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Stockard on the Stump: Ogles rides super PAC ads in 5th District win

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Stockard on the Stump: Ogles rides super PAC ads in 5th District win

Aug 05, 2022 | 3:11 pm ET
By Sam Stockard
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Stockard on the Stump: Ogles rides super PAC ads in 5th District win
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Andy Ogles, center, with his wife, Monica, and political advisor Steve Gill, react to news Ogles won the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Despite reports of tardy tax payments, a late federal campaign filing and potential illegal coordination with a super PAC, Maury County Mayor Ogles rolled to victory Thursday in the newly-drawn 5th Congressional District Republican primary.

Buoyed by dark money groups that hammered former House Speaker Beth Harwell and retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, Ogles collected 37% of the vote in a nine-person race as Harwell and Winstead could garner only 26% and 22% respectively.

In part, it appears to be a case of Harwell and Winstead stealing votes from each other in a battle for mainstream Republicans and giving Ogles the far-right vote in a district drawn by legislative Republicans to give a Republican an eighth House district in Tennessee.

Ogles, who will face Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell in November’s general election, won every county except Davidson: 44.3% in Lewis County, 36.7% in Marshall, 52.4% in Maury, 40% in Williamson, and 29.8% in Wilson. Harwell carried 39.3% in her home Davidson.

The crowd at Ogles' Election Night headquarters in Franklin. (Photo: John Partipilo)
The crowd at Ogles’ Election Night headquarters in Franklin. (Photo: John Partipilo)

It turns out the Legislature didn’t just draw a Republican district but a far-right district, one in which a candidate who uses a flame-thrower to show disdain for President Joe Biden’s policies resonates well.

Ogles also benefited from super PACs that poured money into attack ads that hit their targets hard. Harwell held the lead early in the race, according to one political operative, but was seriously damaged by a TV ad reminding voters she supported a 2001 bill in the Legislature to allow illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses. The thinking at the time was that if the people were here they should learn the rules of the road. The law backfired, and Harwell and the rest of the Legislature wound up repealing it.

But the damage was done. TV ads cast her and Winstead, a Williamson County attorney, as “too liberal” for Tennessee.

And when Winstead’s campaign acknowledged he voted for and donated money to a Democrat, it made a serious mistake. A real Republican never admits such a misdeed.

It also turned out Winstead might have been an “ole general” but he wasn’t “ole Fred” Thompson. Where was his red pickup truck?

And the ad that included biscuits? It turned out to be a Limp Bizkit.

Ogles, on the other hand, let misfortune roll off his back like a duck in a rainstorm. He filed a lawsuit to stop an ad that said he failed to pay taxes on a Williamson County property nine times. (Reports show he was late nine times and paid interest on several of those.)

Former House Speaker Beth Harwell’s 2001 vote to allow undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses came back to haunt her, while retired Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead’s folksy ads — one of which included discussion of biscuits — fell as flat as a Limp Bizkit.

He also was a week late in filing his campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission. And yet another report showed his campaign treasurer, Lee Beaman, funded a super PAC that paid for ads critical of his opponents, a move that could be illegal.

Ultra-conservative voters, however, apparently don’t give a crap about those measly sorts of details. All they know is Harwell supported illegal immigrants, Winstead backed a Democrat (which used to be OK in Tennessee), and Ogles shot flames at Biden’s policies. They apparently don’t mind that Ogles was a lobbyist with Americans for Prosperity, either.

Ogles should send the U.S. Supreme Court a dozen roses for its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which paved the way for dark money to flow freely in elections.

Where are we headed?

“The same place you are, Jeremiah, hell in the end.” Del Gue to Jeremiah Johnson.

Republicans drew a district that might have elected a Democrat in 1970 but probably not a snowball’s chance in hell in 2022.

Nevertheless, Campbell is taking on the challenge. She’ll probably need the same kind of super PAC support Ogles got in the primary.

“The election for the 5th Congressional District is symbolic of the crossroads we find ourselves at: One where we move forward together, protecting working families, our freedom, and future – or one where extreme politicians turn us backwards, controlling our lives and ruling for the wealthy few,” Campbell says.

Campbell contends Congress needs to stop a national ban on abortion and turn back a proposal by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that would raise taxes on 75 million working families and small business owners. She wants to strengthen the middle class, get a handle on inflation and lower the cost of prescriptions drugs, health care, child care and energy.

“We cannot afford their divisive attacks any longer. I’ve won every race I’ve ever run by staying focused on solutions for families – not partisan politics, and just like we saw in Kansas, we’re building a coalition across party lines that chooses freedom,” she says.

Certainly, Republican voters like families and coalitions, but they like guns (and flamethrowers) and anti-abortion talk better. And in this crazy district realignment, Republicans outnumber Democrats.

Ogles declined to discuss his strategy for Campbell following Thursday night’s victory, saying he didn’t want to give away any secrets. He says he outworked both Harwell, who had more name recognition, and Winstead, who spent more money.

“But we’ll continue to work hard, and I think the people of this district are looking for a conservative, outspoken congressman, and that’s me,” he says.

Asked if the district realignment will help his campaign against Campbell, Ogles says the reason he won is that he “never wavered” from his principals or personality. (Of course, he wouldn’t be running if the Legislature hadn’t drawn a Republican district.)

Ogles, nevertheless, noted people know where he stands on the issues, “and in this day and age, that’s what people are looking for.”

The rest of the story

In some of the other interesting outcomes of Thursday night, Dr. Jason Martin defeated Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. by the slimmest of margins, 101,221, 39.38%, to 99,753, 38.81% in the Democratic primary for governor. Carnita Faye Atwater picked up 56,061 votes, 21.81%, which probably took away from Smiley.

Martin will take on Gov. Bill Lee, who received 494,195 votes in an unopposed Republican primary.

State Rep. Mark Hall of Cleveland tried to step up to the Senate but was turned back by Adam Lowe, 9,647, 53%, to 8,549, 47%, in the race for the Senate District 1 seat left open by Mike Bell.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Jason Martin, center, at a recent protest of Tennessee's new public education funding plan. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Jason Martin, center, at a recent protest of Tennessee’s new public education funding plan. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Sen. Richard Briggs of Knoxville rolled past challenger Kent Morrell with 66% of the vote in District 7. He will face Democrat Bryan Langan in the general election.

Nashville activist Charlane Oliver nipped former Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard 5,665, 43.6%, to 5,060, 39%, and Ludye “On Duty” Wallace, 1,476, 11.3%. She faces Republican Pime Hernandez in November to fill the seat being vacated by Brenda Gilmore.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, in an underwhelming performance, edged out Gary Humble, leader of Tennessee Stands, 12,470, 51.6%, to 11,683, 48.3%. Nobody qualified as a Democrat in Williamson’s District 27. Johnson had the money and the backing, and Humble faced allegations he failed to file as a lobbyist yet lobbied the Legislature. Call this the anti-establishment vote.

Sen. London Lamar rolled past Marion Latroy Alexandria-Williams and Rhonnie Brewer, picking up 68.5% of the vote in District 33 in Memphis. Lamar left the House this year to take the Senate seat vacated by Katrina Robinson, who was expelled after a fraud conviction.

Elaine Davis, 3,528, 55.8%, defeated Janet Testerman 2,785, 44.1% in the Republican primary for House District 18, the seat being vacated by Eddie Mannis. Gregory Kaplan picked up 3,776 votes in the Democratic primary there.

Longtime Rep. Bob Ramsey got rolled by Bryan Richey, 3,802, 645.8%, to 2,061, 35.1%, in District 20 in East Tennessee. Some didn’t think Ramsey was red enough to be a Republican.

Kevin Raper won 38.7% of the vote to 34% for Troy Weathers in the District 24 seat left open by Mark Hall. No contest from Democrats.

Monty Fritts, 3,069 votes, 33.7%, eased past Teresa Pesterfield Kirkham, 2,256, 24.8%, and Keaton Bowman, 1,643, 18%, in District 32’s Republican race, a seat vacated by the affable Kent Calfee, known for drinking water from a Hershey’s syrup bottle.

William Slater, 3,351, 52.6%, defeated Deanne DeWitt, 1,683, 26.4%, and Joe Kirkpatrick (cannabis lobbyist), 1,327, 20.8%, in a new Sumner County seat, House District 35. 

Incumbent state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver got thrashed by Michael Hale, 6,696, 59.5%, to 4,542, 40.4% in House District 40, which lost a big chunk of Hendersonville. No doubt the Legislature will miss her use of terms such as “doodly squat” and her constant roar about Common Core (Did I mention her legendary temper and door slamming and trip to the Jan. 6 insurrection. She claims only patriots were there).

Republican Ed Butler, 4,118 votes, 53%, defeated Michael Swisher, 2,417, 31% in District 41 on the Cumberland Plateau, and this fall will face Rep. John Mark Windle, who switched to independent from Democrat this year after getting the cold shoulder from the party.

Republican Rep. Paul Sherrell eked past Bobby Robinson, 4,636, 50.4%, to 4,563, 49.6% in the District 43 primary. He’ll face Democrat Cheryl Womack Uselton in November. Maybe buying firefighters ham breakfast tickets worked after all.

Activist Justin Jones topped Metro Councilwoman Delishia Porterfield 1,931, 53.3% to 1,690, 46.6% in Nashville’s District 52 Democratic primary. That means Jones can gig Republicans from a seat in the chamber now. No Republican ran.

Republican Michelle Foreman, 3,428, 62%, topped Wyatt Rampy, 2,096, 37.9% in District 59 in Davidson to face Democrat Caleb Hemmer in the November general election.

Gino Bulso, Republican nominee for State House District 61, right, pictured with auto dealer Darrell Waltrip and his wife, Stevie. (VoteGino.com)
Gino Bulso, Republican nominee for State House District 61, right, pictured with auto dealer Darrell Waltrip and his wife, Stevie. (VoteGino.com)

Republican Gino Bulso rolled past Bob Ravener in Williamson’s District 61, 5,162, 61.4%, to 3,238, 38.5%. He will face Democrat Steven Cervantes in November.

In the District 63 Republican primary to replace outgoing Rep. Glen Casada, Jake McCalmon won 3,122 votes, 44.4%, to 2,943, 41.8% for Islamaphobe and Tennessee Textbook Commission meber Laurie Cardoza-Moore and 967, 13.75% for James Sloan. Kisha Davis was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky, who led an army of three in opposing incentives for a Ford electric truck plant, won 4,732 votes, 54.5% in District 64 to 3,943, 45% for Jason Gilliam. He’ll face Democrat Jameson Manor in November.

Tommy Vallejos beat John Dawson 1,433, 63.2%, to 830, 36.6% in the Republican primary for District 67 in Clarksville. He’ll square off against Democrat Ronnie Glynn in the battle to replace sharp-tongued Democratic Rep. Jason Hodges.

Kip Capley won the District 71 Republican primary with 33.6% of the vote and will face Democrat David Carson II to replace outgoing Rep. David Byrd, dogged by allegations he had inappropriate contact with high school girls basketball players he coached in the 1980s. Apparently, Wayne County forgave him, and now he can go home.

Jeff Burkhart edged Deanna McLaughlin 40.5% to 37.6% in the District 75 Republican primary to replace outgoing Rep. Bruce Griffey, who was elected to a circuit court judgeship. Just think, Griffey could be weighing in on important decisions as part of the state’s new judicial panel system to determine constitutional challenges and redistricting questions. Talk about a move that’s backfiring.

Rep. Torrey Harris defeated Barbara Farmer-Tolbert 4,621, 58.5%, to 3,276, 41.4%, in spite of recent theft and assault charges filed by a former boyfriend.

Under FBI investigation since January 2021, Republican Rep. Todd Warner still skated past Matt Fitterer and Jeff Ford in District 92’s Republican primary. He’ll go against Angela Hughes in November. 

We don’t need no stinkin’ Medicaid expansion

State Sen. Bo Watson started off a Medicaid discussion this week at the National Conference of State Legislatures by pointing out Tennessee is high in all the categories of health that are terrible, strokes, obesity, diabetes, etc.

“Tennessee is a great proving ground for various aspects of health-care innovation,” the Hixson Republican said at the Colorado event.

Watson, chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, pointed out that Tennessee declined to expand Medicaid, which leaves more than 300,000 adults uninsured.

During the discussion, which was designed to demonstrate unique methods for running Medicaid programs, Watson explained how Tennessee’s modified block grant program enables the TennCare program to use savings from efficiencies to expand services to more people. Increased postpartum care and adult dental services are two areas the program is targeting.

Oregon officials, in contrast, are seeking a Medicaid waiver from the federal federal government for policies on equity, home health delivery, a focus on rural areas and continuous coverage for children to make sure they don’t have to reapply annually. They also want offenders leaving prison, the juvenile justice system and those getting out of mental health treatment to be continuous coverage.

Meanwhile, both states are gearing up for later this year when the nation’s public health emergency officially ends and states will be asked to redetermine people’s eligibility for Medicaid.

Oregon expects 250,000 to 300,000 people to lose coverage, but if they fall into that gap they can enter a “bridge plan” and possibly go onto the federal exchange.

Unlike Tennessee, Oregon is willing to accept every federal dollar available to help Medicaid recipients. The state expanded its program to take in as many people as possible.

Watson, however, told the panel, “We consider federal dollars to be Tennessee taxpayer dollars as well” and noted that the state would be more conservative because some people might not want to spend that money.

A senator Oregon pointed out, though, that Oregon gets back less than it pays the federal government. Tennessee, in contrast, is one of the biggest federal funding recipients in the nation.

The discussion led one member of the audience to say she sensed the states have “very different” attitudes toward Medicaid. She asked the panelists if they knew what percentage of their adult population is uninsured.

The Oregon senator responded 2%. But neither Watson nor two TennCare staff members on the panel knew the “specific number,” or would say.

In 2020, Oregon’s total percentage of uninsured residents was 4.7%. Tennessee’s was 11.4%, 783,700 people out of about 6.7 million.

Maybe that’s part of the reason Tennessee is the buckle of the “stroke belt.” 

Tangled in litigation

An article published by Kaiser Health News this week detailed the nightmare of lost paperwork that led to a Tennessee family being kicked off TennCare when the agency mailed forms to a horse pasture instead of the family’s home. They aren’t the only ones, as TennCare has been dogged by poor delivery for years.

The Tennessee Justice Center is leading 35 TennCare members in a legal challenge of the agency’s “defective” renewal process dating back to 2020.

State officials expect TennCare enrollment to drop back to pre-pandemic levels of 1.4 million of the state’s poorest residents when the public health emergency ends, possibly in November. The Tennessee Justice Center predicts 400,000 people will lose coverage. Nothing is proposed to catch them either.

Gordon Bonnyman, staff attorney for Tennessee Justice Center, points out the uninsured “live in a state of perpetual terror” of suffering a serious illness or injury that could ruin them financially. He also says many uninsured people are eligible for TennCare but don’t enroll because of the “red tape maze.”

Former Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan would have caught those 300,000 uninsured adults, but the Legislature refused to approve the proposal, killing it in a Senate subcommittee, and Gov. Bill Lee has put the kibosh on any hopes of Medicaid expansion, even though more than $1 billion in federal funding is available every year.

Lee calls the expansion proposal an inefficient and ineffective way to provide coverage.

“State policies that withhold Medicaid coverage from people who are eligible under federal law result in sickness, financial ruin and, for some, death. Yet state officials seem unfazed,” Bonnyman says.

The state’s modified block grant offers no hope, either, to expand the program other than a few services for people already on TennCare.

McCord to Northeast State

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings is recommending Jeff McCord as the next president of Northeast State Community College. A vote will be held Aug. 8.

McCord is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, a thankless job that required him to oversee a mess when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and a recent meltdown of the state’s unemployment benefits payments. The state is still trying to bring its computer system up to snuff.

McCord previously served as vice president for economic and workforce development at Northeast State after working at Eastman Chemical for 16 years. No doubt, he will welcome the return home and a farewell to the state’s unemployment headaches.

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. (Photo of Styx by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. (Photo of Styx by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

‘I’m Kilroy, Kilroy’

Outgoing Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced this week the state is joining a national Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force of 50 attorneys general to dig in and litigate against telecommunications companies that bring most of the foreign robocalls into the United States.

“We wouldn’t be bombarded with robocalls if it wasn’t benefitting certain companies in the telecommunications industry,” Slatery says in a release. “These calls are not only a nuisance but a scam risk to many in Tennessee and nationwide.”

More than 33 million scam robocalls are made to Americans daily, including Social Security fraud against seniors and Amazon scams, according to the National Consumer Law Center and Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Slatery also filed suit this week against Walgreens, alleging it helped the illicit spread of opioids across the state and region.

They both make more sense than joining an effort to overturn the presidential election.

“I am the modern man (Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret.)”