Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 8, 2014

Tennessee Election Results

Tennessee Congressional Districts, 113th Congress

1. In the judicial retention elections, three justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court were seeking retention, and all three won retention. Huzzah!

2. All the judges who were up for retention votes on the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals also were retained. (The Lt. Gov. was not gunning for any of them.)

3. In 7th State Senate District in Knox County (my neck of the woods), Richard Briggs, a county commissioner and surgeon, has decisively defeated incumbent state Senator Stacey Campfield in the GOP primary. This is excellent news. Campfield, you may recall, was the moving force behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the Tennessee General Assembly; he was the state senator who wanted to make welfare benefits for low income families contingent on whether the children in those families made “satisfactory progress” in school. (I previously blogged about Campfield here and here.) So, Campfield is out, and that’s good news. I may not agree with Dr. Briggs on all matters, but he is a serious improvement on the incumbent. (And less embarrassing for Tennessee, too.)

4. Governor Haslam easily won the Republican primary to run for a second term as governor.

5. US Senator Lamar Alexander defeated a Tea Party challenger in the GOP primary, 50-41. See also coverage in the Nashville Tennessean, the New York Times, the LA Times, NPR, Politico, Slate. And read a (perhaps too optimistic) piece by Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa in the Washington Post, “Why Lamar Alexander’s vote for immigration reform didn’t sink him.”

6. In the Knox County judicial races (circuit court, chancery court, criminal court, general sessions), the Republican candidates won every contested race. (I have reservations about whether judges should be identified by party label, but…that’s how it is for local judges at the moment in Tennessee.)

  • Patricia Long, the Republican incumbent in General Sessions, Division 3, defeated her Democratic challenger, George Underwood, with 72% of the vote.
  • Greg McMillan (Rep.) and Daniel Kidd (Dem.) were both running for Circuit Court, Division 4, to succeed retiring Judge Bill Swann. McMillan won, 73-27.
  • Scott Green (Rep.) and Leland Price (Dem.) were both running for Criminal Court, to succeed retiring Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz. Green is a former prosecutor who has worked as a criminal defense attorney for the past few years. Price is a current prosecutor. The Democratic DA endorsed Price, and the Republican sheriff endorsed Green. Either one would make a good judge, IMHO. Scott Green won, 59-40.

Long, McMillan, and Green are all solid judicial picks. (Disclosure: I’ve worked on Habitat houses with McMillan, and he seems like a good guy.) And then there’s this:

  • Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr., a Democrat who has been on the bench for 27 years, lost 41-59 to Bill Ailor, a local attorney and sometime state administrative law judge.
  • Knox County Chancellor Daryl Fansler, a Democrat who has been on the chancery court since 1998 and has heard something on the order of 25,000 cases, lost 43-57 to Republican Clarence “Eddie” Pridemore, who graduated law school in late 2010 and has been running a solo practice in Knoxville since passing the bar in 2011. Chancellor-elect Pridemore has never argued a case in Knox County Chancery Court (i.e., the court of which he is now judge).

My attorney friends and colleagues are all flabbergasted and dismayed by the chancery court result. It’s bad enough to be losing an experienced and well respected jurist like Fansler (well respected by the bar, at least). But to get a chancellor who has almost no experience in chancery court is a tad unnerving. The only explanation is that tons of Knox County voters voted a straight Republican ticket — never mind the actual names in front of the party labels.

Elected judges (circuit court, chancery court, criminal court, general sessions) serve eight-year terms in Tennessee. Maybe this won’t be a disaster. Time will tell.

7. Also in East Tennessee, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of the 3rd District won the GOP primary against Weston Wamp (son of former 3rd District Representative Zach Wamp).

8. Down the road in Chattanooga, the city council had passed an ordinance in 2013 granting benefits to the domestic partners (including same-sex domestic partners) of city employees. Activists organizing themselves as the Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency (CGAT), along with the Chattanooga Tea Party, organized a referendum to repeal the ordinance. Yesterday, Chattanooga voters approved the ballot measure, 63-37, thereby killing the domestic partners benefit ordinance. Shame.

Tennessee US Congressional District 4 (since 2013)

9. In the 4th Congressional District, state Senator Jim Tracy is challenging incumbent Representative Scott DesJarlais in the GOP primary. As of this morning, with all precincts reporting, the count was DesJarlais: 34,787 votes; to Tracy: 34,752 votes. That is, DesJarlais leads by 35 votes, out of nearly 70,000 votes cast.

I am astounded and appalled that Scott DesJarlais has retained this level of support.

DesJarlais is a physician who had extramarital affairs with patients. To my thinking, that is unprofessional conduct that alone should be disqualifying. The Hill says that he was “fined” by the state medical board for his actions; I’m surprised that he didn’t lose his medical license. (An attorney who behaved similarly would at best be suspended and perhaps disbarred.)

Back in late 2012, Marion County Republican Party Chairman Howard Cotter said of DesJarlais: “Do I agree with what happened in his past? Of course not. But what’s in his heart today? Only the Lord knows that.”

Frankly, I don’t care what’s in his heart. That’s between him and God. The voters should be looking at actions and should be looking for accountability. And the fact that he’s asked for God’s forgiveness doesn’t impress me as much as it seems to have impressed his constituents. First, as the old bearded man says, Sins may be forgiven, but crimes must be punished. Sin is between DesJarlais and his Maker (and those against whom he has trespassed); his misconduct is a matter for secular law. Second, it seems to me that his forgiveness should involve some penance. The four knights who murdered Thomas Becket received forgiveness, but as penance they were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Hold Land, to visit the holy sites of Jerusalem barefoot and in hair shirts, and to live out their lives as hermits on the Black Mountain near Antioch. Compared to that, the modern politician’s “penance” is weak tea indeed. (I’m thinking of Mark Sanford in this connection, for example.) At a minimum, seeking forgiveness (not from God, but from your constituents and fellow citizens) should involve leaving office. Let Dr. DesJarlais treat patients at a free clinic in West Africa for four years, and then we can look at restoring him to a position of public trust.

The 4th District can do better than DesJarlais. And they should.

Image Credits: (1) Map of Tennessee Congressional Districts since 2013, National Atlas of the United States, Department of the Interior, February 2014. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Tennessee US Congressional District 4 Map, Department of the Interior, via Wikimedia Commons.



  1. Great news about the justices – tho I fear the lesson will be, spend more $$ next time.

    • Possibly. I can also envision an effort in the legislature next year to amend the state constitution to either (1) make the office of attorney general an elected one, or (2) (less likely) provide for competitive popular election of the state Supreme Court justices.

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