A debate Tuesday morning at the Magnolia Avenue campus of Pellissippi State among some of the candidates for Knox County mayor was sort of an oddball affair, featuring Republican candidate Tim Hutchison alongside Democratic candidates Ezra Maize and Michael McBath. A representative for state Sen. Tim Burchett canceled (leading Hutchison to snark that he had seen his Republican primary opponent “one time, about six weeks ago” in the course of the campaign), and independent candidate Lewis Cosby couldn’t make it either.
The debate, sponsored by the campus’ College Democrats and moderated by Metro Pulse’s own Frank Carlson, gave McBath a chance to both repeat and illustrate his “no suits, no ties, no lies” slogan, sauntering to the microphone in an open-collared shirt, dark jeans, and a shiny grill across his upper teeth. “No disrespect to anybody wearing suits or ties,” he added, glancing at the professionally attired Maize and Hutchison. McBath also pledged to do the county mayor job for just $45,000 a year (the current salary is $154,000), and donate the rest back. Maize said he couldn’t go that far (“My wife would leave me if I worked for $45,000”), but allowed that he might take “a significant cut.” Hutchison merely observed that by state law the county mayor has to have the highest salary in county government. “You can donate it back, if you want,” he said, but didn’t indicate any particular desire to do so.
Amid a lot of vague talk of responsibility and leadership—and a general agreement, in response to one audience question, that a little spanking never hurt anybody—Hutchison did make one semi-surprising statement, at least for an East Tennessee Republican. Asked if he would consider property or sales tax increases, the former sheriff refused to rule it out. “I’m going to make my decision based on what’s best for the people,” he said. He accused Mayor Mike Ragsdale of elaborate and costly financial shenanigans to avoid raising taxes, because of what he said was Ragsdale’s desire to run for higher office (back when that seemed like an at least remote possibility). Hutchison said a tax increase “would never be my plan on the front end,” but added, “I think we’re going to be at a point here one of these days when we’re going to have to pay the piper and start paying that debt back down.”