MEMPHIS, Tenn — Tuesday's Midterm Elections in the Mid-South feature a number of races which have direct impact on Memphians and Mid-Southerners.
Polls in Tennessee are closed as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Here are some of the more notable races happening across Tennessee and the Mid-South, and their live results.
Tennessee Governor's race
(R) Gov. Bill Lee vs. (D) Dr. Jason Martin
Incumbent Governor Bill Lee has won re-election over challenger Dr. Jason Martin, the Associated Press is reporting.
Lee, riding consistently strong polls in a state that favors the GOP, is taking a calculated approach to winning a second term and has paid no attention to his Democratic opponent. He has put a big fundraising advantage to work by deploying statewide TV ads that tout his first four years in office, while not mentioning that Tennesseans have a choice on the ballot. He has declined to debate Martin, saying he's too busy running the state.
“The Republican strategy is, ‘don’t let anyone get to your right.’ (Lee) was able to avoid opposition in the primary and now he’s expecting an easy reelection victory,” said Kent Syler, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
Lee sidestepped a primary challenge with a series of moves on time-tested conservative issues, including backing a permitless handgun carry law and signing off on expansive abortion restrictions. On fiery topics that have taken off more recently, he has signed laws that target transgender people, shifted his attention to the hot midterm topic of crime over his priorities for criminal justice reform, and approved restrictions against some discussions on race and sexuality in schools.
“Parents now have a say in what’s taught and what isn’t,” Lee said in a campaign ad. “And kids are learning valuable skills, without the divisive politics.”
Martin, meanwhile, said he hopes to make the kind of inroads in rural Tennessee that have long defied state Democrats, leaving them without a seat in the governor's office for more than a decade. He said he thinks the path to winning the governor's race “goes through red Tennessee, goes right through rural communities.”
“I think previous campaigns have focused really a lot of resources and training on the cities, and Democrats are going to try to run the numbers up in the cities. The math isn’t there," Martin told the Nashville Rotary Club recently. "You can’t win with a message that only appeals to the big five cities in the state of Tennessee.”
Martin initially got in the race criticizing the way Lee has handled the COVID-19 outbreak in Tennessee, where a statewide mask mandate was never enacted. Martin has since shifted away from making that his main focus.
Tennessee Constitutional Amendments
Amendment 1: Right to Work
Tennesseans will vote Tuesday on whether the state's "Right to Work" law will be added to the state Constitution.
The state law was established more than 70 years ago in 1947. Tennessee is one of 27 states to have given workers a choice when it comes to union membership, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Because the ‘Right to Work’ is already a state law, many Republicans and Democrats disagree on whether or not it should be added to the State Constitution.
“If it’s added to the Constitution, it would make it harder for anyone to unravel our right to work status,” said Rep. Tom Leatherwood. “Right now, they would just need to change a law. It makes it easier for the state to defend our right to work status if the federal government tried to strike down our law.”
Just recently, seven Starbucks employees say they were fired for trying to form a union in Memphis. A federal judge had to step in and ruled in favor of the employees. Because of that, some people question whether the ‘right to work’ law even really protects workers.
Amendment 2: Temporary Succession Plan for the Governor
Amendment 2 details a temporary succession plan for the Governor if he or she is sick or unable to fulfill the duties of the office. It outlines the transfer of power.
“This amendment will just clarify that process that procedure," said Rep. Tom Leatherwood.
Tennessee is one of several states where voters do not elect a Lieutenant Governor. A Lieutenant Governor is basically a Vice Governor that's second in command. Instead, in Tennessee, that role is assigned to the leader of the State Senate. That's the person that would take over right now if needed.
“It's the same succession as we do for the President," said Rep. Hardaway.
Here's how it's listed in the amendment: If the Governor is out, the Speaker of the Senate steps in temporarily. If the Senate leader is not able to serve, then power transfers to the Speaker of the House.
Also, the Acting Governor would not have to resign their position in the House or Senate. The person would not receive the Governor's pay, and the Acting Governor would not be able to vote as a member of the General Assembly during this time.
Amendment 3: Slavery in the Constitution
Amendment 3 addresses slavery and involuntary servitude.
Right now, Article I, Section 33 of the Tennessee Constitution reads:
“That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this State."
Many argue that the language is offensive and morally wrong.
“It's clear that under certain circumstances, people can still be considered enslaved,” said Rep. Joe Towns, Jr. “That basically means that if you're incarcerated, that you can be considered as enslaved."
This needs more context. According to The Tennessee Secretary of State website, Tennessee's Constitution was adopted in 1796. It was revised in 1834. Then again in 1870, years after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
The new amendment would outright ban slavery in the Tennessee Constitution.
Tennessee and six other states will vote on the same topic this November.
Amendment 4: Clergy Holding Public Office
Tennessee constitutional Amendment Four or the "remove religious minister disqualification amendment," will appear on your ballot this November.
"I think some of it has to be understood through the lens of just a cosmetic language change," pastor Dr. Earle Fisher said. "It hasn’t really been enforced."
A "yes" vote supports removing Section 1 of Article 9 of Tennessee's constitution which disqualifies religious ministers from being elected to the Tennessee General Assembly.
A "no" vote opposes removing section 1 of Article 9.
"We have to be forward-thinking," Fisher said. "When you start thinking about religious inclusivity and people who represent, you know, Muslim faith communities; Jewish faith communities, other faith communities. I think if we aren’t careful of modernizing, we run the risk of allowing that antiquated language to be leveraged in ways that will box people out of political office."
In 1977, Paul McDaniel, a Baptist minister, filed as a candidate for the state constitutional convention. Another candidate, Selma Paty, sued saying minister McDaniel was disqualified. Paty sighted Section 1 Article 9 of Tennessee's constitution.
The Supreme Court of the United States in McDaniel v. Paty held that the statute was unconstitutional because it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments but the provision remains in Tennessee's constitution.
Arkansas Issue 4: Legalization of Marijuana
The passing of recreational marijuana in Arkansas, more commonly known as Issue 4, will allow anyone over the age of 21 would be able to possess and use up to an ounce of marijuana.
“Voting day we expect a lot of support,” says Timothy Moore, General Manager of Greenlight Dispensary in West Memphis, Arkansas.
Supporters like Moore believe the passing of Issue 4 could potentially lead to safer sales of marijuana in Arkansas and safer conditions overall.
“There’s a lot of stuff on the streets right now that is actually hurting our youth, killing our youth. Everything we sell is tested, everything we sell is safe, this is the safest way to consume cannabis,” says Moore.
On the opposite side, people like Jerry Cox from the Family Council Committee say this vote is more of a bait and switch tactic, allowing those with marijuana interests to write themselves into the state constitution.
“People on the marijuana side hate it, people on my side hate it, But what this amendment does is it obliterates a lot of the medical marijuana program and replaces it with this monopolistic recreational marijuana program,” says Cox.