Lucky 13? State House campaigns warming up

Scott Frith
Government/Politics columnist

Gloria Johnson is running for the Legislature again. Johnson, a one-term Democrat who represented District 13, was defeated in 2014 by Republican Eddie Smith. Now Smith is running for re-election and (so far) is the only Republican seeking the seat. The filing deadline is April 7 at noon.

Interestingly, Johnson may have a democratic opponent. According to the election commission, Don Daugherty, a former county Democratic Party chair, has picked up a petition to run as both a democrat and an independent. He can’t run as both. Instead, Daugherty will have to choose to run as a democrat, independent or not at all.

Of course, there’s precedent for Daugherty to run as an independent candidate. In 2010, Daugherty ran as an independent against democratic county commissioner Amy Broyles. (Daugherty lost to Broyles, 58 percent to 41 percent.) While few observers believe Daugherty would defeat Johnson in a democratic primary this year, an independent run by Daugherty would almost certainly ensure Rep. Eddie Smith’s re-election.

It would be a cruel irony for Gloria Johnson.

Johnson first ran for the District 13 seat in 2012. The district had been represented by Democrat Harry Tindell for more than a decade, but Tindell chose not to seek re-election after Republicans in the Legislature redrew the 13th district to include more Republican voters from west Knoxville.

The result was a wide-open seat with no favored candidate. That November, Johnson faced Republican Gary Loe and independent candidate Nick Cazana. Johnson defeated Loe by less than 300 votes and was almost certainly assisted by the more than 1,000 votes for Cazana’s independent campaign.

Why?

Many observers believe that candidate Nick Cazana benefited from having the same name as prominent local developer and Republican donor Nick Cazana.

That’s right. Two different guys. Same name.

Bottom line, in 2012, Gloria Johnson likely won because a lot of voters believed she was running against two Republicans – and they split enough of the vote to allow Johnson to win. Then four years later, in a turn of events only fitting of Shakespeare or local politics, Eddie Smith may win easily because he’d be running against two Democrats.

Regardless, there will be grumbling among Democrats if Johnson fails to defeat Smith this year. District 13 is a winnable district for state democrats – a rarity in East Tennessee – and there is no shortage of strong democratic candidates waiting in the wings.

Current county Democratic Party chair Cameron Brooks is young, ambitious and well-liked. Former city council member Charlie Thomas has strong district ties and would make a great candidate for any office.

Neither would run against Gloria Johnson.

Democrats shouldn’t wait too long. After 2016, there are only two more election cycles before the next legislative redistricting. Last time around, state Republicans didn’t put enough Republican voters in the 13th district.

They won’t make the same mistake again.

Scott Frith is a local attorney.
You can visit his website at www.pleadthefrith.com

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