Baxter Lee

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.

Baxter Lee reports $317K in donations, same again from self in 5th District race

Businessman Baxter Lee has reported raising $317,380 in outside contributions — plus a matching donation from himself — in his bid for the Republican nomination in the open race for the 5th Congressional District. Developer Steve Smith, the finance for the Lee campaign, said the campaign had $560,000 on hand at the end of the fundraising period.

Contributions include $1,000 from former senator and governor Lamar Alexander and the same amount from Crown Bakeries founder Cordia Harrington. Jim Haslam, the founder of the Pilot truck stop chain. and former CEO Jimmy Haslam each gave $2,900. as did their spouses.

Here’s the release from the Lee campaign:

NASHVILLE, TN – Steve Smith, Finance Chair for Baxter Lee, announced over $630,000 for the first filing in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional district since Lee officially announced his candidacy three weeks ago. “I have worked with Baxter for years helping Republicans all over Tennessee get elected and I look forward to doing anything I can to help Baxter win this race,” Smith said. Lee has over $560,000 cash on hand.

Baxter Lee, a Tennessee native and entrepreneur, announced that he was running for Congress at the end of March, “I am humbled and honored by the encouragement myself and my family have received during this process so far. It speaks volumes of the confidence a person has when they financially support a candidate and my first quarter shows that I am someone they are putting their trust into,” Baxter stated. “The 5th district is looking forward to finally having a conservative Congressman to represent them again and wave goodbye to Nancy Pelosi.”

Lee is an eight generation Tennessean and business owner. This is Lee’s first campaign for office but has been an influential player in the success of many Tennessee Republicans being elected to public office. In 1994, his family hosted a fundraiser for Fred Thompson and worked hard to get him elected for his first term. Senator Thompson became a mentor to Lee, and he instilled conservative ideals like more freedom and less government. His first campaign donation was to Lamar Alexander in 1999 at twenty years old.