Thursday, May 5, 2022

Starbuck files lawsuit to be added to Tennessee's 5th Congressional Republican ballot

Robby Starbuck
By Jon Styf | The Center Square, May 3, 2022 -  Former Republican 5th Congressional District candidate Robby Starbuck has filed suit in federal court stating that he should be placed back on the ballot for the Aug. 4 Republican primary.

The suit claims that the Tennessee Republican Party did not follow its own bylaws, incorrectly held a private meeting and then came to a conclusion that Starbuck, Morgan Ortagus and Baxter Lee were removed from the ballot.

It also claims that at least one member of the voting board voted against both Starbuck and Ortagus based upon a new residency law passed in the state and not based upon the party's bylaws.

"The abrupt removal of Mr. Starbuck and Ms. Ortagus from the 5th District Republican race clears the way for Beth Harwell, former Chair of the TRP and former speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives," according to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

The defendant names on the suit are Tennessee GOP chair Scott Golden, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.

Starbuck’s suit says that he was told he was removed by a 13-3 vote because he lacked Republican "bona fides" and that he had not voted in the required three of four past Republican primaries. But the bylaws actually allow for letters attesting to a candidates Republican bona fides to take the place of that voting.

"On a call on April 19, 2022, after the vote, Defendant Golden told Mr. Starbuck that no candidate had ever provided so many vouching letters and still been removed from the ballot," the suit stated. "Indeed, he would discover that some Republicans had been permitted to compete in primary elections with neither a qualifying voting record, nor vouching letters."

Starbuck said that one member of the committee stated that she voted against Starbuck not on the basis of his voting record but due to a new state law that became law without Gov. Bill Lee’s signature that requires party primary candidates to have lived in the state for three years before running.

Hargett, through a spokesperson, said that law would not impact this primary because it became law after the filing deadline.

"On information and belief, subcommittee member Angie McClanahan has stated that her vote to end Mr. Starbuck’s candidacy was specifically not based on his voting record," the suit states. "Instead, she has informed others that her vote was based solely on a state law, referring to Tennessee’s new — and inapplicable — residency law, to disqualify Mr. Starbuck."

Three Tennessee residents filed suit against the law on behalf of Ortagus.

Starbuck’s suit states that he moved to Williamson County in Dec. 2018 and has been working with Republican candidates since, saying he has "raised and spent over $100,000 in reliance on the TRP’s rules in its Bylaws" already on his campaign.

Starbuck’s suit also claims that the Republican Party violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act when it voted to terminate his candidacy. Starbuck states in the suit that he was, at first, told the vote would occur at a public meeting, later that he could participate via Zoom and then later told he could not participate at all.

Starbuck also held that the ruling is against the qualifications clause of the U.S. Constitution because it adds "substantive qualifications for federal office that are not in the Constitution."

Starbuck claims he has submitted evidence from hundreds of Tennessee voters, Republican leaders and politicians backing his Republican bona fides.

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