On Thursday conservative activist and Republican State Executive Committee member Rebecca Burke announced she is a candidate for the Republican nomination to represent the 61st District in the Tennessee House of Representatives, a seat that is currently held by State Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin).
The district represents parts of Franklin and Brentwood in rapidly growing Williamson County.
“I am starting early because there will be a lot of political noise for voters to digest leading into the governor’s race and U.S. Senate race, not to mention local races,” said Burke, a resident of Franklin, in a statement provided to The Tennessee Star that announced her candidacy.
“Many think that we should be worried about the ‘Swamp’ in Washington D.C., but my sights are focused on the ‘Swamp’ in Tennessee,” she added.
In June of this year, as The Star reported earlier, Burke spent several weeks working for Republican Congressional candidate Karen Handel, who won the hotly contested special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District over the heavily financed Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff.
“Burke, 62, has spent over 35 years as an aggressive and outspoken conservative activist. She has been known to out-work opponents as a campaigner and strategist and to pursue relentlessly, politicians who fail to demonstrate integrity and consider lightly their devotion to smaller, more efficient government,” her campaign announcement continued:
“I have at least two dozen close friends who are members of the legislature’s conservative caucus who live and breathe dedication to keeping taxes low, reducing the size of government and holding themselves to very high ethical standards. And then, there are others who need to be replaced,” Burke added. “There is perhaps no better recent example of that disconnect than the investigative series on Monday and Tuesday in the Tennessean.”
A two-part series by Joel Ebert documented lavish spending of the taxpayers’ money on out of state trips where legislators are wined and dined by lobbyists in a manner that is prohibited behavior within the state. Taxpayer funded trips often include family and legislative staffers. Problems have been documented in legislators reimbursing themselves for expenses that have been covered by lobbyists, double dipping. Since 2009, such trips have cost Tennessee taxpayers $1.2 million. Data is sparse to non-existent on what was learned on these trips, what legislation was produced or what benefit was realized.
“Some legislators are so immune to responsible use of the taxpayers’ dollars that they resist making this data public, you have to ask them how they benefitted and why they attended these resort locations, Burke explained. “To top that off some suggest it is ok because that is what happens in corporate America. Well, I have news for them, corporate America would not tolerate such behavior. They operate on tight margins and expect to see measurable benefits. The days of the fat expense accounts are over, unless you are in the legislature. Accountability, transparency and appreciation of our hard-earned tax dollars is grossly lacking in a ‘Swamp.”
Burke also points out the doubling of some legislators’ salaries through the use of per diems. The State allows legislators to report over night stays in Nashville, meals, mileage and parking and misc. other expenses as allowable. “If you call the Registry of Election Finance or the Legislature and ask to see per diem payments, you can’t see them. Rep. Charles Sargent is reportedly one of the bigger abusers of this manner of padding the salary, despite living a short distance from Nashville. I say ‘reportedly’ because he has never disclosed these expenses or payments or to whom the money was paid. It is all hidden from taxpayers’ eyes,” Burke said.
Burke indicates that she will run an innovative, unusual campaign. She plans to attack the flow of State monies back to Williamson County. While local officials scramble to find money for schools, the State of Tennessee engages in progressive-think about the redistribution of wealth from Williamson to other parts of the State’s budget. “Our robust county is home to leading business which is a tax engine for the State. Remove Williamson County and our tax revenue from the State, and they would be in trouble. Yet they return to us only a small percentage of what we send to them. That can’t continue,” Burke explains. “While Charles Sargent has been our representative, the State’s share of schools’ funding has decreased and decreased, while our taxes flow freely to the State, that’s not advocacy for our County. We need new formulas and stronger leadership.”
Burke will complete her four-year term on the State Executive Committee as she competes in the August primary. Her work on the SEC made a name for herself as she carried unanimous resolutions commending parents for opposition to Common Core, for opposing then Chairman Ryan Haynes’ reassignment of presidential delegates from those who earned the seats to rewarding political allies, to leading the two-hour debate on closing primaries coming within seven votes of passage in the 66-member body representing Senate districts state-wide. She has been a leading advocate for new Chairman Scott Golden, formerly a deputy staffer for Congressman Marsha Blackburn. Burke has served on the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, leading the Orlando, FL call center and most recently assisted the Congressional campaign of Georgia’s Karen Handel.
As The Star reported previously, State Rep. Sargent, Chairman of the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee, was a leading advocate of Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which passed in the 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, was signed into law by the governor, and went into effect on July 1. The IMPROVE Act raised gasoline taxes by 6 cents per gallon and diesel taxes by ten cents per gallon.
The Republican primary for all state and federal offices will be held in August 2018.