Shelby County Republican Party Seats Unqualified Leaders on the Steering Committee

by:  Robin Spielberger

The Shelby County Republican Party held their biennial party reorganization convention last Sunday, March 29, 2015 at the Bartlett Station Municipal Center banquet hall and elected Mary Wagner, an accomplished young attorney, as their Chairman.

The Shelby County GOP congratulated Wagner on Monday with the following Facebook post:

mary wagnerMary Wagner Owen was elected as the new Chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party yesterday.

Congratulations to Mary and every person elected to the Steering Committee.

Also, a big thank you to outgoing Chairman Justin Joy as well as the outgoing Steering Committee.

Posted by Republican Party of Shelby County on Monday, March 30, 2015

I believe that Mary Wagner could be a very promising chairman.  However, I also believe there are some problems that need to be addressed before the Party moves forward.

Wagner’s “slate of candidates” contained a large number of people who weren’t qualified to run for a party leadership position according to the requirements listed in Article VIII, Section 5 of the Tennessee Republican Party Bylaws. Specifically Article VIII, Section 5(b), the requirement that a candidate must have voted in the last three Republican primaries in his county of residence.

Article III, Section 1 of the the Shelby County Republican Steering Committee Bylaws state that the “election of the Officers, At-Large Members, District Members, and the Chairman of the Primary Board shall be in accord with Bylaws of the Republican State Executive Committee of Tennessee, as amended from time to time”

Therefore, the governing rules for election to the Shelby County Republican Steering Committee are found in Article VIII, Section 5 of the Tennessee Republican Party Bylaws, which state:

 The following shall be requirements for candidacy to county party leadership:

A.     Any individual who is actively involved in the Tennessee Republican 29 Party, his County Republican Party, or any recognized auxiliary organization of either; and 30 resides and is registered to vote in said county; and

B.    Any individual who has voted in the last three Republican primaries in his county of residence during those primary elections. Younger Republicans who may not have 34 been of legal age for three primary elections must obtain approval from the State Chairman; and

C.     Any individual who is vouched for in writing to the satisfaction of the 37 State Chairman as a bona fide Republican, such as by an officer of the TRP, a member of the 38 State Executive Committee, or County Executive Committee of the County where the individual 39 resides. The State Chairman may require additional verification that the individual in question is 40 indeed a bona fide Republican, and shall have final authority to make the determination.

Now that we have the legalese out of the way, let’s take a look at Wagner’s “team“:

Wagner's Team

In an email, Wagner advised her team as to what they should bring to the convention and when they should arrive, but she also stressed the importance of why they should not only vote for her, but also for her entire team.  She made it a point to assure the recipients that everyone for whom she selected as an officer was in fact, qualified.

Wagner wrote:

LD15Ad.aiBe sure to vote for our team. I’ve put a team together who has experience in the party and campaigns, people who are hard workers and are committed to our goal, and people who bring energy, fresh ideas and perspective, while building upon the wisdom of others.

We will be a strong working steering committee focused on building all aspects of the Shelby County Republican Party to further the conservative principles we share. To be successful, I need your help. I would appreciate your vote for Chairman. Then, I would appreciate your vote for the members of my team. Each one is qualified and committed to furthering our conservative efforts in Shelby County.

Most people would naturally assume that her candidates would be qualified.  So why even make the statement, I ask?

By digging a bit deeper and looking more closely at her selection of officers, I found some troubling information.  Ten out of 33 candidates did not vote in the last 3 Republican Primaries. Thereby making them qualified to be delegates but unqualified to be officers.  That’s approximately one-third of her team.  Below you will find the name and positions of those officers whose qualifications have been called in to  question:

Curt Cowan graciously withdrew from the race so George Flinn could be ushered in unopposed to a Primary Board position.

Flinn now wants to be Republican Party State Chair but that’s an entirely different article.

One should take special note of Kyle Wiggins from District 83, who actually voted in the Democratic Primary in one of the last three primaries and has even donated to the Obama campaign, as well as to other Democrats.  His Facebook profile shows him as a member of the Facebook group for the Shelby County Young Democrats, in addition to the groups for the Midtown and East Shelby Republican Clubs.

Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Tennessee State Republican Party.  Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Tennessee State Republican Party. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Chris Devaney, State Republican Party Chairman, announced earlier this month that he would be stepping down just three months into his fourth term in charge of the state GOP to become Executive Director of the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti, based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The word on the street is that Devaney wants to leave his position in as graceful of a manner as possible. Thus, it is the opinion of the many members who have noticed these errors, that trying to force Devaney to deal with any actual party integrity issues might be met with resistance because heaven knows that will make his exit anything but graceful.

Several Shelby County Republican Party Members have already taken to email in order to voice their concerns about the election of unqualified officers at Sunday night’s reorganization convention.  In fact, 3 challenges have already been filed, as well as a challenge to the vote count.

This is hardly the first case of wrongdoing to grace the Shelby County Republican Party and certainly not the first scandal in Memphis politics.  However, this time many are quickly speaking out and stepping up in order to call attention to the matter and rectify the situation.  It has become all too common in national, local, and party politics for the rules to be applied haphazardly and applied solely to benefit those who perceive their power to be of greater importance.

In this situation, Mary Wagner may only be guilty of failing to properly vet her officers and if so, this “situation” should be dealt with swiftly, and in accordance with the Bylaws.  However, I suspect that whether the officers were appointed for election without proper vetting or if something more salacious took place, the Shelby County Republican Party will ignore the problem and hope that the “troublemakers” and “rabble rousers” ride off into the sunset never to be heard from again.

If good old fashioned ignoring fails to work, then I have no doubt that they will resort to other familiar political tactics such as denial, evidence manufacturing, and name-calling.

That being said, I hope that the Shelby County GOP will choose to take the high road and simply remove these unqualified leaders from their recently elected positions, replace them with qualified officers, and move forward, so that we can finally focus on principles.

This is simply the right thing to do.

But then again, I haven’t seen much of the right thing in party politics for a long time.  No reason to focus on principles now, right?.

the right thing For more information about the 2015 Shelby County Republican Party Convention, click here.

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