by Dr. Carol M. Swain
Christian conservatives dividing their votes between Diane Black and Bill Lee will play a decisive role in electing the next governor of Tennessee. With four candidates in the Republican race (Randy Boyd and Beth Harwell are the others) for a primary that does not include a runoff, the winner will be the person who gets the most votes, period. That person could well be Randy Boyd. Boyd is poised to benefit from the perennial divisions among conservatives and from crossover votes from Democrats voting in the open primary. It behooves us to take a closer look at the man who might be the state’s next chief executive.
Without question, Boyd is the most fascinating candidate in Tennessee’s 2018 GOP gubernatorial race. He is a youngish, fiftyish man of the world with a big vision for change. Boyd wants to use government to eradicate poverty and open up opportunities for all Tennesseans, using education and jobs as the great equalizers they can and should be. Boyd’s vision is utopian, and his heart seems compassionate and optimistic about the possibilities of what government can and should do.
Who in their right mind would be against new opportunities for inner-city and rural youth? Anyone opposed to jobs and rural development? Certainly, no one who believes in the American Dream could oppose such noble goals. Nonetheless, many of us might disagree about the best way to help people improve their lives in a lasting and meaningful way.
If Randy Boyd called himself a moderate Republican or a libertarian, it would be a more accurate description of who he is.
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Boyd announced his bid in March 2017, becoming the first person to formally enter the GOP gubernatorial race. Determined to build his name recognition, he embarked on several tours across the state. From Bristol to Memphis, he met with Tennesseans while assembling a pretty impressive list of endorsers that include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. While this was taking place, his foundation was giving more than a million dollars in grants to cities and towns so they could set up dog parks.
Using his wealth to put together a vast media and campaign team, Boyd has without a doubt achieved considerable name recognition, and he has purchased the best campaign money can buy. Boyd has gone from looking like a long shot to becoming a man who could easily walk away with the 30-plus percent of the vote needed to win the GOP nomination. Whether conservatives would turn out for him in November’s general election (where he would likely face Karl Dean) is unknown.
An April 1, 2015, article in the Knoxville Mercury, “Who is Randy Boyd?,” painted him as an animal-loving, multi-millionaire (reportedly $800 million personal worth), magnate philanthropist who owns a minor league baseball team. He also climbs mountains and runs marathons, all while at the time holding two relatively new political appointments from Governor Bill Haslam. He was quickly appointed to a third position.
From 2014-2015, Boyd was the chairman of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and director of the Independent Colleges and Universities Association. In 2015, Boyd became President Obama’s appointee to the College Promise Advisory Board, and Governor Haslam appointed him to yet another position. He became Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), a post that he held until 2017.
On his website he explains why he is running to become the state’s next governor:
“I have a vision for our state, and it’s to make Tennessee known around the world as THE State of Opportunity. Opportunity for a better education, opportunity for a better job and opportunity for everyone, regardless of whether you’re from the inner city or rural Tennessee.”
Boyd helped create the “Tennessee Promise” program that “guarantees free community college and a volunteer mentor for every high school graduate in Tennessee.” It all sounds good, but I’m not 100 percent sold on Boyd’s vision for education. Yes, I am a firm believer in second chances, a belief I have held since I started my own post-GED education at a community college. However, I believe students should have some skin in the game. Free is not always the best way to develop character and commitment.
Boyd’s goals are noble and socialistic. There are strong ideological differences between the approach he is likely to follow and the one a more conservative governor would pursue. Worldview lies at the heart of the differences. Boyd is a Christian who attends Erin Presbyterian Church, part of PC (USA), a liberal denomination serving ideologically and theologically liberal, affluent whites. A few years ago, a man I know visited Boyd seeking donations for a non-profit that focused on issues of life, marriage, immigration, and religious liberty. Boyd looked the gentleman in the eye and said, “Those issues are of no concern to me.”
There is a disconnection between who his campaign commercials say Boyd is and what his actions and words reveal about him. He is by no means a conservative. Nevertheless, he has branded himself as “conservative Randy Boyd.” “Conservative” appears on his website, and we get “conservative Randy Boyd” drilled into our brains numerous times a day through mass media.
Conservative Randy Boyd is not a true portrayal of the man who would be governor. It is false propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, was known for the “big lie.” It is the theory that some campaign operatives have adopted. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Unfortunately, we are watching this unfold with Boyd’s campaign. It will win him votes from low-information voters who will be persuaded by television and radio commercials.
According to Boyd’s campaign ads, he is pro-life, pro-Trump, pro-Second Amendment, pro-immigration restrictionist, etc. However, there is a gigantic gap between the man in the commercials and how Boyd has portrayed himself to the public over many years. As recently as 2015, he described himself as “the most hated, disrespected, untolerated political entity in existence. I’m a moderate.” In addition, he described himself as “a fiscal conservative who believes that freedom should carry forward to social issues.” Social issues include abortion rights, educational reform, immigration, affordable housing, gender identity, religious liberty, and transgender bathrooms. Boyd has always been a staunch supporter of Common Core, a statist approach to educational reform that has troubled many conservatives while motivating them to get involved in issues of K-12 education.
Moreover, he and his companies have supported LGBT activist groups, and his donors have included individuals active in Planned Parenthood (or, as I like to say with a straight face, “Planned UnParenthood”). Despite his transformation into a pro-life and pro-traditional family candidate, there is a liberal constituency who understands the politics of winning enough to not be concerned when a politician says what he or she deems necessary to get the vote. Mark Alexander writing in the Patriot Post quotes a political commentator named Jackson Baker who said of Boyd:
“If all you saw of Boyd were his TV ads, which are loaded with hard-edged innuendo about the Second Amendment, potential welfare cheats, illegal immigrants, and Democrats’ alleged indifference to the porousness of our southern border, you would think: This guy is the right-winger of the race, more Trumpian than arch-conservative gubernatorial rival Diane Black. … But listen to [Boyd’s] ideas in forums and at stump speeches and fundraisers, and all of that is turned on its head. What Boyd talks about instead is the kind of ameliorist, problem-solving approach you would expect to hear from a centrist Democrat.”
According to Alexander, “Boyd is a member of the Partnership for a New American Economy, backed by leftist Michael Bloomberg and which advocates for illegal immigrants. Boyd’s group partnered with Welcoming America to support sanctuary cities. Welcoming America is backed by leftist George Soros, the godfather of the archenemies of Liberty.”
In 2014, Boyd donated $250 to Madeline Rogero, Knoxville’s Democratic mayor, who served as a Hillary Clinton delegate to the 2016 Democratic Convention. Boyd justified his donation by saying that Rogero is a personal friend. Boyd’s contribution to a Democrat, however, did not deter his campaign from running ads and posting billboards attacking businessman Bill Lee of doing the same thing. Boyd has given thousands of dollars to Tennessee Republicans, but at the national level he has clearly favored more moderate Republicans. In 2012, he served as a state campaign co-chair for Mitt Romney, and for the 2016 election he donated to Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, but not Donald Trump. After Trump’s nomination, Boyd refused to fundraise for Trump, telling a reporter that it would be an “anathema” for him. Even more telling was his widely reported donation to Conexion Americas, a group affiliated with the radical La Raza pro-open borders immigration group. The latter donation caused his critics to dub him as La Raza Randy.
The real Randy Boyd is not the man you see in the commercials. Whether this is good news or bad depends on your values and ideological leanings. Every vote cast for a third- or fourth-place candidate is a vote for Randy Boyd. Don’t kid yourself about this. The real Randy Boyd is a liberal who is allowing his campaign team to hoodwink voters. If he is elected, he will most certainly govern as a progressive.
Boyd’s political modus operandi comes right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook that espouses strategies of deception, infiltration, and manipulation. It’s all a part of the-means-justify-the-end-politics, where nothing really is as it appears. This can be found in the first attack ads an Independent PAC, Tennessee Jobs Now – which is associated with Randy Boyd – ran against Diane Black, while Boyd feigned innocence. The ad took Black to task for a vote she cast in 2001 that allowed illegal aliens to get state driver’s licenses. Other ads have falsely accused Black of supporting Planned Parenthood, opposing Donald Trump’s wall, and being a NeverTrumper.
Black’s campaign has sought to refute all those claims systematically on a website, Myths About Diane. Boyd’s accusations that Black is soft on immigration are meant to shift attention away from Boyd’s liberal record on the subject. No one captures the Boyd’s deceptive strategy better than Mark Alexander in his article “Republican Primary Pretenders: Caveat Emptor.” Boyd has attacked Black over the size of her home, while failing to mention his estate in Argentina. The same PAC that attacked Black also attacked Bill Lee once it became clear that Lee was rising in the polls. Haters of Diane Black, who has run her own attack ads, have accused Black of running negative ads that were actually connected to Randy Boyd.
Christian conservatives need to take care to avoid the vitriol that occurred in 2015-16 between supporters of Senator Ted Cruz and those who supported Donald Trump. The battles were ugly, and nothing about them glorified Christ or the kingdom. NeverTrumpers emerged from the conflict. We now see an unfolding scenario where NeverBlackers and NeverBoyders could create a situation that could lead to the election of Governor Karl Dean. Christian voters need to scrutinize the candidates and get behind their strongest choice. Otherwise, we are likely to end up with the nomination of Randy Boyd, the non-conservative. In a contest that includes NeverBoyders, we will contribute to the election of Governor Dean.
Early voting is now taking place, to include the gubernatorial primaries. It ends on Saturday, July 28, with election day on August 2. The decision you make during this election will greatly impact the future of Tennessee and possibly the nation. So, choose wisely based on your values and principles, and not on emotions and emotionalism.
As Christians, we should pray, think, and examine facts and individual actions when making our decisions. None of the candidates are perfect and none are evil. Each has strengths and weaknesses. I have endorsed Representative Diane Black over businessman Bill Lee. However, I know regardless of who gets elected, we can rest easy in the knowledge that comes from Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” We can expect the sun to rise and set the day after the election. The worse thing that happen is we live with the knowledge that we once again blew our chance to elect a conservative governor.
– – –
Carol M. Swain is a former associate professor of politics at Princeton University and former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. Her forthcoming new book is Debating Immigration: Second Edition (forthcoming, August 2018). Facebook: Profcarolmswain Twitter: @carolmswain E-mail: [email protected] Website: carolmswain.com