MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Key dates for the 2014 Hamilton County primary elections:
* Friday: Candidate petition pick up
* Feb. 20, 2014: Qualifying deadline
* Feb. 27, 2014: Withdrawal deadline
* April 7, 2014: Voter registration
* Feb. 5, 2014 - April 29, 2014: Absentee ballot requests
* April 16, 2014 - May 1, 2014: Early voting
* May 6, 2014: Primary voting
* Aug. 7, 2014: County general election
Next year could bring big changes to the political landscape in Hamilton County — and the state. There will be 31 seats up for grabs in the county primary alone.
"Everything and everybody in the county is running. Every [partisan post] in the county will be on the May 6, 2014, primary ballot," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, the county's election administrator.
Well ahead of next February's qualifying deadline, a handful of incumbents have already announced they are not seeking re-election, and a smattering of candidates have said they would challenge some who are planning to stay.
Circuit Court Clerk Paula Thompson, District Attorney Bill Cox, Circuit Court Judge Jackie Bolton and Chancellor Frank Brown have all said they are exiting the local political arena.
Meanwhile, Circuit Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, Sheriff Jim Hammond and Commissioners Tim Boyd and Fred Skillern will face opposition from announced challengers.
State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, is leaving his state post to challenge Tidwell. Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Chris Harvey will seek to unseat Hammond -- his boss. Former Commissioner Curtis Adams is staging a comeback against Boyd, and accountant Randy Fairbanks has said he would challenge Skillern. Catherine White will seek to fill the judge seat Bolton is leaving.
Add to that, current Board of Education member Mike Evatt and Commissioner Larry Henry will leave their posts to vie for the Republican nomination to fill Thompson's clerk seat. And political newcomers Sabrena Turner and Phil Smartt will each try for Henry's old seat.
In short, everything's on the table, and everything could change at the ballot box in 2014.
That means different things for the local parties.
Tony Sanders, local GOP chairman, said a big robust primary can make things tense within the party. Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in county politics, so the primary races typically decide the elections.
"We just remind everybody that the bigger picture is ultimately the general election in August," Sanders said. "When there is a predominately Republican county government, you end up with people challenging because they want to get involved. ... They get tired of waiting for someone to leave."
After primaries, Sanders hopes local Republicans get in line and support the nominees, he said.
Democrats, on the other hand, see the bright red primaries as a reason to stage a comeback.
Terry Lee, who has lead the local Democrats since April, said Friday the party is hoping to build on momentum in the city and bring more Democrats into county politics.
"We're actively recruiting and trying to get the world out that anyone interested in running in the 2014 cycle should contact us."
Aside from Democratic incumbents, Lee said there are several Democrats who will run but have not yet announced, and another five or six who are considering.
There is still some research for the local Blues to do, he said.
"We don't intend to run candidates just for the sake of running. We will target our efforts and try to get the best possible candidates we can get," Lee said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.
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 ...