We don’t have party registration in Tennessee, but most political consultants will tell you that one-third of the voters always vote Republican, one-third of voters always vote Democratic, and one-third of voters are independents who can go either way.
If one-third of the voters are neither Republicans nor Democrats, then why does the state of Tennessee pay for party primaries to pick party nominees?
This is an especially critical question when there is an opening that requires a special election. The state of Tennessee will send $300,000 to Shelby County to pay for the Republican primary to pick state Rep. Brian Kelsey as the Republican to replace the disgraced state Sen. Paul Stanley. (And another $300,000 for the general.) The state also paid for an election in Shelbyville in order for the Republicans to pick Pat Marsh as their candidate to oppose Ty Cobb.
I’m talking about funds to pay for primaries—not the actual general election.
The state pays because the Republicans and Democrats who make up the state Legislature passed a law designating their respective political parties as state primary election boards. They thus have the color of law to conduct elections through local election commissions funded by the taxpayers.
When political parties pick their nominees and run them for office, they should be free to do as they please. But when they start to decide who can appear on an election ballot, through the authority and the funds provided by the state Legislature, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
State Sen. Rosalind Kurita was elected as a Democrat from Montgomery and two other counties. She voted with the Republicans to make Republican Ron Ramsey Senate speaker and thus lieutenant governor. She ran for re-election and Democratic voters had a chance to remove her from office for her action. She won the Democratic primary. The state Democratic executive committee sided with the local party officials in refusing to place her name on the general election ballot as the Democratic nominee. The local executive committees instead put her primary challenger, Tim Barnes, on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. Barnes is now in the Senate.
House Speaker Kent Williams voted for himself and with 49 Democrats to become Speaker of the House. The state Republican Party threw him out of the party and has said he cannot run for re-election on the Republican ballot in the next taxpayer-funded Republican primary in Carter County.
Think about this for a minute. The state parties are removing names from the ballot to punish members for votes they took on the floor of the state House and Senate.
For the last three decades, some Republicans have voted for Democrats to be speaker of the House and Senate. House members voted for Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. Republican Senators voted for Democratic Lt. Gov. John Wilder. No one took their names off the ballot.
Well, these cases are different, we are told. Maybe they are. But how would you know? The state political parties do not have any established criteria for what constitutes a bona fide Republican or Democratic candidate. There is no due process.
It was impossible for Kurita to be restored to the ballot and it appears impossible for Williams to get on the Republican primary ballot—because there are no procedures in place that require the political parties to explain why some people are not “real” party nominees and others are.
The criteria at present is: “We’re pissed off.”
Judges, loath to get involved in party squabbles, do not have any guidelines from which to rule. The state executive committees have absolute power.
Running for office is a right. If the state political parties are taking taxpayer money to hold their primaries under color of law, then they have to recognize due process.
How can you take money from taxpayers and then deny a candidate due process?
The state political parties should establish due process and candidate criteria, or they should pay for their own primaries.