TN Senate minority leader seeks common ground, slams government inaction

In an interview with the Commercial Appeal, state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris says there’s a chance the five Democrats now serving in the Senate might have a way to get something done because they start on common ground with majority Republicans on certain fronts.

“We’re all against wasteful spending, unwanted pregnancies, failing schools,” Harris said. “That’s at least a starting point. It’s just a question of ‘What do we do about it?’”

…Harris, 36, is believed to be the first African-American caucus leader in the history of either house of the General Assembly, according to Matt Anderson, a spokesman for the Democratic caucus.

Harris shrugged it off. “I don’t have the time to think about things like that,” Harris said Wednesday morning, as he drove between stops to gather ingredients for his family’s Thanksgiving meal. “There are really serious problems, really serious challenges in our state.”

Instead, Harris preferred slamming governmental inaction. Take the most recent Republican gains in the U.S. Senate. He didn’t frame that as a rejection of Democrats, but framed it as voters’ quick distaste for a government they perceive isn’t accomplishing anything.

It’s a lesson he wants to take — and adopt, as best he can in the minority party — to Nashville.

“People just get tired of that,” Harris said. “It’s not just a repudiation of Democratic ideas, I think it’s a repudiation of inaction.”

…Harris, a professor at the University of Memphis law school, won’t have any teaching responsibilities next spring. He plans to vacate his District 7 Memphis City Council seat in early January (and he isn’t picking sides when it comes to backing his successor, he said).

The caucus election represented another fast step in a quick career rise. The Yale-educated Whitehaven native won a seat on the City Council in 2011, defeating Kemba Ford in a runoff. He successfully challenged District 29 incumbent Ophelia Ford in the August Democratic primary and won with 42 percent of the vote in a four-candidate field.