Paul Crilly: Before the Republicans got so bad

Back when my parents were young and broke and saving every penny they could muster to buy their own house, we lived with my grandparents, which means I spent my formative years in a Republican family faithful. My grandparents took me and my brother and as many other kids as they could in their Nash Rambler to church and Sunday school every week and were the nicest people I know. Everyone said Grandpa looked like Ike. I was proud of that.

When I asked him what the difference was between a Republican and a Democrat, he told me that Democrats believe in easy money and Republicans believe in hard work. It seemed fair to me because he worked pretty much all the time, although he also said that if you loved what you did, you would never work a day in your life. He had a crazy three-octave laugh, a big, singing baritone voice, and was the youngest son of a Union infantryman, which literally made him a Republican cradle. The church we attended – First Methodist – was founded just after the Civil War by Union veterans including Parson Brownlow.

People on Grandpa’s Mail Route called him the Singing Postman and crowded around his truck at lunchtime to listen to him sing and play his autoharp. He brought home stray kittens and puppies and took part-time jobs leading local church choirs. Although Grandma said he was tight like Dick’s headband and stingy like Jack Benny, he liked to dress up as Santa Claus and distribute presents and food and sing Christmas carols on missions in the American Sunday School Union in coal country every December. He and my grandmother saved all year for the coal camp Christmas parties. He was the skinniest Santa you’ve ever seen, but the kids never seemed to notice.

He paid no heed to the talk he caused downtown when he began including the church keeper’s grandchildren in the crew he ferried to Sunday school , but I got mad enough to fight off one of the boys who was talking badly about him. When I asked my grandma why taking the kids to church drove them crazy, she lowered her voice and said ‘they’ didn’t like us bringing people of color to Sunday school. . I said what about “Red and Yellow, Black and White, they’re precious to her” and she said those boys were probably just bad Democrats.

I realize this goes a long way to make it clear that Republicans weren’t the kind of people who made jokes and spread rumors about an 82-year-old man getting his head kicked by a lunatic with a hammer.

Nor were they the kind of people who would storm the Capitol looking to kill the Vice President and Speaker of the House just because they were sore losers. And they weren’t the kind of people to spread stupid stories about school kids using litter boxes or threaten the lives of doctors who wanted us to get vaccinated.

The Republicans I knew growing up were rational people who could defend their political positions without accusing their opponents of wanting to cut little boys’ pee.

All of this thinking led me to remember a Republican I knew who served on the Knox County Elections Commission until he voted the wrong way for a commission trustee and got fired for not toeing the party line. I disagreed with him on a lot of things because he was extremely conservative and hung out with people like Bill Dunn. He began with a deep suspicion of the electoral process, but changed his mind when he was able to familiarize himself with the way votes were counted. I hadn’t heard from him for many years and wondered what had happened to him.

So I went to get Paul Crilly.

Turns out it’s not hard to find. The former assistant professor of electrical engineering at UT is now a professor of electrical engineering at the US Coast Guard Academy where he is head of the Cyber ​​Systems section. He no longer plays politics, but he pays attention to what is happening. He confirmed to my recollection that he had little faith in the way votes were counted by the Democratic majority when he was first appointed to the Election Commission.

He said he checked his Grand Old Party hat on the doorstep of the electoral commission after his appointment and considered the situation carefully before deciding there had been no hanky-panky. A few errors and mechanical breakdowns? Yes. But no foul play.

“There was no funny business with the counting. Whoever won could know that he won fairly,” he said. “Coming in I was quite skeptical – probably a bit grumpy – about early voting. But I discovered that part of that was ignorance on my part. Nobody could really hack the machines. In the end, I had complete confidence in the voting process. I haven’t seen any slip-ups, although they do happen sometimes – my wife received an absentee ballot in the mail but didn’t ask for one. These are the kinds of things that still bother me. »

Crilly served from 2001 to 2011 when he was not reappointed because he voted to keep incumbent administrator Greg Mackay – a Democrat – in the job for another term after the new Republican majority took over ( it was technically illegal to fire election commission staff for partisan reasons, but no one paid much attention to it).

“When they asked me who I was going to support, I said ‘I’m going to vote for the best person.’ And that person was Greg. I just had more faith in him,” Crilly said.

“So the next time they made appointments, they kicked me off the commission. They were determined to put a Republican there.

Crilly holds no regrets or grudges and is still a Republican despite no longer being involved in politics. He backed John Kasich for president in 2016 and wishes Trump had been “more presidential”. He’s “not impressed” with “all that conspiracy stuff.”

Crilly’s only run for office ended in defeat when rising GOP star Jamie Woodson defeated him in the Republican primary for a state House seat in 1998. A few years later, she appointed him to the vacant Electoral Commission post, and he says he enjoyed his job there, but is content to no longer be in the fray.

“There’s room for good, honest debate,” he said. “And I would still vote for a Republican for Governor or Legislature, but I won’t vote for a corrupt Republican.

“I vote every November, but that’s the extent of my political involvement. When I retire, I may work as a poll worker or on a library board. I really like libraries. But I have no desire to stand for election. People had a chance to vote for me and they chose someone else and that’s fine with me.

Grandfather would have loved Paul Crilly.

betty bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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