A closer look at 2016

Scott Frith
Government/Politics columnist

We all know that 2016 was a great year for Republicans (and a not-so-great year for Democrats), but let’s take a closer look at what happened and what’s ahead in 2017.

First, while the biggest political story of the year was Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race, some observers were surprised by the size of Trump’s win in Tennessee. Trump won Tennessee by nearly 25 points – a higher margin than Mitt Romney’s 20-point win in 2012 and John McCain’s 15-point win in 2008.

Locally, few have noticed that Gloria Johnson has now lost three of four state elections. (Johnson lost a state Senate special election in 2011, re-election in 2014, and lost again in 2016. Johnson’s only win was in 2012.) Democrats are expected to find another candidate to take on Rep. Eddie Smith in 2018. Nonetheless, Johnson would be favored for city council next year and would be a strong candidate for Knoxville mayor in 2019.

The other big story was Republican state Rep. Martin Daniel winning re-election despite being criminally charged with assault for shoving former state Rep. Steve Hall during a campaign event. Even more absurd is that the mess isn’t over yet. Daniel’s criminal charges remain pending as legislators return to Nashville next month.

Here are some other things to watch in 2017:

Knoxville City Council district seats (1, 2, 3, 4 and 6) will be on the ballot this fall, but few will notice. On average, only 5,000 people bother to vote in a typical city election. (Knoxville has a population of about 185,000.)

Also, although the Republican primary won’t be held until May 2018, two heavyweight candidates are lining up to be the next sheriff: assistant chief Lee Tramel and former chief deputy Tom Spangler. Tramel will have the blessing of current Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones (who is term limited). Spangler will raise a lot of money from his political connections in Blount County, where he is employed part-time as director of training.

Of course, political posturing is also underway in the race to succeed county Mayor Tim Burchett (who is also term limited).

Rumored and announced candidates for mayor are Commissioner Brad Anders, Law Director Bud Armstrong, county GOP leader Buddy Burkhardt and Commissioner Bob Thomas.

The wild card in the race is Glenn Jacobs (the professional wrestler formerly known as “Kane”). Celebrities win elections. Jacobs would be a strong candidate for mayor or Congress.

Rumors continue to swirl around the political futures of Burchett and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. Both have been around a while. 2018 will be the 30th anniversary of Duncan’s election to Congress and the 24th anniversary of Burchett’s first election to the state Legislature.

According to a Federal Election Commission filing this month, the “Duncan for Congress” campaign account has $974,058.05 in available cash. That’s a lot of money.

2017 will be an interesting year.

Scott Frith is a local attorney.
You can visit his website at pleadthefrith.com.

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