As the days tick down to Tennessee’s Aug. 4 primary, no immediate frontrunner has emerged in the race to fill Nashville’s Senate District 19 seat.
Former city council member Jerry Maynard and nonprofit advocacy executive Charlane Oliver have pulled ahead of the pack, splitting high-profile progressive endorsements amid heavy fundraising in the race to succeed longtime legislator Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville.
The district — which covers downtown Nashville, portions of East Nashville and the majority of North Nashville — may soon become one of the highest profile positions for elected Democrats in the city with the demise of a Nashville-centric 5th Congressional District.
The race has remained relatively friendly ahead of the primary, effectively a general election in the Democratic-friendly district, though veiled barbs have emerged related to Maynard’s work as a city lobbyist and corporate relationships, and Oliver’s first-time candidacy.
Meet Charlane Oliver: Candidate for Tennessee Senate, District 19
Meet Jerry Maynard: Candidate for Tennessee Senate, District 19
Skullduggery Act opened primary race
Both joined the race this spring when Gilmore violated the Anti-Skullduggery Act of 1991, which reopens ballot access for candidates if the incumbent in the race retires after the filing deadline. The act is intended to block incumbents from hand-picking a successor, and Gilmore announced her retirement after public defender Keeda Haynes entered the race.
The ensuing blowback pushed Haynes out of the race and drew in Oliver, Maynard, former council member Ludye Wallace along with candidates Barry Barlow and Rossi Turner.
Wallace, a longtime civic leader, has significantly trailed in fundraising, but north Nashville pastor Rev. Enoch Fuzz said he endorsed his campaign for Wallace's decades of institutional knowledge.
"I say those people know where all the gold is, they know where the relationships are," Fuzz said of longtime leaders like Wallace. "They've got relationships they can bring to benefit the constituents of that district."
Rossi last week endorsed Oliver for the seat, though his name will still be on the ballot. Barlow has campaigned minimally.
At a Tennessean forum on Thursday, Oliver said the skullduggery went against her “values.”
“This is the people’s seat, it belongs to the people, and the people get to decide,” Oliver said.
In the wake of the dust-up, Gilmore threw her support behind Maynard, who said this week he has long eyed the Senate seat.
Gilmore cited Maynard’s city council experience as a factor in her endorsement, as well as his “negotiating skills and ability to reach across the aisle to get things done for the community.”
“I think all the other candidates are wonderful candidates who have done good work in the community," Gilmore said. "In the environment we're in now, though, I think it's going to take somebody who is willing to work on both sides of the aisle. I think he's the one with those characteristics.”
Nashville Council member Kyonzte Toombs is among Oliver's endorsements, citing her "20 years of public and private experience helping to shape public policy."
"Charlane is the one to move us forward," Toombs said in a statement. "She will bring bold, new ideas to the state legislature."
Maynard has also leaned on his eight years of city council experience from 2007 to 2015, during which time he also served as Tennessee Democratic Party deputy chair.
"My strategy is to make sure the General Assembly does no harm in Nashville and District 19," Maynard said. "... I bring the experience with working across the aisle. You have to build coalitions based on similar goals, objectives and the values that Republicans have for their constituents that we also have for ours."
Oliver disagrees with implication made through the primary that a first-time candidate won't bring enough relevant experience to the table.
“I've been very much attacked because of my age and because of what people deem to be experience,” the 39-year-old Oliver said. “I think you need the right experience. My campaign has been about thinking outside of the box and how you can do government differently.”
Oliver cites her constituency work with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, as well as running the nonprofit Equity Alliance that has made major impacts on progressive issues such voting rights and expanding ballot access during the pandemic. Oliver said she’s managed grassroots campaigns and written policy, in addition to challenging legislative Republicans in recent years.
The Tennessean's 2020 People of the Year: TThe Equity Alliance
“All of these experiences I can take to the state legislature, to speak and carry the voice of the everyday Tennessean,” Oliver said.
Oliver has declined to take corporate PAC money for her campaign, which had raised about $131,000 as of the most recent filing deadline to Maynard’s $178,000. Though she didn’t name him, Oliver in a social media post said “it matters who you take money from” when referring to a payday lending PAC donation to Maynard.
Maynard said he stepped down in May from The Maynard Group in May, where he worked as a consultant and lobbyist for organizations such as Nashville General Hospital, Tennessee Titans and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, and doesn’t foresee 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 an even playing field so people can live the American Dream,” Maynard said, citing his efforts to strengthen Nashville General, pass affordable housing legislation and shepherd important contracts to minority-owned businesses.
Affordability at top of issue priority list
The top Senate District 19 candidates are on the same page regarding some of the top priorities of the district, though Oliver and Maynard have different approaches on how to address the issues. Affordability amid a skyrocketing Nashville housing market and influx of new transplants is at the top of voters’ minds.
If elected, Oliver says she would prioritize legislation applying guard rails to developers seeking to snap up valuable real estate in North Nashville, citing concerns about coercive methods to pressure homeowners into selling.
“I think residents do feel they're being left behind and not being heard,” Oliver said. “Nashville was named 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 will prioritize voting rights restoration for formerly incarcerated people, as well as focus on gun reform and environmental protections in North Nashville.
Maynard envisions crafting legislation to provide developer incentives for affordable housing and mixed-income communities, with a goal of creating 3,000 housing units over the next eight years in Nashville.
Maynard said he would also propose legislation to eliminate Tennessee's sale tax on food, which he called regressive and pinpoints as an issue he thinks could whip bipartisan support.
"There are Republicans and Democrats alike who support eliminating the sales tax on food. I think we can get that done," Maynard said.
The Democratic primary victor will face Republican Pime Hernandez in November.
Reach Melissa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville Senate District 19: Jerry Maynard, Charlane Oliver ahead