Kelsey will not seek Senate reelection

By: - March 4, 2022 3:40 pm
Sen. Brian Kelsey. R-Germantown (Photo: John Partipilo)

Former Sen. Brian Kelsey, photographed in the Tennessee Capitol in 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Indicted Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, announced Friday afternoon that he will not seek reelection this year. 

Kelsey sent a message to supporters shortly before posting his announcement on Twitter. 

“I will not be running for reelection due to a recent, exciting change to my personal life, and I look forward to spending more time with my family,” Kelsey said in the statement. 

He said his future plans include “fighting for American values in the court system” but didn’t specify details on that role. 

Kelsey’s notice comes about four months after he was indicted on five counts of violating federal campaign finance laws. The Lookout reported in October Kelsey and Joshua Smith, owner of the The Standard Club, an upscale restaurant in downtown Nashville, are charged with funneling more than $90,000 from his state account to his failed 2016 congressional campaign through the social club’s political action committee and then to the American Conservative Union, which bought independent ads supporting Kelsey’s run.

A judge postponed his trial, initially slated for January, until January 2023. 

A graduate of the University of North Carolina and the Georgetown University Law School, Kelsey was elected to the legislature as a state representative in 2004 at the age of 27.

He won election to Senate District 31 in a 2009 special election after incumbent Paul Stanley resigned over a scandal involving a female intern, and won a full term in 2010. 

Kelsey, an arch conservative and constitutional lawyer who works for the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, has regularly drawn Democratic fire. He sponsored a bill to prohibit the expansion of Medicaid in 2014 and a bill to create Education Savings Accounts, known as school vouchers. The voucher bill became law under Gov. Bill Lee in 2019 but has been struck down in court. 

He also sponsored three amendments to the Tennessee Constitution, two of which were successful, including the prohibition of a state income tax. The third amendment would place the anti-union Right to Work bill in the constitution and is on the upcoming November ballot. 

Democrat Gabby Salinas came close to beating Kelsey in 2018, losing by only 2%, and he has already drawn both Democratic challengers and a Republican primary opponent this year. Despite Friday’s announcement, he didn’t rule out running again.

“Lord willing, I hope you will give me the opportunity to run for elected office again in Tennessee in the coming years,” Kelsey’s statement concluded.

(Sam Stockard contributed to this story.)


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J. Holly McCall
J. Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.