February 23, 2024 10:00am

Dual office-holders occupy one too many seats, Power Poll members say

Buckle up, voters, it's 2020 all over again

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

Elected officials who hold more than one public office might want to think about which one they really want. They might have to give one up in the near future if state lawmakers approve legislation prohibiting dual office-holders.

Almost two-thirds of Chattanooga area Power Pollers think legislators will OK a bill proposed by a Knoxville Republican that would end the ability of people to hold multiple elected offices at once and would make it illegal to run for more than one office in the same election.

And more than 80% of this month's Power Poll survey respondents said elected officials shouldn’t be able to do that in the first place.

When asked, “Should elected officials in Tennessee be able to hold two elective offices at once,” 84% said “no” while 10% said “yes.” Seven percent were unsure.

A smaller percentage, but still a healthy majority, 59%, think state lawmakers will approve the proposed bill banning the practice. Twenty percent said “no” and an equal percentage said they are unsure.

In Hamilton County, officeholders potentially affected include Ken Smith, who serves on the Chattanooga City Council and the Hamilton County Commission; Esther Helton-Haynes, who serves in the state legislature and as vice mayor of East Ridge; and Gene-o Shipley, who serves on the Hamilton County and Soddy Daisy commissions.

The proposed legislation would also affect state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, who is running for re-election to her current seat and has announced her bid for the U.S. Senate seat in which the winner would face incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn in November.

While the majority of Power Pollers favor ending the dual office-holders practice, a current elected official who at one time held two offices said the decision should be left up to voters.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean served in the General Assembly and as East Ridge vice mayor.

“In 2006, when I was appointed to the Legislature, I was serving as mayor of East Ridge,” he wrote. “The other members of the council asked me to continue to serve and complete the budget. I then stayed on until the election, as the legislature was out of session by then."

Voters, he said, "are the best judge of who they want to represent them.” If voters have no problem with public officials serving in two offices, why should state lawmakers, he asked.

“There are many other important issues that need to be addressed, in my opinion,” he wrote.

Another legislative initiative that has generated headlines in recent weeks involves a proposal to ban certain flags from being displayed in public schools.

More than half — 56% — said "yes" when asked if they support "proposed legislation moving through the Tennessee General Assembly that would ban political flags from public schools?" Almost a third — 30% – said "no" while 14% didn't know.

Dr. Rob Liddell, executive director of the Center for Career and Leadership Development at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, cautioned against a "slippery slope."

"A prohibition on displaying political flags is a slippery slope," he wrote. "It is always a difficult balance to strike between honoring commitments to free speech and viewpoint neutrality."

Finally, Power Poll respondents are pretty darn sure voters will go to the polls in November and cast ballots in a presidential contest that most Americans would prefer not to see. National polls show voters are not keen on a rematch of 2020.

Nearly three-fourths of poll respondents — 73% — said they "predict Joe Biden and Donald Trump will be the respective candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties." Sixteen percent said "no" and 11% didn't know.

A Power Poll member recalled a bumper sticker he saw in 2015 (leading up to an election that featured two "widely disliked candidates") that summed up the situation in 10 words (ah, the beauty of brevity): “If God wanted us to vote, He’d give us candidates."

Well, "He’s still holding out!" wrote Decosimo Corporate Finance senior advisor Fred Decosimo.

Brother Nick Decosimo, also a senior advisor with Decosimo Corporate Finance, noted the expected November match-up is, at best, "very discouraging."

"It’s hard to comprehend how we got to this point, with two men — both manifestly unsuitable to serve as president — but both as candidates and both having already once been elected by the people," he wrote.

He referred to words by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.H. Auden, who in the 1930s wrote; “Since the external disorder, and extravagant lies/ … What can truth treasure, or heart bless,/ But a narrow strictness?”

"I think that’s where we are," Decosimo concluded.

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at cvass@timesfreepress.com or cvass@powerpoll.com.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

More on This Poll

More Polls

More on This Poll