By MARINA WATERS
With all changes considered, the Washington County Commission will look pretty different by the time August rolls around.
The election, with primaries ending on Tuesday, May 1, doesn’t just contain both veteran candidates as well as newcomers; the commission will be reduced from 25 commissioners to 15 with one representative from each of the newly-aligned districts.
The commission voted in a 14-9 vote in February 2016 to adopt the reapportionment plan for the district map which included the reduced number of commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Hensley, who is not running for reelection, was part of the county’s reapportionment committee when the redistricting occurred. He said the decision to redistrict was based on population density and the idea of “one voter, one choice.”
“We wanted to substantially reduce the deviation between voter populations in the district. That was reason number one,” Hensley said. “Reason number two was that the idea of one commissioner in a district closely followed one voter, one voice. So you go to the polls and you can make a choice between this person or that person to represent you. No more were there two commissioners in some districts, three in others, one in one. That just didn’t make sense to us.”
Tennessee Code Annotated 5-1-111 says county legislative bodies are permitted to change boundaries or redistrict the county as a whole every 10 years or when needed in order to provide adequate representation in accordance to population. The law also states that the reapportionment has to be based on the most recent census data. Therefore, Hensley said, also the new districts were based on the 2010 census data for the county.
And in redistricting, Hensley said the majority of the redistricting was left to the state. He said the county did however request that communities be kept together. The commissioner also said the number of representatives on the commission was a big deal for many throughout the area.
“That was an issue in the previous election,” he said. “(The number of commissioners) arose as something that was important to some people. Not just commissioners, but our voters.”
The changes coming to the county commission have now also brought forth a race of some commissioners seeking reelection, but in a different district — and some facing incumbent opponents not previously in their respective district before the redrafting.
Commissioner Lee Chase (formerly in District 4), Commissioner Suzy Williams (also from District 4) and Commissioner George “Skip” Oldham (formerly in District 2) face off for the Fairmont, District 9 spot. The winner of that primary race will go up against Democrat Dennis Prater in the general election.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Mike Ford (formerly in District 7) and Commissioner Lynn Hodge (formerly in District 1) are running for the Sulphur Springs, District 15 slot. Hodge and Ford are also running against newcomer Logan Burleson (Republican) in the primary election.
Though the commission shuffle has affected some returning candidates, 16 of the 31 candidates are vying for a chance to sit at the commission table for the first time. Two county educators, a former Jonesborough Aldermen, a former sheriff, a Johnson City Commissioner, and a Jonesborough attorney are among the 16 newcomers on the ballot.
Meanwhile, there are four candidates running unopposed; Commission Chairman Greg Matherly will represent District 6, newcomer Jodi Jones will represent District 11, Commissioner Robbie Tester will represent District 12 and Commissioner Gary McAllister will represent District 13.
However, 10 commissioners are not running for reelection. In addition to Hensley, Commissioners Sam Humphreys, Richard Johnson, Tom Krieger, Mark Larkey, Mitch Meredith, Paul Stanton and Pat Wolfe are not in the commission race.
Commissioner Joe Grandy has entered the county mayor’s race while Commissioner Rick Storey has entered the trustee race.
Early voting began on Wednesday, April 11 and will end on Thursday, April 26. The polls are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 12 a.m.
Primary Election Day is Tuesday, May 1, with voting times from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.