frank_talk (2007-06)

Winners and Losers

Tactical victory satisfying, but strategic outcome less certain

by Frank Cagle

Winner/Loser: The anti-County Mayor Mike Ragsdale forces had a tactical victory last week, but whether they have achieved long-term strategic success is iffy. The media in this town are about as angry as I've ever seen them. They will soon be going through the Courthouse like a dose of salts, as my Mama Cagle might say. You can expect some serious resources devoted to nepotism, excess spending and Sunshine Law violations. If Ragsdale is successful in securing an election in September, following so soon on the heels of the debacle at last week's Commission meeting, you can expect a major shake-up in the new anti-Ragsdale majority. You can expect more lawsuits and more scrutiny.

Winner/Loser: The state Supreme Court decision to remove virtually every countywide office-holder was a win for Ragsdale, especially the ouster of his nemesis, Sheriff Tim Hutchison. But the anti-Ragsdale forces were in tactical control of virtually every vote on Commission last week when 12 offices were filled. Hutchison may be out of office, but his machine controls at least a 10-vote majority on Commission on any given issue. Going forward, Ragsdale will not be in control of the county legislative body come the budget process--and funding for the new pension plan for the sheriff's department. Even if his election counterattack is successful, it will come into play after the budget process.

Winner/Loser: Commission Chair Scott Moore achieved a voting majority on Commission, solidified his base for a possible countywide race in 2010 and positioned himself as the leader of the Hutchison machine. He also has ensured a target on his back for the political establishment and the media.

Losers: It seems apparent that former Trustee Mike Lowe has given up his plans to run for County Mayor once Ragsdale leaves at the end of this term. Resisting leaving his office once the Supreme Court said he was term-limited was unseemly enough. Having his deputy Fred Sisk made trustee, then going to work as his deputy, ensures Lowe has a job for the next year or so. But it also should ensure he will never hold another elected office. It also appears that Sisk will be the shortest serving Trustee in county history for having hired his former boss.

Winner: The irony is that Commissioner John Schmid, who came through the whole sordid mess with his integrity intact and more popular than ever, is the least likely public official to ever seek office again.

Losers: Commissioner Diane Jordan blindsided her colleagues, who voted to put her son on Commission in her place only to discover he has a juvenile criminal record. This became Exhibit A in criticism of Commission selections. Also, Mark Cawood, whose wife Sharon is acknowledged to be a good, competent and popular choice to take his place, in the district, then went to work for the Sheriff's department two days later. That made him Exhibit B.

Winner: Commissioner Mark Harmon is the darling of the media and the bloggers for his principled stand against horse trading, thus bringing defeat to his nominee. No one is looking too closely at his dog and pony show forum, which produced an endorsement of Amy Broyles, whom he intended to nominate anyway. Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert's clumsy attempt to do a deal with Harmon made him look like a statesman in contrast.

Losers: Richard Cate and Lee Tramel will face an uphill battle for reelection, there being a lot of candidates from the 4th District already in place and some residual anger about how the two were appointed. They were appointed like the rest, but the deadlock on Tramel became the focal point of the meeting and thus the target of the most venom. Since there were two seats open in the 4th, it attracted more candidates than any other Commission district and could result in more candidates to run in the next election. But Cate and Tramel will have a cakewalk compared to new Commissioner Chuck Bolus, sworn in for the Billy Tindell seat so he could break the tie.

Winner/Loser: Law Director John Owings was Johnny-on-the-spot with legal advice enabling the anti-Ragsdale forces to win parliamentary votes at Commission last week. He is up for election next year. He may get hammered. But on the other hand, he picked the winning side in the commission power struggle and will be supported by the Hutchison machine. He can argue that everything done at Commission followed the law. It could work.

Winner: County Clerk Mike Padgett packed up his office and went quietly, with dignity, and made no public statements condemning term limits and made no effort to get himself another job. He's the Democrats' best hope for countywide office in 2010.

Losers: The citizens of Knox County, for all the obvious reasons.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .