Free Press County Commission picks for District 6, District 8

Free Press County Commission picks for District 6, District 8

July 23rd, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Joe Graham

Joe Graham

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


Includes Lookout Valley, St. Elmo, Lookout Mountain, downtown Chattanooga, North Chattanooga and part of Red Bank

• Registered voters: 23,067

• Voting precincts: Courthouse 1-2, downtown 1-2, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Valley 1-2, Moccasin Bend, Moutanin Creek 2-3, North Chattanooga 1-2, Red Bank 1-2, Riverview, St. Elmo 1-2

District 6: Graham's hard work deserves re-election

When Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham ran for the District 6 seat in 2010, people told him they didn't know or never saw their then-commissioner, who was John Allen Brooks. So they voted for a change.

For the past four years, Graham has attended more than 950 meetings and events. If they don't know their commissioner now, it won't be for his lack of trying.

But Graham, a small businessman running as a Republican, deserves re-election not only for attending community events and meetings but also for his inquisitiveness about county business -- "I ask a ton of questions," he says -- his willingness to listen to constituents, his interest in economic development and his desire to fund public school classrooms (ahead of central office administration).

His opponent, again, is Brooks, a Democrat, who represented the district from 2006 to 2010 and reminds voters during his tenure the county landed Volkswagen, built schools and retained its AAA bond rating.

This time around, the attorney is soundly emphasizing better economic development through long-term planning, the need for the county to get its full share of Basic Education Program money from the state, the importance of a vocational/technical school for noncollege-bound students and a vow to "protect the people's money" and "not spend it foolishly."

He also wants to do away with the commissioners' individual discretionary funds, work to make government more transparent and vote for a tax increase only "if it was proven necessary" and only "if every bit of fluff was taken out" of the budget.

Graham, who pushed for more transparency for the discretionary funds and got discretionary spending by individual commissioners listed on the County Commission website, also wouldn't mind seeing the funds go away.

The incumbent commissioner, a longtime community volunteer and the first Republican to serve in the District 6 seat, says his first term has been successful because the public "wants a relationship" with its commissioner, and he feels he "wouldn't be an effective leader if [I] was not involved."

District 6 voters should reward Graham's efforts and return him to office.

Kenny Smith

Kenny Smith

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.


Includes Missionary Ridge, Concord, Hamilton Place, East Ridge and parts of Brainerd

• Registered voters: 25,062

• Voting precincts: Brainerd, Brainerd GHills, Concord 1-4 and 6, East Ridge 1-4, Missionary Ridge

District 8: Smith better pick in rematch of 2010

As in the District 6 race, the race for the District 8 seat on the Hamilton County Commission is a rematch of 2010, when Republican Tim Boyd defeated Democrat Kenny Smith by less than 300 votes.

Although Boyd, an engineer, considers himself a taxpayer watchdog as all commissioners should, we believe Smith, training director of an electrical apprenticeship program, is a better choice because he, too, is a fiscal conservative but also because he brings a first-hand understanding of the need for a return of vocational education, has three years experience as chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Education and believes economic development -- along with a better trained workforce -- is critical to "keep jobs coming" to the county.

Smith also says "small business is the key" to a strong economy, wants the region's state representatives to advocate for the county to receive a larger share of Basic Education Program funds and believes a once-voted-in tax freeze for seniors could be achieved with more economic growth.

Boyd, who said he sought to be "better than a get-along, go-along politician," says his term on the commission saw the county, among other things, give two 2.5 percent raises to teachers, retain a AAA bond rating and provide $23 million for a new East Brainerd Elementary School -- all without a tax increase.

Both candidates say the county and Chattanooga should examine combining services where practical, but neither advocates metro government.

Where the candidates diverge is how Smith would be influenced through his employment by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. Smith says in his years on the school board and in his campaigns since, he has never been approached for one favor by the union and would not succumb to such pressure if it were exerted.

Boyd, meanwhile, in the Voter Guide in Sunday's Times Free Press, says his "biggest challenge facing the office" is "getting the message out that my opponent is a pro-union Democrat" who has accepted union PAC money to support his campaign. "I ask everyone ... who will he serve -- the citizens of Hamilton County or the special interest of his union contributors."

If that's the biggest challenge facing the office, the incumbent commissioner, who also used the union threat in his 2010 race, doesn't have his mind where it should be -- on the taxpayers. Of course, Smith will have union contributors. He works for a union. That's no different from an engineer having engineering firms contribute to him or a lawyer having law firms contribute to him.

Smith offers the County Commission fiscal conservatism, an understanding about the future needs of the county, an ability to work with people and what he refers to as a "blue-collar background." Although this page is no great fan of unions, we endorse his sound candidacy.