It does seem — judging from Tennessee's primary election on Thursday — that voters are tired of the status quo.
So tired, that despite coronavirus — or maybe because of it — more than double the number of Hamilton County voters exercised their right to vote this year than did in 2016. We're talking 58,783 votes cast this year to 29,108 in the 2016 primary.
What's more, an additional 1,500 Hamilton County voters (for a total of 57,072) cast ballots this year than did in 2018 — the year when, on a national level, a blue wave of mostly women began to take shape and eventually would help return control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats. (Hamilton County didn't help so much with that wave, but we'll not give up hope for November when not one, but two women, Meg Gorman, a Democrat, and Amber Hysell, an Independent, seek to unseat Republican Chuck Fleischmann. There's also Keith Douglas Sweitzer, another Independent, in that race.)
Add to this, our county also boasts more registered voters now than in 2018: 222,160 to 196,864.
All of this is doubly encouraging given the fact that in 2018, voters had a horse race for the governor's seat, a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, a county mayor's contest, county commission seats, sheriff, register of deeds and a host of school board seats.
This year, the voters cast ballots here in only the contested Senate primaries and three contested Board of Education races.
But they — like the rest of America — also had a lot of disgust over COVID-19, unemployment, a diving economy, racism, political rancor and one after another after another scandal in and around the White House.
Voters seem to have a different mood these days, not just in Hamilton County but in all of Tennessee.
It's true that a Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, Bill Hagerty, bested another Republican — surgeon Manny Sethi — who tried to out-Trump both Hagerty and Trump. But look who else endorsed Hagerty: U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a woman, vs. Sethi's chief stumpers, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. In that crowd, Hagerty (who bizarrely sought to portray Sethi as a liberal) was establishment.
And on the Democratic side, the nominee by a mile in a five-person race was Marquita Bradshaw, an activist and environmental justice advocate who became the first Black woman to win a major-party Senate nomination in Tennessee. Let that sink in. She bested Robin Kimbrough, another Black woman, by 9 percentage points and James Mackler, a decorated Iraq war veteran, by nearly 12 points.
Hamilton County's Board of Education races, though, seem to offer the most striking evidence for increased voter energy. In District 2, where despite false birther claims, political newcomer Marco Perez bested well-known Chattanooga businessman Tom Decosimo, there were more than 9,137 votes cast. In 2016, only 3,484 Red Bank and Signal Mountain residents voted for a school board member.
The same was true in Rhonda Thurman's race against teacher-backed Stephen Vickers. In that district, which includes Soddy-Daisy, there were 3,723 votes cast in 2016 but a whopping 6,694 this year. And in District 7 where incumbent Joe Wingate bested Debbi Meyers, the number of ballots cast also nearly doubled.
If the trend for more energized voters who seem ever so slightly to be seeking more diversity and less conservatism continues in November, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire may face a tougher-than-expected race against Glenn Scruggs, a Chattanooga assistant police chief who grew up in Avondale. Neither had primary opposition, but Gardenhire received 13,709 votes on the Republican ballot to Scruggs' 10,929 votes on the Democratic ballot. Bradley County voters also will figure into the final counts for that race.
It's an interesting time for politics, that's certain.