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Partisan influence increases on Knoxville's usually non-partisan elections

The Knox County GOP sent mailers and endorsed candidates in the non-partisan city council election. Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe (R) thinks they shouldn't.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Republican party is getting involved and endorsing candidates in the Knoxville City Council election, despite the election usually being nonpartisan. Knox County Republican Party Chairman Daniel Herrera said he thinks it's the first time the party has sent mailers for a city council election. 

"We made it really very clear that we were going to get involved in the city elections from the beginning," Herrera said. "I've run with that message as GOP chair, we won overwhelmingly." 

Knox County Elections Administrator Chris Davis said this year's election is more intense than he's seen before. 

"A lot of times, there's not as much interest in the city races, but certainly this year it’s not the case," said Davis. "More people are coming in saying someone knocked on my door or I got a piece of mail."

Knoxville City Council elections are usually non-partisan. The city charter said city council candidates should be listed by their districts on the ballot, instead of by party affiliation.

This year, the Knox County GOP endorsed five candidates running to unseat the incumbents on the city council. 

In pamphlets sent to Knoxville voters, the GOP said the city council engages in "wreckless (sp) spending" and said polls would be open from 9am to 7pm on election day. That is not correct. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Herrera said it was a "misprint."

Republican-backed candidates also accused the Knoxville City Council of wanting to cut funding to the police. In fact, the city council voted to increase the KPD budget each of the last five years. 

Victor Ashe served as the Mayor of Knoxville and was appointed the Ambassador to Poland under President George W. Bush. He said he disagreed with having partisanship in the city's races.

"This [is] the most partisan politicization that's ever occurred," Ashe said. "By stressing party affiliation, that ignores some of the real issues." 

Ashe, who identifies as a Republican said he thinks local elections should stay non-partisan.

"Most issues at the municipal level, and I found that as mayor, do not lend themselves to ideological division," said Ashe. "They're pragmatic issues — you fill the pothole, or you don't fill the pothole. You pave the streets, or you don't pay the streets."

Herrera disagrees. 

"I think it's natural for people to want to know what the political ideology is of a candidate," Herrera said. 

Ashe said he's gotten the pamphlets from the Republican Party, but he ignores them. 

"Most of the pamphlets I've got, I just considered irrelevant to the choice I need to make," Ashe said. "It's not really going to move the city forward, it's not a positive development."

Herrera said the Republican Party will continue to endorse candidates and send out mailers for local elections. 

"That's the first time we've done it on a city election, and it's not going to stop there," Herrera said. 

Ashe said he wants voters to look at the candidate, not the party. 

"I would hope in the five contests that will be decided next Tuesday, voters will look at the two candidates in each race and decide which one of the two, in their opinion, is the best person and vote accordingly," he said.

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