Trouble in Paradise? (Part 21)

The “uniparty” is alive and well in small town Tennessee, where cliques, status, and fashion outweigh principle.

Thanks to Tennessee Conservative News (here)!

In conservative East Tennessee, the deeply-religious heart of the Bible Belt, one would expect that respectable society would steer clear of left-wing homosexual drug addicts who disdain the community’s values. In certain status-seeking circles, however, the miscreant’s family connections and the attraction of attending a fancy holiday gala overcome the stigma of an aberrant lifestyle. So it was when a passel of Blount County’s local “Republican” elected officials mugged for photos and hobnobbed with other tuxedo-adorned guests at a party hosted by Zac Talbott and his husband, Alan “Chip” Fuller, who operate a local methadone clinic, TLC Maryville, dispensing daily doses of opioids to hundreds of addicts out of a strip mall on Highway 411 (the Wiley Boring Center).  

How quickly people forget the scandal that ensued when Fuller, then a closeted gay man teaching at Maryville High School, left his wife and children to “come out” and eventually enter into a relationship (since 2003) with a MHS student more than ten years his junior. How quickly people forget that Talbott was, by his own admission, a daily intravenous heroin user who was “academically dismissed” from the University of Tennessee.

Talbott, trading on his family name in this clannish community, now gets his photo taken with “Republican” County Mayor Ed Mitchell, and Fuller has served as a reserve deputy and chaplain (!) with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, where, perhaps coincidentally, the Deputy Chief is Ron Talbott. Zac Talbott uses his family lineage to dramatize his “recovery” story—although he admittedly continues to take addictive opioids daily: “I came from a good family, from ‘good stock’ as we said in the south. Talbotts weren’t addicts. We were people of faith, community leaders and role models.”

Christians are forgiving, but Zac Talbott has expressed contempt for Blount County’s conservative community values and orthodox Christian doctrine. Talbott recalls his childhood in less than flattering terms:

Zac Talbott…grew up in Maryville and went to a small Southern Baptist church. That’s where he first encountered the message that homosexuality is a sin—a message that followed him home and stuck with him. “It’s hard growing up in a small Southern town and going to a small country church, where every week I hear that gays are going to hell, and knowing I didn’t choose it,” Zac says. “It killed me going to that church every week. A lot of my extended family believed, and still do believe, that I’m going to hell.”…Zac Talbott was teased at Maryville High School, but found that the administration there was supportive….Zac Talbott says his coming out erupted into an angry confrontation with his father. 

I get why family connections smooth over otherwise unpardonable indiscretions in small towns, but that doesn’t explain why aspiring “conservative” politicos seek out opportunities to socialize with what amounts to Blount County’s left-wing, anti-Republican, pro-LGBTQ activists. Talbott describes himself as a “liberal Democrat,” but his Twitter rants suggest a hard-left orientation. Partisan politics, even at the local level, is supposed to be animated by principle and philosophy, not by officials’ social climbing, status-seeking, and clique-chasing. Alas, in Blount County, most of the “Republican” elected officials are more devoted to becoming part of the establishment than they are promoting the GOP platform. Indeed, most local elected officials regard their positions as popularity contests—just like high school student government, with a bigger budget.

In the heated comments prompted by my posting the photo above on Facebook, one of the guests, a “Republican” County Commissioner, explained that “200+ fellow Republicans” attended the party, along with the Trump-hating leftist activists Sarah Herron (former Chair of the Blount County Democratic Party and founder of the radical group Indivisible East Tennessee) and Steve Wildsmith, a self-described recovering addict who is the most outspoken (and obnoxious) advocate of left-wing causes in Blount County. The proud attendee defended the event as promoting “unity” and “community solidarity.” Perhaps our RINO elected officials should remind themselves about the vile invective spewed by Indivisible East Tennessee and Wildsmith, on social media and otherwise. Herron organized an unruly mass demonstration at the district office of former Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan, which she styled a “Kookfest.

 The liberal Daily Times predictably promoted Indivisible East Tennessee, just as Wildsmith shamelessly  plugged LGBTQ causes and TLC Maryville when he still wrote for the Daily Times. Herron’s group was formed to de-legitimize Donald Trump as soon as he was elected President in 2016. The publisher of the Knoxville Focus, Steven Hunley, described Herron’s group as “a group of extremists, kooks and radicals [who] want a town hall meeting precisely because they want to scream and squall and get attention.” Hunley added: “These people are so eager to claim Donald Trump’s presidency a failure that they want to make sure he cannot govern from the very beginning.  For anyone paying the slightest attention to the news, it’s simply more of the same, leftists running around with their hair on fire and being outraged.”

Now that Herron is close to finishing her term on the Maryville City Council, a fluke election that she narrowly won with the support of Talbott, she recently announced that she is joining the staff of TLC Maryville, as “corporate Director of Engagement,” focusing on “community and public relations.” Herron will be working for her political patron Talbott directly. Their agendas, always in tight alignment, are now formally joined. The battle lines between conservatives and liberals in Blount County could not be more clearly drawn. “Community and public relations” includes schmoozing local politicians in order to extract favors. The “Republican” officials and candidates who attended the holiday gala are unwitting dupes who got played by a transparent strategy of gaining influence through “wining and dining.”

Leftists like Herron and Wildsmith worked tirelessly to tear down President Trump, but we are supposed to regard RINOs partying with them as “unity” and “solidarity”? It is nothing but proof that some of our local “Republican” elected officials are RINOs more interested in cavorting at fancy parties than standing up for political principle. No wonder Blount County residents feel that their local government is adrift. It is well past time for candidates and officials professing to be Republican to start acting like it. President Trump carried Blount County by a 71% to 27% margin in 2020. He will almost certainly be the GOP nominee in 2024. The question Blount County residents should be asking their local “Republican” officials is “Whose side are you on?”

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