NASHVILLE — A vacancy in the Tennessee House district created by the death of Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, ultimately will be filled by a special election required by the state's constitution.
But the Hamilton County Commission is also empowered to make an interim appointment, giving any appointee a potential political leg up when running in the later election.
Carter, a respected former Hamilton County General Sessions judge, attorney and businessman first elected to represent House District 29 in 2012, died Friday after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer discovered as he was recovering last year from COVID-19. He was 67.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Ooltewah Baptist Church. Visitation is from noon until 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
District 29 includes the Ooltewah, Collegedale and Harrison areas of the county. Created during legislative redistricting in 2012, the seat is seen as solidly Republican.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County political circles are abuzz over potential GOP candidates, including some who may be seeking an interim appointment.
"Has there been some talk, yeah, but I wouldn't listen to it out of respect for Mike and his family," said Hamilton County Commission Chair Chip Baker, a Republican, who didn't provide details. "And you know, he's a great man who deserves to be replaced with someone who is of like mind. But frankly, his funeral is on Friday, and I don't plan on talking about it until after, again out of respect to his family."
Commissioner Warren Mackey, a Democrat, agreed it's too early to discuss any appointment, although he said he anticipates that would occur with the seat being filled by a Republican.
Two Republicans whose names are being mentioned for the seat are Greg Vital, president and co-founder of Morning Pointe Assisted Living, and Collegedale Commissioner Ethan White, a Realtor who challenged Carter in a 2016 GOP primary. Both said now is not the time to discuss politics.
"He leaves big shoes to fill. Mike was my friend and my state representative, and our thoughts are with his family," said Vital, a former Collegedale city commissioner who ran against now-state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, in a 2012 Senate District 10 Republican primary.
White said, "I want us to take some time to mourn the loss of a great Tennessean and celebrate his life and his commitment to our community."
Another Republican whose name has been discussed — businessman and GOP conservative stalwart Dean Moorehouse — told the Times Free Press that while he has an interest in public service, it is "not for the Legislature," although he added, "I've had a number of people to call to ask me to pursue that."
Moorehouse's sights are on another office. He is among eight Republicans vying for an appointment by the county commission for a vacancy being created as Commissioner Chester Bankston, a Republican, prepares to step down.
Serving in the General Assembly in Nashville, which requires members to serve Monday through Thursdays for three, four or even five months a year, would pose a challenge for his business and personal life, Moorehouse noted. But he said that's not the case serving on the county commission.
Under Article II, Section 15 of the Tennessee Constitution, when any House or Senate vacancy occurs when there are 12 months or more before the next general election for General Assembly members, there would be a special election and the winner would serve out the term, which in this case ends Nov. 8, 2022.
Tennessee law and legal opinions provide for interim replacements, setting forth timetables and more.
A governor is required to issue a writ or legal directive within 20 days of the vacancy when, in this case, a special primary and general election would take place. The primary election would be within 55 to 60 days from the date the governor issues the writs. The general election would be 100 to 107 days of the writs.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.