By Ian Berry Staff Writer
Eight of nine Hamilton County Commission seats and the county mayor's position will be contested in the 2006 election season.
The qualifying deadline was Thursday at noon. Democratic challenger Brian Johnson filed to run against GOP County Mayor Claude Ramsey, and 21 candidates qualified to run for county commission.
Bill Hullander, who represents the rural eastern parts of the county, is the only commissioner who emerged without opposition.
"I am very honored and sure appreciate the folks in the district having confidence and support in me," said Mr. Hullander, a Republican.
He said voters in the district respect his consistent stand against a tax increase and that he hopes the commission will improve its communication issues in the next four years. He said communication with state legislators, the county school district and among commissioners themselves could improve.
The 21 candidates seeking commission seats are an increase from 17 candidates in 2002. But in 1998, 31 candidates qualified.
Both local party chairmen said that a main dividing point this year will be candidates' views on taxes, given the 26-cent tax increase commissioners approved by a 5-4 vote in 2005.
Commissioners earmarked revenues from 16 cents of the increase for county schools. Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said there are significant numbers of anti-tax and pro-tax voters in the community.
"I think most of the races will come right down to that," Mr. Wood said.
He said he would not criticize commissioners who voted for the increase, but that the Republican platform always is to hold the line on taxes and expenses in any way possible.
Stuart James, chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said three commissioners have fought tax increases while failing to propose creative ways for funding government.
Mr. Wood said he expects those candidates will offer such ideas during their campaigns. Mr. James said the level of interest in county commission seats was significant.
"That's the way we want it, because the county commission has failed to represent the needs of the community," he said.
Those seeking commission seats include 13 Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent who has identified himself as a libertarian.
There will be contested Republican primary races in four districts: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th. Republican candidates are running without primary opposition in four districts: the 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th. No Republican qualified in the 6th District.
There will be contested Democratic primaries in three districts: the 4th, 5th and 6th. A Democratic candidate is running without primary opposition in 8th District. No Democrats qualified in five districts: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 9th.
Republicans will run without general election opponents in four districts: the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 9th.
The eventual Democratic 6th District nominee will run without general election opposition.
Republicans will face Democrats in three districts in the general election: 4th, 5th and 8th.
The eventual Republican nominee will face an independent in the 2nd District.
A Republican will be on the general election ballot in eight of the nine districts, while a Democrat will be on the ballot in four districts.
Mr. James said he isn't concerned about the greater number of Republican candidates because his party has made a concerted effort to focus on key seats that could change the direction of the commission.
Mr. Ramsey, a Republican, is seeking his fourth term as county mayor. Mr. Johnson, a Methodist minister and full-time county employee in the parks and recreation department, is running as a Democrat.
The primaries are May 2, and the general election is Aug. 3.
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District 1: Fred Skillern (R) Laura Oakley (R)
District 2: Richard Casavant (R) Ken Holloway (R) Joe Dumas (I)
District 3: Terry Conley (R) J. Al Smith (R) Jim Coppinger (R)
District 4: William Cotton (D) Warren Mackey (D) Brian Caldwell (R)
District 5: Greg Beck (D) Cynthia Coleman (D) Bernie Miller (R)
District 6: Lou Miller (D) John Brooks (D)
District 7: Larry Henry (R) Melvin "Red" Burrows (R)
District 8: Curtis Adams (R) John Bailes (D)
District 9: Bill Hullander (R)
Mayor: Claude Ramsey (R) Brian Johnson (D)
Source: Election Commission