Robby Starbuck Refuses to Answer Questions About His Tennessee Residency

Announced TN-5 Congressional candidate Robby Starbuck is refusing to provide documentary evidence to substantiate his claim that he meets a proposed three-year residency requirement to be eligible for the August 4, 2022 GOP primary ballot.

“I’ve already provided proof of my residency to The Tennessean and to world-renowned journalist John Soloman [sic].  I’m not taking away from my kid’s spring break after a year of our family campaigning to satisfy the long list of requests made by the Star,” Starbuck emailed The Tennessee Star on March 14, 2022.

On March 9, The Star requested Starbuck, a California native whose legal name is Robert Starbuck Newsom, provide documentation to support a claim he made in an article published at Just the News on February 28, 2022 that he established residency in Tennessee in December of 2018 – four months before the April 7, 2019 residency standard for candidates who seek to participate in 2022 primary contests for federal office under the State Senate version of pending legislation–when he leased a house in Franklin, Tennessee:

Republican candidate Robby Starbuck began renting a Tennessee home in late 2018, potentially making him eligible to run in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District this year even if state legislation to amend residency requirements becomes law, according to real estate records obtained by Just the News. . .

Starbuck’s lease, home purchase, and utility bills would be sufficient to show he’s a resident for a range of services in Tennessee, such as obtaining a driver’s license. However, some observers argue that may not be enough to prove an establishment of residency for the purposes of becoming a candidate since he was still dealing with  his affairs in California, his prior home.

That claim, however, conflicts with Starbuck’s own public statements made on February 3, 2022 on Nashville’s Morning News with Dan Mandis on 99.7 WTN, reported in this story, published at The Tennessee Star on February 3, 2022.

“And so I answered that I had voted in the previous primaries and I was actually counting, what would count – is it one or two – and I ended up saying two. So you could hear me confused during the answer, and the reason I was confused was because what we had been told recently, up to that day, was that because I was registered to vote in Tennessee, I should have voted in these primaries. But the problem is, I wasn’t a full-time resident. I had gotten my license when we had gotten a rental house here and we were sort of transitioning our kids here and transitioning – I was still closing down my business in California.

So because I was technically registered when I got my license, they count those as two missing primaries but the reality and the facts are that in California, where it’s a closed primary state, you know, I was always registered Republican.”

In a January 22, 2022 interview on The Tennessee Star Report, Starbuck falsely claimed that he had voted in both the March 2020 and August 2020 GOP primaries in Tennessee, and therefore would meet the three-out-of-four-primary-votes standard of the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws to be eligible for the August 4, 2022 GOP primary ballot. When confronted with his voting record showing that he had not voted in those two primaries, Starbuck initially attempted to discredit those reports, until he finally admitted to Dan Mandis on February 3, 2022 that he did not vote in those two primaries because he was not at that time a full-time resident of Tennessee.

In the March 14  statement emailed to The Star, Starbuck threatened legal action if his eligibility for the 2022 GOP TN-5 primary is challenged.

“I‘ve retained a world-class lawyer who has won multiple Supreme Court cases and I’ll deploy them accordingly if anyone’s desperate enough to contest my eligibility,” he said.

“If they do contest my eligibility, I hope they have deep pockets because they’ll end up paying my legal fees after I win. Tennessee was my primary residence in time to meet any new standard that would be set by the law being considered by our legislature if it passes.”

Starbuck also claimed that the verbatim transcript of his February 3, 2022 interview with WTN’s Dan Mandis, in which he stated he was not a full-time resident of Tennessee until after August 2020 – published that same day by The Star – was simply an instance of “twisting my words from a radio interview to assume things that aren’t reality in hopes of clearing a path for their preferred candidate because their preferred candidate can’t win with me in the race.”

As of this writing, Starbuck is the only candidate to threaten a lawsuit if he is declared ineligible to run in the 2022 TN-5 GOP primary, either by a new state law or by the Tennessee Republican Party.

As a point of law, neither the Tennessee Republican Party nor the state of Tennessee would contest Starbuck’s eligibility. They would simply declare him ineligible.

Those who are contesting Starbuck’s eligibility are bona fide Tennessee Republicans who reside in the 5th Congressional District.

Any candidate who is thrown off the ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party could sue in state court but would have almost no chance of overturning the party decision. Candidates thrown off the ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party would likely not have legal standing to challenge the new residency bill if it becomes law in either federal or state court.

If the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee removes a candidate from the ballot, then that is likely the end of their campaign unless that individual were to try and run as an Independent.

In his March 14 email, Starbuck made an unsubstantiated claim internal polling shows him in ahead in the race and said that he won’t engage on questions about his residency any more.

“It’s sad that some candidates are this desperate to get me out of the race because they know that internal polling shows I’m winning this race,” Starbuck said, without providing any evidence of the existence of the purported internal polling.

“I’m not getting distracted with this foolishness anymore. I’m focused on the things that matter to our voters, like the border crisis, inflation, skyrocketing gas prices, jobs, my new Contract with America proposal, and the disaster we have in the White House,” Starbuck added.

The State Senate version of legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly, if enacted into law, would establish the requirement of residency in Tennessee prior to April 7, 2019 – three years prior to the April 7, 2022 filing deadline – to be eligible to run in the August 4, 2022 GOP primary for any Tennessee Congressional seat. That legislation does not prohibit a candidate who fails to meet the three-year state residency requirement from running as an Independent in the November 2022 general election, but it would prohibit that candidate from running in either the Democrat or Republican primary contests in 2022.

By Starbuck’s own words and own admission in that February 3 interview with Dan Mandis, he was not a full-time resident of Tennessee until after August of 2020. Should the state Senate version of the residency bill become law, anyone who established Tennessee residency in September 2020 would not be eligible to run in a primary election for Congress in Tennessee until the 2024 general election.

During a March 9, 2022 interview with 99.7 WTN’s Matt Murphy, who moved to Nashville, Tennessee in December 2021 from Birmingham, Alabama to become WTN’s midday talk show host, Starbuck made no mention of his own public statement made the previous month to WTN’s Dan Mandis.

“You’ve said on our show and you’ve said repeatedly to anyone that would listen you’ve been here since 2019 and you feel very confident that you meet the residency requirements regardless. So they can do what they want to do because you’re all good. Is that correct?” Murphy asked Starbuck.

“That is correct,” Starbuck responded.

“I’m not sure where it started that I didn’t because there are real estate records and things of the like … so there’s no issue. I fully qualify,” he continued.

“I have every piece of evidence you could possibly need, including – you know, our local party is asking me to throw rallies. It’s ridiculous,” Starbuck added.

However, Starbuck has failed to produce any evidence or documentation subsequently requested by The Tennessee Star to substantiate his claim that he established residency in Tennessee in December 2018.

Starbuck contacted The Star on March 9, and requested a correction to one sentence in an article published that day in The Star titled, “House Sponsor of Legislation Establishing Tennessee Federal Candidate Residency Requirements Says He’ll Confirm His Bill to Senate-Passed Version

The sentence to which Starbuck objected was this:

If the expected final version is enacted into law, Tennessee newcomer and former State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus would be off the 5th-district GOP primary ballot, as would recent New York transplant David Vitalli. California native Robby Starbuck would also likely be ineligible as well.

The Star immediately responded to Starbuck’s request, noting his own admission in the February 3, 2022 interview with Dan Mandis that he was not a full-time resident of Tennessee until after August 2020:

So, by your own words and your own admission, you were not a full-time resident of Tennessee until after August of 2020.

The standard for obtaining a Tennessee driver’s license as issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is not the same standard as applied by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office for establishing residency for the purpose of running for elected office.

Among the elements of that standard would be statements made by individuals claiming residency in the state, voter registration, actual voting behavior, and payment of taxes in Tennessee and the previous state of residence.

Also, we note that you did not register to vote in Tennessee until July 2019 and you did not remove yourself from voter rolls of California until July of 2019.

That would also mean that the very earliest you could possibly claim residency under the Tennessee Secretary of State standards would be July 2019, which is three months after the bill’s April 2019 three year residency requirement.

If you filed state income tax in California in 2019 or 2020 for any monies you earned in that state during those years, by definition, it is a strong indication that you were not a full-time resident of Tennessee in those years.

“In order to fully review your correction request, please answer the following questions and provide the requested documentation,” The Star emailed Starbuck on March 9, 2022:

  1. Did you file state income tax in California in either 2019 or 2020 for income earned in that state during those calendar years?
  2. If so, can you please provide us with copies of your 2019 and 2020 California state income tax filings, redacted of course?
  3. Did you claim 12 months of homeowners’ exemption in your 2018 California state income tax filing for a house you lived in or owned in California? If someone else owned that house, what was the name on the deed?
  4. Can you please provide us with your 2018 California state income tax filings, redacted of course?
  5. You say the house you rented in Franklin, Tennessee in 2018 was purchased in July 2019. Did you purchase the house personally? Is your name on the deed?
  6. When did you first pay property taxes to Williamson County on this Franklin, Tennessee house?
  7. Please provide the utility records and rental agreement you reference related to the residence you state you rented in Franklin, Tennessee in December 2018.
  8. When did you obtain a Tennessee Drivers License?

After The Star sent a second request for this information to Starbuck on March 14, Starbuck responded.

The residency legislation pending before The Tennessee General Assembly is not the only hurdle Starbuck faces in getting on the August 2022 GOP primary ballot.

As The Star reported, the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws require that only “bona fide” Republicans be allowed to run in Tennessee GOP primaries.

According to those bylaws, anyone who has not voted in three of the last four statewide Republican primaries for statewide office can be removed from the GOP primary ballot if they are challenged by two “bona fide” Republicans and a majority vote of a select committee of the Tennessee Republican Party if the State Executive Committee rules the challenged candidate is not a “bona fide” Republican.

As The Star has also reported, both Starbuck and Morgan Ortagus have been challenged, and the select committee will adjudicate those challenges by April 21 at least, and possibly as soon as the April 7 filing deadline.

Other candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the TN-5 seat include former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell, businessman Baxter Lee, former Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, Natisha Brooks, and Stewart Parks.

Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles is said to be considering entering the race in the near future and Senate aide Tres Wittum is collecting petitions.

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Aaron Gulbransen is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected] Follow Aaron on GETTR.
Photo “Robby Starbuck” by Robby Starbuck.



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One Thought to “Robby Starbuck Refuses to Answer Questions About His Tennessee Residency”

  1. […] Sources tell The Star that the campaign that sent that email was Starbuck for Congress. Starbuck previously threatened legal action if his eligibility was challenged. […]