A ‘new majority’

Blount Democrats advocate new day in county politics

A new political majority is forming in Blount County, and it’s taking on the “elite click” that has gone astray, Blount County Circuit Court Judge Mike Meares told more than 100 gathered for the Blount County Democratic Party Roosevelt Day Dinner at the Airport Hilton on Saturday, April 26.

Meares said if any county needed “balance,” it was Blount County’s local government. Democrats, he said, are at the core a new majority forming in Blount County.

“The elite click has gone astray. We need to bring government back in balance,” Meares said. “There’s a new Democratic majority being formed in Blount County. I think a new majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans who want change know it goes back to asking questions.”

Meares said often Democrats in the past in Blount County didn’t think they could win. “People are afraid to say they’re a Democrat. That’s not acceptable any longer,” he said.

Meares referred to a trip commissioners Wendy Pitts Reeves, David Graham and Monika Murrell recently took to Nashville to hear a presentation by Jim Folts to a representative of the state comptroller’s office.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said he believed the commissioners violated the Sunshine Law by participating in the meeting. Meares, however, thanked the commissioners for going to Nashville. “Thank you Wendy Pitts Reeves for that,” he said. “Every government office should be open.”

Meares is running for a full term to the seat Gov. Phil Bredesen named him to fill when Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr. was elevated to the State Court of Criminal Appeals. Meares challenged the more than 100 people at the meeting to get 10 people to call 10 other people and encourage them to vote for him. If they do so, he will be elected, Meares said.

Meares said he had the experience to serve as judge and has tried just about any case imaginable. “I know the hardships people have,” he said.

Former Democratic candidate for Blount County mayor Joe Gallagher introduced Meares, who was the final speaker of the evening. Before bringing Meares up to speak, Gallagher also praised Pitts Reeves, Graham and Murrell for traveling to Nashville to hear the presentation Folts made. Pitts Reeves is a Democrat and Graham and Murrell are Republicans. Gallagher said the meeting was not a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and thanked the commissioners for providing a “long overdue public service.”

“Mayor Cunningham expressed anger. He spoke out and said it was a violation of the Sunshine Law,” Gallagher said. “Balderdash. Get used to it. Times are a’changing.”

Gallagher said there should be a “top to bottom” audit of county government to see where money is being spent. “Us Democrats on the cusp of creating great change. We espouse a two-party system,” he said.

Gallagher said Meares is an apolitical judge. “The most important thing you can say about Judge Meares is he’s a Democrat, but when he’s on the bench, he is an independent,” he said.

The theme of the Second Annual East Tennessee Roosevelt Dinner honored both President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Pitts Reeves addressed the audience and spoke about the president and first lady. “It does my heart good to see so many Democrats, some Independents and a smattering of Republicans. We are an interesting and varied bunch,” she said.

Pitts Reeves said it was on Labor Day 1940 that Roosevelt came to Blount County and dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Newfound Gap.

Pitts Reeves spoke of FDR’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt and said she was a shy, awkward girl who was born into the upper echelons of New York society and grew up with a cold, disapproving mother and an alcoholic father. “As she grew, she found strength she didn’t know she had. She shocked the society of the day by doing what she knew was right,” she said.

Eleanor Roosevelt worked for civil rights and also was passionate about advocating for young people. When her husband died, Eleanor Roosevelt was named the first ambassador to the United Nations.

Pitts Reeves said the dinner honored both FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. “It is with great pride we thank you Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the outspoken wife who stood by your side, Eleanor Roosevelt,” she said.

Paul Monger spoke on behalf of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Tuke but praised both Tuke and candidate Mike Padgett as capable men who could beat Sen. Lamar Alexander. “He’s not running against Padgett,” Monger said of Tuke. “He’s running against Lamar. We have two good candidates. Make your decision, but whoever wins, stand behind them.”

Dr. Bob Proffitt introduced Padgett’s son, Mark Padgett, who explained that both his father and Tuke were in Nashville at a political meeting regarding the upcoming election. Padgett said he was happy to see the crowd, which numbered more than 100, at the event. “As East Tennessee Democrats, we learn to come together and band together, really for our own survival,” he said.

Padgett said many people have asked why his father was running against such a powerful and strong incumbent. “The answer is simple, my father is not done yet,” he said.

Padgett said his father was elected six times in a predominantly Republican county by “being a listener, an innovator and a problem-solver.”

Padgett said that as senator, his father would work to create tax breaks for the middle class and not the upper 1 percent of the population, whom he said Alexander had been helping for 30 years.

Padgett said his father also would support small businesses. “We’ve always believed small businesses work. They’re the ones who create more of the jobs,” he said.

Padgett said his father would work to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement. “Fair trade and free trade go hand-in-hand. Someone needs to look out for our workers,” he said.

Padgett said his father would work to “bring our heroes home” from Iraq. “We’ve poured $500 billion and 4,000 lives into Iraq and for what? Osama bin Laden is still walking around free, and the war on terror is stalled,” he said.

Padgett said the country couldn’t wait around for Republicans to catch on to the problems plaguing the nation. “Democrats have their finger on the pulse of the American people,” he said.

State Rep. John Litz from Morristown started his speech by walking from the podium and addressing the audience from the back of the room. “We all deserve to be at the front of the room. We’re Democrats,” he said.

Litz said people across the country aren’t happy and times are tough. “We as Democrats have got to stick together to get past these times,” he said.

Litz said Republicans in federal government have the wrong priorities, especially in the War in Iraq. “They’re more interested in taking care of kids in Iraq instead of kids in the U.S.,” Litz said.

Litz said Democrats handle challenges where Republicans don’t. “Democrats solve problems,” he said. “We can’t afford four more years of a conservative Republican president.”

Brandon Cook then introduced Gerrae Messer as Blount County Democrat of the Year. “For those who know me, I’m speechless. I really appreciate this and the confidence you have in me,” she said.

Longtime Blount County Democrat and former county commissioner Ernie Tallent was honored for his service to the party and the county. “I’m 87 years old, and I’ve been a Democrat 87 years,” he said.

Tony Webb, party vice chair, said the event has created excitement in the party. “It’s made people more aware and actually has people thinking there are two parties, and you don’t have to be a Republican to live in this county,” he said.

Ben Rauhuff said the event helps get people prepared for upcoming elections. Commissioner David Ballard said the dinner is a fun time for everyone. “It’s a wonderful event once a year to get out and show we are Democrats and proud of it,” Ballard said.

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