ROGERSVILLE — Two Greene County attorneys — a prosecutor and a private attorney — are seeking the Republican nomination to the Third Judicial District attorney general seat currently held by retiring Democrat Berkeley Bell.
Dan Armstrong, who is an assistant attorney general under Bell, is competing for the GOP nomination against Greeneville attorney Ed Kershaw in the May 6 primary.
The Third Judicial District covers Hawkins, Greene, Hamblen and Hancock counties.
The winner faces another assistant attorney general under Bell — Democrat Cecil Clayton Mills of Greeneville — in the Aug. 7 general election.
The GOP candidates are profiled in alphabetical order
— Dan Armstrong, who resides in the Midway community of Greene County, earned his law degree from the University of Memphis and has been a prosecutor for the past 28 years.
He said he chose to seek this office because he knows he can make a positive difference in the Third Judicial District and be an effective district attorney.
"With the drug epidemic and the vast increase in the number of cases being prosecuted in the courts of this state, it is imperative that the next D.A. have the knowledge and experience to be ready day one to do the job effectively," Armstrong said. "I have been employed as assistant district attorney general since 1986, I have experience in both the child support enforcement division of the office and the criminal division. As the lead prosecutor in the child support enforcement division we went from collecting $700,000 the year before I came to collecting over $11.5 million dollars per year. During my time in the criminal division, I have successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases from misdemeanors to murder."
Armstrong's top priority is addressing the epidemic of prescription pain pill abuse "that is overloading our criminal, sessions, and juvenile court dockets."
He wants to incorporate into the sentencing of first time nonviolent offenders a chance for drug rehabilitation.
"Those who choose to take advantage of such programs, but fail to successfully complete them, should be dealt with immediately and severely by serving 100 percent of their sentence day for day," he said.
"And addressing those who are providing these drugs has to be part of the solution as well. Pain clinics, physicians and other health-care providers who are indiscriminately and without good cause handing out prescriptions for these highly addictive pain medications have to be stopped. I will use whatever means the law allows to go after those who are abusing their prescription privileges."
Armstrong said he will also focus on the increasing problem of fraud and abuse crimes perpetrated on elderly citizens, and will establish a task force committed to the prosecution of these crimes against some of the more vulnerable citizens.
"I believe my experience as an assistant district attorney for the past 28 years in both the Criminal and Child Support Enforcement Divisions makes me uniquely qualified to effectively and efficiently run the office of district attorney general," he added. "I can make you only two promises. I will work hard to get the job done and second, that you can rest assured that every prosecutorial decision that I make will be based on the facts and the law without regard to personalities or politics."
— Ed Kershaw became interested in becoming attorney general around 2005. He said Bell has done an outstanding job and he has nothing negative to say about him, but "sometimes you just need change."
"Since the 1980s there has not been enough change in the office to keep up with the new demands relating to drugs, child pornography, child abuse, and other crimes," Kershaw said. "I feel that I can come in and make some much-needed improvements. I also believe there are some new technologies and education available that is not being fully utilized."
He graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Juris Doctorate with honors in 1994. He was on the Dean's List most semesters at the University of Tennessee.
Kershaw has been a partner at Leonard, Kershaw & Hensley since 1994, and has been the primary manager of Leonard, Kershaw & Hensley for 15 of those 20 years.
"My education and employment makes me well rounded so that I can represent all people," Kershaw said. "I have had the privilege to work with the wealthiest of people and the poorest. An attorney general should do his best to insure that all people are safe. My priorities as district attorney would be rapid prosecution of all cases. I think a delay in prosecution harms the innocent and benefits the guilty. The faster you prosecute a guilty person the faster you get them off the street and protect your society."
Kershaw added, "We also have to do something about the prescription pill problem. This means working with the legislature and the laws on hand to prosecute those individuals that are abusing prescription pain pills. We have the laws in place to prosecute doctors that are prescribing pills improperly, however, we do not enforce them."
As an attorney Kershaw has appeared in numerous jury trials over the last 20 years and enjoys the process. He enjoys talking to jurors, enjoys talking to judges and says he feels comfortable in that arena.
"One of the unique features of my campaign is that I have tried to campaign to everybody," he said. "An attorney general represents all people. I think the strongest quality that I hope people will see in me is that I don't view anyone as more important than anybody else. I will be a strong, honest, committed district attorney general who will do what is right — not what is convenient or self serving — to make the community a safer place in which to live."