The State Election Commission has voted to remove Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons from the Sevier County Election Commission after he refused to step down as chairman in compliance with a new state law mandating that only Republicans serve as county election commission chairs.
In a letter to Fitzgibbons, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins says the commission decided “in a bipartisan 5-2 vote” to remove him from office “as a result of your violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 2-1-111 and 2016 Public Chapter 1069.”
The cited law, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature to take effect on July 1, declares that all county election commission chairmen must be members of the political party representing a majority of the commission. Under separate state law, Republicans have a majority on all county election commissions and on the State Election Commission as well.
Fitzgibbons was elected chairman of the Sevier County panel in April of 2015, becoming the only Democratic chair in the state on a 3-2 vote when a Republican member voted for him by mistake, Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, told the News Sentinel earlier. The change of law to require Republicans only be chairs came in the form of an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. (Note: Previous post HERE.)
According to State Election Commission correspondence on the issue, provided on request by a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, the Sevier County Election Commission voted to reorganize Aug. 12 and chose Jack Ogle as the new chairman, but Fitzgibbons the vote out of order and continued to describe himself as chairman.
The Tennessee Democratic Party issued a press release on the matter Monday. It’s below.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party
Nashville, TN (August 29, 2016) — A new state law passed by Tennessee Republicans during the last legislative session forced the removal of the chair of the Sevier County Election Commission, Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons. The new state law requires that the chair of each county election commission be a member of the majority Party.
House Bill 726, sponsored by Representatives Mark Pody, Micah Van Huss and Dale Carr, states: “The chair of the county election commission shall be a member of the majority party, and the secretary shall be a member of a minority party.” The state law not only forced the removal of Michael Fitzgibbons as chair, but the state election commission voted to remove him as a member of the Sevier County Election Commission as well.
“This is just another example of the unrestrained power that Republicans have cultivated in the State Legislature. They make secret deals, sweep bad behavior under the rug, and override the will of local voters,” said Democratic State Party Chair Mary Mancini.
Last year Republican Rep. Andy Holt had a local Weakley County election administrator fired and then replaced her with his inexperienced friend. This year Republican Senators Jack Johnson and Todd Gardenhire led a charge, along with Republican Representatives Martin Daniel, Jay Reedy and Tim Wirgau, to overrule the will of an overwhelming majority of Nashville voters on an amendment that would allow more local workers to be hired for construction projects.
Mancini commented further, “The 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats on the Sevier County Election Commission elected the most qualified person for the job as chair, Michael Fitzgibbons. State Republicans then specifically passed a law that nullified Chairman Fitzgibbon’s election as chair simply because he is Democrat. The people of Tennessee are sick and tired of these political games and the gridlock that the unrestrained power of Tennessee Republicans have created, and they will show their displeasure at the ballot box in November.