In a Saturday debate between the five candidates running for the District 7 County Commission post, Republican candidate Phil Smartt used his opening time to clarify issues between him and fellow Republican candidate Sabrena Turner, saying, "Some things have recently come up that have concerned me in this campaign. This past week, Sabrena's campaign manager attacked my religion."
He continued, "I want everyone to know that I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Faith is so important in my life, and to have it attacked is offensive to me.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Smartt, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said he was very offended by a Facebook post by Ms. Turner's campaign manager that linked to a YouTube video titled "Are Mormons Christians?"
He told the audience Ms. Turner had apologized and said she had no knowledge of the post.
He also said contrary to the message on her signs, he had also fought annexation. He said after a previous debate, "Sabrena's people called me a liar publicly."
However, he said, "The number one issue in this district is not annexation, it's education."
During Ms. Turner's introduction, she said one of the reasons she is running is that "It is imperative that we elect a representative that understands growth." A realtor and small business owner, she said not only has this area already experienced unprecedented growth, but that many more people will move in throughout the next few years.
She also said, "As commissioner, I will advocate for a stronger relationship between the Commission and the Department of Education," calling it "appalling" that they had only met once in the past two years.
She said, "We must have a strong school system to be competitive."
Ms. Turner said, "I have the energy, I have the passion, the experience, and more importantly, the love for this community."
Perry Perkins, also a Republican, said he was "a proud graduate of public education."
He said as a commissioner, he would work to make a new building for CSLA a priority. He said, "They're a nationally ranked school but they're sitting in a 1940s building."
He said, "If you create an educated workforce, people will be glad to come to Chattanooga with their businesses."
Mr. Perkins also said one of his priorities would be working to bring "good-paying jobs" to Chattanooga so that students would not move to Atlanta or Nashville after graduation.
He told the audience that he had the energy and work ethic for the job, saying he was the kind of person who was "the first one in and the last to leave."
Ezra Maize, the pastor at Friendship Central Community Church, is running as a Democrat. However, he emphasized, "Because I'm a Democrat doesn't mean I sit down my Christian beliefs."
He told the audience he would not put the county first, because to him, God would always come first.
He said, "I'm not going to give you any false promises. There aren't any most important issues; everybody's issues are important."
Pastor Maize said, "I don't just have tomorrow in mind, I have the next generation in mind."
He pointed out, "I don't just knock on doors when it's time to campaign, I knock on doors everyday. I'm out feeding the homeless everyday. I'm in the schools every day...I'll be seeing after the needs of the people in this district."
He said, "It's ok if you cross over your party line to put someone in office who's going to produce for you."
Don Brown, a retired owner of a construction company, is also running as a Democrat. He said, "I'll work for the people if I'm elected. I'm for the people, all the people, and not just a few."
He said, "I'm for teachers. I'm not for building more schools, I think we need to maintain the schools we have. We let our schools run down and then they want to build a new one every 10 years."
He also said he was a businessman, not a politician, saying, "I treat people like I want to be treated."
When asked what was the main reason he is running for office, Pastor Maize said, "The decisions we make today directly affect those that are coming behind us. I want to make sure that our children are attending healthy schools."
Mr. Brown answered, saying he wanted to improve infrastructure and education. He also said, "I'd like to know where those 10 computers went that were stolen out of the Health Department."
Mr. Perkins said, "I have a passion for this county, I love this county...We need a person that has business experience."
Mr. Smartt replied, "There's not a better place on earth than right here where we live. Because of this, I want to give something back. It's an honor for me to call myself a Chattanoogan, a person from Hamilton County."
Ms. Turner said, "I love my country but I'm very concerned about the direction this country is going in. I think it's time for a new generation to lead." She emphasized, "Everything starts locally."