LeTonia Armstrong may seek husband’s House seat

LeTonia Armstrong, wife of veteran state Rep. Joe Armstrong, is one of the three top candidates to replace the veteran lawmaker in House District 15 following his conviction on a felony charge of filing a false tax return, according to the News Sentinel.

The other two are Knoxville City Councilman and former city mayor, Daniel Brown, and Rick Staples, a community advocate who has run several recent unsuccessful bids for local office.

The Knox County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee meets Thursday to choose a successor to Joe Armstrong as the party nominee. Armstrong’s conviction means he cannot run for public office under state law, but he won the nomination without opposition before the jury verdict. No Republican qualified to run for the seat, but the new nominee will face independent perennial candidate Pete Drew in November.

Letonia Armstrong, who has worked as a lobbyist in Tennessee and other states, tells WATE TV: “I’m talking with as many people possible in order to make a decision based on what is in the best interest of the 15th District.”

But the News Sentinel says some Democrats are worried that appoint her could lead to controversy in a situation where Joe Armstrong’s conviction has already created controversy enough.

“A lack of controversy, and heavy community involvement is probably the big thing for me,” Paul Witt said.

Witt will be among the 15 Democrats who will make the decision on who to place on the ballot.

…Avoiding controversy may make Armstrong’s wife less attractive to the position, though Witt didn’t call her out specifically. Witt said he didn’t want the appearance that the committee’s selection next week had any impression of being a backdoor deal.

…Outgoing Knox County Commissioner Sam McKenzie (mentioned earlier as a prospective candidate) said he isn’t seeking the seat, though he would likely be a favorite if he did. McKenzie said that he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to the office between looking after his ailing father and his job as facility manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But he didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking the 15th District in future elections.

“As things evolve in two years or four years, I’ll look at running for it,” McKenzie said. “I think I’m capable, but not right now.”