Public Affairs Specialist Clint Brewer: Tennessee Secretary of State Is Limiting Communication on Still-Unclear Issue of Who Controls Final Deadline for U.S. House Primary

Apr 15, 2022

Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed all-star panelist Clint Brewer in-studio to further comment upon who in the state decides for the filing deadline to be on the GOP primary ballot.

Leahy: And we’re continuing our discussion with Clint Brewer about the communication gaffe of Secretary of State Tre Hargett immediately after the enactment of the three-year residency requirement to get on the primary ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives.

They issued a very conflicting and confusing statement that the Associated Press immediately ran with and claimed that it meant that Morgan Ortagus is going to be back on the ballot. Associated Press got it wrong, and they got it wrong in part because of the screw-up by the Secretary of State’s office.

And we pressed them on that, and they kind of backed away from the April 7th deadline claim and reverted to the statutory requirement that April 21st is a qualifying deadline, which means the law went into effect before the qualifying deadline, Clint Brewer.

Brewer: I’m not sure your quarrel is as much with the Secretary of State’s offices as the AP. I mean, it is a nuanced situation.

Leahy: Now, that is exactly the case.

Brewer: Could the initial communication be a little more specific about April 7th versus the 21st? Sure. But I think what you’re seeing is the Secretary of State’s office operating with an abundance of caution since this is a brand-new law. There’s a residency requirement.

As we said in the previous segment, the law does not spell out whose job it is to determine the residency requirement or what the mechanism is to determine the residency requirement.

For example, if you enroll your kid in almost any school system in Tennessee, you can take them, you know, a utility bill. And so how do you establish what documents are acceptable? There’s a lot of questions that the law doesn’t answer.

And so if I am in the Secretary of State’s position, I’m thinking about the fact that there’s a deadline on the 7th that they control and there’s a deadline on the 21st that they don’t control. And so I feel like what they’re doing is from a legal standpoint, trying to limit their communication on the topic.

Leahy: Yes, I think exactly.

Brewer: You’re saying it’s a gaffe. I think it could have been clearer. But I do think there’s some intentionality to the Secretary of State’s office communication in this regard because the law is not entirely clear about who controls the final deadline.

It’s definitely the executive committee. I think this is a one-time event in that the laws passed, it’s put into effect after the filing deadline that leaves some gray areas. I’m not sure it’s a gaffe.

Leahy: I don’t think there’s any gray area.

Brewer: I don’t think it’s as much of a gaffe as it is sort of being intentionally cautious …

Leahy: Vague.

Brewer: … about what they’re saying. Maybe their attorneys have advised them to be that way.

Leahy: This is why you’re a good communications guy. If I were the Secretary of State, I would hire you immediately. (Brewer chuckles) Because you made the best out of a bad situation for that.

Brewer: I’m just trying to think through their burden in this situation.

Leahy: There are two elements to this. The first, where they made a big gaffe, was by reversing themselves on the issue of when the qualifying deadline was.

Brewer: Or did you just ask a better set of questions than the Associated Press?

Leahy: The Associated Press asked no questions.

Brewer: Well, that’s my point.

Leahy: In fact, it’s almost as if it was a coordinated effort between, oh, I don’t know, the governor, the Secretary of State, and the Associated Press to have a misleading headline. It’s almost as if.

Brewer: I can pretty much assure you that they do not all get together and agree to that.

Leahy: I didn’t say they got together. But a common goal was accomplished by like-minded individuals.

Brewer: What you’re seeing is, again, I think that given the situation, because some of these candidates whose residency is in question … I live in Wilson County.

Leahy: Morgan Ortagus’s residency timeline is not in question. She would be off the ballot.

Brewer: I mean the question in terms of the executive committee process.

Leahy: Well, that’s a separate issue. The executive committee is not about residency. It’s about meeting the standards of having voted three out of the four most recent primaries.

Brewer: Who has to figure out residency?

Leahy: The issue of residency is not before the Tennessee executive committee.

Brewer: That’s my point.

Leahy: The issue of residency is a separate lane. I think you’re right about one thing and wrong about another. The thing that the actual misleading statement from the Secretary of State’s office is to claim that the petition filing deadline of April 7th is a qualifying deadline.

The qualifying deadline and by statute is April 21st. We talked to State Senator Frank Niceley, who made that point. It’s April 21 is the qualifying deadline, not April 7.

Brewer: So in your mind, the Secretary of State’s office has from the 7th to the 21st to make some kind of ruling on each of these candidates based on residency?

Leahy: No, not at all. No. Let me tell you what my mind is thinking on it. I think it’s very clear that the qualifying deadline is April 21st.

It is after April 21st that it would be the job of the Tennessee Secretary of State to determine if a candidate meets those standards, if they were to be on by the state executive committee, which I think is in doubt at the moment.

But let’s go with that. So here’s what I would say. This is the Robby Starbuck argument versus the Morgan Ortagus argument. The standard on this, if you just take the way that they’ve approached others’ residency requirements in other cases would be the date upon which you registered to vote.

The legislature didn’t spell it out, but you would think, just by the way, that the Secretary of State has acted in the past, it would be the voting deadline.

Brewer: And the piece of code they opened up. Is there any reference in the election law to what establishes residency?

Leahy: Yes, that’s a very good point.

Listen to the interview:


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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Tre Hargett” by Tennessee Secretary of State.