Knox has been a Republican county since the Civil War. We’ve never elected a Democrat to our District 2 congressional seat and there’s not a single Democrat in a countywide office. Things have been trending that way for the last couple of decades, and voters have gotten used to seeing county races resolved in the primaries – Republican primaries.
It’s gotten so hard to find qualified prospects willing to face bad odds that you’d think the highly competitive and energetic Democratic Party chair Matt Shears was beating the bushes for kamikaze pilots, not candidates for county office.
Finding a good candidate for the office of high sheriff might just be the most impossible dream of all, given the tendency of law enforcement professionals to line up to the right of Donald Trump, politically speaking.
But this is a strange year. Two relics of the long reign of former Sheriff Tim Hutchison – former Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones and incumbent Sheriff Tom “Spanky” Spangler – are winding up to wage a smashmouth campaign in the Republican primary. And if their conduct over the recent spectacle created by the very public arrest of a citizen activist at a public meeting is any sign (I mean, seriously, Mr. Stack ’Em Up Like Cordwood, do you expect anybody to believe you give a rat’s patootie about the well-being or civil rights of David Hayes?), it’s going to be epically nasty.
The winner of this GOP steel-cage death match is going to emerge a little shopworn and the loser’s going to be mad. Maybe mad enough to hop across the aisle and endorse a Democrat in the general election (failed candidate Jimmy “JJ” Jones endorsed Democrat Jim Andrews in 2002). But for this to happen, the Democrats have to have a candidate in place.
Rumors are flying that Shears is courting someone. So far, he’s been keeping a lid on the potential candidate’s identity, and since the bottom line is still blank, I’m going to tell him who it ought to be.
Why not recruit Knoxville’s home-grown Serpico, Travis Brasfield Jr.?
And yes, I realize that he’s not precisely a junior; he’s Travis L; his father, who ran for sheriff back in 1978, is Travis G., so I’ll use the Jr. designation for the sake of differentiating the two.
Sheriffs don’t do much inside the city limits except put people in jail, so it’s traditionally been hard to get city dwellers, who tend to vote Democratic, interested in sheriff’s races. But four years ago, Spangler did well with city voters, who didn’t care for his primary opponent, Lee Tramel, who was endorsed by Jones.
2022 is shaping up as a tricky, different kind of year, and neither the Knoxville Police Department nor the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is looking all that good at the moment. But law and order is too big an issue to cede to one-party rule. So why not swing for the fences and find a candidate who’d be a contrast to bidness as usual?
Brasfield Jr. is a former KPD lieutenant who made headlines when he blew the whistle on corrupt and abusive practices that were being tolerated within the department. He resigned in 2019 after charging his bosses with retaliating against him. This was widely seen as a courageous act of conscience because even though he’d been with the police department for more than 22 years, he wasn’t eligible to draw a pension until he turned 50.
So, he walked out the door with nothing but the law degree he’d earned, and he hung out a shingle.
A WBIR news story on his allegations of corrupt and improper behavior among the department’s command staff summarized his work record thusly:
“As a cop, he’s been praised for his ability to work with fellow officers as well as the public, his ability to problem-solve and his fair and impartial manner, records show.”
Knoxville council member Seema Singh went on the record in a News Sentinel story condemning the behavior Brasfield exposed and praising Brasfield:
“Thank you, Travis Brasfield. You did the right thing.”
Although whistleblowers are not always appreciated by their co-workers, they are usually admired by the citizens they risk their jobs to serve.
So why not step out of timeworn habits and give the voters a real choice?
Talk to Travis Brasfield Jr., Matt, and see what he thinks. I’m betting that a lot of folks will be interested in what he has to say.
As that other guy named Matt (Damon) says in that TV ad:
Fortune favors the brave.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.