Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern “Jokes” on Rolling Back Voting Rights

Commissioner Fred Skillern speaks during a Hamilton County Commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press. Commissioner Fred Skillern speaks during a Hamilton County Commission meeting in this file photo.
Though a local, southeastern Tennessee, story, is this a sign of the times: Teabagger nation “humor?”- OEN Editor

Written by Ansley Haman for timesfreepress.com

Four white men enter an elevator …

Disputed is whether what took place inside constituted a joke.

Fred Skillern insists it did.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we go back to the Constitution when the only voters were white male property owners?'” he said when reached by phone.

But two others present didn’t agree.

Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said the statement left him speechless.

Party volunteer Phil Phillips said he was surprised to hear something like that from a county commissioner.

County Clerk Bill Knowles declined comment.

The four got into the County Courthouse elevator together after Wednesday’s commission meeting.

During the meeting, commissioners had voted 7-2 against asking the Tennessee General Assembly to amend or repeal the voter ID law passed earlier this year. Phillips, a 56-year-old Harrison resident, addressed commissioners during the public comment period. He said the requirements are cumbersome and affect a range of registered voters, regardless of party affiliation.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature earlier this year passed the voter ID law, which they sold as a deterrent for voter fraud. The law requires that voters present certain types of qualified state IDs and provides free ones for voting purposes for those who don’t already have them and can’t afford them.

Democrats have criticized the move as an effort to disenfranchise voters, particularly those more likely to vote Democrat.

The requirement goes into effect next month.

While in the elevator, Phillips offered Skillern a copy of the state’s requirements for getting a qualified photo ID.

Skillern declined.

“I was kidding Paul Smith about it,” Skillern said of the voter ID discussion when reached by phone after the meeting.

Smith, whom he’s known for decades, began the joking, Skillern said.

Skillern, a Republican, said Smith told him that he and other Democrats were “just down here creating a little turmoil for you.”

Smith said he didn’t use the word “turmoil,” recalling that he said the citizens “stirred the pot some today” with their public opposition to the Voter ID law.

Either way, Skillern responded with his statement about white male property owners.

Phillips said Skillern’s statement was “seemingly overstated” and took him aback.

“It was kind of like guys stand around locker rooms and tell dirty jokes,” he said. “It shocked me that he would say that in front of someone he just met 10 seconds ago.”

Skillern said Phillips and Smith took his statement out of context. Skillern supports voting rights for all law-abiding U.S. citizens, regardless of skin color or sex, he said.

“We just go back and forth with each other all the time,” Skillern said of Smith.