Washington County Republican Party delegates voted down a motion Saturday to change the long-standing tradition of an open primary and instead move to a caucus, in which delegates would nominate candidates.
Though there are roughly 160 delegates, 105 were on hand to record a 70-35 rejection to hold a caucus.
County Commissioner and party delegate Ethan Flynn, says his ultimate goal is to reduce the size of the commission from 25 to 11 members — an action commissioners would ultimately decide.
The maximum number allowed by law is 25.
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.”
“A delegate made a motion, and I allowed Mr. Flynn to speak,” said Washington County Republican Party Chairman Michael Hartman, who continues to be dead set against the idea. “We will now notify the election commission that we will be holding a primary. The will was that the public at large be able to go to the polls and elect their candidate.
“Even if we did have a caucus, we still would appoint 25 commissioners, he added. “If it did go to 11, like Mr. Flynn wants, it could create 11 little Napoleons running around on a power trip.”
Hartman said notices were sent to all delegates and advertised in the Johnson City Press. He also said there is no requirement for delegates to notify him or the Executive Committee of their intent to be at the quarterly meeting.
A little more than 65 percent of all voting delegates participated Saturday.
“My preference would have been not to hold the vote on Saturday,” Flynn said. “The delegate list wasn’t ready for a vote. There were probably five or six instances in which corrections had to be made. My’s dad’s name was on there twice. This is about reducing the number of commissioners. I think people were uncomfortable with this, and I wish we’d had more time to discuss it.”
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 chair. Both state and local law allows the committee to participate in the nomination process.
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