A dearth of Democrats

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

City Council member and former mayor Daniel Brown turns 71 on Christmas Day. Brown, the first black mayor of Knoxville, might run for state representative against Rick Staples in 2018 in the Democratic primary. Staples was chosen as the Democratic nominee by 14 people without a primary and prevailed Nov. 8 over former state Rep. Pete Drew, who ran as an independent.

Staples needs to win a seriously competitive race to consolidate his political standing.

The ranks of Democratic county elected officials have been so reduced that today there are no elected white Democrats holding partisan office in the entire county, including judgeships.

This is a dramatic change from just 20 years ago when Democrats like Howard Bozeman, Billy Tindell, Mark Cawood, Harry Tindell, Bob Broome, Madeline Rogero, Gordon Sams, Daryl Fansler, Harold Wimberly, Randy Nichols, Wayne Ritchie, Tommy Schumpert and Mark Harmon held office.

All elected Democrats are Knoxville city officials, like Rogero, Finbarr Saunders, Barbara Palmer and Duane Grieve, who run on a nonpartisan basis and seldom show their Democratic stripes. To stage a comeback, local Democrats must have black and white officeholders.

New UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport will attend the Dec. 16 legislative breakfast for her first appearance on campus after being confirmed by the board on Dec. 15. It will be at 8 a.m. in the eighth-floor conference room at Andy Holt Towers and closed to the public.

Lawmakers have acquiesced to it being closed, but state Rep. Martin Daniel says, “Transparency should prevail. When UT is discussing public issues with lawmakers, the public should be there. UT would benefit from more openness.”

Daniel, who turns 60 this Saturday, is a UT graduate and holds two degrees from the university.

UT does itself a disservice by insisting on secrecy when the entire discussion among 20 legislators and UT officials will quickly become public once the meeting concludes. Furthermore, one critical mission of the university is to promote the facts and truth. Closing the door to meetings with elected officials, because of fear of negative media coverage, is inconsistent with the university’s mission.

Unlike salaries for coaches, the UT chancellor is paid from state tax dollars. The $700,000-plus pay package for Davenport will lead to other administrative salaries being increased over the next year at UT Knoxville.

Scott Golden, chief of staff to retiring West Tennessee U.S. Rep. Steve Fincher, was elected to chair the state GOP to succeed former state Rep. Ryan Haynes of Farragut. He won on the second ballot 33-27 over Brent Leatherwood, the party’s executive director.

Efforts to promote Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd are well underway with H.M. “Hash” Hashemian holding a breakfast last month at Cherokee Country Club. While the invitation said 50 community leaders were expected, more than 120 attended, including UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek along with state Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Massey, state Rep. Eddie Smith, UT vice chair Raja Jubran, Jim Haslam, Teddy Phillips, Laurens Tullock, Bruce Bosse, UT economist Bill Fox, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, council member Marshall Stair, attorneys Culver Schmid and Tom McAdams, businessman Wes Stowers, former county mayor Mike Ragsdale, Ashley Capps, Hallerin Hill, Pete DeBusk, businesswoman and UT trustee Sharon Pryse and Knox Chamber CEO Mike Edwards.

While Boyd’s potential race for governor was not publicly discussed, it was certainly a strong undercurrent of private discussion among attendees. Some actually thought he might announce then.

Boyd spoke on jobs issues. He attended a barbecue for state Sen. Ken Yager in Harriman that night.

Boyd is expected to announce by March whether he will run. He would have to resign as a member of the governor’s Cabinet should he run, which means Gov. Bill Haslam would name a new commissioner of ECD to serve the remaining months left in Haslam’s term. Opposing Boyd likely will be U.S. Rep. Diane Black and state Sens. Mark Green and Mark Norris.

Knoxville lost a strong civil rights activist with the death of Avon Rollins last week. He was always present and outspoken when rights were being abridged. He was especially involved in calling for creation of the police civilian review board, which this writer did by executive order as there was not majority support on City Council at the time to create it. Council should honor him by resolution. Rollins will be missed.

Longtime Republican Mary Helen Byers, who lived in Sequoyah Hills over 20 years, died before Thanksgiving. Married to Buckley Byers, who was well known and active in national GOP financial circles, she moved to Knoxville after his death. She once hosted a tented luncheon at her Cherokee Boulevard home honoring Marilyn Quayle, wife of the then-vice president, when she visited Knoxville. She was a patron of the arts and generous in her financial support.

Former U.S. Rep. and TVA director Bob Clement, 73, is out with a book on his life titled “Kings, Presidents and Convicts,” about growing up in the governor’s residence.

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