The GOP field includes County Commissioner Joe Grandy, former Commissioner Mark Ferguson and Johnson City Mayor David Tomita. The cancellation came a day after Ferguson called a news conference to allege "the deck is stacked" against him and he would not participate in the forum. He said supporters of one of his opponents in the primary had helped to organize the debate.
GOP officials, however, said Friday the forum would not have shown favoritism to any candidate on the stage.
"Any suggestion that the event was 'rigged' is not reality based," Dr. W. Turney Williams, the chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, said in an emailed statement.
He said party officials made every effort to include all the candidates in the forum.
"Let me assure the community that the scheduled event would have been conducted in an absolutely fair and open fashion," he said. "Indeed, each candidate was provided an opportunity to participate in a review of the questions submitted by the public."
The party chairman also said he had "received text messages delineating specific concerns regarding candidate safety. Unfortunately, in this political environment, we cannot guarantee the physical safety of the candidates or the public at large at this event."
At the end of his remarks Thursday concerning the forum, Ferguson also spoke about a 2014 video recorded on a cellphone by former Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe following a meeting of a Republican group. The video shows Ferguson pointing his finger at Wolfe and saying, “You’re a chicken-s***, no good son of a bi***.” Ferguson is also seen on the video smacking Wolfe’s phone.
“Folks, I've been asked about a video that the supporters of my opponent and people running this debate Saturday have sent out by email and other means," Ferguson told reporters at his news conference. "This video took place several years ago. It was a bad time. it was a bad day, and I had been pushed to my limit."
Ferguson apologized for his language in the video. "That's not me," he said. "It was an ugly conversation, but it was private until now."
He also told reporters the video "shows I'm not afraid to stand up to the establishment, none of them. I wasn't afraid then and I'm not afraid now."
The GOP’s winner will face independent candidate James Reeves in the August general election.