UT lobbyist will earn pay in upcoming session

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Dave Hart, University of Tennessee athletic director, is acting as though the Lady Vol name controversy has blown over and it is business as usual.

Hart was quoted recently as saying the Athletic Department has moved on from this controversy. Little does he understand the Tennessee mindset when he says that. He can expect to see it considered in the next legislative session when respected members like Roger Kane and Becky Duncan Massey bring it up.

This issue is only in remission at present and likely will come back stronger than ever in the session of the state Legislature starting Jan. 13. UT lobbyist Anthony Haynes, who is paid $180,000 a year, will have his hands full protecting Hart from himself.

■  State Rep. Bill Dunn, who chairs the all-important House Calendar Committee, certainly struck a responsive chord with his comments a few weeks ago critical of the UT Office for Diversity and Inclusion for suggesting the use of pronouns xe and hir and zirs instead of he/she. He first thought this was a joke, and when he discovered it was true, he asked if taxpayers really pay someone to generate this stuff.

UT has enough issues against it in Nashville already without adding this to the fire. It can only worsen relations with the conservative GOP majority in Nashville. UT says this is not policy and was only informational. U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and others have blasted it.

Knoxville business leader Raja Jubran is the new vice chair of the UT Board, having been tapped by Gov. Haslam to hold the post. He will have his hands full dealing with these issues not of his making.

It turns out that Donna Braquet, who was quoted, is actually a part-time employee of the UT diversity office, earning $72,378 mostly for her work at the University Libraries. The annual budget of the diversity office is $436,702, with vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall directing the office and paid $181,637 a year. Hall has other duties besides this office, according to UT’s Margie Nichols.

■  The only contest in the upcoming city election of real note on Sept. 29 is the battle over Seat C for the at-large City Council position currently held by Finbarr Saunders. Challenging him are three persons: Kelly Absher, Paul Bonovich and David Williams.

Based on activity, it has narrowed to a Bonovich-Saunders contest with the top two of the four candidates going on to the November runoff. Saunders, who was ousted from County Commission by Jeff Ownby in 2010, is working hard to prevent a second ouster. He has had numerous small receptions, had yard signs erected and raised over $30,000. He is clearly worried in part due to the expected low voter turnout, which could work against him in the November runoff.

Bonovich is talking about Saunders’ vote for a 34-cent property tax hike, which passed seven to two with Nick Della Volpe and Marshall Stair voting no. It is unclear how damaging that vote will be to Saunders, but it is not a topic Saunders brings up. Bonovich says 34 cents on the property tax rate was too high, and Saunders is not looking for ways to cut costs. He wants to reduce the tax rate.

A safe prediction seems that Bonovich, 52, and Saunders, 70, will advance to the runoff with an engaging campaign to November. Saunders wants to pile up a large margin in the primary next week to propel him forward in November, when the mayor will not be on the ballot.

Saunders repeatedly endorses the other three incumbent council members, but at least one incumbent, Stair, says he is running his own campaign and not endorsing or opposing anyone in the other council contests. Saunders talks about how well current council members get along, so their re-election is merited. Seems like a minor consideration to this writer. Position on issues is far more significant.

■  An interesting book on World War II and how FDR managed the war effort published recently is “American Warlords” by Jonathan Jordan, an attorney living in Atlanta. It is well researched and worth reading if you have a strong interest in WWII.

■  John Lansing, who lived in Knoxville a few years ago while working as president of Scripps Networks and was general campaign chair for United Way one year, has been named CEO and director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America, among other things. His appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation.

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