- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The last person who filled one of the Tennessee House seats representing the Memphis suburb of Collierville was a carnival company operator who resigned amid a sexual harassment investigation weeks after his first day in office.

The man he defeated stands accused of stealing his opponent’s campaign signs and once pleaded guilty to drunken driving.

Voters in House District 95 go to the polls Thursday to cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic primaries. They will choose who will vie for the empty - and scandal-filled - seat in the special election on June 15.

Seven Republicans will be fighting for their party’s nomination in the contest to represent the solidly-GOP House district. One Democrat is running in that party’s primary, challenged only by write-in votes.

They are gunning for the seat vacated by Mark Lovell, 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, said in a resignation letter that the elected position ended up being more demanding than he expected and that he needed more time to devote to business interests and family.

Lovell issued a statement through a public relations firm denying any wrongdoing. But he also issued an apology 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 held the seat for about a month before he resigned. He defeated Republican incumbent Curry Todd, who has dealt with his share of problems.

Todd was arrested days before the November vote on charges of stealing Lovell’s yard signs. Todd was caught on video taking a sign. Todd, who was bailed out on the eve of the election by Lovell, was charged with theft of property. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 9.

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

Early voting turnout has been low, according to the Shelby County Election Commission. In early voting that ended Saturday, 2,535 people out of 51,413 registered voters, or about 5 percent, cast ballots. Only 222 people voted in the Democratic primary.

Officials had expected about 13 or 14 percent turnout, “but this is way below even my low expectations,” said Linda Phillips, Shelby County elections administrator.

Special elections, and their primaries, tend to be less busy than regular elections, Phillips said.

Republican candidates in the primary are Joseph Aaron Crone, Gail Williams Horner, Curtis D. Loynachan, Missy Marshall, Billy Patton, Frank Uhlhorn and Kevin Vaughan. Julie Byrd Ashworth is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Independents Robert Schutt and Jim Tomasik also are running in the general election in June.

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