By Steve Hunley


Knox County Republicans To Reorganize

Knox County Republicans will gather to reorganize in convention on Saturday, February 18 at Crowne College in Powell. The little band of political pirates who boarded the GOP ship two years ago is fighting to keep control of the party apparatus. That crowd, led by Erik Wiatr, has monetized elections and utilized the resources of the Knox County Republican Party by running candidates against incumbent officeholders inside primaries. Wiatr, a former Democrat and Green party activist from Chicago, talks quite a bit about “bona fide” Republicans. Yet he and his crew were the ones who picked a woman to head the Credentials Committee the last time who had never even voted in a Knox County election, much less a Knox County GOP primary.

Wiatr wants control of the county party’s money to funnel it to himself for his consulting business, as well as his candidates. Wiatr’s candidate for chair of the Knox County Republican Party is Keith Lyons, a former head of the police officer’s union. Lyons is also a prospective candidate for mayor of the City of Knoxville and one doesn’t need much imagination or brain power to figure out who his campaign strategist would be.

Wiatr’s slate of candidates proposes to increase fundraising. They promise to hold more meetings so that the voices of “regular party members” will be heard. Of course, they certainly never did that under Wiatr’s last candidate, Daniel Herrera. Quite the opposite in fact. Everything was done quietly, if not secretly, by the party’s Executive Committee, which might as well have been the Politburo. Perhaps the most notable thing they did in secret was to try and engineer the appointment of Erik Wiatr as the Knox County Republican Party’s “Political Director.” That crowd wasn’t the least bit interested in the voices of regular party members then and I doubt they are now.

Wiatr’s slate of candidates promises a unified party to defeat the Democrats in general elections. Much of the success of the local Democrat Party has been less due to its leadership than fundraising off of the Herrera – Wiatr regime. Like Erik Wiatr’s effort to make the last cycle of city elections, which are non-partisan, partisan. Wiatr went to Facebook, recruited four candidates and ran them as a Republican ticket. Not realizing the strongest candidate on the ticket was only as strong as the weakest link, the entire ticket sank like a stone in a pond. The entire ticket was lost, but the effort energized the Democrats.

For Erik Wiatr and the pirates, it’s about making a living and power, neither of which has anything to do with expanding and bettering the local Republican Party. Buddy Burkhart, who has served as Knox County Republican Chairman before, is offering himself once again as a candidate for chairman.

This time hopefully the game won’t be rigged nor will the deck be stacked. The last people who can bring sanity and unity to the Knox County Republican Party are the pirates who have served themselves and nothing else for the past four years.


Knoxville City Council… More Of The Same

The Knoxville City Council recently gathered together at Knoxville’s Arts and Fine Crafts Center in a meeting “facilitated” by two women from the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service. The council people painted a picture to commemorate their time together.

Wow. Finger painting aside, that’s supposed to be able to help them work together. The council people discussed issues they want to tackle in the near future, but the truth is the agenda for the city council is not set by the members, but rather by Mayor Indya Kincannon.

Lynne Fugate did complain about partisanship and announced she is “unfairly characterized as a Republican” by folks. Fugate told a reporter from the Compass, “I don’t go to party meetings. I don’t pay party dues. But everybody expects me to speak for the Republican Party, and that’s not fair.”

First of all, I don’t know of anyone who pays dues to the Republican Party. Secondly, Fugate was at the last reorganization meeting of the Knox County Republican Party, because I saw her there. Lastly, I don’t know anybody who thinks Lynne Fugate speaks for the Republican Party. Let me reiterate that: nobody expects Lynne Fugate to speak for the Republican Party.

While on the school board with Indya Kincannon, Fugate spoke for the administration headed by Superintendent Jim McIntyre. As a member of the Knoxville City Council, she meekly does whatever Kincannon tells her to do. As far as I can see, Lynne Fugate represents no constituency at all. Fugate sits on the city council and rubber stamps whatever Kincannon wants done.

The council raised local property taxes by 40% last year, which has the effect of raising mortgages and rents on everyone inside the City of Knoxville. Fugate voted for it. Kincannon and her minions on the Council talk about affordable housing, yet drive up the cost of what people pay in rent and mortgages.

That is an issue Fugate’s opponent, Cameron Brooks, has hit repeatedly. Brooks has been running his campaign steadily on support for working people and especially working families. Apparently, Brooks’ messaging has been resonating, as Debbie Helsley has done her very best to lift much of Brooks’ platform and position herself as the champion of working families. That’s a new issue for Helsley who had nothing to say on the topic while running last year for Knox County Mayor. Helsley was busy pushing national issues, which had nothing to do with Knox County government, like her “bold, new” climate change policy for the community.  It’s also difficult to believe when a candidate supports continuing increasing taxes and the cost of living for working families.

Kincannon and company have spent recklessly and driven up the cost of the city’s government while delivering little in terms of accomplishments. The first thing Kincannon did after raising property taxes was to cut back services in the form of announcing the Knoxville Police Department will no longer come for accidents unless there is an injury. That decision will also drive up the cost of car insurance for local consumers.

Do Kincannon and company give a hoot about working people or working families? Not at all. The Kincannon administration has made no secret of its desire to seek to raise the sales tax inside the City. Fugate suggested the City take back more of its share of the sales tax already being turned over to the school system, depriving Knox County Schools of perhaps as much as $40 million. Both Fugate and Kincannon would have screamed bloody murder had someone suggested that while they sat on the Board of Education. Times change, I reckon.

Once the city elections are over this year, Kincannon and company will move to increase the sales tax by referendum if they can. Paying more in sales taxes would hurt exactly who the most: working families and working people of course. All of the Kincannon rubber stamps on the council will either remain silent or support the idea.

By their fruits, ye shall know them. Look to the candidates for city council this year who are forthright about their opposition to raising taxes on the people who are already struggling to get by as inflation continues to rise. As working families are paying $5 and $6 for a carton of eggs, they can ill afford to be left behind and pay more to live.


Briggs Bill Deserves Support

Speaking of the city council, state Senator Richard Briggs has a bill that is moving in the Tennessee State Senate, which would eliminate at-large elections when candidates are nominated in a district. That would mean every district seat on the Knoxville City Council would no longer run city-wide after having moved from the primary. Currently, candidates run solely within the confines of the district, then run city-wide in the run-off election.

The bill sponsored by Senator Briggs would stop the city-wide run-off elections and council members representing district would truly be the representatives of those districts.


Get Well, Dirk – Our Prayers Are With You

Dirk Weddington retired as a magistrate at Knox County’s Juvenile Court just a few years back. At the time of his retirement, Weddington was the senior magistrate under Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. One of the most personally popular individuals working in the Juvenile Court Building, Weddington radiated positivity and never met a stranger. Unfailingly kind and thoughtful, Dirk Weddington was one of those rare people who brightened workdays for those lucky enough to be his coworkers. Among Weddington’s special friends are Rick Caldwell, a longtime resident of East Knox County who served as the magistrate’s courtroom bailiff; Chancellor Bud Armstrong and Focus columnist Ray Hill.

Weddington has told friends he has been diagnosed with cancer, but his attitude remains steadfastly positive and his faith in the Lord is unbreakable. Dirk Weddington has just begun chemotherapy and his many friends at the Knox County Juvenile Court, as well as here at The Knoxville Focus pray for his complete and rapid recovery. A husband and father, as well as the doting grandfather of ten, Dirk Weddington is still sorely needed in this world.