By Clint Confehr
A photograph on a campaign mailer for a Republican county commissioner’s re- election shows him shaking hands with a commissioner who endorsed the GOP candidate’s opponent.
That juxtaposition of political affiliation was revealed eight days before early voting when the Rutherford County Democratic Party announced Commissioner Chantho Sourinho endorsed all 10 Democrats challenging Republican incumbent commissioners in the Aug. 4 election.
Sourinho, the only Democrat on the commission, is “uneasy,” saying he cooperated when asked to be in a photo. However, he’s evasive about whether he authorized use of the photo to help re- elect Commissioner Jeff Phillips. The Republican says Sourinho campaigned “door to door” for him June 25 and that he’s hired people recommended by Sourinho. Sourinho said, “I wish everybody who runs for office… good luck and happiness.”
“Maybe,” Phillips said, “there was a little communication problem.” Philips didn’t want to “do anything that would be detrimental” to his “friend.”
Mariah Phillips, the Democrat challenging the incumbent with the same last name — they’re not related — says the mailer is dishonest. “He’s leaning into this relationship to manipulate people into thinking that he has that support. He does not outright say that Chantho has given him an endorsement, but I can say that Chantho has outright given me an endorsement.”
The Democratic Party announcement also points to Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s silence when Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn made derogatory remarks about educators. Mariah Phillips is an educator.
Jeff Phillips has “mixed feelings” about partisanship on this level. “When you start doing partisan things, you bring in national politics that have little bearing on decisions you’re making … We should be talking about garbage … how it affects Rutherford countians … alternate revenue and how we build our next high school … not things that relate to oil prices.”
Mariah Phillips said, “The older I get and the more crazy politics is, the worse it feels.”
Years ago, she ran for Congress and the Tennessee House of Representatives. Her opponent says: she’s using previous campaign funding; and this is his most difficult race, having won with more than 88 percent in two elections.
Jeff Phillips is a seven-term, 28-year commissioner. Redistricting
brought Mariah Phillips into that district. It has 7,044 registered voters. Many are students and employees of Middle Tennessee State University. Party nominees first ran for commission in 2014.
“The district leans Democratic, but we’ve never had a Democrat to run,” Mariah Phillips said. “I’m reminding people how important it is to get out and vote. Not many people show up for local elections in a non-presidential election year.”
Jeff Philips said he had photos made with other commissioners in the courthouse meeting room and that he campaigned for Sourinho when he had opposition. Sourinho has no challenger now. “I’ve got an outstanding working relationship and personal relationship” with Sourinho. “I wouldn’t do anything to put him in a bad way … If anyone is trying to put him in a bad position, shame on
Mariah Philips said, “To imply that Chantho wants the Republican to win … is fictitious.”
Sourinho said, “I don’t want anyone upset just because I was with him; took a picture with him… He is a Republican. I’m Democrat.”
Jeff Phillips compares Sourinho’s stance to his own before he moved from La Vergne. He liked the mayor and his Sunday school teacher who challenged the mayor. He’s dismayed when people vote for the party, not the person. “When it comes to local politics, it should be ‘Hey, this guy’s taking care of my tax dollars.’”
Sourinho said, “I would pray for everybody to have success.”