Knoxville business owner Eddie Mannis continues to be dogged for voting in the Democratic presidential primary in March and having friends who are Democrats.
With a voting record that shows he’s primarily voted in Republican primaries since 1984, Gina Oster, who lost to Mannis in the Aug. 6 Republican primary for state House District 18 by 99 votes, has filed a protest of the outcome with the Tennessee GOP Executive Committee.
In an email to Tennessee GOP Chair Scott Golden, Oster said that since the results were announced, “it has come to my attention that Democrat voters crossing over into the Republican primary surpassed the margin of victory. Additionally, my campaign has been presented proof that the Eddie Mannis campaign actively solicited Democrat voters to vote in the Republican primary. Furthermore, my campaign was told by a local Democrat official that some Democrats supported a victory for Mr. Mannis.”
The vote in that race and others in the Republican and Democratic primaries and Knox County general election are scheduled to be certified at a meeting at 4 p.m. Monday by the Knox County Election Commission board. Elections Administrator Chris Davis said Thursday that after the certification, the results will be sent to the secretary of state, state Republican and Democratic officials and the Knox County mayor.
The Tennessee Republican Executive Committee is scheduled to meet Saturday, and Oster’s protest is expected to be considered then. Golden was contacted for comment on Thursday; his office said he was busy with meetings and preparing to attend the Republican National Convention, which starts Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a call was not returned by deadline Friday.
Mannis’ credentials as a Republican were challenged before the primary since he didn’t meet the bona fide standards for voting Republican in three of the last four state primaries. He voted only in two. But party bylaws allow elected members to vouch for candidates, and state Sen. Richard Briggs, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs all vouched for him. Golden allowed Mannis’ name to be placed on the ballot.
Then the night of the primary, Knox County GOP Chair Randy Pace introduced Oster at a celebration at the Crowne Plaza hotel, called Mannis a Democrat and said it was a shame that he had won. Pace said Thursday he has not spoken with Oster regarding her plans to challenge the Mannis vote.
Golden previously said he thought voters should decide who best represents them, adding, “We stand by their decision after it’s done.”
Oster, a real estate agent with Southern Legacy Realty, said in the email that all of her life, she has been a loyal Republican and never voted in a Democratic primary.
Mannis, owner of Prestige Cleaners, could not be reached for comment.
The Democratic candidate in the 18th District House race is Virginia Couch, an attorney with The Trust Co. The winner will succeed Rep. Martin Daniel, a Republican who did not seek reelection.
Knox County Democratic Party has a new leader
Matt Shears, who works on retirement benefits for the Pension Fund of the Christian Church, is the new chair of the Knox County Democratic Party, succeeding LaKenya Middlebrook.
Shears comes into the job after the Aug. 6 elections when the party made some gains in Republican-rich Knox County and right before the national Democratic Party Convention, where former Vice President Joe Biden accepted the party’s presidential nomination.
As vice chair, he stepped in immediately as interim chair when Middlebrook resigned to become director of the Knoxville Police Advisory and Review Committee and then was selected to fill the spot until March 2021 by the County Democratic Assembly on Aug. 13. He chaired the party’s fundraising committee, which he said was successful in soliciting funds in lieu of having an annual Truman Day dinner.
He praised Middlebrook for growth in party infrastructure and increased fundraising levels in the past 1½ years. He said Democrats have been able to hire two field organizers to work between now and Nov. 3 when the president, a U.S. senator and other federal and state officials will be elected.
Shears said in an interview that Democratic vote shares continue to grow in Knox County as the Republican shares decline.
He gave as examples the election of Democrat Dasha Lundy over Independent Reginald Jackson to the 1st District County Commission seat, a position long held by Democrats, and Courtney Durrett, who defeated Republican Grant Rosenberg for the 2nd District County Commission seat. The 2nd District post was held by Republican Michele Carringer, who is running for the legislature, but also has been represented by Democrats in previous years.
“We flipped the House seat back to Gloria,” he said, referring to state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who represents the 13th District. She first was elected in 2012 and then defeated by Republican Eddie Smith in 2014. The two opposed each other in 2016, with Smith winning, but in 2018, Johnson won again.
Johnson faces reelection to the mostly inner-city district this time against a Democrat-turned-Republican, former interim County Commissioner Elaine Davis.
“We’ve been building infrastructure and voter outreach and starting to see benefits,” Shears said.
This is going on at regional and state levels as well, he said. For instance, Matthew Park, a computer consultant who ran for the 15th District House seat, has become the 2nd Congressional District coordinator for Marquita Bradshaw, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee. Park had a strong grassroots campaign in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to unseat state Rep. Rick Staples. Former County Commissioner Sam McKenzie narrowly won that nomination.
Shears had high praise for Keely Sage, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville student and president of the Tennessee College Democrats, who announced Tennessee’s delegate votes virtually at the Democratic National Convention. He said while her home is in West Tennessee, she is a “rock star Democrat who works hard locally and across the state.”
Council member Amelia Parker was a delegate for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who of course did not receive the nomination, representing Knox County at the convention. Summer Awad and Ben T.O. Smith also were Sanders delegates.
Longtime Democratic National Committeeman Bill Owen was a delegate for Biden as was Chris Foell, Suzanne Park and Mark Siegel, also a Democratic National Committee rules committee member.
Owen provided a statement on his support for Biden that said, in part, “The American people are fed up with the corruption and divisiveness of the current administration. It’s time for a President Biden to unite America and once again be the leading country for hope, freedom and justice for all.”
In other news, Matthew Park, the former legislative candidate, announced he and his campaign manager, Andrew Dison, have launched a new political action committee called ChangeTN. The PAC looks to increase progressive activism in the Democratic Party, they said.
Georgiana Vines is a retired News Sentinel associate editor. She may be reached at email@example.com.