The primary morning-after newness is starting to sink in, and with new political leaders springing up here like May flowers, it's a new day in Hamilton County, Tennessee.
Yes, we still have an August election ahead of us, but Tuesday's polling already offers a breath of fresh air that could not be more welcome for Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Southeast Tennessee.
The stranglehold of old, tired thinking and status quo is loosening, and no matter the August election outcomes, we will — repeat, will —have a new county mayor, a new district attorney, a new sheriff, at least seven new county commissioners and at least five new school board members.
Some warn of this "inexperience."
Nah! We view it as overdue opportunity. Especially in the mayor's and DA's offices and on the Hamilton County Commission dais.
— For the mayor's seat, Weston Wamp in unofficial vote counts put 321 more points on the board than his nearest Republican primary challenger, Sabrena Smedley, and now advances to campaign until Aug. 4, facing Democratic nominee Matt Adams, who was unopposed in the primary.
Wamp and Adams offer this county the most youthful and boldly thoughtful approach to local governing we've had in a decades. Wamp, the 35-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Chattanooga, would be the youngest mayor in Hamilton County since the job was created nearly a half century ago if he defeats the even younger 25-year-old Adams, an Army veteran and paralegal.
But it wasn't just youth that put Wamp above his GOP opponents. It was new, bold thinking about issues that have stymied other Hamilton County GOP leaders for decades. Like our schools and especially vocational training: "I feel like we put public education on the ballot in a real way like it has never been before in a county race, and I think that resonated with all kinds of people," said the father of four in a telephone interview with the TFP on Tuesday night.
Adams, too, makes it clear our current school system is far from what it must be: "Your zip code should not dictate the quality of your education. We must practice equitable investment in our school system," he has told the Times Free Press and written on his campaign website.
Both Wamp and Adams are smart and focused. Good things are bound to come of this contest.
— Meanwhile, 33-year-old Coty Wamp (Weston's sister) made defeating eight-year District Attorney Neal Pinkston look like Road Runner dusting rings around Coyote.
She garnered two and half times as many votes as the incumbent. Of course, Pinkston helped her by thumbing his nose one too many times at the public's trust. It wasn't that he married a subordinate in his office. Love is love. It was that he tried to keep it secret, then misled county commissioners and state officials until they finally told him what he certainly already knew: Nepotism is a violation of state law. Still, instead of terminating the employment of two family members, he put them on paid leave at our expense.
Now the youngest Wamp sibling will face real competition in August with Democrat John Allen Brooks, a seasoned attorney and former county commissioner. Both have said they will put emphasis on today's violent crime, tragic fentanyl cases and child abuse rather than headline-grabbing cold cases.
— The county Tuesday elected five new commissioners, including one who ousted District 1's Randy Fairbanks of Soddy-Daisy. The 8-year incumbent apparently so angered his constituents over McDonald Farm, school funding and school facilities that they instead elected long-time Soddy-Daisy City Commissioner Gene-o Shipley with 2,096 votes — 178 more than went to Fairbanks. Another challenger, Stacy Swallows, garnered 957 votes.
Other outright winners include District 5's Greg Beck, back in his seat after losing it in the last election, District 7's Lee Helton, District 8's Mike Chauncey, and District 10's Jeff Eversole. Four more commissioners will be determined in upcoming special and August elections.
The school board races offered us another upset and gave us the first of our five (possibly seven) new school board members. Gary Kuehn of Ooltewah defeated incumbent James Walker.
Another outstanding outcome of this busy primary was that money didn't talk.
Although collectively the three GOP mayoral candidates spent a record $1.2 million-plus, the lowest money raiser won. Wamp raised $361,446, compared to Smedley's $436,005 and businessman Matt Hullander's $537,227.
In Soddy-Daisy's District 1, Shipley won despite Fairbanks significantly outraising his opponents with $66,200, compared to Shipley's $10,500 and Swallows' $12,100.
In East Ridge's District 8, Chauncey beat McClendon despite McClendon raising $29,615 compared to Chauncey's $24,050.
But to us, the narrowness of most of these wins — witness Weston Wamp's 321-vote squeaker — speaks loudest.
Political pollster and Spry Strategies President Ryan Burrell told the TFP last week that Smedley and Hullander were "splitting" the right of center, conservative and super-conservative voters.
"If the moderate Republicans, independents, light Dems and even a small percentage of minorities turn out, then Weston Wamp has a shot to win. If turnout continues to be low and limited to Republican super-voters, then Matt or Sabrena win it," Burrell said a few days before the election.
It appears a more purple primary outcome among the 40,764 votes cast in that race gave Wamp the boost he needed.
Purple is the color of opportunity. Hamilton County opportunity.