Morgan Ortagus

Starbuck sues over ouster from GOP ballot

Music video producer Robby Starbuck is suing over his removal from the Republican primary ballot in the 5th Congressional District. Starbuck was booted along with former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and businessman Baxter Lee.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” Starbuck said in a statement. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville.”

Here’s the press release from the Starbuck camp:

Republican congressional candidate Robby Starbuck has responded to the Tennessee GOP scheme to effectively remove him from the ballot with a lawsuit, filed Monday afternoon in Federal court. The suit names the Tennessee Republican Party — which includes the State Executive Committee, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Scott Golden, Coordinator of Elections Scott Goins, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the office of the Secretary of State. 

The Starbuck campaign’s brief alleges that officials used secret and irregular means to prevent a free and fair election. The Starbuck campaign expects that disenfranchised Tennesseans and Robby Starbuck will be awarded relief in the form of a court-ordered reversal of the State Executive Committee’s decision, likely on constitutional grounds, to return Robby Starbuck to the ballot.

“The state party is trying to go beyond the scope of what they’re allowed to do by kicking a bonafide Republican like me off the ballot” said Starbuck. “It’s the same sort of backroom trickery they tried to use against Trump in 2016 at the Republican convention — which is ironic since the state party is trying to get the next Republican convention to Nashville. Tennessee voters won’t forgive this behind the back theft of their choice on Election Day. Disenfranchising our voters robs them of an America First candidate aligned with President Trump, leaving them with only weak alternatives — Tennesseans demand a reversal!”

Starbuck is also fighting for two of his primary opponents to be reinstated on the ballot, Baxter Lee and Morgan Ortagus. 

“This is not communist Cuba, where my family escaped from,” Starbuck commented. “In America, the party doesn’t get to just SELECT candidates that they like — the people get to ELECT the candidate they want on Election Day!”

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. expressed his support for Starbuck on Twitter earlier this week. .

“This lawsuit is a testing point—and hopefully a turning point—that could end backroom politics” concluded Starbuck. “We’re not going to stop fighting until WE THE PEOPLE are given our constitutional rights back.”

New edition alert: Lawmakers adjourn for the year and we hand out our annual TNJ awards

Lawmakers attend Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— With the legislature safely adjourned, we hand out awards for the year’s best legislation, lobbying effort, and administration liaison. Also, an assortment participation medals for less laudable actions during the session.

— Party purity? Trump-backed candidate kicked off GOP ballot, but pot-smoking party switcher stays.

— Twenty-two Republican hopefuls failed to meet party standards but 13 are restored to the ballot, including a challenger to Rep. Scott Cepicky and three of four GOP candidates to succeed retiring Rep. Michael Curcio.

Also: Weston Wamp says he’s not behind attacks on rivals, Knoxville hires a new police chief, lawmakers deal final insult to Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, and the latest intrigue surrounding Bruce and Rebecca Griffey.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ alert: Fallout from GOP’s 5th District cull, compromise on ‘truth in sentencing’ clears way to adjournment

It all fits together somehow.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— GOP ouster of three leading candidates, including Trump favorite Ortatgus, from 5th Congressional District primary reverberates in Tennessee and beyond.

— The end is near: Compromise over “truth in sentencing” bill clears path to legislature’s adjournment as soon as next week.

— From the campaign trail: Races for prosecutor heat up in Shelby, Davidson, and Hamilton counties, big money for Republican Brent Taylor in bid to succeed indicted Sen. Brian Kelsey and Democrat Caleb Hemmer in race for open Nashville House seat, and a skulduggery update.

Also:

Frank Niceley’s blames reporter for his own comments, Lamar Alexander backs parking fees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Michael Curcio sends his campaign balance to his PAC, Todd Warner praises Dixieland Strategies, and Chris Todd channels Bob Dylan.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

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.

Ortagus raises $600K despite fight over eligibility

Republican Morgan Ortagus has raised nearly $600,000 for her congressional bid despite persistent questions about whether she will be able to appear on the primary ballot for the 5th District.

Ortagus made a big splash when she landed the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, but state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation to require people seeking to run in party primaries for Congress to have lived in Tennessee for at least three years. Ortagus moved to Nashville last year. A legal challenge is pending.

Here is the fundraising release from the Ortagus campaign:

NASHVILLE, TN — Team Morgan Ortagus today announced that Trump-endorsed conservative Morgan Ortagus raised nearly $600,000 in the first six weeks of her campaign to represent Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District. Team Morgan Ortagus has over $550,000 cash on hand.

“Our team is building momentum every day, as Middle Tennesseans make it clear they want their next Congressman to fight for our conservative values and President Trump’s America First agenda,” said Morgan Ortagus. “I’ve never run for public office before, and I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve received in the first two months of our campaign. Together, we’re going to take back the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and fire Nancy Pelosi once and for all.”

Morgan Ortagus is an active U.S. Navy Reserve Officer and a business executive. She served in President Trump’s Department of State and has received President Trump’s “complete and total” endorsement.

Read the lawsuit filed against congressional residency requirements in Tennessee

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Nashville seeking to prevent a state law from going into effect that would impose a three-year residency requirement for congressional candidates in Tennessee. The challenge was filed on behalf of three residents who say they want to vote for Republican Morgan Ortagus in the the open 5th District race. Ortagus has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but state lawmakers have chafed at her candidacy because she only moved to the state a year ago.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson, who was appointed to the bench by Trump. The lawsuit was filed by the Washington, D.C., law firm Dickinson Wright PLLC.

As frequent offenders when it comes to typos, we wouldn’t ordinarily make a point of highlighting the mistakes of others, but misspelled words in the lawsuit are particularly jarring given their central nature to the arguments presented. They include “Tennesse,” “Represenatives,” “unconstitional” “Repulican,” “impermissably,” “Consitution,” “Congressionl,” and “critreria.” They are replicated within the full text of the complaint below:

BARBRA COLLINS, AMY C. DUDLEY and DONALD J. SOBERY, PLAINTIFFS v. STATE OF TENNESSEE, and TRE HARGETT in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, DEFENDANTS.)

COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs Barbra Collins (“Collins”), Amy C. Dudley (“Dudley”), and Donald J. Sobery (“Sobery”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), file this Complaint against Defendants State of Tennessee (the “State”) and Tre Hargett (“Hargett”), in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, (collectively “Defendants”), and allege as follows:

NATURE OF THE ACTION

1. This is a civil action seeking damages and declaratory relief arising under the Qualification Clause of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. Art. 1 § 2; U.S. Const. Art. 1 § 5. This action challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee Senate Bill 2616/House Bill 2764 (the “Provision”) that imposes an impermissible residency requirement on candidates running for United States Congress Specifically, the Provision requires that a candidate running for United States Congress reside in Tennessee, as well as within the congressional district they seek to represent, for at least three years in order to appear on the primary ballot as a candidate.

2. This Provision will become law unless Governor Bill Lee vetoes the legislation.

3. Under the challenged Provision, an otherwise constitutionally qualified candidate for whom Plaintiffs intend to vote in the Republican primary for the Fifth Congressional District, will be prohibited from running because she has not lived in Tennessee for at least three years. The Provision blatantly violates Article I of the United States Constitution (the “Constitution”) because the Constitution delineates the only qualifications necessary to serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and vests with the House of Representatives the exclusive authority to judge the qualifications of its own members.

4. Plaintiffs seek damages and a declaration that the Provision is unconstitutional so that all qualified candidates who wish to run for Congress in the August 4, 2022 primary election may do so.

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House backs off delay on residency requirement for congressional candidates, sends bill to governor

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill seeking to require congressional candidates to have lived in Tennessee for at least three years before they can seek office is on its way to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk after the House dropped its effort to have the measure apply to the election cycle after this one.

If signed into law, the measure could imperil the 5th District candidacies of former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and music video producer Robby Starbuck. Ortagus, who moved to Nashville last year, has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Starbuck, a California transplant, has the backing of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

A legal challenge is also widely anticipated because the U.S. Constitution only requires candidates to be at least 25 years old and live in the state they are hoping to represent.

Other GOP candidates for the open 5th District seat include former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, businessman Baxter Lee, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, and retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead.

Senate refuses to back off of Tenn. residency requirements for congressional candidates

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate has voted to reject a House amendment to a bill seeking to impose three-year residency requirements on congressional candidates. The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Stawberry Plains) would take effect immediately, which could preclude at least two declared candidates from running for the open 5th District seat.

The House last week amended its version of the bill to apply only to candidates running after the current election cycle. House sponsor Dave Wright (R-Corryton) said he supported the Senate version, but still went ahead with putting his chamber’s delay in his bill.

Former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus is the highest-profile candidate whose bid could be thwarted by the legislation as she just moved to Nashville last year. Ortagus has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Another Republican congressional hopeful who might fall under the three-year blackout is music video producer Robby Starbuck, who has the backing of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Legislative attorneys have warned the state-imposed residency requirements could run afoul of a provision of the U.S. Constitution stating: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”

Harwell joins open 5th District race

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 29, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Associated Press)

Former state House Speaker Beth Harwell has joined the race for the Republican nomination in the open 5th Congressional District.

Harwell, the first female speaker in the history of the General Assembly, left the chamber in 2018 to run for governor.

Other declared candidates so far include former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and music video producer Robby Starbuck. Others pondering bids include businessman Baxter Lee, attorney and retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles.

Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper announced his retirement after state lawmakers split up Nashville into three heavily Republican districts.

Here’s the release from the Harwell campaign:

NASHVILLE, TN– Beth Harwell announced today that she is running for the Republican nomination for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional district. A life-long Republican and long-time Nashville resident, Beth is a mother, educator, and former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

“As Speaker, we rebuilt the Tennessee economy by eliminating taxes, promoting school choice, and balancing our budget. Before that, I taught American history – real American history,” said Beth Harwell. “Now I’m running for Congress to fix America by bringing Tennessee common sense to Washington – they could learn a thing or two from the way we do things.  It’s time to rein in our federal government, stop the fiscal insanity, and return power to the states.”

Today’s America has been put through the ringer as the Biden Administration has driven inflation through the roof and spent our tax dollars on pet projects. They have taken control over our children’s classrooms and destroyed our businesses with mandates and overbearing regulations. Tennesseans don’t need more taxes, red-tape, and government overreach into their families. It’s time the 5th district had a representative who will fix our economy, secure our border, and ensure parents can be involved with their children’s education. 

Beth is the only proven conservative leader and reformer in this race. As Speaker of the House, Tennessee permanently banned a state income tax and eliminated the gift, death, and Hall income taxes, resulting in the largest amount of tax cuts in state history to the tune of over $5 billion dollars. She led the fight for school choice in Tennessee, empowering parents with a greater voice in their children’s education. Beth was an early proponent and ardent supporter of public charter schools and homeschooling options for families across the state.

The 5th congressional district includes portions of Davidson, Wilson, and Williamson Counties and all of Lewis, Marshall, and Maury Counties. 

To learn more about Beth visit BethHarwell.com.

About Beth. As a life-long Republican, Beth played a key role in expanding the party in Tennessee. As Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, she directed the strategy that saw Republicans capture a majority in the State Senate for the first time in nearly 150 years. In her time as the House Republican Caucus Whip and Campaign Committee Chair, House Republicans captured the four seats necessary to take the majority in the Tennessee House of Representatives. In 2011, Beth became the first female Speaker of the House in the Southeast, a position she held for eight years before being appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors by President Donald Trump in 2019, a position she still holds. She also currently serves as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Beth and her husband Sam live in Nashville where they raised their three children. She is a graduate of Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University.

Pompeo endorses former spokeswoman Ortagus in 5th District

Morgan Ortagus

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has endorsed former spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.

Ortagus landed the endorsement of former President Donald Trump before formally announcing her bid earlier this month. Some state lawmakers have chafed at her candidacy because she and her husband have only lived in Nashville for a year. A proposal to require a three-year residency to run in congressional primaries is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, but has yet to gain any traction in the House.

“I’ll leave state matters to the state legislature,” Ortagus said in a statement last week. “I’m focused on earning the support of the 5th District Tennesseans who want a conservative fighter to defend President Trump’s agenda.”

Here’s the release from Pompeo’s Champion American Values PAC:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today endorsed Morgan Ortagus for Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Speaking about his endorsement, Secretary Mike Pompeo said, “A Republican majority in the House of Representatives is critical to stopping Joe Biden’s extreme agenda, and that means we’ll need to win in multiple Democrat-held seats throughout the country. In Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District, I can’t think of a stronger candidate than Morgan Ortagus. Morgan played a critical role in our administration’s efforts to put America first and to restore American greatness to our foreign policy. She has served her country honorably in the executive branch and in our military, and I know she’ll continue to champion the American values we share in Congress. I encourage all freedom-loving Tennesseans in the Fifth Congressional District to join me in fully supporting Morgan in the primary this August.”

“I’m humbled to be endorsed by Secretary Pompeo, a man I was honored to work for on behalf of the American people,” said Morgan Ortagus. “Together, we stood firmly against authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba both at home and around the world. In Congress, I’ll continue to fight for freedom and to preserve the American Dream. The forces of communism seek to forever snuff out the flame of liberty– Mike Pompeo and I won’t let that happen.”