Laura Baigert Discusses Now Independent Party Candidate John DeBerry’s Democratic Socialist Opponent Torrey Harris


Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star Senior Reporter Laura Baigert to the newsmakers line.

During the third hour, Baigert discussed the recent state Representative John DeBerry’s ousting from the radical Democratic Party in Memphis and his new challenger, Torrey Harris. She and Leahy later discussed how they could not find any job that Harris had held prior to moving to Memphis in 2011.

Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by our good friend and the best Capitol Hill reporter in Tennessee Laura Baigert. Laura has been with The Tennessee Star on Capitol Hill reporting for The Tennessee Star for three and a half years. Laura one of the stories that you’ve written about that just fascinates me is John DeBerry. For 26 years.

Baigert: 26 years. Yep.

Leahy: He was a Democrat and represented his district in Memphis in the state House. Then earlier this year the basically majority-White executive committee (Chuckles) of the Democratic Party threw him out of the party.

Baigert: Right. Right.

Leahy: Threw him out of the party! Good grief.

Baigert: Yeah. That’s a story that I think has touched a lot of people across the state. John DeBerry is truly the state’s statesman. He made a speech from the floor last week that was just remarkable again as he always does. Actually it was about the bill we were just talking about before the break with the increased penalties between protesting and rioting activities on capitol grounds.

He just was amazing. But of course, his opponent and there is no Republican in that race. John DeBerry will be running as an Independent. And the Democrat nominee took right to social media and issued a statement condemning the honorable John DeBerry for looking out for law and order. (Laughs)

Leahy: Yeah. So his opponent is this kid Torrey Harris. How old is Torrey?

Baigert: Yeah. About 30ish. Yes.

Leahy: And so in contrast to Representative DeBerry who actually has experienced legal discrimination in his life as a young man. He talked about that. Look at this what he said. From the speech and from your story here’s what state representative said on the floor of the House.

“I am one of those individuals that walked in back doors because the law said I had to. I’m one of those individuals that road on the back of the bus on the back seats that were not cushioned because the law said I had to. I went to the water and drank collard water because the law said I had to. I went to school where everybody looked at a country that was divided and segregated because the law said I had to.”

John DeBerry has experienced institutional racism back before 1970. Institutional racism by the way that his Democratic Party supported. And now comes this young kid who didn’t experience any of that and is condemning state Representative John DeBerry for standing for the rule of law.

Baigert: And after standing for the rule of law and being condemned for it, what happened this weekend? More violence broke out and ramped up in Memphis this past weekend.

Leahy: It’s crazy. It’s crazy.

Baigert: The Democrats just look more foolish all the time because it just plays out exactly what we tell them.

Leahy: Now here is my question for you. It is a daunting task to run as an Independent in a basically a system dominated by two parties. Memphis is so dominated by the Democratic Party. Typically Congressman Steve Cohen will get 70-75 percent of the vote in the general election. Here we have representative DeBerry running as an Independent. What are his odds of winning re-election as an Independent in this election cycle?

Baigert: That’s a very good question because make no mistake, the Democrats will dump a ton of money and effort into this race. Not only is Tory Harris a progressive but he’s also gay. So this will make a mark for them that they cannot resist. Because it’s an even narrower thing that they can divide people by right? (Chuckles) It will be a big win for them if they were to get Torrey Harris in this seat.

Leahy: Wouldn’t you consider Harris the favorite because of the fact that he’s backed by the Democratic Party? And it would seem to me that he is likely to get lots and lots of money from places outside of Memphis.

Baigert: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure. Harris up until this point, and I guess it will be how motivated voters are. It’s always about turnout right? And the thing is that John DeBerry has been there for 26 years. He beat Torrey Harris at a one on one last year in the primary by like 1,000 votes.

So it’s really hard to say how much name recognition DeBerry has. How devoted his constituents are to him. How radical the Democrats have become. So I think there are just so many unknowns. And of course not being that familiar with the Memphis area which has a very different dynamic than Nashville.

Leahy: Yes it does. So here’s the Torrey Harris campaign website. Progressive challenger Torrey Harris is a proud community leader and advocate for all human rights and equal opportunity in Memphis. He came to Memphis in 2011 by way of corporate relocation and has made the obvious decision to choose 901.

I’m looking for what he does for a living (Baigert laughs) and it looks like he’s a professional activist. It seems to me. Thre is a job there somewhere I guess but I can’t see it. He serves as a volunteer with many local organizations. Over the last decade, Torrey has been an outspoken voice for progressive and immediate equality. Calling for call discussions around what matters to those affected by policies and laws.

Baigert: If you look at how John DeBerry got kicked out of the Democratic Party is was started by a woman who also was a transplant to Memphis who wrote up the paperwork. She declares herself as part of the Democratic Socialist Party.

Leahy: Right.

Baigert: She’s the Memphis leader is how she built herself on Facebook.

Leahy: A carpet bagger Democratic socialist coming into Memphis to show them how to be true activists right?

Baigert: Yep.

Leahy: So again, Torrey. This Torrey Harris fellow is part of the community he serves and plans to continue the discussion around what matters to those within this district, this city, and this state. Torrey, a young Black African American man understands the adversities of sexuality.

The judgment of one’s religious preference. Having to go the extra mile because of race and how age and gender play a part in fair treatment. (Laughter) OK. So we don’t know what he does for a living. He listens and he talks about all of the terrible terrible things that have happened to him in his 30 some odd years?

Baigert: Right, right.

Leahy: I think he was definitely born after systemic racism and institutional racism in the United States. I think he was born long after that.

Baigert: Long. For sure.

Leahy: He hasn’t had the kind of experiences of that institutional racism that existed before 1970 that state Rep. John DeBerry’s had.

Baigert: That’s right. That’s right. And by the way, John DeBerry was there when he saw their leader in the civil rights movement be shot and killed.

Leahy: In 1968 John DeBerry was there in Memphis.

Baigert: Yes.

Leahy: Yeah. You talk about credibility. You talk about being a person of substance.

Baigert: Absolutely.

Leahy: You talk about somebody who stood up for civil rights when a time when that was difficult. That’s state representative John DeBerry. That’s not this Torrey Harris kid.

Baigert: As John DeBerry mentioned. Every discussion these days is about race.

Leahy: Yeah. Boy, can’t wait to talk about that more. (Laughs)

Baigert: More. Right. We haven’t exhausted it enough.

Leahy: We haven’t talked about it enough.

Listen to the third hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.

Photo “John DeBerry” by Glenn Casada. Photo “Torrey Harris” by Torrey Harris. Background Photo “Tennessee General Assembly” by Tennessee General Assembly. 










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