How does the local Republican Party in a county that voted for President Trump by a 71% to 27% margin fail to field a candidate for the Tennessee GOP State Executive Committee?
By Mark Pulliam [Misrule of Law] –
As I have recounted elsewhere, my wife and I relocated to East Tennessee from Texas in 2019 to escape the increasingly insane wokeness afflicting Austin, Texas, an island of Portland-style leftism in the middle of the Lone Star State. Austin had always been slightly funky–its slogan was “Keep Austin Weird”–but during our residence there it became a leftist dystopia, with a Democratic Socialist city council that defunded the police and unleashed the homeless. As conservatives, we felt that we were behind enemy lines in the People’s Republic of Austin. So we moved to the most conservative part of the country we could find, East Tennessee.
Upon our arrival in the Volunteer State, we promptly sought out conservative and Republican Party-affiliated organizations in which to become active, eager to forestall a “progressive” takeover in our new home. To our surprise, the conservative infrastructure was lacking.
East Tennessee, Republican since the Civil War, was insulated enough from forces at work elsewhere to be largely oblivious to the Left’s aggressive campaign for hegemony. There had been a Tea Party movement a decade ago, but it had dissolved–victorious–when Donald Trump was elected President in 2016. East Tennesseans were “tuned out” of politics. Even the local GOP was a Potemkin Village facade. There was a Republican Party website, and a Facebook page, but no activity: No regular meetings, no precinct program, no GOTV, no candidate recruitment, no email communications to local Republican voters. Nothing.
My wife and I had been active in GOP politics and grassroots activism in Texas. Aware of the danger of complacency and the swiftness with which “progressives” can gain control, we became alarmed when a radical leftist activist was elected to the local Board of Education as a write-in because the Republicans had not fielded a candidate.
The Democratic write-in candidate, whose day job was working as a diversity consultant, won by default! The explanation we heard for this shocking lapse was that school boards are non-partisan, and the local GOP “doesn’t get involved” in non-partisan races. By my way of thinking, there is no such thing as a “non-partisan” elective office. Someone’s agenda will prevail; if not yours then the other side’s.
When the chair of the local Democratic Party (a Trump-hating left-wing activist who founded the Indivisible East Tennessee chapter) announced that she was running for the city council, the county GOP responded with the same nonchalance: We don’t get involved in non-partisan elections. I asked how a race involving the current Democratic Party chair could be considered “non-partisan.” After considerable prodding–and in the process generating considerable acrimony on the part of the establishment’s “old guard”–the local GOP ultimately sent out a single non-endorsement letter of “support” on behalf of the Republican candidates, albeit a week after early voting had started, and to a mailing list that did not even include all Republican voters in the district. Predictably, the better-organized Democratic chair won a seat on the city council by a few hundred votes.
Twice the local GOP had lost elections to liberal Democrats–in a county that voted for President Trump by a 71% to 27% margin!–through inaction, lack of organization, and simple negligence. Needless to say, I was chagrined.
My wife and I became alarmed enough to start a Facebook page, entitled Blount County Conservative Sentinel (which now has over 1,250 followers). I also wrote essays about local politics for my blog, Misrule of Law, including a multi-part series entitled “Trouble in Paradise?” I wrote letters to the editor. I appeared on radio shows. I wrote about local politics for City Journal and The Federalist, which led to an appearance on Fox & Friends. I decided that in addition to speaking out, action was necessary. Accordingly, I volunteered to help fix things.
My wife and I joined the local Republican Women chapter, which is the only GOP group that met regularly. I met with the county GOP chair, offered suggestions, drafted a plan for organizational reforms, and provided examples of how Republican groups in Texas and California promoted grassroots involvement by conservative activists. I was led to believe that the county party’s “steering committee” was receptive to these suggestions, and indicated that I would be willing to serve as an officer in the local GOP as part of the biennial reorganization process to be held imminently.
Unfortunately, inertia is a powerful force, and the status quo was resistant to change. Even though the county GOP was effectively moribund, and had failed to defeat leftist candidates for local offices, insiders managed to organize for the purpose of preventing my wife and me from even qualifying to attend the reorganization meeting. We were black-balled at the precinct convention held to elect delegates, and in some cases the GOP’s hand-picked “credentials committee” turned away lifelong Republicans on spurious grounds.
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Instead of giving up, in 2021 my wife and I formed a group, Blount County Conservative Coalition, and began holding monthly meetings with outside speakers and reports on local politics. Our meetings spawned the formation of a K-12 education watchdog group, Smoky Mountain Parents Involved in Education (PIE), and prompted several citizen-activists to run for local office. The incumbent office-holders and downtown business establishment, used to running things their way without interference, were not pleased by our efforts. In the meantime, nothing changed at the county GOP. It was as if the local Republican Party was in the witness protection program. In hiding.
Nor had the local GOP’s effectiveness improved. It was still failing to field candidates for important elective positions. One such position is the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committeeman for District 2, which encompasses the county where I live. The SEC is the governing body for the state GOP. it consists of 66 members, two from each of the state’s 33 state Senate districts. Each district is represented by a man and a woman. SEC members are elected for four-year terms at the primary election for state offices, which will be held on August 4, 2022. After the deadline had closed for a candidate to qualify for the ballot, with no GOP candidate having filed for the male seat for District 2, I decided to run as a write-in candidate. Amazingly, the local county GOP failed to place a candidate on the ballot for the GOP SEC!
Because of the county GOP’s inexplicable lapse, the August 4 ballot will look like this:
I filed the necessary paperwork on June 15, 2022. Only write-in candidates who timely filed the necessary paperwork are eligible to have their names counted by the election officials. I was the only person who filed as a write-in candidate. Blount County Elections Administrator Susan Knopf personally accepted my form on June 15, 2022 and was quoted in the Daily Times as informing the Election Commission that “With no one else on the ballot for that seat, Knopf said, ‘He will win with one vote.’ Write-in votes don’t count if the person has not filed a certificate with the election commission by the deadline.”
Political insiders were stunned–and displeased–by the news of my candidacy. Some of the same cronies who opposed my election as an officer on the county GOP reportedly plotted to have me disqualified as a write-in candidate for the SEC, even though it was the local GOP’s dereliction that enabled me to run. I had done my homework and verified that I was eligible to run before filing my paperwork. The only eligibility criteria for serving on the SEC are spelled out in the State Republican Party’s Bylaws, as follows: “Each SEC member shall be a legally registered voter in the Senatorial District from which he is elected. Prior to his filing, he shall have voted in the last three Statewide Republican primaries in his county of residence during those primary elections.” Article III, Section 1(A) of the State Party Bylaws.
On June 15 I obtained a copy of my “Voter Detail” from the local Election Commission, confirming that I have voted in four elections in Blount County, including the last three GOP primaries. Moreover, my voting record from Travis County, Texas (where I lived for seven years before moving to Tennessee in 2019) shows that I voted in every (Republican) primary, general, and runoff election during the time that I lived there. In fact, I have voted in every election since I became eligible to do so in 1976.
In addition to the voting requirement (which is relevant because Tennessee is an “open primary” state with no registration of voters by political party), the “bona fide Republican” test requires a candidate seeking office as a Republican to have been “active” in the party. This standard has been used in the past to bar lifelong Republicans from participating because they have not attended GOP meetings (even though the local GOP holds no meetings) or contributed money to the GOP. I had made sure that I was in compliance with this standard as well.
I have donated money to the RNC, the Tennessee Republican Party, the College Republicans, and many Republican candidates (including GOP Congressman Tim Burchett). I was (and am) an Associate Member of the Blount County Republican Women. I frequently attended BCRW meetings and even spoke at one of them. I volunteered at the Republican Party headquarters during the 2020 campaign, and served as a poll watcher for the counting of mail-in ballots for that election. In fact, I have in my files a “Certificate of Appreciation” from the Blount County Republican Party dated November 16, 2020, signed by the chair of the local GOP, “in recognition of [my] support for the Blount County Republican Party in the 2020 election.” Obviously, seeking my disqualification would be a spurious and bad faith action.
The local paper, the Daily Times, ran a candidate profile on July 14, containing the following information:
Occupation: Retired lawyer; now a freelance writer
Biographical Info: I grew up in Maryland, went to law school in Texas (at the “other UT”), practiced law for 30 years with a large California-based law firm, and when I retired moved back to Austin. My wife and I decided that we wanted to experience four seasons and enjoy more scenery than Texas offered. We love Tennessee and were delighted to move here in 2019. We live in Maryville. East Tennessee reminds us of the America we grew up in. We have four children (two in Texas and two in California) — one of whom recently decided to relocate here.
Why are you running for this position?: I have been a committed Republican my entire adult life. The first Presidential election in which I was able to vote was 1976. Everywhere I have lived, I was involved in GOP politics, as a poll watcher, volunteer, precinct captain, county party officer and delegate to state conventions. I have also been involved in conservative grassroots organizations. In 1999, the Lincoln Club of San Diego named me Man of the Year. In 2015, Empower Texans recognized me as a Texas Conservative Leader. I would like to see the Tennessee Republican Party become stronger, better-organized, and more attentive to grassroots conservatives.
What relevant experience do you have?: I held leadership positions in the Republican parties in San Diego County (CA) and Travis County (TX). I have also held leadership positions in nonpartisan conservative organizations. I have written extensively on political and legal topics for publications including the Wall Street Journal and The Federalist. My blog, Misrule of Law, has a national following. I frequently appear on the Tennessee Star Report radio show. I have spoken to grassroots groups in East Tennessee. I have appeared on Fox & Friends. I have met with Gov. Bill Lee. I organized a local conservative group, Blount County Conservative Coalition, which meets monthly.
Why should voters elect you?: I am a lifelong, devoted Reagan Republican — what we used to call a “movement conservative.” My beliefs have not wavered. As a retired person, I have time to devote to keeping Tennessee conservative. I want to make the Republican Party in Tennessee an effective voice for the overwhelming majority of conservative residents. I can use my experience from other states to help the State Executive Committee meet the challenges of population growth, demographic change, and shifting cultural attitudes. What happens in D.C. is largely out of our control, but that is not true at the state or local levels.
What makes you different from the other candidates for office?: I am a write-in candidate with no “declared” GOP opponent; there is no “other candidate.” Simply the fact that the Republican Party in one of the most conservative areas of Tennessee failed to field a candidate illustrates that the GOP needs to improve its performance.
Bottom line: If you are a Republican voter in Blount, Polk, or Monroe County, please write-in my name, Mark Pulliam, for Republican Party State Executive Committeeman for District 2 on August 4. My candidacy has been endorsed by the Tennessee Conservative News (here). Thank you!
I am supporting Julia Atchley-Pace as the female SEC member for District 2. District 2 needs fresh blood. The dysfunctional status quo is not acceptable. Make sure that you vote!
About the Author: Mark Pulliam writes from East Tennessee. A Big Law veteran, he retired as a partner in a large law firm after practicing for 30 years. A contributing editor to Law & Liberty since 2015, Mark also blogs at Misrule of Law. He considers himself a fully-recovered lawyer.