- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - In a governor’s race that has no candidates from West Tennessee, Republican Randy Boyd offers the best choice for the region’s voters, the mayor of the state’s largest county said Wednesday.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told reporters at a news conference that he’s endorsing Boyd for governor in 2018. Luttrell, also a Republican, said he supports Boyd for making education, workforce development and job creation top priorities.

Boyd, a businessman who was born in Knoxville and still lives there, served as economic and community development commissioner under Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who must leave office due to term limits.

Other Republican candidates for governor so far include state House Speaker Beth Harwell, state Sen. Mae Beavers and businessman Bill Lee. Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville, is running on the Democratic side.

All the declared candidates in the in 2018 race live in either Middle or East Tennessee. But Luttrell and Boyd both pointed out that Boyd’s family lived for generations in the tiny Crockett County town of Fruitvale, in West Tennessee.

“He comes from Knoxville, but his heritage is deep in West Tennessee,” Luttrell said.

Fruitvale, Luttrell said, “embodies the very essence of Tennessee values.”

“Hard work, family, education, children. All of those things that make for a successful community,” Luttrell said.

Luttrell’s name is well-known in West Tennessee. He served as Shelby County sheriff before he was elected mayor in 2010. He made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

With more than 900,000 people, Shelby is the most populous county in the state. It includes the city of Memphis, which has its own mayor. It also includes rural areas where key issues include poverty, opioid addiction and lack of access to quality education and good jobs.

Boyd helped Haslam create the state’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to boost the rate of higher education degrees or certificates among Tennesseans from the current 38 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

Boyd said he attends family reunions in West Tennessee and it would be “awkward” to forget about the region if he’s elected governor.

“If you don’t win West Tennessee, you won’t win the governorship,” Boyd said.

Luttrell acknowledged that he endorsed Boyd after Republican state Sen. Mark Norris, a political ally from Shelby County who had considered a run for governor, was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Donald Trump.

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