Leahy: Folks, this promises to be a very lively segment with our good friend, all-star panelist, Clint Brewer. Clint, you are, in fact, a recovering journalist.
Brewer: I am.
Leahy: You are a public affairs specialist. And you know how people should communicate. I’m going to make a statement here about our Secretary of State, Tre Hargett.
And I’m going to say that he has really done a very poor job of communicating about whether or not he will enforce this new residency law, which became law yesterday afternoon after the governor refused to sign it or did not return it to the Senate after the 10-day period when it can go into effect without a signature.
And immediately, the Secretary of State issued a confusing statement that contradicted his own statements about the enforcement of this law that he made to us a couple of months earlier, issued it quickly.
We broke the story that it had become law about 3:00 in the afternoon, and by 4:00, they issued a statement to us about the law that we thought was contradictory and confusing. And we didn’t publish it because we asked them a follow-up question.
The Associated Press took it immediately and ran with it and I think inaccurately stated the position of the law, what the law meant.
Here’s what the Secretary of State’s office told us an hour after we reported the law was in effect. Remember what the law says. “In order to qualify as a candidate in a primary election for the United States Senate or from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a person shall meet the residency requirements for state senators and representatives contained in the Tennessee Constitution.”
That’s three years prior to qualifying for the primary ballot. This act takes effect upon becoming law. The public welfare requirement. So it became law yesterday, April 13th, and it went into effect.
And here was the statement. It was a pre-planned statement, obviously, because it was given to us. We didn’t publish it immediately because it was confusing and conflicting. The AP took it and published it right away, almost instantaneously, and gave an interpretation to it that claimed that it meant Morgan Ortagus would be back on the ballot.
They missed a lot, as did the Secretary of State. Let me just read this to you. “The bill was not signed into law before the April 7th filing deadline.
The requirement does not apply retroactively to candidates who met the qualification deadline at noon on April 7th.” So that’s what they communicated.
The AP took that to interpret Morgan Ortagus is on the ballot. That was very, very confusing, because we went back and said, well, look, the Republican Party bylaws, and your previous statements say April 7th is the petition filing deadline. It’s not the qualifying deadline.
The qualifying deadline is April 21st. Two candidates have been challenged, and have been removed from the Tennessee Republican Party ballot, Morgan Ortagus and Robby Starbuck. Given those facts with your interpretation of the law that you gave out an hour after the laws passed, stand.
And they responded in a way that didn’t answer that question. Here’s what they said: “We may have misunderstood your question. We thought your question was regarding if someone filed the petition in March and met qualifications when they filed, but before the qualifying deadline, the law changed. In that case, the person would not have been able to run despite meeting the petition requirements at the time of filing.
By statute, the party has until April 21st to inform the division of election who will be on the primary ballot,” conceding the point that the qualifying deadline is April 21st, not April 7th. Your thoughts about this communication mangling by the Secretary of State?
Brewer: Yes, I agree with you. It could have been clearer. I’m going to say that they’re in as confusing a position as the rest of us. Heretofore, to qualify to run for Congress, you had two barriers: One, you had to put in a qualifying petition, which is a fairly nominal number of signatures from people in the district that have to be verified as actual registered voters in the district.
Then you had to clear the party. The party had to let you on the ballot if it’s partisan. So there are two things. Now, in the middle of it, we’ve got a residency requirement, which to my knowledge, I think the only entity that figures that out now is the party apparatus, the executive committee, Secretary of State’s office.
I could be wrong. But in the petition filing, there is no paperwork requirement yet. Maybe there will be. There’s no submission that you have to make of documents or anything that actually could tell the Secretary of State’s office if you meet the new residency requirements.
Leahy: Yes. Within that. Yes.
Brewer: So where does the verification of residency reside in this new process? The law does not spell that out.
Leahy: It does not.
Brewer: The law does not say that the Secretary of State will do it. The law does not say that the executive committee will do it. So who does it? Is it only a question if someone challenges it? Otherwise, are both parties happy to just not ask the question?
Leahy: Let’s just go back a little bit on this. First, this April 7th petition filing deadline says you’ve got to file in order to be qualified, subsequently …
Brewer: You have to have a timely filed petition …
Leahy: Which has 25 signatures of people in the district.
Brewer: … by noon on the date.
Leahy: April 7th. Now, those petitions are actually reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office …
Brewer: Of course.
Leahy: … over like a 48-hour period. If they themselves then, after April 7th, issue a statement about which of those petitions allow somebody to go forward with the qualifying process …
Brewer: And to my knowledge, is there a deadline for doing that?
Leahy: For their response as to have you met the first standard to qualify, there’s not a deadline. I think by practice they usually get a response. Actually, there may be some still being reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office. They did respond.
Brewer: But it’s not in the statute.
Leahy: I don’t think it’s in the statute. But what is clearly in statute, by statute, the parties have until April 21st to inform the Secretary of State who’s on the ballot.
Brewer: That is the final hurdle to get on the ballot.
Leahy: We are joined in studio by our longtime friend, good friend Clint Brewer. Recovering journalist and public affairs expert. Clint now, as somebody who’s seen lots of congressional races in Tennessee, what is a candidate going to have to do to win that primary?
Remember, there’s a primary and a general. We haven’t talked and we won’t talk until later about the Democratic primary. But it looks like the Justice Democrats are going to back AOC. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, that crowd.
They’re going to back Odessa Kelly. I think she’s still going to run. By the way, one just as an aside, a very sad, sad note, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leaving Twitter. And the reason is because it’s causing her too much anxiety. I’m so sorry about that.
Brewer: Causing her anxiety?
Leahy: Because when she’s seen without a mask at a party, people make fun of her and she just can’t take it anymore. (Chuckles)
Brewer: I don’t know what to do about that one.
Leahy: Now, but you do know what to do about what these candidates need to do to win in the August 2022 Republican primary in the Fifth Congressional District.
Why don’t you lay out what the old district was, what the new district is, and why this is a good thing for Republican candidates.
Brewer: The old district was Davidson County and a little spillover into some other satellite counties to the north. It was primarily a blue county, blue district, a little bit of purple in there. It’s why you had Jim Cooper in it for so long.
Blue Dog Democrat to the left enough to keep the progressives at bay, to the center enough, where he wasn’t super objectionable to the right. He kind of flew below the radar screen. This new district is interesting.
You’re going to pick up aspects of Davidson County. There’s sort of older parts of Davidson County. Hermitage, Old Hickory, Donelson, sort of that little curve below at the bottom.
And then you pick up Western Wilson County, which is very conservative, but it’s got a lot of new people moving into it. And you’re getting a slice of Williamson County where you’re going to see a similar aspect with maybe a little bit more wealth.
And then you get into Maury County and there’s all of Maury County and it is very much a county in transition. It’s booming, absolutely booming. Again, more new folks. And then you pick up a couple of smaller rural counties.
Leahy: Marshall County and Lewis County.
Brewer: Marshall and Lewis. You’ve got to think about it. The slice of Davidson County that’s left is very much a sort of old-school yellow Dog Democrat from back in the day kind of piece.
You got a lot of older folks there who maybe were affected by NAFTA. You’ve got some plants that shut down there over time. I’m thinking about the Dupont plant in particular, which was downsized. You see a lot of that, but they’re still Democrats.
You also have a ton of new people. You have parts of it that are very much in transition. If you look at the census, you have a real influx of immigrants. You have an influx of first-time homeowners and people who are first-time college graduates.
It’s an incredibly interesting mix. Not necessarily bad for the Republican candidate if you look at how Trump overperformed in some of those categories last time. Davidson County still has to be a focus.
You still have to run on the ground in Davidson County. Wilson County has been a rock-ribbed Republican county for a long time, but a lot of people aren’t going to know where they live. Williamson County, the same way.
And then you get out into Maury County in these rural counties, and you’re going to have to act like an adult, I guess is the best way to say it. Some of the bomb-throwing we’ve seen, some of the silliness that we’ve seen early on, some of the sorts of lack of process, I guess I would say with jumping out there with a presidential endorsement and then jumping out there with, I voted in the primaries.
No, I didn’t vote in the primaries. Kind of from these two transplants, it’s not behavior that’s going to be particularly well-received.
Leahy: No it won’t be. And by the way, before we get into that, and we’ll kind of look at the strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates. One announced, one endorsed, three or four likely.
I think there’s a hurdle for the transplanted carpetbaggers to clear. And that hurdle will be discovered probably next week or the week after they pick up their papers to petition, papers to get the signatures to get on the ballot Monday, and then sometime shortly after Monday.
If Morgan Ortagus announces, then she will be almost certainly challenged. Her bona fides. And Robby Starbuck’s bona fides will absolutely be challenged. Robby will not meet the standard of three out of four of the most recent statewide primaries. Morgan might not.
We haven’t seen her voting record. You have the president endorse you and nobody knows what her voting record is. And then even if she’s voted wherever she’s lived for the past four years or however long, even if she’s voted in three out of four primaries there, it’s unclear right now. There’s some dispute as to whether or not they’d be accepted as a state.
Brewer: Well, let me say this. Let’s just set Mr. Starbuck aside. I would like to see Ms. Ortagus in the race, and I’ll tell you why. She’s a very qualified person, and I’m not expressing a preference here, but I would like to see her compete for the seat.
And I would like to see it because I would like to see the transplant audience, if you will, the new folks represented in a way in this, because it’s going to be a marriage of old and new in this seat.
I think there is room in the debate about who should lead the Fifth District and who should represent it in Congress. I think there’s room. As someone who’s lived there for a very long time.
I think there’s room for that voice in the race. She’s a serious person. These folks want, serious representation. They care about the issues.
They are very hard-working people. It’s a very diverse district. It does trend plus-11 Trump based on the last election. These are folks who care and I think that they deserve serious representation and somebody who speaks with an adult voice.
Leahy: My view would be a little different on that because in that particular case, first, if we talked about this before and I’m still trying to get the data on it, 750,000 people in the district. Let’s say 90 percent of them have lived here for more than two years.
Brewer: That’s a stretch.
Leahy: 85 percent have lived here more than two years.
Brewer: Of likely Republican voters of the 750,000.
Leahy: Probably plus or minus around there. Ninety-nine percent of them have lived here more than have been registered voters for more than two months. So my argument would be I don’t think that one percent that’s just arrived here lately, I don’t think they need a voice.
Brewer: Here’s the thing. If they don’t have a voting record in the state, I don’t mean the candidates, the new voters, it’s hard to track them.
Leahy: Good point.
Brewer: It’s hard as a campaign to go back and look and say they’ve got a voting record that trends this way or that way. There’s a lot of unknowns.
Leahy: I think the point on this is both of them will face challenges.
Brewer: You’re talking procedural.
Leahy: Procedural challenges to getting on the ballot. And I think somebody will have to vouch for Robby. For sure, possibly for Morgan.
And then there’s a special committee, 13 members of the executive committee. The majority will go up or down. I don’t think it’s looking very good for Robby.
Brewer: I want to hear the debate, though. I want to hear what she would bring to the table. And I think that former Speaker Harwell I think Mayor Ogles are being very respectful right now of the process. They’re waiting for the governor to sign the redistricting bill.
Brewer: They’re doing what you do when you understand how politics work in Tennessee. They’re not running out into traffic and saying follow me. I think the complexion of the race will change a lot when we start to hear from folks like that.
– – –
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 “People Voting” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.