Opinion: First two days of election petitions offer glimpse of bumpy ride in 2022 Hamilton County elections

Staff File Photo By Troy Stolt / A voter fills out his ballot inside the Hamilton County Election Commission during the third day of early voting in the Tennessee statewide primary elections in July 2020 in Chattanooga.

Republicans occupy every countywide office in Hamilton County and have a 6-3 advantage on the Hamilton County Commission.

Will 2022 increase that partisan advantage or see it whittled down?

Candidates for commission and school board districts (the latter of which will be contended on a partisan basis for the first time) and countywide offices began picking up qualifying petitions to run on Monday. Of the 45 people who picked up petitions for partisan offices Monday and Tuesday, 41 were Republicans.

If all 45 qualify, even the first two days' worth of candidates offer the prospect of some interesting primary races in May and general election races in August.

The big prize, of course, is county mayor, where incumbent Jim Coppinger is retiring. Currently, that field has three contenders, political scions Weston Wamp and Matt Hullander and Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, all Republicans.

But the election ballot promises to be thick with family members in the May, August and November elections.

For instance:

* Wamp is the brother of Coty Wamp, who is challenging incumbent Neal Pinkston in the Republican primary for county district attorney.

* Hullander is the son of Bill Hullander, who is seeking his fourth term as county trustee and previously was a District 9 county commissioner.

* Lee Helton, the son of East Ridge councilwoman and state Rep. Esther Helton, is seeking the District 7 Republican nomination for the commission seat Smedley is vacating.

* Esther Helton, who would be seeking her third term as District 30 state representative in November, is - as of this week - the wife of two-term Hamilton County Assessor of Property Marty Haynes.

Three candidates who picked up petitions Monday or Tuesday want their old jobs back.

* Greg Beck, who was the three-term District 5 county commissioner, has filed to run again. Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, who defeated Beck in the 2018 Democratic primary, is not running for a second term.

* Joe Graham, who was the two-term District 6 county commissioner, has filed to run for the Republican nomination in the new District 11. When the commission drew up a new district map last month after the decennial census, current District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe lost the Lookout Valley area in which Graham lived.

* Rebecca Stern, who retired in 2015 after 18 years as a county Criminal Court judge, is running for the seat of Judge Don Poole, who is retiring. She is seeking the Republican nomination in Division 3, where previously she represented Division 2.

At least five candidates, including Weston Wamp, who twice ran for the 3rd District Republican nomination for Congress, are seeking their second, third or fourth shot at elected office.

* Boyd Patterson, who is running for the Republican nomination as Criminal Court judge (Division 3), previously sought a Criminal Court (Division 2) spot in the 2016 GOP primary. He lost to Judge Tom Greenholtz, who is seeking re-election.

* George Ryan Love, who is seeking the Democratic nomination as county clerk, also sought the 3rd District Democratic nomination for Congress in 2016, the 2018 Democratic nomination as county mayor in 2018 and mayor of Chattanooga in 2021.

* Dean Moorhouse, who is seeking the Republican nomination as commissioner in the new District 10, was a candidate for the District 9 seat on the Hamilton County Board of Education in 2014. He also was among those being considered for an appointment as District 9 county commissioner earlier this year.

* Sandy Norris Smith, who is seeking the District 8 Democratic nomination for school board, was the Democratic nominee for District 30 of the state House of Representatives in 2012.

As of the early petitions, again assuming the candidates qualify, District 1 County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks will have opposition from Hubert Shipley Jr. and Stacy Swallows; the open District 7 seat will have at least two contenders (Lee Helton and Jonathan Mason, who picked up papers late Tuesday but is not shown on the Hamilton County Election Commission list); the new District 10 seat will have at least two contenders (Moorhouse and Jeffrey Eversole); and the new District 11 seat will have at least two contenders (Graham and Hamilton County Democratic Party Vice-Chairman Sean Nix).

If the District 7 field gets no larger, Mason will have faced both Lee Helton in the Republican county commission primary in May and his mother, Esther Helton, in what was a bitter District 30 Republican state representative primary battle in 2018.

All of the above is drawn from the first two days of petitions. Candidates have until noon on Feb. 17, 2022, to pick up petitions and qualify. So with no candidate having obtained petitions in a number of races, the candidate field could grow to twice the 45 who picked up papers Monday and Tuesday and maybe even more.

To paraphrase Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in the 1950 movie "All About Eve": Fasten your seat belts, Hamilton County. It's going to be a bumpy ride.