Monday, May 5, 2014

County's Election Day primary primer

Election Day for the Knox County primaries is tomorrow and the weather should be great, so there’s no excuse not to vote.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

However, keep in mind that schools are open, so finding a parking spot could be tough if that’s where your polling place is located.

So far, turnout has been dismal with about 5.3 percent, or 14,640, of the county’s 275,000 registered voters hitting the ballot boxes during early voting. That means every vote really could count and it’s possible that only a handful of votes could affect the outcome of some of the contests.

Here’s a snapshot of some races to watch:

Sheriff: With no mayoral race, most eyes are turning to the sheriff’s contest, probably the second most well-known political seat in the county. Here, incumbent Jimmy “J.J.” Jones faces challengers and former Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees Bobby Waggoner and Charles “Sam” Hammett in the Republican Primary. Since no Democrats filed to run, the winner – barring an almost miraculous victory by a write-in candidate – will be determined Tuesday.

Criminal Court Clerk: Incumbent Joy McCroskey’s problems in this office were well-documented. Mistakes mostly tied to poor training and inadequate technology led to a series of problems including wrongful arrests. McCroskey opted not to seek re-election, so it’s now down to long-time Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond and two local attorneys, Steve Williams and Jason Hunnicutt, a prosecutor in the District Attorney General’s Office. All three have promised swift changes. Like the sheriff’s race, no Democrats filed to run.

Trustee: This race pits two local political heavyweights – incumbent and former county commissioner Craig Leuthold and former city councilman and county commissioner Ed Shouse – against each other. In addition, a third candidate, former Trustee’s Office worker Barry Hawkins is in it, too. The winner will take on James Berrier, a Democrat, in the August General Election.

Board of Education: The non-partisan school board races have seen an unusual amount of activity this go around, and most of it is connected to teacher evaluations, student testing and the board’s move to extend Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s contract an additional year, even though he had three years left on it. The board has nine slots, and five seats are up, although one – District 7 – is already decided since political newcomer Patti Lou Bounds won’t face opposition. The top two vote-getters – unless someone gets 50 percent of the vote plus an additional one – will face each other in August. Of the four contested seats, one – District 9, which pits incumbent Pam Trainor against political newcomer Amber Rountree – will be decided Tuesday. The others each feature three or more candidates and might not get settled until August.

Circuit Court Judge: If you’re a Democrat, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about at this point. There’s only one contested Democratic Primary: Circuit Court Judge Division IV, which features two lawyers Daniel Kidd and David Valone. (Only 1,729 voted in the Democratic Primary during early voting.) The winner head to August where they will meet the top vote-getter in the Republican Primary – either Pattie Jane Lay or Greg McMillan. The Circuit Court Judge Division I seat also is up this year, and that one features Republicans Ray Jenkins, Billy Stokes and Kristi Davis. No Democrats filed to run in this one. Jenkins and Stokes have name recognition, but Davis is a strong contender. This one could be close.

County Commission: Four of the board’s 11 seats are up this year, although Bob Thomas is pretty much a lock for one of the at-large seats, since he doesn’t have a challenger. Political newcomers Randy Smith and Billy Stephens will vie for the District 3 seats. Bo Bennett and Charles Busler challenge for the District 7 seat. Michele Carringer, a former commissioner and Ed Brantley, a long-time local radio personality, face off in the other at-large seat.

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