Monday, April 14, 2014

Correction: Mark Winslow survives challenge. Will remain on ballot as TNGOP Executive Committee candidate

This is a corrected version of this report. Previously, I had stated that the Democrat candidate being supported by Mark Winslow did not have a Republican opponent in that race. In fact, she does. Rod

In addition to Matt Collins who failed to survive a challenge to his candidacy to run for a seat on the Tennessee Republican Party's executive committee, there were 20 other Republicans who were challenged, most of them for seats on the Executive Committee but some for other positions. Among those challenged were Mark Winslow and Karen Bennett. Both Winslow and Bennett are current members of the Executive Committee representing district 19.

Tony Roberts
Both Winslow and Bennett were challenged for supporting Melissa Blackburn, a Democrat running for General Session Judge, Division II. Blackburn has three Democrat opponents. The Democrat candidate will be selected in the Democratic Primary of May 6th and will face the Republican candidate in the August election.  The Republican seeking that seat is Marian Fordyce.

The challenges to Winslow and Bennett were brought by Tony Roberts and Melissa Gay. Tony Roberts is the Second Vice Chair of the Davidson County Republican Party. He is also one of founders of  Conservative  Groups of Middle Tennessee, an organization designed to bring together right-of-center activist, Republicans, and Libertarians for mutual cooperation and networking. Tony also is chair of GOP Minority Coalition of Tennessee, which does outreach to minority groups and immigrants.

I caught up with Tony at an event last week and asked him about his challenge of the candidacy of Winslow and Bennett. He told me that the party bylaws say a member of the Executive Committee cannot endorse a Democrat and he says if they do, he does not think they should be allowed to hold a seat on the Executive Committee.

I think it inappropriate for a member of the Executive Committee to be endorsing a Democrat in a Democrat primary even if there is no Republican running for that seat.  To vote for the candidate they endorse, one would have to vote in the Democrat primary. You do not build the Republican Party if Republicans vote in the Democrat Primary.  In this case it is even worse however, because there is a Republican candidate for that seat.  Marian Fordyce is running as a Republican and will be on the ballot unopposed on May 6, and will then face the Democrat who wins the Democrat primary in August.

It is my understanding the Mellisa Blackburn is the wife of one the attorneys who represented Mark Winslow in his legal action against Chuck Fleishman and the State Republican Party. Also, if what I have been told his correct, Mark Winslow is not simply supporting someone who happens to be a Democrat out of friendship, but has a paid position in her campaign. This is an outrage and should not be tolerated.

TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney's explanation of why Winslow and Bennett were not removed is that he ran out of time to do so. While admitting they violated party bylaws, he said he was not comfortable making the decision himself, which the rules says is his responsibility.  Rather than making that decision alone he wanted the input of the Executive Committee and he says there was not time to convene the committee. This is lame. By not removing them, he made the decision not to remove them. The decision was his and there is no evading that he made a decision. If the Chairman should not have that authority to remove or not remove a person from the ballot, then the procedure needs to be changed. Until it is changed, by not removing someone who is challenged, the Chairman is making a decision to keep them on the ballot.

Mark Winslow
Mark Winslow has long been active in Republican Party politics. He was the former Chief of Staff of the Tennessee Republican Party.  When Chris Devaney took over as Chair of the Party, he wanted to select his own chief of staff and he terminated Winslow and awarded him severance pay of $12,504. This latter became an issue in a campaign between Robin Smith and Chuck Fleishman who were primary opponents seeking the 3rd congressional seat nomination. Fleishman used this payment of Winslow's severance as an attack on Smith's management of the Party. This ended up with Winslow suing the state party. To read more about this issue go here, here, and here.

Each district must have a male and female member on the Executive Committee of the Party.  Karen Bennett is the female representing the same district as Mark Winslow. Karen Bennett is also a member of the Metro Council.

Karen Bennett
The number of challenges this year to people seeking a spot on the ballot to run for a seat on the Executive Committee is underrepresented. Some election cycles there are no challenges.  The number of challenges and who were being challenged went national. Scottie Huges, the news director and chief journalist for the Tea Party News Network wrote about it and reported it as a fight between establishment republicans and the Tea Party. (link)

I cannot find a statement as to the result of the 21 challenges. One could compare the list of those who were challenged to those who are on the ballot but even it a name was on the first list and not the second list, one would not know if the person was ousted or voluntarily withdrew.  Other than Matt Collins, I do not know who was removed.

Here is the Tennessean's coverage of the issue: As GOP dominates, ballot challenges get weird.

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