Knox County Democratic Party chair Gloria Johnson announced her candidacy for the Senate District 6 race, and almost immediately fell into a swirl of controversy over her eligibility to hold the seat.
Records published by the Knox County Election Commission show that Johnson resides on Brice Street, which is in District 7, not District 6. (District 7 is currently represented by Sen. Stacey Campfield.)
Multiple online posts by supporters and detractors indicate confusion over applicable sections of state law on the matter. For example, TCA § 2-14-204 states:
Only a qualified voter of the district represented shall be eligible to succeed to the vacant seat.
However, Knoxville area blogger R. Neal points out that this may refer to county commission appointments, not special elections. This appears to be correct, as the preceding title (2-14-203) defines how interim successors are chosen, and the word “succeed” in 204 appears to continue the thought. (Sue Atchley currently holds the seat on an interim basis after being appointed by the Knox County Commission.)
But Neal then cites TCA § 3-1-102(f):
A candidate for election to the office of senator shall be required to reside in the senatorial district from which such candidate seeks to be elected for one (1) year immediately preceding the election.
Sounds simple enough, but the confusion renews when considering districts that only partially compose a county. For members of the House of Representatives, the requirements are clear: the representative needs only to live in the county, not the actual district, when a county elects 2 or more direct representatives.
In those counties entitled to elect two (2) or more direct representatives and divided by § 3-1-103 into representative districts, a candidate for election to the office of representative shall not be required to reside in the representative district from which such candidate seeks to be elected, but shall be a resident of the county.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 3-1-104
There is apparently no such provision afforded to senators from multi-district counties.
Johnson says she plans to relocate into the district by the general election date, which is in early November. Such a move raises questions among political observers who contend that the 6th Senate District is unfailingly Republican, and therefore maintain that a campaign by any Democrat is arguably quixotic. It seems like a lot of trouble, under the circumstances.
That said, any citizen who wishes to seek office and is serious about it should be encouraged to do so—and to follow all applicable rules in the process. Johnson is not a seasoned political veteran, and it seems that those counseling her in making this choice, including officials at the Knox County Election Commission and state Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester, could have provided better advice regarding the procedure.
UPDATE: See clarification from Mr. Neal in the comments, and follow his link for a legal opinion that holds TCA § 3-1-102(f) as unconstitutional.