Did you hear? Sabrena Smedley — when first elected eight years ago she was Sabrena Turner — is the daughter of former state Rep. Brenda Turner and the granddaughter of the infamous late and former Hamilton County Sheriff Bookie Turner. Did you hear that campaign whisper?
So seductive, this juicy tidbit begs to be believed. There's even an article out there in a slick local magazine from 2021 about the inspirations of local leaders and trend-setters. One photo features Sabrena and her mom — Brenda Turner. But it's not THE Brenda. So the whisper — one Smedley tells the Chattanooga Times Free Press she's asked about at least once a week — is not true. She is not related to Rep. Brenda Turner (or Rep. Turner's father, Bookie Turner).
One could say it's a reflection of humankind's propensity to look for connection — often a bad connection. We think it's more part and parcel of the times we live in, where trashy lies live on in emails, social media and especially political campaign whispers.
In recent weeks, the TFP has received more than one "tip" or misguided email about the so-called Turner connections — some from people we think of as normally reliable sources.
But hey — this is after all the time in our history when a sadly oversized number of our population believes the Big Lie (that our last election was stolen from the former president). It is a germ so virulent that three Republican candidates for mayor of Hamilton County — including Smedley — were given a litmus test on stage in a recent debate about whether they believed Joe Biden was legitimately elected president.
(Smedley and candidate Matt Hullander hedged but couldn't quite bring themselves to dismiss the lie. Weston Wamp was tactful, but called it what it was. "That's a loaded question in 2022. [W]hile you've got some things that may look unusual here or there, they're not the type of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the presidential election." The winner of the GOP mayoral primary on May 3 will face Democrat Matt Adams, who needs no GOP bonafides test, on Aug. 4.)
It's all baloney. All whispers. All untrue. All lies. And, clearly, as all politics are local, so the lies swirl here, too.
In our office email last week another hiss arose in a race with three Republican candidates and no Democrats running for a Hamilton County judgeship — that of Criminal Court Judge, Division 3. The seat is expected to be decided May 3.
Rebecca Stern, a former criminal court, Division 2, judge here, retired in 2015 and now has decided she wants her old job back. The other candidates are Boyd Patterson and Amanda Dunn.
After Stern retired, she and her husband began living for long periods of time in Puerto Rico where they had maintained a vacation home since about 2009. After hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated the island in September 2017, NewsChannel 9 did a story in October about Stern "surviving both hurricanes" and returning to Chattanooga "to work at a law firm she owns."
The email to us included photo links to her retirement and return stories and an excerpt from Tennessee law that states "Every judge of such courts shall be thirty years of age, and shall before his election, have been a resident of the state for five years. ..." With all those attachments was a question: If the election is Aug. 4 (the Republican primary is May 3 and there is no Democrat seeking the seat) and Judge Stern lived in Puerto Rico until Oct. 2017, how did she qualify to run for judge?
Over recent days, we've talked to Stern about her retirement/unretirement timeline, and she notes that the emailer left out some other pertinent facts the sender either didn't know or hoped we wouldn't know or bother to find.
Stern maintained a Chattanooga residence, medical records, doctors and a bank account as well as a Tennessee driver's license the entire time. In the couple's first year in Puerto Rico, she had a medical emergency and the care available on the island prompted her to know she did not want to live there full-time. In 2016, she established a law firm in Hamilton County after also deciding she wanted to continue working.
As for the "surviving both hurricanes" story, she told the TFP she and her husband were there for both storms and were unable to get flights out before departures were cancelled.
On Monday, she told us she'd heard back in the fall that someone might question her residency. Last month, she said, another news outlet forwarded to her an email that sounded much like the one we received. She stressed again that she has maintained a residency here. Assistant Administrator of Elections Nathan Foster confirmed as much on Monday afternoon.
Maybe the whisper was coming from one of her opponents or from one of their supporters, she said.
"I had thought about checking their Facebooks and their followers on their campaign, but I never even did that. We've run a real straight-up campaign. ... I have never pointed fingers, and will not, at any of our opponents or question anything about them."
Smedley and Stern aren't alone in being political whisper targets. Every Sunday, the TFP runs a full page story from The Associated Press headlined, "Not real news: A look at what didn't happen last week."
With still two full weeks until the primary election, perhaps as a community we might try not to fill a full page with our own whispers.