As the February 15 deadline for candidate qualifying petitions for the May 1 primary drew near, intimidation tactics started being employed against conservative first-time Republican candidates running for County Commission in Sumner County.
Three self-declared conservative Republican candidates were targeted, with two coming forward publicly and choosing to stay in the race.
The current Sumner County Commission, comprised of two commissioners from each of 12 districts for a total of 24, were elected in 2014. As an outcome of the May 2014 primary, 11 new commissioners were elected to the body, the majority of whom were supported by Strong Schools of Sumner County.
At a special-called meeting of the Sumner County Budget Committee, immediately followed by a special-called County Commission meeting the night prior to a national election, citizens were caught off guard when the property tax rate was taken from $2.02 to $2.50. Two months later, organized citizens turned out in the hundreds and brought forward a petition with approximately 4,000 signatures protesting the property tax increase.
That heavily attended meeting lasted more than six hours, going until after 1 a.m. the following day, once dozens of citizens finally had their say. At the two previous monthly meetings, the County Commission voted against making an exception to the agenda to allow public comments on the tax increase.
Opposition to the incumbents is not at all surprising, in that since the near 24 percent tax increase and initial rejection of pubic comments, the Commission has incurred $70 million in debt; further increased revenues by raising the ambulance fee, building permit fee and the litigation tax; approved their own participation in the state’s pension plan; considered County Executive Anthony Holt’s development of a taxpayer-funded industrial park on primarily agricultural land; and approved a zoning request against the repeated outcry of neighbors.
Lee Hord, running in District 7 against four opponents at the time including one of the incumbents, received an email dated February 10 from F. Smith Jr. Smith identified himself as “part of a group in Sumner County that is working toward more transparency in our elected officials.”
After explaining that the backgrounds of all candidates for county offices will be looked into, Smith denied he was part of an organization. Speaking in plural, Smith continued writing, “We will not be supporting any candidate, but simply making our research available publicly via social media and allowing voters to determine for themselves if the items we disclose impacts their decision on whom they will support and cast a vote.”
Although he denied it in a subsequent email, Smith then threatened, “After the withdrawal deadline has passed, we will begin releasing information for any candidate that has qualified and not withdrawn.”
The information Smith threatened to reveal is nothing more than already available public information regarding Hord’s bankruptcy decades prior and the financing on his newly purchased home in Hendersonville.
After withdrawing his first petition, Hord then decided to stand up to the intimidators by completing a second petition with the requisite 25 signatures of registered voters in his district within the final moments to qualify.
The approach in District 11 against conservative candidate Jeremy Mansfield was more insidious, when a letter to his wife, Tiffany, was delivered to their house on February 21.
Mansfield took to his campaign Facebook account and posted a video Monday, describing the act “meant to intimidate her and my children, to scare them and keep me from running for County Commission,” as “civil rights intimidation.”
The one minute video begins with County Commission District 11 candidate Jeremy Mansfield and his wife sitting on a living room sofa. “Hey Guys, My name is Jeremy Mansfield. This is my lovely wife, Tiffany,” he says, adding:
Just want to let you know that I am running for your District 11 County Commissioner.
I also wanted to give you a brief update on our campaign and to let you know that last week, my wife received a letter that was delivered to our house on Wednesday, February 21, meant to intimidate her and my children, to scare them and keep me from running for County Commission.
This is an act of civil rights intimidation and I’m not the only victim of this act. There were two other County Commissioners that are conservatives that received the same types of communication.
The message that I want you guys in District 11 to know is that voter corruption, intimidation and lack of integrity are not just in Washington, D.C. It’s happening right here in Sumner County as well.
I’m running to make sure that your voices are not silenced and the average voices of citizens in my district are actually heard and considered.
So, I’m asking that you vote for me, Jeremy Mansfield, for your District 11 County Commissioner and make sure you tell all your friends.
Indeed, the Tennessee General Assembly has codified, in part in 39-17-309 “The general assembly finds and declares that it is the right of every person regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion or national origin to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, harassment and bodily injury caused by the activities of groups and individuals.” (emphasis added)
The TCA goes on further to say in subsection (b), “A person commits the offense of intimidating others from exercising civils rights who (1) Injuries or threatens to injure or coerces another person with the intent to unlawfully intimidate another from the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secure by the constitution or laws of the state of Tennessee.”
A violation of subsection (b) is defined as a Class D felony.
Citing that two other Sumner County Commission candidates were also victims, Mansfield went on to alert that “voter corruption, intimidation and lack of integrity are not just in Washington, D.C. It’s happening right here in Sumner County, as well.”
Having turned the evidence over to the authorities, Mansfield declined to comment further to The Tennessee Star.
A third County Commission candidate and victim of intimidation tactics has withdrawn from the race.