While contenders are lining up to succeed him as Knox County mayor, Tim Burchett is lacing up his traveling shoes.
On Memorial Day, Burchett, whose final term will end in September 2018, had a speaking engagement in Sevier County. That’s hardly unusual – in recent months, he’s pressed the flesh at Lincoln Day and Reagan Day banquets, Republican Clubs, veterans’ and various civic organizations in Blount County, Roane County, Campbell County, Scott County, Union County, Loudon County, Oak Ridge and Clinton. Requests from Middle and West Tennessee are pending while Burchett works them into a schedule packed full of local appearances.
He’ll turn 52 in August and has served in political office since 1994, when he was elected to the state House, where he served four years before moving on to the state Senate in 1998. He was elected Knox County mayor in 2010, re-elected in 2014 and turned down requests from Tea Party representatives to run against Sen. Lamar Alexander. Speculation about his next move has become a popular pastime in local political circles, and nobody expects him to retire.
He says he’s uncertain about his future.
“What am I going to do? I don’t know. I pray about it all the time – and even then, just because God tells me to do it doesn’t mean I’m going to win,” he said. “People ask me about it every day, and I mean that literally. At Wright’s (Cafeteria), in the courthouse, in the grocery store, in the parking lot at church, whenever I’m around a reporter – I tell them I’ll let them know when I decide.”
So why all the speeches?
“Well, I’m really not much of a public speaker, but people are interested in my views on limited government, reducing debt and my general view of government. It’s tough to get speakers, and I probably get asked a lot because I do it for free.”
Clay Crownover, a political strategist who labels himself a Biden Democrat and represents both Republicans and Democrats as clients, says he believes Burchett has a bright political future if he runs for the right offices.
“If he wanted to challenge Jimmy Duncan to run for Congress, he would probably be successful at that, but I don’t see him as a viable candidate for U.S. Senate. His style is suited to being able to talk to every single voter. He can talk to anybody and they feel he understands them. That’s something you can’t teach candidates – even me, as a liberal Democrat, I love him. In a statewide race, he can’t do that because he cannot speak to everybody.”
Republican political strategist Tom Ingram labels himself a Burchett fan. He says he admires his political acumen, skills, work ethic and ability to channel what people are thinking.
“I think he has the potential to do whatever it is he wants to do. He’s as qualified, or more so, than many who are looking at the governor’s race.
Burchett laughed off one last try for an explanation of his peripatetic speaking schedule:
“I happen to like chicken dinners,” he said, “But I feel like I’m cheating on the Colonel. I’m boycotting KFC anyway because they shorted me a piece of chicken and that’s unacceptable. They didn’t respond to my email, so I’ve transferred my allegiance to Bojangles.”