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Who will replace Kent Williams in Nashville?

John Thompson and Brad Hicks - Press Staff Writers • Sep 1, 2013 at 9:44 PM

ELIZABETHTON — It is almost a year until the the 2014 General Election, but Kent Williams’ announcement Thursday that he will run for the Carter County mayor’s job instead of seeking a fifth term as representative from the 4th District shook things up in both races.

It is too soon to know how many candidates are reassessing their plans based on Williams’ announcement, but the temptation of an open House seat and the transfer of Williams’ $20,000 war chest to the mayor’s race will lead to plenty of thought.

One candidate that will not change his mind is Jerome Cochran. He represented the district before Williams took the seat from him in the 2006 Republican Primary by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Williams and Cochran had two more battles for the seat in 2008 and 2010, with Williams winning each of those contests.

For 2014, Cochran has planned a challenge to District Attorney General Tony Clark in the 1st Judicial District.

Cochran has not yet announced he is in the district attorney’s race, but said Friday that “my plans haven’t changed.

“Kent and I had some tough contests,” Cochran said, “but I don’t hold grudges and we are still friends and I wish him well.”

The man who has to be considered a frontrunner for the open seat is Thom Gray, who had no comment when asked about his plans for 2014.

Gray ran against Williams in the 2012 election and carried Unicoi County by a large margin, but lost the race in the Carter County portion of the district by 9,110 votes to 6,334.

Another possible candidate to succeed Williams is his sister, Judy Veeneman. During his announcement Thursday, Williams said he has discussed the race with her and encouraged her, but she has not reached a decision on whether to run.

Veeneman has been active in local politics as a supporter of Williams and as leader of the Carter County Republican Women’s organization.

Williams’ entry into the mayor’s race has also had a big impact there, but incumbent Leon Humphrey said he is content to place his future in the hands of Carter County voters. “I work for the citizens of Carter County,” Humphrey said.

“When I ran in 2010 and said I would only use my own money, they told me it was impossible for me to win,” Humphrey said. “I didn’t promise anything except to do the best job I could. ... I have worked harder at this job than any job I ever had. I get to the courthouse before anyone else and I am the last to leave because there is just so much work to be done.”

Humphrey said he has worked to keep the tax rate down, and has done so by finding $1 million in grants that no one in the county had previously found. Despite those successes, he said no mayor can order the County Commission to follow his plan.

“There are two branches of government,” Humphrey said about the commission’s independence. He has called for downsizing the commission to make it more efficient. He thinks nine members would be ideal, but that is beyond the scope of the mayor to bring about.

As for his future, Humphrey said “it will be up to the citizens of Carter County to assess my performance.”

There have been rumors of others considering a run for mayor next year, including County Commissioner Joel Street, who is chairman of the Highway Committee and the Landfill Committee.

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