Hensley's withdrawal from 2nd District race triggers state law, extends filing deadline

Zach Vance • Updated Feb 20, 2018 at 10:43 PM

Commissioner Todd Hensley’s last-minute decision to not seek reelection in Washington County’s 2nd District triggered an obscure state law, which extended the qualifying deadline for candidates wanting to qualify for that race.

Called the Anti-Skullduggery Act of 1991, if an incumbent seeking reelection dies or withdraws on the last day for qualifying or prior to the regular withdrawal deadline, the local Election Commission must extend the qualifying deadline an additional seven days for that office.

The law was enacted to prevent incumbents from filing for reelection just to prevent or discourage potential opponents from entering, only to then withdraw their petition at the last second.

Washington County Election Commission officials said Hensley, who only served one term on the Washington County Commission, withdrew his petition Feb. 15, the deadline for qualifying candidates to file their petitions.

A large black and white legal advertisement ran in Saturday’s edition of the Johnson City Press notifying the public that all candidates wanting to contend for the 2nd District now have until 12 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, to file their nominating petitions.

As of Tuesday, no additional candidates have filed for the 2nd District race. Former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris and Vincent Whitright, both Republicans, are the only challengers for the 2nd District, and both filed petitions before the Feb. 15 deadline.

Adam Ghassemi, Tennessee Secretary of State’s director of communications, said additional candidates can pick up petitions to run in either primary in May or as independents in August.

All county candidates running in the May 1 primary have until noon Thursday to withdraw, meaning if another incumbent in another race withdraws, it could extend another race’s qualifying deadline.

When asked how often this law goes into effect, Ghassemi said it happens but not that often.

In 2014, former Washington County trustee Jack Daniels withdrew his petition 38 minutes before the withdrawal deadline, putting the Anti-Skullduggery Act into effect which allowed current trustee Monty Treadway to enter the race.

Treadway’s wife, former Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks, notified the Press about the law, calling it “one of the most important laws.”

Hensley wrote a letter to the Johnson City Press the same day he withdrew his petition explaining his decision.

“After much thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection to the Washington County Commission. Recent successful contract developments in my business have made it clear to me that I won’t be able to devote the time to a campaign or to a second term,” Hensley wrote. 

“My choice is clear. I must put my family, my employees and my business first. I intend to finish this term with clear focus and the attention my constituents deserve. I will continue to stay involved and to be a voice for economic growth and workforce development wherever I may see the opportunity. After all, that is the only way to grow our tax base and keep our taxes low!”

In the letter, Hensley did not explain his reasoning for the last-second withdrawal, but he did say it had been a pleasure to serve the residents of Washington County over the past four years.

He also also said the county is currently “on sound financial footing,” while touting various accomplishments during his term, including refinanced debt, the new Boones Creek school and the aerospace park.

Washington County Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart could not be reached for comment for this story.

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