Challenges to GOP Incumbents Equal Challenge to Harwell?

The center of gravity in Tennessee politics has shifted so hard to the right that two dozen conservative Republican incumbents are under attack as moderate squishes and cowardly sell-outs in their own party’s primary elections for the state legislature.
So says Jeff Woods at the outset of a look at legislative primaries.
This is the same legislature that in two years of GOP control has restricted abortion rights and banned gay nondiscrimination laws; opened the door to the teaching of creationism in science classes and prohibited any utterance of the word “gay” in public schools; declared Tennessee exempt from federal firearms regulations (the ATF, incidentally, begs to differ); OK’ed monuments to the Ten Commandments on courthouse lawns; eviscerated the teachers’ union; and proclaimed in a resolution that U.N. Agenda 21 — an innocent nonbinding blueprint for sustainable growth in emerging economies — could lead to “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth” among other very bad things. And that’s just to mention a few of the accomplishments that should have made the right wing proud.
Yet all across the state, rather than accepting tributes as expected from a grateful party faithful, 24 of these lawmakers have faced humiliation. Schlepping themselves around their districts in triple-digit heat, they grovel for votes door to door. Early voting started Friday for the Aug. 2 elections.
Inciting this insurrection is the tea party, the gun lobby and talk radio — together a loud and influential chunk of the GOP base that sees the legislature as not nearly radical enough.
Last week the state’s politicians were dismayed to learn the National Rifle Association is spending $75,000 to try to defeat the House’s No. 3 Republican, Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart. That’s probably the most a single special interest ever has spent in one legislative race in Tennessee.
The ultimate goal, insiders agree, isn’t merely to unseat these incumbents but to dethrone Nashville Rep. Beth Harwell as House speaker. She always has been seen, correctly or incorrectly, as way too moderate to suit the party’s hard-right base. By most accounts, Harwell only squeaked by tea party darling Glen Casada in secret balloting in the speaker’s election two years ago, and only then because of behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by Gov. Bill Haslam, another of the party’s so-called moderates. Since then, she has angered the GOP’s more radical elements by quietly working with Haslam at times to temper certain of her colleagues’ more extreme tendencies.
Haslam isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but rebellious elements of the party are harassing him already. Several GOP county chapters have adopted resolutions denouncing the governor for hiring a Muslim woman and some openly gay staffers, and for declining to sign that aforementioned anti-U.N. Agenda 21 resolution.

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