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GOP hosts Witt, Briggs

An expert of the heart in literal terms, U.S. Army Col. Richard M. Briggs is looking to win the hearts of Knox County Republican voters come Feb. 5.

Briggs, an accomplished heart surgeon who has contributed those skills to the Army for much of his 34 years military service, is a Republican primary candidate for Knox County Commission, District 5-C.

One of Briggs’ GOP opponents, Jim A. McEvers, was one of several GOP candidates on hand to hear the colonel along with Sherry Witt, seeking reelection as Register of Deeds, and William S. Lockett Jr., primary candidate for Law Director. All three spoke at the monthly Concord-Farragut Republican Club meeting, held Thursday, Dec. 13, in Gondolier restaurant.

Briggs, who has lived in the Farragut area since coming to Knox County in 1992, said he thinks “it’s time for maybe outside people to come in, step up, and go down there as maybe a breath of fresh air to look at some of the things that we can do with the county.

“People that aren’t afraid to give their opinions, people that aren’t afraid to involve


The colonel outlined what he called “three elements of good government” while warning of complacency and apathy: “public officials that have a vision … citizens that are involved … and a responsible press … that can serve as a watchdog.”

In campaign literature handed out prior to the meeting, Briggs also supports a strong policy against nepotism; open government and strong Sunshine Laws, and a recall amendment to the County Charter.

Briggs ended his 10-minute address with a pledge: “If I do not win this primary, I will support all the Republican candidates in the general election for August. And I’ll say that to you, too, Jim, tonight.”

Saying there are “really good people” currently in county commission, Briggs added, “What’s really happened are all these court rulings that have thrown things in disarray.”

Having previously lived in Hawaii, California, Texas and Kentucky, Briggs said he is a former “partner” with famed heart surgeon Dr. Bob Jarvic, who developed and implanted the first artificial heart into patient Barney Clark in 1982. Briggs said Clark was among “some of my ex-patients” while a heart surgeon in Louisville, Ky.

Drawn to East Tennessee through The University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he served as a heart surgeon until 2001, the colonel is president-elect of Knoxville Academy of Medicine who, in 2006, was named Hero of the Year by Tennessee Hospital Association. Briggs also is on the Board of Trustees of Tennessee Medical Association.

Saying he was “proud of the work we did with the governor” in 2004, Briggs said he was part of a statewide health initiative where “we found a way to keep 420,000 Tennesseans with their health insurance without raising taxes.

“But the liberals sued and sued and sued, the Tennessee Center for Justice … they sued to the point where the program was dropped, and 400,000 Tennesseans lost their insurance,” he added. “That’s really sad because it could be saved by being smart on how we manage money and look at budgets.”

Briggs and wife, Stephanie, have been married 34 years.

The colonel is on the Board of Directors at St. Mary’s Health System, which he labels “my primary hospital.” Through his familiarity with “merger talks” between St. Mary’s and Baptist Health System, “I’ve had a fair amount of experience on how the bond system works.” Briggs also is a board member with St. Mary’s parent company, Catholic Health Partners, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Now on reserve duty with the Army, Briggs is a combat veteran in Afghanistan (2004) and Iraq (2006) while receiving the Bronze Star for his service in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

In Iraq, “I was commander of the hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad [2005, 2006] … and commander of the major hospital in Afghanistan in 2004,” he said. “Way back in 1985, I was chief of surgery at the Army hospital in Seoul, [South] Korea.

“And spent about six months as the chief physician at the American embassy in Beijing (China).”

Other GOP 5-C candidates are Thomas S. Baer, Kyle Phillips and John Schoonmaker.

No Democrats are listed as seeking the 5-C post on the Knox County Web site, with Selena D. Capps and Tom Salter recently withdrawing. Don Sproles in an Independent seeking the post.

Witt, associated with the Register of Deeds office for 23 years, spoke first and needed less than five minutes. She combined a note of humor with an expression of relief.

“I do not want to follow a physician or an attorney speaking,” Witt said to laughter.

With filing deadline for candidates at noon Dec. 13, Witt said she received “some great news today; that I don’t have any Republican opposition.

“We’ve done a lot of exciting things in the register’s office. I love my job, and I appreciate your support. … I want to represent your all’s views, so that’s what I feel like I’m doing in the register’s office.”

With former GOP “Deeds” candidate Christopher C. Cowart withdrawing, Witt will square off against lone Democratic candidate Scott Emge in August.


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