The Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., may have been overshadowed somewhat in the news cycle early this week by a force of nature, but still it went on. The news of Hurricane Gustav approaching still-Katrina-battered New Orleans, rather than the big, expensive party, is what kept most people locked on their TVs. And in the first days, the Republican National Committee responded, scaling the convention down and using airtime to call for the country to get behind the city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Probably a wise move: Somber-izing the convention helped minimize the potential political damage the party would have incurred if another big one hit the Gulf Coast and its delegates were up in Minnesota, thigh-deep in red, white, and blue confetti. It was especially wise when you consider that, in many sectors, these election-year Republicans still have a political problem in Katrina, since they were the ones who controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress when the storm hit three years ago.
But, the levees held this time. The city came out of Gustav nearly unscathed, and the RNC went on. Some other, smaller problems, of course, still hung around. On, issues like “Troopergate” and the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (and that one other thing) started to pipe up around McCain VP pick Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, but it’s fair to say that the party was not entirely crashed. The wine flowed and the partisan vitriol was spewed, just like the DNC last week.
So now, the country, or at least the couple of dozen TV viewers who haven’t by now grown weary of this never-ending election, turns its attention back to politics. And we turn our attention back to Knoxville’s biggest campaign contributors.
Last week, we took a look at the Democrats. This week, we’ll focus on the Republicans.
We’ve gone over the numbers ad nauseam: Knoxville’s a Republican city in a Republican county in a Republican state. And this town’s political patrons fork over a vast majority of their money to the right. Eighty-one percent—nearly $1.9 million—of Knox County federal campaign contributions have gone to Republican candidates.
It’s only natural that this series has already covered a fair amount of notable Republican donors: the Haslams, the Claytons, Robert Talbott, and all the rest. Now we’ll narrow our focus a bit and look at Republican campaign contributors who spend at least some of their time working in the public sector, whether by election or appointment.
Let’s begin, as always, with the obvious.
Mayor William Haslam
Total Contributions: $54,400
Mayor Bill Haslam’s finally gotten around to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. While in the past he seems to have supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, to whom he gave $2,100 in January 2007, and then former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, to whom he contributed $4,600 in August 2007, Haslam handed over $4,600 on Jan. 9, and then $2,300 on July 31, to the presumptive Republican presidential contender’s campaign fund.
Haslam made one other major campaign contribution since we last checked in on him. On June 10, he gave $2,300 to the campaign of Susan Collins, the Republican junior senator from Maine, out of a total $16,100 she received from the Haslam family on that day. On June 10, Collins broke from party ranks and voted to cloture, or force a Senate vote on the Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008, which would have eliminated more than $17 billion in tax subsidies to major oil companies and created a 25 percent tax on so-called “windfall profits” for major oil producers.
The bill, based in part on language drafted by Collins and Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, also contained a provision to use the revenue created by the new taxes to create an energy independence trust fund, which would have been used to help decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil sources. Unlike Levin, however, Collins has indicated repeatedly since 2006 that she believes that increases in offshore drilling are necessary to reduce foreign energy dependence and drive down gas prices.
The cloture failed, and the next day Collins announced new legislation to freeze a federal mandate calling for increased ethanol production and distribution—up to 15 billion gallons annually by 2015—at this year’s levels, 9 billion. The Consumer-First Energy Act, incidentally, also called for increased investment in alternative fuels.
Two days later, on June 13, Pilot founder James “Big Jim” Haslam II, who also contributed to Collins, made a public appearance with Rep. Jimmy Duncan, and called for increased domestic oil exploration.
Other City Leaders
Speaking of Duncan, he’s recently received the financial nod from two major leaders in the City of Knoxville. One is City Councilman Joseph Bailey. Elected in 2003 and then again in 2007, Bailey may be the closest thing the council has to a Washington insider. He’s served in the administrations and campaigns of both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George (the other one) Bush. In 1999, he founded the political consulting firm Bailey and Associates. He’s also listed as a consultant for local media relations and lobbying firm AkinsCrisp, which has McDonald’s, ExxonMobil, and, locally, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT-Batelle, and Y-12 among its client list.
Bailey has made two major federal campaign contributions so far in this election cycle. On June 7, 2007, he gave $250 to the campaign of Rep. Zach Wamp. And more recently, on June 28, he gave $500 to Duncan.
The other is Sterling P. Owen IV, who was sworn in as police chief for the city of Knoxville in 2004. Owen has a bit of a federal background as well, having logged time as an FBI agent in Knoxville, Jacksonville, Fla., and Chicago before he retired from the bureau in 1995. And he’s a federal contributor. During this election cycle, Owen has made two federal contributions: $1,000 to Sen. Bob Corker’s 2012 bid for reelection on June 12, 2007, and $250 to Duncan on June 8.
Tennessee Valley Authority
The TVA board has, of course, made headlines recently by voting to raise electric rates by 20 percent beginning in October, the largest rate hike it’s seen in decades. Its chair William Sansom, CEO of Knoxville grocery wholesaler the HT Hackney Co., was appointed to the TVA board in 2006.
Sansom has made two major political contributions during the 2008 elections. One, like everybody else in town, has been to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, to whom Sansom gave $2,000 in October 2007. The other was to Glenn McCullough, who preceded him as TVA chair from 2001-2005. McCullough, the former mayor of Tupelo, Miss., tried a run for the state’s first district House seat this year in a special election last spring. Sansom gave the campaign $1,000 in March, before he lost the Republican nomination to challenger Greg Davis, who, in turn, was beaten by Democrat Travis Childers in the May 13 vote.
> Other Notable Appointees
The Industrial Development Board of Knox County
The biggest campaign contributor from any of the locally appointed boards was F. Carl Tindell of the Knox County IDB. Appointed to the board in June, Tindell is also the owner and chairman of Halls building construction supplies company, Tindell’s Building Materials.
Total Contributions: $5,500
Congressional Campaign Contributions: $2,000 to Sen. Bob Corker; $250 to Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat from North Carolina; and $250 to Rep. Jimmy Duncan.
PAC Contributions: $3,000 to the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association PAC.
Presidential Campaign Contribution: $500 to Mitt Romney in November 2007.
Congressional Campaign Contribution: $1,000 to Sen. Lamar Alexander in November 2007.
The Knoxville Transportation Authority Board of Commissioners
Patrick Roddy (Central Business Improvement District Representative)
Presidential Campaign Contribution: $1,000 to Fred Thompson on Sept. 14, 2007
Congressional Campaign Contribution: $1,000 to Lamar Alexander on Nov. 13, 2007
Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission
Congressional Campaign Contributions: $2,600 to Lamar Alexander between March and November 2007.