Of this I am sure: no one who is currently running for office can out-work Perry Perkins. He started last December – “What election?” he would be asked and he responded with a grin and a handshake. As of yesterday this Energizer of a bunny has personally knocked on over 1,500 doors and shaken even more hands. Mind you, that is through yesterday afternoon. In his compelling quest to become a Hamilton County Commissioner, he leaves his house at 6 a.m., doesn’t get home until after 9 at night, and can rival Delta Air Lines for the stops he makes in one day.
“I want to win the District 7 race,” he told me Saturday morning, “but the only way I can handle losing is if I can ask myself, ‘Did you do your absolute best?’ Right now I can tell you I’m trying as hard as I know how and I’m having more fun doing it than I ever dreamed.”
Of all the candidates in the mid-term elections, not one has the sparkle, the drive, the commitment or the energy the 56-year old has put on display, whether waving at cars from a street corner to drivers in his district on their way home or visiting every ball field in East Brainerd. The guy could teach a college graduate course in how to meet people, but it is the day-to-day grind that will begin to pay on Wednesday. That’s when the early voting begins for the May 6 primary.
Asked the best thing he has learned about politics, Perry replied easily, “Listening to people, letting them know you are hearing what they are saying, and promising them you’ll do the right thing. It may not be exactly what some want, but their input is every bit as important to me as my closest supporter. I have no agenda, no allegiance or any other goal than to represent District 7 in a way that I believe will serve our area, and all of Hamilton County, in the best way humanly possible.”
What’s the worst thing about politics? “That’s easy -- talking about yourself!’’ he struggled to shake a wry smile of his face. “I’ve never bragged in my life and I’m still struggling with it. I was raised, and have been taught my entire life, that you do things that matter in the best way you know how but don’t crow about it.
“If an aging widow needs her porch fixed, or somebody who is sick needs their yard mowed, you do it and hope nobody finds out. I’ve been a ‘giver’ my entire life and suddenly having to tell people about it – so they’ll know the type of person I am – is something I really don’t like to do,” he admitted. “I am proud of my life but I’d rather talk about a way to help kids, how wonderful my wife is, or dream up a new project,” he laughed as I kidded him about his best friend and wife of 20 years, Monica.
Perry’s accomplishments, going back to coaching his sister’s softball team at age 15 “because there was no one else to do it,” are spectacular. In addition to owning a thriving painting company, he was a highly-commended reserve police officer for over 20 years, has been involved in an endless list of civic duties, is a popular clown as a Shriner, serves on the board of the famed Shriner Burn Hospital in Kentucky, and is widely known as a “never say no” community activist.
The popular Perkins all but ran the popular DARE program to help kids avoid drug abuse, has raised hundreds of thousands for various projects but is as humble and gracious as anybody you ever saw. “I get a thrill out of getting things done. I love to look for what needs help and try to fix it … I just don’t want to have to talk about it afterwards. I’m terrible at bragging,” again he laughed at himself.
Asked his greatest political strength, Perry’s mind raced all the way back to Tyner when he first served on the student council. “I love to sit down with people, have a spirited conversation, and make something great happen. I always have a plan I think is best, but when you listen to everybody and realize they are smart too or they wouldn’t be there, being able to adapt your solution with other ideas is how really great results happen.
“I’ve thought about what it would be like to serve on the County Commission, to sit in a room with like-minded people and do the right things that will make Hamilton County be better. That’s a huge thing. It is a great responsibility but it would be my biggest honor. I’m working hard to have that chance.”
Is he ever, his seven-day per week gauntlet only stopping for Sunday church. “When I got out of high school I couldn’t afford college so I went to work as hard as I knew how. I volunteered to help first offenders with counseling at the Juvenile Court and quickly realized that in order to be the best, I needed more education,” he told me. “Nine years after I got out of Tyner I earned my degree in criminal justice at UTC. It was hard. I paid every penny. And I wouldn’t take a million dollars for what I earned.”
Where does the energy come from? “I think we owe it to ourselves to do things the right way and I am driven by the feeling that comes when you see the look in a child’s eyes or sense you have somehow made a difference. I’ve been a clown in the Shrine for over 20 years and, when I get ‘my face’ on, people don’t recognize me. When I make them laugh or be happy, they don’t know it was me after I change back into street clothes. That’s a thrill in itself.
“I heard somebody say once that when you don’t care who gets the credit, big things begin to happen,” said Perry. “I believe I’m the best candidate in District 7 and have some ideas about bettering our schools, getting a modern streets plan in our district that the whole community will enjoy, and being an integral part of a newly-seated County Commission that serves the people,” he said. “I’m a giver. When I can do that, I can make a difference.”
Trust me on this - Perry Perkins is the brightest face in the 2014 election. Imagine what he can do on the Hamilton County Commission. Wow!