Democratic women challenging GOP legislators in 23 seats

At least 23 women from across the state are running as Democrats to challenge Republican-held state legislative seats in November, reports The Tennessean. That’s a record number and the women are making passage of Insure Tennessee a campaign theme.

It follows a quiet but steady recruitment effort by a network of Tennessee Democrats, party activists and self-described parent-teacher mothers, or “PTO moms,” to find women — on social media, by reading letters to editors or talking to county party chairmen — willing to run for a seat in the male-dominated Tennessee legislature.

Most, but not all, of the women are running for public office for the first time.

Efforts are strategic: Beleaguered Tennessee Democrats, who have suffered massive election losses for two decades in the state legislature, have struggled to field candidates in many rural districts and against longtime Republican incumbents. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the legislature 101 to 31. By fielding women, Democrats hope to capitalize from the perceived unpopularity among women of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

…The group of 23 Democratic women plans to hold a news conference Tuesday morning to formally announce their bids. Most of them met in Nashville on Sunday for a crash course on how to campaign — from learning how to talk to the media to handling campaign finances.

Helping lead the effort to find  female candidates are activists from Women for Tennessee’s Future, a Nashville-based political action committee that backs progressive candidates. Also steering the ship is Lisa Quigley, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville. The Tennessee Democratic Party had a role as well, organizers say.

Challengers include Sydney Rogers, outgoing executive director of the education nonprofit Alignment Nashville, who is taking on Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. Communications professional Holly McCall is seeking the seat held by embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; and Erin Coleman, an engineer and military veteran, is challenging state Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville.

Elsewhere, Gayla Hendrix, an attorney from DeKalb County, is running against Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. Amelia Hipps, a former editor of a community newspaper, is matched against Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. And Trisha Farmer, a health care activist who works in marketing, is challenging Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet.

Also running again is Gloria Johnson, a former Democratic House member from Knoxville who in 2014 lost to Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville.

Democrats had decades to try and incorporate more women and didn’t, argued Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes.

“Once again, Democrats are out to divide,” Haynes said in a statement. “Looking for qualified candidates of any gender is always commendable but their efforts here would be a lot more credible if they had, for example, actually had a woman serve as Speaker of the House in Tennessee during their 150-year hold on the state. They didn’t. Instead it took Republicans to put forth a strong leader like Beth Harwell to do that — and it was the first thing we did when we took full control of the House.”