Freshman Lee Harris elected state Senate minority leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Incoming state Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis has been elected leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

The caucus held its elections on Tuesday.

Incoming Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville was elected caucus chairman.

Both men, who are attorneys, were nominated by Memphis Sen. Sara Kyle, who is taking over the seat once occupied by her husband, former Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. He is currently serving on the Shelby County Chancery Court bench.

Republicans control the state Senate 28-5.

Harris defeated former Sen. Ophelia Ford in the August primary.

The former Memphis City councilman said despite the small number he believes Democrats will have a voice in the Legislature, which convenes Jan. 13.

“Everybody … is a leader in our caucus,” Harris said.

Further, from The Tennessean:
By choosing freshmen as their leaders, the Senate Democrats sent a message they are betting on the future of the party, Harris said.

“At some point, you end up at a place where you’ve got to have a hard reset. And I think that’s where the party is,” Harris said.

“We’re going to have a hard reset, and we’re going to put a lot of our chips in the future of this party. And that’s what we did today.”

Harris is the first black lawmaker to serve in a leadership capacity for either party in the Senate, said caucus spokesman Matt Anderson.

Anderson, citing the legislative library, said state leadership positions have been recorded since the 1970s. There have been several black lawmakers who’ve served as speaker pro tem or deputy speaker in the House, but never as the House speaker, majority or minority leader, Anderson said.

The caucus chose Harris over Sen. Reginald Tate, a Memphis lawmaker first elected in 2006. The caucus did not release the vote totals in either race, casting physical ballots that were not read aloud during the meeting.

Note: The Commercial Appeal notes, however, that Tate nominated himself and his nomination was seconded by Sen. Thelma Harper of Nashville. Ergo, the deduction is that the three freshmen united in voting for Lee while Harper and Tate, the veterans, voted for Tate.