At least six sitting Republican representative – including the chairman of the House GOP Caucus and the Education Committee – were defeated in Thursday’s primary elections and a couple of others had close calls.
On the Democratic side, four incumbents were also unseated, but that was the result of redistrictign that had pitted incumbent-versus-incumbent in four races.
The upset of the evening statewide was the defeat of House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville by Courtney Rogers, an Air Force veteran who benefited by more than $75,000 worth of spending by the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s Political Victory Fund targeted Maggart for attack radio ads and billboards after blaming her for failure of a so-called “guns parking lots” bill that would have allow gunowners to keep their weapons in locked cars, even in the parking lots of companies that ban guns.
House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, was the second most prominent member of House GOP leadership to lose. He was narrowly defeated by Dale Carr, a Sevierville auctioneer who said the incumbent had lost touch with Sevier County voters.
Both Maggart and Montgomery had outspent their opponents overall by substantial amounts and both had staunch support from Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and other established state Republican leaders.
Also losing bids for reelection in the Republican primaries Thursday were Reps. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City, defeated by Kent Calfee of Kingston, and Dale Ford of Jonesborough, defeated by James “Micah” Van Huss, an Army veteran; Don Miller of Morristown, defeated by Tilman Goins; and Linda Elam of Mount Juliet, defeated by former Rep. Susan Lynn.
The only incumbent Republican state senator to face a serious challenger, Doug Overbey of Maryville, had a win of almost two-to-one over Scott Hughes. The win was tantamount to election with no Democrat on the ballot.
State Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, similarly was assured of election by defeating four rivals for Senate District 8 in the Republican primary. The seat was previously held by Sen. Mike Faulk of Kingsport, who did not seek reelection.
On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, defeated Sen. Beverley Marrero in one key Democratic primary.
In House Democratic primaries, Rep. JoAnn Favors defeated Rep. Tommie Brown of Chattanooga; Rep. John DeBerry defeated Jeanne Richardson of Memphis and Rep. G.A. Hardaway defeated Rep. Mike Kernell of Memphis.
DeBerry, known as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, had benefited from a record independent expenditure of more than $100,000 from an education reform advocacy group. Kernell’s loss ended a 38-year career.
A total of 24 Republicans faced primary challenges. Most won handily, but there were some close calls beyond the six who were unseated.
Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, had just an 11-vote lead over challenger Ben Mallicotte, a former Kingsport vice mayor, according to final unofficial returns, 3,405 to 3,304.
Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, bested three challengers despite a pending domestic violence charge based on an alleged assault on his wife.
Other Republican incumbent representatives winning over primary challengers included Reps. Art Swann of Maryville in District 8; Jeremy Faison of Cosby in District 11, Bob Ramsey of Maryville in District 20; Eric Watson of Cleveland in District 22; Kevin Brooks of Cleveland in District 24; Richard Floyd of Chattanooga in Distirct 27; David Alexander of Winchester in District 39; Joe Carr of LasCassas in District 48; Charles Sargent of Franklin in District 61; Joshua Evans of Greenbrier in District 66; Vance Dennis of Savannah in District 71; and Ron Lollar in District 99.
Other Republican incumbent senators winning over primary challengers included Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville.
Maggart said in conceding defeat that she was proud to be the first woman who was chair of the majority caucus and stressed her conservative accomplishments. Among other things, Maggart spearheaded passed of a bill mandating a photo identification in Tennessee and repealing most of the longstanding law that allowed collective bargaining by teachers unions in the state.
In Southern Middle Tennessee, Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald won the Republican nomination in a new state Senate District and in November will face former state Rep. Ty Cobb of Columbia, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.