The day after: Has the local GOP gotten any smarter?

Betty BeanKnox Scene

What do we know today about Knox County politics that we didn’t know before the midterm elections? (Earlier column here.)

Probably nothing brand spanking new, but some things are much clearer now than they used to be – like the growing rift within the Knox County GOP, where the MAGA-oriented new breed, many of whom are newcomers, have made significant progress toward the long-held goal of rooting out RINOs.

Knox GOP chair Daniel Herrera

No image could be more symbolic of this schism than that of party chair Daniel Herrera pulling into the parking lot at a West Knox polling place in a car with New Jersey license plates.

I won’t call Herrera and his crew carpetbaggers, exactly, but it’s not unfair to describe them as newcomers who arrived here with their own notions of how things ought to be done.

They are quick to slap the RINO (Republican In Name Only) label on any Republican who opposes or questions them, and their brutal campaign against former District 18 state Rep. Eddie Mannis – including getting involved in his 2020 primary race – have made them scores of enemies within the old guard, many of whom clearly defected to the Democrats this year, where Elaine Davis, a close ally of Herrera, narrowly beat Democrat Greg Kaplan in a district redrawn to assure a Republican winner.

The money numbers aren’t in yet, but the amount of cash spent on negative advertising against Kaplan in the last days of the race will be into six-figures, and will be exceeded only by the money spent trashing Democrat Gloria Johnson in the brand-new House District 90, an odd salamander of a thing created to replace Johnson’s District 13, which was abolished in an attempt to force Johnson into running against Sam McKenzie, the other Democrat in the Knox County legislative delegation.

Johnson nevertheless won her “new” seat handily despite the barrage of 13-plus negative mail pieces (that cost at least $130,000) plus radio, TV and digital attack pieces that were deployed against her.

But here’s the thing: it was all paid for out of Nashville – some from the House Republican Caucus, some from the state party – none of it local. Where’s the money going to come from in the next county election cycle, or in next year’s city elections, should the GOP decide to make another foray into the city limits?

This might be a moot point, however. In researching this column, sources have told me that Herrera has been put on notice that GOP leadership wants him to be a one-termer.

His term expires early next year.

Note: Also, in researching this story, I came across this nugget in a column attributed to Steve Hunley, publisher of the Knoxville Focus. Hunley supported Republican candidate Pete Drew, who ran against McKenzie in District 15 and said he’d been promised financial support from the Knox County GOP.

“According to Pete Drew, Erik Wiatr (a close associate of Herrera) had been talking to Drew and told the former state representative that the people who had donated the money intended for use in Drew’s campaign would prefer it would be spent anywhere other than The Knoxville Focus,” Hunley wrote.

This, naturally, didn’t sit well with Hunley, a major Republican donor, who made a couple of phone calls to GOP officials, who told him that Wiatr hadn’t been appointed the party’s political director and wasn’t authorized to make such appropriations.

Hunley concluded: “So just where is the money Erik Wiatr is forwarding coming from and what exactly does it have to do with the Knox County Republican Party? … There is a serious transparency problem with the current leadership of the Knox County Republican Party, which is not getting any better.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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