Stockard on the Stump: Rutherford voters face quandary with Carr vs. Allen mayoral race

May 27, 2022 7:00 am
Rutherford County mayoral candidate Joe Carr, at right, with Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. (Joe Carr Facebook page)

Rutherford County mayoral candidate Joe Carr, at right, with Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. (Joe Carr Facebook page)

After years of wandering in the political wilderness, perennial candidate Joe Carr has an election he can win: Rutherford County mayor.

As the Republican primary victor, he is guaranteed to pick up the votes of every person who simply marks the “R” box.

But a major question is whether he can draw the backing of the business community, some of which is leery of Carr’s penchant for a sudden rant.

A former three-term state House member from Lascassas northeast of Murfreesboro, Carr clearly is capable of winning. But of late he gained a reputation as someone who was willing to run for – and lose – just about any race. He lost a state Senate race, U.S. House race and U.S. Senate race to Lamar Alexander, which might have emboldened him because of a strong showing.

He decided to get into the Rutherford County mayoral race last year partially because of distaste for Murfreesboro’s growth, most of which he can’t control, and wound up narrowly defeating Rutherford County Commissioner Rhonda Allen and incumbent Bill Ketron, a former state senator, in the recent Republican primary. Carr won 38% of the vote to Allen’s 34% and Ketron’s 25%, an interesting turn of events considering some onlookers thought Ketron would be able to hold on despite his trials and tribulations with a spate of campaign finance violations as well as a bad look with handling Middle Point Landfill, the largest dumping ground this side of the Mississippi River.

Randy Allen is running for Rutherford County Mayor as an independent. (Photo: Randy Allen for Rutherford County Mayor Facebook)
Randy Allen is running for Rutherford County Mayor as an independent. (Photo: Randy Allen for Rutherford County Mayor Facebook)

Rhonda Allen’s showing surprised some, since her name recognition wasn’t nearly as strong as Carr’s or Ketron’s. She did have Smyrna support, which is getting stronger in Rutherford circles.

Contrary to what some folks are saying, though, Allen says she isn’t a package deal with Randy Allen, who lost to Ketron four years ago. Rhonda and Randy Allen are not married.

It’s been rumored she would be the deputy mayor if he’s elected as an independent.. She dismisses that, saying people also had her teaming up with Carr or Ketron, depending on which one won. After three terms on the County Commission, she’s bowing out.

But not Carr, who very well could wind up leading the fifth largest county in the state, with about 324,200 residents and easily the busiest corridor to Nashville.

To win the primary, political junkies say, Carr played it smart, showed restraint and sat on the sideline as Rhonda Allen and Ketron battled in the primary. 

Now, however, Carr has to prove to business leaders he can sit down in front of corporate clients and market Rutherford County, as well as lead the county government, without going off half-cocked. He has a history of getting sideways with even his biggest backers.

Reached for comment, Carr touts an “extensive” small, medium and large business background and says he would have to know exactly what he’s accused of coming unhinged about before commenting.

“I haven’t heard that,” he notes.

Onlookers point toward his views on immigration. One of his main pieces of state legislation set up the e-verify program for businesses, which has hardly quelled the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

In contrast, business folks view Randy Allen, former leader of United Way and a fundraiser with Habitat for Humanity, as level-headed and a genuinely nice guy. 

But running as an independent in a red county, is he a credible candidate and can he demonstrate it over the next two months. Furthermore, if he does win, can he lead as mayor? Does he understand the issues and the gravity of holding the position? Allen did not return a call for this article.

The business community will have to decide that in the next few weeks before determining where to put their money for the August election.

Carr already has 38% of the vote, after all, and he could easily add 13% more from Ketron and Rhonda Allen voters. Yet he defeated Allen by only 620 votes. How popular is he really?

Contributing factors

For the long term, Carr is promising to deal with Middle Point. To do so could be problematic, because he’ll have to work with the Department of Environment and Conservation, an agency he left as assistant commissioner after women alleged sexual harassment and men on the staff complained about “locker room” talk in the restroom. 

When the Tennessee Lookout confronted Carr about the incidents a year ago, at first he said, “What harassment complaint?,” then, “I would like to see it if they did.”

By the next day, however, Carr posted lengthy Facebook explanations about the complaints investigated by the state, dismissing most of them as innocuous and saying, “Liberal big government bureaucrats just don’t sleep, do they?” (That’s no way to talk about Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.)

In light of those complaints as well as his about-face on their existence, is he beyond reproach?

Carr has issues that concern members of the Rutherford County business community. He left a state department as assistant commissioner after women alleged sexual harassment and even men on the staff complained about his “locker room” talk in the restroom.

After his 2014 U.S. Senate race, Carr also paid the Federal Election Commission $2,250 to settle an investigation into a $200,000 loan his campaign made to Life Watch Pharmacy, a company led by conservative fundraiser Andrew Miller. Carr’s campaign made $9,564 from the loan, raising questions among the FEC.

Miller also helped state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, move tens of thousands of dollars from his state account through a federal political action committee called Citizens for Ethics in Government to the American Conservative Union, which then bought radio ads in support of Kelsey during his failed 2016 congressional campaign, according to reports and federal complaints. Kelsey is under indictment for allegedly violating federal campaign finance laws and is not running for re-election to the state Senate this year.

Carr says he showed the FEC correspondence proving the feds OK’d the loan, but then they later said it wasn’t technically correct. The two sides went back and forth and finally Carr opted to settle.

Voters and the business community will have to sort these things out over the next two months before they select the leader of the state’s fifth-largest county.

Back in the game

Bounced from the Republican ballot for the 5th Congressional District seat, Trump-endorsee Morgan Ortagus is joining forces with Republican candidate Kurt Winstead, the Associated Press reported.

Since she can’t run, at least for now, she’ll co-chair the National Security Advisory Committee for Winstead, a retired brigadier general for the National Guard. Ortagus, a former spokeswoman for the Department of State, reportedly is working for Polaris National Security.

Gen. Kurt Winstead. (Photo: Winstead campaign Facebook)
Gen. Kurt Winstead. (Photo: Winstead campaign Facebook)

The Tennessee Republican Party decided Ortagus and video businessman Robbie Starbuck didn’t meet qualifications to be bona fide Republicans because they hadn’t voted in the last three Tennessee primaries.

Starbuck’s effort to challenge the decision in court flopped.

Ogles on the loose

Americans for Prosperity Action endorsed Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles this week in the 5th Congressional District race. 

The group gave its support based on his track record for supporting policies promoting economic freedom and said it would “leverage” the nation’s largest grass-roots outreach, a full-time staff and trained volunteers to help Ogles win.

“Inflation is crushing the American dream. Andy understands everyone is paying more and getting less because of Washington’s reckless spending. We can count on Ogles to uphold Tennessee’s values and stop the D.C. spending spree,” said AFP Action Senior Advisor Tori Venable, who is state director for AFP-Tennessee.

When he was AFP state director, Ogles “worked to repeal” the Hall tax, a state tax on investments and dividends, and “stop the gas tax hike,” according to Venable.

While the Hall tax is certainly gone, though, the fuel tax approved under the former Haslam Administration is in effect. It must be noted, for what it’s worth, AFP failed on two if its main initiatives in the past year, defeating a nearly $1 billion incentive package for the Ford electric truck and battery plant in West Tennessee and killing an ethics reform bill that requires 501(c) groups to disclose campaign expenditures within 60 days of an election.

Privacy and Tags

Last week’s version of the Stump dealt with the Lee Administration turning down police requests to put up automated license plate readers on state highway rights of way amid a review of privacy, collection and use of information and an assessment of the compelling public safety need.

While some contend the cameras are useful in investigations and searches for missing people, libertarians and liberals don’t really like law enforcement putting a camera on them all the time.

Asked this about his administration’s stance, Gov. Lee said, “I always have concerns about privacy. We want to protect the privacy of Tennesseans. We also want to utilize technology that advances law enforcement and balancing that and looking at the entire picture is something we are doing and will continue to do. License plate readers can be very effective if used in the right way. But there are also privacy concerns that we will look at.”

Pressed on whether he is trying to maintain libertarian votes, the governor said, “Maintaining the protected privacy of the citizens of Tennessee.”

That answers that.

Unfortunately, that ship has sailed.

Still upright

Reports of Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson’s demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. She suffered what was reported to be a slight stroke recently while at TJ Maxx in Knoxville but is doing much better.

She lives! Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville:, is bouncing back fro, a mini-stroke. (Photo: John Partipilo)
She lives! Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville:, is bouncing back fro, a mini-stroke. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“I’m 6-3 above the ground, not 6 feet under,” says Johnson, the tallest woman in the General Assembly.

But she damn near did herself in making a move to a new apartment after the Republican-controlled House this year moved her home address into the same district with Democratic Rep. Sam McKenzie of Knoxville. 

Johnson said at the time she wouldn’t run against McKenzie. So she rented a place in a newly-drawn district and started moving out of a house she’d been in for 30 years, which means lugging tons of stuff across town. At the same time, she started campaigning, attending a children’s reading festival and World’s Fair event in downtown Knoxville, all while turning 60 last week, which almost turned disastrous for her.

The result was a breakdown at TJ Maxx.

I can empathize, after moving a year and a half ago, carting 30 years of stuff halfway across Tennessee, injuring myself and just plain wearing down. Recuperation continues.

“What a drag it is getting older.”

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.