Siler needs GOP votes to win

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

While there is focus on the Richard Briggs challenge to state Sen. Stacey Campfield in the August Republican primary, there is also a Democratic candidate, Cheri Siler, an educator who lives in Fountain City.

Local Democrats say she is a credible candidate and a viable alternative to Campfield if he wins the primary. If Briggs wins, Siler has a much tougher contest in November as he does not have the Campfield negatives.

This writer recently met with Siler. She presents an interesting profile for local Democrats if she manages her campaign well with a compelling message.

She is the mother of six children at age 42. They are Carsten, 21; Tyler and Ryan, 19 (twins); Zachary, 18; Jacob, 15; and Kayley, 13. She is an instructional coach for Knox County Schools working at Carter, South-Doyle and L&N STEM Academy and has tenure. She also helps her husband operate Volunteer Paving, a small business.

While raising her children she was active in the PTA/PTO of the various schools they attended including president of the PTO at Shannondale Elementary and Gresham Middle. The Silers live on Shannondale Road inside the city.

She comes across as a calm, sincere individual. She said it was this past December that she decided to enter the political arena for the first time “because I was dissatisfied with the representation we had” (meaning Campfield).

Her website lists education, jobs and healthcare as her major issues. On some issues she is quite clear while on others she is vague or undecided. For example, she does not favor popular election of the county school superintendent.

She thinks it would be “a great idea” for the Knox legislative delegation to hold regular Saturday meetings for the public while the legislature is in session. That practice was discontinued some 15 years ago. She thinks the state should participate in Obamacare. She favors a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour over the current $7.70 and thinks it should be enacted in stages.

However, she said she had “not given (her first bill) much thought.”

She was unsure how the state attorney general should be chosen. She is not sure if the state constitutional amendment banning a state income tax is wise and not sure how she would vote on it this November. She was also undecided on the constitutional amendment changing the judicial selection process. She said she would like to serve on the Education Committee and Government Operations Committee if elected. Government Operations is not a major committee.

She says she has never met Gov. Haslam, even when he was mayor. She feels that Haslam “was much more for the regular people of Knoxville” as mayor, but as governor he “is more big-business- and corporate-minded, headed in a different direction.” She does back Haslam’s Drive to 55.

Asked how the race would differ if Briggs defeats Campfield, she says, “I have seen nothing to suggest he is different from Campfield.”

Her campaign manager joined our interview. He is Andrae McGary, 33, former member of the Chattanooga City Council and unsuccessful Democratic nominee for state senator in 2012. He moved to Tennessee in 2005 from Texas and won election in 2009 for one term. He and his wife, Cheryl, have 5 children. He will spend several days a week here in the Siler campaign. They met recently at a Democratic campaign seminar in Clarksville.

In this writer’s opinion Siler’s electability will depend on whether she is seen as a Wayne Ritchie, Tommy Schumpert or Phil Bredesen Democrat in a district that is overwhelmingly Republican. She must give Republicans a reason to vote for her. She is not there yet.

■  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be in Knoxville on April 15 to speak at noon at UT’s Cox Auditorium. It is open to the public. Get there early if you want a seat.

Justice Scalia visited Poland while I was ambassador. In fact, he was our last houseguest prior to our leaving. Regardless of one’s views on his ideology, his personality was delightful and given to robust discussions on whatever issues arose. The Poles who met him were impressed.

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