Richard Jacobs, trustee candidate, will test Republican loyalties

Larry Van GuilderEar to the Ground

What looked like a walkover in the Knox County trustee race just a couple of months ago is shaping up as a legitimate contest with the candidacy of Republican Richard Jacobs. With due respect to the Democratic candidate, Dave “Caz” Cazalet, the winner of May’s Republican primary will be the next trustee, and thereby hangs a tale.

Justin Biggs, a 15-year employee in the trustee’s office, represents established Republican interests in Knox County and was the first GOP entrant in the trustee race. Biggs currently holds one of two at-large seats on the county commission.

Justin’s father, Eddie Biggs, enjoyed a long career with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office where he rose to the rank of chief deputy. The name Biggs is well known in the county, especially in Republican circles.

Enter Richard Jacobs. The Jacobs family moved to East Tennessee in 2018 and has rapidly gone native. Consider: They support the Tennessee Theatre and UT football. They host fundraisers for local pols and, for good measure, enjoy NASCAR. Not a bad beginning for a budding local office-seeker.

Jacobs and his wife, Brooke, are the parents of three. Chandler, 26, is an attorney for Right Side Compliance. Brianna, 25, works as a consultant for PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Nineteen-year-old Max is a college sophomore.

Richard’s educational background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clarkson University and additional studies at Columbia, Harvard and UT’s Haslam College of Business. His work experience spans 32 years and includes a stint as a chief procurement officer overseeing $8 billion spent across 87 countries. He was also president of a division taking in $800 million in revenue and employing more than 5,000 people.

Based on educational attainments and work experience, Jacobs is the clear choice for a position of which the sole purpose is to administer funds for legally specified purposes. Add to that his statement that he wants “to give something back,” a common enough sentiment, but one freighted with apparent sincerity, and the voters’ choice appears obvious – the decision isn’t “rocket surgery.”

As ESPN’s “Game Day” panelist Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast.”

Anyone who has followed politics for more than five minutes knows the obvious choice isn’t necessarily the obvious winner.

Someone surely takes Jacobs seriously. A complaint filed with the state election commission questioning Jacobs’ eligibility was only recently resolved. Jacobs says he doesn’t know who filed the complaint.

“I’ve spent my whole life running businesses and improving them,” Jacobs says. He thought “long and hard” about what office to seek, looking for something “less political” than, say, a mayoral office. One wonders if becoming the target of an election complaint might alter his feelings about the “less political” nature of the trustee’s office.

Taking note of the low interest rates the county receives, Jacobs wants to secure a better return on the money. There’s a down-to-earth idea all taxpayers can support.

A candidate’s plans mean nothing until he is elected. Can Jacobs sway old guard Republicans familiar with the Biggs name? We’ll find out on May 3.

Larry Van Guilder is a former editor, reporter and columnist for Knox TN Today Inc. He has returned after a prolonged absence.

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