Will Hutchison Running Against the News Sentinel Work Again?

The Knox County Mayor’s race this year presents one of those rare moments in politics when you have two candidates who have never lost an election, each with almost complete name recognition, running for an open seat.

Most races involve an incumbent versus a challenger or two unknowns wearing out shoe leather. Successful politicians get to be successful politicians by avoiding bruising fights with an evenly matched opponent. But state Sen. Tim Burchett and former Sheriff Tim Hutchison facing each other in a Republican primary is a Battle of the Titans. There are already signs that it may get down and dirty before it’s over.

Lewis Cosby, a retired CPA, auditor, and television station owner, filed this week to run as an independent. Cosby, who does not have the name recognition of Burchett or Hutchison, could have a shot if the Republican Party splits wide open over which Tim gets the nomination. The county’s looming financial woes and the recent history of critical audits gives Cosby plausibility as a guy suited to clean up the mess and get the county back on an even keel. He is wise to forgo getting into the battle of the Tims, where he could get lost in the shuffle. By running as an independent, he also delays his election until the general—and the county financial woes may be a little more apparent by then.

Hutchison is being featured in bankruptcy proceedings and in the News Sentinel in the continuing saga of his business dealings with his friends (?) Randy Hinton and Kenny Lane. And now former County Commission Chair Scott Moore. Hutchison introduces himself at Republican club meetings as the candidate “running against the News Sentinel” for county mayor. This has been a winning strategy for the former sheriff in past elections, when he was criticized for his department’s crime-fighting tactics and unorthodox financing of jail expansions and his helicopter fleet.

Voters sided with Hutchison, who successfully portrayed himself as a tough crime-fighting lawman who cut a few corners, but who got the job done.

Will it work this time? Voters may not view messy personal business dealings with the same tolerance they gave handcuffing thugs to jail bars or strapping them into a “Be Sweet” chair. The position of county mayor is, after all, the chief financial officer of the county, and a business bankruptcy and shaky real estate investments are not helpful.

It is hard to judge whether Hutchison’s personal financial difficulties will affect fund-raising. Former Mayor Randy Tyree, who accumulated debts from his run for governor, had trouble with fund-raising in subsequent elections.

One suspects the saga of Hutchison and his business interests is not over. He was sheriff for a very long time and he has been in business, on the side, during all that time. There may be a lot of other documents to be examined.

Burchett has been knocking on doors and raising money. He has over $100,000 in contributions and, according to his estimate, has knocked on 3,000 doors. Meanwhile, Hutchison supporters are spreading stories. A word of advice: If you are going to make up tales, they do need some plausibility. Burchett will keep Mayor Mike Ragsdale on as his chief of staff? Really? You are going to have to do better than that, boys.

You can make the case that Hutchison has been the chief administrator of a department with over 1,000 employees and a large budget, and Burchett has been a legislator. It’s a legitimate argument to make. You don’t need to make stuff up.

If there is one thing Burchett has, it’s credibility. What you see is what you get. Do you think anybody will believe that Burchett can be devious, cunning, or put together a conspiracy?

Hutchison isn’t running against the News Sentinel. He’s running against Burchett. His personal financial difficulties are a legitimate subject for news inquiries. This election isn’t about good ole boys versus the downtown elite. Burchett is about as good ole boy as it gets.

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