Greg Mackay has been fascinated by elections for most of his adult life, first as a citizen volunteer leading voter registration drives, then as an election commissioner, then as administrator of the Knox County Election Commission, and most recently as an international election observer.
Now, he’s going to take it to the next level and challenge Republican incumbent Martin Daniel for the District 18 seat in the state House of Representatives in the November General Election.
So far, no other Democrat has signed up to run in the Republican-leaning West Knoxville district. The qualifying deadline is noon Thursday, April 5.
Mackay said he decided to run last month while he was in Russia with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, observing their national elections.
“I was mulling the idea of running while I was over there,” he said. “We were in the city of Volgograd, the site of the deadliest battle of World War II (the Battle of Stalingrad). A million and a half soldiers died there. They have a huge monument – 279 feet high – on the highest hill in the city of Mother Russia holding up a torch. It reminded me of my father, who was a prisoner of war in World War II.
“I’d been thinking that it’s a lot of work, going to Nashville every week, but while I was in Russia I decided that if those young people – including my father – could make the sacrifices they did, I can stand up and run. It’s going to take getting out and doing the work,” he said. “That was kind of the deciding factor.”
Mackay, an active, lifelong Democrat, served as administrator of the Knox County Election Commission from 2003 to 2011 (he was fired after the Republicans took control of the state legislature). He was known for being able to work with Republicans but knows that he faces long odds in the Republican-leaning 18th district.
He said he’s up for the contest and appeared to take a poke at Daniel’s controversial track record which includes clashes with the University of Tennessee administrators, a controversial Twitter history and having a 2016 primary opponent take out (and then drop) a warrant against him for assault.
“The district’s got some real problems, just like everybody else – healthcare, good-paying jobs, supporting our schools – and insulting people, getting in fights and sending out mean tweets is supposed to help? I don’t see how that’s useful.”
Mackay, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Wallace and Wallace, is originally from Ohio and has lived in Knoxville since 1968, when his father, the late John Mackay, took a job as the first Lower School principal at Webb. Mackay is a graduate of Webb and UT, where he majored in political science. He is credited with registering 10,000 voters with Project Vote in 1988 and served as an election commissioner from 1989-1998. He and his wife, Katie, have a daughter, Hannah, 19, who is a student at UT.
Daniel, who has been in office since 2014, has a law degree and owns a billboard company, Elevation Outdoor Advertising LLC. He and his wife, Melissa, and their three children have lived in Knoxville in 2008.
His most difficult political challenges to date have been primary tussles. He came out on top in a heated 2016 four-way primary and then beat little-known Brandi Price 59-41 percent in the general election. Price, with little money and few allies, exceeded expectations in that race.