It's the one rumor in the 2022 Hamilton County mayoral campaign that just won't go away.
The rumor — that Hamilton County commissioner and mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley, a Republican, is the daughter of former state Rep. Brenda K. Turner, a Democrat — is false.
That such a whisper campaign continues to persist speaks to the desperation of those who don't want to see the two-term commissioner prevail in the May 3 GOP primary as well as the turn the campaign seems to be taking as early voting is underway.
The former lawmaker Brenda K. Turner served 10 terms in the state House from 1985 to 2005. She has no children.
The mayoral candidate's mother also is named Brenda Turner, has a different middle initial, is blond like the former legislator and is roughly the same age.
Smedley said the rumor first cropped up when she made her initial run for the county commission in 2014.
"I was asked frequently about it," she said Monday. "I have said if I could have a dollar for every time I was asked about it, I could retire."
Smedley said the rumor has come and gone several times since that first campaign. It was raised again after a HealthScope magazine pictured Smedley and her mother, Brenda, together in an August 2021 article about local women and their inspirations.
In it, the candidate's mother slightly resembles the former state House member.
"It sparked the whole conversation again," Smedley said. "I thought, 'Here we go again — the notorious whisper campaign.'"
Later, following the publication of a news story that mentioned how Republican primary mayoral candidates Weston Wamp and Matt Hullander have well-known political fathers, several callers to the newspaper mentioned how Smedley — per the HealthScope article — also had a political family connection because Brenda Turner — the state lawmaker — was her mother.
That was the first we'd heard about it, but it took 15 minutes of internet sleuthing to knock down the rumor. Sure, the first and last names were the same, and the age and appearance were somewhat similar. But there is no genetic, familial connection between the two politicians.
Still, Smedley said, "I get asked about it all the time."
Indeed, she said Weston Wamp and his father, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, have casually asked her mother as recently as last week questions about her family when she was with her daughter at various campaign appearances.
Smedley's mother said Monday she just answered them that the subject was not anything that needed to be discussed.
"It should be a non-issue," Brenda Turner said she told them.
Years ago, when Smedley's mother used to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, she said used to get mail for state Rep. Turner when the legislator had an office in the TVA Credit Union building.
They had a "great chat" about it at the time, she said.
Smedley, though, said she believes the rumor is why some people on her campaign social media posts have responded, "She's a Democrat."
"I'm not a Democrat," she said. "My voting record is straight Republican." She said her mother is and has been a Republican.
Smedley said to her knowledge she has never met the former state lawmaker.
"What I realized, though, was that people either loved Bookie or hated him," she said. "There was no in-between."
James Estill "Bookie" Turner was the father of the former legislator. He was elected sheriff of Hamilton County in 1958 and served three two-year terms. In 1963, in the midst of his third term, he was elected fire and police commissioner on the old Chattanooga City Commission, where he served two terms. In 1967, during his tenure on the commission, he was tried and acquitted of all charges on aiding in the transportation of white whiskey into the city. He lost in a bid for a third term on the commission, ran unsuccessfully for Chattanooga mayor in 1975 and died in 1986. Neither his obituary, nor that of his wife, Virginia, in 2020, listed any grandchildren named Sabrena.
"People know what they're getting [if they elect me]," Smedley said. "There's no silver spoon."
Still, she'd like the rumor to be buried and to leave her mother out of an election campaign that should be decided on substantive issues.
"They can't find anything [else], and it's killing them," Smedley said.
Undoubtedly, innuendo and half-truths have circulated about Wamp and Hullander, too. But nothing has been as perniciously false as the Turner connection.
"My mother is not a candidate for office. She is not on the ballot," Smedley said. "Unlike the other mayoral candidates, I don't have a family member [who has been] on the ballot. I'm running to serve the citizens of Hamilton County, not to make Hamilton County government the family business."
Let's deep-six this rumor for good.