Today’s primary will decide key contests

Chancellor Clarence Pridemore, who hopes to fend off two challengers in today’s primary contest.

Today is Election Day for the Knox County primary election, where candidates from the two major parties vie against members of their own party to see who will run in this year’s general election.  

Very few offices are contested in the Democratic Primary, which is fielding only a handful  of candidates this year.

Therefore, the big winners today will come from the Republican primary, where only a few candidates are running opposed.

The two most important races are arguably those for Sheriff and Chancery Court, Part II.

In the contest for Sheriff, incumbent Tom Spangler is trying to hold off a challenge from former incumbent J.J. Jones, who was term-limited from office in 2018 after two terms. The law specifies that limits only apply to consecutive terms, opening the door for Jones to seek a third term.

In a lot of ways, the candidates are so similar as to be indistinguishable. Both support the highly contentious 287(g) immigration program, which allows local law enforcement agencies to detain undocumented immigrants. Both men have long careers as police officers behind them, and both like to portray themselves as tough on crime. 

Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler
Former Sheriff J.J. Jones, who hopes to unseat Spangler in today’s Republican primary.

The candidates disagree on what’s to blame for morale problems and how to retain employees, but this race might conceivably come down to a popularity contest driven by personal relationships and who kissed the most babies during the campaign.

While the Sheriff’s contest may draw the most attention from the public, one race in particular has drawn the attention of the Bar Association — the race for Chancery Court, Part II.

To understand what is at stake, Chancellors hear cases ranging from contract disputes, employment law, property disputes, divorces, and probate cases.

Eight years ago, an attorney that had been in solo practice for three years named Clarence Pridemore won an upset victory against veteran Chancellor Darryl Fansler in what many observers described as a partisan take-over of the judicial branch of Knox County’s government.

In today’s primary, Chancellor Pridemore is facing off against two opponents — former law director Bud Armstrong and 25-year veteran attorney Deno Cole.

 So what has Chancellor Pridemore done in his first eight years of office? According to records from the Administrative Office of the Courts, he’s managed to get overturned more than Knox County’s other two chancellors combined.

Between 2015 and 2021, the Court of Appeals reversed Pridemore’s decisions 13 times out of the 46 times that parties filed appeals from his court.

Knox County’s other chancellors, on the other hand, are rarely reversed.  Chancellor John Weaver in the courtroom next door was only reversed three times out of 27 appeals, while Chancellor Michael Moyers (who resigned four months ago) had only four reversals out of 28 appeals. 

An appeal costs an average of $25,000 to pursue, not to mention lost time and aggravation. People need their trial judges to get the law right the first time.  

But who are the other two contenders?

R. Deno Cole

The first candidate is R. Deno Cole, a legal veteran with 25 years of practicing law under his belt (compared to Pridemore’s 11 years, including time spent on the bench). Cole’s practice has focused on family and criminal law.  He has won awards for public service due to his choice to represent people unable to afford a lawyer and has also served on panels investigating ethics complaints made against various attorneys.  He is also a mediator and the former President of the local Optimist Club.  

While Cole has the most experience inside the courtroom of all the candidates, he’s also something of an outsider to the party as he’s never held public office. 

The second candidate is Richard ”Bud” Armstrong, who is no outsider to local Republican politics.  His resume includes stints as a Knox County Commissioner before becoming the County Law Director, where he served for eight years and battled other Republicans, including then-Sheriff J.J. Jones.  He is the chair of his local Republican Club and a Mason, and he has a reputation for being more of a manager and supervisor than a litigator.  

When the Knoxville Bar Association polled its members, they ranked Armstrong the lowest, Pridemore in the middle and Cole the highest.

Richard “Bud” Armstrong

It’s hard to sometimes to keep up with who’s who in local races and feel like you’ve made an  informed decision. Many citizens in this day and age have given up on politics and voting altogether, and while the following quote from author David Foster Wallace is considered cliche by some, that doesn’t mean it’s not also fundamentally true: 

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

Polls for all Knox County primary races open today at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Be there. 

Published on May 3, 2022.