Primaries should matter in 2022
This is an election editorial by Jeffery Simmons, owner of the WC Sports Authority.
People who know me well will tell you that I’ve never been a big fan of politics. If it wasn’t sports, movies or music, I probably was checking out of the conversation pretty quick.
Over the years, I took more of an interest, but it was usually as a number cruncher. I loved going to local election nights and getting the numbers first, then keeping a running tally so I knew who was in the lead all the way to the finish. While I was there, I started meeting many of the local candidates, mostly in passing as they wandered over to my computer to find out if they needed to get the cigars ready or start drafting their concession speech.
As I started getting more and more of the handshakes and smiles from people I liked (or disliked), I began tracking the races before election day. I wanted to know who they were, particularly when it came to people who were going to be serving Warren County. I’ve long held to the notion that my national and state votes don’t hold a lot of sway (most people know which way Tennessee is leaning already), but voting in every local election has become fun for me.
It matters too.
Just a few years back, I was at the election office keeping track of votes when the early voting numbers were released. In one county commissioner race featuring three people competing for two spots, the separation from first to last was two votes (I’m not entirely sure of the numbers, but I think it was 102 votes for No. 1, 101 for No. 2 and 100 for No. 3). It didn’t finish up quite as tight, but commissioners have famously lost out on seats by as little as one vote (sorry Cole Taylor, I still remember and I bet you do too).
Those razor-thin margins are common locally – in 2018, Tommy Myers was elected sheriff (in a six-man race) by a scant 72 votes and, famously, our current district attorney Lisa Zavogiannis lost Warren County by seven votes in 2014, but was carried into office on the strength of her support in Van Buren County. I expect to see many close calls in 2022, when we’ll be in for a bonanza of voting.
Pick a position – any position – and most likely it’s coming up for election next year. Aside from McMinnville mayor (and three alderman seats) and three school board seats, if you want to see some change locally, there is a chance to throw around your influence, either by running or by voting.
County executive, both judge positions (general sessions and circuit court), all 24 commission seats, three alderman spots, three school board seats, 12 constables, register of deeds, trustee, circuit court clerk and superintendent of roads are all on the table. Somebody will be elected, or reelected, to those positions in 2022.
Something that I’d like to see, especially considering how closely I followed both the 2018 and 2020 elections for personal reasons (my stepdad, John Morgan, ran for sheriff and my brother, Brett Simmons, ran for mayor, respectively), is the use of primaries to narrow fields. I think, when they apply, candidates should put themselves through the primary process in hopes that by the time an election is held, we’ve whittled ourselves down to the top two (or, in commissioner races, perhaps four) best candidates.
Look back at the races I just mentioned and how much of a percentage of the votes the winners got in the election. In 2020, Ryle Chastain was elected McMinnville’s mayor with 44.7 percent of the votes (three-man race), while Myers took home 24.8 percent of the vote in the 2018 sheriff race. It feels odd to have a mayor not even get a majority number and the sheriff take office knowing three out of every four people voted for somebody else (and I would’ve said the same if my family would have won either race). In both cases, those men – both decent guys in my meetings with them – took office with the knowledge that they won despite the majority of the voters wanting somebody else.
That’s a tough road to win over the public – made even tougher when you know another dogfight is probably looming a few years later. In one way, I think it should compel any winner without the majority to put their footprint on the job as soon as possible, but at the same time, I could see it paralyzing the decision making process if you know one unpopular policy will ride you out of office before you’re really ever able to get your seat comfortable.
Primaries, and candidates putting a letter other than I (independent) beside their name, could help alleviate that issue. In a two-person race, there’s always going to be a majority winner emerge. At least then, they’ll take office knowing that they have a strong basis of support (keeping it can be trickier, but that’s another story for another day).
While I personally don’t think a sheriff’s political leaning matters much (same goes for a few other positions – I don’t know if you can pave a road in a republican or democrat fashion), making the democrat and republican primaries competitive in 2022 seems only right. I’ve seen hundreds of comments pop up on Facebook in last 18 months about people saying they’re going to run, so I fully expect to see 8-10 people in every race this year (though, realistically, it’ll likely be 3-4 for the big money jobs and I’m betting we’ll see at least two unopposed people in the commissioner races). Let’s have people duke it out in the primaries and let the cream rise to the top by the time the jobs are on the line.
Thankfully, I think we’re already beginning to see that. In the announcements I’ve already seen, candidates are looking to put a letter beside their name – and that letter is ‘R.’ Terry Bell and Joseph Stotts have already announced they’ll be seeking the republican nomination for county executive (current county executive Jimmy Haley ran as an independent in 2018), while Ryan J. Moore has kicked off his campaign for general sessions judge while seeking the republican nomination in May 2022.
I’m sure we’ll see more names emerge in the coming weeks and months – the fair will be here before we know it and I’m sure candidates will have their shirts, signs and buttons ready by then. We’ll see how it shakes out in 2022, but I’m fairly certain that we’re going to hear A LOT of people’s opinions between now and the time the votes are counted next fall.
I’m ready to listen to them all, even if I may start thinking about how coach Matt Turner’s offense is going to look this fall or how Chris Sullens will adjust his scheme this winter during some speeches.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering why this story is on the WCSA website – well, I assure you I’ll still be sticking to sports for the most part. I must say though – at the behest of many, many people in the county - I’m going to branch out a little bit for 2022’s election coverage. I have a platform that has really taken off in the last year and I think there are people who may decide their message could be best delivered by the Warren County Sports Authority – so I’ll give them the floor.
This is a public PSA to any candidate that is looking to announce: We’ll put out your announcement (in front of the paywall) on the Warren County Sports Authority website. Just email me at email@example.com and we’ll work it out. I’m not looking to ghost write your message, but I will offer my proofreading skills (for what they're worth) before posting. And you can use your social media pages to let it take off.
I’ll likely be forming a tab on my website specifically for election coverage and announcements, so the front page will remain sports-centric (and yes, I just heard everybody take that big sigh of relief).
I may also work on developing a second podcast feed where I can sit down 1-on-1 with candidates for interviews. Granted, I may be asking you what sports you follow the most, if you prefer Mud Bums or Collins River wings or basically anything but politics, but we’ll still have a good chat. If you want to pitch your vision, I’m fine with it too. Again, you have the floor – I have the audience.
More than anything, I want to present the community with the unvarnished thoughts, ethics and (probably) campaign promises of candidates as they seek to take office. My website doesn’t lean on party lines, but it does on college football allegiance. Fortunately, Big Orange backers, Crimson Tide crazies and the inevitable emergence of frenzied Black and Gold Vandy lovers are all local people who have local opinions and cast local votes. And they can hear from you on the WCSA website.
The Warren County Sports Authority was established in August 2020 and has reached over 70,000 visitors in its first year. Editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons is the lone employee and he has voted in both republican and democrat primaries since turning 18 in 2004. Simmons has only publicly endorsed three local candidates – his brother Brett Simmons (mayor race, 2020), his stepfather John Morgan (sheriff race, 2018) and his grandfather Norman Rone (mayor race, 2012). He also wanted the junior float to beat the seniors on homecoming in 2010.
Simmons covered a local political story last fall. It can be read by clicking here.