The 11-member Hamilton County Commission that voters will elect next month will have at least seven faces not a part of the current body and could have — including the two new seats added with redistricting following the 2020 census — as many as nine.
It will be the least experienced commission since the county moved to a mayor/commission form of government in 1978.
The May primary election already decided eight of the seats. Republicans Chip Baker in District 2, Greg Martin in District 3 and Lee Helton in District 7, and Democrat Warren Mackey in District 4, had no opposition in the primary and have no opposition in the general election.
And Republicans Gene-O Shipley in District 1, Mike Chauncey in District 8 and Jeff Eversole in District 10, and Democrat Greg Beck in District 5, won their primary races and have no opposition in the general election.
In the remaining races, the Chattanooga Free Press recommends:
— In District 6, Ruth Jeno: The current Red Bank city commissioner has more government experience of the two contenders, having served as mayor, vice mayor and having been elected to the commission of that city three times. The Republican also served nine years on the Red Bank Planning Commission, which would be a valuable commodity on a county commission which must grapple with growth and the infrastructure that must accompany that growth.
Importantly, Jeno would be the commission's only woman. If she does not win, the commission that takes office on Sept. 1 would be the first since 2014 without a woman.
Her Democratic opponent, one-term incumbent David Sharpe, is a stay-at-home dad and a nice man, but we believe he does not offer the same type of conservative leadership as his challenger.
— In District 9, Steve Highlander: The retired teacher and coach, and current church pastor, was appointed to the commission just over a year ago and is seeking his first full term. Before his appointment, he was elected twice as the District 9 member of the Hamilton County Board of Education, where he headed the board's 2017 hiring of former Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson. He currently serves on the commission's Education Committee, which monitors the county school system, and consults with its superintendent and board members to assess needs, make suggestions, and support actions to develop and maintain high quality educational programs for all students.
In his year on the board, we believe the Republican has been a good listener, a collegial presence and a member less willing to speak unless he has something to say than some of his fellow commissioners.
Highlander's opponent, Democrat Steve Caudle, is also a church pastor and, like Highlander, was raised in Hamilton County. We believe him to be an earnest and well-meaning candidate but believe the incumbent's background makes him the better representative for the district.
— In District 11, Joe Graham: We are excited the former two-term county commissioner could return to the board not only because of the experience he offers but because we know while in office he was a loyal presence at community events and a hard worker for his constituents. While on the board, he was unafraid to ask questions, was willing to suggest ideas others hadn't thought about, and kept a sharp eye on county finances and public education.
Although Graham's district has shifted somewhat with redistricting, we're sure the Republican will offer the same kind of representation in the newly created district.
His opponent, Montrell Besley, is young and enthusiastic and has worked in various capacities to mentor area youth. We hope he'll stay involved in the community but believe the district is better off by returning the indefatigable former commissioner to office.