In the cover story for the penultimate issue of The City Paper, on stands now, we look a year ahead, to the state and local races that are already heating up.
In the first half of the story, focused on the Democratic primary between Metro Councilman Jason Holleman and attorney Jeff Yarbro in state Senate District 21, I cop to the fact that the media is largely responsible for lighting the spark. How could we help ourselves? Everyone who cares to maintain hunches about these things had a big one suggesting that Holleman and Yarbro would run. So it was barely 24 hours after longtime Democratic state Sen. Douglas Henry announced that he would not seek re-election that the two Sylvan Park attorneys had given reluctant confirmations to reporters, with caveats that this was all happening very early.
In any case, it's happening now. The first round of financial disclosures showed Yarbro — who ran for the seat in 2010, albeit in a much different-looking district — with a big early lead in the money. Other than that, it looks as thought it may prove difficult to differentiate between two attorneys from the same neighborhood who are both well to the left of the legislature.
But as they both say, it's still early:
“We don’t even know who all’s going to be on the ballot,” said Yarbro, alluding to the possibility of more Democratic candidates, and the prospect of a Republican challenger in the general election. “I think it’s a little early to be talking about distinctions in some ways. I think we’re both — I think all the candidates will lay out their vision for the legislature and what it means to be an effective member up there.”
Now is the time, both said, to become better acquainted with a district that was dramatically altered when Republicans redrew the state lines in 2011, both geographically and ideologically. Now, it’s a gerrymandered sprawl, stretching from Holleman and Yarbro’s homes in Sylvan Park southeast toward the Rutherford line and then sweeping back north to pick up parts of East Nashville and Madison.
“I have a good sense of what my message will be in this race, because it comes from spending the last six years on the Metro Council, not just in my district, but with my colleagues who represent people all across the county,” Holleman said. “And that’s helped me, I think, understand what’s important to everyday people in the county. But obviously I want to get out and spend time with those people directly and get a sense of where they see us going as a city and how it fits in with the larger direction of the state.”
Republicans have indicated they plan to find a candidate who will make the Democrats work for the traditionally blue seat, but no one has emerged yet. With the
Democrats fleeing the ship in the state Senate, the race between Holleman and Yarbro takes on even more significance within the party, as the winner will immediately be one of its leaders in the legislature.
To empty out the notebook a bit, a few comments from each candidate that didn't make the dead-tree version: First from Holleman, on just why in the liberal hell any Democrat would want to run for the state Senate.
“From my perspective it’s the most important time to run for the legislature," he says. "Because only 20 percent of the Senate will be made up of Democrats. So I think it’s a critical time to have someone in the Senate who understands the legislative process and who can make the case for helping every day Tennesseans.”
Having watched the Republican supermajority creep into Davidson County last year, when Steve Dickerson turned a Nashville Senate seat red, Yarbro says whoever takes Henry's place has an increased responsibility to stand up for Nashville in a deep red legislature that has seemed increasingly prone to meddling.
“I think one critical task for this state Senate seat is to protect the city, at a time when the legislature is increasingly objecting to letting Nashville govern itself,” he says.