UPPER CUMBERLAND – From judgeships to state senate seats to local councils and commissions, the upcoming election season is brimming with picket stops, campaign slogans and plenty of side stories.
But at the center of the political rush in 2014 will be the ultimate turnover of at least four state offices. While it may not be the most in recent years, it’s still significant considering the seats involved and years of experience lost.
Of those retiring, Charlotte Burks, a long-time state Senator, has served in the state Legislature for 16 years. Similarly, Charlie Curtiss, who is also retiring, has served for 20. John Maddux spent 30 years on the bench as Circuit Court Judge
for the 13th Judicial District. Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns Jr. has 38 years to boot.
At least one of those retirements has led to a domino effect in the race for District Attorney in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White counties – the largest such judicial district in the state in number of counties and size.
With Maddux stepping down, current DA Randy York will take on Jonathan Young for Circuit Court Judge Part II. As of press time, three had intentions
of filling York’s soon-to-be-vacated position: Bryant Dunaway (R), Shawn Fry (R) and Tony Craighead (D). Those vying for Judge Burns’ seat include Will Roberson (D), Gary McKenzie (R) and Wesley Bray (R).
It’s an expensive endeavor to campaign in such a large territory, especially considering the winner will have to give up their private practice (the state constitution says so). But most agree, even the idea of change is good.
“You lose some really good, experienced people, but at the same time, when those good, experienced people first came on board, they were brand new, too,” Fry said. “I think Judge Burns became judge when he only had two years of law practice, and I think Judge Maddux had a similar situation. There’s always going to be change, and sometimes some change is good.”
“I believe that the high interest in public service this year is a good thing for the quality of life in our business community,” said Dunaway, attorney- at-law and Republican candidate for the DA seat. “It is going to be a great benefit to the Upper Cumberland to have new, fresh, energetic, conservative leadership in public office.”
“This is certainly an interesting and important time for voters of the 13th Judicial District,” added Craighead, who is the current Deputy DA. “In my 20-plus years as a prosecutor, I’ve never seen our judicial system in such an unpredictable situation. I hope voters are really paying attention in the coming months.”
While there will be change in at least two races for the Tennessee General Assembly – with the stepping down of Curtiss and Burks – more could in the works. Several incumbents had yet to pick up petitions as of press time, while others were waiting to see if they’d be facing any opposition.
Both Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), who represents the 25th District of Cumberland, Van Buren and Putnam, and Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville), who represents Putnam County in District 42, are two such candidates in waiting. Both hope they can continue to tap the knowledge base that Burks and Curtiss possess. But change is nothing new for those now serving in the House, who were part of a big wave of change three and a half years ago.
“It will be difficult to lose that knowledge base when we have issues, but as far as having new individuals down there, it’s like anything else, they’ll bring a different perspective or thoughts or ideas that someone else may not have thought of,” Sexton said. “That’s what you had in the House, a lot more different voices that you might not have had before.”
“I think, with all this, we are in a case study of what term limits would look like in state offices in Tennessee,” Williams added. “I mean, who would have thought after three years of service, I would be a senior member? I think it’s a good thing, but it’s hard for leaders to develop when everybody’s new. You’ll see a lot more people in my class, the 2010 class, leading going forward. There’s bills I’m looking at carrying this year that I never thought I would lead the charge on.
“It looks daunting, but most people I serve with (Republican or Democrat) serve with the state’s best interest at heart,” Williams added. “That’s always a good thing.”