It might have appeared an upset for a guy “who ain’t from around here” to defeat former legislator Eddie Smith for chair of the Knox County Republican Party. But a closer look tells a different story. Randy Pace has been assiduously working in party politics since his arrival in 2014. Pace was in line to be chair two years ago when then-chair Buddy Burkhardt considered running for county mayor. But Burkhardt decided to forgo the mayor’s race and to serve another term.
Smith’s plan was to get re-elected to the state House of Representatives, but Democrat Gloria Johnson changed the plan when she won the seat. Smith jumped into the party chair race but it was too little, too late.
Pace is not without political experience. He led a community effort to turn out free-spending officials and got elected mayor of Medford, N.J. His goals going forward are to recapture the House seat from Johnson and to protect the Republican majority on Knox County Commission come the 2020 elections. He said the Democratic Party seemed more organized in the last election, and the Republicans cannot be caught napping on commission races. “They are registering more voters at this point than we are.”
He is also looking at the current nonpartisan city elections. “Knoxville is in Knox County. Some people have the idea that nonpartisan means vote for Democrats.” The county party will host a meeting at the Crowne Plaza sometime in July and invite the mayoral candidates to answer questions. “After that meeting the leadership will sit down and decide whether or not to endorse” a candidate. Mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis attended the party’s Lincoln Day dinner Saturday and was recognized by the chair. But “he was recognized as one of the table sponsors; it wasn’t mentioned that he is running for mayor.”
Pace, 57, grew up in West Tennessee in a little town called Newbern and joined the Navy in 1980 at age 19. After his retirement he and wife Pattie settled in Medford. Pattie Pace worked for Raytheon but got a job offer with a Lockheed Martin subsidiary to work on a long-term contract at Y-12 in Oak Ridge. They and the two children moved to Knoxville, and both kids are now in college. He has three adult children from a previous marriage.
As luck would have it, Suzanne Dewar, vice chair of the Republican Party at the time, was a neighbor. Dewar introduced him around at Republican clubs and since he is retired Pace has devoted his energies to party activities, interacting with party members countywide. “I won’t run for office again, but we need to focus on electing our best and brightest candidates.”
Pace says the issue of not being a long-term Knoxvillian doesn’t come up much anymore. “I’m a Tennessee native. My family goes back as far as there was a Tennessee.
“I talk to people and they know all about national politics and what’s happening. But they need to focus on their own backyard; local politics is what’s important. We are the government, all of us, and we need to pay attention.”
He sees his job as “educating the public, supporting good candidates and encouraging people to get involved.”