Knox GOP gets a grandpa

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Back in 2021, the newly elected chair of the Knox County Republican Party got a lot of attention by promising to win control of the Knoxville City Council away from the socialists and to sock $125,000 away in the local GOP bank account, informing his membership that “This ain’t your grandfather’s Knox County GOP anymore.”

Attorney Daniel Herrera was 28 years old and a relative newcomer to Knoxville when he got tapped to lead the local party. Neither his promises nor his predictions came to much.

The “socialists” (meaning the Knox County Democratic Party) got fired up by Herrera’s name-calling and jumped into the city elections – something they hadn’t formally done in the past – and a “sweep” ensued. Just not the one Herrera promised.

The entire GOP “ticket” – which was comprised of a motley band of unusual candidates, including one who advocated drinking urine for medicinal purposes – lost spectacularly, and Herrera didn’t seek a second term, which was probably the smartest thing he did during his time as party chair. There was much unhappiness among the rank-and-file about stuff like paying radio talking head Charlie Kirk – fresh off cheerleading the January 6 insurrection-fest in Washington, D.C. – a $20,000 fee to address the faithful at the ’21 Lincoln Day Dinner.

And that $125,000 bank stash? I asked Herrera’s successor, Buddy Burkhardt, about that.

Burkhardt, who has been described as “almost too nice” by local Democrats, said there was $38,000 in the bank account he inherited when he was elected party chair this spring. He did not volunteer this information – he’s way too nice to have done that.

We talked this week via a phone interview that was broken into segments so he could attend to his new day job – babysitting his six-month-old granddaughter, Blakley. Recently retired from his day job as the IT director at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, he reminded me that the local party limits its leaders to two consecutive two-year terms, and that he had hit that limit four years ago when he was succeeded by New Jersey transplant Randy Pace, who stepped down from the position two years later after serving a single term.

Pace handed the title off to his friend and protégé Herrera, another relatively new arrival who had mounted a blitzkrieg campaign to beat former legislator Harry Brooks, a last-minute recruit. It wasn’t even close, and Herrera and Pace had created a movement energized by a bunch of blue state transplants who had come here seeking a conservative activist paradise.

Burkhardt, who is as nice as he’s advertised to be, doesn’t criticize Pace or Herrera, or anybody else, either.

A native Knoxvillian, he is a Fulton High School graduate whose service in the Navy allowed him to get a college degree, which he says his family couldn’t have afforded to give him.

“My name is William, but I’ve been Buddy all my life. I went to Belle Morris, Whittle Springs and graduated from Fulton and went to work at Norris Food Market the day after my 16th birthday. I joined the Navy in 1976, stayed in the Naval Reserves for 20 years and retired in 1996. That’s where I got my education – an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree … I always wanted a college education, but I was raised poor, so this was how I did it.”

He was hired on at the Sheriff’s Office by Tim Hutchison and continued to work there under Jimmy “JJ” Jones and Tom Spangler until his retirement.

“When I came to work for the Sheriff’s Office in 1994, they had five PC computers. Pretty soon we got 125 more delivered to the detention facility. I did an article titled ‘From pen and pencil to rocket science in about a month.’ I worked there for 29 years, one month and 26 days.”

On May 9, he married Amy Faucette, and shortly thereafter took on the job of babysitting Blakley, a duty he rotates with other relatives. If he has a speaking engagement when he’s babysitting, he takes her with him. He says there’s a lot of work to be done rebuilding the party.

“We’re still winning races, but our margins are reducing. Even the mayor’s race (where incumbent Glenn Jacobs won by an uncomfortably thin margin over Democratic challenger Debbie Helsley).

“That base that we had … when you disenfranchise the people that built this party and you ignore them, they ignore you back.”

Burkhardt says he has no personal political ambitions.

“I’ve got no aspirations to be an elected official, although I would love to run in a race just to know I did it. But I’m not going to do anything for me. I have been truly blessed and humbled by all the people who have said nice things and volunteered to help me, and I’m going to do my best. Bless my charming wife’s heart. She’s been a tremendous help, and she’s been a heck of a work partner.”

He does concede that “There’s been some damage done,” but says that “Until I can prove it, and know the facts, I’ll just keep working.”

Asked about national issues – specifically the Big Elephant in the room, he chose his words carefully.

“I am appreciative of Donald Trump’s stands on many things, but it’s time he got off of that (stolen election claim) and got back onto, ‘This is what I’ll do on Day One.’”

But mostly, Buddy keeps his remarks local. And personal:

“I’m not that guy that hates you because of race, creed or political preference. Life’s too short to hate. When you do me wrong, I’m done with you. One of the things my dad beat into me – ‘You do not hate anybody. You may not like what they do, but you never hate a person.’”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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