With state-level elective offices firmly in its control, the state Republican Party is now ready to move on to local-level offices with a new “Red to the Roots” program, says Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney.
The idea is to encourage county Republican parties to designate nominees for city and county elective offices where they can. Currently, most cities and counties have nonpartisan elections for local office, though state law generally allows county parties to designate party nominees if they wish — exceptions including cases in which a city or county charter specifies bipartisan elections.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our state-level candidates,” Devaney said, referring to the GOP supermajority in the Legislature and Republicans holding the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of nine U.S. House seats. “Now, we’re ready to look at the local offices — county mayors, sheriffs and maybe a few judgeships.”
“These are places where Democrats still have a hold,” he said. “It’s their bench” for candidates who could in the future seek a state-level office. With local-level partisan campaigns he said, “We can build our bench.”
The “Red to the Roots” program, Devaney said, has generated “a lot of excitement” among local Republican groups as well as within the Republican State Executive Committee membership. The effort was officially launched at the GOP’s Statesman’s Dinner fundraiser earlier this month.
Devaney said he is “not sure’ whether the quest for Republican control should include school boards. In Knox County, some Republicans have recently pushed for partisan school board elections, but state Rep. Ryan Haynes, a Republican who chairs the Knox legislative delegation, has said that would require a change of state law impacting all 95 counties — not just Knox — and he will not sponsor the required legislation.
Judgeships, Devaney said, refers to locally elected judges for General Sessions, Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts and the like. At this point, he said, there are no plans for the party to take position on retention elections for the state Supreme Court and appeals court judge positions, which are subject to a separate controversy.
In some counties, Republicans are already moving to designate party preferences for local candidates. The Rutherford County Republican Party, for example, decided earlier this month to designate Republican nominees for eight locally elected positions, including county commissioners.