In a matter of a few minutes Wednesday, about one quarter of Hamilton County's geographic area received new leadership.
Joan Carter, widow of former District 29 Republican state Rep. Mike Carter, was appointed by the Hamilton County Commission to fill her late husband's seat on an interim basis, and Hamilton County Board of Education member Dr. Steve Highlander was appointed by the commission to replace District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston, who resigned and moved to Florida.
Both the state district and county district — one of largest in the county geographically — cover about, but not exactly, the same areas in Collegedale, Ooltewah, Harrison and Apison.
The appointment of Carter, 67, will last until the results of a Sept. 14 special general election called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, which follows a July 27 primary election. She has said she has no plans to run for her late husband's seat.
The appointment of Highlander, 69, runs through the remainder of Bankston's term, which ends Sept. 1, 2022. The 43-year Tennessee and Georgia teacher did not state whether he planned to run for the seat in 2022 but did say rightly it would be "inappropriate" and a "conflict of interest" to hold both the school board and commission seats on a long-term basis.
Highlander becomes the third member of the commission, along with Chip Baker and Greg Martin, to have previously served on the school board. Bankston also had served on the board, and newly elected Chattanooga City Councilwoman Jenny Hill is a current member of the body.
As of Thursday afternoon, one Republican, Hoyt Samples, and one Democrat, DeAngelo L. Jelks, had picked up papers to qualify for the District 29 seat, the deadline for which is noon on June 17.
Republican Greg Vital, a local developer, also has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the post in the conservative district.
For the next several months, Carter will have, in the words of Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, who nominated her, "the opportunity to finish some of the things Mike started."
Her appointment was confirmed 7-0.
Carter called the nod "a true tribute to Mike's legacy." She said he always had valued her "as a sounding board" and told her she was a "good listener, gave sound advice and could keep a confidence."
"Mike is looking down from heaven and is so proud of her," Smedley said.
We believe the devoid-of-politics appointment was the right and sound thing to do.
In the day's other appointment, politics already had reared its head and resulted in the appointment of Highlander, by all indications a compromise choice.
When commissioners first voted on a replacement June 2, three of the eight applicants were nominated by commissioners, but no one got the majority necessitated by law. The vote-getter with the fewest votes, Jeff Eversole, a regional market manager for Walmart, then was dropped. The next vote resulted in a 4-3 lead for Dean Moorhouse, a retired health care executive, over Cempa Community Care CEO Shannon Stephenson, with Martin passing twice.
In the intervening week between commission meetings, it appeared unlikely Moorhouse, current vice president of the Hamilton County Republican Party and past president of the Nightside Pachyderm Club, would get the votes of the body's three Democrats, Warren Mackey, Katherlyn Geter and David Sharpe, or Martin, a Republican, and Highlander's name emerged as a compromise.
At Wednesday's meeting, with all eight applicants still eligible, Highlander was nominated by Mackey and Eversole by Martin. The vote was 5-2 for Highlander, with Mackey, Sharpe, Smedley, Randy Fairbanks and, after passing once, Tim Boyd voting for Highlander, and Martin and Baker voting for Eversole. Geter was absent.
Highlander, a pastor at Tremont Baptist Church and cattle farmer since his retirement from teaching, is a Republican but ruffled some conservative feathers when he chaired the school board during the search for now-Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson in 2017. And since he was a compromise choice for the seat, if he were of a mind to run for a term of his own in 2022, he would likely have primary opposition.
Moorhouse, who amassed significant vocal community support for the appointment, Eversole and Stephenson could eye such a race.
After the vote, Mackey and Sharpe seemed to make a play for Highlander to abandon the Republicans and join their side. Mackey saluted him as "a mind of reason" and hoped he would be "not so arbitrary and partisan as we see way too much of." Sharpe said he would be "glad to have another voice of reason up here."
So much for reason and nonpartisanship.
Highlander told commissioners he was "thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve" and thanked them for their confidence in him.
A decent and honorable man, we hope he'll be a thoughtful and effective member of the commission — and more active than Bankston — for the remaining 14-plus months of his term.