Hamilton County Chancellor Pam McNutt Fleenor has set a hearing for Aug. 6 at 1:30 p.m. on a lawsuit brought by the Tennessee Democratic Party seeking to keep former state GOP Chairman Robin Smith off the ballot.
Ms. Smith was a campaign advisor for Ms. McNutt Fleenor when she ran for judge in 2014.
Her Rivers Edge Alliance was paid $13,546.86 by the McNutt Fleenor campaign, according to her campaign disclosure.
Chris Clem, a Republican member of the Election Commission, said the fact that Ms. Smith was paid to advise Ms. McNutt Fleenor "could be a conflict of interest."
In response to Democrats refiling the case in Hamilton County, the Election Commission has called an emergency meeting for Monday at 9 a.m.
The case had been assigned to Chancellor Fleenor instead of Chancellor Jeff Atherton because she was due the next case in the rotation of cases as they are filed.
State Democrats are asking for an expedited hearing.
The primary election is Aug. 2 and the general election Nov. 4.
Ms. Smith was the only candidate after Rep. Gerald McCormick surprisingly dropped out at a late hour of the House District 26 race.
The lawsuit, which calls the sudden resignation of Rep. McCormick "shocking," was initially filed in Davidson County, but was dismissed there after an issue arose that it had been filed in the wrong venue. It has been refiled in Hamilton County. The dismissal did not have to do with the merits of the suit.
Democrats are contending that there was no valid reason for Rep. McCormick to drop out after the deadline for pulling out. He said he had taken a new job in Nashville. One exception in the law relates to an employer requiring a move to a location outside of the district.
There had been an issue raised about the McCormick residency after he bought a house in Nashville last September and put his house on Big Ridge up for sale. His wife, Kim, accepted a position in Nashville with the State Board of Regents.
The suit says there should be no GOP candidate on the ballot. The only remaining candidate would be Democrat David Jones.
The complain said in June that "rumors" began about the residency of Rep. McCormick. It says Mark Goins, state election coordinator, then began an investigation of the situation. He concluded on June 12 that Rep. McCormick was a valid district resident.
It says six days later Rep. McCormick wrote a letter to local election administrator Kerry Steelman stating, "As a result of a job opportunity I will be forced to move to Nashville to carry out my work responsibilities later this year."
The law says an office holder can drop out after the withdrawal deadline "because such candidate is forced to change residence by the candidate's employer for a job-related reason."
The lawsuit says Rep. McCormick's situation did not meet that requirement and the election panel should not be able to put another Republican candidate in his place.
The suit says the Election Commission approved Ms. Smith going on the ballot without an inquiry concerning the McCormick withdrawal. It says Democratic Commissioner Jerry Summers had askd for a 15-minute delay on the start of the meeting, but Commissioner Clem started the meeting at the scheduled time of 8 a.m. Commissioner Clem said Commissioner Ruth Braly presided. He said commissioners were just told that attorney Summers and Democratic lawyers "might" show up later that morning.
The Smith campaign issued this statement:
“Having already lost in her preferred Nashville venue before a Democrat judge, ultra-leftist democrat party chairman Mary Mancini is taking her legal sideshow on the road. While, obviously no one can predict the outcome of any legal proceeding, we are confident she will get the same result in Hamilton County only after forcing our taxpayers to waste more money defending their right to vote against another frivolous lawsuit.
"We encourage Chairman Mancini to come to Hamilton County and explain why she feels so strongly that the citizens of Hamilton County should not have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of our choice. Rather than hide behind lawyers in Nashville, she should come to Hamilton County and tell our citizens face to face why their votes don’t count.
"In a year where Phil Bredesen is trying without success to sell Tennesseans on a message that Democrats want to work across the aisle, his party chairman is demonstrating that Bredesen Democrats are just the same repackaged liberals that Tennesseans have rejected for two decades with no confidence their candidate in District 26 can win, unless he faces a blank ballot. Hamilton County Republicans, who don’t want Nashville lawyers and party hacks telling us how to vote, can fight back by voting early – not only to support Robin Smith but to say we won’t tolerate people gaming the legal system to their own political benefit at the expense of our voting rights.
"All of Chairman Mancini’s talk of a “blue wave” turns out to be nothing more than a slow trickle of legal filings that only serve to waste the court’s time and our taxpayer’s money. She should stop embarrassing her District 26 candidate and stay out of Hamilton County’s elections.”