“It’s incredibly clear to me that we are all feeling the discomfort of failed policies and inaction from our governor,” Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. said in announcing his run for Tennessee governor on Wednesday. Also pictured is Julian Bolton, his campaign treasurer. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. entered the governor’s race Wednesday, Sept. 8, with cheering supporters and a colorful balloon drop.

Nearly 200 supporters filled the lobby of the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Memphis.

Smiley, an attorney, was introduced by his mentor, Julian Bolton, who is the campaign treasurer.

“JB Smiley has a gracious, beautiful smile that will shine on the people of Tennessee and bring them to himself,” Bolton said, “with graciousness, love, honor and commitment.” 

Fellow city council members Michalyn Easter-Thomas and Martavius Jones both preceded Bolton in their endorsement of Smiley as the next governor of Tennessee.

“I am happy,” Smiley began his speech. 

Smiley, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination, expressed elation that both his parents were there to watch him enter the governor’s race. He talked of his father working in the cotton fields of Mississippi. His mother was raised in a housing project “just a couple of blocks from here,” Smiley told the crowd.

Some things in the state of Tennessee are “heavy” on his heart, said Smiley.

“As of this morning, we have lost thousands and thousands of Tennesseans to COVID-19. …

“Those were mothers, fathers, grandmothers, children. Failed  policies … mixed political messages coming from the governor’s office have led us to rank 44 out of 50 states in vaccination rates.”

He denounced Rep. Gov. Bill Lee for making children “political targets” in the fight against COVID-19.

“…Our children are sitting at home for days and weeks at a time, all because our governor chose to play politics with public health.”

Smiley said he had dedicated the last few months to traveling across the state of Tennessee, listening to people talk about their problems and concerns.

“It’s incredibly clear to me that we are all feeling the discomfort of failed policies and inaction from our governor,” Smiley said. “Tennesseans deserve community policing, violent crime prevention programs, and vocational training for high school students. Tennesseans deserve better. Tennesseans demand better.”

Smiley said he is running for governor to “help guide us to a better Tennessee.” 

At the close of his announcement, Smiley played a campaign video that showed the candidate touting his support of community policing, violent crime prevention programs, and vocational training for high school students. Bluegrass fiddles played in the background, and a country gospel tune was incorporated into the ad’s production.

Wednesday’s unveiling of his campaign kicks off a year-long bid to win the Democratic primary in the upcoming governor’s race. The Tennessee primary is scheduled for August 2022, with the general election in November 2022. 

Lee has already announced he will seek re-election.

To date, there are three other Democratic hopefuls in the primary race:  Nashville-area physician, Dr. Jason Martin; Memphis community activist,  Carnita Atwater, and ordained minister, Casey Nicholson of Greenville, which is located near the northeastern border of the state.