At the center of the issue was a difference in the census tract lines and assessor lines. Through an expedited hearing in Shelby County Chancery Court, Chancellor Jim Kyle ruled Mills did live inside the Shelby County boundaries, a stance Shelby County Assessor Melvin Burgess also held.

The two candidates previously have faced off for the District 99 seat. In 2018, they both sought the appointment following Rep. Ron Lollar’s death.

Mills, the former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, challenged the sitting representative in 2020, but garnered only one-third of the vote.

He believes this year’s challenge to his residency was the main reason he lost.


Ballot conspiracy? Mills and Leatherwood give their sides


“That took me off the ballot for three months and was costly,” Mills said, noting it cut into time campaigning. “Would I have been able to beat him otherwise? I don’t know, but it sure didn’t help being three months behind and spending all that money.”

However, he recognized it was tough to beat an incumbent who has been on the ballot for decades, and Leatherwood’s name was above his in alphabetical order. 

Mills called Leatherwood a “nice guy” and noted they have little disagreement on policy. However, Mills challenged him because he believed he was more passionate about the district and could be more productive in Nashville.

“We are watching, and we want effective leadership,” Mills said. “We don’t want lackadaisical leadership.”

Topics

Tom Leatherwood Lee Mills State House District 99 Tennessee House of Representatives
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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