Political News

School board member to fill vacated seat in Tennessee House

Posted June 15

— Republican school board member Kevin Vaughan won a special election Thursday to fill a Tennessee House seat vacated by a lawmaker who resigned amid a sexual harassment investigation.

Election records show Vaughan defeated Democratic trial attorney Julie Byrd Ashworth in the contest for the empty seat in House District 95 in suburban Memphis, which includes the Shelby County cities of Collierville and Germantown.

Vaughan, a Collierville school board member, had 3,099 votes, compared with 1,737 votes for Ashworth. Independent candidates Robert Schutt and Jim Tomasik finished third and fourth, respectively.

Voter turnout was low. Records show 5,007 people, or 10 percent of 51,017 eligible voters, cast ballots.

Vaughan, a married father of two, owns a real estate and development firm in Collierville, according to his campaign website. Vaughan has vowed to protect the district's schools, maintain the area's high property values, and "vote pro-life and defend our Second Amendment rights," his website says.

Lannie Abernathy, a 53-year-old Republican, said he voted for Vaughan because he approves of how the GOP-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam have led the state. Abernathy said he wants the person who represents his district to behave with "stability and honesty," especially after the troubles of Lovell and his predecessor, Republican Curry Todd.

"The governor has done a great job with the financial situation in this state, and he's done it with the backing of the General Assembly," Abernathy said.

Vaughan replaces Mark Lovell, a Republican who stepped down in February after allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman at a legislative event.

Lovell, president of a fair and carnival company, issued a statement through a public relations firm denying any wrongdoing. But he also apologized for what a spokeswoman called "any actions that may have been misconstrued as harassment."

A House ethics panel later found he violated the Legislature's sexual harassment policy before resigning. The investigative memo did not detail the specific allegations against Lovell.

Lovell ran unopposed in the November general election but held the seat for about a month before he stepped down. He had defeated incumbent Curry Todd in the Republican primary in August.

Todd was arrested days before the primary on charges of stealing Lovell's yard signs. Todd was caught on video taking a sign.

Todd, who was bailed out of jail on the eve of the primary by Lovell, was charged with theft of property. He is scheduled to appear in court on June 23.

Todd pleaded guilty to drunken driving and gun charges and given a year's probation after a 2011 arrest in Nashville. He failed a roadside sobriety test and police found a loaded .38-caliber gun in his car.

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