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City vote key in state House race

Robert Houk • Jul 29, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Early voting numbers so far suggest we might have a decent turnout for the Aug. 7 election. By decent, I mean one that surpasses most of the turnouts for other elections with local offices on the ballot.

I’m thinking specifically of the very low numbers posted for a Johnson City-only municipal election, which is why city commissioners should place a referendum on the ballot so voters can move the election date from the spring to the fall. Putting a city election on the same ballot as state and federal elections could help improve turnout.

If nothing else, it would reduce the cost to hold municipal elections.

Truthfully, getting Johnson City voters to the polls has sometimes been a challenge for candidates seeking county and state offices. As I mentioned in a column two weeks ago, far too many city voters only get energized for presidential elections.

We had a fair turnout this spring for the Republican Primary for county offices. Johnson City voters probably played a large part in deciding a very close race for Washington County sheriff.

The Aug. 7 ballot includes a general election for county offices, which in Washington County is expected to produce little drama. County Mayor Dan Eldridge, Sheriff Ed Graybeal and other Republican nominees on the ballot for courthouse offices are unopposed. Likewise, many of the most intriguing races for County Commission were decided in the Republican Primary.


here’s little of substance left to be decided in the county general election. You might even argue that is the case in the Republican Primary for federal offices, where U.S. Rep. Phil Roe faces token opposition for the 1st District seat. (Although, in the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Lamar Alexander seems to be taking state Rep. Joe Carr’s tea party challenge a bit more seriously than originally expected.)

Things are different, however, in the state Republican Primary. While Gov. Bill Haslam appears to be strolling toward re-election, a number of local incumbents in the state General Assembly are involved in heated races. My favorite, of course, is the political brawl between state Rep. Matthew “Boss” Hill, R-Jonesborough, and former City Commissioner Phil Carriger.

I predicted last year this race would become one of the most expensive ever waged for a state House seat in Washington County. Financial disclosures for the two candidates have proven me right. Boss Hill has used much of his campaign dollars to depict his opponent as a city slicker, who has voted to “forcibly” annex Ma and Pa Kettle’s farm. My favorite TV spot from Hill’s campaign has the Boss standing in an idyllic pasture trying to look thoughtful. All the ad needs is Hill clenching a blade of grass between his teeth.

It is important to remember, my friends and neighbors in Johnson City, that Hill is hoping most of you will sit at home on Election Day. In fact, his campaign is betting on it. If Johnson City voters ignore this election, they will likely be calling Boss Hill their state representative for years to come.

Think about that, dear city voters.

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

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