The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –
The Tennessee House Local Government Committee has now killed multiple bills this legislative session that would have ensured party election integrity for their constituents and the state of Tennessee as a whole.
Committee Vice-Chair Dave Wright, and Representatives Rebecca Alexander, Dale Carr, Michael Hale, Esther Helton-Haynes, and John B. Holsclaw all participated in voice votes against House Bill 0405 (HB0405) by Rep. Bryan Richey (R-Maryville-District 20) and House Bill 1045 (HB1045) by Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown-District 38).
Rep. William Slater was present but did not vote on HB0405. However, he reportedly voted in favor of HB1045. Similarly, Committee Chair John Crawford was recorded as voting in favor of HB1045, but not HB0405.
As Republican lawmakers in Tennessee continue to vote against conservative legislation time and time again, the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) becomes more relevant than ever, leaving their conservative base to wonder what exactly their representatives are doing that warrants reelection.
Frankly, it is alarming when legislators start voting against the will of the people who elected them in the first place.
So began The Tennessee Conservative’s mission to find out what exactly Republican constituents had to say about closing the state’s primaries.
Despite a lack of response from Carter County GOP Chair Josh Hardin as well as Sullivan County GOP Chair Bill Kilgore’s refusal to comment, responses from folks in Trousdale, Hamilton, Sumner, Sevier, Knox, and Unicoi Counties were overwhelmingly in favor of closing Republican primaries.
“The TCRP is not in favor of allowing Democrats to vote in Republican primaries. It could influence our political races. It could allow a weaker candidate to become a front runner and ultimately the nominee. Which in turn, could result in a Democratic victory. It weakens our political process.” Said Rachel Jones, Trousdale County GOP Chair.
After noting her sincere respect for Rep. Slater and not wishing to guess his intentions, Jones did go on to say, “I feel if you are in an elected position and there is a vote before you that is not a conflict of interest, it is your duty to vote your conscience and to represent the best interests of your constituents.”
This sentiment was shared by Unicoi County GOP Chair, Renea Jones Rogers who wanted to give Rep. Holsclaw the benefit of the doubt stating, “I understand the committee took a voice vote, and it’s always difficult to hear and see on the video. If he did vote to allow Democrats to vote in Republican primaries, that would be disappointing.”
As the political divide grows larger and larger across the country, it is vital that conservatives ensure party election integrity. Politics may be known for being a dirty business, but when Republicans straddle the party line in a way that hurts their party and their constituents, it may be time to reevaluate.
The following comments were also made by Tennessee’s GOP Chairs:
“All I can do is speak for myself and Sumner GOP. Our members agreed with our State Executive Committee Members when they again voted to ask legislators to close primaries. The Sumner County Republican Party is against allowing Democrats to vote in our Primaries. As Chairman I believe primaries should be decided by their own party and not by any outside influence. That is the process’s intention.” – Craig Lee Garton (Sumner County GOP Chair)
“The HCGOP is subject to the policies of the TRP, which voted to close primaries.” – Mark Harrison (Hamilton County GOP Chair)
“As a general rule, allowing registered democrats to help determine a republican nominee could cause issues like we have seen in other parts of the country and therefore not be in the best interest of the party. We would encourage our state and national representatives from both the republican party and government sector to continue to monitor and adapt primary participation policies as necessary to ensure party integrity and candidate quality.” – Bryan McCarter (Sevier County GOP Chair)
“While I am no longer the Knox County Republican Party Chairman, I was in favor of closing our primaries and only letting Republicans vote for our nominees.” – Daniel Herrera (Former Knox County GOP Chair)
“We support closed primaries.” – Renea Jones Rogers (Unicoi County GOP Chair)
As it stands right now Tennessee voters remain unaffiliated, allowing Democrats to vote in Republican primaries and vice versa, in direct opposition to what many conservatives are calling for.
Primary elections exist for the sole purpose of Republican and Democrat voters deciding who will represent their respective parties in the General Election.
While intentionally voting in an opposing party’s primary is a misdemeanor and against Tennessee law, it remains largely unenforced due to the lack of party affiliation requirements in the state.
States across the country including Florida, South Dakota, Kentucky, and many others have operated efficiently under affiliation requirements for years now.
“If we’re gonna respect the laws we pass, we need to uphold them and this does that,” said Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) of Rep. Keisling’s HB1045 before it was killed in committee on March 7th.
About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.