Political wars heat up
Battle over ‘re-elect’ signage

Stephanie Myers News-Herald.net
An election is no doubt just around the corner.

Political signs are out on just about every street corner and public right of way, but motorists may be curious about one particular race since both candidates for highway department superintendent have posted the word “re-elect” on their campaign signage.

Incumbent Eddie Simpson is rebuking his opponent’s claim, saying challenger Sean Giles, whom he beat out of the post in 2010, is making false, unethical claims.

“I am the incumbent and as a general rule the incumbent is the only one that has a right to use re-elect, but his thoughts are since he was in office at one time that he is entitled to use re-elect,” Simpson said. “I just disagree with that.

“He is trying to trick everyone into thinking that he is in office, and he’s doing this work for the last four years,” Simpson said. “That’s all together wrong. I didn’t want to make a big issue about it, but it just — I don’t know, aggravates me I guess to mislead the public in that way.”

Many are staying out of the heated discussion. Loudon County Election Administrator Susan Harrison refused comment on the issue, and Andrew Dodd, an attorney for the state Division of Elections, referred all actions to the Ninth Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

Simpson said he was told the only answer would be to file a lawsuit, which more than likely wouldn’t be resolved by the May 6 primary.

“Nashville’s answer was it’s unethical, but to get him to take it off then his opponent, which would be me, would have to file a lawsuit. I don’t want to go to that step,” Simpson said. “...  And the election may be over before anything could be resolved on it, so it’s kind of a dead issue there as well because you can’t get into the court system.”

Giles rebuked claims that the word “re-elect” on his campaign signs are misleading, saying the statement isn’t necessarily false.

“I was road superintendent from ’06 to 2010. That’s the reason why re-elect is there. I’m running again for road superintendent. Same position, so that’s why it’s re-elect,” Giles said. “Like I said, it doesn’t matter. They will either vote for him or they’re going to end up voting for me. Most people know who he is and a lot of people know who I am.”

Simpson said he         beat out Giles by more than 1,000 votes during the last election, in which there were three challengers.

Simpson said he believes there are advantages to the incumbent title, and signage is also key to a campaign. Both Giles and Simpson are also knocking on doors as part of their campaigns.

“Absolutely, if you’ve done a good job, if you’re proud of the job that you’ve done that’s why you want to (run),” Simpson said, adding that new election guidelines prohibit incumbent and challenger status on ballots.

Frank Harvey, deputy district attorney general of the Ninth Judicial District, said it is considered a misdemeanor if someone spreads false information about another candidate knowing the information is false.

“There might be civil action ... that someone could seek if they claim that’s misleading and someone you don’t know it certainly could be misleading, but technically speaking I imagine it’s true if you had a person serve one term and was booted out and wanted to run again,” Harvey said. “I can see how it’s misleading, but I can also see how it’s technically accurate. It’s not something I see as a crime and our office involves crimes, not civil wrongs or squabbles people might have.”

Simpson said he’s proud of his work during his first term in office, noting paving jobs, rebuilding the bridge on Simpson Road near Kingston Street and widening culverts on “one-lane” bridges. He said he hopes to soon repave Morganton Road and a few streets in Lenoir City and Loudon.

“I’m kind of honored I guess the fact that he wants people to think he has done that good job for the last four years, but at the same time I really think that the incumbent should be the only one,” Simpson said. “It’s really misleading people, and it’s confusing people because we’re getting calls at the office down there saying who is the superintendent? I thought it was Eddie Simpson, and you’ve got two people with re-elect. How is that possible?”

Campaigning isn’t cheap. Giles said he is reusing campaign signs from the 2010 election, in which he was the incumbent candidate.

“Everyone I talk to I tell them I was in from 2006 to 2010, so it doesn’t, you know, all my signs are set up for re-elect anyhow from last time. That’s the reason why,” he said. “Some of these people are paying $11 a piece for them little yard signs. I’ve done had a lot of stuff taken up of mine already. ... I say over the last two times I ran I lost $2,500 worth of stuff.”

Like Simpson, Giles said he is proud of his work while in office.

“I did a good job. I still have a lot to offer,” Giles said, noting road projects that include reworking a sharp curve on Steekee Road that is a trouble spot and reworking the railroad bridge underpass along Martel Road.

“They had a contract set up for $475,000 to do that,” Giles said of the latter project, which included reworking the radius of the underpass which he said previously was set up like a “one-way” bridge. “... I went out there and evaluated and went back to commission and told them I could do it for $25,000, and they laughed. The new commissioners did. I did it for $25,000.”

If he wins the race, Giles said one of the first things he would address is clearing brush from the roadways and right of ways.

“When I took over back in 2006 I had $24,000 that lasted me for 10 months. That’s all I had for paving and stuff,” he said.