Image Credit: Tennessee Republican Party / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn]
Last night (September 7th, 2022), the Tennessee GOP’s State Executive Committee (SEC) met to discuss Committeeman-elect Mark Pulliam’s write-in win for the District 2 SEC seat, ultimately voting to invalidate his election in a meeting that The Tennessee Conservative’s Brandon Lewis calls an, “embarrassing, childish display.”
Lewis said, “As I watched the proceedings, I was amazed at the rudeness and hatefulness of certain SEC members and the TNGOP Chairman toward Mr. Pulliam. I wish the majority of SEC members would be as zealous in defending the Republican Party platform when it is abused by RINOs as they are enforcing small technicalities that disenfranchise the voters. I cannot imagine any competent grassroots activist wanting to be a part of this group given the childish spectacle that was on display. If this is the condition of our party’s leadership, it is little wonder we can’t tackle issues like illegal immigration, school choice and corporate welfare in our state.”
Mark Pulliam issued the following statement in response to the SEC’s decision:
“As a lifelong Republican, with decades of grassroots experience, I was very disappointed that the current State Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party saw fit to overturn the results of the August 4 election and deny me a seat on the SEC as the Committeeman for District 2. I strongly disagree with the grounds asserted for this decision. By refusing to recognize the election results, the SEC disenfranchised more than 300 District 2 voters who cast write-in votes for me in accordance with Tennessee law. While I acknowledge that the Tennessee Republican Party has the legal authority to regulate GOP primary elections, nullifying an election after the fact—when the results have already been certified by the Tennessee Secretary of State–is a drastic measure that should be taken only under extraordinary circumstances. My write-in election–for an unpaid, volunteer position that no one else wanted—is not such a circumstance, and the grounds for doing so were dubious at best. The unprecedented ruling of the SEC creates poor optics for the Republican brand. How can the party that stands for “election integrity” be willing to negate the results of a lawful election, after the fact? The disheartening message to grassroots activists in the Volunteer State is “You are not welcome here.” The TRP exists for the benefit of Republican voters and activists, not vice versa.
I understand now that a successful write-in election to the TN GOP SEC is a historical anomaly that was not contemplated by the TRP bylaws. I did not realize this when I undertook my write-in campaign, and only learned of the TRP’s objections after the election was over. The solution, going forward, is to clarify the TRP bylaws, not to negate an election that met the requirements of Tennessee law.
In the course of last night’s discussion, many SEC members who voted against my election explained that they felt compelled to do so in order to maintain consistency with the pre-election disqualification of other candidates on similar grounds. This is a valid consideration, although I question whether those candidates presented a factual profile comparable to mine. Some members also expressed the hope that the TRP will appoint me to the “vacant” position in District 2 when the newly-elected SEC is sworn in. I decided to run as a write-in candidate to give District 2 voters a voice on the SEC. Appointing me to fill the “vacant” position in District 2 would demonstrate the sincerity of the objections expressed last night. I would be willing to consider an appointment if it were offered to me. The District 2 Republicans who voted for me deserve no less.“
The decision to invalidate Pulliam’s election was 25 to 13 in favor.
“Apparently, Scott Golden’s primary concern was Pulliam not paying the $100 fee that TRP’s Political Director had told him he was not required to pay since he was a write-in candidate. A casual observer would have to wonder why Pulliam would even wish to be a part of a group that viciously attacked him based on such an insignificant thing,” Lewis said.
During the August 4th election, District 2 SEC write-in candidate Mark Pulliam won the seat with 300 votes in Blount County, and 2 votes in Polk County. However, since there wasn’t an opposing candidate for the position on the roster, Pulliam could have won with a single vote.
In response, Tennessee GOP State Party Chairman Scott Golden threatened to declare Pulliam as “non-bona fide” and “vacate” his election even though Pulliam met all the criteria set forth in the GOP bylaws to be an elected member of the SEC.
Pulliam told the Tennessee Conservative, “I assumed there would be some resistance to my write-in election in Blount County, but did not expect to face pushback at the TRP. I met a recently-elected SEC member at the Tennessee Freedom Summit who told me she had been invited to (and attended) a SEC meeting a few days after the 8/4 election, which featured a discussion about the potential impropriety of a write-in candidate, something the bylaws did not contemplate. Obviously the discussion was about me.”
In not receiving communications from the SEC following his win, Pulliam contacted the TN GOP Chairman Scott Golden inquiring about the dates for future meetings and if the SEC took issue with his write-in win.
Pulliam wrote, “If you contend that write-in candidates are barred from serving on the SEC by the TRP bylaws, please indicate specific language. All I see is a requirement that the candidate be a “bona fide Republican” residing in the district who is elected ‘by the voters of each respective District qualified to vote in such Republican primary.’ I meet these requirements.”
Indeed, the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws (last updated December 16th, 2020) do not mention anything about write-in candidates.
Golden replied to Pulliam stating that his write-in candidacy “does present some issues concerning our Bona Fide requirements.”
Golden laid out three provisions to be considered “Bona Fide” by the Tennessee GOP.
1. Actively involved
2. Voting in the last 3 Republican Primaries
3. Candidate Registration Fee
Golden wrote to Pulliam, “Obviously, because you choose not to go through the regular process for petitions, I am unaware of whether you qualify on number 1 or 2. However, I do know that you did not file a registration fee with the TNGOP either prior to the April filing deadline or even the June deadline for notification of write-in candidacy.”
“After discussions with our legal counsel, though I may the power to declare you are non-bona fide and vacate your election, we feel that this decision should best be left in the hands of the State Executive Committee and the State Primary Board because of the long term implications, impacts, and precedents of all write-in candidacies,” Golden closed.
In a reply email, Pulliam explained to Golden that he was informed by TRP’s Political Director, Tyler Burns, at the time that he filed his Certificate of Write-In Candidacy, that no fee was required in his case. Pulliam assumed that guidance was given because his name did not appear on the Republican primary ballot.
Pulliam stated that after Golden raised the $100 fee as a basis for overturning the results of the election on August 23rd, he (Pulliam) went ahead and paid the fee.
Pulliam wrote to Golden, “I defy you to take the position that I do not qualify as a ‘bona fide Republican’ under the current definition in the TRP Bylaws (or any rational definition). I am a lifelong Republican who has voted in every election since 1976. Accordingly, I am not clear what ‘long term implications, impacts, and precedents’ need to be reviewed by the SEC and the State Primary Board, as you suggested in your email.”
In closing, Pulliam wrote, “I’m looking forward to a more detailed explanation for the basis of your challenge to my election. Due process requires that I be given written notice of the specific issue(s), and an opportunity to respond. I find it ironic that the GOP, after all the controversy involving the 2020 election and questions about the integrity of the election, would be seeking to overturn the result of an election, after the fact, without citing any violation of applicable law.”
The Tennessee Conservative has also reached out to Golden and the GOP’s communication officer to inquire about what issues are involved with Pulliam’s installment as they relate to bylaws, etc. but we never heard back from them.
However, following our communication to the GOP, an email was sent out to SEC members by the TNGOP calling for a “State Primary Board” meeting regarding Pulliam and his write-in candidacy for the SEC Committeeman District 2 scheduled for last night, September 7th.
The email gave background information for the SEC members as follows:
– The SD 2 Committeeman’s position was left vacant following the April 8th state filing deadline
– Mr. Pulliam filed notice that he was going to seek the position as a write-in candidate in June
– Mr. Pulliam’s write-in votes were counted and certified
Why State Primary Board?
– TCA 2-13-104 states:
All candidates for state executive committee members and for membership in the general assembly shall be bona fide members of the political party whose election they seek.
– TNGOP Bylaws require 3 criteria to become a Bona Fide Republican candidate for office:
1. Active – Time or Money
2. Voting (3 of 3 in GOP Primaries for SEC Members)
3. Registration Fee (Capitol Club Dues)
– Mr. Pulliam did not pay his registration fee prior to the April 8th deadline for consideration
– The TNGOP did remove candidates in 2022 because they refused to submit the registration fee through the Bona Fide qualification process
– The TNGOP reserves the right to determine who is a Bona Fide Republican
This issue has surfaced as well and is still trying to get a legal opinion from the Division of Elections as to whether Mr. Pulliam should have been allowed to be a write-in candidate.
– TCA 2-8-113C states:
(c) Any person trying to receive a party nomination by write-in ballots shall complete a notice requesting such person’s ballots be counted in each county of the district no later than twelve o’clock (12:00) noon, prevailing time, fifty (50) days before the primary election.
– Mr. Pulliam did not file in one of the four counties in his district (Bradley)
Ultimately, the decision resides solely with the SEC/State Primary Board.
Read the full background in our previous story HERE.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com