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DUI charges key in assessors race
Jul 16, 2004 12:00 am
A once low-key race for Wilson County Property Assessor has suddenly turned into a bare-knuckle political brawl, with a challenger using the eve of early voting to spotlight the incumbent's two drunken driving arrests.
What began as a seemingly routine campaign appearance by challenger Jimmy Locke on a local television station yesterday gradually took on a tougher tone as he questioned the "mental and physical" condition of incumbent Property Assessor Jimmy Carter Martin.
Locke openly called on Mothers Against Drunk Driving to "make an endorsement" in the race, pointing to the two DUI arrests Martin has endured over the past two years and questioning why his most recent drunken driving trial has been postponed until nearly three weeks after the Aug. 5 election.
"I wonder why they put it off? If he's not guilty, it would help him in the election," Locke said during an appearance on local TV outlet WJFB.
He noted that if Martin is convicted in his Aug. 25 trial, the county could have "a DUI offender in one of the highest, most important offices, probably with no driver's license."
"How are you going to get around?" Locke asked, looking directly into the cameras. "What are you going to do?"
Reaction to the unanticipated questions about the incumbent's character was swift, with a seemingly pro-Martin caller promptly telephoning the station to ask Locke about "problems in your own family."
Locke responded by acknowledging that his daughter was driving while drunk in an auto accident that left her seriously injured, saying she was "almost killed" by the wreck.
"That's why I hate it so bad," added Locke, who earlier in his interview mentioned a relative who died several years ago at the hands of a drunken driver.
The seemingly pro-Martin caller then asked Locke where he "met his wife," a question which seemed to puzzle both the candidate and the program's host, Dr. Joe Bryant, who ended the call a few seconds later.
Until yesterday's sudden shift in strategy, the race between Martin and Locke was typical of an off-year election, with both candidates relying heavily on traditional, tried-and-true campaign tactics, primarily door-to-door visits with voters and the time-honored practice of flooding the most visible areas of the county with campaign signs.
Martin, when contacted for comment about Locke's statements, said he did not see the program but indicated he was unconcerned about his opponent's remarks, including those touching on his DUI arrests.
"Everybody already knows about that, you've made sure of that in your paper," Martin said. "I was found not guilty and as it stands right now I haven't been convicted of anything."
The incumbent – who as a member of one of Wilson County's most politically active families was first elected to public office while still a teenager – declined to respond to Locke's remarks.
"I don't run that way. I'm going to run the kind of race I've always run – positive," Martin said.
Martin, who is seeking his second term as Property Assessor after holding the Circuit Court Clerk's post for over a decade, said he is focusing his campaign on "treating people like I would like to be treated."
"I'm just out running the kind of campaign I've always run and relying on the good people for their support," Martin said.
When asked to assess his re-election campaign on the day before early voting opened, the incumbent said he "feels good" about his chances for victory.
"I'm just out seeing all the people I can see," Martin remarked.
Locke, when contacted yesterday, said he doesn't intend to shy away from the character issue as his campaign to unseat Martin enters the home stretch.
The challenger, making his first run for countywide office, said he did not consider his remarks to be "an attack" on the incumbent, adding that he raised the character issue on TV only because few public forums are held for candidates in an off-year election.
"I was just telling the truth. I don't think he's doing a good job," Locke said.
The challenger also repeated a claim from the TV broadcast, that Martin's office has failed to take advantage of the county's growth in recent years by not adding new properties to the tax rolls fast enough, an allegation the incumbent strongly denied when contacted by telephone.
Locke also said he was preparing to "address" his daughter's drunken driving woes when he was interrupted by the caller on the television program.
"I'll answer any question. Whatever they were trying to say about my wife, that was just silly, my wife and my daughter aren't running for this office – I am," Locke said.
Like the incumbent, Locke indicated he was confident of victory on the eve of the start of early voting.
"I feel outstanding. I believe the people feel like it's time for a change," he said.
Though Martin and Locke have waged the most visible campaigns, two other candidates are also on the ballot for the post in the form of local residents Foster Moore and Paul Murray.
Also on the ballot will be a referendum on a sales tax increase to fund school construction, while voters in the 57th State House district will choose between incumbent State Rep. Susan Lynn and challenger Tom Woods to determine who will represent the GOP in the November election.
Early voting for the general election will be conducted only at Election Commission headquarters in Lebanon, according to Election Coordinator Lynn Harris.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, with voting hours set for 8 a.m.- noon on Saturdays.
Harris said officials are uncertain what type of turnout to expect for the early voting period, which ends July 31.
"If we knew that we'd know how many workers to call in," she said with a laugh.
Though not required, she said voters planning to cast early ballots would do well to arrive with their voter registration card or some type of identification in hand.
"It generally speeds up the process," Harris said.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.