Trouble in Paradise? (Part 16): RINOs and the Establishment

Some people wonder why my wife and I started the Blount County Conservative Coalition (BCCC) 18 months ago. Since the saga relates to the nullification of my election to the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (SEC), the cancellation of Gary Humble, and the expulsion of Heather Fair as President of the Blount County Republican Women, I thought I would share the backstory.

We started the BCCC in May 2021, after being blackballed by Blount County Republican Party (BCRP) insiders during the biennial reorganization process, preventing me from even seeking a vacant post as vice chair of the county party. The resistance to my candidacy was unexpected since I had had a series of meetings with BCRP Chair Scott Stuart and other party leaders concerning my interest in serving, had been led to believe that the county party was receptive, and had even circulated a document outlining potential reforms to make the county party more effective, proactive, and responsive to the grassroots. That plan, written in February 2021, is appended to the end of this post.

As it turns out, the establishment insiders were not interested in new ideas, and certainly not to granting a seat at the table to someone who was not a trusted crony. So at my “precinct caucus,” the late Peggy Lambert and a group of her acolytes were successful in assuring that there would be no new faces, or ideas, on the local GOP’s steering committee. At other precinct caucuses, numerous committed conservative activists were turned away on the specious ground that they were not “bona fide” Republicans, in some cases being told that, despite their lifelong GOP voting records, they were ineligible because they had not attended meetings of the Blount County Republican Women or made even a $10 contribution to the county party.

My complaints to Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden fell on deaf ears.

It is noteworthy that when the county party “went to the mattresses” to resist change during the reorganization process in 2021, it brought in the same establishment henchman, Ted Boyatt,  who later orchestrated the Blount County Republican Women’s cancellation of Gary Humble, leading to the forced resignation of BCRW President Heather Fair. In April 2021, Boyatt was appointed to the “Credentials Committee” of the BCRP, even though he was not, at the time, a resident of Blount County.

What had I said or done to provoke this reaction? I had objected to the Blount County GOP’s failure to field a candidate for the Blount County Board of Education, allowing the ultra-liberal “diversity consultant,” Vandy Kemp, to be elected as a write-in. I had unsuccessfully urged the county party to endorse the Republican candidates for the Maryville City Council, and to campaign on their behalf. At the insistence of the late Peggy Lambert, the county party failed to do anything more than send a tepid letter of support to a subset of GOP voters in Maryville, a week after early voting had started. As a result, the Democratic candidate, the Trump-hating Chair of the Blount County Democratic Party, radical Sarah Herron, won by a few hundred votes.

Was my reorganization plan controversial?  Read it and judge for yourself. The elements included regular communications with Republican voters, a precinct program, monthly meetings open to the public (not just to women), candidate recruitment and training, and other standard features that most local GOP organizations across the country routinely provide (not to mention the Democrats in Blount County). My plan included this statement:

“In east Tennessee, the ‘old way’ has worked well for many years. Times are changing. Progressives are becoming more aggressive. They often receive outside assistance. They are tech-savvy, well-organized, and energetic. We need to pick up our game to meet this challenge. No more Vandy Kemps. No more Sarah Herrons. In a county that voted for President Trump by over a 40-point margin (71%-27%), the GOP should hold every elected office and every appointed position.  Our elected officials should embrace the GOP platform and be accountable if they do not.”

Is this controversial? It shouldn’t be. When we were frozen out of the local GOP and treated as virtual pariahs, we started the Blount County Conservative Coalition to organize the conservative grassroots in Blount County. We meet on the third Monday of each month at 6:00 pm at the Blount County Public Library. Here is my proposed reorganization plan for the BCRP:

Blount County Republican Party Reorganization Plan

I am not a political operative. I have never run a political campaign or been in charge of a county party. During my 30-year legal career, politics was never more than a hobby or sideline for me. However, I did have some exposure to professionals at work. In San Diego, where I was First Vice Chair of the County GOP, the local party was chaired by Ron Nehring, who went on to lead the California Republican Party. In Travis County, Texas, where I was a precinct chair (and therefore a member of the local GOP Executive Committee), the local party was led by James Dickey before he chaired the Republican Party of Texas (prior to being succeeded by UT alumnus Allen West). So I have picked up some things by osmosis.

My suggestions are drawn from things I have seen in San Diego and Travis County, and, frankly, what the Democrats are doing in Blount County.

Make the BCRP website and Facebook page (and Twitter account) a source of current information about Republican candidates, Republican office holders, and state and local issues of interest to Republicans.

Engage local Republican voters regularly by e-mail, regular mail, and via social media. Prior to elections, the BCRP should communicate with GOP voters (via door hangers, phone calls, in-person visits from a precinct chair, email, regular mail, or a combination of the above) encouraging them to vote and informing them who to vote for. The presumption should be that any Republican running against a Democrat opponent should be endorsed by the BCRP, even in non-partisan races.

Organize a grassroots network in each precinct, and appoint a precinct chair or the equivalent to lead the network. Large precincts could be broken up for better coverage.  

Public BCRP meetings monthly, all year round, with outside speakers, reports from committees (discussed below) and local elected officials, and an opportunity for citizen activists to mingle and get energized between election cycles. The steering committee could meet separately to conduct official business.

The meetings would allow the affiliated clubs (YRs, Republican Women, etc.) a chance to report, as well as the SEC representative and BCRP Chair. Ditto the state legislative delegation.

Committees (or task forces) could be formed to focus on political subdivisions and operations within Blount County (i.e., the incorporated cities, the county itself, local schools, the library, etc.). These committees could attend the various meetings, study agendas, monitor websites, etc. and report to the group on major initiatives and developments. This way, the monthly BCRP meeting could be a “one-stop-shop” for local citizen activists wanting to be informed about what is going on in their community.

Local elected officials would be welcome to attend the monthly meetings and be available to answer questions.

Some potential additional committees and/or task forces: monitor upcoming elections with filing deadlines and identify opportunities for GOP candidates (avoiding the Vandy Kemp situation); identify and train potential candidates; publish a quarterly newsletter (digital); recruit and organize volunteers; voter registration; finance; events; update bylaws; poll watching.   

It may not be feasible immediately, but in a county with a population exceeding 100,000 our goal should be to have a full-time physical BCRP headquarters—not just at election time.

When we establish the basic elements of this suggested reorganization, we may find that GOP elected officials (such as Rep. Tim Burchett) are willing to help support our operations financially.

In east Tennessee, the “old way” has worked well for many years. Times are changing. Progressives are becoming more aggressive. They often receive outside assistance. They are tech-savvy, well-organized, and energetic. We need to pick up our game to meet this challenge. No more Vandy Kemps. No more Sarah Herrons. In a county that voted for President Trump by over a 40-point margin (71%-27%), the GOP should hold every elected office and every appointed position.  Our elected officials should embrace the GOP platform and be accountable if they do not.

We can make this happen. 2020 was a wake-up call.

I know. Crazy stuff, right? To establishment RINOs used to calling the shots in private meetings over lunch, this was heresy. And I was treated as a heretic for proposing change.

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