U.S. Rep. David Davis said Monday he feels vindicated by the Tennessee Democratic Party’s (TDP) executive committee decision to invalidate state Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s razor-thin Democratic primary victory.
The committee voted 33-11 on Saturday to declare Kurita’s 19-vote victory “incurably uncertain” after her opponent, Clarksville attorney Tim Barnes, challenged the result and alleged heavy Republican interference in the Middle Tennessee district’s Democratic primary.
Davis, a Johnson City Republican, alleged Democratic crossover voters prevented his re-election and carried Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe to a 486-vote victory in Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District Republican primary.
“I am absolutely convinced and the law is very clear that it is illegal for one party to go into another party’s primary and change the outcome,” Davis said. “The Tennessee Democrat Party proved I was right. Democrats shouldn’t be choosing Republicans, and Republicans on the other hand shouldn’t be choosing Democrats. Everybody should be able to vote in the general (election) for the best person.”
When asked if he regrets not filing a challenge to Roe’s win with the Tennessee Republican Party’s primary board, Davis said he has mixed emotions.
“I thought it was the best thing for the Republican Party at the time not to challenge,” he said. “I felt like it was the best thing for America. My political career has never really been about me personally. It’s been about what’s best for America. At the time, I felt like it was better not to move forward (with a challenge).”
A mid-August Davis campaign memo said Tennessee laws designed to prevent “party raiding” were not effective in preventing Roe’s victory due to a “combination of the state’s inadequate enforcement of the law and the organized effort by Democrats to exploit this inadequacy.”
To participate in the primary, all voters have to do is put their name and address on the ballot application, produce an identification, and write a check mark for either the Democratic or Republican ballot.
But Tennessee law also says that a voter can be challenged for not being a “bona fide” member of the political party in the primary they choose to vote, the memo noted.
“The fact that the state primary board of the Republican Party has exclusive jurisdiction over Republican primary contests demonstrates the fallacy of the argument that Tennessee holds open primaries,” the Davis campaign memo asserted.
Kurita crossed party lines in 2007 when she was the only Democrat to vote for Republican state Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.
Davis mostly dismissed a perception that the TDP committee handed political payback to Kurita for supporting Ramsey.
“There’s some feeling in that, but if you go back strictly to the law ... the law says that when you go in and vote on primary day you are swearing allegiance to that party,” Davis said. “When Republicans went in and voted in that election in Middle Tennessee, they were swearing allegiance to the Democrat Party. When Democrats voted in my election, they were swearing allegiance to to the Republican Party. ... That’s why we need to change Tennessee law and have a closed primary. It’s semi-open, semi-closed now. Allowing someone to change the outcome on either side of the election is just wrong.”
Ramsey, who had called Davis’ plans to contest Roe’s primary win a “mistake,” said the TDP committee decision was an atrocity.
“You had a few people who overturned the will of the people,” Ramsey insisted. “This is all about constitutional rights and the sanctity of the ballot box. When you win the day of the election, the system of the state of Tennessee should stand. They proved no fraud. There were no illegalities. That’s supposed to be the standard in which you overturn an election.”
In the Kurita-Barnes election, a joint convention of the Democratic executive committees in Cheatham, Houston and Montgomery counties will now determine who the nominee will be in the 22nd Senatorial District. There is no Republican running in the general election. Kurita has registered as a write-in candidate.
The Tennessee Senate is evenly divided with 16 Democrats, 16 Republicans and one independent.