Rosalind Kurita

DeBerry sponsored 2010 bill to have courts — not parties — decide primary challenges

State Rep. John DeBerry, a longtime Memphis lawmaker appealing his removal from the Democratic primary ballot, once sponsored legislation aimed at eliminating political parties’ authority to decide primary contests.

The legislation would have sent primary challenges to administrative law judges, not party executive committees. The administrative rulings could have then been appealed to chancery court.

DeBerry’s 2010 bill was filed two years after Democrats declared then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s 19-vote primary victory “incurably uncertain” and awarded the nomination to Clarksville Democrat Tim Barnes. Democrats had been furious at Kurita for breaking ranks and voting for the Republican Sen. Ron Ramsey for speaker in 2007.

DeBerry was widely believed to have similarly agreed to vote for Rep. Jason Mumpower, the Republican nominee for House speaker, in 2009. But DeBerry ended up sticking with fellow Democrats to install Republican Rep. Kent Williams as the chamber’s leader. Williams was thrown out of the state GOP for the maneuver.

DeBerry insisted at the time his legislation was “not the Kurita memorial bill.” He said it was instead inspired by “some of the things said to me by some of my own colleagues in Memphis over the years reminding me who owns this office.” His goal, he said, was to enable all members of to be good legislators and party members “without being under undue pressure from any particular group.”

As DeBerry put it at the time, “when the taxpayers pay for an election nd somebody is elected, the election is over unless there is fraud.” Leaders of both parties opposed the bill because it would have weakened control over their own primaries and the bill failed.

Under the proposal, the parties would have retained their power to declare a candidate to be not a “bona fide” member and keep them off the primary ballot — as ended up occuring to DeBerry last week. The state Democratic Party is scheduled to take up his appeal on Wednesday.

She’s back! Kurita selected as interim state senator

Former Sen. Rosalind Kurita, whom Democrats stripped of their party’s nomination after she broke ranks to vote for Republican Ron Ramsey to become Senate speaker in 2007, has been appointed as an interim replacement for Sen. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) after his election to Congress.

The Leaf Chronicle of Clarksville reports Kurita emerged the winner Monday after 13 rounds of voting by the Montgomery County Commission.

“It feels wonderful to be selected by the County Commission, and I appreciate the support I have received here this evening,” Kurita told the paper.

Kurita is expected to caucus with the Republican supermajority. She said she won’t be a candidate in the special election to fill the remainder of Green’s term (the primary is March 7 and the general election is on April 23).

The year after voting for Ramsey (the chamber was tied 16-16 with one independent at the time, making hers a crucial vote), Kurita survived a primary challenge from fellow Clarksville Democrat Tim Barnes by all of 19 votes. Barnes filed a challenge with the Democratic Executive Committee, with his attorneys contending that “Republicans crossed over en masse.”

Kurita’s lawyers argued the crossover wasn’t out of the ordinary. But after a day-long hearing that also included allegations that Barnes voters were directed to vote in the Republican primary and that Kurita had violated the 100-foot barrier in polling place (to go to the restroom, her attorneys said, deriding the allegation as “potty gate”), the Democratic panel voted 33-11 to strip Kurita of the nomination on the basis of the outcome of the primary having become “incurably uncertain.” She mounted a write-in
campaign, but lost to Barnes, 62% to 39%.

Kurita was a candidate for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2006, but bowed out before the primary.

Ramsey appears pleased with Kurita’s appointment: