Steve Hunley: Free Agent?

When we heard that Knoxville Focus publisher and longtime local Republican booster Steve Hunley had quit the county GOP, we just had to call Ray Jenkins. Jenkins, head of the Knox County Republican Party, confirmed the report, conditionally: "What he did is he resigned as precinct chair at Gibbs precinct." Hunley is a former school board member who—by dint of his bank account, his expanding web of community papers, and his outsize personality—wields a lot of clout across the northeastern stretches of the county. His Republican bona fides have never been in doubt. But, Jenkins says, "Being the publisher of a newspaper, he started to feel some conflicts, I guess." Jenkins doesn't think Hunley has suddenly turned all liberal on him: "I have no doubt about where Steve's philosophy lies." But in recent months, Hunley has been as apt to excoriate local Republican officials as praise them (there was a front-page broadside at County Mayor Tim Burchett early in the year), and Knoxville mayoral candidate and lifelong Democrat Madeline Rogero has been getting some positive press in the Focus. The current issue has a picture of her on the front page under a big headline about her "innovative business initiative." What does this mean for the local political universe? Hunley didn't immediately return a call for comment, so we're not sure. But it is possible that local Republican candidates will no longer be able to take his support for granted.