7 Tennessee legislative races to watch on Election Day

Rachel IacovoneWPLN News

File photo of the Tennessee Legislature.

Early voting for the Nov. 8 election runs till Thursday. All 99 seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives and half of the 33 seats in the state Senate are on the ballot. In many cases, incumbents are a lock to win their primary and proceed on to November.

But with more than a dozen retirements this year, there will be some new faces at the capitol next year. Here are a few races worth watching this fall.

House District 67 in Clarksville

Democrats control only 24% of the General Assembly, and they may have their work cut out for them to keep one of those seats, HD 67, after Republicans redrew the boundaries of the Montgomery County seat.

Democratic Rep. Jason Hodges is not running again, so there is no incumbent in the race. Two Army veterans are challenging each other, Democrat Ronnie Glynn and Republican Tommy Vallejos. Glynn is a retired business owner and works with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Vallejos’ background includes serving as a county commissioner and pastor.

Heading into the final stretch, Glynn has a little over $51,000 left in his coffers while Vallejos has around $45,400.

House District 52, new face for Tennessee Democrats

Community activist Justin Jones easily beat Metro Council member Delishia Porterfield in the August primary for this newly open seat. Jones is running unopposed in the general, so this seat will stay in Democratic hands.

The most interesting part of this race will be what happens after the election. Jones has been an outspoken advocate calling for an end to police brutality, repeal of voter ID laws and the removal of Confederate monuments — and known to rankle Republican lawmakers.

He was temporarily banned from the Capitol following an incident where he was arrested for throwing a paper cup at then-House Speaker Glen Casada in 2019.

Watch for Jones to inject a more progressive style of politics to the legislature over outgoing incumbent Mike Stewart.

House District 63, a replacement for scandal-plagued Casada

This is former House Speaker Glen Casada’s old district in Franklin. Casada is leaving politics after two decades at the legislature — and after his indictment in August for his role in a kickback scheme involving his former aides and some legislators. Worth noting Casada has so far resisted public pressure to resign his seat following his indictment.

Businessman Jack McCalmon won the Republican primary, beating out two others, including conservative firebrand Laurie Cardoza Moore. (Moore is known for her online screeds critical of Black Lives Matter and COVID vaccinations.)

Democrat Kisha Davis, a pharmaceutical healthcare sales rep, is challenging McCalmon, emphasizing a return to “ethical leadership” in her campaign tagline — a nod to scandal-plagued Casada’s tenure in office.

House District 59 in Antioch

Another open seat in Antioch has drawn interest. First-time candidate Caleb Hemmer is looking to keep the district representing parts of south and western Davidson County, a Democratic seat. Hemmer works in corporate development and is the brother-in-law of state Rep. Bo Mitchell.

His Republican opponent is conservative activist Michelle Foreman, who was a defendant in a recent legal settlement over unsolicited robocalls during the 2020 effort to recall Mayor John Cooper.

Still, Hemmer holds a cash advantage with more than $225,000 in the bank. Foreman’s latest campaign finance report shows an ending balance of $65,000.

As one Democratic insider put it, “Hemmer has so much money, I think Republicans would have to like defy gravity there.”

House District 86, former Rep. Barbara Cooper’s seat

State Rep. Barbara Cooper died in October at the age of 93. She represented Memphis in the General Assembly for more than 26 years, making her Tennessee’s oldest-serving legislator in recorded history.

Cooper was running for reelection this year. Under Tennessee law, her name will remain on the ballot and should she win, a special election will be held to fill the vacant seat. Independent candidate Michael Porter is her opponent.

Cooper was described by her colleagues as an “unwavering voice” for Black Tennesseans, and it will be worth watching who runs in her place going forward. Business owner and veteran William Richardson ran unsuccessfully against Cooper in the primary, but could run again if a special election is called.

More: You can find more of WPLN’s election coverage here

Senate District 19, an uphill battle for Republicans

Another open seat to watch is Senate District 19, currently held by Democratic Sen. Brenda Gilmore. Gilmore attracted heat earlier this year when she appeared to try and time her retirement announcement to benefit a politically ally, Keeda Haynes, in violation of the state’s Anti-Skulduggery Act. Haynes eventually dropped out.

Charlane Oliver, co-founder of the Equity Alliance, beat out a crowded five-person Democratic primary for the district that included two Metro councilmembers. Oliver now faces Republican Pime Hernandez in the general election, though the seat still favors Democrats.

Senate District 31, a GOP lawmaker steps down

It’s been a busy year for federal prosecutors and Tennessee lawmakers accused of financial crimes. Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey is the latest under indictment for campaign finance violations. Kelsey recently changed his plea after a co-defendant pleaded guilty to funneling money improperly to Kelsey’s failed run for Congress in 2016.

Kelsey already announced he would not seek another term, so that means voters get to choose a new senator. Republican Brent Taylor will face Democrat Ruby Powell-Dennis for District 31 in Shelby County, which extends from Memphis to Germantown.

This was a competitive seat when Kelsey last ran for re-election in 2018. But after redistricting, it seems likely to remain in GOP hands. In the August primary, Republican voters outnumbered Democrats two-to-one.

WPLN’s Chas Sisk contributed to this report.

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