Rep. Robin Smith's open seat will change dynamics of election

Several Republicans say it's too soon to talk politicis, but don't deny they might run

FILE - Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tennessee State Representative Robin Smith.
photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Jennie Landreth, left, Development Coordinator for Choices talks with Tennessee State Rep. Robin Smith at The first "March for Life" in Chattanooga, a rally against abortion by Greater Chattanooga Right to Life.

The Hamilton County Commission will be responsible for deciding whether a temporary replacement is needed to fill the state House seat left vacant by former Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, until a new lawmaker is elected Nov. 8.

Several Republicans on Tuesday declined to say whether they would run for the seat Smith resigned from Monday.

Because Smith was up for re-election this year already, no special election will be needed to replace her. But by bowing out, she has significantly changed the dynamics of the campaign by creating an open seat in House District 26.

"There is no need to call for a special election because that seat is already going to be on the ballot," said Nate Foster, assistant administrator of the Hamilton County Election Commission, in a Tuesday phone interview.

(READ MORE: Former Tennessee Rep. Robin Smith pleads guilty to fraud)

While county commissioners are not required to appoint an individual to the seat pending the election outcome, any interim representative would remain in office until at least the Nov. 8 general election.

There is not a set deadline by which a replacement would need to be appointed, Foster said.

Interim representatives are able to run to stay in the seat longer, but that would require them to return qualifying petitions by April 7 if they wish to be on the ballot for the Aug. 4 primary election.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no candidates other than Smith had picked up petitions, Foster said.

(READ MORE: Rep. Robin Smith reaches plea deal in wire fraud case, resigns)

The Times Free Press reached out to several potential candidates for comment. One was Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Martin, R-Hixson, who is seeking re-election to the commission.

"It's a sad day in Tennessee, and I don't want to talk about political futures today," Martin said in a Tuesday phone interview. "I'm going to let the process work itself out."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, R-Hixson, also is not seeking re-election to his current position.

"Right now, like most of us, our thoughts and prayers are with Robin and also her family," Coppinger said in a Tuesday phone interview. "It's a difficult time for them. I don't think any of us are thinking about political seats."

(READ MORE: FBI searches offices, homes, of Tennessee lawmakers, including Hixson Rep. Robin Smith)

Joe Smith, a Republican from Hixson who sits on the Hamilton County school board, said in a Tuesday phone interview he has no intentions to run and that the seat "isn't even on my radar."

Chattanooga City Council Vice Chairman Ken Smith, of Hixson, did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to resigning Monday, former Rep. Robin Smith reached a plea agreement in a federal wire fraud investigation of a political consulting firm tied to former state House Speaker Glen Casada, who remains a House member, and Casada's former chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

Smith, 58, a former Tennessee Republican Party chair first elected to the state House in 2018, faces one count of honest services wire fraud, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Nashville. It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment with no minimum sentences and fines not to exceed $250,000.

(READ MORE: FBI investigation at Tennessee statehouse continued through legislative session)

Court documents allege Smith colluded with Cothren to hide his involvement in a new political services company called Phoenix Solutions, given that Cothren had left his position on Casada's staff in scandal and was unlikely to win business if his involvement was known.

Smith received kickbacks for vouching for the company, which had a fictitious frontman named Matthew Phoenix, who was really Cothren, according to prosecutors.

Contact Logan Hullinger at or 423-757-6416. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.