By Ian Berry Staff Writer
Hamilton County Commissioner Richard Casavant, who ran unopposed four years ago, faces two challenges as he tries to win a third term.
Two Signal Mountain residents say they disapprove of Dr. Casavant's stance on taxes and do not want him to run unopposed again.
Ken Holloway, a cofounder of the Mountain Opry, is running as a Republican. Dr. Joe Dumas, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga engineering professor, is running as an independent. Dr. Dumas said he chose to run as an independent because Mr. Holloway shares his views on taxes, and he wanted to give voters two chances to unseat Dr. Casavant.
Dr. Casavant, dean of UTC's College of Business Administration, said he welcomes the debate and thinks voters in his district, which also includes parts of Lookout Mountain, North Chattanooga and Red Bank, appreciate his efforts to improve education. A new high school is set to open on Signal Mountain in 2007.
"I think in District 2, if you don't do a good job on education, you won't get elected," said Dr. Casavant, a Republican.
The commission approved a 26 cent tax increase by a 5-4 vote in 2005 after rejecting a 55 cent increase in 2004. Dr. Casavant voted for the increase both times.
The tax increase generated $10.1 million for the school system and another $6.3 million for general county government. Coinciding with the tax increase, the commission agreed to issue bonds to pay for more than $90 million in school construction, including the Signal Mountain high school.
Mr. Holloway said the contacts he's made through running The Mountain Opry, a nonprofit group that hosts a bluegrass stage show Friday nights on Signal Mountain, will help his candidacy.
He said his main platform is to prevent tax increases, saying "the ability to tax is the ability to destroy." He also said he opposes the county's emissions testing program.
He said beyond the tax increase, he doesn't have criticism on how the county is being run.
"I think as far as county government is concerned, it's doing fine, and I don't see a problem with that," Mr. Holloway said.
Dr. Dumas said Dr. Casavant is a liberal who has "never met a tax increase he didn't like."
"I don't think he represents how most people in the district feel," he said.
Dr. Dumas said he doesn't think government is the "engine" that drives the economy and attracts jobs.
He also said increasing money for the school system - a key reason for the tax increase - is not the key to improving the schools, which he said aren't spending money wisely. Dr. Casavant said he rejects that argument.
"If you're going to wait for the education bureaucracy to achieve perfection before you give them more money, it's not going to happen," Dr. Casavant said.
Both Mr. Holloway and Dr. Dumas said they oppose a new high school on Signal Mountain, adding that they feel the effort in part was fueled by developers who stand to benefit from the sewer and water infrastructure that will be needed to support a new high school.
Mr. Holloway said he once supported a new high school but since has decided it's unnecessary, and he objects to municipal tax increases in Walden and Signal Mountain to pay for the high school.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said he would have preferred Dr. Dumas choose to run with one of the two parties.
Dr. Dumas said he expects the endorsement of the Libertarian Party, but he can't run as a Libertarian because only Democrats, Republicans and independents are allowed on the ballot in Tennessee.
Dr. Dumas said he will run in the Aug. 3 general election regardless of who wins the Republican primary, but that he is pulling for Mr. Holloway.
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