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Mark Clayton

A potential Tennessee gubernatorial candidate has sued top state Democrats who ousted him from their 2014 ballot for not being "bona fide" under party rules.

Mark Clayton, a well-known anti-gay-rights activist, qualified as a Democrat for the governor's race, but the state party last week disavowed him and asked that his name be removed from its list of qualified candidates.

In response, Clayton filed a 14-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Nashville against state Party Chairman Roy Herron and a host of other state Democrats, saying they broke party bylaws, perjured themselves and violated a host of laws while challenging his candidacy.

He says party bylaws require a challenger to come forward to the party's County Development Board and challenge him. In this case, he claims the challenge was presumed and not valid.

"The actions against [Clayton] by defendants was wholly derived from fraud and then presented in the conclusion in Mr. Herron's letter as that [Clayton] is not a bona fide Democrat to the Tennessee Division of Elections, improperly, with the force of law," the suit claims.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lee, who sits on the state party's county development committee and is named in the suit, said the decision to oust Clayton "was a pretty easy one."

He said the committee only makes recommendations to the party's executive committee, which then makes a recommendation to Herron.

"We look to see if the person is a bona fide Democrat based on voting records, previous statements and other political activity," Lee said. "We just make recommendations. ... Ultimately, it's the chairman's decision."

He added that Clayton can still be a candidate, he just won't be listed as a Democrat.

In the suit, Clayton asks the court to bar the state party from making any more fraudulent statements about him, and asks that some of them be charged with crimes.

Clayton won the 2012 Democratic Senate nomination with 30 percent of the vote in a largely unknown field. The next day, Democrats found out he was a conservative activist who had served as vice president of Public Advocate of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based group that opposed gay rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a "hate group."

Eventually, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., won re-election with 65 percent of the vote. Clayton received 35 percent.

Clayton later sued the party's chairman and other party officials. That lawsuit is still pending.

Clayton declined to speak Friday about the suit.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon or at 423-757-6481.