NASHVILLE, Tennessee – By a vote of 2 to 14, a bill requiring that a voter in a party primary first declare their party affiliation prior to casting a primary vote, failed in the House Local Government Committee.
Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) was the House sponsor of HB 1273, known as the “Political Party Registration Act,” as an outcome of the December 2018 organizational meeting of the Republican State Executive Committee (SEC). At the meeting, the Republican SEC overwhelming voted to pass a resolution to the Tennessee General Assembly addressing voter registration by a vote of 45 to 14 and one abstention, as reported by The Tennessee Star.
The passage of the resolution by the Republican SEC resolved a long-standing issue as to whether the Tennessee Republican Party or the Tennessee General Assembly should make the first move relative to closing the primaries.
As bill sponsor Holt explained to the Committee in the presentation of his bill, Tennessee law currently requires that a participant in a party primary be a bona fide member of that party. Violators of the law commit an offense that is a Class E felony, although there is no real enforcement of the law, due to the lack of a process. Holt’s bill would address the gap in the law.
Two Republican Committee members, Representative Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) both made their case in support of the bill.
Carter revealed he had previously been against efforts to close the primaries, until he learned more about the primary “selection” versus election process through a lawsuit he was involved with over the summer and became a supporter. Indeed, he eloquently advocated in favor of the measure.
Rudd, who said he has been a Republican since 1984, worked on hundreds of political campaigns, and served on the SEC for 18 years, made his own impassioned argument for Holt’s bill.
Conversely, Republicans Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Kent Calfee (R-Kingston) argued against the bill along with Democrats Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) and London Lamar (D-Memphis).
After about 45 minutes of debate, during which Holt proficiently addressed the various concerns and misinformation brought up by members of both parties, a roll call vote was taken.
Voting against the bill were Republicans Kent Calfee (R-Kingston), Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), John Crawford (R-Kingsport), Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), Esther Helton (R-East Ridge), Jerome Moon (R-Maryville), Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville), Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), Ron Travis (R-Dayton) and Dave Wright (R-Corryton) along with Democrats Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga), Gloria Johnson (R-Knoxville) and London Lamar (D-Memphis).
Voting in favor of the bill were Republican Representatives Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro).
The video of the proceedings of the House Local Committee on HB 1237 can be watched here.
A similar bill has been filed in the House by Representative Tim Rudd as HB 1398 and in the Senate by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) as SB 1303, and are scheduled to be heard in committee March 6 and March 19, respectively.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.