published Monday, October 15th, 2012

Tea party, GOP recruit for Chattanooga elections


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Marty Von Schaaf, chairman of the Hamilton County GOP

Two political groups acknowledge they actively have been recruiting potential candidates for the March 13 nonpartisan city election.

Marty Von Schaaf, chairman of the Hamilton County GOP, said Friday the party has talked to individuals about running; some have picked up election petitions, and some have not.

"One thing we have tried to find is a bona fide candidate for mayor," Von Schaaf said.

The reason, he said, is because of who is running for mayor so far -- state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.

"He can paint any picture he wants, but he's a liberal Democrat, and he's going to be running the city," Von Schaaf said. "You need someone to keep him in check."

Berke released a statement saying he wouldn't look at party lines.

"As I have throughout my time in office, I hope to continue working with anyone who is committed to improving economic development and quality of life in our community," the statement read.

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, also acknowledged that his group has been recruiting for the election and said he has spoken to some potential candidates, as well.

But Paul Smith, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said his party is taking a hands-off approach to the nonpartisan race and will continue to stay out of it.

"The Democratic Party is not fielding a slate and not endorsing anyone," he said.

Smith would not comment on whether he thought the Republican and tea parties should stay out of the race.

"I'll let the public be the judge of that," he said.

Since the city formed a mayor-city council form of government in 1991, the races have been nonpartisan with no one declaring any political affiliation. But as next year's election starts to unfold, more and more candidates with party affiliations are entering the races.

Chris Anderson, former chairman of the Hamilton County Young Democrats, has entered the District 7 race against current City Councilman Manny Rico. George Jackson, current chairman of the Hamilton County Young Republicans, has entered the District 2 race in an open seat being left by Councilwoman Sally Robinson.

Larry Grohn, a known tea party member, is running in District 4 against Councilman Jack Benson.

Benson, who has been on the council since 2001, is not surprised to hear that the two political groups are involved and said he had heard rumblings about it. But it's the first time he's seen it in council races, he said.

"I've never remembered the Democrat or Republican party getting involved," he said.

Rico, a Republican, said partisan politics should not be part of the races. The council is highly independent and does not toe party lines, he said.

Rico said he would stay independent if party politics became involved.

"I'll lose this election before I pander to anybody," he said.

Some council candidates said they do not plan on pandering to their parties if elected.

Grohn said he made the decision for himself. He said his direction, if elected, would be based more on his own beliefs than those of the tea party.

"Yes, I will be fiscally conservative," he said.

Jackson said he will end his term with the Young Republicans next year. He said he has spoken with Republican and tea party officials who have talked about helping him, but he said that would not affect his governance.

"It shouldn't be a Republican or Democrat thing," he said.

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said she's afraid of party politics entering into the races. She said she has never represented a particular party or gotten support from a party.

"It's nonpartisan and works nonpartisan," she said. "It should stay that way."

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