House District 18: Democrats work while Republicans squabble

Betty BeanKnox Scene, West Knox

Less than a week after Eddie Mannis won the Republican primary over Gina Oster for state House District 18, four former Republican Party chairs showed up at the West Knox Republican Club to defend him from ongoing attacks led by Knox County Republican Party chair Randy Pace and the West Knox club president Gary Loe.

The charge?

That he is a Democrat.

This is a continuation of an ongoing complaint against Mannis launched with an unsuccessful effort to throw him off the ballot this year. He survived with the help of heavy hitters Tim Burchett, Glenn Jacobs and Bill Haslam, who vouched for his bona fides – but that wasn’t good enough for Pace, who launched an election night broadside against the newly-nominated Mannis. When former chair Billy Stokes complained, Loe stepped in with an ancient allegation impugning Stokes’ party loyalty, too.

If this sounds crazy, that’s because it’s hard to write about this convoluted, petty kerfuffle.

Betty Smart with son Eddie Mannis. Mrs. Smart died on July 7, 2016, at age 83.

Former county chairs Stokes, Chad Tindell and R. Larry Smith, along with former state party chair Susan Richardson Williams, attended Monday’s meeting, ready to bat down attacks against Mannis. Stokes came armed with a letter from another former chair, Lynn Tarpy. It’s fair to say they all were aggravated. Stokes refuted Loe’s contention that Stokes had supported a Democrat in 2004 rather than Republican Jamie Woodson after she had beaten him in the GOP primary. Loe said he couldn’t find the News Sentinel article that would document Stokes’ disloyalty, but suggested that the story had run in the Knoxville Journal (apparently not realizing that the Journal folded Jan. q 1, 1992).  Ultimately, Loe apologized to Stokes.

If all this sounds weird, that’s because it is. Who ever heard of party leaders attacking their party’s primary winner at a victory party?

Once upon a time House District 18 was a lock for Republicans. Represented by arch conservatives Stacey Campfield, Steve Hall and most recently Martin Daniel, it didn’t seem worthwhile for Democrats to waste much money or time competing there. Until 2018, when Democrat Greg Mackay got 47.7 percent of the vote in the general election. When Daniel claimed his victory on election night, he announced that he wasn’t going to run again, thus opening the door for Mackay, who decided not run this year.

Virginia Couch

But Virginia Couch is. She’s a first-time candidate who has generated considerable buzz, in part because she wants to focus on big issues like healthcare, and in part because a segment of her support comes from mainstream Republicans who may just be tired of sending extremists to Nashville. Couch is in-house counsel to the Trust Company of Tennessee, whose founder and CEO Sharon Pryse has longstanding ties to wealthy benefactors of the Republican persuasion. Big Jim Haslam is on the board of directors. It’s a safe bet that she will have no problem raising money.

While Republicans were squabbling about kicking their nominee out of the party, Couch came out with a blistering indictment of the legislature’s special session to ban lawful protests at the Capitol and to protect “a tiny fraction of businesses from COVID-19 liability.” She attacked Mannis as a “rubber stamp for the Supermajority.”

The GOP brass were too busy with their circular firing squad to notice.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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