Rep. Ryan Haynes elected TNGOP chairman (33-27 over Rep. Littleton)

State Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville was elected chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party Saturday by the party’s State Executive Committee, reports The News Sentinel.

Haynes replaces Chris Devaney, who announced March 23 he was resigning only two months into his new two-year term, effective Saturday.

Haynes won on the first ballot, defeating executive committee member Rebecca Burke, fellow state Rep. Mary Littleton of Dickson, and Vanderbilt University Professor Carol Swain.

Haynes, who turns 30 in May, plans to resign from his state House seat when the current legislative session adjourns for the year, probably later this month.

State GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood said Haynes plans to consult with Gov. Bill Haslam on the timing of his resignation to see if the special election to replace him can occur on the same ballot with other elections in Knox County this year.

He represents House District 14, which includes Farragut and the entire southwestern corner of Knox County.
Haynes won re-election to his fourth term in the legislature last November.

“I am excited to take on this challenge and humbled by the support of the State Executive Committee,” Haynes said. “I want to pick up right where Chairman Devaney left off: building our party, maintaining and growing our strong financial advantage over our opponents, and getting as many votes as possible for our GOP nominees.”

Devaney, who resigned to head a non-profit agency based in Chattanooga that works to improve children’s nutrition in Haiti, praised his successor.

“There is no doubt in my mind Ryan will be a fantastic chairman for the Party,” he said. “The TNGOP is in as strong of a position as we have ever been heading into a presidential election cycle. It has been an honor to serve this organization and be part of its rise to dominance in Tennessee.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., issued a statement congratulating Haynes on his victory and also referencing an intraparty struggle over whether to keep Tennessee’s open system of party primary elections or closing them to only bonafide party members, which would require a system of party registration.

“His experience in the General Assembly and Republican politics should help our party continue to keep the door open to all Tennesseans, which is the way we have become larger, more successful and more conservative,” Alexander said.

Further, from The Tennessean:

The Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee consists of 66 members, and 63 were present Saturday at the Holiday Inn on Vanderbilt’s campus for the special election. It takes a majority vote to win the chairman’s race. Although some guessed the election would need to go to a run-off, Haynes won on the first ballot: he received 33 votes, Littleton received 27 and Swain received three.

Haynes and Littleton were considered establishment GOP candidates, while Swain acknowledged having tea party ties. But Haynes was considered to be the candidate with the backing of current party elected leadership.

…Haynes touted his ability to campaign and connect with new and established members of the party. A former party vice chairwoman, Littleton focused on her experience with the SEC and her ability to lead. Swain argued she knows the logistics of politics as a professor and author, and suggested she could bring new members to the GOP based on her experience as a Democrat turned Republican.

Swain, who angered many on and off Vanderbilt’s campus with a column about Islam that many argued was insensitive and inflammatory, said she planned to become more engaged with the state GOP regardless of the outcome of the election.

After the vote, Haynes said he planned to focus on unifying the SEC around his leadership and hitting the fundraising trail. Earlier in the meeting the party’s treasurer noted Chris Devaney raised an average of more than $5,000 a day during his tenure as party chairman.

“I guess if it was $5,000 for him, I hope to raise at least $5,001. Obviously chairman Devaney’s are very big shoes to fill,” Haynes said.