New pro-Democrat PAC launched with $100K, makes two $10K donations

Knoxville’s state Rep. Gloria Johnson was one of two Democratic state legislators presented with a $10,000 check Thursday at a news conference announcing formation of Battleground Tennessee, a new political action committee.

Former state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester and Bill Freeman, a Nashville businessman and Democratic activist, said the PAC has initial funding of $100,000 from two $50,000 checks written by Freeman and Olan Mills, a retired Chattanooga businessman, and a goal of spending about $250,000 to help Democrats gain ground in the Republican supermajority Legislature.

“What we’re trying to do is fight fire with fire,” said Freeman.

“For too long the progressive community has operated at a distinct disadvantage in the face of numerous right-wing PACs.,” Bill Freeman, PAC Chair said. “Today, we turn the tide with Battleground Tennessee, our answer to the Far-Right.”

Two of the biggest Republican-oriented PACS are those set up by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. In their most recent disclosure statements, filed in April, Harwell’s PAC reported a cash-on-hand balance of $559,478 while Ramsey’s PAC had $403,146.
Forrester said the PAC will make donations in party primaries and will “absolutely not” get involved in races for seats on the Democratic State Executive Committee. The former chairman has individually backed some challengers to current executive committee members.

The executive committee, to be elected on Aug. 7 by Democratic primary voters, can elect a new party chairman in January. Forrester repeated Thursday that ‘I am not a candidate for party chair and I will not be a candidate for party chair.”

The first two $10,000 PAC checks went to Johnson and Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville. Both have no primary opponents, but expect strong Republican attempts to unseat them in November.

“Those two are the highest Republican targets in the state,” said Forrester.

Kevin Teets, a former Democratic party executive director, will serve as director of the PAC. He will evaluate campaigns after the Aug. 7 primary and recommend other races where PAC donations can best help elect Democrats, Forrester said.

He said that could include the 4th Congressional District seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who has faced considerable controversy since his 2012 election and is facing a challenge in the GOP primary from state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville. Teets worked for former state Sen. Eric Stewart, the Democratic nominee in 2012 who lost to DesJarlais in the general election.