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Are Republicans 'of convenience' among those elected to Sullivan County Commission?

J. H. Osborne • Aug 9, 2018 at 8:42 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Last week, Sullivan County voters elected a 100 percent Republican county commission. Or did they? Are all 24 commissioners Republican enough?

That question seems to be the impetus for the creation of a Republican Caucus of the Sullivan County Commission, the organization of which is being led by Commissioner Pat Shull, under the agreement of the Sullivan County Republican Party.

An organizational meeting of the caucus is scheduled for roughly 8 p.m. next Wednesday, according to an email Shull has sent to all 24 commissioners and local media outlets. (The exact starting time depends on when the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly work session, which begins at 6:30 p.m. that day, concludes.)

Why notify the media? Because Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street told Shull all meetings of such a caucus must be open to the public under Tennessee’s “Sunshine Law.”

Commissioner Mark Vance responded to Shull’s original email to say he was confused by the idea of a caucus — in light of a GOP-only commission — and said he hopes “it’s not an effort to divide the commission.”

“Can you explain how this is to work?” Vance wrote. "My opinion is that learning to respect each other even if we do not agree. That when the county commission approves something the opposing side doesn’t agree with that it’s not used as a way to divide the members. So can you elaborate on how this is supposed to work?”

Shull told Vance the issue was thoroughly discussed by the the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Sullivan County and offered the following synopsis of that discussion:

“First, the (Tennessee Republican Party) established a standard for candidates to qualify as Republicans that they had voted in at least three of the last four Republican primaries (with some logical exceptions),” Shull wrote. “The Committee is concerned that this was not sufficient or ideal criteria to ensure that a candidate was not merely running as a Republican out of convenience. The fact that Democrats and Independents generally fared poorly demonstrates the strength of the Republican ‘brand’ within our county. As Republicans we are part of a State and National party, and again, the brand should have some distinct meaning to our voters. The voting records of Democrat and Republican members of Congress indicate a real difference in the parties.”

Shull said all commissioners elected as commissioners are invited to the organizational meeting, but attendance is not mandatory.

“However, it seems reasonable to believe that Republican commissioners would be anxious to attend, especially considering the support that the party provided to them during the campaign,” Shull wrote in his response to Vance. “I am very grateful for the contributions I received from both the (Greater Kingsport Republican Women) and the (Sullivan County Republican) Party. These monetary contributions represent the hard work put forward by many Republican citizens who believe in Republican ideals.”

One purpose of the meeting is “to discuss what it means to be a Republican,” Shull wrote.

“For example: I think the vast majority of Republicans believe in a strong national defense. The party does not expect nor believe it to be realistic that ALL commissioners vote the same way on every issue. But, over time voting patterns do emerge which reflect a certain philosophy of a commissioner whether or not he/she articulates that philosophy (or actually votes according to the philosophy that they espouse).”

Shull said he has developed and shown a nine-slide PowerPoint presentation to the Sullivan County Republican Party’s Executive Committee. Topics include: Who are Republicans? Why form a caucus? And “some basic (very basic) facts” about county government.

“Hopefully, it will promote a common understanding and sense of purpose,” Shull wrote. “For example: while the Commission meetings revolve around decisions on issues, the Caucus can think more in terms of common goals and long range plans.”

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