published Sunday, February 21st, 2010

More run for county seats

by Matt Wilson

The number of candidates vying for Hamilton County Commission seats and county mayor grew by five between 2006 and this year, and the number of independent candidates has quadrupled.

Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said those increases could be the result of a feistier political atmosphere.

"There may be some sort of splinter from the Tea Party movement," he said.

But Dr. Oppenheimer qualified that judgment with questions about the candidates' viability, their support base and whether the independents could end up ideologically aligning with one party or the other.

In 2006, 22 candidates ran for the nine County Commission seats and the mayor's seat. Only one, Joe Dumas, ran as a third-party candidate, in the Libertarian party.

This year, 27 people are vying for those 10 seats, four of whom are independents. The number of open commission seats this year is two, the same as four years ago.

On his Crystal Ball blog, Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, has dubbed 2010 the "year of the populist." He specifically describes a populist as someone outside the political establishment.

Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, chief deputy administrator of the Hamilton County Election Commission, said she's definitely seen more interest in running for office this year.

"People are disgruntled with government in general," she said.

One of the independent candidates, Jim Winters, who is running for the seat in commission District 8, said he didn't "really think either party has the citizens' interests at heart."

key dates

April 5: Last day to register to vote in county primary

April 14-29: Early voting in county primary

May 4: County primary

July 6: Last day to register to vote in county general election

July 16-31: Early voting in county general election

Aug. 5: County general election

Terry Turner, another independent candidate in that race, declined to comment.

Richard Ford, an independent running for county mayor, also expressed discontent with government as it is, saying he's "tired of the way things are not being done."

David Cantrell, the independent candidate running in commission District 2, declined to comment.

More independent candidates could file to enter the county elections. The qualifying deadline for primary elections was Thursday, but independent candidates running only in the general election can file as late as April 1.

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