Former Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong, often in controversy with other county officials during his eight years in office, has made a comeback by winning the Republican nomination for chancellor after being out of office two years.
In last Tuesday’s election, Armstrong defeated incumbent Republican Clarence “Eddie” Pridemore for the Part II chancellor position and lawyer R. Deno Cole. Cole received the highest ranking in a Knoxville Bar Association survey of its members with Armstrong receiving the lowest. Pridemore was a political unknown when as the Republican nominee in 2014 he defeated longtime chancellor Daryl Fansler, a Democrat, in an upset.
Armstrong ran an aggressive campaign — he said he was his own campaign manager — and counted on voters from previous campaigns to help get elected again. He previously served as an 8th District county commissioner. In 2010, he lost a run for an at-large commission seat to Ed Shouse. Then he won two elections as law director and was term-limited.
“A lot of people helped me,” Armstrong said. They included Steve Hunley, publisher of the weekly Knoxville Focus.
Armstrong said Thursday he wasn’t surprised at the rating of his fellow bar members. In the campaign, one of his postal mailers claimed he reduced outside counsel expenses for Knox County by $3.75 million, which was money that used to go to law firms, he said.
“I’ve never been a special interest lawyer. I’ve made some lawyers mad,” Armstrong said. The 71-year-old lawyer said he’s an introvert who doesn’t enjoy hanging out after work in bars and restaurants where lawyers sometimes congregate.
“I like to be home. I like to be with Patti,” Armstrong said, referring to his wife.
Armstrong and County Mayor Glenn Jacobs clashed in 2018 on a county pension lawsuit, which ended with the county spending over $1 million to sue itself, and over the Knox County schools moving to TVA’s East Tower. The pension lawsuit also involved eight Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were approved to receive benefits under the county’s Uniformed Officers Pension Plan. Chancellor John Weaver ruled in November 2018 the county law director had no power to press on with the lawsuit.
A review of financial disclosures for the three candidates showed that more lawyers contributed to Cole with many known Democrats, like David Eldridge, a former chairman of the Knox County Election Commission, who contributed $150. Attorneys who worked for Armstrong in the county law department contributed to his campaign, like current Law Director David Buuck, who gave his former boss $1,600; other lawyers did as well like Keith Burroughs, his treasurer, who contributed $500.
Each of the candidates took out loans for the campaign, with Armstrong borrowing $15,000; Cole borrowing $18,286, and Pridemore, $6,147.
Burroughs said he expected Armstrong to win the election but was surprised that the votes were as “great” as they were for his candidate. Unofficial votes show Armstrong took 51.2%, representing 14,004 votes; Cole, 28.82% or 7,833, and Pridemore, 19.67% or 5,346.
No Democrat is running in this specific race so Armstrong’s name will be the only one on the ballot for the Aug. 4 general election. All other judicial incumbents won their party’s nomination Tuesday, including Sessions Court Judge Judd Davis, appointed last year by Gov. Bill Lee, who beat Magistrate Sharon Frankenberg in the GOP primary with nearly 71% of the vote.
In the Sessions Court race for judge of Division I, incumbent Chuck Cerny will face Democrat Sarah Keith in August. Republican District Atty. Gen. Charme Allen will be up against Democrat Jackson Fenner in the runoff election.
MOVING UP: Criminal Court Judge Kyle Hixson of the 6th Judicial Circuit, which is Knox County, won the GOP nomination to retain his position on Tuesday but is scheduled to leave office on Sept. 1.
He was named by Gov. Lee to succeed Court of Criminal Appeals Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr., who is retiring Aug. 31. The General Assembly unanimously confirmed Hixson to the Court of Criminal Appeals on April 29.
Lee will name Hixson’s successor in Knox County.
BAXTER LEE HAS MORE ON FAILED CAMPAIGN: Nashville investor Baxter Lee, who grew up in Knoxville, said Thursday he has suspended his campaign to seek the GOP nomination for the 5th Congressional District seat and does not plan to join music video producer Robby Starbuck’s lawsuit over his removal from the Republican primary ballot by the state Republican Party. Lee also was kicked off the primary ballot by state GOP officials as was former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
Party officials said they were removed because they did not vote in three of the last four state primaries.
“The Party’s decision has created a great deal of national attention, and while I cannot speak for the other candidates that were removed, I do want to set the record straight,” Lee said in a statement to this columnist. “I am a lifelong Republican who has voted in 9 out of 11 of the last Tennessee Republican primaries, and 3 of the last 4 that I could. Unfortunately, the TNGOP made the decision to no longer consider county primary elections when determining a candidate’s ‘Bona Fide Republican’ status or their support from other elected officials and county party officers.”
He said he and his wife, Kate, will cover all campaign expenses to date, “and will be issuing everyone a full refund for their donation.” Donors include a number of Knoxvillians. Lee said he will continue to support Republicans and “will continue to be here (in Tennessee) to get conservatives elected.”
Starbuck said in a release that his attempt to get back on the ballot also was an attempt to help Lee and Ortega be reinstated as candidates.
NEW BOOK AT FAIR? Bo Roberts, who ran the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and now has a strategic marketing firm in Nashville, plans to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration in the downtown park on May 21 and hopes to bring copies of his new book, “Forever Young.”
The major portion of the book describes his experiences as the youngest World’s Fair president for the ’82 event and covers his career as the youngest vice president at the University of Tennessee, youngest Cabinet appointment ever in Tennessee government and the youngest U.S. newspaper editor in Sevierville and Gatlinburg.
“I have confirmed my book will be published this month, I hope to have a few copies with me that weekend but I can’t 100% guarantee that, but definitely before the end of the month,” he said in an email Thursday.
POLITICAL FUNDRAISERS: Knoxville City Council member Janet Testerman will kick off her campaign for the Republican nomination for the 18th state House District at an event 5-7 p.m. next Monday at Marble Hall at Lakeshore Park. She is running to replace fellow Republican Rep. Eddie Mannis, who is not seeking re-election. He is among 60 hosts sponsoring the fundraiser.
Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama has been rescheduled as the keynote speaker for the Truman Day 2022 dinner at 6 p.m. June 10 at the Downtown Hilton. He originally was to speak in 2021, but the event was postponed because of COVID. Knox County Democrats said tickets bought for the 2021 event will be honored. About 100 tickets remain at $75 each for the event, Democrats said. Jones, a former U.S. attorney for Northern Alabama, recently helped shepherd the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court through the U.S. Senate.
Georgiana Vines is retired News Sentinel associate editor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.