commentary (2006-15)

Election shakeup throws a wrench into the fun

Taking out the Government

by Matt Edens

Forget all this year’s earlier noise about “Taking Back the Government.” With one fell swoop, the Tennessee Supreme Court deprived many of the anti-wheel-tax, anti-eminent-domain, anti-downtown-library, anti-just-about-whatever-you’ve-got agitators the satisfaction, in theory, of “voting the bastards out.”

Now, of course, it is possible that candidates such as Gary Sellers or Mike Alford could outpoll the phantom incumbents in the primaries and “take back” a government that is, at the moment, up for grabs anyway.

The more likely outcome, due to an arcane law allowing the political party leadership to replace the primary winner should he/she be unable to run in the general, is that we’ll wind up with a County Commission even more stocked with courthouse operatives and party apparatchiks than it already is. Not exactly the revolution the boys out at the Expo Center were rooting for, is it?

I’ll be curious to see if the Supreme Court decision sucks whatever momentum there was out of the “Take Back Our Government” movement. Sure the Hall/Ragsdale race for county mayor is unaffected, but the movement’s underdog, under-funded campaigns may be left in the lurch without the loads of free publicity they would have otherwise received from media looking for stories to spice up their election coverage.

Before the Supreme Court decision left Hall, Lumpy Lambert and the rest largely yesterday’s news, their ad-hoc movement was the closest thing to a controversy in what, otherwise, was just another largely uncontested county election cycle.

Not anymore. By tossing those 12 incumbents out of contention, the Supreme Court has kicked off a scramble of write-in candidates, with some interesting results. For the 2nd District’s Seat B, representing much of inner-city North Knoxville, two candidates have come forward seeking the seat currently held by the Commission’s longest-serving member, Billy Tindell. The “Dean of the Knox County Commission,” according to his official bio on the county Website, Tindell has been on Commission, or its predecessor the County Court, since the Nixon administration—even predating, if such a thing is possible, Mary Lou Horner by a few years. An old-school Democrat, the easy-going, affable Tindell has always been popular, often running without opposition in either the primary or general (his son Harry has also entered politics, representing roughly the same North Knoxville real estate in the state Legislature). And, unlike the largely rural, largely Republican unrest motivating the “Take Back Our Government” movement, there seems to be little grumbling about Tindell’s long service in what has historically been a blue-collar, Democratic district (although David Collins, the incumbent being ousted from the other district seat, is a Republican).

The Commission district also embraces two of Knoxville’s most successful historic districts: Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville, whose Victorians and bungalows are increasingly home to more and more middle-income homeowners. And those historic areas’ increased number of involved homeowners has, of late, produced several successful political candidates (both City Councilman Rob Frost and school board member Indya Kincannon are from Fourth and Gill) and should soon add one more—both candidates for Tindell’s seat hail from the either of the 2nd District’s historic neighborhoods. Jonathan Wimmer, the financial controller for a group of family-owned restaurants, lives in Fourth and Gill with his wife Kelly, and their young son James and has served as president of the neighborhood association for the past two years. Wimmer’s opponent, Amy Broyles, whose husband runs a floor-refinishing business, hails from Old North and has been active in the local Democratic party.

With the primary only weeks away, both are working hard to come out on top in the write-ins. Wimmer, in particular, had yard signs out seemingly within days of the Supreme Court decision. But whatever the outcome, whether one of the write-ins wins the primary outright or the Democrats are left to choose between the sitting president of a neighborhood organization or an in-house activist, Knoxville’s historic neighborhoods will come out a winner.