This year’s elections have been anything but boring and uneventful.
The Election for 2008 took a twist earlier this year when two-term State Rep. Doug Overbey opted out of what many considered a safe seat to challenge fellow Republican State Sen. Raymond Finney, a first-term senator.
In the months since each of them announced, the rhetoric at times has grown sharp. While Overbey pointed out Finney’s affirmative vote on the BEP 2.0 bill that reduced the amount of funds coming to Blount and Sevier counties for schools, Finney pointed out Overbey’s votes to keep Democrat Rep. Jimmy Naifeh as speaker of the House. Each candidate has published and mailed out campaign literature questioning the other’s records or tactics on the campaign trail.
With the District 20 seat being vacated by Overbey, it was expected there would be plenty of candidates competing in both the Republican and Democratic primaries. When the filing deadline passed though, there were four contenders in the Republican primary and no one had picked up a petition at the Election Commission to run in the Democratic Primary. This meant the winner in August will be the winner in the General election. Tona Monroe-Ball, Jim Melton, Bob Ramsey and Steve Hargis are the candidates for the District 20 State House seat.
The fireworks weren’t just reserved for the state Senate race. In the race for Division II Circuit Court, incumbent Judge Mike Meares was defending the seat he was named to by Gov. Phil Bredesen after the governor elevated Judge D. Kelly Thomas to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. General Sessions Judge David Duggan was challenging Meares to the seat Meares was named to in June of 2007.
Meares often campaigned on a platform of streamlining the process by setting alternative trial dates. Both Meares and Duggan, whose offices sit next to one another on the third floor of the Blount County Justice Center, touted their experience and ties to the community. Meares at times appeared to be running not just against Duggan, but also the Blount County Republican Party. He also encouraged people to vote for him because if his opponent won, the Republican-controlled county commission and not the public would pick Duggan’s successor on the General Sessions bench.
One of the more notable controversies of the campaign had nothing with the campaign. In May, Meares began calling several attorneys from the Blount County Bar Association to question whether Meares’ fellow Circuit Judge Dale Young had violated state Supreme Court rules when Young and Chancellor Telford Forgety in the summer of 2007 voted on and changed Local Rules without properly publicizing the proposed changes. Meares also questioned the presiding judge measure of the Local Rules. Meares questioned whether Young had given extra authority to the presiding judge role.
Meares wrapped up his probe with a 22-page order invalidating parts of the Local Rules. A Court of the Judiciary investigator questioned several people regarding the hearings Meares held and the orders he issued related to the controversy. No further action has been announced by the state regarding the matter.
The high profile and often-controversial campaigns for the Tennessee State Senate and the Division II Circuit Judgeship have brought some people out for early voting but not as many as Election Administrator Libby Breeding would like.
“I think that definitely has brought out what little we have had. The Tennessee House race with Steve Hargis, Bob Ramsey, Tona Monroe-Ball and Jim Melton has also brought out some but the big races have been the Circuit Court Judge race and the race for the Tennessee State Senate,” she said.
Breeding said that as of Tuesday 2,848 people had early voted and she expected a total of 4,500 of 72,000 registered voters to cast a ballot when early voting wraps at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Election Commission. The election commissioner estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 residents would vote.
“It may not be that high. I would like to see a good turnout but we haven’t had the numbers I had hoped,” she said.
In addition to the state House and Senate races and the Circuit Court Division II race, the District 6 seat was open on the Blount County school board. Patricia Bell and Brad Long put themselves up as candidates.
Incumbents John Davis in District 4 and Chris Cantrell in District 2 are unopposed. State Rep. Joe McCord of District 8 is also unopposed in his race, as is Blount County Property Assessor Mike Morton.
In Townsend, Charles Tippett, Patrick Jenkins and David O. Wietlisbach are vying for three commission seats. In Friendsville, Gary Simerly and David L. Staley are up for two seats.
Breeding said early voting is over at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, and the only voting site that day will be the Election Commission office in the basement of the Blount County Courthouse at 383 Court Street.
There are two other satellite early voting locations open from 8 to 4 through Friday, Aug. 1, at the Everett Gym on Everett High Road and at Pellissippi State Technical Community College at 1010 Middlesettlements Road.
“Those are great places to go. There’s absolutely no line. Right now (at the Election Commission) we’ve had our first line since early voting began,” she said Tuesday. “People are waiting 5 minutes but up until today we’ve had no waiting.”
Breeding said the only precinct change is in name only. “One of our precincts is William Blount Middle School. That has now been changed to the William Blount Ninth Grade Academy,” she said. “It’s the same voting location. Nothing has changed but people need to know the sign says William Blount Ninth Grade Academy.”
Breeding said there have not been any problems with voting machines and said the Election Commission workers were hoping for a good turnout.
“It’s kind of exciting during election time. The more people who turnout the more enthusiasm the workers have,” she said. “They like to have large turnouts. They love to see the voters. The more voters, the better; we’ve been giving everybody ‘I voted’ stickers so they’ll tell their neighbors and maybe they’ll come early vote.”