Mark Hall, J. Adam Lowe facing off in increasingly bitter state Senate District 1 primary

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NASHVILLE - They once served together on the Bradley County Commission, but state Rep. Mark Hall, of Cleveland, and J. Adam Lowe, of McMinn County, are now squaring off in what has become an increasingly bitter Republican primary nomination fight for Tennessee's recently redrawn state Senate District 1.

In one recent campaign twist, Hall's treasurer, Nicholas Townsend, resigned and announced he was switching his support to Lowe.

"This campaign season is not like the ones before it," Townsend wrote in a social media post. "I have seen from the inside the attitudes and motives that are truly driving this race for Senate. Due to what I have witnessed first-hand, I resigned from the campaign of Mark Hall and will be endorsing and encouraging my friends and family to support J. Adam Lowe for Tennessee State Senate."

In a statement, Hall said the move "feels like dirty politics as usual."

Hall, 57, is a small businessman and Marine veteran who owns and operates a barber shop in Cleveland. Lowe, 41, is also small businessman and author. He hosts a talk radio program and is an educator who serves as an adjunct professor at Lynchburg, Virginia-based Liberty University, working remotely.

photo Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / State Rep. Mark Hall speaks at Westwood Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tenn., in 2021.

The winner of Thursday's primary election will face Democrat Patricia Waters in the Nov. 8 general election in the heavily Republican district.

The seat, formerly Senate District 9, was redrawn during this year's legislative redistricting. It includes all of McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties, as well as most of Bradley County with the exception of a small sliver of southeastern Bradley now in Senate District 2. Current Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, isn't seeking re-election.

Both Hall and Lowe tout themselves as staunch conservatives.

Hall cites his ability to get things done in Nashville as well as his accessibility to constituents, something he said he began when he was a county commissioner for 12 years.

"I like to do things that impact people's lives on Day 1," Hall said in one of several recent phone interviews with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "I don't mind passing legislation, I love it."

Hall, who is wrapping up his second two-year term as a representative, said he sponsored and passed "some great legislation" this year.

He cited three bills, among them Joker's Law. It makes the knowing and killing or harming of a police, fire, search and rescue dog, service animal or police horse a felony punishable by two to 12 years in prison with fines of up to $5,000.

Hall brought the legislation in response to the shooting of Joker, a Bradley County Sheriff's police dog who was severely wounded in 2021 by shots fired by suspects fleeing from a car dealership at Exit 20 off Interstate 75. Joker has since recovered from his injuries.

Another measure Hall cites is Bentley's Law. It requires a person convicted of drunk driving in a crash in which the parent of a minor dies be responsible for paying child support until the child turns 18. Hall says officials in 14 other states have reached out, showing interest in passing similar legislation.

Yet another bill Hall passed addresses medical "step therapy." It allows patients diagnosed with diseases to skip over what Hall characterizes as protocols and what he characterizes as "substandard" treatments in order to work with their physicians to move more quickly to the "most effective" treatments.

Lowe served four years on the County Commission and was the panel's vice chairman before launching an ultimately unsuccessful 2014 bid for a state House seat, losing to now-Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, in the GOP primary.

"We've had a lot of ground support, people buying into the message of family values in Tennessee," Lowe said last week during a telephone interview. "Our campaign's been very sensitive to what families are facing right now, be it in education, the economy or housing. We've just developed some solid approaches on how we're going to address those in the next few years once I'm in the Senate.

photo Contributed photo / J. Adam Lowe

"We still have infrastructure needs and some other needs in our communities that we can be addressing, and that's going to take some cooperation and some prioritization," Lowe said, pointing to the state's massive tax surpluses.

Lowe was dismissive of Hall's approach on Bentley's Law.

"We need to fix Bentley's Law," Lowe said, noting "the only problem is it's real hard to collect when you're in prison for vehicular homicide. So I guess we're going to get it from their commissary while they're in there. The current plan is for them to pay it when they get out. But anyone who's ever worked with convicted felons released into a work environment knows it's going to be near impossible" to collect, Lowe added.

The bill provides that if a defendant is ordered to pay child maintenance but is unable to in prison, he or she has up to one year after release to enter a plan to begin payments as well as address what is already owed. Lowe said prosecutors and law enforcement don't have a tool to collect. He also said it should be expanded to include all reckless behavior and not just DUI-related deaths.

Hall said Lowe knows it is "great legislation.

"It holds the drunk driver accountable and it protects a most valuable resource, which is our children, and passed unanimously in the House," Hall said. "He's either misunderstanding or he's misleading. You can't bankrupt out of it due to the fact that it's an intentional act."

Hall said much of the resources are achieved through liens and garnishments.

"I think he's misleading or he simply doesn't know," he said of Lowe. "For some reason, he thinks his opinion would carry more weight than the House of Representative and the Senate and the governor signing it."

Townsend: "Bunch of negativity"

In his social media post, Townsend said that after analyzing Hall's campaign, "I have come to realize that J. Adam Lowe has publicly proven that he best understands the challenges we all face while showing the characteristics required for good leadership."

Townsend, who declined a Times Free Press interview, told the Cleveland Daily Banner earlier this month he felt compelled to leave the campaign after Hall retained Ooltewah-based Atlas Strategies and believes Hall's campaign departed from its previous practice.

"Every race ran healthy and clean," Townsend told the Banner. "We didn't have any negativity. We didn't respond to negativity, and we didn't generate negativity." He also said Atlas gave "bad information" to Hall, going on to list what he characterized as misleading polling data and claims his campaign wasn't supported by area elected officials.

Townsend also said consultants told Hall "that family values are not what's important in Southeast Tennessee," which he disagreed with. Townsend, added: "You know right then you've got a problem."

Atlas, Townsend said, also informed Hall that area elected officials "didn't support him, and that there were a lot of people advocating against him," which Townsend characterized as "simply untrue." And consultants also advised him not to debate Lowe.

Hall, in a statement, said he and Townsend had a good relationship for a long time.

"There's no denying that this decision affects both Nick and me very deeply," Hall said. "And while these types of things happen in life, it always stings a bit. No matter what, I will forever treasure our friendship and his support over many years.

"The timing of this news feels like dirty politics as usual. But I will keep my promise to Nick by honoring our agreement for a clean separation. Therefore, we will not go into further detail about his failures and inability to act in the best interest of this campaign.

"I am always committed to talking about my conservative record and the important issues facing the 1st Senate District. My campaign is the strongest it has been, shattering fundraising goals with a strong quarter of fundraising, and I continue to have great conversations with voters in this district."

But there is negativity in the campaign. The pro-charter school group Tennesseans for Student Success recently attacked Hall in a direct-mail piece sent by its Team Kid PAC.

But the mailer says nothing about education. It accuses Hall of being a "self-serving career politician" who in his nearly 16 years as a county commissioner and state legislator has "pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars.

"No wonder he doesn't support term limits," the piece says.

Hall said he doesn't know why the group did that. He voted in favor of several charter school bills.

Team Kid has also sent direct mail supporting Lowe.

During the course of the campaign, Hall has raised $61,366 while also loaning his campaign $8,000. He has spent $59,356 and reported a cash balance of $8,100.

Lowe has raised $60,767 from contributors and loaned his campaign $8,000, according to his latest disclosures. He has spent $63,910 and reported a $4,757 cash balance.

Watching the race is Republican Dennis Beavers, an Athens businessman who had filed to run in Senate District 1. He was was removed from the ballot by the McMinn County Election Commission for not meeting Tennessee's three-year residency requirement, having run for a local office in Alabama in 2020 as well as having been elected as a delegate for then-President Donald Trump.

Beavers said in a phone interview he intends to run for the seat in the 2026 election.

Contact Andy Sher at Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.