McElroy: Is Tim-Tim contest a win-win?

Jack McElroy

Tim Hutchison should run for county mayor. The former sheriff has hinted at a candidacy. At the Lincoln Day dinner in April, he passed out notepads with his name and the message: "2010 Time for Leadership."

But so far, state Sen. Tim Burchett is alone in the race. True, the deadline to qualify for the primary isn't until Feb. 18, but mayor is a big office. It's time for serious candidates to step up.

Hutchison should run because unchallenged races are not good for the body politic, nor for the eventual winning candidate.

Remember in 2002 when Mike Ragsdale ran unopposed? Former commissioner Madeline Rogero was rumored to be a candidate. But the Democrat decided to run for city mayor against Bill Haslam.

Ragsdale glided into office, his strengths and weaknesses untested. Haslam battled a vigorous opponent, refined his positions, won, then made peace with Rogero and brought her into his administration.

Fast forward to the present. Haslam is running for governor on his record as mayor. Ragsdale is battered by critics, audits, investigations and ouster campaigns.

An anointed candidate, unforged by the heat of a campaign, can prove brittle when stress takes hold.

Commissioner Richard Briggs, the earnest newcomer with the dazzling resume, toyed with the idea of running against Burchett but has backed off. While his candidacy would have spawned thoughtful debate, it matched two Westside Republicans unlikely to take the gloves off. It wouldn't have gone to the heart of the power struggle in Knox County.

A Hutchison candidacy would force Burchett to address the concerns of the rest of the county and deal with the Old Guard that has seen power slipping since the 2007 term-limits ruling.

Already Burchett has had a showdown with a sheriff surrogate, Rep. Chad Faulkner, whose day job is as a Knox County deputy. Burchett risked the wrath of the courthouse crowd by blocking Faulkner's bill to strip power from the Knox County Charter after commissioners pressed for more oversight of the sheriff's and fee offices.

We've seen similar skirmishes in recent years, in the 2007 sunshine law trial, in the 2008 primaries and in commission fights this year.

Burchett versus Hutchison would bring it to a countywide vote.

A campaign would be a gamble for Hutchison. A Burchett poll of 500 likely primary voters showed that 53 percent would vote for Burchett, while less than half that number - 26 percent - would go for Hutchison.

That jibes with the election results in 2006, the last time Hutchison ran. He beat Democrat Randy Tyree 52.6 percent to 47.2 percent.

The sheriff picked up big hunks of votes in Halls, Gibbs and Powell, all outside Burchett's district, taking two-thirds of the ballots there. But in Westside precincts outside Burchett's 7th District, such as A.L. Lotts, Rocky Hill and Bluegrass, Hutchison managed just 52 percent of the vote, much less than other Republicans in that GOP turf.

Inside Burchett's heavily Republican core of Farragut and Cedar Bluff, Hutchison's margin was slightly better, but in ward after ward, Burchett, low-key and unopposed, got hundreds more votes than the high-profile sheriff.

Combine the votes of confidence for Burchett with the anti-Hutch votes for Tyree, and Burchett's 2-to-1 edge becomes apparent.

Still, it's important to remember that Hutchison has never been beaten. He's charming, has access to money, built a strong Sheriff's Office, plays hardball and will rally the Old Guard.

The year 2010 is a time for leadership, and a Tim-Tim race would produce it.

Jack McElroy is editor of the News Sentinel. He may be reached at 865-342-6300, at editor@knews.com or through his blog, The Upfront Page at http://blogs.knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 2

Duckpond writes:

Here's a novel idea. Why dont we have some "good" candidates run? Why do we always have to settle for the lesser of the evils? Tim H would be more of the same phooey we have now. More nepotism, accomodations for friends, scandals, etc. While this would fit right in with the Knox Co. agenda, it's not good for the county. There are good leaders in Knox Co who are currently not in leadership positions. Please, some of you who can really contribute and have Knox Co's best interest at heart, run for office. Or is that asking too much?

cjensen writes:

I would like to propose an alternative to the Tim-Tim race (aka as lose-lose). How about we forget about politicians and head cases and try a more ordinary citizen, with extra ordinary capability and accomplishment.

Naturally, I have Lewis Cosby in mind. A successful business man who appears to want nothing from Knox County...other than better government. Tim is looking to reinstate his 'machine' and Tim is looking to burnish his resume.

All Cosby wants to do is clean house....and there's plenty of that to be done.

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