Martin: Can the GOP claim City Hall?

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- An early voter enters the Hamilton County Election Commission to vote in Chattanooga city elections. Turn out was so low, some are now questioning whether the date of the city election should be moved to coincide with presidential elections.
photo Columnist David Martin

Chattanooga city elections were March 7 - roughly a week and a half ago, which in the age of the 24/7 news cycle is something akin to seven months.

Since then, plenty of fresh news stories have emerged that warrant more type space, like: the president came to Tennessee; Capitol Hill fighting over Trumpcare/Obamacare; liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow helping Team Trump by revealing the president's 2005 tax returns, showing he paid a monstrous federal tax rate of 25 percent (conservatives have been quick to note that's more than the "fair share" either Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama ever contributed); and here locally, the Hamilton County Board of Education and Hamilton County commissioners engaged in discussions about overdue school construction priorities and how to pay for potential projects.

So I could/should type about one of those topics, right? Plus anyway, I wrote about the city elections last week. True, but there's one post-election matter I think is still worth discussion: Will Chattanooga ever have a Republican mayor again?

I know, I know. The mayor's office is nonpartisan, free of party affiliation. Mmm hmm. And I've got some great Enron stock for you. Here's the reality on that. In a city where the electorate is 55 percent Democrat and only 35 to 40 percent Republican (the rest are up in the air), it's safe for a Democrat to be true to their Democrat ID and run for mayor. If you're a Republican, though, you better stress that "moderate" or "independent" label.

That's one (of many) reasons a guy like Larry Grohn faced such long-shot odds to unseat Andy Berke. Not only does he freely run under the GOP banner, but he takes it to the next level by associating with the tea party. That might work in the county, but it ain't flying in the city limits. No way. No how. Because if 40 percent of the city's electors are Republican, even fewer of that segment identify as tea partiers. He sliced a minority party even thinner and tried to use that as his base. Not gonna happen.

Now we know what won't work - or at least one approach not worth replicating on the right. So what will work?

It has to be that moderate path. Chattanooga City Hall is no place for a conservative ideologue. For a Republican to stand a chance at winning, he or she would have to pull support from both the Dalewood precinct and those out in East Brainerd. Avondale and Lookout Valley, too. They'd have to convince the suburbanites that they'll keep their taxes low while simultaneously assuring urban voters that they are going to continue investing in crime prevention, early childhood education opportunities and figuring out the affordable housing conundrum.

In short, a Republican running for city mayor should be willing to put down the Republican title and strict party line talking points for awhile. And his/her fellow Republicans should let them do that since it would be near impossible to lose multiple precincts by a 10-to-1 margin (as Grohn did to Berke in some urban areas) and still manage to win a mayoral race. The only GOP style that can close that yawning gap is the moderate-style.

Is there someone out there that fits such a mold? Certainly, and though 2021 is a long way off, some are already lining up for their shot. For instance, if you read the print edition of this paper, District 3 City Councilman Ken Smith announced his mayoral bid with a front page sticker on Election Day.

Many more will join him between now and the end of Andy Berke's tenure, and 2021 will likely be a municipal free-for-all.

I'll be over here with my popcorn, enjoying the show.

Contact David Allen Martin at and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.