Only two Republicans will be on the ballot for the May 6 GOP primary: challengers Brad Baines and Matthew Morris. Incumbents Steven Light and Ben Bowman will join fellow independents Eddie Haren and Bill “B.J.” Robbins on the Aug. 7 county general ballot.
District 8 is located on the northwest section of the county and includes Fall Branch, Bowmantown, Limestone and a large rural area. It has 9,412 inhabitants.
• Baines, 38, was born in Fall Branch and graduated from Sullivan South High School. He studied business at Northeast State Community College in Blountville.
He worked as a maintenance mechanic for several years at Fluor’s Greenville, S.C., headquarters and at their Bristol, Va., location. He left that company to become a co-owner of Depew Guttering in Fall Branch.
“I feel like we need a change — not only on the local level, but at the federal level,” he said. “I think people think Washington County ends at 75 (Tenn. Hwy. 75/Bobby Hicks Highway). I want to give people on our side of the county a voice. The people in this section of the county don’t see their commissioners much. I’d say 95 percent of people in this district couldn’t tell you who their commissioners are or what they look like.”
Baines is single and has one child.
He has not run for public office prior to this year.
• Morris, 26, was born in San Diego and graduated from Ragsdale High School in Greensboro, N.C. He graduated from Appalachian State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
He has been in the U.S. Army National Guard for more than seven years and currently serves as an executive officer for an infantry company.
Morris is a sales representative for Johnson City’s UniFirst, a uniform and facility services provider. He also is a member of the Leesburg Ruritan Club.
“I believe elected officials are chosen to serve and better the lives of the people who put them there,” he said. “I want to bring conservative fiscal values, eliminate taxpayer-funded benefits to commissioners, limit the number of commissioners to 11 and limit the time commissioners can serve to two consecutive terms.
“As a commissioner, I will make fiscally conservative decisions and work with the Budget Committee. I’d love to serve on that committee. I’d like to think outside the box on some of the issues. I want to be a leader. I want every project to have a definite start and completion date.”
Morris is married and has never run for public office.
• Light, 65, was born in Sulphur Springs and graduated from Sulphur Springs High School.
He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville in agriculture and taught vocational agriculture at Daniel Boone High School for 17 years. He now owns his own insurance business.
Light is a volunteer with the Sulphur Springs Community Chest. He also serves on the following County Commission committees: Legal Services, CIA and Zoning Oversight.
“I enjoy representing the people very much,” he said. “I’m honored to represent the people of Washington County, and I’ve lived in the Bowmantown community for 43 years. I want to work for all the people, and I think I work very hard. I spend a lot of time in the district trying to take care of the peoples’ needs.”
Light is married and has two children and five grandchildren. In 2012, he was appointed to serve out Evert Jarrett’s term, then was elected later that year.
• Bowman, 58, was born in Washington County and graduated from Daniel Boone High School. He studied for a degree in agriculture at ETSU for two years but decided to work on his family’s dairy farm, started by his grandfather.
He worked on the farm for about eight years and then began work at the Johnson City Power Board as a meter reader. He currently is a three-phase meter man with the utility.
“I’ve been very fortunate to live in Washington County all my life,” he said. “I don’t do it for gain. I do it for the people in my district and the people of Washington County. I believe it’s my duty to serve the people. Washington County is very dear to my heart.
“The last eight years I’ve served on the Welfare, Safety, Education, CIA and Steering committees. I have good knowledge of what goes on in the county.”
Bowman is married and has one child. He was first elected in 2006 and is completing his second term on the County Commission.
• Haren, 70, was born in Sullivan County and graduated from Sulphur Springs High School. He attended East Tennessee State University for three years before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1966. He retired as a sergeant.
He returned to ETSU and received a bachelor of science degree in geology and geography. After graduating, Haren worked on his family’s dairy farm in Washington County, primarily raising cattle. The dairy operation was sold, but the farm remains active, producing a number of commodities.
In 1990, he went to work with the Washington County Zoning Office as its assistant zoning administrator. While there, he issued building permits, performed site inspections and other duties. In 2007, he retired and went back to farming. He currently is the Washington County Farm Bureau Board vice president.
“I’ve always been interested in county politics, and I go to the meetings all the time,” he said. “It’s dysfunctional right now. I’m a pretty good listener. I want to get over the deadlock we have now. The agenda is much too long. I also hope they fix it so you can be heard when they’re speaking. I’m a big proponent of schools, and I’d like to see more money go to classrooms and teachers.”
Haren is married and has two children and two grandchildren.
He was elected to the County Commission in 1998 and served two terms before being defeated in 2006.
• Robbins, 71, was born in Sullivan County and graduated from Sullivan West High School.
He retired in 1998 after working at the Holston Army Ammunitions plant for 34 years. In 1976, he started the Gray Rescue Squad. He also served two years as Tennessee Association Rescue Squad president.
Robbins also served several years as a Washington County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy. He also is a deacon and works with seniors at Double Springs Baptist Church in Jonesborough.
“I think we need a change,” he said. “We need to cut back on the number of commissioners to 12 or 13 — 25 is just too many. I’d like to see the county insurance for commissioners eliminated. I’d also like to see them cut back on the number of committees. I think three or four is plenty.
“We need to work together and get along together,” he added. “We need to sit down and see what the people want. I’d like to hold a public meeting for that purpose. I’m also against raising taxes, and I support the school system.”
Robbins is married and has three children and six grandchildren. He ran unsuccessfully for a District 8 seat in 2010.
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