published Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Free Press Endorsements … Do something radical — vote on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Hamilton County voters will elect a sheriff, three county commissioners, two judges, the Circuit Court clerk and the register of deeds in contested primary races. They also will select candidates in two Hamilton County Commission races, one for county mayor and one for Criminal Court clerk for contested races in the August general election.

Republican or Democrat, your vote is important. And it’s important to be a part of the process of selecting the officials who will run your county government.

As of early last week, only 1 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots. If the numbers continued as they had been, the total would exceed the early vote for May 2010 but fall short of that in 2006. And considering either year, the totals are woefully short of what they ought to be.

So, don’t let Election Day pass you by. Don’t be a part of the apathetic 85 to 90 percent. Do something radical. Educate yourself and vote.

In Tuesday’s contested primaries, the Chattanooga Free Press editorial page recommends:

County Commission

• District 1: Randy Fairbanks, an accountant who has been active in his community, offers new leadership and active commitment for the north end of the county but the same sound conservative leadership the district has had.

• District 4: Pam Ladd, a former Chattanooga City Council member, brings broader insight than the district has had for not only jobs but also for crime, schools and the potential combining of city and county services where possible.

• District 5: Greg Beck, a Hamilton County court officer and the incumbent, rightly insists the county get “the best bang for its buck.” We hope in his next term he’ll also push forward on improvements he’d like to see made in the district.

• District 7: Republican Phil Smartt, a retired insurance agent and former Hamilton County School Board member, can offer full-time, conservative leadership for the district (though primary opponents Perry Perkins and Sabrena Turner are particularly effective challengers), and Democrat Ezra Maize, a pastor, says he has ideas on how to curb gang violence.

• District 8: Brent Lambert, the mayor of East Ridge, offers the best combination of new ideas, a willingness to work with other groups toward solutions and a fiscal eye on county finances. The Republican winner will face unopposed Democrat Kenny Smith in August.

The primary winners in Districts 1, 4 and 5 have no opposition in the general election in August and so will become County Commission members with the primary win.

In Districts 6 and 9, Republican Commissioners Joe Graham and Chester Bankston have no primary opposition and will face unopposed Democrats John Allen Brooks and Melinda Bone, respectively, in the general election.

Republican county commissioners Jim Fields (District 2) and Marty Haynes (District 3) have no primary or general election opposition.

County Mayor

• Jim Coppinger, the incumbent, deserves the Republican nomination for a continued push for job creation, work force development and improved public education. The Republican primary winner faces independent Richard Ford in August.

Sheriff

• Jim Hammond, the incumbent, offers 40 years of law enforcement experience plus new and innovative leadership. We implore him to work toward better rapport with his entire department. The primary winner has no opposition in August.

Judges

• Chancery, Part 1: Pam McNutt Fleenor deserves the edge for her significant recent experience in Chancery Court cases and with her recent work in the same court as a guardian for conservatorships.

• Circuit, Division 1: J.B. Bennett gets a narrow endorsement because of the variety and complexity of the cases with which he has dealt and his more extensive trial experience.

Neither judicial primary winner will have a general election opponent.

Register of Deeds

• Pam Hurst has ushered her office into the electronic age in 20 years on the job, returned $25 million in excess fees to the county and wants to do even more to make it friendly to and accessible to the public.

Circuit Court Clerk

• Larry Henry, a three-term county commissioner, has a 40-year background in business, familiarity with the office from five years of wrangling with the annual budget as commission chairman and a desire to keep the office fiscally fit.

Criminal Court Clerk

• Gwen Tidwell easily should collect the Democratic nomination for 20 years of effective service, an eye for efficiency and leadership that has allowed her to pay the salaries of most of her employees from the fees the office collects.

The register of deeds and Circuit Court clerk winners have no general election opposition, while the Criminal Court clerk nominee will face Republican Vince Dean in August.

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