Monday, May 01, 2006

 

Hawkins County Recap



The VOLConWife and I took the scenic route up Highway 11W to Rogersville for the Hawkins County Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday night. I had been told that the event was sold out, and it certainly seemed that way when we found two full parking lots at Cherokee High School. It turns out that the Hawkins County GOP had sold all 350 tickets to their Lincoln Day Dinner, making the sold out evening the most attended of the annual events in Hawkins County history. After large crowds in Washington County, Sullivan County, and Grainger County, it is apparent that East Tennessee is already moving into election mode months before the August primary.

After checking in and securing our meal tickets, we spoke to several candidates, staffers, and attendees throughout the room. Because every seat was accounted for, we had to search for two seats side-by-side, which meamt that we sat between the Richard Venable camp and Larry Waters contingent (both candidates for the 1st District Congressional seat). As I told some of the staffers for other candidates for that seat, my proximity to Mayor Venable and Mayor Waters should not be taken as an endorsement of either candidate.

Prior to the formal beginning of the program, attendees were able to sort through piles of campaign materials on their tables. With local elections only a matter of days away, plus nine of the 1st District candidates, two gubernatorial candidates, and all three U.S. Senate candidates in attendance, the amount of materials – cards, pamphlets, coasters, notepads, candies, pens – was almost too much to bear. I took a few of the more interesting pieces home to read (and used Circuit Court judicial candidate Tom Wright’s notepad to take notes on the speeches to follow, rather than use my reporter’s notebook), but most of the materials were left unread by me and most of those who I observed.

Hawkins County Chairwoman Cecile Testerman started the program by delivering a warm welcome. She turned the microphone over to Mike Faulk, noted Church Hill attorney and First Vice Chairman of the Hawkins County GOP, who served as emcee for the rest of the evening. Following the invocation, singing of the National Anthem, and Pledge of Allegiance, the dinner line formed. Just as fast, the candidates formed what can only be compared to a receiving line at a wedding or state event leading into the serving area.

First up was Jim Bryson, who recognized me as one of the 16 bloggers from the Bryson for Governor Blog. He admitted that he had quit reading the blogs because of the negative attacks they tended to contain. I certainly hope he is prepared for what is to come when Bredesen’s hatchetmen (like Mike Kopp?) start feeling the heat as Bryson eats into the incumbent’s early lead.

I then briefly spoke to Mark Albertini (another gubernatorial candidate whom I had met at the SRLC in Memphis), Bob Corker, and Van Hilleary, as well as some of the local candidates and other well-wishers who are regular readers of VOLuntarilyConservative, before selecting my food. Interestingly enough, I have yet to have any rubber chicken on the “rubber chicken circuit” this year. At Hawkins County, the choice was between roast beef and a casserole, along with green beans, roasted potatoes, roll, salad, and some excellent deserts (red velvet cake for me). Ed Bryant had positioned himself at the exit of the serving area, which meant that he couldn’t shake hands but had the whole stage to himself.

After eating, I made my way around the room to speak to a few 1st District candidates, including Vance Cheek and David Davis, as well as members of Rep. Davis’ staff. I also made some inquiries to see if there was anything to the reports from Friday that there might be problems with the straw poll voting. There seemed to be some worry amongst several of the House and Senate candidates, but there weren’t any solid findings that would suggest foul play.

The meal having concluded, Mr. Faulk returned to the official program. There were some humorous moments at the start, including references to a Senate District 29 voting booth that had been established in the lobby, with separate lines for dead voters, voters outside of the district, and felons. This was one of several references to the scandal-plagued Ophelia Ford. While it may be true that the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate may not tie Ophelia, John, and Harold, Sr., to Harold Ford, Jr.’s campaign, what very well may happen is that the entire Democratic Party in Tennessee may be tied to the anchor that is the Ford family’s corruption. If that is the case, you may hear the song that was played later on in the evening – “Voting in Memphis” (sung to Marc Cohn's “Walking in Memphis”) – again, as well as see copies of Robert McCain’s “Donkey Cons” along the trail, highlighting the Democrats as the party of corruption.

Local candidates and media were then introduced, including myself. This is more evidence of a trend that bloggers are gaining near equal treatment at political events as the mainstream media folks. Justice Sunday II, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and now Lincoln Day Dinners show that bloggers are gaining more respect by political candidates. Another aspect that stuck out to me was the number of local contested primaries that were taking place in Hawkins County. Other counties – including Knox – should be envious.

Each of the 1st District Congressional candidates in attendance was then given one minute to address the audience. The time limit was strictly enforced, and the order was set by the candidates’ last name – in reverse. Excerpts of the quick speeches are as follows:

Larry Waters – The Sevier County Mayor started by saying that it was his hope that Congressman Bill Jenkins would have run again so that none of this would be necessary. Waters appealed to voters by stating that he feels he best represents their values and could bring jobs to the district. He described himself as a “Mountain Republican,” although he didn’t really define what that meant.

Richard Venable – The Sullivan County Mayor stated that being elected to represent the 1st District would be “the highest honor of my life.” (I couldn’t help but think that his remarks sounded somewhat familiar.) The focus of a Venable term would be constituent services, which Venable said were the hallmark of the Quillen and Jenkins years.

Dan Smith – Mr. Smith is from Washington County, and his address focused on issues such as the war on terror and energy policy. Where Mr. Smith showed his political inexperience was his admittance that he had never been to Rogersville before. I doubt that endeared Mr. Smith to the Hawkins County crowd.

Dr. Phil Roe – The current Vice-Mayor of Johnson City, Dr. Roe touted his experience in the health care field as evidence that he is qualified to deal with the nation’s “health care crisis.” An OB/GYN who has delivered over 5,000 babies, Dr. Roe is touring the entire 1st District on bicycle.

Richard Roberts – Mr. Roberts, a former staffer to Tennessee icon Howard Baker, spoke primarily on energy policy. He is an attorney from Greene County.

David Davis – Representative David Davis, who ran for the 1st District seat against Bill Jenkins back in 1996 after the retirement of Jimmy Quillen, touted his litany of endorsements from such groups as Tennessee Right to Life. He said that he was the “real conservative leader” in this race and declared that his open-door policy from the Tennessee House would be carried over to the U.S. House if he were elected.

Vance Cheek, Jr. – One of the former mayors of Johnson City in the race, Vance Cheek spoke of the “nice, clean race” that would occur, with the winner “reflecting the values of East Tennessee.” The primary roll of that winner, according to Cheek, would be to remedy the “out of control spending” that had permeated Washington, D.C. Cheek also referenced Jenkins’ calling for a balanced budget amendment and stated that, if he were elected, Cheek would do the same thing at the beginning of every session until it became a reality.

Bill Breeding – Another of the former mayors of Johnson City, Mr. Breeding spoke of the need to assist our schools and reform of road funding. I wish I had heard more of what Mr. Breeding had to say, but, to be truthful, I had a hard time understanding him.

Peggy Barnett – Ms. Barnett, a nurse practitioner from Sevier County, distinguished herself from the experienced political men in the room, stating that she was simply a “hard working American person.” Much like Dr. Roe, her address centered on health care and need for reforms in that arena.

The gubernatorial candidates were next. At least, they should have been. It had been decided that since Mark Albertini had already addressed the Hawkins County GOP at an earlier meeting of the organization earlier this year, he would not be allowed to speak on this night. Now I do support Jim Bryson and don’t believe that Mr. Albertini has a realistic shot at the nomination, but I do not agree with forbidding him to address the audience – especially with a straw poll to follow. Besides, why should Albertini be penalized for Bryson’s late entry into the race? In addition, the entire event ended up lasting 3 ½ hours. Extending the time by 3 minutes wouldn’t have made much of a difference or caused a disruption in the program. Mr. Albertini couldn’t really say much at the time without seeming ungrateful, but fundamental fairness should have allowed for equal time.

Jim Bryson’s address was rather brief and only hit upon a few key points. Most of those remarks centered on the theme of ethics – an area where the Bredesen Administration is woefully deficient. Bryson mentioned the Senate vote voiding the election of Ophelia Ford in the 29th District Senate race. He also mentioned his support of the recognition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, as well as his pledge to never enact a state income tax (a promise that the Knoxville News-Sentinel – given its claim of ignorance in Sunday’s editorial – must have missed).

The three candidates for U.S. Senate then spoke. They all gave abbreviated versions of their stump speeches.

Van Hilleary spoke of moral “slippage” in America under the watch of his generation. He referenced illegal immigrants not paying taxes, that “gas taxes will double if we don’t get serious,” and that the Congress was “spending money like drunken sailors.” He used a few double negatives, but overall gave a good address.

Bob Corker’s speech was nearly word-for-word from his stump speech. He spoke of his “optimistic and conservative outlook” before going into his four principles of conservatism. He altered his first one slightly, choosing to focus on China and oil more than jobs, but the others (immigration, small government, and faith) were pretty much the same. Corker finished by called for “another great American century.” If you have heard Corker at a Lincoln Day this year, you have pretty much heard this speech.

Ed Bryant told the crowd that he was there “to look (them) in the eye and ask for (their) vote.” He spoke of two key reasons as to why he was the candidate that Tennessee Republicans should choose as their nominee. The first was the resonance of 9/11. These serious times called for “serious-minded conservative leaders.” Similar motivations, said Bryant, caused him to volunteer for the Army during a time when service was not as revered by Americans. The second reason given by Bryant was that Harold Ford, Jr., could not be underestimated. In particular, Bryant stated that he provided the starkest contrast to Ford, who will try to run as a conservative despite his liberal record. Finally, Bryant concluded by appealing to our greatest strength - not to our military might or economic power, but to “the goodness of the American people.”

Congressman Bill Jenkins and Tennessee GOP Chairman Bob Davis then concluded the night’s speeches. Jenkins spoke of the founder of Greenpeace and his conversion to becoming pro-nuclear power. He also said that it was “time that we started acting like Americans, that it was time that we started being evangelical about being Americans. Davis spoke about the various races throughout the state, but his real focus was on defeating Governor Phil Bredesen. “If you like being 48th in nearly every single national category, then Phil Bredesen is your guy,” stated Davis.

After the speeches, there was some time before the results of the straw poll were announced. This created some consternation amongst some of the campaign staffers, as did the different times for ballot collecting (some were collected after they were passed out and before Congressman Jenkins spoke, while others were picked up after the Jenkins speech). However, the results were eventually announced, although there was some confusion as to how many votes Richard Venable received in the 1st District poll. It was originally announced that Venable had received 63 votes. However, Tim Whaley, a Venable staffer, approached me shortly after the announcement and said that there had been a mistake, that Venable’s 63 votes were only from one half of the room and he had received 8 more votes for a total of 71. I approached members of the Hawkins County GOP who assisted in the counting of the votes to confirm, but I was unable to receive a solid confirmation as to what had occurred. I did see the final tallysheet, though, and the “63” had been scratched out and replaced by a “71.”

As for claims that some of the candidates had bussed in voters or attempted to stack votes, I certainly didn’t see any of that, and I kept a close lookout for any improprieties. Yes, most candidates brought their families, but that is a practice that should be encouraged, not ridiculed. Besides, a family member’s vote is just as relevant as a staffer’s. There were also claims about the ages of voters, but that just isn’t relevant in a straw poll. After all, if teenagers aren’t allowed to vote in straw polls, why should those who aren’t residents of Hawkins County be allowed to participate? There certainly was no obvious bias by the Hawkins County GOP that I saw, either, so that rumor can be put to rest.

Overall, it was a great event. I would like to thank Mike Faulk – not only for being one of the best Lincoln Day emcees in recent memory, but also for assisting in our arrangements. If it wasn’t for Mike’s help, I’m not sure if we would have been able to attend (and this extremely long missive would not exist). I would also like to thank all of the people of Hawkins County who made me feel at home. This is especially gratifying since Hawkins County was once my home, many moons ago. I don’t get up to Rogersville as often as I would like, and I will have to make sure that error doesn’t happen again.

Comments:
Rob;
I am envious. I sure wish Nicole and I could have been there-sounds like it was well worth going. I haven't had the opportunity to meet Jim Bryson yet and would like to.

Do you plan to be at the Grand Old Party at the Crowne Plaza on Summit Hill tomorrow night?
 
Thanks for the mention, Rob. It would be nice if you could keep us informed about how the Ford scandal is playing with the folks down your way.
 
Dave -

Tentatively, we are scheduled to be there tomorrow night. As long as things go according to plan, we should hit the party a bit after 8:00.

Donkey Cons -

Absolutely! More to come as we approach Election Day.

Cheers,

Rob
 
Rob, Excellent coverage on Hawkins County.

I hope to see Angela and yourself, tomorrow night. Also, I look forward to meeting my friend Dave and his wife Nicole.

Tennessee's only Crowne Plaza Summit Hill Drive, Downtown Knoxville 8:00 p.m. tomorrow night. All Republicans invited.

The Demos are meeting in a phone booth in the old city. So that they can hear what we say and do. We will be on our best manners always.
 
Hi Rob.

I would like to say first that I disagree with you about Albertini's chances. He has a six-month head start on Bryson and his truly conservative message rings true with real conservatives.

He recently announced that he is for cutting legislator’s pensions to help cut our national debt. When is the last time you heard anyone say this?

I have been a Republican all my life but when I read about stuff like this-where they didn't allow Albertini to speak, I'm asking myself what do the Republicans have that the Democrats don't. It seems like they're trying to steal the election.

I mean it sounds like they're trying to keep Albertini out. Why? Albertini is a US Marine Vet. He served his country. He served to keep the right to vote open.

As far as I can see from his issues on his website he's as solid as they come.

Am I missing something?
 
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