Washington County Commissioner Ethan Flynn is making a push for the county’s Republican Party delegates to hold a caucus instead of a traditional GOP primary, citing a need for more identified party candidates on the ballot as well as strengthened support to reduce the number of commissioners.
Flynn, a delegate and former party chairman, said Friday he is only pursuing the change for the county commission. The county’s roughly 160 Republican delegates met Saturday morning, and the change is expected to be debated on the floor at the party’s quarterly meeting.
“The idea is to get 25 candidates that subscribe to the Washington County Republican Party platform to reduce the size of the County Commission,” he said. “I’d like to see 11. It should be significantly reduced, and a lot of people are aware of that.”
Within the county, and across East Tennessee, the primary basically decides which candidate will be elected. The 2010 primary ballot is evidence of that. All 25 commissioners were seated, but in most districts only one — sometimes two — candidates are listed in a race where voters are asked to “vote for three.”
“This has never been tried before, and it may spook some Republicans,” Flynn said. “This gives you the opportunity to recruit people, especially in light of the fact that there are fewer candidates than there are seats. To this point, there has been no vetting process. A caucus would allow for a nominating process, and we’re asking delegates to help fill the slate.”
Washington County Republican Party Chairman Michael Hartman is dead set against the idea. He said there were 13,301 people who voted in the last Republican primary, and allowing a small number to dictate who will or will not be a candidate runs counter to an open process.
“A caucus is typically what the Democrats do,” he said. “I can’t say whether this will come up for a vote or not, but it would take a simple majority (81 votes). I do not want to exclude people from participating in the electoral process. But as long as I’m party chairman, I’ll remain totally, 100 percent against a caucus. I’m taking this very seriously.”
Prior to 2010, county commissioners did not have the opportunity to run as partisan candidates. That year, only 12 candidates identified themselves as Republicans, and not one was contested. They all attained the party nomination without any competition.
The county’s Republican Party Executive Committee represents all precincts proportionally countywide, and all delegates are elected or appointed by the chairman. Both state and local law allows the committee to participate in the nomination process.
“I think if we do hold a vote, it will pass,” Flynn said. “But nothing’s been decided yet. And we’re not electing anybody, so it doesn’t take anything away from the electoral process. The county general election is inAugust 2014, and every registered voter is allowed to participate.”