In November, for the first time in at least 30 years, all seats in the Hamilton County legislative delegation — state Senate and state House — will be contested.
Over those years, Republicans earlier and Democrats more recently didn't bother to field a candidate in many of the races whose winner seemed a foregone conclusion.
Come this fall, the results may not change much, but we believe every elected official is better off with competition. Not only do incumbents have to defend their record, but they also must explain what they hope to do in the future.
When we used the term "foregone conclusion," we really meant it. To wit, the six brave souls who have put their names forward for a slot in the delegation in the August state election primary have about a 7.5 percent chance of winning in November.
The six (David Jones and Jean-Marie Lawrence in House District 26, Danielle S. Johnson and Brent S. Morris in House District 27, Tammy Magouirk in House District 29 and Randy Price in Senate District 11, all Democrats) are opponents of incumbents, of which 74 of 80 in the delegation have won races to keep their seats since 1990, according to an analysis of election records.
The analysis includes the seats for which an incumbent ran in either the primary or general election.
And it's getting more difficult for the challengers. In the 1990s, three incumbents (Paul Starnes, David Copeland and Ray Albright) were beaten. In the 2000s, only two (Arnold Stulce and Brenda Turner) were knocked off. And so far in the 2010s, only one (Tommie Brown) has gone down in defeat.
Of the six incumbents who lost, two of the losses (Copeland and Brown) were due to redistricting. In essence, then, not since Democrat JoAnne Favors knocked off fellow Democrat Brenda Turner in 2004 in House District 29 has an incumbent lost in an election that didn't follow redistricting.
Following redistricting after the 1990 Census, freshman Republican state Rep. Ken Meyer faced longtime Republican state Rep. Copeland for what was then House District 30 in 1992. Meyer, who had knocked off longtime Democrat state Rep. Paul Starnes to win the District 31 seat in 1990, bettered Copeland by 580 primary votes out of 5,140 cast.
Meyer, the giant killer, would meet his match in Zach Wamp in the 1994 Republican 3rd District congressional primary. Wamp, on his way to eight terms in the U.S. House, more than doubled Meyer's vote total in Hamilton County.
Following redistricting after the 2010 Census, Democrat state Rep. Tommie Brown, elected in 1992, met Favors for the District 28 state House seat in 2012. Despite Brown's seniority, Favors trounced her by nearly 2,400 votes.
The other two incumbent defeats over those 30 years were Albright by David Fowler in the 1994 Republican primary for state Senate and the Democrat Stulce by Republican Jim Vincent in the 2000 general election in state House District 31.
The biggest turnover among delegation members since 1990 occurred in 2006. Fowler retired, and Bo Watson was elected to replace him. In addition, Richard Floyd was elected to replace Chris Clem, who retired, in House District 27; Vince Dean was elected to replace Jack Sharp, who had died, in House District 30; and Jim Cobb was elected to replace Watson in House District 31.
The best chances for candidates come in open seats — where there is no incumbent.
The Hamilton County delegation will have two of those this year, in House District 28 where Favors is retiring and in House District 30 where state Rep. Marc Gravitt is running for Hamilton County register of deeds.
It's not surprising, then, that the District 28 race has six candidates, five Democrats and one Republican, and that District 30 has four candidates, two Republicans, one Democrat and one independent.
One of the Democrats in the latter district, Yusuf Hakeem, will be attempting to gain a seat he first reached for in 1992. After being elected a Chattanooga city councilman in 1990, he sought a state legislative seat in the Democratic primary but finished third in a four-person race. Since then, he would be elected city councilman five more times and also serve several years on the then-state Pardons and Parole Board.
Among his opponents in the August Democratic primary is Melody Shekari, who was the party's 3rd District congressional nominee against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in 2016.
Meanwhile, the eventual winner in District 30 will be the sixth different state representative in 28 years, following Copeland, Meyer, Sharp, Dean and Gravitt.