BY O.J. EARLY
The anonymous -- and likely illegal -- "poll" calls that were reported last week in Greene County appear to have slowed, if not halted altogether.
The mysterious calls, directly related to the GOP primary campaign for the 5th District State House of Representatives seat, reached dozens, and possibly hundreds, of county residents last week.
In many cases, the unidentified callers made statements about candidate Ted Hensley that Hensley said were damaging and false.
According to Cara Harr, a HAVA (Help America Vote Act) attorney for the Tennessee Division of Elections office, the way the calls were carried out is probably illegal under T.C.A 2-29-120.
But, it seems, the calls have slowed considerably, and may have stopped completely.
Donna Blevins, a board member of the Greene County Republican Women's Club, did not receive one of the calls but spoke last week with numerous local Republicans who did.
Blevins, who was first interviewed by The Greeneville Sun last Thursday, said Monday in a follow-up interview that she has received no more reports of the calls spreading in Greene County.
"From my perspective, I have not heard anything else of anyone getting a call," said Blevins, a longtime member of the county GOP.
"I'm sure if they had continued, some of those people (local Republicans) would have gotten hold of me."
Local attorney Robert Foster, who is campaign manager for Hensley, also said there is a good chance that the calls have ceased.
Foster was among those interviewed by the Sun last week.
"At the end of the day, I don't know whether they've stopped," Foster said. "I know we've not received any more reports."
In the day or so prior to the July 27 Sun article, the newspaper staff received multiple emails and calls relative to the "poll" calls.
Since last Friday, the newspaper has received no more direct or indirect reports about the calls.
Several interviews, plus other research by the Sun last week, indicated that the majority of the contacts seemed to have occurred in the eastern and southern areas of the county, specifically in Chuckey, Camp Creek and Greystone.
Based on the newspaper interviews, this was the nature of the calls:
An unidentified caller would tell the person answering that the call was a Republican poll/survey.
The anonymous caller then read off the names of the four Republican candidates running for the GOP nomination for the 5th District State House of Representative seat.
If someone responded that he or she planned to vote for Hensley, the unidentified caller would make one or more of the following false statements about candidate Hensley: He supports abortion, he is confused concerning his stance on stem cell research, and he is unsure about his position on human cloning.
If a respondent asked a question concerning where the caller got the information, the caller hung up.
The unidentified callers seemed to be targeting mostly Hensley supporters.
Based on the newspaper research, at no point did the caller identify who was calling, who paid for the call, or who -- if any person, candidate or special interest group -- had endorsed the call.
The telephone number registering on most respondents' caller IDs was 987-654-3210, an traceable number that research showed is associated with a wide variety of scams.
In addition to Hensley himself, all three of the other Republican candidates in the race --Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, Duncan Cave and Bradley Mercer -- and Democrat Eddie Yokely emphasized last week that they were not responsible for the calls.
Both the state and the local Republican parties also denied any involvement.