Two of the three candidates opposing state Rep. David Hawk in this summer’s Republican primary acknowledge they had no plans to enter the contest until the incumbent was charged with domestic assault on his wife.
But now that the race for House District 5 is underway, all the candidates say that’s not really an appropriate topic for campaign discourse. Hawk says his attorney has advised him not to talk about the pending case. His challengers say, more or less, that they don’t need to bring it up.
Greeneville businessman Hawk, 44, has spent 10 years as a lawmaker and says the experience and relationship gained over that period warrant reelection to another term. In a speech to announce his candidacy, he declared “I’m the same person now that I was when you re-elected me four times.”
Hawk was charged in March with assaulting his wife, Crystal Goan Hawk, an attorney who is also president of Greene County Republican Women. According to the Greeneville Sun, Crystal Hawk has declared the organization will fully support the Aug. 2 GOP primary winner in the general election.
Hawk’s primary opponents are:
-Duncan Cave, 34, an attorney who works in a law firm with his father and two brothers. “My basic policy stand is deregulation for the government,” he said, adding this could include easing or eliminating state licensing for some professions and turning more decision-making over to city and county governments, perhaps even on matters such as gun control.
-Ted Hensley, 59, a county commissioner and real estate broker who characterizes himself as a “constitutional conservative” who feels political parties “are keeping us divided, stoking the fire to keep us divided” in situations where “working together” would better serve the public interest. Hensley also said he felt “compelled” to run, believing the nation is “under attack, not just from outside but from within.”
-Bradley Mercer, 30, an attorney who served as a legislative intern and worked two years with a Nashville lobbying firm before going to law school. That background gives him the needed experience for legislating, he said, and he entered the race because of a concern that Hawk, if the Republican nominee, could lose in the general election.
The winner of the Republican primary will in November face former state Rep. Eddie Yokley of Greeneville, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
“If the incumbent wins the primary, the Democrat wins the general,” said Hensley. “They (Democrats) will wear him out, no holds barred.”
The Republican candidates all said they have no intention of making the arrest a campaign issue themselves. But Cave, Hensley and Mercer indicated they believe voters are doing so on their own.
Hawk has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His next court appearance is set for July 16, when early voting will be underway. In a statement shortly after his arrest, Hawk said his wife pointed a gun at him while he was holding their baby daughter. His wife alleges he hit her and knocked her down.
“There are too many questions about all that,” said Hensley. “I think folks want answers to those questions and they’re not getting them.”
But he also says, “I’m concerned about the family and, in my prayers, I hope they get that worked out.”
“I don’t talk about it (the charge),” said Mercer. “As far I’m concerned, it’s not my place to be negative. The voters can look at the situation themselves.”
“It’s unfortunate what happened to David,” said Cave, who added that he had decided to run against the incumbent before the arrest, unlike Hensley and Mercer who “saw an opportunity” after “David’s domestic mishap.”
Cave, who is single and traces his family ancestry in Greene County back to the brother of John Sevier, Tennessee’s first governor, said he was prepared before the charge to show voters “I can do a better job” than Hawk, who seems beholden to “lobbyists who throw money at him.”
Hensley said Hawk “has done a good job while he was in there, but his time has passed.” The married father of a son in medical school, Hensley also contrasted himself from the other two candidates, who are lawyers, versus himself as a businessman.
“They’re both fine gentlemen, but I’m 30 years their senior. While they may be very learned in their business, as attorneys, I’m not sure they would have the world view and perspective of someone who has lived a full life and raised a family,” Hensley said.
Hawk has been something of a low-key rising star in the Legislature, sponsoring multiple bills into law though few of a controversial nature. He was chairman of the House Conservation and Environment Committee until stepping down after his arrest and active in several legislative endeavors, notably including efforts against plans to layoff state workers and scale back operations at the Greene Valley Development Center. He was named “legislator of the year” in 2009 by NAMI, which advocates for the mentally ill and intellectually disabled.
“I’m running on my record and my work as a state representative over the last 10 years,” Hawk said.
“I enjoy the challenges of serving and have been pleased to help thousands of people in Greene County and across the state.”
“Anything else that may have happened over that length of time is just life happening,” he said.
The candidates in separate interviews voiced similar views on most issues. All said education and job creation is important in Greene County, where unemployment rates have exceed the state average.
There were differences on the idea of creating a school voucher system in Tennessee, a proposal that is expected to be before the General Assembly next year. Hawk said he is flatly opposed to a voucher system that would cover Greene County, but if legislators in other areas of the state want to have vouchers “I’m willing to listen.”
Cave and Hensley said they like the idea of vouchers, generally speaking. But Mercer said, “I would not be in support of sending public dollars to private schools.”