Before the most recent county election, most of the guys I talk to about local politics – Republicans and Democrats alike – were confident that Devin Driscoll would win the Republican nomination to Knox County Commission’s District 11, at-large seat. And it was all about the Benjamins. Tons of Benjamins.
None of them thought his primary opponent Kim Frazier – a longtime advocate of orderly growth and homeowners’ rights – had much of a chance, even though she wasn’t hurting for funds.
They had history on their side. In recent years, neighborhood groups outside the city haven’t had a lot of success electing pro-planning candidates to county office.
But note: I said “guys” for a reason. I heard a different story when I spoke to women who are interested in local politics. They almost all predicted a Frazier victory.
Confidence in Driscoll was fueled by the knowledge that high-rolling real estate developers had been very good to him – good enough for him to hire Nashville consultant Ward Baker (who typically doesn’t get involved in local campaigns), send out a ton of direct mail, hire a platoon of door-knockers and buy a goodly amount of yard signs and TV time.
Neighborhood groups can’t match that kind of jack.
Plus, Driscoll enjoyed the support of GOP heavyweights like Mayor Glenn Jacobs and U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett and their young protégé Andrew Davis, who had worked in Burchett’s congressional campaigns and now gets paid for schmoozing county commissioners on behalf of Jacobs. Davis was deeply involved in Driscoll’s campaign, which surely indicates a high degree of confidence on the sixth floor of the City County Building that Driscoll would take the seat.
Unless Democrat Vivian Shipe can change the conversation between now and the August general election, it will be Kim Frazier, the candidate they opposed, the candidate who tweeted out a defiant Election Day photo of an SUV full of yard signs with a warning to thieves to beware, who will have a vote on zoning and land use issues.
At this point I need to admit that I didn’t talk to former county commissioner Mark Cawood about the race until after the election. Turns out that Cawood – the last Democrat in living memory to represent the Karns area, which includes Hardin Valley, where both Driscoll and Frazier live – predicted a Frazier victory all along.
“I saw Kim everywhere,” Cawood said. “I kept telling them Driscoll was not going to beat her.”
Cawood says that Jacobs, probably unwittingly, did Frazier an enormous favor by appointing her to serve on Advance Knox, an organization with an 18-month mission to formulate an integrated land use and transportation plan for the county. She was able to cite this appointment as evidence that she enjoys the confidence of the popular county mayor.
Another longtime political observer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he, too, had thought Frazier had a real chance to win.
“I kept having conversations with people who told me they were going to vote for her. I was hearing everything across the board from people who were voting for her, while Devin was measuring the drapes for the county mayor’s office.” He said Driscoll’s campaign got very cocky, which didn’t always go over well:
“Ward Baker’s people were telling folks in adjacent counties, ‘You might as well get on board now. He’s going to run for mayor after he serves two terms on County Commission.’
It rubbed people the wrong way.”
This observer wasn’t impressed with Driscoll’s big team of hired door-knockers: “In a
countywide race, it is almost impossible to hit enough doors to make it work. You’d have to
keep on doing it for months and have an army.”
Here is an earlier column about Ward Baker and the Driscoll campaign.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.