Local officials differ on need for lobbyists in Nashville

In Knox County, a lobbyist is either a helpful liaison or a financial liability, depending upon which local mayor one asks, reports the News Sentinel.

Knoxville’s $55,000-a-year lobbyist, Tony Thompson, is an extension of the city’s efforts in Nashville. He watches policies in the General Assembly and reports back about bills that impact Tennessee’s largest cities, with an eye for Knoxville.

“There is a lot of interest in Nashville to control what cities do,” Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said. “So a lot of times we’re playing defense, really. How do we defend ourselves against the desire by some of the state legislators to take away powers at the municipal level?”

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett dismissed hiring a lobbyist as a needless expense. He relies on contacts built from 16 years in the Capitol as a former state senator and representative.

“We monitor bills ourselves,” Burchett said, “and our legislative delegation is cohesive.”
He said he calls or sends text messages to legislative members from Knox and beyond on a near-daily basis, taking on a lobbyist role himself. Occasionally, Burchett travels to Nashville for face-to-face talks.

Burchett said he avoids spending tax money to schmooze lawmakers with steak dinners and such.

“I’m not down there wining and dining them,” he said.

…Burchett accesses the state Legislature himself. And he has even more ties through his Republican affiliation to the state’s GOP supermajority. Rogero, a Democrat in a nonpartisan office, doesn’t have as many political contemporaries in the Legislature.