Is GOP Selection of Chris Devaney a Step Toward the Center?

The election of Chris Devaney as Tennessee Republican chairman arguably indicates a tentative step back from a drift to the right that some detected under the leadership of Robin Smith.
Devaney, after all, has been serving as state director for Sen. Bob Corker, long suspected of moderate leanings on many matters.
Before that, Devaney was executive director of the state party under former chairman Bob Davis, known as more of a professional political operative and less aligned with the grass roots conservative camp than Smith.
In addition to the Bobs in his background, Devaney’s credentials may otherwise be seen as more professional than ideological.
In the three-way race for party chair, state Rep. Eric Swafford of Pikeville was clearly farther to the right than either Devaney or Oscar Brock. And Swafford lost on the first ballot in Republican Executive Committee voting on Saturday.
As Andy Sher reports, Van Hilleary, the former congressman and 2002 gubernatorial nominee still beloved by many state party conservatives, joined with National Committeeman John Ryder (who ousted Hilleary as committeeman in a vote last year) in urging executive committee members to vote for Brock. That didn’t help. Or at least not enough.
The vote on the second ballot: Devaney 28, Brock 25. (Fifty-four of the 66 committee members were present, so 28 was the bare minimum needed for a majority. One member present apparently didn’t vote.)
The Hilleary-Ryder statement said the Brock would be “an honest, unbiased broker” in the GOP gubernatorial race next year, reasonably seen as a suggestion Devaney (or Swafford) would not be honest and unbiased.
A suggestion there that Devaney would tilt toward the candidate of what Hilleary once called “the kingmakers,” a reference to big contributors more oriented toward business issues than social causes? Such folks (i.e., Jim Haslam, Ted Welch, etc.) seem to be lining up behind Bill Haslam for 2010.
Devaney, of course, says he’s neutral:
“My only agenda is to win state legislative races and help the governor’s candidate where we can,” he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Saturday.
Brock, as a veteran member of the Executive Committee, would presumably have some advantage among other members. And he probably did, making the race close. Note that Brock declared he had the support of 25 members on the day that Smith departed. It’s just that he didn’t gain any more.
Another squabble in the campaigning centered on an email that faulted Smith for her handling of party finances — unfairly so, according to party Executive Director Mark Winslow and Frank Colvett, chairman the finance committee. Colvett blamed “supporters of Chris Devaney” for the email. Devaney denied any involvement.
Still, one could see the flap as indicating that some Smith loyalists were against Devaney and vice versa.
After the election, of course, Brock was a gracious loser, congratulating Devaney on an “excellent campaign” and pledging cooperation in uniting the party for the 2010 campaign effort.
Some Democrats, having watched their own party go through an upheaval after the most recent state chairman election, may be hoping the Republicans have gone through a similar split that will need patching.
Such speculation is probably premature. Likewise on the suggested step toward the center, which would perhaps cause a split in need of patching – unless done very carefully by a professional and pragmatic political operative.

Leave a Reply