Lanny Jewell was the hands-down winner in the Lebanon City Council race to represent Ward 1. Jewell was a prohibitive favorite because his opponent, Richard Rogers, was previously extradited to Cobb County, Ga. on outstanding drug charges. Despite Rogers' incarceration, he still received 25 percent of the vote.
Cobb County District Attorney Sam Lingin confirmed Rogers remained in custody Wednesday, more than a week after the general election.
"We've still got him," he said. "He's in our jail."
Jewell professed surprise when Rogers was arrested by local authorities, but planned to carry on his campaign as planned, and did so. Speaking after the election, Jewell said his opponent getting so many votes despite being in jail didn't surprise him. He said when he started his campaign there was a group that would have opposed him no matter what.
"If they had run Big Bird against me, he probably would have gotten quite a few votes," Jewell said.
Rogers remained in Wilson County Jail since Lebanon police took him into custody Sept. 26. He eventually opted to forgo an extradition hearing in Wilson County and was taken into custody by Georgia officers back to Georgia to the face nine-year-old charges.
Police Chief Scott Bowen said at the time he was arrested by LPD officers Rogers was wanted on two felony warrants for possession of muscle relaxers and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute issued in 2004 from Cobb County. Bowen also noted that Rogers also had outstanding charges from 2003 involving driving under the influence of drugs, reckless driving and failure to stop at the scene of an accident. Georgia authorities charged Rogers in 2003, and a bench warrant was issued after he failed to appear in court.
It was bad luck that brought Rogers outstanding warrants to the attention of local law enforcement. Bowen said Lebanon police first became aware of the warrants after an officer stopped to offer Rogers assistance after his vehicle broke down Sept. 17. He said as part of normal procedure, the officer entered Rogers’ driver’s license number into the police database and discovered the warrants.
Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren said once a candidate is on the ballot, they're pretty much there to stay.
"Once you're qualified as a candidate, you're on the ballot," he said. "He sent a letter requesting that he be taken off, but we can't take someone off after the withdrawal deadline."
Even dying isn't guaranteed to get a candidate off the ballot.
"There are provisions for that, but even then at a certain point they're on the ballot," Warren said, adding he wasn't sure why so many people voted for a candidate who is behind bars.
"A lot of people vote for lots of reasons," he said.
The notion of a man in jail remaining on the ballot is not unprecedented in Tennessee. Tommy Burnett was born and raised in Goodlettsville, attended Cumberland University and received a law degree from the University of Tennessee.
A Democrat, Burnett was first elected to the state Legislature in 1970. In 1983, he was convicted in federal court for misdemeanor willfully failing to file federal income tax returns and served 10 months in prison. While in prison, he was re-elected to the Tennessee House, defeating two opponents in the primary and winning the November 1984 general election with 60 percent of the vote.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.