If Nick McBride thought he was going to run unopposed for the top job in the office where he has worked for 28 years, he got a wakeup call the day before the Feb. 15 qualifying deadline, when a petition with a familiar name on the top line landed on the counter at the election commission.
Steve Hall was entering the Republican Primary for register of deeds. There is no Democratic candidate.
No, not that Steve Hall – the one who was the longtime register of deeds who signed McBride on as an office intern straight out of Farragut High School in 1988. The other Steve Hall – the former city council member and state legislator who has run for office nine other times.
There are two political Steve Halls in Knox County. Let’s call them Original Recipe and Extra Crispy.
There has always been confusion, ever since Extra Crispy appropriated Original Recipe’s red-and-white yard sign color scheme in 1998 when he made an unsuccessful run for the state House of Representatives. Extra Crispy kept the colors for eight subsequent races (half of which he won) and has doubled down on the sameness this time around, because the office is the one Original Recipe occupied from the late ’70s until 2007, when the state Supreme Court got serious about term limits and booted out incumbents who had overstayed their legally allotted time.
Same name, same signs, same office.
Extra Crispy doesn’t deny that name recognition has been a factor in his political career.
“I’ve had people encourage me to run (for register) ever since the other Steve Hall left office, he said.
He likes the idea of this job because, “You don’t do anything to make anybody mad. It’s not like the legislature or council or county commission, where you vote on something and there’s liable to be 1,000 people that don’t like your vote. It’s a different atmosphere.”
McBride, who is chief deputy under incumbent Sherry Witt (who is term limited and running for county clerk), has gotten two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s, been married and become a father and a grandfather as he worked his way up in the register’s office, which keeps the official records of all legal documents regarding real property in Knox County and manages thousands of documents and millions of dollars worth of transactions.
Hall, who ran a small business for 20-plus years, says his management experience has prepared him for this job, and he’s prepared to bring “fresh eyes” to the office. McBride says Hall is underestimating the technical demands of the job.
“Just like any company, you got to have a leader at the top, someone who understands all the aspects of the office,” McBride said. “I spend my time working with title attorneys, bankers and leaders in the community… the documents we deal with are much more complex today than they were in the ’80s and ’90s and I think I am uniquely qualified for this job. I’m the only one with the experience to be the register.”
How hard, Hall wondered, could the job of register be, especially since the staff is experienced. Should he win, Hall said he’d consider keeping McBride and even Witt if she’s unsuccessful in her race for clerk.
Hall said he has no plans to hire his friend and political ally Stacey Campfield.
The register of deeds’ annual salary is $125,829.86.