Disappointed by surprising statements made to the press or in TV ads, some erstwhile Haslam or McWherter supporters are now perplexed about their options, declaring they’re just not going to vote at all, loath to let their vote for governor of Tennessee be misinterpreted as a statement about gun rights or immigration. You do have other choices. Quite a few, in fact: On the ballot for governor of Tennessee are 16 candidates. If these 14 independent candidates don’t represent a full spectrum of political thought in Tennessee, they do at least suggest some protest-vote options.
With both major-party candidates generally canting toward the right, the most frustrated voters may be those in the huge field to the left of that duo, like the million-plus Tennesseans who voted for Barack Obama two years ago. They do have Howard Switzer, the perennial Green Party candidate. With long hair and beard, both going white, the 65-ish Middle Tennessee green architect known for his ecologically friendly home designs suits most stereotypes of “liberal,” but with a couple of adjustments. He says he supports gun rights, and favors decentralized government. For that reason, he doesn’t like to be called a leftist.
“I am not really a lefty,” he recently retorted in response to an article that labeled him as such. “I am more of an anarchist in the sense that I advocate voluntary community cooperation and mutual aid as a substitute for the coercive power of the state.”
On his campaign website, howardswitzer.com, he’s happy to confess, “I am a hippy, [his spelling] proud because we hippies have been right on every issue for the last 40 years.” He’s for legalizing marijuana and emphasizes environmental action. Advocates hope this is the year the Green Party achieves the 5 percent mark of credibility.
Lefty or not, Switzer may be the only candidate who’s clearly to the left of the major-party duo. Several other Independent candidates are ostensibly farther to the right than Haslam and McWherter.
One leader among the right-wing options is Bayron Binkley, a 53-year-old banker and real-estate man from Nashville, whose anti-stimulus, anti-national-healthcare message seems tailored to the Tea Party; on his site (binkley4governor.com) he says federal programs are “stripping states of their sovereignty. We must take a stand against the further loss of our states’ rights through federal programs and mandates.” He’s for overhauling the housing-appraisal process and encouraging investment from major banks by limiting government banking to those institutions that invest in Tennessee communities.
He’s dead-set against any state income tax, and implies that he opposes all restrictions on gun ownership, “including fees, licenses, and other restrictions.” He’s reportedly the best funded of the third-party candidates.
Brandon Dodds, 36, is a fresh-faced optometrist from Newbern, proud of his agrarian heritage in Northwest Tennessee. Author of a book called Victory Dance, proposing an apparently less-than-obvious solution to the Iraq situation, Dodds (doddsforgov.com) complains of the deadlock caused by knee-jerk opposition in both major parties. Suggesting the two-party system is inherently corrupt, he says, “When we are forced to elect a party puppet it diminishes us and diminishes our democracy.” He supports gun rights, opposes a state income tax, and favors putting the abortion issue to a popular referendum.
He’s supported by another former candidate, Samuel David Duck of Maryville—“One Nation Under God” was his motto—who has called the Haslam-McWherter race, “your choice is between left and lefter.” He’s a religious candidate who has reportedly dropped out, but is still on the ballot.
Everyone’s favorite creationist, June Griffin, is a religious conservative from Dayton, and a leader of the Prohibition Party. She strongly opposes the teaching of evolution, and a few years back got perhaps unwelcome attention from the Daily Show; she is known for her propensity for awkward racial commentary.
Other candidates are hard to categorize using conventional means.
Toni K. Hall, sometimes described as an “economist”—she does say she has a degree in the subject from MTSU—is a Humane Association Volunteer in Nashville. Her persona is friendly but vague; she says she’s “an independent who is left on some issues, right on others and centrist on most. Hence the color purple (red + blue),” her symbol. Perhaps exemplifying her outlook is that she wants to tax abortion. (Is that far right or far left?) At 30, she may be the youngest candidate.
Mike Knois of Lewisburg is a 50-ish guy who says he works “as a paralegal and in the health care industry.” His motto is “Your Voice is Mike Knois.” He says, “I am just an average citizen who is tired, like you, of the status quo in Nashville and Washington, DC.” Besides a stated desire to lower taxes, his message is murky. Judging by his website, he’s more comfortable talking about his long marriage and happy children than his profession or his platform.
Boyce T. McCall is the race’s other Knoxvillian. Now 78, he was a Knoxville policeman for 15 years in the ’60s and ’70s, and later ran the City Wide Electrical Repair Service. He supports “free legal care for criminals,” but opposes abortion.
Donald Ray McFolin, 63, is a Nashville wildlife artist who seems most interested in improving special-needs education.
Thomas Smith II, 55, ran for mayor of Chattanooga back in ’98; his message is elusive, but some sources connect him to horseback riding.
Carl “Twofeathers” Whitaker (carlwhitakerforgov.com) is a self-styled Indian chief who works as a paralegal in Sevierville. Though it’s reportedly difficult to find tribes who acknowledge his leadership, he has long been an advocate for protecting sacred burial grounds near the Smokies. The strict-construction constitutionalist who has run a couple of times before. His 11,374 votes in 2006 were enough to give him third-place status. He denies recent reports that he dropped out of the race to support Dodds.
White-haired, mustachioed Nashvillian James Reesor goes by several monickers, including Crazy Man James. His garish website (jamesreesor.com) touts Amerijericho, a regional nation for Christians with Tennessee at its center.
More mysterious is Linda Kay Perry, of Nashville, whose candidacy, judging by her low profile and disinclination to return calls, is theoretical.
David Gatchell, 62, is from Franklin, and has an especially appealing platform as the None of the Above candidate. His only pledge is that he’ll keep the government running on a minimal basis until the state can accomplish a “make-up election.”