Yes, We Can All Get Along
by Frank Cagle
Elected officials in Knoxville and Knox County have been making life hell for political columnists and editorial writers as they seem determined to avoid petty squabbles, feuds and grudge matches. It’s enough to make you consider taking up honest work.
The Big Three are all about working out differences behind closed doors and putting a smiley face on public pronouncements. It’s for the good of the community, of course, but also because they realize that their voters are fed up with bickering. That’s also the message they’ve gotten from a business community determined to have the community move forward without wasted energy. There aren’t many squeaky wheels around town these days that don’t get oiled quickly.
Who are the Big Three? They would be Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who presides over the city. Then there is County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, who is also popular in the city and along each side of Kingston Pike from Seqouyah Hills to Farragut. Then there is Hutchison-land, the rest of the county and with a big overlap into West Knox County. That would be the bailiwick of Sheriff Tim Hutchison. None of them see an upside in attacking an opponent, creating media buzz or giving the impression that one side is losing and the other is winning. Under that formula, everybody appears to be winning, even when they are not.
There are times, though, when events throw political divisions into stark relief.
Such a moment is the current plan we will call the “fruit-basket turnover” gambit planned for the courthouse. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the plan involves the Knox County Commission appointing Circuit and Sessions Court Clerk Cathy Quist a Sessions Court Judge, a post being given up by the retiring Judge Brenda Waggoner. Quist should get the votes from Commission for the appointment because: a.) she is supported by the sheriff; and b.) it allows Commission Chair Scott Moore to be appointed to Quist’s current job as clerk. It’s what’s called a win-win-win-win-win-win situation.
Ragsdale gets Moore off Commission and, more importantly, out of the chair. Moore got elected by fellow commissioners, with help from Hutchison, to upset the Ragsdale-friendly former chair, Commissioner David Collins. It was a demonstration of Hutchison’s political clout on County Commission and also a way for commissioners to pay back Ragsdale for the wheel-tax vote that caused commissioners a lot of grief. An effort to deny Moore a second year as chair recently failed.
The opening on Commission, due to Moore’s switching to the clerk’s office, allows the appointment of Larry Smith, from the Halls area, to the Commission. Smith no longer has to run against the other commissioner from Halls, Mary Lou Horner. That makes Horner, a sheriff ally, happy.
Winners? Quist, Hutchison, Ragsdale, Moore, Smith and Horner.
While there are a lot of “wins” in all this, it doesn’t mean everyone is happy. Chad Tindell, who served a term as Republican Party chair last year with good results, had hoped to pursue a judgeship. He may, but it isn’t likely he will pursue this one. Former state Rep. Jimmy Kyle Davis, who is “Valliant-ly” (Davis has politico John Valliant lobbying for him) trying to win the appointment by County Commission, may instead have to run for the job next year against the incumbent Quist. If that should happen, he will most likely be bucking an unholy alliance. Quist should have her friend the sheriff in her corner, but she is also likely to have District Attorney (and Democrat) Randy Nichols supporting her. Nichols defeated Davis in an ugly race for district attorney in 1998. Hutchison and Nichols are not known to be of one mind about anything else, but both will likely support Quist.
There is no guarantee that this whole scenario will play out as it has been outlined. But I can find no elected official involved who doesn’t get something out of it. The people who get screwed are not in office. Hmmm.
In the election next year, all this unanimity means Ragsdale is unlikely to have a serious opponent; neither is the sheriff, and there is the likelihood of one less serious County Commission (Horner) race. That leaves the possibility of a couple of Commission races and some races for judge. When only judges run, it usually means only the lawyers vote.
All this getting along could mean that the normal county election dust-ups will more nearly resemble the recent lackluster City Council races.
When we all get along, it prevents pitched political battles, big election fights and contentious public debate. I guess we have to decide whether that is an altogether good thing.
Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .