State GOP boots Ortagus, Lee, and Starbuck from 5th District primary ballot

Three prominent candidates for the open 5th Congressional District failed to get restored to the Republican ballot Tuesday as members of the GOP’s executive committee representing the newly-drawn seat decided they weren’t bona fide members of the party, and thus ineligible to run under the GOP banner.

Missing the cut are Morgan Ortagus, a former U.S. Senate Department spokeswoman who was endorsed by Donald Trump, businessman Baxter Lee, and music video producer Robby Starbuck.

The move came after Gov. Bill Lee held on to a bill seeking to establish three-year residency requirements for congressional candidates. By waiting to decline to sign the legislation, it became law after the April 7 filing deadline. And because the law couldn’t apply retroactively, recent transplants Ortagus and Starbuck were allowed to stay on the ballot.

The state party is the ultimate arbiter of who can run in its primaries, making it uncertain what recourse may remain for the three ousted candidates. Democrats removed then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita as the nominee for the Montgomery County-based district in 2008 in what was widely seen as retribution for voting for Ron Ramsey to become the Senate’s first Republican speaker since Reconstruction.

The 6th Circuit in 2012 upheld a ruling by then-U.S. District Judge Robert Echols of Nashville that the state Democratic Party’s primary board acted within its lawful authority when it stripped Kurita of the nomination despite her 19-vote victory.

Statement from Ortagus:

I am deeply disappointed in the SEC’s decision. I’m a bonafide Republican by their standards, and frankly, by any metric. I’m further disappointed that the party insiders at the Tennessee Republican Party do not seem to share my commitment to President Trump’s America First policies. As I have said all along, I believe that voters in Middle Tennessee should pick their representative – not establishment party insiders. Our team is evaluating the options before us.