Senator Lumpy

Senator Lumpy

Which will horrify the Knoxville establishment more, Sen. Campfield or Sen. Lumpy?

State Sen. Tim Burchett is being recruited to run for Knox County Mayor in 2010. The popular senator is considered the best candidate to restore some sort of stability to county government in the wake of financial scandals and political gridlock. He is also considered the best candidate to fend off a possible bid by former Sheriff Tim Hutchison.

That leaves an open senate seat. State Rep. Stacy Campfield, R-Knoxville, is expected to run for the seat. County Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert is also being recruited to run against him. Conservatives suspect the Lambert recruiters may be trying to split the conservative vote with Campfield and leave the way open for a third candidate.

Campfield's controversial bills and his "in your face" blog has prompted the Knoxville establishment to run candidates against him in the last two elections, to no avail. Lambert has made no secret of his desire to run for the Legislature, but he has been stymied by the lack of an empty House seat he could pursue. He has been in the news, locally and in the New York Times with his sometimes clownish behavior. But being a clown might not be a drawback, considering he would be replacing "Sen. Roadkill."

Lambert concedes he has been urged to run but says there is no truth to the rumor his father bought him an airplane to commute back and forth to Nashville.

Good Times, Bad Times

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has been besieged of late by audits alleging financial wrong-doing, his political support has collapsed. and his wife has filed for divorce alleging he has been engaged in marital misconduct.

So when Ragsdale showed up to open the Franklin Graham Crusade at Thompson-Boling Arena last weekend, we listened closely to his testimony. He said he has learned to "reach out to God more in difficult times" not just when things were good, although we don't know when things have been good lately.

He also said he has "learned a lot of lessons" in public life "some good ones, some bad ones" (hence the audits?) and he has realized that the "most important lesson is that government is not the answer, Jesus is."

Government may not be the answer, but County Commission is waiting for another audit and it may result in a "come to Jesus meeting."

Fruit Basket Turnover

The Knox County Charter requires the County Mayor to submit a flow chart of the structure of his administration and to submit amendments should it change. Given the large number of resignations in Mayor Mike Ragsdale's administration of late, jobs keep changing.

Last week, three codes enforcement officers were transferred from the Engineering department to the Office of Neighborhoods, prompting suspicion on County Commission something nefarious was afoot. The suspicions ranged from bulking up the Office of Neighborhoods to raise salaries to reward loyalists to Ragsdale or to interfering with code enforcement on behalf of developers.

At this week's commission meeting, mayoral spokesman Dwight Van de Vate told commission it was more efficient for codes people concerned with junk cars and blighted lots to be in the office that gets such complaints; there is no hidden agenda.

Since Van de Vate has changed jobs, from public relations to deputy chief of staff, and the administration has seen the loss of Finance Director John Werner, Community Services Director Cynthia Finch and Margie Lloyd and Requita Bone, County Law Director John Owings advised Van de Vate at a meeting Monday night it would be a good idea for the mayor's office to submit a new organizational chart.

Biofuel Duel

Some of the tensions twisting University of Tennessee scientists showed up last Friday in a case of dueling presentations on the university's biofuels initiative.

In the cafeteria at the Thompson-Boling Arena, crusty old Henry Fribourg, emeritus professor of crop ecology, held forth on "Biofuel—or is it biofuelishness?" to an audience from UT's Science Forum, an informal club of sorts that meets weekly for luncheon talks on science and technology.

At the exact same moment on the Ag campus, Daniel de la Torre Ugarte, a UT associate professor of agricultural economics, was holding forth at a brown-bag luncheon on "Biofuels, food security and environmental sustainability: Global challenges and opportunities." UT Ag researchers and economists are building the Biofuel Initiative, a state-funded high-dollar program that intends to make "grassoline" from switch grass.

Who won the impromptu contest? Nobody knows, since it was impossible to attend both.