There’s no question that the US 5th Congressional District Race in Tennessee has been charged with its fair share of drama over the last six months. After the 5th District’s incumbent, Representative Jim Cooper, announced that he’d be retiring from his position due to redistricting, all attention shifted to the Republican primary race.
The stage has been set on a national level pitting fresh Tennessee transplants vying for the Republican nod against hometown heroes who have the benefit of an established root system in the Tennessee GOP. On the 21st of April, the State Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party mailed in their request to withdraw three Republican Party candidates from the August Primary Ballot. The candidates included the Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus and high profile political social media gadfly Robby Starbuck.
STARBUCK FILES LAWSUIT
Starbuck refuses to take the blow lying down. After the decision, Starbuck released a statement requesting the SEC overturn the decision. The request came with a deadline accompanied by the threat of a lawsuit. It would’ve been impossible for the State Executive Committee to overturn their decision and as promised, Starbuck filed his lawsuit on Tuesday.
THE CLAIMS MADE BY STARBUCK
Starbuck’s lawsuit points out a few discrepancies regarding the Tennessee Republican Party’s State Executive Committee meeting in which Robby Starbuck, Morgan Ortagus, and Baxter Lee were kicked off the Primary Ballot.
Claim One: Starbuck claims the Tennessee Republican Party violated the Qualifications Clause of the United States Constitution by adding party qualifications that are not in the United States Constitution.
Claim Two: Starbuck claims the Tennessee Republican Party violated his procedural due process rights by not accurately notifying him of the reason for the challenge to his bona fide status, holding meetings in secret, and providing conflicting justifications for his removal.
Claim Three: Starbuck claims his First Amendment rights were violated when the Tennessee Republican Party removed his right to ballot access for reasons that are outside their scope of authority.
Claim Four: Starbuck claims that the closed door meeting held by the members of the SEC where they voted Starbuck, Ortagus, and Lee off the ballot was in direct violation of Tennessee’s Open Meeting Act.
The discourse has caused ripples throughout the Tennessee GOP. Some of the criticisms made by Starbuck have directly targeted former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, and the establishment Tennessee GOP. When asked about what he hopes to accomplish with the lawsuit Starbuck told The Pamphleteer, “Our ideal outcome is direct placement back on the ballot”. Despite the fact that TN GOP leaders and SEC board members have remained discrete in the media regarding the lawsuit, Starbuck will only go down if he goes down swinging, continuing, “With the animosity we've seen from SEC members, we don't believe I could get a fair vote from them.”
The strain on the party has already given the 5th district Democratic candidate, Heidi Campbell, campaign ammunition. She even went as far as to release a statement saying she was glad to see that the TN GOP kicked off the Trump-endorsed and far right candidates. Party leaders in Tennessee also fear that the move may affect Nashville’s chances of winning the bid to host the Republican National Convention.
On the other side of the coin, Tennessee leaders and active Republican party members have expressed concerns about Starbuck’s unflattering description of Tennessee’s GOP and how it will affect the party. “I'm not worried about worsening relations with anyone who's upset about this lawsuit,” Starbuck says in reply. “I'm doing the right thing.”
The defendants named in the lawsuit filed by Starbuck are the State GOP Chair Scott Golden, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and the state coordinator of elections, Mark Goins. In a few conversations The Pamphleteer had with State Executive Board Members before the lawsuit was officially filed, the SEC members and the state GOP chair anticipated the lawsuit and seemed ready to tackle whatever was coming down the pipes. We’ve reached out for a statement from all three defendants and are awaiting a reply.