Disqualification of 2nd Republican Candidate Raises Question of Open v. Closed State Primaries

RaeShawn Sanchez

By Kerri Bartlett, Managing Editor, Williamson Herald
Article Submitted

Franklin resident Raeshawn Sanchez, a state candidate in the 63rd House District, was disqualified Thursday to run in the Aug. 2 Republican Primary by the Tennessee State Republican Party.

The state party claims that Sanchez does not meet the qualifications of a “bona fide” Republican, a label that can be contested by any two registered voters residing in the candidates’ district, according to the party’s bylaws.

Sanchez is the second Williamson County Republican to be ousted this year from the primary ballot by the state party. In February, Tom Atema was also disqualified from running for the 4th District seat on the Williamson County Commission.

The Williamson County Election Office sent a notification Thursday (April 12, saying) that state party chairman Scott Golden submitted a letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, notifying the office of Sanchez’s disqualification. The state party communications director, Candice Dawkins, said the party could not find primary voting records for Sanchez or verification that she is an active member in the party – two qualifications to be deemed a “bona fide Republican.”

Golden requested that Sanchez’s name be removed from the ballot 20 minutes before the candidate withdrawal deadline of noon Thursday.

Sanchez pulled her petition to run against Rep. Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, 63rd District, in January within the first hour on the first day petitions were issued Jan. 5. She filed on Jan. 29. The state party office was unable to provide, by press time, the date the office received a notice challenging Sanchez’s Republican status.

However, Sanchez said she will still face Casada, maybe not on the ballot, but as a write-in candidate. She plans to forge ahead with her campaign.

Earlier this year, the Williamson County Election Office also received a request from Golden to remove Atema’s name from the ballot 30 minutes before the noon withdrawal deadline on Feb. 22 in the county commission race.

What is a bona fide Republican?

According to state GOP bylaws, a candidate’s bona fide Republican status can be contested per Article IX, Section 2, by any two registered voters that live in a candidate’s district.

To qualify as a bona fide Republican, as stated in Article IX, Section 1 of the state party’s bylaws, a candidate must meet the following criteria:

A. Any individual who is actively involved in the Tennessee Republican Party, his County Republican Party, or any recognized auxiliary organization of either; and resides and is registered to vote in said county; and either

B. Any individual who has voted in at least three (3) of the four (4) most recent Statewide Republican primary elections; or

C. Any individual who is vouched for in writing to the satisfaction of the State Chairman as a bona fide Republican, such as by an officer of the TRP, a member of the SEC, CEC of the County where the individual resides, or a Republican elected official. The State Chairman may require additional verification that the individual in question is indeed a bona fide Republican, and shall have final authority to make the determination.

An example of being “vouched for” would include an elected Republican official writing a letter of support for a candidate regarding his or her Republican status.

‘Shocked’ to hear about disqualification

Sanchez said she just heard the news Thursday afternoon when Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray sent the notice by email mailing list.

“My initial reaction is shock,” Sanchez said.

“The Williamson County Republican Party had a wonderful opportunity to let people see them in a different light, and they blew it. This is one of the most anti-democratic things I have ever witnessed. They did not let the democratic process happen like it is supposed to happen.

“I am floored at the possibility that someone can tell you your views are conservative or not conservative enough. That is despicable.”

Sanchez said she was not previously notified of the disqualification before its announcement.

“I was not contacted by anyone from either the state or local affiliates of the Republican Party,” she said. “They have done bad business.”

“It is un-American to be a bully – to not allow someone to defend themselves. These kinds of things mobilize the Democratic Party. They have just mobilized a whole group,” Sanchez added.

The state party says a system of verifying one’s status as a Republican is important to ensure Republicans know who they are voting for in primaries.

“It’s in our code, and we want folks involved to be in the primary,” Michael Sullivan, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, previously told the Herald in February when Atema was ousted.

“We want potential nominees to be able to hold up the principles and standards of the Republican Party,” Sullivan said. “We see it as ensuring that folks who are running are true Republicans. We have to have some line in the sand, and it might not be perfect, but it’s the line we have right now.”

WCRP, Rep. Casada support closed primary bill in Tennessee

Earlier this year, the Williamson County Republican Party Executive Committee passed a resolution supporting House Bill 0887, companion Senate Bill 0772, that would require a person to declare a statewide political party affiliation before voting in a primary election.

The bill was co-sponsored by Casada, Sanchez’s opponent. Ultimately, the bill was taken off notice in the Local Government Subcommittee in the 110th General Assembly.

Currently, the state of Tennessee is an open primary state, which does not require voters to be affiliated with a political party in order to vote for partisan candidates.

However, switching to a closed primary state, some GOP members say, would ensure that more “true” Republicans run in the primaries.

Williamson County Republican Party Executive Committee voted on a resolution supporting the bill earlier this year. WCRP Chairman Debbie Deaver emphasized she believes changing the law would benefit the party.

“You can’t vote in a Democratic primary and then run as a Republican,” Deaver said.

“It’s a little disingenuous to allow someone to select a candidate for a party they don’t identify with and who they will not vote for in the general election.”

“Just like Alabama doesn’t let Tennessee pick its head coach, and Apple doesn’t have the board of Microsoft select its CEO, we should not let non-Republicans pick our nominees,” Deaver explained further in a media release earlier this year.

Deaver said changing the law would make a candidate’s affiliation more clear; otherwise the bona fide statute in the state bylaws is much needed, she said.

“That is the whole reason for this [bona fide] rule,” Deaver said. “That is the only way, we know if you are Republican or not.”

Deaver verified that the WCRP was not involved in the ultimate decision to remove Sanchez from the ballot.

“The county party was not consulted on this decision, nor a part of the decision-making process,” Deaver said. “This is the responsibility of the state election committee and state party.”

Casada said primaries should not be looked at as general elections.

“For 230 years, we have elected the governor and president by a general election. Primaries began in the mid-1800s and are night and day from general elections,” he said. “The primary is about choosing the Republican nominee. Why would a Republican want to support a Democratic nominee?

“I feel strongly that Democrats are Democrats, Independents are Independents and Republicans are Republicans.”

Casada said the general election allows voters to cast ballots any way they wish but believes the primaries should stay within party lines.

“I would scold any Republican that interferes with electing a Democratic nominee in a primary,” Casada said.

Casada said he was not involved in the decision to disqualify Sanchez.

Not giving up

Meanwhile, Sanchez said she is not giving up.

“The news today, while disappointing, will not deter my message,” she said Thursday.

“I am still committed to the people of Williamson County. I decided to run for the people, not a party. Therefore, I can go forward saying to the people I am here for you. Let me help foster in the real change that we need to see. So, voters mobilize and go to the poles decidedly knowing that you will ‘write me in.’”

This story is posted here with permission from Williamson Herald.

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