The Commission and the ConstitutionAs I wrote yesterday, the Knox County Commission voted to ask the General Assembly, the Governor, and the State Attorney General "how to hold a special election." Even though the Attorney General's office had previously issued a tentative opinion stating (correctly) that a Special Election to fill the vacant seats of 12 county offices is not constitutionally valid, today the Attorney General's official opinion is-no opinion at all:
“This office has a long-standing policy of declining to issue legal opinions concerning matters bound up in on-going litigation,” Attorney General Robert E. Cooper said. “This policy is designed to avoid intruding improperly into the judicial process, particularly in matters that may involve or impact state officials.”
The Attorney General awaits a ruling by Chancellor Daryl Fansler on whether a special election is a viable legal option. In theory, the Chancellor could rule that a special election must take place, but it would seem that to do so he would simply have to ignore the Tennessee Constitution which states very clearly:
Vacancies in county offices shall be filled by the county legislative body, and any person so appointed shall serve until a successor is elected at the next election occurring after the vacancy and is qualified.
In an ideal world, there could be a special election in Knox County without any legal problem. No one who helped frame the State Constitution could have possibly imagined the bizarre chain of events in Knox County over the last year and a half-I certainly could not have. However, I fear that any other ruling aside from the one which the Constitution allows for is reading things into the Constitution that are simply not there.
The General Assembly has the authority to call a special election, but they do not convene until January and the Primary is in February. I cannot see the Governor feeling justified in calling the Tennessee General Assembly into special session in the middle of October to address a matter that is peculiar to Knox County alone, and I also can't see our friends in West Tennessee, or those members in Upper East Tennessee being thrilled about running back to Nashville on some Knox County affair that (at least in theory) they have no part with.
Call me crazy, but I am going to say that we will see another appointment process.