District 83 matchup features “one tough mother” against five term incumbent

(Photo: Mario Tamo/Getty Images)
(Photo: Mario Tamo/Getty Images)

District 83’s House seat has long been held by incumbent Mark White, R-Memphis, but newcomer Jerri Green, Democrat, has some political insiders believing the seat could flip in a predominantly red area. 

District 83, which comprises East Memphis, Germantown and a small part of Collierville, is described as “a community that is trending toward younger families and people who are interested in the schools, people who have a strong commitment to the schools,” according to Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, House Democratic Caucus Chair. White has held the seat since 2010. 

This is Green’s first time running for a political office and focuses her campaign on healthcare, future COVID-19 response, gun-safety issues, the environment, civil rights issues and education. 

In an interview with Tennessee Lookout, Green said she reflects the demographics of the area. As a mother of three school-age children who attend public school, Green, whose slogan is “one tough mother,” believes the area’s biggest interests include childcare issues and schools.

Jerri Green (Photo: Ballotpedia)
Jerri Green (Photo: Ballotpedia)

“There are currently no mothers of school-age children in our state legislature, zero, and when you’re making decisions especially in this year and this time around affordable childcare or reopening schools….we just have no voice,” said Green, adding that these issues primarily affect mothers. “I quite literally have skin in the game in a way that other people don’t.”

Born in Memphis, Green earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and a J.D. from Georgetown University of Law. Green has volunteered with several legal organizations and Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement advocating for public safety measures against gun violence. She currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement for the Community Legal Center in Memphis. 

She has been endorsed by the Tennessee AFL-CIO, the Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee Voter Project, Planned Parenthood, Future 901, a progressive group supporting West Tennessee candidates and Memphis for All, an organization centered on minority rights and dedicated to electing progressive officials. 

Green reported $57,000 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter.  Her biggest contributors were D.R.I.V.E with $3,000, United Auto Workers (UAW) with $1,000, Women for Tennessee’s Future with $1,000, David Weatherspoon of Memphis with $1,600, and Marco Ross with $1,600. She also received contributions from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville and Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville

Green said she’s often asked how she balances family and a campaign. 

“It’s not about me, it’s about trying to make a difference and trying to help people out who need it,” she said.

While both candidates place a lot of focus on education, White and Green have clashed on the topic of school vouchers, which Green has used to “lay out the facts in her campaign.”

White is a proponent of Gov. Bill Lee’s controversial school voucher bill, which would allow families in school districts with at least three public schools that fall in the state’s lowest student performance ratings to receive taxpayer-paid “education savings accounts” for private schooling. Critics believe Rep. White’s voting record may hurt his campaign. 

“I would assume in that district where the public schools are so good, that most voters would not be supportive of Mark White’s voucher agenda,” said Stewart.

Green said  school vouchers take money away from the district’s public schools and accused White of making conflicting statements about school vouchers, such as stating he wouldn’t support it but then voting for the legislation.  

“We’ve worked so hard making sure the public schools are accountable with testing that if we just give a parent money to go to a private school of their choice or to choose other services and we don’t have any accountability, then I would be against it,” said White in an interview with Chalkbeat Tennessee before voting for the school voucher bill. 

Formerly a teacher, White has served as principal at Harding Academy located in Memphis and has a small party-planning business.

Rep. Mark White (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Mark White (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

He co-founded the Global Children’s Educational Foundation, which provided financial assistance and educational opportunities to impoverished children in Panama. Rep. White currently serves as the House Education Committee Chair, and also serves on the State Fiscal Review Committee, the House Calendar and Rules Commit and the House Naming, Designating and Private Acts Committee

Rep. White has sponsored several controversial bills. In a special session in August called by Gov. Bill Lee, White was a sponsor of the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act, which provided expansive protections for individuals and businesses from COVID-19 related claims, and HB8005, which stiffened penalties for protesters camping and “desecration of property” at the Capitol Building. Rep. White also sponsored a bi-partisan bill designating an official “Women’s Suffrage Day” as a day of special observance. 

White’s most recent campaign finance disclosure, filed July 30, showed he has almost $64,000 cash on hand. His biggest donors were Associated General Contractors of America with $2,000,  BICO Associates with $2,500,  Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton’s CAM PAC with $6,427; and FedEx with $3,100.