At the Saturday meeting of the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, Chairman Scott Golden responded to the challenge of a candidate who donated to Democrats and voted as a Democrat in the last statewide primary by deciding the candidate is a bona fide Republican.
Golden’s decision disregarded the vote of the members of the State Executive Committee (SEC) who were on the meeting conference call, because the candidate was vouched for to his satisfaction.
The candidate being challenged is Cecil “Eddie” Mannis (pictured above), who is running for Tennessee House District 18. The seat is being vacated by State Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), who announced in March that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term, The Tennessee Star reported.
Mannis declared his party affiliation as Republican on his treasurer appointment form for the non-partisan 2019 City of Knoxville mayoral election. Mannis went on to lose that race to the former Knoxville Mayor’s Special Programs Manager, Indya Kincannon.
According to the Tennessee Secretary of State, as of the filing deadline of noon on Thursday, April 2, the signatures on Eddie Mannis’s petition were approved. Those signatures included that of Republican Congressman for the U.S. Second District Tim Burchett and his wife Kelly as well as former Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
Candidates have a week to withdraw, with the deadline being noon on Thursday, April 9.
According to the bylaws of the Tennessee Republican Party (TRP), a challenge to a person’s bona fide status shall be made by at least two registered voters within the district to the state chairman no later than five days from the deadline for withdrawal.
One such letter came from Gary Loe, a registered voter within House District 18 who also serves as the Secretary to the Knox County Republican Party (KCRP), although the TRP bylaws do not allow for input from the local party.
Loe told The Star that at least one other challenge letter came from James Michael “Mike” Crain, Secretary of the West Knox Republican Club.
Loe undertook the challenge, as he states in his letter to TRP Chairman Scott Golden, “as a responsibility of the GOP office I hold.” He goes on to say that after listening to loyal Republicans during his years serving on the KCRP, the organization is obligated to “improve its vetting of candidates desiring to run on the Republican ticket.”
The TRP bylaws, which were modified in 2017 to define “bone fide Republican,” clearly states the Party membership requirement for candidacy to public office in Article IX Miscellaneous, Section 1. B. that the individual has to have voted in at least three of the four most recent statewide Republican primary elections.
Loe included records from the Knox County Election Commission that Mannis does not meet that requirement, having voted in only two of the last four statewide Republican primaries.
Additional records show that in the most recent statewide primary, that being the Super Tuesday Presidential Preference Primary on March 3, Mannis voted as a Democrat. Knox County Election Commission early voting records for February 25, 2020, confirm that Mannis declared as a Democrat.
This is considered such a serious matter, that it is spelled out in current Tennessee law.
Tennessee Code Annotated 2-71-115 (b) (2) states that “at the time the voter seeks to vote, the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party.”
When Mannis was issued his candidate nominating petition on March 18 for the August 2020 Republican primary for House District 18 office he is currently seeking, it was not even a month after he had voted in the Democrat Presidential Preference Primary.
By not selecting a Republican ballot in the March Presidential Preference Primary, not only was Mannis not able to vote for President Donald Trump, he could not have voted for Republicans running as delegates for Trump or for any Republicans running in local races.
Loe also points out that Mannis contributed to the 2018 gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Karl Dean.
Mannis’s September 2018 contribution of $1,500 to Democrat Karl Dean was after the party primaries in which Bill Lee had already been selected as the Republican Party nominee for governor.
In that same month, Mannis contributed $500 to the incumbent Democrat House member for District 15, Rick Staples. Representative Staples has since stepped down from his role as Assistant House Minority Leader, following a sexual harassment claim against him, and has had questions raised about his campaign finances.
In April 2019, Mannis contributed $1,150 to the Democratic Party of Knox County.
After running as a Republican in the Knoxville mayoral race, Mannis went on to contribute $320 to the Democratic Women of Knoxville in January 2020.
On the contribution reports filed with Tennessee’s Secretary of State, Mannis has identified that he is the President, CEO and owner of Prestige Cleaners, although the contribution to the Democratic Party of Knox County stated “not employed” under the contributor occupation category and “none” under contributor employer.
For conservative Knoxvillians, Mannis was the candidate of choice in the 2019 mayoral race against the known liberal Kincannon.
However, Loe goes on to say about the challenge he initiated while reiterating his responsibility in his service to the KCRP and TRP, “I have serious concerns regarding his loyalty and commitment to the Republican Party and to regular Republican Voters.”
SEC Committeeman James Corcoran, representing Knox County in District 7 since 2018, is also a candidate for the same House District 18 seat.
He is a private-practice attorney who, before running for the SEC in 2018, ran in the 2016 Republican primary for House District 18, challenging then-incumbent Martin Daniel, former State Representative for District 18 Steve Hall and Bryan Dodson.
Corcoran told The Star that he attended the hours-long SEC meeting Saturday, along with many other SEC members. An attendance roll call was taken, but he wasn’t certain of the number of attendees.
Corcoran was ever-mindful that he is a candidate in the race, and kept to the facts in his telephone interview with The Star.
Corcoran said that, by vote of acclamation, the “overwhelming sentiment” is that Mannis is not a bona fide Republican. It was a vote Corcoran said he abstained from, “for obvious reasons.”
According to the TRP bylaws, the authority to make decisions as to whether the challenged individual is considered a bona fide Republican is delegated to the Chairman, Corcoran pointed out.
As such, Corcoran said Mannis was vouched for to the satisfaction of the State Chairman (Scott Golden), although the overwhelming sentiment amongst members on the call was that there is no amount of vouching for someone who just voted in the Democratic primary.
The vouching Corcoran referred to came by way of letters from Congressman Tim Burchett, Knoxville Mayor Glenn Jacobs and State Senator Richard Briggs.
Corcoran said Congressman Burchett’s letter was read by Chairman Golden, which made a specific reference to Mannis having thrown a fundraiser for the Congressman.
Glenn Jacobs’ letter, Corcoran believed, stated that he believes Mannis is a bona fide Republican.
Jacobs identified himself as a libertarian before running as Knoxville mayor, with the election occurring around the same time as the TRP bylaws change regarding requirements to qualify as a bona fide Republican.
Corcoran said Jacobs himself might have been challenged, which could cause a general distaste for this type of activity.
Other facts relative to Mannis, such as his $1,500 donation to Karl Dean during the general election and $1,150 to the Democratic Party, were all mentioned during Saturday’s meeting, Corcoran confirmed.
Corcoran graciously offered that he thought the State Party Chair was put in an untenable position, potentially having to disregard the opinion of an elected Republican Congressman, which hasn’t happened in the history of bona bides checks.
There were bona fides challenges to other Republican candidates during the Saturday meeting, said Corcoran, but none of those were referenced as voting in a Democratic primary, just not voting in a sufficient number of primaries to meet the bylaws requirements.
As to whether he foresees changes to the TRP bylaws, Corcoran said it is “absolutely clear there will be a rules change, very specifically excluding people who have voted in recent Democratic primaries.”
Other rules changes that would help address the current situation would be to allow input from local Republican Party on the candidate in question and to disallow vouching by a Republican who has received something of value from the challenged candidate.
There is a third candidate who qualified for the House District 18 race, Gina Oster, who, like Corcoran, is known to be a bona fide Republican.
In response to a request for comment, TRP Chairman Scott Golden told The Star that the bylaws allow for the Chairman to make the decision, and that the candidate was vouched for to his satisfaction.
Speaking of the SEC members, Golden first wanted to say, “They’re board members of the Republican Party and I appreciate their service.” As the first Chairman to serve on the board for many years before becoming chair, Golden understands the position.
Of the voice vote, Golden said it was a close voice vote and I ruled that the yays probably won out in a very close election.”
He went on to explain, “In a divided yes vote, they made that recommendation, but the vouch was to my satisfaction.”
In the 2017 bylaws change, Golden said the bona fide candidate requirements increased from voting in two of four statewide primaries to three in four. The vouching provision remained, and Golden said that holds weight for him, especially in terms of the quality of the vouch.
Golden said that there were other candidates who were challenged as well. With the notification of those candidates in process, as required by state law, he did not want any further discussion in fairness to those candidates.
Golden did admit that none of the other challenged candidates had voted in the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary in March.
SEC Committeewoman for District 20 representing Davidson County and new President of the Tennessee Republican Assembly, Michelle Foreman, was in attendance for the Saturday meeting.
Foreman told The Star that the vote was to agree, according the bylaws, that the Party Chair makes the ultimate decision as to whether a candidate is vouched for satisfactorily. She added that there may have been some confusion on what the vote actually was, thus some “no” votes.
“What I do know,” said Foreman, “is that the overwhelming majority did not want Eddie Mannis on the ballot.”
She acknowledged that the contention seems to go back to who vouched for him.
Foreman said the Chairman was gracious and very professional to genuinely listen to them, as he always does.
SEC Committeewoman for District 17, Terri Nicholson told The Star that she spoke up during the meeting and said that Mannis had voted in the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary just last month. She called it a direct attack against President Trump.
“To me, it was crystal clear with everyone that it was a problem that a Democrat would be on the Republican ballot.”
Nicholson said if there was an issue, it was not about support of the candidate, but that the SEC members’ hands are tied with the bylaws. Being vouched for by a U.S. Congressman puts the Chairman in a tough situation to have to weigh, she added. Nicholson said she appreciated, though, that Chairman Golden extended the courtesy to SEC.
As Nicholson pointed out, the SEC when they first took office voted overwhelming to close the primaries, but it was ignored by the state legislature. She called it hypocritical when legislators don’t support the Republican platform and principles, but want to use the label.
SEC Committeeman for District 17, Jerry Beavers told The Star that he doesn’t believe in vouching, “the rules should stand for the rules.”
Beavers also asked why they are voting on something, if what they vote on doesn’t have weight.
“Vouching,” he said, “makes the SEC null and void.”
Beavers also questioned what a divided vote has to do with it when the majority wins, and the majority said Mannis should not be considered a bona fide Republican.
In terms of the quality of the vouching, Beavers made the point that Tim Burchett, when he was in the State Senate was one of two who prevented Ron Ramsey from becoming Speaker of the Senate by voting for Democrat John Wilder.
Beavers, like Corcoran, thinks a change to the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws will be an outcome out of the situation.