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Knox Co. Republican Party requests primary in county's first partisan school board election

Republicans said they will hold a primary for the 2022 school board elections, making the race partisan for the first time after the state passed a new law.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The Knox County Republican Party on Monday sent a letter to the Knox County Election Commission formally requesting primaries for the 2022 School Board Election. 

In the past, the Knox County Election Commission held primaries for School Board races in a non-partisan fashion. The purpose of those primaries was to narrow down the field of candidates to two for each seat.

That all changed in October. 

During its COVID-19 special session, the Republican-led Tennessee state legislature passed a law that now gives political parties the choice of whether they want to hold primaries for school board seats, essentially making these non-partisan elections partisan.

"Our membership was 100% for it," said Daniel Herrera, the Knox County Republican Party Chairman. "It's very universal for people to want to know the political affiliation of the candidate running for office."

The Knox County Democratic Party said it has not decided if it wants to name candidates and hold primaries next year. 

Knox County Democrats Chairman Matt Shears said they will discuss whether or not to run a primary with elected officials, school board members, and other members of the community before making a decision. 

Although Shears said he will not make a unilateral decision on whether to have primaries, he said he thinks making school board elections partisan is "moving in the wrong direction."

State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) was a teacher for 27 years. Johnson said she thinks making school board elections partisan is a bad idea. 

"We don't need those partisan fights at the schoolhouse door," Johnson said. 

Johnson said she worries people will use the school board as a stepping stone to move up into higher offices, instead of focusing on the education of children across the county.

"You have folks that just want to rise up in their party running for office," Johnson said. "Typically with your school boards, you have moms, you have dads who care about a great education for their kids."

The Knox County Primary Election will include five school board seats up for election (Districts 1, 4, 6, 7 and 9) and will be held on May 3, 2022 ahead of the Knox County General election on August 4. 

Early voting in the primaries begins Wednesday, April 13, 2022  -- and the last day to register to vote for that election is April 4. 

Any candidates that do not run in a party primary will be listed on the ballot as independent.

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