By Keeli Parkey
There will be no candidate representing the Unicoi County Republican party in the race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property on the Aug. 4 General Election ballot.
The party’s Executive Committee met Saturday, May 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse and unanimously voted not to place a candidate on the ballot; instead, allowing individuals interested in the office run as write-in candidates.
The committee includes Debbie Tittle, Terry Haynes, Mitzi Bowen, Lynn Woodruff, Kent Harris, Sarah Sellars and Jim Buchanan, who chairs the committee.
At the start of the meeting, Buchanan reviewed the events which brought the group together on Saturday. Buchanan read from a letter sent in March by Mark Goins, Tennessee’s coordinator of elections to Sarah Bailey, Unicoi County’s administrator of elections.
“It has been brought to my attention that due to the untimely passing away of Ms. Margaret Shelton Seward, the winning candidate for the Republican Party in the office of Assessor of Property, will not move forward to the Aug. 4, 2016 election,” Buchanan read. “The question now posed is what options are available to the Republican Party under these circumstances?
“Briefly stated, when a party candidate dies, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-204(a) allows the party who has lost its candidate to make a new nomination by any method of nomination authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-203. According to Tenn. Code Ann. §2-13-203(a)(1), political parties may nominate candidates ‘by any method authorized under the rules of the party or by primary election under this title’.”
Buchanan went on to quote from Goins’ letter, stating that state law “does not require” the party to nominate a candidate for the ballot.
“Realize that, (whether the party nominates a candidate or not), Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-133(i) allows a person to file a certificate of write-in candidacy …” Buchanan read.
Buchanan also referenced a letter sent to him in March from Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party.
“While TNGOP bylaws are silent on the exact process for filling a vacancy, a precedent has been set for vacancies to be filled by a meeting of the county executive board where a simple majority vote shall be required to fill the vacancy in question,” Buchanan read. “Under these auspices, the county executive board shall meet as the county primary board.
“While nominations from within the executive board are admissible, any potential candidates must meet the bona fide Republican standards laid out in Article IX, Section 1 of the Bylaws and Rules of the Tennessee Republican Party.”
Buchanan then shared the vote tallies in the assessor’s race during the March 1 county primary. According to Buchanan, Seward, who passed away the morning of the primary, received 1,570 votes (48.12 percent); Wayne Peterson, who passed away in February, received 560 votes (17.16 percent); and Rocky McInturff received 1,116 votes (34.20 percent).
Buchanan then opened the floor for the members of the Executive Committee for discussion.
Debbie Tittle, the county’s register of deeds and the county party’s vice-chairman, motioned not to place a candidate on the ballot, saying “… I think that this is still America; it is still a democracy and this ought to be in the hands of the people. It is my opinion that we shouldn’t have a nominee and allow the people who would like to qualify as candidates for the Unicoi County assessor’s position to launch write-in campaigns. …”
Tittle’s motion was seconded by Terry Haynes, the county’s road superintendent and vice-president of the county party.
“People feel like because Wayne passed away they lost their vote,” Haynes said. “Then Margaret passed away and other people felt like they lost their vote. We had no control over that. This has never happened (in Tennessee). … In my heart, I feel like the people want to speak again.”
The committee then unanimously passed Tittle’s motion.
At the start of Saturday’s meeting, the committee observed a moment of silence in remembrance of Peterson and Seward, as well as Unicoi County Commissioner Walter Garland who passed away the previous day.
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Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of the previous assessor Patsy Bennett.
Following Peterson’s death, the Commission appointed Teresa Kinsler as the interim assessor of property at its March meeting. Kinsler has filed papers to appear as a write-in candidate for the position on the Aug. 4 ballot.
McInturff told The Erwin Record following Saturday’s meeting that he plans to run a write-in campaign.
The deadline for individuals to file a certificate for write-in candidacy is noon on June 15.