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JoAnne Favors, Tommie Brown
polls here 1924

Tommie Brown reminds people that when Moses went up the mountain, he was older than 80.

Brown, a Democrat who's been serving House District 28 in the Tennessee General Assembly for 20 years, is 78.

Her Aug. 2 Democratic primary opponent, JoAnne Favors, is 69. She served for eight years in House District 29 before the Republican-dominated Legislature this year drew both women into the 28th District.

Brown is a trailblazer for minority rights in Chattanooga battling what she sees as a public perception that she's too old to represent the city effectively. She says she feels like she's up against leaders of her own local party, whose ideals she says she's fought for her whole life.

"The two of us should be able to run a race that would make everyone stop and think 'This is how it should be done,'" Brown said Wednesday. "But I'm just baffled."

Favors, who, while widowed with four children, became the first black woman elected to the Hamilton County Commission, acknowledges Brown's influence in Chattanooga.

But Favors says she has to run. People begged her to, saying that the county needs her, she said.

Area Democrats are watching, most publicly saying little, knowing that at least one of their two highest-profile leaders will be staying home come January. The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will face Republican Johnny Horne in the November general election.

"Whoever wins and whoever loses, I think Democrats lose a significant voice in Nashville," said former county Democratic Party Chairman Stuart James.


Brown is locally regarded as a civil rights pioneer, serving as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city of Chattanooga that changed the structure of government 20 years ago to ensure minority representation.

She graduated from the old Howard High School in 1953, largely learning from secondhand books white schools no longer wanted. But that didn't stop her from going to college and later earning an Ivy League doctorate from Columbia University.

Now Brown, a retired UTC social work professor, is defending her seat against a woman who once managed her campaign, one she supported for Hamilton County Commission and then the state Legislature, one she sat next to for years in the House chamber at the state Capitol in Nashville.

Like Brown, Favors has never shied from fighting for the people she represents. Both women are sharp-tongued when they think it necessary. Both have strongly supported Democratic policies.

Favors' current 29th District doesn't have a black majority. On Wednesday, she said she has learned a lot about negotiating in her time in the Legislature. Those skills are valuable now that Democrats are in the minority, she said.

She drew from her health background to win her current seat in a 2004 upset over then-Rep. Brenda Turner, who is white.

Favors, who became a nurse to help support four children she had soon after high school, rose to become Erlanger Health System's head nurse and later served two years on the hospital's board of trustees. She also taught nursing at Chattanooga State Community College for almost a decade.

Favors never had time to run for office before her children were grown, though she was politically active, she said.

"Right now I'm the only RN [registered nurse] in the General Assembly," she told the Hamilton County Democratic Women's Club on Tuesday as she discussed upcoming state health care decisions.

When Brown faced the same crowd that night, she said, "I understand that many of you have a problem with my age."

Brown directly confronted what she later said is a whisper campaign against her, explaining that with age comes wisdom - and in her case, good health.

Each woman addressed the crowd, but not each other. They're racing in separate lanes, eyes forward, occasionally trading paint.

When Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith attempted to shake Brown's hand Tuesday night, she refused. Brown said she had seen Smith, who hasn't endorsed anyone and said Friday he isn't supporting either candidate, putting up signs for Favors.

"I did put up their signs, both of them, in the Democratic headquarters," Smith said. "Somebody asked that one of the signs be moved somewhere, and I was in the vicinity and someone [Brown] saw me over in the vicinity. She did not see me putting up a sign."


Though James said he's not supporting either woman, his read on the race is that it's still Brown's to lose.

"JoAnne will out-fundraise Tommie; everybody outraises Tommie," James said.

So far, she has. Favors and Brown reported their second-quarter fundraising totals Tuesday. Brown began the quarter with $5,925 and raised nothing. Favors began with $17,929 and raised $5,550.

But the new district is drawn mostly from Brown's former constituents. And people like her, James said.

Brown says she refuses some checks and largely self-funds her campaign. She held her only local fundraiser Thursday night.

"She doesn't raise money; she's not a dynamic candidate," James said. "She's just really well-liked by the people she serves. She's sort of like Teflon. People throw mud at her, and it never sticks."

Still, Favors pulled upsets for both her former County Commission and current legislative seats.

"She knows how to campaign," James said of Favors.