Lamar tapped for Shelby County vacancy in Senate
Fills gap left by Robinson
Rep. London Lamar, D-Memphis, talks with Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, during a legislative hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The Shelby County Commission voted Thursday in a lengthy—and sometimes testy— special meeting for Rep. London Lamar to serve as the interim senator for District 33, a seat vacated by former Sen. Katrina Robinson.
Robinson was ejected from the Tennessee Senate in February after a federal court found her guilty of fraud charges. By state law, the County Commission chooses a replacement until the November elections.
Lamar, a Democrat, was one of five candidates who interviewed for the position, including Rep. Torrey Harris, also a Democrat..
Thursday morning, Robinson endorsed Harris.
“Redistricting just decided the next 10 years of what happens in our state. House District 90, which I currently serve, will be disappearing and going away from west Tennessee, the voice for people in our district is already slim and we’re also losing a powerful voice for a whole group of people in District 90 as well,” Harris said during commission interviews. “Shelby county deserves hard working legislators. The former senator for (District) 33 was one of them, and I am one of them.”
But after candidate interviews and initial rounds of voting, Harris was eliminated from consideration. The other candidates eliminated in early voting rounds were Republican Frederick Tappan, pastor at Eureka Truevine Baptist Church and a radio host, and Hastina Robinson, an Independent.
The four-hour meeting was not without drama. With 13 members on the board, the winner needed seven votes to gain a majority, and early in the meeting only 11 were present.
We are filling a position to finish a term. Everyone else can run for the seat, but this is about the middle of a legislative session as we are walking into budget session.
– Sen. London Lamar during her interview with the Shelby County Commission
Two hours in and unable to agree on a candidate, commissioners considered both reopening nominations and deferring the vote a week when Commissioner Tami Sawyer informed the body she was en route. Even after Sawyer arrived, Lamar and community leader Rhonnie Brewer remained tied with six votes each.
The commission took a 30 minute recess to give Commissioner David Bradford time to get to the meeting and presumably break the tie. Bradford voted for Lamar and Commissioners Brandon Morrison and Mick Wright switched their votes from Brewer in the final round, giving Lamar the edge.
Brewer, a Democrat, founded Socially Twisted to combat food deserts in Memphis and had previously conducted a grocery store feasibility study for the county commission on bringing low-cost grocery options to low-income neighborhoods.
Commissioners grilled candidates about their goals were they to get the Senate appointment with an emphasis on education spending.
“We should look at this as a job. We are filling a position to finish a term. Everyone else can run for the seat, but this is about the middle of a legislative session as we are walking into budget session,” said Lamar. “Putting someone in that role that can continue to take on the work.”
Lamar was elected to the Tennessee House in 2018 after incumbent Johnnie Turner declined to run for reelection. Lamar beat two primary opponents and was unopposed in either that election or the 2020 election.
She and Harris, the youngest state lawmakers, currently represent adjacent districts but during the recent redistricting process were drawn into the same district. were forced to politically clash after redistricting maps placed both representatives in the same seat. Lamar has already made clear her intent to run for a full Senate term.
A spokesperson for Harris said Friday morning he is evaluating several options and will make a decision on his plans for the future soon.
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