There were signs of trouble in Chattanooga's state House District 27 race over the weekend.
Democratic candidate Frank Eaton, who is running against Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, charged that Rep. Gerald McCormick took down two of Eaton's campaign signs on Highway 153.
McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican who serves as House Majority Leader, acknowledged removing the signs Saturday in a telephone call he made moments after a confrontation with Eaton.
The lawmaker said the signs were illegally posted on the public right of way in front of a shopping center that he partially owns and manages.
McCormick said Eaton's two signs and one belonging to a treecutting service were taken down as mowers cut grass.
He said he called the treecutter, whose sign included a phone number, and left him a message to come pick up his sign. Not knowing how to call Eaton, McCormick said, he called and left a message for Floyd asking how to contact him.
Then, he said, Eaton and his wife drove up and the candidate demanded to know what he was doing.
"They jumped out and started taking pictures and put me under cross-examination," McCormick said. "I was out in broad daylight on one of the busiest streets in the county doing my job and my private business, and he got upset about it."
"I would have pulled down anyone's sign," McCormick said.
Eaton sent out a news release in which he described seeing McCormick carrying off one of his signs.
"He said the signs had been on his private property and he was removing them," Eaton said. "I questioned whether the property was his, and then he said the signs were not allowed in the 'right of way' of that road."
Eaton said he showed McCormick stakes still in the ground from large campaign signs used in the primary and asked if he had seen them.
"He said he didn't remember seeing any and that his partner Oscar Brock must have been working then."
According to Eaton, McCormick said he didn't know exactly where the property line was.
"I asked if it was his statement that he had removed my signs from a public road without knowing whether they were on his private property or not. He became visibly angry and said, "Are you a lawyer? Is this a cross-examination?'"
He also said McCormick said, "I don't give a [expletive deleted] what you do. If you want to turn this into a fight, that's your choice. I guess I've given you a reason."
McCormick said he would have removed anyone's signs, including Floyd's, had they been there.
He acknowledged he "may have used some stronger language than necessary but after 10 minutes of being seriously berated ... I was fed up."
Eaton posted to YouTube a video in which McCormick is seated in his car talking on the phone and asking Eaton, "Would you like to talk to [Floyd]?"
"Did you explain to him why you took my signs down?" Eaton says in the video. He shows no interest in hearing the message McCormick had left for Floyd, then tells McCormick that "I'll check with the legal authorities" as McCormick begins to drive away.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...