Slate of women campaigning to head Knox Dems

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

A slate of women candidates is looking to take over leadership of the Knox County Democratic Party. The candidate for chair is Emily Gregg, a senior majoring in Classics (with a concentration in civilization) at the University of Tennessee.

She got active in KCDP as a freshman in 2012. The Nashville native is making the rounds of district meetings during the run-up to the March 25 countywide reorganization convention and was a featured speaker at both the Democratic Women of Knoxville and the First District Democrats last week.

First District Democrats president, the Rev. Harold Middlebrook, reminded his group that their district has more Democrats than any in Knox County, and will have 55 delegates to the county convention.

He challenged them to work on ways to get more African-Americans involved. Linda Haney, the slate’s candidate for vice chair, offered to step aside if a member of the black community wants to run.

Party treasurer Shannon Webb will seek to stay in that position.

Gregg said one of her first priorities is to organize and sustain the wave of energy generated by the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

“Volunteers are coming to us left and right, from every direction,” she said. “We get three or four signups on our website every day because people are so concerned, so we want to focus on building the party’s infrastructure – if we’re not in tip-top shape, we could really see our government suffer. We’re trying to find a home for all of those volunteers so we can hit the ground running in 2018.”

Speaking of running, Allie Cohn, a human energy bomb who moved to Knoxville from Gainesville, Fla., last August, is a candidate for secretary, and came to the Democratic Women’s meeting with Gregg.

Fresh off a trip to Philadelphia as a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Cohn contacted KCDP the day she arrived, and got a call the next day from party activist Chris Barber inviting her to help with Gloria Johnson’s legislative campaign. Last month, she served as a marshal in the Women’s March in Washington, and is a member of a progressive subcommittee that is moving to heal lingering Bernie/Hillary party rifts.

“People do want to talk about it – in a positive way,” Cohn said. “A lot of people chose not to vote. We really need to understand why people sat this election out.

“We need to find out what people want from the party. The class divide is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s less a Democrat/Republican thing than a top 1 percent and the rest of us thing.

“What is it the party can offer them? We’re Democrats. We want to fight for people.”

The First District Democrats’ meeting opened with a presentation from UT sociology professor and Tennessee Higher Education Union representative Jon Shefner, who updated the crowd on Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to outsource physical plant workers’ jobs in universities and state parks.

Shefner said Haslam’s plan has met with great resistance, and not just from the usual suspects, citing two UT officials, Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration for the Knoxville campus, and Butch Peccolo, former UT treasurer, who were nudged out of meetings conducted by the state’s Office of Customer Focused Government when they started voicing doubts about outsourcing.

“There are two ways to make money by outsourcing: pay a lower wage with fewer benefits, or diminish the quality of services.

“Not one legislator has come out openly in favor of this plan. … Legislators know their constituents will be harmed,” Shefner said.

The campus workers have scheduled a rally in Nashville March 9 that will culminate in some arrests, Shefner said.

“We need you to come to our office and help us make phone calls. We need money – money for buses, money to pay the bonds. There are working people in serious anxiety about their jobs all across the state. Many thousands of jobs will be lost, and it will impact local businesses.”

Middlebrook said he plans to be there.

“I haven’t been to jail in some time. I’m getting my bond together.”

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