President of the United States
The country is mired in an economic standstill. Unemployment is high, as are gas prices. World peace is a mess and terrorism still haunts us. But if you don't think we're better off than we were four years ago, you're guilty of having a highly selective memory.
When George W. Bush stepped down from office, he left the world in tatters: invading and occupying a country that posed little threat, squandering a budget surplus, reducing taxes for the wealthiest with little or no "trickle-down" benefits, looking the other way as financial institutions led the country (and the world) into a get-rich-quick sinkhole. In 2008, we were facing a total economic meltdown of historic proportions—and all signs pointed toward it getting even worse.
In four years, President Barack Obama has not solved our global economic woes. But he has stabilized the American patient, so to speak, and has even improved some of its vital signs. He has certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way, and wasted much time attempting to placate conservatives who will hate him no matter what policy compromises he makes. He has not kept promises (closing Guantanamo) and he has not been as firm as he has needed to be (health-care reform). However, he's still the best candidate to push the country toward recovery. Mitt Romney's vague policies and ever-changing stances inspire little confidence he'll avoid the same pitfalls of the last Bush administration.
While he did not turn out to be the "chosen one" we hoped for, Barack Obama has gotten more accomplished than he gets credit for. And he deserves another four years to try and set the country in the right direction.
U. S. Senate
Bob Corker will win re-election to the U.S. Senate by something more than a mere landslide, and that's not a terrible thing. Corker is a smart guy and no embarrassment to the state, but those Tennesseans who are concerned about several key issues—who like the Affordable Health Care Act and the idea that Medicare is permanent—may feel unrepresented in the U.S. Senate. Voting patterns suggest there are easily more than a million Tennesseans of voting age who are politically well to the left of both of our senators. What are their choices? They obviously don't include Corker's Democratic challenger, Mark Clayton. Clayton, an elusive figure best known for his association with hate groups, appears to have two constituencies: far-right Republicans who think Corker's too moderate, and Democrats who aren't paying attention. If Clayton were even a long-shot at winning the race, we'd be rooting for Corker.
Aug. 2 was a very weird primary that left that branch of the party in disarray. Clayton, alphabetically the first in a crowded field of challengers, won the Democratic nomination with only 30 percent of the scant Democratic primary vote—48,000 votes statewide, a small crowd even by Neyland Stadium losing-season standards. But as a result, Clayton is the only listed Democratic nominee. The state Democratic party has disowned him.
Park Overall, the charismatic actress/environmentalist who'd once seemed the likeliest nominee, suspended her campaign for several weeks that summer when she was sidelined by serious illness, and has not filed papers to be eligible as a write-in.
Of the qualified write-ins, the one with most backing from Democrats statewide is Angelia Stinnett. A Maryville native, she's known as a promoter of gay and gender rights and promises a campaign "for the working class." But she's not very well known, and was not a candidate in the August primary.
The easiest way to register a protest vote is to vote for a fully registered candidate who does appear on the ballot. This is the first election in which the Green Party has appeared on our ballot, by that name, and Tennessee's Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate happens to be a Knoxvillian. Martin Pleasant, who has degrees in civil and environmental engineering, works for the Knox County Engineering and Public Works Department on water quality and drainage issues; he's also a small farmer. Given that it'll be a Corker cakewalk—we'd be surprised if his victory margin is less than 40 points—we encourage those in the middle or left to consider either Pleasant or a write-in for Stinnett.
State Senate 6th District
Becky Duncan Massey is finishing her first term as an incumbent state senator representing Tennessee's 6th district. She's one of several Republicans who are confident the key to victory in Tennessee is to prove you're "conservative." And though the meaning of that term shifts over the years, they may be right. Daughter of former Knoxville Mayor and Congressman John Duncan Sr., she's the sister of longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan—and aunt of Knox County Trustee John Duncan. For those unsettled by turning their government over to too many people with the same DNA, there are options.
Her challenger is a long shot, and not just because she's black. Evelyn Gill is a political newcomer, but one with broad experience in the real world. After earning a master's degree in public policy from Rutgers, she's worked in corporate human resources and, for the last 10 years, as a special-education teacher, currently at Carter High School. In a state where education may be the biggest problem, Gill's the one who knows it best, and is making it a priority without couching it in the litany of family values, guns, and low taxes.
U.S. House of Representatives 2nd District
Another extremely lopsided race involving a Duncan is the one between longtime incumbent John "Jimmy" Duncan and youthful challenger Troy Goodale. For 48 years, the 2nd District seat has come to seem like a birthright; we have not had a representative in Congress whose name was not John Duncan since Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely" was in the Top 20, and My Favorite Martian was on primetime TV.
We're pretty sure it'll stay that way for at least a couple more years. It's a dynasty, and we haven't heard anything from Goodale to suggest he'll be the one to topple it. Goodale has made this run before, the first time 20 years ago. A political-science professor, he's an earnest fellow given to tangents, but Democrats can select him in good conscience.
But for those who prefer a challenger with fiercer ideals and a sharper tongue, there's Norris Dryer. He's on the ballot as the Green Party candidate. A retired public-radio host and former WUOT program manager who is also one of the most senior violinists in the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Norris is an unabashed liberal, promoter especially of environmental causes. He's lived in Knoxville since the Johnson administration—he was a downtown Knoxvillian long before it was trendy—and you can tell by talking to him that he cares about the place, maybe even more than we do.
State House 13th District
Over the past four years, Gloria Johnson has gone from a political newcomer inspired to volunteer in support of Barack Obama to the head of the Knox County Democratic Party to two-time candidate for state office. Johnson's campaign last year for the state Senate seat now held by Becky Duncan Massey was a long shot, but this time around she's on her home turf. We endorsed Johnson last year and we're endorsing her again—not only is her knowledge of the legislative issues more in-depth than many candidates currently holding office, but Johnson is also a smart, politically savvy woman who would be a dedicated public servant for all of the people in her district, from North Knoxville to Sequoyah Hills to Colonial Heights. Add in the fact that her opponent, Gary Loe, has been showered with donations from the Republican establishment in Nashville, including $1,750 from Sen. Stacey Campfield, and a vote for Johnson is a no-brainer.
State House 14th District
Rep. Ryan Haynes has made headlines as the youngest member of the House, but, thankfully, not for much else. Unlike certain members of the East Tennessee delegation more concerned with becoming notorious in their own right, Haynes' governmental philosophy seems more along the lines of former state Sen. Jamie Woodson and current Speaker of the House Beth Harwell—solidly conservative, yes, but reasonable as well. (Also, he sponsored the bill that made it legal to ship wine into the state—a good bill, that.) However, we cannot in good conscience endorse anyone who might contribute to the hoped-for Republican supermajority in the Legislature, given the damage the Republicans have already done since taking control of both houses. Jerome Q. Miller, Haynes' long-shot Democratic opponent, is an engineer at Y-12, so we know he has the brains to hold office. He could bring a much-needed knowledgeable perspective on technology to the Legislature, along with an equally needed racial balance. (Miller is black.) And as a man active not just in the Knox County Democratic Party but a number of Knoxville and Farragut charities and community organizations, Miller has the connections necessary to succeed and get the job done.
State House 15th District
Insurance manager Joe Armstrong is a known quantity, friendly with everybody across the political spectrum. He's been in politics ever since we first elected him to County Commission, 30 years ago; he left that post in 1988, and began a career as state legislator, now with 24 years seniority and counting. In recent years, he's been a solid (and ever rarer) Democratic vote in the House, and has earned membership in several House committees.
Armstrong hasn't had major-party opposition in years. The GOP knows better than to challenge Armstrong in the heavily Democratic, majority black 15th District. This year his only opposition comes from the nothing-to-lose Green Party, which characterizes Armstrong as a "classic corporate liberal." (See, the derogatory L-word works even from the left.) His Green challenger, Calvin Cassady, is a political unknown, an East Knoxville real-estate man who's working on his master's degree in public administration. Cassady's interested in new urbanism, energy efficiency, and relaxing some drug laws.
He sounds smart, and may be someone to watch in the future. But this year, we're falling back on the tried and true Joe Armstrong.
State House 16th District
We don't know much about the Green Party candidate, Bryan Moneyhun. But we can state one thing for certain: Moneyhun would be, by far, a better state representative for the Knoxville area than the incumbent he is running against, Rep. Bill Dunn. On a personal level, Dunn is a nice enough guy; he's also one of the few state Republicans to actually support measures to ban mountaintop-removal coal mining. But Dunn's sponsorship of last session's "Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act," among a number of other extremely conservative measures, is reason enough to give him the heave-ho. The bill, which made Tennessee a laughingstock in the national media, was a thinly veiled excuse to sneak creationism into the classroom. We realize Moneyhun has next to no chance at beating Dunn in such a heavily Republican district. But wouldn't you rather your vote go to someone who's a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism instead of someone who was the original sponsor of the "gateway sexual activity" bill? At least the former acts of anachronism do no damage.
State House 18th District
There are a lot of Vols who have gone on to successful political careers, most notably Heath Shuler, and we are sure that Anthony Hancock's time on the team in the 1980s—and endorsement by former head coach Johnny Majors—will do nothing but help him at the polls. However, it's not Hancock's prowess on the field that leads us to endorse him to replace current Rep. Steve Hall. Hancock has worked with the children of this community for years, first while leading Knoxville's inner-city scouting program for a decade and then for the past nine years as a teacher at Bearden Middle School. Hancock understands the challenges facing the educational systems in Tennessee and, as a committee chair of the Tennessee Educators Association, he understands the politics involved. Unlike the ultraconservative Hall, Hancock appears to be dedicated to working with all of his would-be constituents on both sides of the aisle. And as an black man, Hancock would offer much needed balance to the overwhelmingly white East Tennessee legislative delegation.
Note: Since Republican candidates in the House 19th and 89th districts are running unopposed, we do not have any recommendations.
Knoxville City Charter Amendment
In all actuality, Mayor Madeline Rogero's first attempt at pension reform probably doesn't go far enough. The so-called hybrid plan that would replace the current pension plan for all new city employees starting in January combines a traditional defined pension with a defined benefit component. Critics say it will not fully prevent the seemingly inevitable looming pension shortfall. However, any step in the right direction is just that, so we support a vote for the amendment.
Knox County Charter Amendments
Question 1: The county has pension reform on its ballot, too, although it's just limited to the Uniformed Officers Plan. Approved by voters in 2006, the fund is already at a point where it cannot be sustained. The charter amendment would prevent new hires from joining the plan starting in 2014; in the meantime the Pension Board will figure out a new (likely defined contribution) plan. While we are wary of voting to replace something with something that does not yet exist, we still think a vote to change the plan is the right one to make for our county's fiscal future.
Questions 2 and 3: Amendment Questions 2 and 3 clarify the county charter's definition of term limits, making sure that it is clear that a term-limited officer can run for another office—i.e., a two-term county commissioner can run for mayor—and that a term-limited officer cannot run for a similar but different office—i.e., a two-term District 3 commissioner could not then run for a third term in an at-large district. We recommend voting yes for both amendments.
Questions 4, 5, and 6: Amendment Questions 4, 5, and 6 deal with the school board. Question 4 removes any connection between electing the board of education and electing the county assessor of property, because, you know, that made such sense to begin with. Question 5 ensures that school board redistricting happens with a two-thirds vote of Commission, as happens with Commission redistricting. And Question 6 clarifies that Commission has the final say over school board redistricting. We see no reason to be opposed to any of these amendments and suggest a yes vote on all.
Question 7: Amendment Question 7 would remove something that is apparently currently an actual duty of the Knox County Clerk—that he annually write our state and national legislative delegation stating the people's support of term limits. We can't believe this existed in the first place, so we strongly recommend a "yes" vote to remove this farcical duty from our county clerk.