For the first time in a long time, Hamilton County's legislative delegation races are competitive — in the primary and especially in November's general election.
Among our county's six delegation seats, a state Senate seat and five seats in the state House of Representatives are on the ballot.
On Aug. 2 (and beginning today in early voting), voters will choose among five Democratic candidates in House District 28 and two Republicans in House District 30. (The ballot will indicate there also is a contested primary in District 26, but that's misleading because one Democratic primary candidate in that race dropped out.)
In November, all six seats will have both a Democrat and Republican option. In District 26, barring a court ruling that invalidates Republican Robin Smith's late qualification after incumbent Gerald McCormick dropped out, the remaining Democrat, David Jones, will square off against Smith.
Also in November, District 27 incumbent Republican Patsy Hazlewood will face Democrat Brent Morris; District 29 incumbent Republican Mike Carter will face Democrat Tammy Magouirk; and District 11 incumbent Republican Sen. Bo Watson will face Democrat Randy Price.
Today, the Times editorial page offers these primary endorsements in House Districts 28 and 30.
Shekari for District 28
Tennessee's District 28 House seat, vacated at the end of the term by the retirement of longtime Rep. Joanne Favors, has a wealth of candidates — six to be exact. And five of them are Democrats seeking a primary nomination.
The Democrats are Melody Shekari, 30, an attorney and a former U.S. 3rd District congressional candidate; Dennis Clark, 34, a businessman and a former Georgia legislative policy adviser; Jackie Anderson Thomas, 53, a social worker; Councilman Yusuf Hakeem, 69, a former Chattanooga City Council member; and Brandon Woodruff, 25, an entrepreneur.
They are all excellent choices for voters, and choosing just one to endorse was tough — a wonderful dilemma in this age of general political disappointment.
We endorse Melody Shekari. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, she has worked for felons' rights, assisted with immigrant cases and is on the state board of the American Civil Liberties Union and the local board of the American Red Cross.
She wants to focus on economic opportunities and education, as well as health care and criminal justice reform to help the district, which includes much of downtown, East Chattanooga, Brainerd and Amnicola.
She says her policy position that might surprise people is that she favors marijuana decriminalization — something that a number of Tennessee lawmakers — even conservative ones — are beginning to consider. "Our for-profit criminal justice system targets people of color and tears communities apart. Nonviolent crimes like marijuana possession should not be a conduit for the current criminal justice system to profit from," she says.
Clark's enthusiasm for the job is contagious, and makes him a strong contender. He notes that he is the only contender "with any real past legislative experience," having worked as a policy adviser and aide to former state Rep. Alisha Thomas Cromartie of Cobb County, Ga.
Thomas is passionate about her platform, which includes criminal justice reform, affordable housing, improving education, and making health care more accessible.
Woodruff, the youngest candidate in the race, has a master's degree in leadership and public policy from Lipscomb University and is insistent on improving education inequity, "because it establishes an uneven playing field as early as 4 to 5 years old."
Hakeem, the oldest candidate in the race, has a slew of endorsements, including that of Rep. Favors. He says working in the Tennessee General Assembly would be "a natural" for him after his 19 years on the city council, 10 years on the now defunct Chattanooga Public School Board, seven years on the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole and six years on the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
The winning Democrat will face Lemon Williams, a 43-year-old consultant who is unopposed for the Republican nomination, in November.
Helton for District 30
East Ridge City Councilwoman Esther Helton is the best Republican candidate seeking to represent East Ridge in the Tennessee General Assembly's House District 30.
A nurse for 36 years, she says, "It's high time lawmakers tell insurance companies to back off and let doctors do their jobs. We need to focus on the value of service delivered and not on the process. There needs to be health care cost transparency. I will fight to hold insurance companies accountable for doing so."
Although she seeks reforms in health care, she stops short of calling for a renewed effort to pass Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to obtain a Tennessee waiver for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Helton also says she's the only candidate in the race with a "proven public record to hold the line on taxes while protecting property rights" — something that became an issue in East Ridge when the council approved then dissolved the East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority over concerns of property condemnations.
Her GOP opponent, small business owner and a client specialist at Unum, Jonathan Mason, slammed Helton in a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board over those council votes and because, he said, she "admitted she voted for Obama twice."
"Even if I wasn't in the race, that [the Obama votes] would be a red flag for me," he said.
Well, that's a red flag for us. We expect politicians to worry about issues, not party pique.
It's true enough, that for the November General Election, we will be endorsing Democrat Joda Thongnopnua, a Democrat with no Primary opposition. But we always want the best candidate running on the GOP ticket, too, We understand that whoever wins will represent us all and therefore both contenders must be capable of being solid leaders.
We believe Helton is the best GOP choice.