Image Credit: tngop.org
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
On September 7th, the Tennessee GOP’s State Executive Committee (SEC) made the unprecedented decision to invalidate Committeeman-elect Mark Pulliam’s write-in win for the District 2 SEC seat.
In a 25 to 13 vote in favor of the invalidation, the SEC focused on Pulliam not paying a $100 fee by the due date ignoring the fact that the GOP’s Political Director had previously told him it was not required for his write-in candidacy.
Pulliam states that the TRP (Tennessee Republican Party) “now appears to deny that the communication took place. On June 15, 2022 I notified the TRP’s Political Director, Tyler Burns, by telephone regarding my write-in candidacy. No objection was made, and no action was taken until after the election, when I received an email from TRP Chairman Scott Golden dated August 22, 2022 citing various ‘issues.’”
Following the decision by the SEC to nullify the election results, Pulliam reached out to the office of Tennessee Secretary of State, Tre Hargett along with Tennessee Elections Coordinator, Mark Goins for their “immediate consideration and action” on the issue that calls into question the integrity of elections in the Volunteer State.
However, Goins replied that he nor the Secretary of State will intervene, calling the matter an internal, intra-party dispute and cited several legal cases.
A portion of the reply email reads:
“Secretary of State Tre Hargett and I do not have authority to intervene and change the decision of the Tennessee Republican Party’s State Executive Committee. Tennessee statute ‘allows the political party, not the legislature or any other government body, to determine which candidate the party deems best suited to represent the party … for a specific public office.’ Kurita v. State Primary Bd. of Tenn. Democratic Party, 2008 WL 4601574, *5 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 14, 2008). The legislature intended ‘that intra-party squabbles … are to be considered a political matter which are to be resolved by the party itself without judicial intervention.’ Id. (quoting Taylor v. State Democratic Exec. Comm., 574 S.W.2d 716, 717-18 (Tenn. 1978)). By statute, Tennessee allows the executive committee of a party to determine who is qualified. Newsom v. Golden, — F. Supp. 3d —-, 2022 WL 1500860, *8 (M.D. Tenn. May 12, 2022).
Courts in Tennessee have stated that, when faced with a request by a party contestant to change the party’s decision after completion of its own deliberative process, vital rights of association guaranteed by the Constitution are involved:
Unsurprisingly, our cases vigorously affirm the special place the First Amendment reserves for, and the special protection it accords, the process by which a political party ‘select[s] a standard bearer who best represents the party’s ideologies and preferences.’ … The moment of choosing the party’s nominee, we have said, is ‘the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power in the community.’
Kurita, 2008 WL 4601574 at *8 (quoting California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 575, 120 S. Ct. 2402, 147 L.E.d2d 502 (2000)). Thus, absent a compelling interest, a State cannot justify an intrusion into the associational freedom of a political party by requiring the party to seat candidates whose election violated the rules of the party – even those candidates who were elected in accordance with the laws of the State. Kurita, 2008 WL 4601574 at *8 (citing Democratic Party of the United State v. Wisconsin ex rel. LaFollette, 450 U.S. 107, 113, 101 S.Ct. 1010, 67 L.Ed.2d 82 (1981); see Newsom, 2022 WL 1500860 at *8 (a State or court cannot constitutionally substitute its own judgment for that of the Party). If you wish to pursue this matter, you must file with a court for relief.”
The takeaway from this reply communication is that a lawsuit will be required to challenge the decision of the TRP.
A portion of Pulliam’s letter to Hargett and Goins reads:
“The bylaws of the TRP contain various provisions specifying the criteria for ascertaining “bona fide” status, which I contend I satisfy, but my present concern is that the SEC lacks authority to retroactively invalidate a candidate after the election has taken place, votes have been cast, and the results have been certified by the county election commissions and the Secretary of State. Yet this is precisely what the SEC has done—or purported to do–in my case.
If the TRP had an issue with my write-in candidacy… the appropriate course of action would have been to challenge my “bona fides” during the 50 day period between my filing of a Certificate of Write-In Candidacy on June 15, 2022 and the date of the election, August 4, 2022. Likewise, any person with standing to object to my candidacy could have done so during that period.
When the voters have spoken, and the results have been certified, the only basis for overturning an election would be a violation of Tennessee law. The TRP does not contend that I violated Tennessee law; rather, the TRP asserts, in effect, that the provisions dealing with write-in candidates do not apply to SEC elections, even though the TRP bylaws are silent on that subject.
In other words, because the TRP failed to anticipate the entirely legitimate (and foreseeable) scenario of an SEC candidate qualifying as a write-in, the SEC now seeks to punish me (and the voters who selected me) for this oversight instead of “fixing” the problem prospectively by amending the TRP bylaws. I am being made a scapegoat for the TRP’s own oversight and dereliction. This is an outrageous affront to the election process.
Elections are important. Indeed, they are fundamental to the operation of a democratic republic. Elections must be conducted fairly and consistent with Tennessee law. Unilaterally altering certified election results after the fact, invalidating election results on spurious grounds, and nullifying elections conducted in accordance with Tennessee law are extraordinary actions that are utterly inconsistent with election integrity and fair play.“
In his letter, Pulliam references TCA Code 2 2-5-204(b)(2)(A) which requires political parties to assert objections to candidates seeking the parties’ nomination before the election.
“The purpose of this requirement is to prevent the situation we face here: retroactive objections to candidate bona fides after the election has taken place, votes have been cast, and results certified. In a functioning democracy, elections are sacred and the results cannot be ignored, rewritten, or nullified at the whim or caprice of party officials,” Pulliam stated.
As a follow-up to his first communication with the Secretary of State, Pulliam wrote, “I contend that the process for challenging the results of an election, after the fact, is an ‘election contest’ pursuant to TCA Title 2, Chapter 17. The appropriate venue for such a contest is ‘the chancery court of the division in which the defendant resides’ TCA 2-17-101(a).”
“Standing to bring such an action is limited to “the incumbent office holder and any candidate for the office.” TCA 2-17-101(b). Here, there was no other candidate for District 2 Committeeman, Pulliam wrote, “Therefore, no one has standing to contest my election. Even if someone had standing, there are time deadlines and other procedural requirements that have not been met. E.g., TCA 2-17-104. Unilateral abrogation of certified election results, after the fact, is not authorized by Tennessee law.”
Pulliam revealed that he has received credible reports from SEC members who voted to uphold his election that Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell was lobbying SEC members behind the scenes to “punish” him for criticizing his actions as an elected official and endorsing his opponent in the primary election, James Hammontree.
Moreover, District 2 Committeewoman Cindy Gaba Hatcher spoke against his election during the SEC meeting and voted to nullify his election.
Pulliam said that this was “arguably out of spite because I endorsed Hatcher’s opponent for District 2, Julia Atchley-Pace. Who knows what other shenanigans occurred to orchestrate the nullification of my election. In the event of litigation, discovery will uncover all the relevant communications.”
The Tennessee Conservative also reached out to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Tennessee GOP Chairman Scott Golden and members of the SEC seeking comments for this article, but received no reply upon publication of this article.
Brandon Lewis, founder of The Tennessee Conservative, wrote, “Election Integrity is an issue we take very seriously at our publication…I, for one, sat in on the meeting where this was decided. It was, to say the least, embarrassing and shameful for the Republican party. I believe the Secretary of State should review the recording of this video to make certain everything is above board.”
“The meeting was rude, ugly, mob-like and certainly not a good representation of the GOP – or perhaps it is sadly representative and that’s the problem,” Lewis wrote, “It is my hope that we will not disenfranchise the voters in Blount & Polk counties.”
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