Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed former Tennessee Speaker Beth Harwell to the newsmaker line to talk about her recent endorsement from women’s group called View PAC, Ortagus residency lawsuit, and the nature of running a political campaign today.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line, Former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives now a declared candidate for the GOP nomination for Congress in the 5th Congressional District here in Tennessee, Beth Harwell. Good morning, Beth.
Harwell: Good morning Michael Patrick. Good to be with you this morning.
Leahy: Great to have you on here. So you have received an endorsement from a women’s group called View PAC. Tell us about them and tell us what the endorsement means.
Harwell: Yes, and I’m very honored to have their endorsement. They’re a conservative group of women that work to help conservative women be elected to Congress. And so to have their endorsement means a great deal to me.
Leahy: What’s it been like for you out on the campaign trail since you announced?
Harwell: It’s been very positive. Last night we were in Williamson County and their Just Dessert program and just a lot of good folks.
I’m reconnecting with folks that I’ve known through the years, but also making a lot of new friends because this is certainly a growing area.
Leahy: Got some breaking news from last night. (Chuckles) I don’t know if you saw this, but a lawsuit has been filed by supporters of Morgan Ortagus against Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett for a bill that has not yet become law.
This is a three-year residency to get on the GOP primary ballot bill. That may be on its way to Governor Lee for signature. We don’t know if he’s going to sign it or veto it or allow it to become law before, I guess it’s a 10 day period passes.
I’m going to ask you a have you ever question. But it’s a little twist. Have you ever seen because you were speaker of the House for what, eight years?
Harwell: Eight years.
Leahy: Have you ever heard of anybody suing the state of Tennessee, the Secretary of State, over a bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly, but not yet signed into law?
Harwell: I have not. And I have looked at the bill and it doesn’t say that she can’t run. It says she can’t run under a party label, which is what she clarified. And the state legislature does control state parties.
Leahy: Yes. It’s sort of interesting. I looked at the questions that I raised on this lawsuit. First, I read the complaint. I read elements of it on the air. It’s filled with factual errors, number one.
Number two, the attorney representing the plaintiff is this fellow Washington, D.C.-based guy, Charlie Spies. Charlie was the general counsel for the Romney campaign in 2008.
And then his wife, Lisa Spies, was a fundraiser for the Washington, D.C.-based Capitol Hill fundraiser for Morgan Ortagus about a year ago. So that kind of raises the question to me. Now you’re not an attorney.
Leahy: How can a federal court undertake a lawsuit for a bill that’s not yet become law?
Harwell: That’s a very good question, and I don’t know that they can. It’s interesting to want to sue a state that you would then turn around and want to represent in Washington.
Leahy: That struck me. This is the first official act of the Ortagus campaign to sue the state of Tennessee. She’s only registered to vote here in November. That strikes me as more than a little bit odd.
Harwell: I would tend to agree. We were very welcoming. We love to have new people come to live in our state but we also like them to establish their residency and become a part of our community.
Leahy: Yes. And we don’t know how this all plays out, whether a couple of candidates have been challenged. If they’re allowed to be on the ballot, then this will be on 12 to 14 people in the race. How do you win a race with that many people, Speaker Beth Harwell?
Harwell: I guess you can look at it positively and say it will take a smaller percentage in which to win. So that’s one way to look at it. But I think the most important thing is knowing the community and being out and about and recognizing and listening to what people have to say.
Leahy: What are they saying? What’s the most important thing that you’re hearing from people in Tennessee today?
Harwell: I think they’re very concerned with the high cost of living. I think they’re very concerned with the border and the security of the border.
They tend to be the top issues, and I think they really believe that education belongs at the local level. And so I think those are the three top things that I’m hearing is I walk the district and talk to people.
Leahy: Andy Ogles has announced his candidacy last week, and it strikes me that among native Tennesseans that the top four contenders are probably you, Andy Ogles, Kurt Winstead, and Baxter Lee.
Although Baxter Lee might not make it on the ballot because he voted in March 2020 Democratic primary. That may be a violation of the party bylaws.
We’ll find that out in a couple of weeks. How do you compare yourself to Andy Ogles, Kurt Winstead, and Baxter Lee?
Harwell: I think they’re all fine gentlemen, and I think we all have our certain strengths and weaknesses and we’re going to let the voters decide.
But again, I think that I share certain things in common with some of them, and we’ll have different points where we are different.
Leahy: It’s been a while since you’ve been on the campaign trail, right?
Harwell: It has been. For about four years I’ve been doing other things in the private sector for the last four years. I’ve gone back to my original love, which is teaching. I’ve been on college campuses really trying to reintroduce college students to the Constitution and its value and a love for their history.
And I’ve been serving on the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors, which is certainly illustrated to me the importance of our nation being energy independent.
Leahy: Let me ask you this in terms of campaigning, you were elected for many years to the General Assembly in the Nashville area and then ran for governor in 2018.
Now, four years later, you’re back on the campaign trail. Are you noticing any differences in the process of campaigning after your four-year layoff from being on the campaign trail?
Harwell: Campaigning has changed. It has. I don’t think many people rely on their mailbox the way they used to. I think that there are going to be so many people in this race, it’s going to be difficult for people to keep up with it. But I’m going to do everything I can to communicate as often as possible with people.
Leahy: Is campaigning more fun or less fun than it used to be?
Harwell: (Chuckles) I enjoy meeting people. There are parts of campaigning you don’t particularly enjoy fundraising. I don’t know that anybody enjoys the fundraising aspect.
My personal feeling is that campaigns last too long and cost too much, but that’s the American system, and so we work within it.
Leahy: You talk about fundraising, and I can see how that could be uncomfortable to do. But it’s a necessary evil, I suppose.
How much time do you have to spend fundraising and how much time actually talking to folks about issues? And is it more fundraising now than it used to be?
Harwell: Yes. Campaigns have become very expensive. I wish they haven’t. I wish that we could curtail that cost somehow. But I divide my time equally right now and to surge when elections really roll around in August, I’ll be more out on the campaign trail.
Leahy: How much money do you think is going to take to win this Tennessee 5th primary? How much money will the candidates each have to spend to be sort of in the range of winning?
Harwell: I don’t know that I can answer that question, Michael, but we’re going to raise enough money that puts us in a good position to win the race.
Leahy: I’ve heard it could be $3 million, $4 million, $5 million. Are those numbers that you’ve heard in terms of what a campaign would need to raise to win?
Harwell: Well, I’m hoping that’s a little high. (Laughter)
Leahy: To paraphrase old Everett Dirksen, the former Senate minority leader in the 60s, a million here, a million there. Sooner or later it adds up to real money, right?
Harwell: It sure does. And again, that’s money that would be better probably spent in other ways, but that’s the reality of the political arena these days.
Leahy: Beth Harwell, former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, candidate for the Republican nomination in the Fifth Congressional district here in Tennessee, thanks so much for joining us today, and come back again, if you would, please.
Harwell: All right. Thank you so much. You all have a great day.
Listen to the interview:
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