Commentary

Stockard on the Stump: Republican strategy clear with congressional results

November 11, 2022 6:01 am
U.S. Rep.-elect Andy Ogles gives his victory speech on Election Night, November 8. 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

U.S. Rep.-elect Andy Ogles gives his victory speech on Election Night, November 8. 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Republican congressional candidates vaulted to victory in Middle Tennessee, thanks to redrawn district lines that gave them a clear advantage at the polls. But it was also painfully obvious that Davidson County, which the GOP-controlled Legislature split into three districts, does not want them.

For instance, Republican Andy Ogles captured 123,358 votes, 55.8%, to Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell’s 93,375, 42.2%, to win what has historically been a Democratic seat and the main congressional post in Nashville.

Yet Ogles, a former Maury County mayor and leader of Americans for Prosperity, landed only 38.3% of the Davidson County vote to Campbell’s 60%. Instead, he won the election by rolling up big margins in Wilson, Williamson, Maury, Marshall and Lewis counties after barely campaigning.

“Irrefutably, these people are not going to represent Nashville,” especially in terms of work in the immigrant community, Campbell says.

Business connections with D.C. and constituent services will suffer, as well, Campbell says. She’s also concerned that the new regime believes this is a “white Christian nation,” which could mean less personal freedom for Nashvillians.

Going into the election, Democrats knew they were handicapped because of the built-in advantage a Republican would have at the ballot box, anywhere from 15 to 20 percentage points, based on support for former President Donald Trump in 2020 in the redrawn districts.

Irrefutably, these people are not going to represent Nashville.

– Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, of the three Republican congressmen representing Nashville.

Thus, Ogles spent little energy battling Campbell and aimed his ire at national Democrats and President Joe Biden, saying Tuesday he wants to fire U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and thousands of new IRS agents, shift focus to the Southern border and bring inflation under control. He’s also said the 2020 election was “stolen,” according to reports, while opposing gay marriage and abortion rights and railing against efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Ogles and most Republicans ran under the radar, choosing not to debate or give Democrats a chance to take shots at their policy stances. It proved to be an effective way to stay out of the eye of the media and keep Democrats from making their points.

Campbell, on the other hand, took the fight to Ogles, campaigning that he wants to cut Medicare and Social Security and pass a national abortion ban.

Campbell also outraised Ogles, but as it turned out she could have promised everyone 40 acres and a mule and lost the race.

As a result, a district drawn by Republicans for former House Speaker Beth Harwell went to a MAGA Republican who would do Trump’s bidding (although now it appears the former president is struggling nationally because of a spate of disappointments Tuesday night).

Republican state Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville tweeted Wednesday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the best choice for the next president, not Trump, after the MAGA leader tweeted that he won more votes than DeSantis in 2020. As if anyone is comparing.

Meanwhile, another Trump endorsee, Republican Rep. Mark Green, rolled to a win over Democrat Odessa Kelly in the realigned 7th Congressional District, picking up 108,358 votes, 60%, to the challenger’s 68,897, 38%.

Consultants urged Kelly not to run, but she plowed ahead anyway, showing some pluck as she claimed to be the new face in Tennessee politics. Kelly is Black, openly gay and holds some newfound sway in town as founder of Stand Up Nashville. She won 29,945 votes in Davidson, 73.2%, to Green’s 10,286, 25%, but got slammed in rural counties such as Perry and lost half of the Davidson margin in Williamson County alone, where Green picked up 19,290 votes to her 8,958, though that could be a victory of sorts.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green prepares to take the stage for his victory speech on Nov. 11, 2022. (Photo: Nick Fantasia)
U.S. Rep. Mark Green prepares to take the stage for his victory speech on Nov. 11, 2022. (Photo: Nick Fantasia)

Who knew Williamson County had nearly 9,000 people who would back a Black, gay woman?

Green, who held his party at the Millennium Maxwell Hotel but didn’t claim victory until about 10:30, was never overly enthused about being stuck with thousands of North Nashville voters, just so Republicans could redraw the 5th District. (He quipped Tuesday night that CNN called the race for him even though the network doesn’t like him, but he wanted to wait on the Associated Press, which for some reason took forever.)

Yet he promised even those who didn’t vote for him that he would deliver “100% of the service” he could give, including constituent services. “Because I understand what service means, and I understand more than most what duty means,” he said.

Green was an Army physician serving in the unit that captured deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But though he says he looks forward to representing Nashville’s historically black colleges and universities, as well as hospitals and medical schools, he will be diametrically opposed to Biden’s policies, most of which North Nashvillians support.

The proverbial rats leaving the ship? Republican state Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville tweeted Wednesday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the best choice for the next president, not Trump, after the MAGA leader tweeted that he won more votes than DeSantis in 2020.

Kelly accused Green of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare, but he says that’s not the case.

“We want to save Social Security. That’s a Democrat talking point,” he says, adding, “Of course, we want to keep Medicare.”

While legislative Republicans argued that Nashville would have more representation in Congress with three members when they passed the redistricting plan, anyone who watched the committee proceedings – and let’s be brutally honest here – saw nothing but a charade. Seriously, it didn’t even qualify as a dog and pony show.

Alternative redistricting plans, including one drawn up by Democrats, received zero consideration despite having compact and contiguous lines. Those watching knew the Republican-drawn plan that split Davidson into three districts and went sprawling out into the hinterland would pass. It was like the mob hit against Joe Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas,” and nothing could be done about it.

Consequently, Davidson County residents are stuck with three members of Congress who don’t live there and won’t vote the way 65% of the voters want. 

Just a little disenfranchisement

The redistricting plan split precincts across Davidson County leading to a major snafu that put hundreds of people in the wrong state and congressional districts.

The Republican-controlled Davidson County Election Commission identified 438 voters who were given erroneous ballots during early voting and another estimated 500 who would have gotten bad ballots on Election Day. 

The Associated Press tipped off the world about these errors a week before the vote, putting state and local election officials into a frenzy to try to figure out what to do. Tennessee didn’t want to be the epicenter of the voter fraud universe, and officials reached a court agreement with the League of Women Voters.

Instead, Nashville became ground zero for disenfranchisement.

According to Davidson County Election Administrator Jeff Roberts, 117 voters who cast erroneous ballots during early voting went to the election office on Tuesday and cast new ballots that were set aside in case of a contested election. That means only about a fourth of those given jacked-up ballots would have been counted.

And it means nearly 950 people’s votes would never be counted because none of the elections were contested. While none of the congressional races boiled down to 1,000 votes, no matter who deserves the blame, those people lost their right to vote. There’s no other way to slice it.

Sen. Campbell, who will remain in her state office with two years left on her term, lamented lack of Davidson County turnout as one reason she lost the race.

Ground zero for disenfranchisement: The votes of nearly 950 were not counted. Only 117 of the group who were given incorrect ballots in early voting cast provisional ballots Tuesday — and the provisional ballots were only to be counted in the event the results of an election were contested.

Davidson County has about 485,000 registered voters, and 179,926 of them voted, 37%, in the three congressional races – or at least that’s the number whose votes were counted.

“I think that all of the chicanery has effectively suppressed the vote,” Campbell says. 

She claims 75% of the people who went to the southeast library polling place were turned away on Election Day. 

Roberts says those voters thought they could vote there because it was used during early voting, but they had to go elsewhere because it wasn’t their polling place on Tuesday.

Sen. Heidi Campbell, the Democratic nominee for Tennessee's 5th Congressional District, outside a poll on Primary Election Day 2022.(Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Heidi Campbell, the Democratic nominee for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, outside a poll on Primary Election Day 2022.(Photo: John Partipilo)

The election commission mailed voters new cards this year. Yet the redrawn maps caused confusion. 

Campbell contends the Republican-controlled election commission and Secretary of State Tre Hargett failed to educate voters about all of the changes in Davidson County.

“They had eight months, 10 months to do that, and they didn’t do it. It’s their responsibility,” Campbell says. 

Mea culpa

Cannon County Election Administrator Matt Teply admits he made a mistake by posting some “3rd grade run-downs” on the constitutional amendments to simplify matters for voters. 

The administrator says he did it because election workers were overwhelmed with questions about the amendments during early voting. He quickly removed the explanations after realizing they were problematic.

For example, Cannon County’s explanation on question one was: Should “Right to Work” be set in the TN Constitution (Yes or No).

While the question approved by the Legislature is confusing, asking voters to decide whether they support language stating it is illegal to deny employment to a person based on membership in a union or refusal to join a union, it must be noted that the language was written by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and attorney who works for a law firm whose mission is to undermine unions. Kelsey is set to plead guilty to federal campaign finance violations.

If we’re going for simplified questions, a better one would have been: Should non-union employees be allowed to receive the same wages and benefits as union members in a union shop? 

Tennessee’s “Right to Work” law has been in existence for 70-plus years, enabling people to work in union shops without paying union dues, even as it is guaranteed under federal law.

Most people don’t understand the law. In fact, the words “right to work” were not part of the amendment question.

Many voters probably confused the question with the fact that Tennessee is an “at-will” state, which means employers can fire workers at any time for no reason.

In addition, Cannon County’s explainer says on Question #3, “Slavery is illegal in TN. Would you like to reword that prohibition in the Constitution? (Yes or No)”

In fact, the Constitution said slavery and involuntary servitude are “forever prohibited,” except as punishment for a person convicted of a crime. The new amendment states, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.” The Department of Correction asked that the second line be added, which was crucial in its passage.

It’s unclear why anyone would need an explanation on that. But Teply acknowledges he erred.

“I should have taken my own advice on that and said they’re just going to have to sit there and stare at it or not vote,” he says.

Initially, he posted summations the state provided but then decided to break it down further.

“That was a bad idea,” he says.

From now on, he adds, voters will have to figure it out on their own. While Teply admits fault, the Legislature really deserves the blame.

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters at the culmination of his statewide bus tour, Nov. 7, 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters at the culmination of his statewide bus tour, Nov. 7, 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Show me the money?

Gov. Bill Lee would never speak the name of his opponent, Dr. Jason Martin, or differentiate them during the campaign. 

But he did take the Democrats’ challenge seriously, if you look at the amount of money he spent.

Gov. Bill  Lee spent $4.6 million in the last three and a half months of the campaign in addition to going on a statewide tour. Not exactly chump change, which begs the question: Is this a run for the vice presidency?

Lee raised $172,089 in the waning days of his campaign. In his pre-general report, he reported spending $3.2 million, including nearly $280,000 on phone communications.

For the third quarter, he reported raising $557,389 and spending $1.4 million, including $900,000 on media production or TV ads. 

That means, Lee spent $4.6 million in the last three and a half months in addition to going on a statewide tour. Not exactly chump change, which begs the question: Is this a run for the vice presidency?

Incidentally, Lee won 65% of the vote to Martin’s 33%.

Gov. Bill  Lee spent $4.6 million in the last three and a half months of the campaign in addition to going on a statewide tour. Not exactly chump change, which begs the question: Is this a run for the vice presidency?

Claiming a mandate

House Majority Leader William Lamberth took to Twitter this week to point out the state House has 17 new freshmen members after Tuesday’s vote, including 14 Republicans and three Democrats, giving the GOP a 75-seat supermajority, one more than it had last when last session started. (Independent Rep. John Mark Windle, who lost this week, left the Democratic Party this year after an uproar over his votes on permit-less carry and other positions Dems felt unsavory.)

Lamberth, a Portland Republican, thanked Tennesseans for “sending a strong message that you like how we serve you.”

He and Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson followed up at mid-week by introducing the Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act.

It will ban medical procedures that alter a child’s hormonal balance and prohibit removal of organs that enable a minor to identify with a gender opposite of their biological sex.

The bill also creates a private right of action allowing those under 18 to sue for damages in cases of violations. It also allows for penalties of $25,000 for each violation.

Minors could even bring civil action against a parent who gives permission on the minor’s behalf when the law is violated.

In addition, the state attorney general would be able to take action against a health-care provider for breaking the law within 20 years of the violation. That’s a pretty long statute of limitations.

The legislation does make exceptions for children with chromosomal anomalies or congenital defects.

But it looks like kids will have to go across the state lines for gender treatment. 

Look for Republicans to line up behind this bill and put Democrats on the spot, even though under current law, prepubescents aren’t allowed to undergo gender affirming treatment. Apparently, a window exists between puberty and the 18th birthday when parents and kids make the decision to have breasts removed or other surgeries.

Let’s just hope this incursion into medical offices doesn’t start affecting cancer treatments and other medical procedures. Oops, I almost forgot they banned abortions, even in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, cases that require doctors to prove in court they had to save a woman’s life.

State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin,passes U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn to take the stage at a rally for Gov. Bill Lee the night before the 2022 election. (Photo: John Partipilo)
State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin,passes U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn to take the stage at a rally for Gov. Bill Lee the night before the 2022 election. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Life ain’t a cabaret

Johnson followed up that life-changing bill this week with a real show stopper.

No longer will kids be able to attend adult cabaret performances that feature topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers and female impersonators, mainly those who provide entertainment that appeals to “prurient interest.”

Well hell. What’s a boy to do these days?

You can’t go to the mall and hang out anymore. Malls are dead for the most part, and who wants to get shot anyway?

In fact, you’re probably safer at a drag show than at Opry Mills in Nashville, and the traffic’s not nearly as miserable.

Next thing you know, they’re going to ban the latest iteration of “A Star is Born,” in which Bradley Cooper met Lady Gaga at a drag club. They tell me Cooper and Gaga got a little too tight.

“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.”

Clarification: this story has been updated to reflect the most recent vote count totals. 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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