Update: Ted Cruz's pick for Tennessee chairman draws fire from Islamic activists

In this April 29, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) meeting at the National Press Club in Washington.

NASHVILLE -- Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has named former Williamson County GOP chairman Kevin Kookogey, a critic of Sharia law, as his Tennessee chairman.

Now, the U.S. senator is drawing fire from the Council on American-Islamic Relations which on Tuesday urged Cruz to drop Kookogey because of what the group called "his longstanding support for anti-Muslim and Islamophobic causes."

In announcing Kookogey's appointment, Cruz on Monday called him "a consistently strong voice for conservative principles and an active member of our party for a number of years.

"His experience and knowledge of both the landscape in Tennessee and the issues that matter to Tennesseans will be critical components to our success in the Volunteer State," Cruz said in his announcement release.

Koogey served as the Williamson County GOP chairman from 2011 to 2013. He was among heads of various conservative groups across the country who charged in 2013 that the Internal Revenue Service slow walked their requests for nonprofit status to organizations they'd formed.

Back in 2012, then-Chairman Kookogey and fellow Williamson County Republican officials approved a resolution criticizing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for his administration's hiring of a Samar Ali, a Muslim-American attorney and native of Waverly, Tenn., as international director at the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The resolution, which charged Ali was hired as a "Sharia compliant finance expert," also criticized the state's working with the American Muslim Advisory Council.

photo Kevin Kookogey

"Whereas, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has elevated and/or afford preferential political status to Sharia adherents in Tennessee, thereby aiding and abetting the advancement of an ideology and doctrine which is wholly incompatible with the Constitution of the United States," the resolution said.

Sharia law is the moral code and religious law of the Islamic faith.

Haslam's deputy, Claude Ramsey, defended the hiring of Ali as did the governor.

"There is no effort by the Haslam administration, the State of Tennessee, or any agency or department of the State to promote or advance Shariah law or Shariah compliant finance," Ramsey wrote to GOP leaders in Williamson and other counties.

Robert McCaw, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in his news release Tuesday that if Cruz "chooses to keep Mr. Kookogey on his campaign staff, it would serve as an endorsement of anti-Muslim hate."

He said the senator has attended several conferences featuring "notorious Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney. Despite calls to distance himself from such anti-Muslim bigots, it seems that Senator Cruz is only drawing closer to hate-mongers."

In 2013, Kookogey geared up for a GOP primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. But he didn't run after it became clear that a group of Tea Party groups were intent on getting behind then-state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas. Alexander beat Carr.

The Cruz campaign said in its news release that Kookogey "has led the very public fight against Common Core in Tennessee, and has developed a reputation for leadership on issues of American sovereignty, defense, and religious liberty."

Kookogey is also a Heritage Action for America Sentinel and 2014 "Wall of Honor" recipient.

Efforts to reach a Cruz spokesman by email were not immediately successful.