Judge woes, sales tax hike, offended GOP extremists

Robert Houk • Jul 23, 2012 at 10:17 AM

How and when will a new Sessions Court judge be appointed in Washington County? Who are the candidates, and how will their credentials be vetted? These are just a few questions being asked concerning the county’s newly created third judgeship.

The plan seems to be to appoint an interim judge to serve until the office is placed on the ballot with other judicial offices in 2014. Greg Matherly, the chairman of the County Commission, has said he is collecting the names of candidates who would like to be appointed interim judge.

I’ve also heard from other county commissioners who say they are being lobbied by potential candidates for the job. Which has prompted more than one commissioner to suggest the new judgeship should be placed on the November ballot.

The winner of that election would serve two years until the office is placed back on the ballot, along with the rest of the judicial offices that will be up for re-election. Judges, district attorneys and public defenders are elected to eight-year terms.

It may not, however, be possible to place the judgeship on the ballot in November. State law is rather rigid on these matters, and it appears commissioners may have no choice but to appoint an interim judge to serve until the next regularly scheduled judicial election.

Two other topics from a political pundit’s notebook:

n City and county school board members haven’t made much of a public appeal for voters in Washington County to approve a sales tax referendum for education. Explaining its merits to teachers and concerned parents is certainly helpful, but it’s just preaching to the choir. Maybe school board members think that’s all they have to do. One theory is a low voter turnout for what is otherwise a dull county general election may help proponents of the sales tax hike sneak one by.

I don’t think that will work. While the stated purpose of the local sales tax increase (funding local schools) is indeed noble, there are plenty of voters who don’t think it’s fair to place this added burden on individuals who can least afford it. The sales tax is extremely regressive, and adding to it — other than as a desperate last resort — is not responsible tax policy.

State Rep. Kent Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, said he took it as a “compliment” when Republican Party officials in Carroll and Stewart counties recently linked him to Gov. Bill Haslam. GOP leaders in those counties passed resolutions taking the Republican governor to task for hiring gays, Democrats and Muslims.

Republicans in Carroll and Stewart counties have asked state GOP leaders to sanction Haslam for policies they say “are worse than the actions of Kent Williams.” That was a reference to a decision by Williams in 2009 to break with his fellow Republicans and join with Democrats to elect himself House speaker. State GOP leaders later expelled Williams from their party.

“I’m proud of the governor and I think he’s doing the best for the people of Tennessee,” Williams said. “This is just ridiculous. These are extremists who want to take over government. They are always looking for someone to be mad at.”

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

Recommended for You