Chattanooga Primary Analysis

As I do for most elections, I’m going to analyze almost all of the races in the August 4th election. Early voting has started, so here’s my breakdown:

Sample ballots

Congressional Race

I’m not going into too much depth on this one, since I have to face the winners of the primaries. I expect those will be Chuck Fleischmann (R) and Melody Shekari (D), but I wouldn’t be disappointed with an upset either.

Republican Primary

Of the various races, only one Republican race has a contested primary. In the Tennessee House of Representatives, 29th District, Ethan White is running against the incumbent Mike Carter. There is no Democratic opponent, so the winner of the primary will run unopposed in November.

There are only a few things to differentiate the two, but I think they are important. Carter led the charge to change the law that allowed cities to annex areas without a vote from the people being annexed, so we do know that he is capable of getting things done. His education policy is pretty good: “Letting Teachers Teach,” more instruction/less testing, and increased funding. White calls for “choices in education,” which is commonly code for vouchers and charter schools, neither of which are policies that impress me. White spends time on his campaign site talking about being pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-veteran, which are good positions to have for a candidate in this area, but which really aren’t the key issues for the office he seeks.

I am not in this district, but if I were and if I were voting in the Republican Primary, I would vote for Mike Carter.

Democratic Primary

Tennessee Senate, 10th District

There are three Democrats competing to run against Todd Gardenhire in the November election. Gardenhire isn’t terribly tolerant of those with opposing views, and I’m not a big fan of name callers. So, in the November election I will vote for whichever Democrat wins the primary.

There are three candidates running: Ty O’Grady, Khristy Wilkinson, and Nick Wilkinson. I have met and listened to all three of them at candidate events.

Khristy Wilkinson is a Bernie Sanders Democrat, with a strong focus on equality and social justice. Nick Wilkinson leads Chattanooga’s Office of Economic Development, and as such has a pro-business, specifically entrepreneurs and small business, focus–but very little information on other issues on his website. Ty O’Grady advocates for “scientific management” in government:

“I mean that if we try to get measurable results and we aren’t getting them, then we need to do something else. But our current legislators are not doing something else. Instead, they’re doing more of the same. And we will only keep dropping in the rankings. It takes courage to admit mistakes.”

But there’s one quote that really sold me on Ty O’Grady:

“Although I agree with Democrats on most issues, here’s where I differ:”

O’Grady is not going to knee-jerk vote party-line with the Democrats in the Tennessee Senate. He has solid independent principles–which you can see on his campaign website–and that’s why I will be voting for Ty O’Grady in this race.

Tennessee House of Representatives, 28th District

Incumbent JoAnne Favors is running against Dennis Clark. Favors is currently the House Minority Whip in the Tennessee House of Representatives and has served in the House since 2004. Dennis Clark is young (32), but he is the CEO of his own public relations firm in Chattanooga and has previously worked as a legislative policy adviser.

This is a difficult decision, because there are two important factors competing for my vote. First, Favors is House Minority Whip, which is a position of significant power in the House. Voting her out causes my neighborhood to lose some political clout. (And, yes, I know that this is a solid argument to vote for Fleischmann, as his seat on the House Appropriations Committee is worth quite a bit to Chattanooga.) On the other hand, I think we would benefit from some new blood and some new ideas. I don’t know what Favors’ positions on the issues are, except from her voting record, because her campaign site is offline, but Clark’s positions are clear–and he’s made it known that he is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done, which is something I always like to hear.

As such, I will be voting for Dennis Clark.

General Election

Assessor of Property

Marty Haynes (R) is running against Mark Siedlecki (D). This one is pretty simple for me. Haynes is running on the basis of modernizing the office and getting rid of the take-home car for the assessor. Siedlecki also wants to modernize the office and improve efficiency. Where the candidates differ is on one key issue: A senior property tax freeze.

Haynes has responded to Siedlecki’s campaign for a senior property tax freeze by pointing out that there is already a property tax assistance program for low income seniors, but he continues to argue that there hasn’t been a tax rate increase in years. The problem is that while the rate hasn’t increased, property values have increased, causing a significant increase in tax revenues. Siedlecki proposes to freeze senior property taxes to not burden them with increased taxes as the result of higher property assessments. Personally, I would prefer a softer freeze–Limit property tax increases to the rate of the Social Security cost-of-living increase–but that’s splitting hairs.

I will be voting for Mark Siedlecki.

School Board, District 1

Incumbent Rhonda Thurman has two challengers, Patti Skates and Jason Moses.

I don’t like Rhonda Thurman because she is too focused on taxes and not enough on making sure schools are properly funded. I also don’t like that when some students at Soddy Daisy High School enlisted the help of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to end the illegal pre-football game prayers, she suggested that they “stick their fingers in their ears.” I want school board members to be focused on students, not on low taxes.

Patti Skates is a former award-winning teacher in Soddy-Daisy, where she is currently vice-mayor. Jason Moses is a firefighter and substitute teacher. Either of them would be a huge improvement over Thurman, but I would recommend voting for Dr. Skates in this race.

School Board, District 2

Kathy Lennon is running against Board Chairman Jonathan Welch. Welch voted for Normal Park Principal Jill Levine for interim superintendent, but, unfortunately, was outvoted.

There aren’t policy recommendations on Lennon’s site or her campaign Facebook page, but she does want our schools to be innovative, which is a good thing. Welch demonstrated that he was for innovation in his vote for Levine, which is enough to recommend that District 2 voters vote to retain him on the board.

School Board, District 4

Incumbent George Ricks has three challengers: Montrell BesleyTiffanie Robinson, and Annette Thompson. Ricks was key in the backroom dealings that made Dr. Kelly interim school superintendent. (I am not a fan of Dr. Kelly, due to our email correspondence on the abominable TNReady testing failure.)  This alone would be enough to vote against him.. Thompson seems to be inactive in her campaign, so that leaves Besley and Robinson, either of whom would be an improvement over Ricks. Besley is an elementary school health and physical education teacher, while Robinson is self-described as a “parent and community leader.” Speaking with people who know Besley, I have learned that he is an extremely hard worker who knows District 4 and the problems with the schools there–and he has good ideas on the causes of and solutions for those problems. I am a bit concerned that Robinson’s call for “Establishing regular benchmarks for both self-assessment and community-assessment of progress” might include more testing than I am comfortable with. Robinson seems to have most of the endorsements in this race, but I’ve never relied too heavily on what the media thinks about a candidate..

I recommend voting for Montrell Besley, as he knows District 4 as well as anyone and will work harder than anyone to improve it.

School Board, District 7

Joe Wingate is running against incumbent Donna Horn. Like Jonathan Welch, Horn voted for Jill Levine for interim superintendent, which I supported. Joe Wingate is running on increased transparency and accountability, but I don’t see much on how he would work to actually improve schools. As such, I would like to see Horn remain in her seat.

Judicial Retention

Short version: Retain them all.

Longer version:

  • Jeffrey Bivins was appointed to the Supreme Court by a Republican and to the Appeals Court by a Democrat. I can’t find any reason to vote against him.
  • Holly Kirby also seems like a competent member of the Supreme Court.
  • Roger Page was confirmed unanimously by the Tennessee Legislature in February–a bit early for a retention vote, I think.
  • Kenny Armstrong is a judge with a degree in electrical engineering as well as a law degree: I can’t vote against that.
  • Brandon Gibson also has a good reputation, having worked her way up from growing up on a soybean farm.
  • Arnold Goldin has a little bit of controversy, but seems to make solid decisions.
  • Robert Montgomery was considered for the Supreme Court (the seat Roger Page got), and seems to be solid.
  • Timothy Easter struck down a Tennessee law allowing stronger sentences for gang members because the law violated due process, so I wouldn’t vote him out.
  • Robert Holloway ruled for a retrial in a case where the defense argued that particularly gruesome photos unfairly influenced a jury in a vehicular manslaughter case, which makes sense to me. I can see gruesome photos in a first-degree murder trial, but not vehicular manslaughter.
  • J. Ross Dyer has been on the bench since June 10, so voting him out after less than two months is just a silly idea.

There you have it. I will continue my Republican Platform review tomorrow, being careful not to plagiarize.

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