Voting locally is complicated these days. Far more complicated than calling yourself a Democrat or a Republican or an independent.
When you go to vote Tuesday you'll be asked — as always in a primary election — if you want a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot. If you choose a Democratic ballot, you'll really get a say in — at most — a handful of the 40 or so races that are up. In some districts (like this writer's) you'll only have two races with Democratic candidates — one for county mayor and one for district attorney. And both of those Democrats automatically move on to the August general election since they are unopposed in the primary.
The long and short of it is that given Hamilton County's lean to Republican red, none of us should opt out of helping make sure we have the best possible Republican mayor and/or DA candidates come August — or in those offices for the next several years. And on the GOP ballot, those races are contested, so the only way we can influence who our leaders will be is to pull a GOP primary ballot.
Hamilton County mayor
At least until August, there is only one clear and logical choice for county mayor — Weston Wamp.
Every day, Wamp better distinguishes himself from the other Republicans on the ticket — County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley and former Hullco owner Matt Hullander.
Where Wamp really shines is in his passion for education, and especially trades education.
And while his challengers hemmed and hawed and gave no real answers about whether they'd commit our tax dollars to a new Lookouts Stadium but made certain we knew they wouldn't vote more money — least of all a tax increase — to schools, Wamp was decisive and clear:
"The economics of minor league baseball stadiums are dubious, questionable at best," he said. "I prefer to build schools over stadiums with taxpayer dollars. You don't get a bond rating for baseball stadiums and [another] bond rating for public schools. It does come down to a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul. And it comes in a community where public education has been mediocre for a generation."
A member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Wamp talked instead about using that money be put toward a new high school on the proposed stadium site or nearby in downtown. And that school would be aimed at providing students career and technical education, as well as college-track programs. And how about a world-class middle school, while we're at it, he said.
If you're asking for a Republican ballot on Tuesday, mark it for Weston Wamp so that come August we'll have two mayoral candidates — Wamp and Democrat Matt Adams — capable of driving dynamic change, not just status quo, in Hamilton County.
Hamilton County district attorney
Again, at least until August, there is only one clear choice for our county's top prosecutor and it is not incumbent Neal Pinkston, who continues to thumb his nose at Tennessee's nepotism law — despite state instructions from the Tennessee's comptroller and attorney general to terminate the employment of his wife and brother-in-law. Instead, in February he placed them both on paid leave — paid with our tax dollars.
Fortunately, Pinkston has viable opposition on both our Democratic and our Republican ballots.
His Republican challenger is Coty Wamp, the current general counsel for the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office. On the Democratic ballot, attorney and advocate John Allen Brooks, 68, is unopposed and will run against the GOP nominee in August.
If you're pulling a Republican ballot in the primary, vote for Coty Wamp (yes, Weston Wamp's sister). Then we'll look forward to a spirited campaign between her and Brooks.
County commission districts
Voters have five Hamilton County Commission district primaries to decide — Districts 1, 5, 8, 10 and 11.
That means local government representation is up in the air for half of the nearly 370,000 people who live here. Four of the seats are contested in the primary only with Republican candidates. One is contested only on the Democratic ballot. In other words four of these five districts will be decided in this primary election unless run-offs are needed.
> For District 1, which has only Republican candidates, including the incumbent, we think voters need a new face — that of Stacy Swallows, an army veteran and retired educator.
> For District 5, an open and all-Democratic field of play, we like Mike Greer, a financial adviser at Stone Bridge Asset Management in Chattanooga and an agent and recruiter with Greer Financial Services Inc.
> In District 8, the race is open and all Republican. There, current Hamilton County Board of Education Chair Tucker McClendon hopes to move up the ladder, and we support him.
McClendon has demonstrated strong leadership skills on the school board and in campaigning. What's more, there can be no doubt the county commission needs what he offers: Younger energy and ideas.
> District 10 is a new district with only Republican candidates — the best of which is Dean Moorhouse, a retired health care executive whose role in community advocacy and continuing research of our wastewater problems makes him a must have on the commission.
> District 11 is another brand new political district and it's May 3 primary includes contests only among Democrats. Montrell Besley is our pick. At 41, he is a father, small business owner and director of Community Engagement at Chattanooga Preparatory School. If he wins his primary, he will face an August election with Republican and former county commissioner Joe Graham.
In contested judicial races, we prefer Mike Dumitru for Circuit Court, Division 2; Boyd Patterson for Criminal Court, Division 3; and incumbent Sherry for the nonpartisan City Judge, Division 1, seat.
Chattanooga Times Endorsements
GOP ballots / Democratic ballots
County Mayor: Weston Wamp - R / Matt Adams - D
District Attorney: Coty Wamp - R / John Allen Brooks - D
Commision District 1: Stacy Swallows - R
Commission District 5: Mike Greer - D
Commission District 8: Tucker McClendon - R
Commission District 10: Dean Moorhouse - R
Commission District 11: Montrell Besley - D
School Board District 6: Cindy Fain - R / Ben Connor - D
School Board District 8: Katie Perkins - D
School Board District 9: Tate Smith - R
School Board District 10: Roddy Coe - R
Circuit Court, Division 2: Mike Dumitru - R
Criminal Court Judge, Division 3: Boyd Patterson - R
Chattanooga Judge, Division 1: Sherry Paty (nonpartisan)