Frenetic election cycle rolls around

Gary B. Gray • Apr 29, 2014 at 4:41 PM

The new year will bring with it one of the busiest election seasons in some time.

Six incumbent Republican Tennessee legislators with strong tea party support face challenges in this year’s Aug. 7 GOP primary. Two of these interesting face-offs will be here in the 6th and 7th districts, and the challengers to the thrones happen to be Johnson City’s current Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and former city commissioner Phil Carriger.

Phil Roe, former mayor and city commissioner, was the last member of the City Commission to make a step up in the political ring. The Republican has been in the U.S. House of Representatives serving Tennessee’s 1st district since 2009.

Carriger will challenge incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, for Tennessee’s 7th House District, and rumor has it this could be one of the most expensive campaigns in some time.

The move pits Carriger against a five-term House member with current and former family ties to the General Assembly, as well as solid backing from the tea party movement. Hill, who is very familiar with Carriger, said he continues to enjoy “overwhelming” support from the 7th District.

But Carriger is focused on strengths he feels he can bring to Nashville and the 7th District that he says Hill does not possess, namely financial savvy.

“I don’t think Matthew has that,” Carriger said.

Carriger was many times at the crux of critical decisions during his single four-year term as commissioner and vice mayor in Johnson City. He was viewed as the city’s “go-to guy” when talk turned to capital spending priorities, the economy and state mandates — subjects that require a broad understanding of how the economy works.

Hill was criticized in March when he voted for a version of the legislation in a subcommittee to allow wine sales in supermarkets. But he later cast the key vote against the measure when it reached the full House Local Government Committee, which he chairs. Now he says he is willing to reset the matter in the committee where it died and change his vote if certain conditions are met when the 108th General Assembly convenes.

Stout challenges Van Huss

Meanwhile, Stout, who has not yet completed his first term on the commission, will take on freshman state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City, for the GOP’s 6th House District nod. He said he respects Van Huss but does not feel the incumbent is channeling his legislative initiatives toward the goals of the people he represents.

Stout said his future opponent was off base when he introduced a failed bill to prohibit United Nations representatives from monitoring Tennessee elections and successful legislation that limits future law enforcement use of drones (unmanned planes). Van Huss operated surveillance drones while serving in the Marine Corps.

Stout said Gov. Bill Haslam is looking for district representatives that are onboard with his efforts to grow the economy and market the state globally.

Asked if he cared to comment on Stout or whether he had anything to say regarding remarks about his legislation, Van Huss cut the conversation short saying he didn’t have anything to say about Stout. Instead he offered this: “Running for state representative has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I highly recommend it for anyone that’s interested.”

Eldridge, Graybeal face serious opposition

This undoubtedly will be a hectic year for candidates for virtually every elected position in Washington County. The headliner in the May 6 Republican primary is longtime county Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford’s challenge to incumbent County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who is completing his first term.

Sheriff Ed Graybeal will run for another term, but will face opposition for the first time in recent history. Craig Ford, Jonesborough’s town operations manager, has decided to make a run to take that spot.

Rutherford said he’s grown tired of “bickering” and “gutter politics” and that his disappointment over a lack of communication from Eldridge to other county bodies and to the citizens spurred his decision to run. He said “hidden agendas” have caused a breakdown in communication has been lost and the county government’s image has taken a big hit.

Eldridge, who recently was applauded for saving the county about $700,000 by refinancing some old bonds, has not yet pointed at any of Rutherford’s possible shortcomings. He encouraged anyone who feels called to serve the county and has “a clear vision for how to move Washington County in a positive direction” to be a part of the democratic process.

Graybeal is seeking a third term. He has said his campaign will focus on keeping the community growing and ensuring it’s the safe place to live. He played a key role of late in strengthening the county school system’s security, and continues to confess he wants to work or live in no other locale than Washington County.

Ford will try to uproot Graybeal for the county’s top law enforcement spot.

He said he has been “giving the run for sheriff’s office a lot of consideration” and ultimately decided to pick up his papers in November because of the “overwhelming excitement and support I’ve been given the last few months.”

All 25 County Commission seats also are up for grabs, as well as all elected positions, and two Criminal Court court judges, two Circuit Court judges and three Sessions Court judges will be elected.

Judicial candidates vie for positions

Eight judicial seats — four Washington County judgeships and four state judicial positions — will be on the 2014 Washington County Republican primary ballot, but only four long-term incumbents are running.

On the local level, Sessions Judges James Nidiffer, Rob Lincoln and Don Arnold are all running to retain their seats.

Nidiffer is seeking a second eight-year term and Lincoln is seeking his third eight-year term. Arnold, who was appointed by the county commission earlier this year to fill an newly created position, will also try to keep his seat.

As of Dec. 27, no one has indicated they will challenged Lincoln or Nidiffer, but three area attorneys have picked up petitions indicating they will run against Arnold.

Russell Cloosterman, Stephanie Sherwood and Assistant District Attorney General Will Monk have plans to challenge Arnold, but not in the Republican primary. They will run as Independents in the August election.

On the state level, Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp has indicated from the bench he will not seek another term, but he has not made an official announcement. So far, only one person, Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks, has picked up a petition indicating he’ll run for that position.

Local attorney Lisa Nidiffer Rice is also another potential candidate for Cupp’s position, but has not officially filed a petition. She does, however, already have a Facebook page named “Lisa Nidiffer Rice for Criminal Court Judge Part I.”

Judge Stacy Street, who was appointed earlier this year by Gov. Bill Haslam to fill a vacancy created when Judge Lynn Brown retired, will run to keep his position.

In Circuit Court, Judges Thomas Seeley Jr. and Jean Stanley will each run to retain their positions and are unopposed at this point.

Also, Chancellor John Rambo, also appointed earlier this year after Chancellor Richard Johnson retired, will run for election. At this time no one has filed a petition to run against him.

In the District Attorney General race, incumbent Tony Clark will seek a second eight-year term and so far has one challenger. Attorney Jerome Cochran officially announced his intent to run for the county’s highest prosecutorial position.

Another local attorney, Dan Smith, has indicated he will also run in the Republican primary in an attempt to unseat Clark, but he has not yet picked up a qualifying petition, the Washington County Election Commission said.

Election battles brewing in Carter County

There will be strong contests for at least three county offices in Carter County in 2014. As usual, some of the heated contests will take place in the May Republican Primary, but strong independent candidates will mean election battles will also be fought in the August general election.

Incumbent Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey will be running for a second term, setting up a contest in the general election between likely Republican nominee Humphrey and independent Kent Williams, who is stepping down after four terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Williams served as speaker of the House for two years.

Another incumbent facing two challenges in the coming year is Sheriff Chris Mathes, who is seeking a third term. He faces a challenge in the Republican primary from former Tennessee Highway Patrolman Dexter Lunceford.

The winner of the primary probably will face a challenge from independent candidate James Parrish, a retired commander of the Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force, which investigates the detainees captured during the world wide war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Parrish also formerly served as chief deputy of the sheriff’s department.

Another county office will probably be open. John Paul Mathes is expected to retire from the Circuit Court clerk’s office. At least two of his employees will seek to succeed him: Johnny Blankenship and Tammy Kyviakidis. Thom Gray, who ran against Williams for the Fourth District seat two years ago, may also be a candidate.

Unicoi County mayor, sheriff face challengers

Meanwhile, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch will face several challengers in the August election. Those who have taken out petitions to vie for the office are John Day, spokesman for local watchdog group Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance. A physical altercation took place between Day and Lynch in November in Lynch’s office in the courthouse.

Current county commission Chairwoman Marie Rice may possibly seek the office of county mayor in 2014. Rice has taken out petitions for both the office of county mayor and first district county commissioner, and she has until Feb. 20 to decide which she will vie for in the May Republican Primary.

Rice was appointed to the county commission in 2013 to fill a vacancy on the panel and was later selected by fellow commissioners to chair the commission. Former County Mayor Larry Rose, who held the office from 2002-06, has also taken out papers to seek the office as an independent candidate.

Three candidates have taken out papers to seek the office of sheriff. Current Sheriff Mike Hensley is seeking re-election in 2014. He will be challenged by James Lengel, who ran against Hensley for the office in 2012. Erwin Police Department detective Tony Buchanan has also taken out a petition to vie for the office.

All nine County Commission seats also are up for grabs

Read the Johnson City Press on Thursday for a look at the city’s investment and economic developments set to take hold in 2014.

Senior Writer Becky Campbell, Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson and Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks contributed to this report.

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