Important dates for the Hamilton County partisan primaries:
• Deadline to register to vote -- April 7
• Absentee ballot request deadline -- April 29
• Early Voting -- April 16 - May 1
• County primary -- May 6
With contests in the Democratic and Republican primaries, there is no question that the District 7 Hamilton County Commission race is the most active of all local races going into the May 7 election.
Three Republicans are seeking to replace Commissioner Larry Henry, who is running for Circuit Court clerk in a contest with Republicans Ron Parson and Lisa Bowman.
Former county Board of Education Chairman Phil Smartt, real estate broker Sabrena Turner and former police officer and small-business owner Perry Perkins are seeking the GOP nod for District 7, which includes the southeastern portion of the county, east of East Ridge and south of Ooltewah.
Don Brown, who owned a construction company and said he is semi-retired, and Ezra Maize, a pastor at Friendship Central Community Church, are vying for the Democratic nomination.
All candidates said the district has specific needs, including infrastructure improvements to catch up to 10 years of growth, better stewardship of school space for the increased population and taking measures to ensure growth continues.
Smartt, who retired after owning an insurance company, said his views on school districting and commission discretionary funds set him apart from his Republican opponents.
Parents should be able to choose what schools their children attend, he said. County commissioners, he added, should work with the school system on matters such as zoning.
He also said the practice of giving each commissioner $100,000 a year to spend on district needs should end.
"I am against the fund. I think what it does is takes taxpayer funds and gives it to commissioners, and they can go buy votes with it. It's an earmark. I'm against federal earmarks, too," Smartt said.
Turner said that more than a decade of experience in real estate makes her the best fit for District 7, where new development and population growth have been commonplace.
She said she already has the knowledge to handle zoning, property and development issues.
"That's where I really feel that I have experience to bring to the table, just because of what I do every day," Turner said. "I'm very involved in this community. "
Perkins said the breadth of his experience in many organizations makes him the best pick.
Perkins said he owns a painting business, has been a police officer, is on the board of governors for Shriners Hospital in Lexington, Ky., and was on the YMCA board for three years.
Commissioners don't make day-to-day operational decisions for the county and have no control over school board actions. They are managers, he said.
"You don't micromanage the county. You've got people in place. ... The county commissioners basically oversee those people," Perkins said. "I would take my experience working at the hospital and working on the board at the YMCA and expand that knowledge over the county government."
Democrat Don Brown, who lost a bid for the post against Republican candidate Harold Coker in 1998, said he's running again to see infrastructure improved in District 7, to stop what he said is unnecessary school building in the county and to give residents another choice.
"I don't think we ought to be building more schools. I think we ought to maintain what we have," Brown said. "I'm a Democrat, and there aren't too many of us left around. But we do need to have some kind of voice in the government. And I'll work for the people -- not just the few."
Candidate Ezra Maize said he decided to move to Hamilton County four years ago to help reduce gang violence through his ministry. And now, he'd like to continue that work on the County Commission by seeing that students have all the educational opportunities they can get.
"My biggest issue is education. I believe if we continue to build our county, we are going to have to educate our children in the areas that attract businesses," Maize said.
He said he was involved in politics in Knoxville before he moved to Hamilton County. And while he hopes to win the primary, Maize says he wants local elections to be free of partisan politics.
"I'm hoping this year, when people go to the polls, they don't vote for Ezra Maize because he's a Democrat, or anybody because of ethnic background or economic background. I want people to vote not based on party, but vote for productivity."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon @timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.