Dirty Politics?

The events of last Thursday once again show just how dirty politics can be. I am referring to Lenoir City mayoral candidate, Robert "Tooter" Robinett's attempt to eliminate one of his rivals through the legal system rather than at the ballot box. Generally when you see one candidate take this approach, that usually means they are afraid they can't defeat them in an election.

Robinett's accusations are that Joe Sims has not met the requirements to have his citizenship rights restored after he was convicted of gambling in 1996. On Thursday, ten minutes before the deadline to qualify for the election, Robinett presented five pages of Tennessee Code laws to Loudon County Election Coordinator, Dana Zehner, and told her these proved that Mr. Sims could not run for office. To my knowledge, this was the only evidence presented to Ms. Zehner.

Here's the problem. According to the State Of Tennessee, Mr. Sims has met all requirements to qualify to run for office. In 1999, Sims ran for a seat on the Lenoir City Council. At that time the question of his eligibility was first raised. In a press release in March of 1999, from the State Election Commission Office, Kathy Summers and Beth Henry-Robinson stated that Sims had met all the requirements necessary and his rights had been restored on December 16, 1998 and that he was eligible to run for any office except sheriff or constable.

Why is it then, Mr. Sims responsibility to again have to prove himself restored? Why would he have to produce any documentation? The burden of proof is on the accuser. Innocent until proven guilty? The law is very clear on the procedures to have rights restored but it does not require the applicant prove anything to a political opponent. What if one of the other candidates accuses Robinett of not being eligible to run for office. Would Robinett then have to prove he could? Is this where this is heading? Will every candidate have to prove they have a legal right to run for office simply due to accusations of an opponent?

On Thursday, August 28, the Loudon County Election Commission will decide if Mr. Sims will be allowed to remain on the ballot for Lenoir City mayor. If Robinett's accusations and a hand full of random TCA laws is the only evidence the commission has to go on, then Sims should remain on the ballot. If there is actually more and conclusive evidence that Sims has not met all the requirements to run for office, then he should absolutely be disqualified until such time he meets all the requirements. I would even be more than happy to post that evidence here.

The simple fact that Sims is registered to vote is all the proof he needs to show that he was reinstated back in 1998. Had he not met all the requirements he could not have had his voting rights restored. That's the simple fact of the law. It would have been impossible for Sims to have had his rights restored unless he had met the requirements. I suspect Robinett's actions were more about reminding the voters of Sims' past conviction than a serious challenge of his rights.

Let me make this as clear as I can. For me, this is not about supporting Sims nor is it about opposing Robinett. I intend to do neither. For me, it's about believing that our election process is about more than just dirty politics and gotcha shenanigans.