We thought the Hamilton County August general election might come and go without negative campaigning raising its ugly head, but, sadly, we were wrong.
And, regrettably, it was the Tennessee Republican Party that has supplied the negativity.
Constituents in District 6 (Red Bank and North Chattanooga precincts) recently opened their mailboxes to find a mailer attacking incumbent Democratic Commissioner David Sharpe with these words: "School Shooters Are Lurking. And Commissioner David Sharpe Would Open The Door For Them."
The mailer cited a June 9, 2021, quote from an online newspaper stating, "Sharpe Recommends That County Do Away With School Resource Officer Program."
We checked the story that produced those words and found the mailer did not include all of the headline. It left out the words: "Cover All 75 Schools With SSOs" (school safety officers).
Sharpe, in a Hamilton County Commission meeting, was responding to the difficulty Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond had cited in hiring and retaining school resource officers (SROs). Hammond had noted there was more money in the budget to hire additional SROs but he had to give priority "to keeping people safe from the people locked up in the jail."
So the commissioner suggested the money budgeted for SROs be taken and combined with an additional $1 million from the commission to hire school safety officers (SSOs) for all 75 schools. In no way was he suggesting safety be taken away; instead, he was suggesting all the schools be covered with a slightly different safety professional.
But the scurrilous mailer — one of several sent from the party in the campaign — not only misrepresented what he wanted to do, it portrayed him as someone who would not keep students safe.
The mailer stated he wanted to spend "millions for less effective government programs" and put "our kids and teachers at greater risk."
The return address clearly says: "Paid for by the Tennessee Republican Party."
To her credit, the Republican running against Sharpe, former Red Bank mayor and current Red Bank Commissioner Ruth Jeno, whom this page has endorsed, lambasted the mailer.
"I am deeply disappointed in the negative mailer district 6 residents are receiving against my opponent," she wrote on her campaign Facebook page. "I can assure everyone I nor anyone in my campaign had any knowledge or involvement in this or any other mailer against my opponent. From day one I have focused on running a positive campaign focused on the issues that matter to families and residents in district 6. I believe those who know me best understand this mailer does not represent who I am as a candidate, a community leader and person. My reputation is one of community service with honesty and integrity."
Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Tucker McClendon, on his Facebook page, also called out the move.
"There is a line that shouldn't be crossed in politics and using school shootings for political purposes is way past that line ... ," he wrote.
"As a member of the Tennessee Republican Party I'm ashamed our party would send something like this. I'm glad Vote Ruth Jeno has rejected this type of campaigning and is focusing on a positive campaign.
"Also, this is completely false. I worked with David Sharpe to start the idea of getting full coverage in ALL of our schools with the school system's SSO program which has a much better success rate of hiring ex-police and ex-military to keep our schools safe."
Indeed, a year and a week after Sharpe's initial suggestion, on June 16 of this year, the school board pledged $950,000 to hire and train school security officers for as many schools as possible and requested $1 million from the Hamilton County Commission to help finish the job. On June 29, the commission unanimously approved the outlay.
In this newspaper's story on the commission meeting, it noted that "Sharpe lauded the measure, adding that the school system has been diligently working to harden entrances at schools with security measures like cameras and locks."
The Republican Party mailer is reminiscent of the last-minute mailers sent out by friends of Weston Wamp attacking both of his Republican county mayoral rivals, Sabrena Smedley and Matt Hullander, ahead of the May primary. Both were loaded with half-truths and innuendo and alleged things that were flatly untrue.
Wamp, who won the race by 318 votes, said he had nothing to do with the mailers but did not criticize them.
We hope this type of campaigning is not the direction of the Tennessee Republican Party in general and of individual Republicans specifically. Over the last 30 years, the party in the state has won over voters with pledges of smaller, more efficient government, individual liberty and family values and has become the dominant party in the state after some 80 years of Democratic rule.
If such negative tactics are the direction of the party, we think that hard-won support will fall away. And it will be a fall that will be well-deserved.