TN Secretary of State Offers Conflicting Comments on Whether He Will Enforce Residency Law and Remove Carpetbaggers from the TN-5 Ballot

Within hours of the enactment of a new law on Wednesday that requires candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in Tennessee to be residents of the state for three years prior to their placement on a primary ballot, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office offered conflicting comments about whether he intends to enforce the new law and remove “carpetbagger” candidates from the August 4 Republican primary ballot.

Reactions from Tennessee state legislators to the comments from the Secretary of State’s office were swift and pointed.

Sources tell The Tennessee Star that if the Tennessee Secretary of State refuses to enforce the newly enacted law and remove any candidate from the primary ballot for the U.S. House who fails to meet the three-year residency requirement he will be sued to require him to enforce the law.

On Wednesday afternoon The Star broke the story that “The three-year residency requirement legislation for Tennessee candidates for federal office in primaries is now law – effective immediately – without Governor Lee’s signature.”

The new law reads:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 2, Chapter 13, Part 2, is amended by adding the following as a new section:

In order to qualify as a candidate in a primary election for United States senate or for member of the United States house of representatives, a person shall meet the residency requirements for state senators and representatives contained in the Tennessee constitution.

SECTION 2. This act takes effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

Within an hour, The Star received this response about the applicability of the newly enacted law to the current field of eleven announced candidates for the GOP nomination in TN-5, four of whom – Robby Starbuck, Morgan Ortagus, Baxter Lee, and Stewart Parks have been challenged and removed from the Tennessee Republican Party ballot – from the Secretary of State’s office:

The bill was not signed into law before the April 7th filing deadline. The requirement does not apply retroactively to candidates who met the qualification deadline at noon on April 7.

The Secretary of State’s office provided the same response to the Associated Press, which late Wednesday published an article with a headline that offered its interpretation of that first statement from The Secretary of State’s office: “State: Residency law too late to remove Trump-backed hopeful.”

In that same Associated Press article, Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s spokesperson, Casey Black, was quoted as saying, “We feel the voters are best able to determine who should represent them in Congress.”

In its initial statement about the enforceability of the law, the Secretary of State’s office claimed that the petition filing deadline of April 7 –  six days prior to the April 13 effective date of the law – was the same as the qualifying deadline of April 21 – eight days subsequent to the April 13 effective date of the law.

That statement is inconsistent with previous statements made to the The Star by the Secretary of State’s office – which identified April 21 as the qualifying deadline, as well as a subsequent statement made to The Star late Wednesday – which also identified April 21 as the qualifying deadline.

It is also inconsistent with the Tennessee Republican Party’s clear understanding that April 21 is the qualifying deadline.

Sources familiar with the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws tell The Star the petition filing deadline of April 7 is different from the qualifying deadline of April 21.

The Tennessee Star responded to the initial statement provide by the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday to ask specifically about two TN-5 candidates, one who would definitely be removed from the ballot under the new law – Morgan Ortagus, who registered to vote in Tennessee in November 2021, and a second who would like be removed from the ballot – Robby Starbuck, who registered to vote in Tennessee in July 2019.

“The following two candidates who would be affected by this were challenged prior to the [April] 7 deadline and according to the TNGOP bylaws, once challenged, the candidates are immediately off the ballot. They are Morgan Ortagus and Robby Starbuck,” The Star noted.

“Given these facts, would your interpretation of the law in the previous email stand? Or is it different given the challenged candidates are not on the ballot once challenged?”

“We may have misunderstood your question. We thought your question was regarding if someone filed a Petition in March, met the qualifications when they filed, but before the qualifying deadline the law changed. In that case, the person would not have been able to run, despite meeting the petition requirements at the time of filing,” the Secretary of State’s office responded.

“By statute, the Party has until April 21st to inform the Division of Elections who will be on the primary ballot as bona fide candidates,” the Secretary of State’s office concluded.

In that response, the Secretary of State’s office did not address the question asked about Morgan Ortagus and Robby Starbuck–that is, since they were not qualified to be on the ballot, according to the Tennessee Republican Party, prior to the April 13 effective date of the new law, will the Secretary of State enforce the law and remove them from the ballot?

The Secretary of State’s office, however, did appear to concede the point that April 21, not April 7, was the qualifying deadline, a position that it took in numerous email exchanges with The Star going back to February.

On Friday, February 18 at 4:09pm, The Star asked:

If legislation that is currently pending before the General Assembly passed and affected candidate eligibility for the upcoming August primaries, what could the latest date for finalizing the ballots be then?

On Tuesday, On February 22, 2022 at 12:12pm the Secretary of State’s office told The Star in response to that question:

If the legislation passes, whether it will affect the candidates for the Aug. 4, 2022, primary election depends on the enacting date chosen by the General Assembly. The April 21, 2022, date to finalize the ballot will not be affected.

The legislation, now law, has an immediate effective date.

In response to a further phone inquiry, the office said later in the day on February 22, 2022:

If legislation changes the eligibility of a candidate on a ballot. The ballot will be amended before the election to be in accordance to the law.

The author of the residency legislation, State Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), told The Star on Wednesday, “Robby Starbuck and Morgan Ortagus were off the Republican primary ballot as soon their bona fides were challenged before the TN GOP by bona fide Republicans in the 5th district. Those challenges were made well before the April 7 petition filing deadline,” he said. “In addition, meeting that filing deadline does not mean you’re a qualified candidate. The SEC members would need to vote to put them back on the ballot in order for them to be qualified. The Secretary of State and the governor have no control over what the SEC votes to do.”

The Star previously reported that on top of the new state law that would make Morgan Ortagus ineligible to be on the August 4 GOP primary ballot for TN-5 , and would likely make Robby Starbuck ineligible, both candidates face another major hurdle to making it on the August 4 GOP primary ballot.

On Saturday, the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (SEC) announced that Ortagus and Starbuck, along with Baxter Lee and Stewart Parks, have been removed from the August 4 GOP primary ballot in TN-5 due to challenges filed against their Republican “bona fides.”

All four candidates will have an opportunity to have their names restored to the ballot in an April 18 adjudication meeting to be held by a select committee of the SEC, but sources have told The Star that it will be an uphill battle for any of those challenged candidates to be restored to the ballot prior to the April 21 submission by the TNGOP to the Tennessee Secretary of State of the names to be listed on the TN-5 GOP primary ballot.

– – –

Aaron Gulbransen is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected] Follow Aaron on GETTRTwitter, and Parler.
“Tennessee Capitol” by Andre Porter CC3.0, “Morgan Ortagus: by U.S. State Department, “Robby Starbuck” by Robby Starbuck, “Gov Bill Lee” by Gov Bill Lee, “Tre Hargett” by Tennessee Sec State Tre Hargett.

 

 

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10 Thoughts to “TN Secretary of State Offers Conflicting Comments on Whether He Will Enforce Residency Law and Remove Carpetbaggers from the TN-5 Ballot”

  1. […] days subsequent to the April 13 effective date of the law,” the Star’s Aaron Gulbransen wrote. “That statement is inconsistent with previous statements made to the The Star by the […]

  2. […] eight days subsequent to the April 13 effective date of the law,” the Star’s Aaron Gulbransen wrote. “That statement is inconsistent with previous statements made to the The Star by the Secretary […]

  3. […] eight days subsequent to the April 13 effective date of the law,” the Star’s Aaron Gulbransen wrote. “That statement is inconsistent with previous statements made to the The Star by the Secretary […]

  4. Cannoneer2

    We have the finest, most highly paid Secretary of State in all 50 states. Therefore, No Complaining Allowed!!

  5. Mary

    Just say NO. We don’t need these people to run in our State.

  6. Anonymous

    Not even close. Read Federalist No. 60 wherein Hamilton explains the qualifications are laid down in the Constitution and are unalterable by state legislatures. What don’t these buffoons in the legislature don’t understand?

  7. Marcello

    Patently unconstitutional law that will be struck down. This issue has been litigated so many times it’s absurd. The only qualifications for a member of the US House of Representatives are set forth in the US Constitution, art. I, § 2, cl. 2. What a ridiculous waste of state resources on such foolishness.

    1. Marcello

      The relevant case is from 1969, Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, holding that the qualifications in the Constitution are exclusive and may not be added to, or subtracted from, by either Congress or any state legislature. It was a 7–1 decision, not even close. This is law school Constitution 101.

  8. 83ragtop50

    This points back to Mr. Lee for not signing the bill as soon as it was passed by both houses. Reading between the lines implies that he does not support the law as intended by the legislature but did not have the backbone to veto it. Rather he let 10 days elapse that now creates a chaotic mess. The Secretary of State needs to do his job and enforce the law – now. I am fed up with the pettiness of Lee and others such as the AG and Secretary of State. Tennessee deserves better.

  9. E.F. kell

    The new statute is unconstitutional; hence it is not law. The U.S. Supreme Court has definitively ruled on such added qualifications for Federal candidates, indicating the Constitution has the exclusive list of qualifications. The TN legislators are not authorized to make law on this issue. The People have not authorized them to do so. The TN legislators are bad public servants.

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