elections

Bill to close Tennessee primaries advancing in House

Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), left, is the sponsor of a bill seeking to close primary elections in Tennessee.

A bill seeking to require party registration in order to vote in Tennessee primaries is advancing the House. The bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) advanced on a voice vote in the Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday morning.

When Democrats sought to close primaries after soaring to new heights in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal of the mid-1970s, Republicans cried foul and the measure was defeated. This time, the roles are reversed, though the fate of this year’s measure remains uncertain.

Then-Gov. Ray Blanton and the Democratic State Executive Committee sought to cement their gains by imposing party registration rules for voting in primaries in the 1970s. Closing primaries, the argument went, would give the liberal wing of the party more sway by excluding Republicans and independents from influencing the nomination process.

Those efforts were thwarted by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from rural West Tennessee led by House Speaker Ned McWherter of Dresden and Senate Speaker John Wilder of Mason.

House Minority Leader Tom Jensen (R-Knoxville), who died last year year, said at the time Tennesseans had “made it clear they don’t want to be shackled with party registration laws.”

But times have changed. The Republican State Executive Committee in December recommended lawmakers enact party registration requirements in Tennessee.

Former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam called closing primaries “a silly proposal, ” arguing that if the change had been made earlier, it would have been much harder for Republicans to get to the position of power they’re in today. Gov. Bill Lee, who won the Republican nomination amid record turnout in last year’s  gubernatorial primary, was similarly dubious about the proposal, telling reporters that “the current system we have is working.”

Republicans today hold an even stronger position in state politics than Democrats did after Watergate. The GOP controls 73 of 99 seats in the state House and 28 of 33 in the state Senate, seven of nine seats in the U.S. House, and both U.S. Senate seats.

Under current state law, anyone can vote in a party primary if they are “a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party.” The law also permits primary voting if “the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party.” The law has been interpreted to mean that seeking a party ballot is a declaration of allegiance.

In practice, many Tennesseans choose to vote in whichever primary is more compelling, meaning their allegiance and affiliation may last for as little as a single election.

Supporters of closed primaries argue that under the current system, crossover voters could help a weaker candidate win the nomination, who would then have a harder time prevailing in the general election. Another refrain is that open primaries give moderate candidates a better chance of winning primaries.

Nine states have closed primary systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another seven have what the organization calls “partially closed” systems in which parties can choose whether to allow independent or voters registered with other parties to participate in primaries on a case-by-case basis.

NCSL counts Tennessee among six states with “partially open” primaries, where affiliation can be changed from election to election. Another 24 states are either fully open or allow independent voters to participate in the primary of their preference.

 

Legislature reappoints 7 members of State Election Commission

State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) waits for Gov. Bill Haslam to deliver his final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A joint convention of the Tennessee General Assembly has reappointed the seven members of the state Election Commission.

The Republican appointees are Donna Barrett of Murfreesboro, Judy Blackburn of Morristown, Jimmy Wallace of Jackson, and Kent Younce of LaFollette. The Democrats are Greg Duckett of Memphis, Mike McDonald of Portland, and Tom Wheeler of Clinton. Barrett, McDonald and Wheeler are former state House members.

Here’s the full release from the Secretary of State’s office:

The State Election Commission is composed of seven members: four from the political party holding a majority of seats in the Tennessee General Assembly and three from the minority party. These individuals are elected for a term of four years. This is the only commission in Tennessee state government which is elected wholly by the Tennessee General Assembly.

The seven members elected by the Tennessee General Assembly on February 14, 2019 to serve a four-year term include Donna Barrett, Murfreesboro; Judy Blackburn, Morristown; Greg Duckett, Memphis; Mike McDonald, Portland; Jimmy Wallace, Jackson; Tom Wheeler, Clinton; and Kent Younce, LaFollette.

To be eligible to serve on the State Election Commission one must be at least 25 years old, a resident of Tennessee for at least seven years, and a resident of the grand division of the state from which one seeks election for at least four years preceding the election. No more than any two members may be from the same grand division of the state.

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Tennessee GOP wants to require party registration to vote in primaries

Republican members vote during a House GOP caucus meeting in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Republican Party’s state executive committee met over the weekend to re-elect Scott Golden as chairman and to make several policy recommendations to the GOP-controlled General Assembly. They include a call to require party registration in order to vote in primaries. The proposal comes on the heels of 792,888 people voting the Republican gubernatorial primary in August.

Democrats oppose the move.

“No Tennessean should be required to join a political party in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote, including independent voters,” Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said in a statement. “And as the share of independent voters continues to increase in Tennessee, this move would suppress them from making their voices heard in the primary process.”

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Races to watch on Tuesday

The Tennessean’s crack political crew has come up with 11 races to watch on Tuesday. Two are obvious (the Senate and governor’s races), but there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening down ticket a well.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

  • 7th Congressional District. Republican Mark Green vs. Democrat Justin Kanew are running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Marsha Blackburn. It seems unlikely that a Democrat would manage to pry this one loose, but it will be a good one to watch anyway as Green tries to work his way back up the political ladder after having to withdraw as President Donald Trump’s nominee as Army secretary. Green hasn’t been shy about talking up his prospects as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2020 — even if incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) runs again.
  • State Senate District 31. Incumbent Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) vs. Democrat Gabby Salinas. This is the race that has made Senate Republicans the most nervous this election. They’ve dumped in $300,000 to try to ensure the seat stays in Republican hands.
  • House District 13. Incumbent Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) vs. former Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). Yes, again. Smith beat Johnson by about 300 voters two years ago, and it could be just as close this year.

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Groups work to unseat Republican state Rep. Byrd following sexual misconduct allegations

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) takes a photo during at event in Lawrenceburg on June 4, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

From a press release:

Nashville, Tenn — Indivisible, Women’s March-Power Together TN, and other partner organizations in collaboration with the  #EnoughisEnough Tennessee PAC will attempt to unseat Representative David Byrd (R) in the 2018 election cycle as he stands accused of sexual misconduct by three former high school basketball players whom he coached at Wayne County High School. 

Indivisible, along with Rep. Sherry Jones and one of David Byrd’s accusers will hold a press conference beginning at 1:00 PM Thursday, and a canvass into Rep. Byrd’s district on October 13th to increase local awareness about the campaign. Participating organizations seek to draw a line from the allegations of misconduct at the highest offices with Brett Kavanaugh to the re-election of David Byrd.

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Democrats ‘ready to hit ground running’

A release from state Democrats:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After the polls closed on primary election night in Tennessee, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement:

Tennessee voters came out in full force tonight to exercise their right to vote and make their voices heard around the state,” Mancini said. “All across the Volunteer state, our message is resonating: That no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you live, you deserve the opportunity to create a better life for yourself and your family. We are so grateful to each and every Democratic candidate who stepped up to run for office and had their name on the ballot yesterday. And we’re excited to have our fantastic slate of strong candidates solidified — from Phil Bredesen for U.S. Senate, to Karl Dean for governor, to the largest group of Democratic legislative candidates we’ve seen in decades. We’re headed into the general election with a renewed commitment to get every possible Democratic voter to the polls on November 6. These midterm elections are bound to be one of the most important of our time, and we’re looking forward to rebuilding Tennessee together when we elect more Democrats this fall.

Secretary of State guide to Thursday’s elections

A release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennesseans will head to the polls across the state Thursday to vote in the Aug. 2 primary.

626,894 Tennesseans voted in person or absentee during the two-week early voting period which ended Saturday, July 28, 2018. A comprehensive breakdown from the Division of Elections shows how this turnout compares to past election years.

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2nd District candidate calls out ‘bunch of yahoos’

Republican congressional candidate Ashley Nickloes may not be the best known Republican vying for retiring Rep. Jimmy Duncan’s seat, but she’s got one of the more polished ads running in that campaign that also includes Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock, and businessman Jason Emert.

Transcript: “A lot of career politicians are a bunch of yahoos. Me, I fly missions across the globe as a combat aviator. I do my job so our nation’s heroes can make it home safely. My next mission: Serving you and your family in Congress. Career politicians have failed us time and time again without consequences. I’ll work with President Trump and put America first just like I always have. I’m Ashley Nickloes and I approve this message. It’s time for American grit, not Washington wimps.”

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NRA endorses David Kustoff in 8th District

The National Rifle Association is endorsing Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff in the 8th Congressional District.

The freshman congressman faces a Republican primary challenge from George Flinn, a deep-pocketed perennial candidate. The endorsement was announced by the NRA’s chief lobbyist Chris Cox, a Jackson native.

“We greatly appreciate your consistent opposition to attempts to ban lawfully-owned firearms, magazines and ammunition, and for standing strong against the gun control agenda,” Cox said.

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Democrat Tate gets endorsement from GOP’s Matheny

As state Sen. Reginald Tate fights to hold on to his Memphis seat in a tight Democratic primary, an endorsement from the likes of state Rep. Judd Matheny, a Republican congressional candidate, might not exactly be high on his wish list.But that’s what Tate got from the Tullahoma Republican, who called him “a fine man that understands the plight of African Americans.” Mantheny, who once questioned whether a mop sink in a Capitol restroom was a Muslim foot bath, also mentions that he and Tate toured Europe to “study Islam.”

Tate has been trying to fend off criticism in his heavily-Democratic district that he has been took keen to work with Republicans in the legislature. He faces Katrina Robinson, a business owner and nurse in the Aug. 2 primary.