Athens, Tennessee, businessman Dennis Beavers, a hopeful for outgoing state Sen. Mike Bell's seat, has been removed from the ballot for the state's new Senate District 1 after a hearing Wednesday in McMinn County found he was not eligible to run in the Aug. 4 state Republican Primary.
"A challenge of residency was filed with the state election office," McMinn County Administrator of Elections TeAnna McKinney said Thursday in a telephone interview. "We held a hearing on his residency last night. The other Senate candidates' petitions were certified for the ballot."
McKinney said officials in McMinn have no idea who filed the challenge but after the hearing ended, Beavers' name was no longer on the Aug. 4 ballot containing races in party primary elections held for governor, U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee Senate - odd-numbered districts - and Tennessee House of Representatives.
Beavers, who owns a 140-acre cattle farm and home in McMinn County, announced his state Senate bid in December when he lived in Senate District 9. Under redistricting, his ranch was assigned to Senate District 1, using new census data.
He worked on former President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and was appointed by Trump to serve as the executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farms Services Agency in Tennessee.
McMinn County Election Commission Chairman Todd Watson said Thursday in a telephone interview Wednesday's vote was unanimous, 4-0, but the move was the only one to make under state law. There are five members on the commission, and Watson only casts votes to break ties.
After the residency question was raised, Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins got in touch with the Alabama secretary of state to check on the residency challenge allegations and told McMinn officials to schedule a hearing, Watson said. Goins attended Wednesday's hearing.
"What was discovered was Mr. Beavers actually ran for city council in a municipal election in Alabama - in Blountsville, Alabama - in 2020. He previously had a council seat but lost his election in 2020," Watson said.
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"Article 2, Section 10 of the Tennessee Constitution states that you had to have been a resident for three years and a resident of your county for one year directly preceding an election," he said. "The commission, based on the evidence of his voting history in Alabama and actually running as a candidate in Alabama in 2020, deemed that he did not qualify based on that history and based on the constitutional guidelines to be able to run for Senate."
Watson said none of the bipartisan county election commission members were eager to remove Beavers from the ballot, it was just what had to be done. The meeting lasted a couple of hours, he said.
The District 1 state Senate Republican Primary ballot now includes current state Rep. Mark Hall of Bradley County and J. Adam Lowe of McMinn County, according to elections officials. The Democratic Primary ballot includes lone candidate Patricia Waters, of McMinn County, who will face the winner of the GOP primary battle in the state and federal general election Nov. 8.
The new footprint of newly-designated Senate District 1 consists of part of Bradley County and all of McMinn, Meigs and Rhea counties, according to election officials.
Beavers cried foul and said he had only 48 hours from being notified of the challenge to prepare a response before the Wednesday hearing. He said he feels the move was politically motivated, and he contends he has been living in Tennessee all along, although he has a home in Alabama, too.
"I don't like political drive-by shootings, and that's what this looks like," Beavers said Thursday in a telephone interview.
He said he thinks Democrats were behind the challenge issue.
"There's no intent to do anything wrong on my part," he said.
Beavers has homes and property in both states, he said.
Beavers said he voted absentee in Alabama while living in Tennessee in 2020 because he and his family hunkered down at his McMinn County home during the pandemic. Beavers said he was also caring for his ailing elderly parents while the rest of his family was working at and attending local schools in McMinn County.
He said the Alabama absentee ballot was sent to him, and he voted.
Beavers was on the Blountsville municipal ballot in 2020 because of an ongoing Alabama Ethics Commission investigation in which he was an informant for the commission, he said. He had previously been a member of the city panel and lost the 2020 Blountsville election during his work as an informant, along with all the other members, he said. Beavers said he didn't want to elaborate because of the possibility portions of the investigation were still pending.
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Beavers said he and his supporters want to know who filed the challenge and he believes the matter should have been relayed to the Tennessee Republican Party, not the Secretary of State's Office. He said he was told information about the source of the Alabama information is not available.
"This is a case where the proper venue should have been with the Tennessee Republican Party," he said. "There's been case law - I don't know what the case law number is - that says the Republicans control the Republican Primary and Democrats control theirs.
"If I was not a candidate in good standing, the party should have already dealt with that," he said.
"I have shown that I have a residence here, I was registered within a year of voting. I should be qualified to run in the state Senate," he said.
"I feel like rural people will not get a voice, and this election will take the seat back to Bradley County, where Bradley County will have all the say-so in that Senate seat," he said.
Primary elections will be held for governor, U.S. House of Representatives, Tennessee Senate — odd-numbered districts — and Tennessee House of Representatives. General elections will be held for state judicial offices and applicable county offices. These deadlines also apply to independent candidates for these offices.Primary elections: Aug. 4Voter registration deadline: July 5Early voting: July 15-30Absentee ballot request deadline: July 28Source: Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Elections
A phone call
Beaver's residency issue was raised by a phone call to the state office from someone who asked a question about whether a person who voted in Alabama in 2020 would be eligible to seek a Tennessee Senate seat, Goins said Thursday in a telephone interview.
"They wouldn't be because the constitution says they have to be a resident of the state for three years preceding and when you vote in another state you're declaring that is your official residency for voting purposes," he said.
Goins said his office gets inquiries from time to time. Information provided sometimes can be verified and sometimes not.
"In this instance it was easy to verify that he in fact was a registered voter in Alabama," Goins said, noting he spoke to officials at the Secretary of State's Office in Alabama and in Blount County, where Beavers was on the ballot.
"During that process, I learned that not only was he a voter in four separate elections in 2020, he actually was a candidate," he said of the Blountsville ballot. "Had he been elected he would have been chosen to serve that area and at that point, I knew he had a constitutional question."
Goins said Beavers also was an elected delegate for Trump in Alabama in 2020.
As to Beavers' remark he was told there was no information on who the challenger was, Goins said no one in the office remembers the name of the caller but that once he had the information regarding residency, he was bound by state law to act.
"I guess I'm the one that's challenging him when it comes down to it," Goins said. "At the end of the day, what got him more than anything else, if you heard the [McMinn County Election Commission] commissioners, was the fact he was a registered voter in Alabama and he voted in numerous elections.
"It doesn't matter who the messenger is, it matters if it's true," he said.
An April 21 McMinn County Election Commission letter notifying Beavers of the hearing spelled out the issues that were addressed Wednesday and set the date and time of the hearing.
McMinn County resident and Beavers supporter Sharon Anderson was at Wednesday's hearing and was surprised at the commission's action.
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"It's just odd to me as a private citizen that an action of this magnitude can be taken on an anonymous phone call," Anderson said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I think it really needs to be heard in front of the Tennessee Republican Party."
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden said Thursday in a telephone interview the state party had no involvement.
"In the case of Mr. Beavers, his credentials weren't challenged to the Tennessee Republican Party, and if we don't receive a challenge, then there is nothing the party does to act upon it," Golden said.
Watson said he and others on the election commission and around the county saw Beavers so often in the past couple of years they thought he was a permanent resident.
Beavers said he hasn't decided yet whether to fight the move in court and will continue to discuss ideas with his attorney.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.