Carnita Atwater competing for the Democratic candidacy for governor of Tennessee

  • Carnita Atwater is one of three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor.
  • The winner will face incumbent Republican Governor Bill Lee, who faces no primary opposition.
  • Early voting for the August 4 primary runs from July 15 to July 30.

Carnita Atwater does not consider herself a politician.

The Memphis resident says she’s been fighting for her community for years, tackling “racial disparities, health care disparities, economic equality.” But her activism has taken a new turn as she runs for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Tennessee’s Aug. 4 primary.

Atwater faces Memphis board member JB Smiley Jr. and Dr. Jason Martin in the race, which opens for early voting on Friday. The winner will face Republican incumbent Governor Bill Lee in the general election in November. Lee faces no primary opposition from the GOP.

“I never thought of myself as a politician,” Atwater said. “Even today, I don’t think of myself as a politician. I think of myself as a community advocate for people. That’s why my platform is, ‘Get people back in politics.’

One of Atwater’s top priorities, if elected, would be to work against ‘discriminatory laws’ that have been passed by the General Assembly in recent years, including legislation targeting LGBTQ youth and new guidelines. on sentencing, criminal justice advocates warn, which could exacerbate an already overburdened prison system.

Atwater also calls for a “living wage plan” to implement a $15 minimum wage, a universal health care system, and a review of term limits and qualified immunity for judges and police officers.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Carnita Faye Atwater answers questions during a primary candidates forum hosted by The Tennessean at the George Shinn Events Center on the campus of Lipscomb University Thursday, May 19, 2022 in Nashville , Tennessee.

Born in Mississippi, Atwater moved to Memphis as a teenager. Atwater said she’s always had a heart for the community, hosting neighborhood meals whenever she can work and bring home a paycheck.

Atwater worked in health care, where she said she went from paramedic to EMT to nurse. She then made the transition to higher education, where she held administrative positions at Draughons Junior College, now Daymar College, in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But for years, Atwater has focused on advocacy in Memphis, particularly in historically black communities that she says have been underserved by the existing political establishment.

It frequently opened its doors to young people who needed a safe home. Her experiences as an adoptive mother would motivate her to address issues in Tennessee’s foster care system, she said, such as building better intermediary services to fill gaps in the care of children coming out. of the system.

Atwater also ran the New Chicago Community Development Corporation, a hybrid museum and community center.

In 2020, Atwater filed a civil lawsuit against local and state leaders, alleging that gentrification patterns and big business tax incentives have hampered community revitalization efforts in the New Chicago neighborhood.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2021, but it prompted Atwater to consider seeking higher office.

“After this trial, I decided to put myself in a position to take power back and give it to the people,” Atwater said.

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Democrats face steep road to victory in gubernatorial race

The 2022 path to the governor’s mansion will be a tough climb for any Tennessee Democratic candidate. No sitting governor has lost a re-election campaign since the 1970s. Lee also benefited from a growing Republican majority in Tennessee, securing 59% of the vote in 2018, a total mirrored nearly two years later, when 60% of the Tennessee electorate voted for Republican President Donald Trump.

Atwater could also be outmatched by her fellow Democrats in the primary. Since entering the race, Smiley and Martin have published well-designed campaign websites and strong social media campaigns while attracting thousands of contributors.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Dr. Jason Martin, Carnita Atwater and JB Smiley, Jr., on stage at TSU Nashville for a debate on June 21, 2022.

By contrast, Atwater received less than $2,000 in donations, according to campaign finance records. She posts much of her campaign information from a Facebook account, which often features stream-of-consciousness posts and frequent videos where Atwater describes her work history or office projects.

Despite the differences in her campaign, the candidate said she was not interested in measuring campaign war chests against each other.

“Good people stay out of elections because they don’t have the funding,” Atwater said.

“I think [personal] connection, more than money, should be how you serve people. I don’t think other opponents have an advantage because they have more. It seems that money drives all of our government decisions: gentrification, developers, tax incentives. I don’t let money drive me.

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Legal controversy

Atwater also frequently cites the fight against “political and judicial corruption” as a high priority and has tied a personal legal case to the issue.

In 2018, a Shelby County probate court ordered Atwater to repay more than $2 million in funds she allegedly spent on the estate of a woman she worked for as a caregiver. Atwater has long denied the allegations, saying the money was his. She told the Tennessean this week that the matter was under appeal.

Last fall, a U.S. bankruptcy court issued an additional monetary penalty against Atwater for “willful and repeated failure to comply with court orders.” The Tennessee Supreme Court in April denied Atwater’s appeal.

“I am the victim of a miscarriage of justice and I am not going anywhere until justice is served,” Atwater said in response to a Tennessean inquiry into the case.

Although the Democratic primary remained relatively clean, with each candidate staying in their own lane rather than posting negative ads, Atwater this week appeared to be pushing Martin’s Democratic good faith after questions about the probate judgment arose. .

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carnita Atwater speaks during a forum at the Schreier Auditorium at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

Martin survived an attempt to oust him from the primary ballot earlier this year over fears he voted in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Martin said his vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was a strategic decision to keep Donald Trump “out of the White House”.

“I am a bona fide Democratic candidate,” Atwater said in a Facebook video denying legal action against her.

Still, at the end of the day, Atwater said a change was needed in the Tennessee governor’s mansion, and she “hopes and prays” for the success of one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. .

“We can’t have four years of Governor Bill Lee anymore,” Atwater said. “He’s disconnected. We need a politician, a governor, who is connected to the people. We need to have that for us to move forward.

About Carnita Atwater

Who: Carnita Atwater

What: Democratic candidate for governor

Age: 62


Occupation: Community activist, with previous experience in health care and higher education

Define the problem: Political and judicial corruption

Key quote: “I don’t want to be a governor telling people what they need and want. If I become governor, you’ll see me in all 95 counties.”

Contact Melissa Brown at [email protected]

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