I’m On The Ballot. Now What? – 12/17/19

I’m taking the rest of 2019 to spend time with family and focus on some behind the scenes preparation for the campaign, which will start in earnest in January. One of the things I’ve started with this month and will continue at least until the election (and hopefully thereafter as well) is I’m attending County Commission meetings. I was at the Commission Work Session last Monday and, tonight, I was at the Commission’s regular meeting.

You can really tell a difference between the two meetings. Much heavier attendance tonight, as compared to last week. Heavy dose of media were in attendance tonight, although that may have been because of the topics that were set for discussion and/or vote tonight.

I’ll write a couple of paragraphs about some of the substantive topics that came up tonight below, but first I wanted to mention that I got a chance to meet one of the Republican candidates against which I could be running next August – Scott Broyles. I’d previously checked out his social media and his campaign website, so I recognized him immediately. I, on the other hand, have been playing incognito at these meetings, so tonight I was wearing a Spider-Man shirt, shorts and my red Christmas Crocs (tis the season). Since I didn’t think he’d know who I was, I decided I should go up and introduce myself. He was friendly and we exchanged some small talk. I probably won’t be able to get away with the incognito stuff from here on out, so maybe I’ll dress up a little next time. Maybe. A little.

Anyway, it was good to get to meet the man I may be facing off against in August. He seemed to take it seriously and I know that I am too. I hope the third candidate in this race, Kyle Ward, can make it out to some Commission meetings as well. I think it’ll be important for whichever of us comes out of this as the winner, that we’ve done our homework and gotten to know the hows, whats and whys of the Commission’s business. I said up front that I think voters deserve a choice. I’ve gotten on the ballot, so that’s a win of sorts. Another thing my presence in this race is going to do is make sure that the Republicans I’m running against can’t just skate on to August 6 and expect to win this race. Mr. Broyles and Mr. Ward should expect that I’ll be at every possible public Commission meeting. If they don’t want to give me the advantage of saying that I’m attending regularly and they aren’t, maybe they’ll feel the need to attend as well. That will make for a better group of candidates from which the voters can choose. I count that as another win.

Now, on to the substance of the meeting. The big issue that a lot of people were there for was the controversial TVA East Tower issue. But, the mayor got up early in the proceedings and announced that he wanted the issue pushed back til January so they could iron some things out. It sounds like they may be going to get an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office on the legal issues raised by the Law Department. I think that’s a good idea, but I’ll be curious to see how they do that. According to the AG’s website, “The Attorney General cannot issue opinions to county or local government officials or to private citizens.” Maybe I misunderstood what they’re going to try to do. In any case, it seems like there are too many unresolved issues on this matter to have voted last night. I’m inclined to favor the Law Director’s position right now. I get the sense that there is a lot of pressure on the Commission from the Mayor on this issue, so I’m glad the Commission hasn’t rushed ahead without getting all of the issues addressed. I’ll plan on being at the Commission meeting(s) in January to see what happens next.

A lot of the five hour meeting was spent discussing what to do with the Knoxville Center Mall. There is a clear divide between some Commissioners who would like to see more government involvement in developing the property, up to and including moving government offices there, and some Commissioners who want a completely hands off approach from local government. Based on the limited amount I know currently about the project, it seems like there’s definitely a place for Knox County to be involved in helping revive the area. But, I’m not sure a full move of county government offices into those buildings makes economic sense. This isn’t to say that I support the TVA East Tower option either. It may be that neither proposed move is the right way to go. At the end of the day, I think the Commission and the Mayor settled on a good resolution to the issue. A study to look at how to develop the entire area, not just focused on the Mall itself and not just focused on trying to move government offices out there. I would have voted for that resolution.

One other issue caught my attention during the meeting. There was a pretty rancorous debate about a zoning issue at 1617 Andes Road. This issue pitted a developer who wants to build houses (about 150?) up in that area against some of the local property owners. A lot of the discussion centered on how narrow the roads leading up to the property in question is. The main road, which is already pretty narrow, is Andes Road. But there’s a smaller road which connects at two points on Andes Road, called Old Andes Road. Much of the worry seems to be the increase in traffic that both roads, but especially Old Andes Road, will see with these new homes. In talking about Old Andes Road, the various speakers described the road as either 7 feet wide or 13 feet wide. This area is pretty nearby, so I decided to go up and check it out for myself. And that road is narrow. I didn’t get out with a tape measure, but some parts of the road were only about as wide as my Honda Odyssey could fit. As I looked along the side of the road, I struggled to see how this road could be made into a two lane road. I think the Commissioners eventually voted to approve the zoning change by trusting that the rest of the County planning process would be able to put a halt to things if the developers could not show that they could bring the roads up to the required standard. After the Commission voted, I noticed some discussion between one of the homeowners and the developer or representative of the developer. They went on so long that they were eventually shooed out of the Assembly Room. These are the things that go on at Commission meetings. Buckle up.

I’m On The Ballot. Now What? – 12/13/19

I’ve taken a couple of days off from here. There are trees to decorate, lights to put up, shopping to do, after all. Also, we’ve been lucky to have our UT student at home with us this week before he flies off to Northern Virginia for the Winter break.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no time for a party. Susan and I attended the Knox County Democratic Party’s Holiday Party last night at Dead End BBQ. We got to meet a lot of fun and interesting fellow Democrats and had some good eats as well. It’s going to be a long campaign – starting in January – so this was a good opportunity to relax before the holidays and a hectic 2020. And, if I didn’t get to meet you, I was the one wearing the Mickey Mouse Christmas sweater and the light up red Holiday Crocs.

A couple of the people I met last night are fellow Democratic candidates for other County Commission seats – Courtney Durrett (District 2) and Kimberly Peterson (District 5). They’re in the same boat as I am. Trying to add some more Democratic voices to a heavily Republican-leaning County Commission. Thanks to what appears to be a gerrymandered map, there are 10 Republicans and 1 Democrat on the Commission. I know we live in a Red area, but a map that results in Republicans holding 91% of the Commission seats is hardly representative of the number of Democrats and Independents in the County. This kind of gerrymandering is one of the problems in the system and I’m going to try and bring this issue to light over the course of my campaign. Hopefully, Courtney, Kimberly and I can do something about the number of Democrats on the Commission.

If you’ve read my featured post where I explain why I’m running, you will remember that the first thing is Choice. And on that point, since I’m on the ballot now, I feel like I’ve already won. Or at least fulfilled my first campaign pledge. I’ve made sure now that the voters in District 4 will have a choice on August 6. But we can’t stop there. Just having a name on the ballot isn’t a real choice. The next step is to try and get my issues out there. Make it so my Republican opponent can’t just cruise through to the general election. Push my issues. Meet the voters and see what they care about. I’ll have more on how I’m going to do that in the coming days and weeks. Voters have a choice on the ballot. That’s a win with a small w. Next, I need to give them a real choice.

And speaking of choice, I’m sorry to say that not all Knox County voters will have a choice when it comes to voting for their County Commission representative. In this cycle, the seats in Districts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 are up for election. Unfortunately, Districts 6, 8, and 9 all have single Republican candidates without either primary or general election opponents. Based on the results available at the Knox County Election Commission’s website, over 5,000 voters in those three Districts cast ballots for multiple candidates in 2016 – the last time the seats were up for election. It’s a shame that those voters won’t really have a choice in 2020. Expect to hear more from me on this issue as the campaign progresses. I’m primarily focused on District 4, of course, but Commissioners are making decisions that can affect the whole county. I care that EVERYONE has a chance to get involved and that EVERY CITIZEN has a chance to cast a meaningful ballot for their representatives.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/9/19

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen. Boys and Girls. This will be my last post titled “Getting On The Ballot.” Because I’m on the ballot. Or at least I met the requirements to get on the ballot. I guess they need to print the ballots. Maybe a meteor hits or something. But, other than that, I think I’m on.

Here’s how it went. I picked up my petition at the Election Commission. I walked around and got people to sign the petition. My deadline was Thursday, December 12 at noon. I turned my petition in today at around 11 a.m. They told me they would call me today one way or another and let me know the results. Within about an hour they called and told me that I had the requisite number of signatures. You can see the scanned petition here. At the end of the day, they also put out their updated Candidate Pickup List and it included a return date for my petition. See Gepetto, I’m a real candidate.

I’ll be following developments the next couple of days closely to see how the races shape up. One of the Republicans in District 4 still hasn’t returned his petition. There’s also word that the incumbent Republican candidate in District 2 is not going to run. Will another Republican pull a petition with 2 days to go and try to fill her spot on the ballot? Probably a campaign manager might advise me to let go of the amateur political pundit thing. But there’s a method to my madness. Stay tuned.

Now that I’m officially a candidate, I figured I should go check out this job for which I’m applying. I attended the work session of the Knox County Commission tonight and it was a good night to do so. They discussed at length the controversy of the TVA Tower deal. I learned a lot about the subject from the discussion. I also got a sense of where some of the commissioners stand. I found the Law Director’s arguments to be persuasive. I don’t think the proponents of the move made a good enough argument to overcome the multiple legal issues that the Law Director raised with regard to the issue. Don’t take this as an official campaign position, though. I would want to read the MOU and the contracts that they discussed tonight before I came to a final decision. There will be another meeting next Monday and I think this issue will be discussed again. See you there.

Now that I’m on the ballot, there are a lot of things I’m going to need to do in running the kind of campaign I want to run. I’m going to be attending as many Commission meetings as possible between now and the election. I’m going to be doing my research. I’m going to use this space and social media to be open about my positions. I’m going to leave people alone until after the holidays, but then in 2020, I am going to try and walk every neighborhood in the District. I’m going to try and meet and/or talk to as many residents of the District as I can. I will try to elaborate on these and other issues as I keep writing about this campaign process. I hope you’ll come along with me.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/8/19

Today I rested. I thought about walking a bit, but my leg was a little sore and I had Christmas lights to hang. Tennis tomorrow morning and, immediately after, I’m heading down to the Election Commission to turn in my petition.

There’s a work session on the County Commission calendar tomorrow at 5 p.m. After I drop off the kiddo off at Cheer, I’m going to head down and see what it’s about. Seems like the regular meeting might be on the 16th, but I’ll show up tomorrow and maybe I’ll see you there. Look for the guy in the t-shirt and Crocs.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/7/19

I walked about 4.5 miles today and added about 10,000 steps to my Apple Watch. In addition to my own neighborhood (Laurens Glen), I also visited a nearby neighborhood called Fox Hollow and some houses on Clear Brook Drive and Shoreham Blvd. I got up to 47 signatures and I’m probably about done. I may walk another neighborhood tomorrow afternoon depending on the weather and my sore left leg (thanks to walking 4.5 miles in Crocs). But even if I don’t get any more signatures, I think I’m good to turn in the petition on Monday. If it turns out I have more than 20 signatures that don’t match, I’ll still have time to make up whatever I don’t have on Tuesday and Wednesday. Deadline is Thursday at noon.

I think one of the best things about doing this neighborhood walking is the chance to have more in depth conversations with some people. Yeah, some folks are wary and don’t want to engage with you. And some are outright hostile for whatever reason (including the guy today who clearly wasn’t jazzed about signing a Democrat’s petition). But then sometimes I get to meet people like the couple who are originally from Romania. Or the single dad who used to work at Oak Ridge and now he works in the CBD industry. Or the fellow who wanted me to work and explain to him my positions before he would give me his signature. Regardless of what happens next August, I’m sure this is going to be a life-changing experience for me.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/6/19

Just six days to go until the deadline. I think I’m on track. I got up to 36 signatures today. So, I’ll probably talk about this more in future posts, but one of my goals in this campaign is to get to every neighborhood in the district. I’m going to try to talk to as many residents of District 4 as I can. Since I’ve passed the 25 signature requirement and now I’m just padding my numbers as an insurance policy, I figure for the rest of the signature gathering time, I’m going to start working on covering the map. I’m starting in the neighborhoods near mine. Knock on doors. Introduce myself. Listen to what the residents have to say and what they care about.

Yeah, I said residents. I’ve been thinking about this process. Right now, my petition has to be signatures from registered voters from District 4. But registered voters aren’t the only people who would be affected by my Commission votes. Seems like I’m a representative for all residents of the District and even Knox County. So I’m going to listen to what people say and engage with them when I can, even if they’re not registered voters.

It’s Friday night and my college kiddo is downstairs watching TV. He’s hanging with me this weekend, a couple of days away from the dorms. The cheer kiddo has a competition in Gatlinburg the next couple of days and Susan is doing the hard work of being a cheer mom without me this weekend. Normally, I would be there to help, but my mom has been having a tough time the last couple of months and I can’t leave her home alone – even with the college kiddo here to help. I’ll be missing my girls this weekend and cheering, in absentia anyway, all the Diamonds All Stars teams on to victory. Go hit, girls – zero deductions!

Getting On The Ballot – 12/5/19

Drum roll, please! I’m at 28 signatures! I need 25 to qualify for the ballot, so I’m over the threshold. They say shoot for 50 or so, in case some of the signatures have issues. So, I’m going to keep going. I’ll work to get some more tomorrow and over the weekend. Turn in the petition on Monday is the goal now.

Nothing new from the Election Commission, so there must not have been any petitions picked up or dropped off.

Short update today. I’ll keep plugging away and keep you posted as I do.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/4/19

Another mea culpa to start today. I’m gonna have to do better, I think. In yesterday’s post, when I was talking about which districts have candidates who have pulled petitions, I talked about how no petitions were pulled for Districts 3 and 7. Well, that’s because those seats are not up for election next year. In addition, I talked about how there are 9 districts in Knox County, as if those are the only Commissioners on the Commission. I forgot to mention that there are also two at-large Commission seats. Neither of those seats are up for election in 2020.

Today’s list from the Election Commission includes one update that I can see. There’s now a potential Democratic challenger to the Republican incumbent in District 2 to go along with the Independent challenger. District 1 only has Democrats running and Districts 5, 6, 8, and 9 only have Republicans.

My update is that I’m up to 23 signatures. As you recall, I’m aiming for 50 to make sure I have a cushion. It’s coming in dribs and drabs, but I’m getting there. My original plan was to return the petition on Friday, but I’m going to give my self the weekend and then turn it in on Monday. I’m really not trying to go down to the wire with this. Really I’m not. Hang in there folks, I’m gonna get it done.

Oh yeah, one other thing. It’s really just a minor thing in this process. But also really cool too. I recently subscribed to Compass, a local website that includes a daily email with info about Knox County and Knoxville politics, government and business. It was cool to wake up this morning and go to this link on the state of this whole business I’ve been writing about and in which I’m participating. My name was listed in there and there was a link to this webpage. It’s a small thing, I know, but cool nonetheless.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/3/19

I need to start with a small mea culpa. I misreported my number yesterday. I think I reported 17 signatures, when it was 16. Got three more signatures today, so that brings me up to 19. Not the pace I was expecting, but I think the next couple of days are going to see those numbers going up. Stay tuned on that front.

I also wanted to make a quick report on the state of the rest of the Commissioner wannabes. The Knox County Election Commission regularly updates their Candidate Pickup List. Here’s today’s. The Commission is divided up into nine Districts. I’m running for District 4 if you’ve forgotten. The list shows you who has picked up a Candidate Petition, when it’s picked up and when it’s returned.

So, most importantly for me, today’s list shows that three candidates have picked up petitions for District 4 – yours truly and two Republicans. Interestingly, no petitions have been picked up for Districts 3 and 7. Districts 6, 8, and 9 have had a single petition pick up. All Republicans and two are incumbents. District 1 is the single Democratic incumbent on the Commission and one potential primary opponent has picked up a petition. No Republicans so far in District 1. The District 2 incumbent has an independent challenger so far and the District 5 incumbent is looking at a Republican primary opponent as well.

Still a long way to go before the ballots are set. Not all of the names on this list (including yours truly) have submitted their petitions. It also seems like there are more petitions to be picked up before it’s all said and done. I’ll keep you posted.

Til tomorrow.

Getting On The Ballot – 12/2/19

Too much life going on today to get out and gather some signatures. I did get the chance to talk to some folks, which will lead to some signatures down the line.

It’s very early in the process, but I can already see that the next 7 months, leading up to election day on August 4, 2020, will not be lacking for pressure and anxiety. I’ve got 10 days now to get my petition filled with signatures (25 required, but aiming for 50). That’s a drop in the bucket of the number of voter contacts I’ll need to make to hope to put on a decent showing in this election. The Republican winner of this race in 2016 got about 2500 votes and the Democrat got 1900. I start at a disadvantage in a heavily red district. I’m at more of a disadvantage because I’m committed to taking money out of the process, so I’m likely to be way outspent by whomever I run against. I’m sure I’ll get help along the way, but this race is on me.

The threshold question for my candidacy is that an election should include a choice. If I wasn’t running, it’s very likely the Republican candidate would be running unopposed in the general election. Getting the required signatures to get my name on the ballot means that the voters of Knox County – District 4 will have a choice when they go to vote. That’s a win. But it’s also not enough. When I get past this hurdle, there are going to be other things to focus on. The symbolic victory of making sure voters have a real choice on August 4 could still end up just being the same old politics of the Knox County Commission. Get on the ballot and I have the opportunity to try and shake things up. And that’s what I plan to do. But first, get on the ballot or none of that happens.

So, see you tomorrow, hopefully, with another update.