Carter County will be the battleground for four write-in campaigns for county offices in August, including one for sheriff. Regardless of how the race between Republican nominee Dexter Lunceford and incumbent Chris Mathes turns out, this race for sheriff couldn’t possibly be as wild as the one in 1990 that saw write-in candidate Paul Peters defeat incumbent Bill Crumley.
Or could it?
I have to admit I don’t remember many details about that race. Maybe it is because I was covering what has to be one of the wildest primaries for a seat in the state Senate I have ever seen. What’s more is, it was a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination. Talk about a convergence of oddities. The entire 1990 race for the 3rd state Senate District seat was one for the books, beginning with the qualifying deadline.
It was thought then state Rep. Bob Good, R-Johnson City, was a shoo-in for the seat. He had racked up a good record in Nashville and he had the not-so-secret support of then Gov. Ned McWherter, a Democrat who stood firmly with Good and other Upstate Republicans during the 1974 battle to establish a medical school at East Tennessee State.
The only thing that stood in Good’s way was filing his qualifying papers before the noon deadline, which he did in Washington County. The only problem, however, he needed to do the same in Hawkins County (part of the 3rd District at that time) and he had not done that. That one detail seemed to derail Good’s bid, but only for a short time.
Savvy local political operators informed Good that because the Democrats had failed to field a candidate in the race, he could wage a write-in bid to be the Democratic nominee and face former state Rep. Bob King, who did qualify for the GOP primary, in November.
It seemed like a good strategy until local Democrats decided they didn’t like the idea of a veteran Republican taking up their party’s banner. They reached out to Dewey “Rusty” Crowe, who made an unsuccessful bid as a Democrat a few years before to unseat Good in the House, to run as a write-in candidate.
Crowe, who was serving as a deputy commissioner of correction in Nashville, recalls that his boss wasn’t really keen on him entering the race. McWherter was still intent on seeing Good in the Senate.
Nonetheless, Crowe persisted and the rest, as they say, is history. Crowe returned to Johnson City and went about the business of campaigning. He had name recognition in Washington County, but found he had some work to do in Hawkins County. There, Crowe relied on a well-liked couple, Buck and Betty Barnett, to take him around the county and introduce him to the voters.
Although the count went on for a couple of days, Crowe received the votes he needed to qualify for the general election. In November, Crowe would go on to become the first Democrat elected to the seat since the Civil War. A few years later, Crowe switched parties (which didn’t go over so well with some Democrats who had worked to get him on the ballot in 1990), but that’s a column for another time.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@
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