GOP committee wants to shrink big tent

Frank CagleFeature, Frank Talk

The Republican Party state executive committee passed a resolution Saturday calling for a law to prevent Democrats and independents from voting for Republicans. You would think Republicans would be happy with the state’s voting system since they have a super majority in the legislature, the governor’s office, two U.S. senators and seven of nine U.S. House seats.

There is a faction of state Republicans who believe that the current open primary elects the wrong kind of Republicans. They want to close the primaries so voters have to register for a party and vote in that party’s primary election. They hope by doing this they can elect far-right candidates and prevent any contamination by independents or Democrats who might prefer a more moderate candidate.

The super majority of Republicans in the legislature came about when rural Democrats in West Tennessee began voting for Republicans. Would the shift to the Republican super majority have happened if these Democrats had been prevented from voting for Republicans?

In Tennessee, rural Democrats (if there are any left) are as conservative as Republicans. When the national Democratic Party lurched to the left with Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton, the Republicans welcomed rural and small-town Democrats with open arms – with an open primary.

The myth that large numbers of Democrats strategically vote for the weakest Republican in the primary in hopes of beating that candidate in the general is just that – a myth. Look at the success of the Republican Party over the past decade.

With an open primary the Republican winner is thus a candidate likely to win the general election. What good does it do the Republican Party to have a far-right candidate win a closed primary and then lose in the general election? I’ve never seen the logic in having ideologically pure losers versus winners who give Republicans control and who agree on the majority of conservative issues.

The Republican Party executive committee has made its position clear with the resolution last Saturday. But it will be up to the state legislature to actually make the change by changing the law. I would hope that the current Republican legislators, elected under the current open-primary system, would have the sense to leave things alone.

There are different motivations among people calling for change. Like restricting the vote to prevent the election of people like Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Bill Haslam, who are considered too middle-of-the-road for some of the most conservative Republicans. John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association says open primaries have “allowed Democrats, progressives, liberals and communists” to vote in Republican primaries. He told members in an email that it will be difficult to get the current Republican super majority to scrap the gun-permit system and allow anyone anywhere to carry. He blames open primaries for not electing legislators who are conservative enough. The impetus for closed primaries usually comes from people who care only about a single issue.

But the bottom line is that people who want to change the system are people whose candidates don’t win.

Read My Lips: Tributes have been plentiful for the late President George H.W. Bush, and rightly so. He had a long and distinguished career. But a couple of observations about the coverage:

Bush was lauded for going back on his pledge of “no new taxes, read my lips,” etc., and joining the Democratic leadership in raising taxes to reduce the deficit. Promised spending cuts never materialized. Bush’s breaking his promise to the American people led to Ross Perot splitting the Republican Party. It allowed Bill and Hillary Clinton to go to the White House. Without that decision to renege on his promise, Bill and Hillary might be living in an Arkansas trailer park today, where they belong.

There is a Washington freak-out every time it is suggested that President Trump might pardon those being investigated by the special counsel. But they don’t mention that the sainted Bush 41 pardoned everybody in the special counsel investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Haslam 2.0: Some conservatives (see first item) are starting to complain that Gov.-elect Bill Lee may just be a continuation of outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam. Lee is keeping some Haslam commissioners and hasn’t announced any prominent conservatives for big jobs. You may be puzzled about what could be wrong with building on Haslam’s successes, but then maybe you are a sane and rational person who doesn’t need to stir up your mailing list to keep the membership dues rolling in.

Hey, Neighbor: If the leadership of the state wants a sit-down, most of them won’t have to go far. Williamson County, a bedroom community south of Nashville, is the home of new Gov.-elect Lee. And Speaker of the House Glen Casada. And Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. And newly elected U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Johnson was elected Majority Leader on Monday, replacing Sen. Mark Norris, who was appointed federal judge in Memphis.

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