Harris wins second mayoral term in race defined by competing calls for change

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 05, 2022 8:29 AM CT | Published: August 05, 2022 12:08 AM CT
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Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris easily won a second term as the county’s chief executive atop a blue — or Democratic — wave in countywide results Tuesday, Aug. 4, over Republican nominee and Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan.

With all 142 precincts countywide reporting, the unofficial results were:

  • Harris: 77,140
  • Morgan: 56,072

Harris said results showed the “power of the people” and noted planned initiatives for criminal justice reform and instituting a living wage.

“Our message was all about working families and their needs and making sure that government worked on behalf of working families,” Harris told The Daily Memphian with about two-thirds of the countywide vote counted. “And so that really was the message that stitched together a huge coalition in Memphis and Shelby County.”

Asked if he thought his race had a ripple effect on other races, he credited recruitment efforts that began in 2018.

”I think the Democratic Party was really strong largely because of our recruitment efforts,” he said. “And that was really the main thing.”

The win by Harris follows his defeat of challenger Ken Moody in the May Democratic primary with 70% of the vote.

Shelby County’s ‘big ballot’ Election Day arrives with theme of change

Morgan ran unopposed in the May primary in the local Republican party’s strategy of running as many one-candidate primaries as possible to put all resources behind the August county general election effort.

Harris’ campaign was about an even mix of his first-term record and his goal of increasing health care access for middle and working class families as well as better paying jobs in a second term.

Morgan also ran on Harris’ record, faulting Harris for his handling of the COVID pandemic and accusing Harris of being absent on the issue of crime.

Morgan also sought to bring a focus on basic services to county government similar to that used by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Harris argued such comparisons ignore the limits of the county mayor’s office by the county charter and the autonomy the elected Sheriff has in crime fighting responsibilities.

He also departed from a traditional incumbent’s strategy as early voting began and went on the offense attacking Morgan for managed investments in a private prison company as well as advocating too much for tax breaks to grow the local economy.

Morgan argued national issues like a living wage and criminal justice reform have no place in local government. Harris countered that the county mayor is in a unique position to make those national issues relevant in local government.

While Morgan portrayed Harris as detached and out of touch with local opinion and alliances with other elected leaders, Harris was unapologetic for not returning messages from community leaders in every instance and ignoring similar political customs.

What to watch for in the election night vote totals

Harris maintained a disciplined campaign approach of emphasizing improvements in county government pay and benefits that he insisted could influence the private sector to do the same.

Harris won while supporting other Democratic nominees — most notably Democratic nominee for District Attorney Steve Mulroy.

Both worked together as University of Memphis Law School professors and shared the same campaign headquarters in the Poplar Plaza shopping center.

Harris’ victory solidifies his role in mobilizing local Democrats under his “new era” banner of campaigning on Democratic values that he first unveiled in his 2018 bid for mayor.

Reporter Julia Baker contributed to this story.


Lee Harris Worth Morgan 2022 county mayor's race

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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