MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. — Republican state Sen. Mae Beavers on Saturday formally launched her 2018 campaign for governor, pledging to bring to the Tennessee governor's mansion her tea party principles in areas from opposing abortion and transgender rights to fighting to repeal a just-passed gas tax increase.
"I have consistently championed the same conservative values and principles," Beavers, a 23-year legislative veteran, told a hometown crowd of 150 or more supporters. "I have not wavered one inch."
Beavers, 69, joins previously announced Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Randy Boyd of Knoxville, an entrepreneur and former state economic development commissioner, and Franklin businessman Bill Lee in the contest. Both wealthy, Boyd and Lee have indicated they could supplement fundraising from their own pockets.
Others weighing bids include U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.; state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
Beavers was an early supporter of President Donald Trump, chairing the Tennessee delegation at last year's Republican National Convention. She channeled Trump's "America First" slogan in her announcement speech, saying, "It's time to put Tennessee first!"
Beavers is counting on backing from Trump supporters, tea party members and social conservatives, some of whom had been gravitating toward state Sen. Mark Green, R-Ashland City.
But Green said Friday he won't try to restart the campaign he suspended after being nominated as Trump's Army secretary. He withdrew from U.S. Senate consideration amid a blitz of national criticism over his previous statements about Islam and LGBTQ issues.
First elected to the state House in 1994 and to the state Senate in 2000, Beavers has earned a reputation as a conservative hardliner on abortion, immigration and refugee resettlement programs, tax increases, same-sex marriage and more.
She's a staunch supporter of gun rights and pushed unsuccessfully for "constitutional carry," which would do away with permits and background checks for Tennesseans who can legally purchase a gun.
This year, Beavers sponsored unsuccessful bills to ban same-sex marriage and require transgender public school students to use restrooms based on their birth gender. She hit on many of those same themes Saturday.
"I am committed to pushing back against Washington, D.C., and demanding that anyone coming into our state from outside America be thoroughly vetted to make sure they want to be a part of our great nation and what it stands for," Beavers said.
"After the Chattanooga attack on our recruiting stations, we discovered that Homeland Security had no idea of who was coming into our state under the Refugee Resettlement program," Beavers said. "That is unacceptable. Terrorism is a threat right here at home, so I intend to make safety and security a centerpiece of my campaign."
The Chattanooga reference was to the July 2015 attack by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez on two federal military centers that took the lives of four Marines and a sailor. Chattanooga police fatally shot Abdulazeez.
Beavers also said she would "make sure that Tennessee focuses on protecting children before they are born and then providing them a safe and secure environment while they grow and thrive.
"That safety and security extends to making sure that men are not allowed into the bathrooms and locker rooms of little girls!" Beavers said.
During Beavers' event, a dozen or so sign-carrying Democrats demonstrated against her stances on social issues.
"We think she's the epitome of what is wrong with the Tennessee Legislature with divisive [speech], polarization and her inability to listen to her constituents," said demonstrator Chris McCarthy.
Beavers' supporters responded with their own signs and lively but peaceful discussions ensued.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.