Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are backing House GOP Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, who’s in the crosshairs of the National Rifle Association and Tennessee Firearms Association.
The two gun rights groups are going after Maggart, R-Hendersonville, over her actions involving the so-called “Safe Commute” bill that would have allowed gun permit-carrying employees to store their weapon in a locked car on company property.
The groups are backing Maggart’s GOP primary opponent, Courtney Rogers, with ads and campaign contributions.
The NRA is also spending money on billboards comparing Maggart to President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
“They’re spending more on one race than they have in the last 10 years in the legislature ... and spending $75,000 statewide,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said before the state government leaders held an event at Northeast State Community College to discuss post-secondary education.
Harwell, R-Nashville, said the NRA-TFA effort involves “an extreme amount of money” and “an unwise use” of their resources.
“Debra has a 90 percent voting record with them and has done everything they wanted. ... She deserves to be re-elected,” said Harwell. “I’m sorry they chose to fight that battle. I think it’s the wrong one. (House GOP members) are more angry that a group we have worked well with over the years has decided to come out and attack one of our members. It’s true anger.”
Haslam, a Republican, was confident Maggart will win her primary battle.
“It’s hard to believe she is not conservative enough. ... Surveys in the (House) district indicate issues about guns are not on the top of the agenda,” Haslam said.
While endorsing Rogers, the NRA accused Maggart of trying to kill the “Safe Commute” bill “through procedural maneuvering behind closed doors.” Neither the House nor the Senate versions of the bill came to a floor vote in the last legislative session.
Maggart remains the fund-raising leader in the primary battle. She raised more than $100,000 and had about $146,000 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter, according to filings with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. In contrast, Rogers had raised more than $38,000 and had about $10,000 cash on hand at quarter’s end.
Ramsey said Maggart is being picked on because of her leadership position.
“I wish this wasn’t going on, but it is,” Ramsey said. “I think we’ll still address the (Safe Commute) issue when we come back (in 2013). ... It’s fighting among friends. ... I think Debra wins and we’ll figure out a way to solve the problem and not throw stones at each other.”