published Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Rhonda Thurman seeks ally Fred Skillern's Hamilton County Commission seat

WHAT'S NEXT

Write-in candidates for the Aug. 7 election have until noon June 18 to file necessary paperwork.

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Can Rhonda Thurman win?

Randy Fairbanks faces no Democratic opposition for the District 1 Hamilton County Commission seat, but that doesn't mean he's going to walk into office.

Fairbanks, a Soddy-Daisy CPA, eclipsed longtime incumbent Commissioner Fred Skillern by 52 votes in the May 6 Republican primary.

But if Skillern can't keep the seat, Rhonda Thurman says she's the next best thing.

Thurman, a well-known Skillern ally and District 1 county school board member, plans to bring the fight to Fairbanks as a write-in candidate in the Aug. 7 election.

The Falling Water hairdresser is in her third term on the school board and is not up for re-election this year. Over the years, she and Skillern have appealed to the same pool of voters in Soddy-Daisy, Falling Water, Sale Creek and other District 1 cities. She's counted him as a mentor, and they've almost never disagreed politically.

She's counting on those same voters to support her for County Commission.

Thurman plans to campaign aggressively -- something observers noted was lacking in Skillern's latest run for office. But mainly, she said, she'll have to get the word out about how the write-in process works. It requires a voter to both fill in a bubble and write in a candidate's name.

In a written statement Monday, Fairbanks said he never intended to slow down his campaign.

"I am the Republican candidate for the District 1 County Commission, and I plan to spend the next two months doing exactly what I did the last four months that led the voters to support me and elect a new conservative voice for our community," Fairbanks said.

Despite their close political ties, Thurman said Skillern had nothing to do with her decision to run. Residents of the northern stretches of the county approached her about a bid after Skillern's loss, she said.

Skillern also said he had nothing to do with her decision -- and he has less sway over Thurman than some have alleged.

"It'll be tough for a write-in," Skillern said. "Rhonda, me and her think a lot alike, but I don't think anybody influences Rhonda but Rhonda. We've been accused of being cohorts -- and to some extent we are because we think alike. But as far as me influencing her or her influencing me, that doesn't happen."

Thurman said she was running to make sure several discretionary projects she and Skillern had been working on would get completed.

"We have been working for years on those," she said. "I want to see those projects through."

During the campaign, Fairbanks criticized Skillern for keeping a large balance in the District 1 discretionary fund. Commissioners are historically budgeted $100,000 a year to spend on various school or government projects, or nonprofits.

As of May 9, there was $361,431 in the District 1 account.

But Skillern said Monday that would all be spent before he leaves office at the end of August.

He said he's committing $50,000 in additional funds to build a football field at Sale Creek Middle/High; $50,000 for a fire hall in Soddy-Daisy; and $100,000 to Soddy-Daisy for a running track.

What's left over -- and the $100,000 he might be budgeted on July 1 -- will go toward building a new road and entrance into Daisy Elementary, he said.

When first approached about running a write-in challenge, Thurman said, she laughed at the idea. But she thinks the people of her district -- who have supported her so far -- give her a good shot.

"They always say well-behaved women never make history," she said.

Staff writer Kevin Hardy contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon @timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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