By Steve Hunley

When Daniel Herrera was elected Chairman of the Knox County Republican Party, it ushered in a new age.  At least that was the inference.  Emails from Herrera routinely herald the fact “This ain’t your grandfather’s Republican Party anymore.”  That much is certainly true, but there is a strange undercurrent in certain circles.  Keep in mind, the rules of the State Republican Party call for the chairman to be strictly neutral in primaries.  In a recent column, former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe quoted Herrera as saying Gary Loe, president of the West Knox Republican Club, doesn’t speak for the Knox County GOP.  At the heart of that question was Loe’s insistence upon censuring State Representative Eddie Mannis.  The West Knox Republicans went so far as to demand of Congressman Tim Burchett and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs their reasoning for vouching for Mannis as a Republican.  There was a time in Tennessee when Republicans could only win because they peeled off enough Democrats.  Both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump were Democrats before becoming Republicans.  The senior U. S. senator in the United States Senate, Richard Shelby, was first elected to Congress as a Democrat before he became a Republican.  Yet Eddie Mannis was never a Democrat.  Mannis was reviled by progressives and many partisan Democrats when he ran for mayor of Knoxville against Indya Kincannon.

While Daniel Herrera can state Gary Loe doesn’t speak for the Knox County Republican Party, there are certainly some good reasons to wonder about that.  It is generally conceded Randy Pace, the long-winded former chairman of the local Republican Party, was a big backer of Herrera.  Pace introduced Christine Cruz at the opening of her campaign for the Knox County Commission.  Pace also chose Cruz to vet veteran Republicans to attend the recent county convention despite the fact she had lived here all of about ten minutes.  During his introduction of candidate Cruz – – – and Randy Pace remains on the Knox County Republican Party’s Executive Board – – – Pace said Cruz’s husband “blamed” him for her running for Commissioner-At-Large.  None of that would mean very much were it not for the fact Pace seemed to be recruiting or at least encouraging Cruz to challenge a sitting Republican incumbent inside the primary while he was party chair.  You can watch Randy pace’s speech here:

You can also watch Cruz’s opening campaign speech.  You’ll notice Cruz doesn’t say anything about local issues.  You’d think she was running for Congress.  Cruz mentions illegal immigration, yet incumbent Larsen Jay is one of the Commission’s firmest backers of the 287(g) program.  Jay is also one of the sheriff’s department’s biggest supporters on the county commission.  It was Larsen Jay who sponsored the bonus for the sheriff’s department deputies over initial opposition.  Jay realizes there is already a crisis in much of the country as well as here over the increasing difficulty of law enforcement agencies to recruit new officers and deputies.  It seems unlikely Christine Cruz is going to outflank Larsen Jay on immigration.  Yet there is reason to believe Cruz has the support of not only Randy Pace, but also that of Daniel Herrera and Gary Loe.  The Three Amigos were photographed together (above) coming out of Cruz’s campaign kickoff.  That photo was published on the website of the Tennessee Conservative Union, whose president is none other than Gary Loe.

The ties don’t end there.  Daniel Herrera is listed as a member of the Angle Group, a self-described political consulting and lobbying firm.  The principals involved in the firm are Drew Lonergan, Allie Jefferies, Timothy Justin Mash and Daniel Herrera.  Jefferies and Mash are engaged to be married this fall and describe Herrera as their “best friend.”  Allie Jefferies is running Christine Cruz’s campaign, which seems a bit like a conflict of interest for the party chairman’s consulting firm to be doing.  It does seem odd for the chairman of the Republican Party to be part of a group which monetizes political races locally.

The party newsletter barely acknowledged Jay’s own campaign kickoff, while it repeatedly reminded folks of Cruz’s event.  In fact, to the best of my recollection, Jay’s event was only mentioned after the fact.  Herrera, coincidentally, was nowhere to be seen at Larsen Jay’s event, but the party chair was obviously on hand with his friends Randy Pace and Gary Loe.  Again, I’m sure it is a coincidence.

Admittedly, there are some Republicans in Knox County who don’t much appreciate Larsen Jay’s stand on behalf of the local Board of Health and the issue of masking.  Of course that was before the release of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s emails.  My own point of view was more closely aligned with those of Mayor Glenn Jacobs and County Commissioners Kyle Ward and Justin Biggs.  Still, Larsen Jay is an articulate advocate for safety in neighborhoods, law enforcement, much needed reform in the Sheriff’s Merit council, and small business.

Ultimately party bosses don’t choose the nominees of our party and to tell the truth, that’s why a bunch of them don’t like Eddie Mannis.  They backed Mannis’s opponent in the primary and she lost.  Local government, whether it’s the Knox County Commission or the Board of Education, affects residents much more directly than either the state or federal governments.  I doublechecked and it was the late Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill who said, “All politics is local.”  The youngsters and their friends might just find that out come election time.