published Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Republicans rule commission


by Dan Whisenhunt

Democrats are becoming scarcer on the Hamilton County Commission.

Republicans hold a 7-2 majority on the commission in the wake of Thursday’s elections, increasing their number by one.

Voters ousted incumbent District 6 Democratic Commissioner John Allen Brooks after one term and also rejected the better-funded Democrat Kenny Smith in the District 8 commission race.

Joe Graham in District 6, Tim Boyd in District 8, Jim Fields in District 2 and Chester Bankston in District 9 are the new Republicans on the commission.

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who won re-election Thursday, also is a Republican.

The two Democrats are District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey and District 5 Commissioner Greg Beck.

“I think it will be a conservative commission and should be a good commission,” Ramsey said.

When Ramsey was a commissioner in 1978, he was the only Republican. While the County Commission has had a Republican majority the last four years, it doesn’t mean all Republicans are satisfied with their government.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairwoman Delores Vinson said the last four years of 6-3 Republican rule on the commission did not show fiscal discipline she and other Republicans want to see.

“We have lacked what we consider to be a genuinely taxpayer-friendly attitude toward the money that is not theirs,” she said.

Party affiliation of the new Hamilton County Commission

* District 1, Fred Skillern, R

* District 2, Jim Fields, R*

* District 3, Jim Coppinger, R

* District 4, Warren Mackey, D

* District 5, Greg Beck, D

* District 6, Joe Graham, R*

* District 7, Larry Henry, R

* District 8, Tim Boyd, R*

* District 9, Chester Bankston, R*

* Commissioners who have won election but are not yet sworn in.

Ramsey, who also is the chief fiscal officer of the county, said he disagrees with Vinson’s comments.

“That’s just her opinion,” he said.

In 2007, the commission raised property taxes in a 5-4 vote, with the four “no” votes being Republicans. The county also obtained a AAA bond rating during the last four years.

In Thursday’s elections, Republicans benefited from a wave of GOP voter turnout, according to Richard Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“The Republican candidates in the general election all benefited from a tremendous turnout in the Republican primary, held on the same day as the county general,” Wilson said. “So many Republican-oriented voters showed up ... it created an impossible headwind for the Democratic candidates.”

Mackey and Beck predict the commission won’t split along party lines in most instances.

“In many cases, we just don’t play partisan politics up there,” Beck said. “The decisions we make are going to be beneficial for the county, no matter what party we’re representing.”

Mackey said that, if the last four years are a guide, bipartisan cooperation won’t be a problem for commissioners.

“Over the last four years, the Hamilton County Commission has functioned rather smoothly,” Mackey said. “We have functioned without discord.”

Fields, who beat incumbent Commissioner Richard Casavant in the District 2 primary in May and beat independent David Cantrell in the general election Thursday, predicted the commission would take a harder line on budget issues. He said it will mean “more oversight on the budget and fiscal responsibility.”

Graham said having more Republicans would “help the commission make good decisions.”

“I think we’re going to be able to sit down and hammer out any details,” he said. “My district is more Democrat than Republican. We’re all Hamilton County citizens when it boils down to it.”

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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gdh66 said...

The days of the conservative Democrat in the South is history. The process that began with the Carter Administration is complete and the Democrat Party will forever be labeled the party of liberalism, progressivism, and socialism. In the coming two elections you will see the number of Democrats holding office decrease going the way of the dodo bird in all levels of government except in areas where the government is buying votes with entitlement programs. Sad, sad, sad for people to compromise their values over a few pieces of silver.

August 8, 2010 at 9:49 a.m.
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