DeBerry, Harris square off in highly-watched Tenn. House District 90 contest

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 6:35 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - One of the most-watched Tennessee House races this cycle is the district 90 contest in Memphis.

It pits longtime Democrat, now Independent, John DeBerry, against a younger Democratic challenger, Torrey Harris. The district includes Midtown Memphis, as well as parts of North and South Memphis.

Incumbent John DeBerry has spent 26 years representing the people of Memphis' district 90 in Nashville as a Democrat. But no longer.

“I don’t alter my message. I am who I am,” he said. “It was frustrating because the people in district 90 had already spoken and put me on the ballot.”

This spring, DeBerry was kicked out of the Tennessee Democratic Party and ultimately removed from the ballot, forcing him to run as an independent.

He drew the ire of Tennessee Democrats during the 2019 legislative session, as he voted in favor of a bill limiting abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected. DeBerry also cast a vote to advance Governor Bill Lee’s school voucher program, which has been declared unconstitutional by two courts.

“Voters, when they elected me in 95, knew where I stood on abortion. This is no new issue. I’ve had three consecutive elections where that has been made the issue and the people of district 90 elected me each time,” said DeBerry. “I’ve been parental choice since the 60s. We integrated the schools in the 60s because my parents decided to send us to a better school.”

Harris is challenging DeBerry again. Harris, a human resources director at the Shelby County Trustee’s office lost an identical race in 2018 by a roughly 10% margin.

Harris said DeBerry’s views are out of step with the people he’s supposed to represent.

“We’ve knocked on thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls and gotten an opportunity to talk to the voters and know what it is they care about and know they have somebody who is going to get up there and represent them fully and not just some people,” said Harris.

If elected at age 29, Harris would be the youngest state lawmaker in Nashville. He’s also openly gay.

“For me, it’s a part of who I am. But it’s not what I’m pushing on the platform. What I’m pushing is criminal justice reform, what I’m pushing for is healthcare, what I’m pushing for is public education,” he said.

Harris said he believes the district needs a new voice, and this is the time for voters to make that choice.

“You have to have people up there representing all people, and that’s what I hope to be able to do,” he said.

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