As the days tick down to Tennessee’s Aug. 4 primary, no immediate favorites have emerged in the race to fill Nashville’s Senate District 19 seat.
Former City Councilman Jerry Maynard and nonprofit advocacy manager Charlane Oliver took the lead, dividing high-profile progressive endorsements amid a major fundraiser in the race to succeed the lawmaker of longtime Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville.
The district – which covers downtown Nashville, parts of East Nashville and the majority of North Nashville – could soon become one of the most high-profile positions for elected Democrats in the city with the disappearance of a 5th congressional district centered on Nashville.
The race remained relatively friendly heading into the primary, effectively a general election in the Democratic-friendly district, though veiled beards emerged tied to Maynard’s work as a city lobbyist and corporate relations, and to Oliver’s first candidacy.
Meet Charlane Olivier:Tennessee Senate Candidate, District 19
Meet Jerry Maynard:Tennessee Senate Candidate, District 19
Skullduggery Act opened the primary race
Both joined the race this spring when Gilmore violated the 1991 Anti-Skullduggery Act, which reopens ballot access for candidates if the race holder retires after the filing deadline. The law aims to prevent incumbents from choosing a successor, and Gilmore announced her retirement after public defender Keeda Haynes entered the race.
Seat in the Senate:From anti-skullduggery to new candidates: What to know about Nashville’s open state senate seat
The ensuing backlash knocked Haynes out of the race and brought in Oliver, Maynard, former board member Ludye Wallace as well as candidates Barry Barlow and Rossi Turner.
Wallace, a longtime North Nashville executive, has lagged considerably in fundraising, while Rossi last week endorsed Oliver for the seat, although his name is still on the ballot. Barlow campaigned little.
At a Tennessean forum on Thursday, Oliver said the deception went against his “values.”
“It’s the seat of the people, it belongs to the people and the people decide,” Oliver said.
Following the dust, Gilmore threw his support behind Maynard, who said this week that he has been watching the Senate seat for a long time.
Gilmore cited Maynard’s experience on city council as a factor in his endorsement, as well as his “negotiation skills and ability to walk across the aisle to get things done for the community.”
Brenda Gilmore:Longtime Nashville lawmaker Brenda Gilmore announces her retirement from the Tennessee Senate
“I think all of the other candidates are great candidates who have done a great job in the community,” Gilmore said. “In the environment we’re in right now, I think it’s going to take someone who’s willing to work on both sides of the aisle. I think he’s the one who has those characteristics.
Nashville council member Kyonzte Toombs is among Oliver’s recommendations, citing his “20 years of public and private experience helping shape public policy.”
“Charlane is the one who keeps us going,” Toombs said in a statement. “She will bring bold new ideas to the state legislature.”
Maynard also drew on his eight years of experience on the city council from 2007 to 2015, during which time he also served as vice chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
“My strategy is to make sure the General Assembly does no harm to Nashville and District 19,” Maynard said. “…I bring work experience from across the aisle. You need to build coalitions based on similar goals, objectives and values that Republicans have for their constituents that we also have for ours.”
Oliver disagrees with the implication made by the primary that a first-time candidate will not bring enough relevant experience to the table.
“I was attacked a lot because of my age and because of what people consider an experience,” Oliver, 39, said. “I think you need the right experience. My campaign has been about thinking outside the box and showing how you can run government differently.
Oliver cites his constituency work with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, as well as running the nonprofit Equity Alliance which had a major impact on progressive issues such as voting rights and the expanding access to the ballot during the pandemic. Oliver said she has managed grassroots campaigns and written policies, as well as challenging legislative Republicans in recent years.
Tennessean’s 2020 People of the Year:The Equity Alliance
“All of these experiences that I can bring to the state legislature, to speak and carry the voice of the everyday Tennessean,” Oliver said.
Oliver declined to take the company’s PAC money for his campaign, which had raised about $131,000 by the most recent filing deadline for Maynard’s $178,000. Although she didn’t name him, Oliver said in a social media post “it doesn’t matter who you take money from” referring to a payday loan PAC donation to Maynard.
Maynard said he resigned in May from the Maynard Group, where he worked as a consultant and lobbyist for organizations including Nashville General Hospital, the Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, and no plans no potential conflicts of interest if voters elect him.
“My track record is pretty clear that I work for working families and small businesses, to make sure we have a level playing field so people can live the American dream,” Maynard said, citing his efforts to strengthen the Nashville General, pass affordable housing legislation. and awarding major contracts to minority-owned businesses.
Affordability at the top of the priority list
The top candidates in Senate District 19 are on the same page about some of the district’s top priorities, though Oliver and Maynard have different approaches on how to tackle the issues. Affordability amid a booming Nashville real estate market and influx of new transplants is top of mind for voters.
If elected, Oliver says she would prioritize legislation applying guardrails to developers seeking to grab valuable real estate in North Nashville, citing concerns about coercive methods to pressure landlords for them to sell.
“I think residents feel like they’re being left behind and not being heard,” Oliver said. “Nashville has been called the It City, but the It City for whom?”
Oliver also still has an eye on voting rights issues, echoing her Equity Alliance work, and said she would prioritize restoring voting rights for formerly incarcerated people, as well as reform. firearms and environmental protection in North Nashville.
Maynard plans to draft legislation to provide incentives to developers of affordable housing and mixed-income communities, with the goal of creating 3,000 homes over the next eight years in Nashville.
Maynard said he would also propose legislation to eliminate Tennessee’s food sales tax, which he called regressive and identified as an issue he said could draw bipartisan support.
“There are Republicans and Democrats who support eliminating the sales tax on food. I think we can get there,” Maynard said.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Pime Hernandez in November.
Contact Melissa Brown at [email protected]
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