By

Ethan Steinquest

Special to the News

The ballot is set for Wilson County’s Republican primary election, which will be held on March 3 alongside the sales tax referendum and presidential preference primary.

Voters will choose from candidates for Division II circuit court judge, Division III general sessions judge, public defender, assessor of property and the Wilson County Commission’s District 17 seat.

“In most of these elections, the winner will be running unopposed on the general election ballot,” Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren said, noting that the filing deadlines are the same for primary and general elections. “Democrats aren’t having a county primary, and nobody has filed as a Democrat for these races. We did have one candidate, Branden Bellar, file as an independent for the circuit court judgeship.”

Since every other candidate is running as a Republican, the primary has an outsize influence on the Aug. 6 general election. Here’s a closer look at the field for each primary contest:

Circuit Court Judge — Division IIMichael Collins, Javin Cripps and Shawn McBrien will compete in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division II circuit court judge.

Collins currently serves as a judge for the Smith County General Sessions court, with jurisdiction over the Smith County Juvenile Court. He was elected in August 2014.

Cripps has been the assistant district attorney for the 15th Judicial District since 2006 and previously worked in private practice in Carthage.

McBrien has worked in private practice for 34 years and is currently based in Lebanon.

The winner among the three candidates will face Trousdale County Attorney Branden Bellar in the general election. Judge John Wootten Jr. retired from the position at the start of the year, so the general will determine who fills out his term ending August 2024.

Wilson County Commission — District 17Incumbent Joe Ali will face James “Rusty” Keith for a spot on the Wilson County Commission.

Ali was appointed to the District 17 seat in October 2019 following the resignation of former commissioner Gary Keith. Before serving on the commission he was best known as the owner of Auto Village, a Lebanon car dealership.

“Rusty” Keith is the son of Gary Keith and works with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. He currently serves as the school resource officer for Gladeville Elementary School.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot deciding who fills out Gary Keith’s term, which ends in August 2022.

Wilson County Assessor of PropertyIncumbent Stephen Goodall and Charles Leeman are vying for a four-year term as assessor of property.

Goodall was elected to his first term in 2016. He had previously worked as the school resource officer at Mt. Juliet High School for six years before being promoted to sergeant and overseeing a majority of SROs in western Wilson County.

Leeman worked as an appraisal specialist for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury for several years and has continued a second career as a Lebanon-based realtor since retiring from government.

The winner between the two candidates will be unopposed on the general election ballot.

15th Judicial District Public DefenderIncumbent Shelley Thompson Gardner is running unopposed in the Republican primary for public defender.

Former Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Gardner to the position in October 2018 following Comer L. Donnell’s retirement announcement.

Gardner has practiced in criminal, general sessions and juvenile courts throughout the 15th Judicial District, and worked as a longtime supervisor over all Wilson County courts.

She will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Donnell’s term ending August 2022.

General Sessions Judge — Division IIIIncumbent Ensley Hagan is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the 15th Judicial District’s Division III general sessions judge.

The Wilson County Commission appointed Hagan to the position in 2018 following the retirement of Judge John Gwin. He has jurisdiction over general sessions family court and juvenile child support court.

Hagan will also be unopposed on the general election ballot, which will determine who fills Gwin’s term ending August 2022.

Although Democrats do not have candidates in local primary elections, they can still vote in the party’s national primary contest. The referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase will appear on all ballots regardless of party affiliation.