published Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Candidates prepare for unexpected Hamilton County District 1 contest

Randy Fairbanks
Randy Fairbanks
Photo by Dan Henry.

KEY DATES

• July 8: Last day to register to vote

• July 31: Last day to request an absentee ballot

• July 18-Aug. 2: Early voting

• Aug. 7: State primary and county general election

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories about races in the August county general election.

The ballot won't show it, but there is a contest for Hamilton County's District 1 commission seat.

Randy Fairbanks, a Soddy-Daisy CPA, won the Republican primary in May over longtime Commissioner Fred Skillern. But Skillern's political ally and three-term Republican Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman put in as a write-in candidate against Fairbanks.

Fairbanks said Monday he had planned to spend the pre-election months preparing for his new duties by talking with principals in schools and business leaders about their concerns. But the late write-in effort has forced him to keep knocking on doors and asking for votes.

"Now we're back in campaign mode getting out and getting in touch with new voters," he said.

He doesn't have any specific plans for the district if elected, outside of watching tax dollars and answering community needs.

Thurman said Monday she is running because she doesn't feel the primary was a good representation of the people in her district.

"Almost my entire family lives in District 1. So I know the people, I know the district and I know the needs. I'm a very conservative person, I speak my mind and I don't make promises," she said.

Thurman said she's running because she wants to make sure several projects Skillern promised discretionary funds to get finished.

Skillern has committed $50,000 to help build a football field at Sale Creek Middle/High School; $50,000 for a fire hall in Soddy-Daisy; and $100,000 to Soddy-Daisy for a running track. Another $100,000 he might be budgeted on July 1 would go to new road and entrance into Daisy Elementary School.

Skillern will have plenty of time to spend that money before September when he leaves office. But Thurman said there are "other projects she's not at liberty to discuss" that she wants to complete.

Fairbanks said Monday the projects Skillern has earmarked sound like good ideas.

"Every one of those projects is very worthwhile that I would totally support," he said.

Thurman said she thinks the majority of District 1 Republicans would rather have her in the seat -- and would have rather kept Skillern.

"We need to get people out to vote. I think apathy is what got Fred beat -- and that there were so many Democrats who pulled Republican tickets to vote against him," she said.

According to Hamilton County Election Commission Administrator Kerry Steelman, there were 238 Democratic ballots cast in District 1 in the May primary. There were 2,480 Republican ballots cast in District 1 on May 6. Skillern was beaten by 52 votes.

But a review of election statistics shows the Democratic primary turnout was consistent with 2010 numbers, but not 2006 figures.

In May 2010, Steelman said, 219 Democrats picked up primary ballots. And in 2006, 548 voters picked up Democratic tickets. There were no Democratic candidates on the ballot in either of those years for that seat.

But Fairbanks questions that logic. He says he won because he worked hard to bring people to the polls.

And the local Republican party says the voters have spoken.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders said Fairbanks is their guy.

"The Republican party is standing behind the primary process, and the Republican candidate Randy Fairbanks," Sanders said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

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 ...

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