Republican sues GOP and state after being barred from TN House primary ballot

Starbuck on set in Nashville
Starbuck on set in Nashville(NBC News)
Published: May. 3, 2022 at 3:39 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A former congressional candidate sued the Tennessee Republican Party in federal court after being barred from the ballot.

Robby Starbuck, the right-wing influencer barred by fellow Republicans in Tennessee from competing in a House primary, asked a federal court Monday to overturn the decision NBC News reported.

After being one of three voted off the primary ballot by the state party last month, Starbuck filed a lawsuit naming state GOP Chair Scott Golden, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and the state coordinator of elections, Mark Goins, as defendants. Starbuck argued that they all broke the law by removing him from the ballot.

The state Republican party’s executive committee decided to remove Starbuck, which ruled the candidates did not meet the qualifications to run under the party banner as laid out in the Tennessee GOP’s bylaws.

This is not the first time the party has removed candidates. In the past, dozens have been removed due to failing to adhere to the rules, which are put in place to weed out candidates who are not considered “bonafide” members of the party. In this round, the Tennessee GOP removed over 20 candidates from the ballot.

In his lawsuit, Starbuck argues that the party’s decision to disqualify him amounts to an unconstitutional “camouflaged residency requirement.” In addition, he argues that a new state law imposing a residence requirement on congressional candidates influenced the decision to remove him from the ballot.

“The [Tennessee Republican Party’s] instruction to the state to remove Mr. Starbuck from the primary ballot in the upcoming election ... for reasons beyond its narrowly prescribed lawful power to disqualify non-Republicans, was ... arbitrary, capricious, unsupported by the evidence, and contrary to law.”

Golden said last month that the candidates were removed from the ballot because they did not meet voting requirements set in the party’s bylaws, which say candidates must have cast ballots in three of four previous Republican primaries.

Documentation from Starbuck obtained by NBC News showed he had the support of multiple local GOP officials who vouched for his candidacy. Still, the defense ultimately did not persuade the state executive committee.

His campaign sent document preservation notices to Golden and the 16 state executive committee members who voted on his challenge for all communications about the vote.

NBC News said that the decision was met with backlash from prominent national Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

The GOP race to represent the District still features nine contenders. They include Beth Harwell, the former speaker of the Tennessee House, and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, among others. The existing 5th District is held by longtime Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who announced he would not seek re-election after releasing the GOP-held Legislature’s new voting maps. As a result, the District was redrawn to favor Republicans heavily.

The primary ballot was finalized soon after last month’s vote. The primary itself is scheduled for Aug. 4.

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