Republican veteran to run for brother's state House seat

John Thompson • Apr 29, 2014 at 4:46 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Judy Veeneman kicked off her campaign Friday to win the Republican nomination for the 4th State House of Representatives District. She held a well-attended rally at Creekers Restaurant in Elizabethton at noon and a second one in Unicoi later in the day.

Veeneman said she chose Creekers because she grew up on Stoney Creek and family remains important to her. Most of her family, including her mother, June Williams, her sister, Etta Perry, and brothers, Kent and Dale Williams, were present at the rally.

She said June and her late father, Roby, taught all the children many lessons, but one of the most important was to be independent. She said she shares parallels with Kent, the current representative from the 4th District who is giving up the seat to run for mayor of Carter County.

“He has done a lot for the district,” Veeneman said.

If she is elected, Veeneman said, “I will be carrying the torch for Carter and Unicoi counties. It will be an honor to represent you.” She said her votes will be cast according to what is best for Carter and Unicoi counties. She said when she needed to find out what was best for those counties, she would go to the source.

In education, she promised to talk with the directors of education in the school districts, school board members, teachers and parents. She said on economic matters and banking, she would confer with the local bankers. For law enforcement matters, she would talk with sheriffs Chris Mathes and Mike Hensley.

Kent Williams alienated state Republicans when he sided with Democrats to win the House speakership in 2009.

Veeneman reassured the audience at Creekers, nearly all Republicans, of her party affiliation.

“I am a Republican. You know I am. I always have been a Republican,” Veeneman said. She has previously served as president of the Carter County Republican Women and the Carter County Republican Party Executive Committee.

To make sure of statewide Republican support, Veeneman said she called Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney about her plans. She said he told her “Go for it, by all means.”

“I would like for bygones to be bygone and for us to come together,” Veeneman said, “not only locally but across the state and especially the nation.”

She said proof that is happening in Carter County could be seen by the attendance of Jerome Cochran at Veeneman’s rally. Cochran is a former holder of the 4th District seat and fought three bruising election battles with her brother. She said Cochran is running for 1st District Attorney General this election and she wished him well.

Keith Bowers Jr., former chairman of the Carter County Republican Party, said he welcomed Veeneman’s entry into the race.

“Our goal is to attract quality people to run in our primary and then elect them in the general election,” he said.

Williams said he thought his sister would make an outstanding representative and already knows many of the commissioners and legislators in Nashville.

“She was my assistant and she often helped constituents with their problems,” Williams said.

Bowers said so far, Veeneman is the only candidate to announce for the 4th District seat.

The status of two other potential candidates has become clearer in the past couple of days.

Thom Gray announced Friday that he will not make a second effort for the district seat. He was Williams’ Republican opponent in the 2012 race.

Gray said “one of my core beliefs, and one that resonated most strongly in my 2012 campaign, is my belief that the family, not the state, is the core unit of a successful society. Since I first announced my campaign plans in April 2012, my amazing wife Stacy and I have welcomed two beautiful daughters into this world, Chloe and Lily, with Lily being born just this last week on November 12.”

With two daughters under the age of 18 months, Gray said he did not want to spend so much time in Nashville. While he had decided against a race for the state legislature, Gray said he is still considering other county offices that will be contested in the 2014 elections.

While Gray has closed the door on a contest against Veeneman, Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander has announced that he is “seriously considering for the 4th House District seat.”

Alexander said several people have approached him about running for the seat and that he is “doing his homework” before making an official decision.

“I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but I have been doing quite a bit of research. I am ‘testing the waters’ right now to determine if this is something that I can do in order to help the people of the 4th District. Currently, I am discussing this with my family, friends, and constituents. My wife and I have a beautiful 14-month-old daughter, and she takes priority over all decisions. If I do decide to run, I will most likely announce after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.”

Alexander was first elected to the Elizabethton City Council in November 2004. He was re-elected in 2008 and again in 2012. He has served as mayor since November 2006, making him the longest-serving mayor in Elizabethton history.

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