Gina Oster, Eddie Mannis battle for GOP nod

Frank CagleFrank Talk

We are coming up on the first major election of the pandemic era, though little attention is being paid with all the coverage of the virus and protests over the police killing of George Floyd. Take, for instance, the District 18 race to replace state Rep. Martin Daniel, who is retiring. It has had some drama already and normally it might have attracted a lot more attention.

Coming off his race for Knoxville mayor, Eddie Mannis has name recognition. That’s important given that campaigning is hampered by self-quarantining, avoidance of crowds and social distancing imposed on the populace. That would seem to give Mannis an advantage.

An early poll had Mannis with a lead. But there’s less need for dry cleaning when many are working from home, and Mannis has been busy maintaining his businesses, keeping his workforce employed by making masks to combat spreading disease. He’s doing all that while also running for the House seat in the Aug. 6 Republican primary.

The other Republican in the race is Gina Oster, a Realtor who has served on the County Ethics Board, the Board of Equalization, the Sheriff’s Merit Council. She is a mother and grandmother and is reportedly working it hard, campaigning door-to-door. A key to the election is whether she has been able to make inroads into Mannis’s early support and whether Mannis has been distracted by dealing with the virus.

Oster has the support of elements of the county Republican Party, a group that is normally neutral in a primary election. But the party tried to keep Mannis off the Republican ballot because of his past support of some Democratic candidates. But the state party ruled Mannis was eligible after his candidacy was vouched for by county Mayor Glenn Jacobs and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett. The election is also a referendum on the Knox County Republican Party’s influence.

That makes an interesting scenario once the primary is over. If Mannis wins, will the county party support the nominee it tried to keep off the ballot? If Oster wins and the county party is split, does that open the door for Democrat Virginia Couch? Couch is an attorney with The Trust Company, specializing in business law.

It’s not inconceivable that a Democrat could win the district. In 2018, Martin Daniel narrowly defeated Democrat Greg Mackay, 51-49 percent. But Mackay has been involved in politics for years, was well known and personable.

The district has been represented in the past by Stacey Campfield and Steve Hall. But it is a different district now. During the reapportionment after the 2010 census, incumbent Hall had a role in drawing the new lines. It was a disaster. In order to increase the number of Republicans in the district, West Hills, Deane Hill and Rocky Hill were added. This did two things. It left another district with fewer Republicans, which allowed Democrat Gloria Johnson to win, lose and then win the District 13 seat again. It thus created a new Democratic seat from Knox County. The additional suburban Republicans allowed Daniel to unseat Hall. One of the issues was Hall’s bill to take the Scenic Highway designation off Middlebrook Pike, which angered West Hills residents. Ironically, the move was to allow Tennova to build a multi-story hospital, which never happened.

Karma is a bitch. Early voting for the primary starts in 17 days. Thus far a judge has ruled that anyone who wants an absentee ballot should get one. How’s that working around the country? In Pennsylvania, where absentee ballots normally run to about 84,000 votes, the requests for ballots this year was 1.5 million. Ten days after the election final results were still not known. Kentucky normally has 50,000 absentees. This election had one million. The election was last week and they hope to know by today (Tuesday) which Democrat will face Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Thousands of absentee votes had yet to be counted going into the weekend.

Just FYI: If a man rapes his 13-year-old daughter and she gets pregnant, she has to carry the baby to full term under a law proposed by Gov. Bill Lee and passed by his Republican colleagues this session. The Department of Children’s Services is no longer allowed to take the case to a judge to terminate the pregnancy. (The law will be challenged in court.)

Battle of Bull Run: TVA has withdrawn an application for state permits to bury coal ash on land adjacent to the Bull Run Steam Plant in Anderson County. The Chattanooga Free-Press reports TVA had purchased 200 acres next to the steam plant to bury coal ash. They report TVA will spend $3 billion to $5 billion to clean up coal ash at its steam plants. The Bull Run plant is scheduled to be closed in 2023 and TVA says it is re-evaluating what to do about coal ash so it is dropping the permit process for now. Locals are concerned about the ash being buried so close to Bull Run Creek. You will recall the massive ash spill in Roane County when a dam collapsed and the hell that ensued.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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