Hey candidates! Give us less baloney and more meat and potatoes.
Although the first votes won’t be cast until 2018, county commissioner and radio personality Bob Thomas kicked off his campaign for county mayor this month with a baloney cutting at Howard Phillips’ real estate company in Powell. The location was no coincidence. In 2009, Tim Burchett announced his campaign for mayor there as well.
Burchett got elected in 2010, was re-elected in 2014, and is term-limited.
At the baloney cutting, Bob Thomas publicly embraced Burchett’s legacy and thanked him for “making Knox County strong.”
Of course, it’s not surprising that Thomas would say that. Burchett is popular and a political asset for a lot of reasons.
First, from a political perspective, the Burchett administration has been a success. No tax increase. County debt has decreased. Burchett fought for friends in East Knox County by funding a new Carter Elementary School instead of renovating the old one. More recently, Burchett solved a generations-long, political problem by building a Gibbs Middle School.
In fact, with the exception of a few personal and political hiccups, Burchett has been drama-free and is well-positioned to move on to Washington or Nashville.
Being county mayor has been good for Tim Burchett. Yet, as the next election approaches and the candidates line up to replace him, it’s important to question whether Tim Burchett has been good for Knox County.
Burchett has been great on taxes and debt (both should be priorities for any ambitious Republican politician), but like any family or business, there’s more to being in charge than simply balancing the checkbook.
Think about it. Knoxville is a great American community, yet has remarkable and untapped potential. Our access to interstates, railways and the Tennessee River make us well-positioned to be a regional leader in business. Knoxville’s scenic beauty, proximity to the Smoky Mountains, as well as the county’s 100 miles of undeveloped ridges, have the potential to make us a tourism mecca and an outdoor-recreation wonderland.
Yet, instead of remaining focused on these big-picture goals, too often the Burchett administration has gotten bogged down in factional politics.
For example, just as only Richard Nixon could go to China, only a former state senator from West Knoxville (like Burchett) could get away with building two expensive and unnecessary schools (Gibbs Middle and Carter Elementary) on the opposite end of the county. Our standard for success is too low when an administration is most-remembered for building two schools that we simply didn’t need.
I like Tim Burchett. I expect I’ll vote for him the next time he runs for office. But here’s hoping the next mayor not only balances the county checkbook, but also has a grander vision for making Knox County an even better place to work and live.
We’ve gotten enough baloney from candidates. In the next election, let’s demand some meat and potatoes on the issues.
Scott Frith is a local attorney.
You can visit his website at www.pleadthefrith.com