Despite never being a favorite of the Republican establishment, Steve Hall served two terms on City Council and two terms in the state House and was putting up other people’s signs for years before he ever ran for office. Closely associated with former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, Hall has always been an outsider, perhaps best illustrated by his 2006 run against incumbent Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. He didn’t win, but he gave Ragsdale a brisk and unexpected challenge.
The Campfield relationship plus some missteps during Hall’s second House term – like landing on the wrong side of a controversy over changing Middlebrook Pike’s scenic highway designation at the behest of a new Tennova hospital facility and seeming to entertain conversation about selling Lakeshore Park – were a gift to his challenger, Martin Daniel, who ended up taking the seat in 2014.
This year it’s Daniel who’s on the defensive after a string of intemperate public comments and an inclination to involve himself in the inner workings of the University of Tennessee, and July finds him with three primary opponents – Hall, longtime Campfield operative Bryan Dodson and attorney James Corcoran.
Like Hall, Dodson is a grizzled veteran of many Campfield campaigns and served as a legislative aide to Campfield before being removed from his job by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who accused him of campaigning while on the taxpayers’ clock.
Corcoran, 36, is a fresh-faced newcomer who charts a different course from the other three, who all appear to be fighting to claim the title as most conservative. He supports Insure Tennessee and gives thoughtful answers to questions like “What do you think of the effects of repealing the Hall income tax?”
His answer, given at a recent League of Women Voters forum, was:
“I probably would have left the Hall income tax in place if I had complete control of the world.” But he said he realizes the people of Knox County voted to repeal it. “How do you reconcile the loss of millions with the need for millions for healthcare, education and infrastructure?”
Daniel, a non-practicing attorney who owns a billboard company, commands a paid crew of doorknockers and said at the League of Women Voters forum that he’s knocked on 15,000 doors over the past six weeks. He frequently boasts that he sponsored legislation that was named “best bill of the year” without mentioning who bestowed the award or what the bill did.
It came from the Family Action Council of Tennessee, headed by former legislator David Fowler, and changed the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act by requiring state agencies to submit their rules and regulations to the House and Senate Government Operations Committee for review. It also gives the committees the right to initiate action to repeal regulations, thus slowing the process of regulating things like billboards.
Perhaps the most curious turn the campaign has taken is the sudden money bomb Hall has received from the Haslam family and friends. At a time when Daniel is lending his campaign money from his own pocket, Hall has been gifted with hefty contributions from Natalie Haslam, James Haslam II and III, Ann Haslam Bailey and husband Steve plus Haslam followers Raja Jubran and Sharon Pryse.
Hall doesn’t look like such an outsider on his last financial disclosure.