Leaders of the Tennessee Democratic Party said Thursday their party will take a “more active role” in municipal elections this year.
Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus said in a news release he has established an ad hoc committee “to better support candidates who embody the Democratic Party’s values in nonpartisan elections.”
The Democratic Party’s announcement comes as Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are pushing legislation that could make partisan elections standard for all local offices.
GOP leaders say the move is a continuation of efforts they began in 2021 when the Republican-controlled General Assembly gave local Republican and Democratic party officials in each of the state’s 95 counties the option of calling for the partisan election of local school board seats. Previously, those elections in Johnson City and Washington County have been nonpartisan.
That changed in last year’s elections for the city and county Boards of Education. Pursuant to the Johnson City Charter, races for City Commission are still nonpartisan contests.
As the Press reported last month, Johnson City officials have told local state lawmakers that they are opposed to making municipal elections partisan contests. In meeting with state Reps. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, and Tim Hicks, R-Gray, and state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, City Manager Cathy Ball said partisan elections could “erode the professionalism around running a city.”
State Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, and state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, filed HB0561/SB1512 earlier this week that “specifies municipal elections can be partisan or nonpartisan.”
State Rep Bryan Richey, R-Alcoa, and state Sen. Joey Henley, R-Hohenwald, have also filed HB0262/SB0405 that not only calls for “state and local races for public office to be partisan elections,” but also stipulates “judges who are required by this state’s constitution to be reelected at retention elections to declare a bona fide membership with a political party or independent status at least 30 days prior to a retention election.”
Democratic Party officials said this week they are looking to “building a bench at the local level.” To be considered for a Democratic Party endorsement in a municipal election, candidates must apply and be interviewed and vetted by the new committee.
All endorsement recommendations will be submitted to the full Democratic State Executive Committee for approval. Party officials say a timeline for this process will soon be released.