NRA backs 18 state House Republicans in primary elections

The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund has endorsed 18 incumbent House Republicans in their re-election campaigns.

They are Reps. John Holsclaw of Elizabethton in District 4, Gary Hicks of Rogersville in District 9, Jeremy Faison of Cosby in District 11,

Martin Daniel of Knoxville in District 18, Mike Carter in District 29, Ron Travis in District 31,

Jerry Sexton of Bean Station in District 35, Kelly Keisling of Byrdstown in District 38, Courtney Rogers in District 45,

Judd Matheny of Tullahoma in District 47, Mike Sparks of Smyrna in District 49, Charles Sargent of Franklin in District 61,

Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson in District 73, Jay Reedy of Erin in District 74, Tim Wirgau of Buchanan in District 75,

Curtis Halford of Dyer in District 79, Curry Todd of Collierville in District 95, Steve McManus of Cordova in District 96.

The full list is https://www.nrapvf.org/grades/tennessee/.

Note: Perhaps the most notable non-endorsement of a Republican incumbent is in District 65, where embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham has an ‘A’ rating from NRA. His chief primary opponent, Sam Whitson, also got an A, though it’s noted that is based only on answers to a questionnaire. For comparison, Hicks — who is an incumbent by appointment rather than by election — was endorsed when he had an ‘A’ rating and his primary opponent, Cynthia Bundren Jackson of Rogersville, had the same grade based on the questionnaire. Ditto for Sargent in District 61 and Halford in 79.

And here’s an NRA listing of pro-gun bills passed by the Tennessee legislature this year.

UPDATE/Another note: The Tennessee Firearms Association is not endorsing the NRA endorsements. Here’s the press release:

Email from Tennessee Firearms Association
NASHVILLE, TN: Tennessee Firearms Association expressed the organization’s caution to Tennessee voters about the ratings and endorsements coming out of some State and National policy and advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association. With less than four weeks until the August 4 primary, candidates, primarily incumbents, and early voting starting next week, the ratings and endorsements raise some concerns when contrasted with the actions and voting records of some of the “endorsed” and highly rated incumbents particularly when the primary purpose of these ratings are an attempt to influence voter decisions.

“Having been involved in Second Amendment advocacy in Tennessee for over 20 years, TFA has seldom “endorsed” a candidate,” said John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “We put our money where our mission is. We support both incumbents and opponents based upon their efforts to carry and co-sponsor legislation, support legislation, and champion the 2nd Amendment. TFA also carefuly scrutinizes the actions of incumbents and opposes incumbents. like Sen. Doug Overbey, Rep. Jon Lundberg, and Rep. Charles Sargent, who have proven by their actions that they do not truly support the rights of Tennesseans.”

The TFA’s concern is that in this election cycle some ratings and endorsements do not appear to reflect the true history of certain individual incumbents on the Second Amendment issues. These concerns seem to relate primarily to a limited number of incumbents who typically serve in leadership positions within the current GOP caucus.

For example, Sen. Doug Overbey is well known to have voted against many bills in Senate Judiciary that are advanced by real gun rights advocates. For example, this year he voted against Sen. Mark Green’s constitutional carry bill (Senate Bill 1483) helping to kill it in Senate Judiciary when the NRA’s lobbyist was in the room. He also voted “no” on a bill to allow handgun permit holders to carry in public parks (HB995, SB1496) in 2016. Yet, the NRA gave Sen. Overbey an “A-“ rating which it defines as somewhere between “solidly pro gun” and “generally pro gun.” In addition, it gave Sen. Overbey its endorsement in that specific race.

Similarly, in another Senate race, the NRA have given former House member Jon Lundberg an “A” rating – again indicating that he is “solidly pro gun”. The truth is that Jon Lundberg has a documented history of voting against 2nd Amendment legislation in a subcommittee that he serves on such as bills to enact Constitutional carry and to enact permitless open carry. For example, in 2016 he either voted voice voted no or he changed his “no” vote to a “present not voting” on bills such as HB0481 regarding storing legally owned firearms in parked cars, HB0684 regarding passage of permitless open carry (which approximately 30 states already have), and also HB0535 which was a bill to enact Constitutional Carry in Tennessee which approximately 12 states have already adopted.

Then, consider a House incumbent, Rep. Charles Sargent. Sargent’s antics in helping to kill and derail gun bills over the years by his chairmanship over the House Finance Committee is no secret to anyone who pays attention to the Second Amendment legislation in Tennessee. Although the NRA downgraded him to a B+ classification in 2014 and rated his challenger, Steve Gawrys with an A, the NRA has given Sargent not only an “A” rating in 2016 but it has given him the NRA’s endorsement as well and it has not rated his challenger Steve Gawrys at all.

Obviously, Tennessee Firearms Association disagrees strongly with these endorsements based simply on the observable facts. But then again, the NRA endorsed Democrat Harry Reid in the past who similarly is well known as an enemy of 2nd Amendment advocates. Yet, some sources report that the NRA’s endorsement of Reid prior to 2010 had more to do with his ability to provide a reported $61 million in funding for a gun range that the NRA wanted in Neveda than it had to do with his historical support for legislation to advance the 2nd Amendment.

The actual histories of these state incumbents and the facts concerning the Harry Reid endorsement raise legitimate questions about the basis for at least these ratings and endorsement and could easily diminish the reliability of other ratings even for candidates who have actually earned and deserved good ratings. Further, one need only pay passing attention to the endorsements and ratings to realize that the endorsements rarely given to opponents of incumbents even if the challenger has a clear history of being stronger on an issue.

TFA has not made its support decisions based upon incumbency. Again, TFA Executive Director John Harris: “Our mission at TFA is to move 2nd Amendment legislation without regard for incumbents, the money that they could direct to TFA, or the requests of challengers. We’re not afraid to support challengers who are running against incumbents who clealry do not support our mission or who use their offices to derail bills that advance the citizens’ right to ‘keep and bear arms’. Similarly, TFA is not hesitant about supporting incumbents who are strong even if they are in the minority party or principled incumbents who are labeled by the party’s leadership as not being ‘team players’ suggesting that leadership values mindless minions over principled public stewards.”

Harris continued, “Some advocacy groups exhibit little courage at times by taking what may be the easy path in order to avoid the wrath of leadership or an incumbent. Apparently for some, just because an incumbent has cast a vote in their favor from time to time is enough reason to ‘endorse’ that candidate, even when the actual facts show that the incumbent more frequently is a problem than a hero on your issue. The fact is, the committee process in the Tennessee Legislature is designed to and works to shield some incumbents from being exposed on their real views by letting them avoid having to make votes on the public record.” In that type of environment, endorsements based only on a few choreographed public votes or bill sponsorships can easily mislead voters to believe that an incumbent is good on an issue when sometimes they are the primary source of the problem.

“We have made it a habit to get in the fight with candidates who support our mission. We do not put our finger into the wind. At TFA, we put our finger on the support ‘trigger’. We believe if you’re afraid to pull the trigger, you’ll never hit the target. We also believe that principled constitutional leadership is more important than blind party loyalty.”