NASHVILLE — Republican mayoral nominee Weston Wamp, who won Hamilton County's May 3 GOP primary, will defend his victory to Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee members on Friday.
The certified results are being challenged by one of Wamp's rivals, Sabrena Smedley, who alleges crossover voting by Democrats carried Wamp to an invalid victory. In its filing with the state GOP, the Wamp campaign says Smedley's campaign actively wooed Democrats to cross over and vote in the GOP primary.
"Overwhelming evidence reveals that Smedley and her supporters successfully courted Democratic voters, directly undermining the claims made in her appeal that Democrats crossed over to vote for Wamp," states a copy of Wamp's filing with the GOP, provided to the Chattanooga Times Free Press by an executive committee member.
The Wamp campaign noted Smedley, chairwoman of the Hamilton County Commission, was endorsed by several public sector unions, including the "liberal teacher union," the Hamilton County Education Association Fund.
"Smedley heavily promoted the teacher union endorsement on television advertisements, mail pieces and on social media," the Wamp campaign asserted. "The proactive promotion of this endorsement by her campaign can only be interpreted as an attempt to lure Democratic voters to vote for her in the Republican primary. Furthermore, the leader of the teachers union's PAC, Aaron Fowles, a Democrat, was quoted in the Times Free Press supporting Sabrena Smedley."
Wamp's campaign also said Risa Miller, described as the mother of Smedley campaign manager Lexi Bradshaw, was an active volunteer in Smedley's effort and "openly solicited Democrats to vote" for Smedley on the basis of gender.
"Ms. Miller separately invited Democrats via text message to a sanctioned campaign event targeting Democrats," Wamp's campaign states in the filing.
Wamp won a 318-vote victory over Smedley in the three-person GOP primary. Smedley was joined in her filing to the state's 66-member State Executive Committee by Matt Hullander, who finished third in the GOP's mayoral primary. The results were certified by the Hamilton County Election Commission on May 13.
"Our victory in the Republican Primary was certified without issue by the Hamilton County Election Commission two weeks ago," Wamp stated in a Thursday text to the Times Free Press. "The claims brought by Sabrena Smedley and Matt Hullander have no merit and, quite frankly, some of their allegations don't even make sense."
Wamp added, "I'm confident the State Executive Committee will vote down their attempt to nullify the will of the voters of Hamilton County."
Smedley also texted the Times Free Press.
"The Wamps know the truth, but they're obviously still in campaign mode," she said. "We'll make our best case to the Republican Executive Committee, which is the proper process, and we'll abide by the committee's decision.
"We aren't accusing any Republican of inviting Democrats to change parties," Smedley said. "We're accusing left-wing groups of party raiding. If Weston is attacking liberal teachers unions, what about the police and firefighters? The teachers group never asked Democrats as Democrats to vote in the the GOP primary. They asked as teachers to vote for me."
State Executive Committee members will convene Friday afternoon in their role as the GOP's primary board.
'A political process'
In an email to executive committee members earlier this week, Scott Golden, Tennessee Republican Party chairman, laid out in clear terms what the process is — and what it is not.
"It will be noted this is not a legal process," Golden wrote. "It is a political process."
Under Tennessee law, "The state primary board shall hear and determine the contest and make the disposition of the contest, which justice and fairness require, including setting aside the election if necessary."
Golden referred to a 2012 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving former Tennessee state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville.
Kurita narrowly won her 2008 Democratic primary over challenger Tim Barnes by 18 votes. The election was later overturned by Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee members.
The party cited crossover voting by Republicans for Kurita in her primary. Democrats were incensed over Kurita's actions in 2007, when she crossed party lines to help elect Republican Ron Ramsey as the first Tennessee Republican Senate speaker in 140 years.
Federal appellate judges rejected Kurita's claims the party couldn't do that. As a result, Democrats' actions stood.
In Smedley attorney Catherine White's filing with the GOP's executive committee, White cites what she says were failures by the Hamilton County Election Commission and the local Republican Party to police the election properly. She said as a result, more than 1,600 people with an "unchecked" Democratic voting history voted in the Republican primary.
In addition to the GOP's county mayor primary, White also cited the county school board's District 6 Republican primary, where Republican Jon Baker, of Red Bank, defeated GOP primary opponents Cindy Fain, of Chattanooga, and Delores Gross Vinson, of Chattanooga.
If their victories stand, Baker will face off against Democrat Ben Connor in the August general election, and Wamp will face Democrat Matt Adams.
Among other things, Smedley says there was no mechanism in place to vet "bona fide" or "good faith" Republican voters either by the Hamilton County Election Commission or the county's Republican Party.
White wrote that no database of Republican voter data was sought by the local party or supplied by the state party so voter histories could be vetted in the event of a voter's legitimacy as a party member being challenged.
Golden said state law on the matter can be unclear.
"Now, whether or not people are becoming Republicans, that's the true question, right?" he said. "Do you intend to become a Republican. I mean, obviously, we're in a state where over the past 25 years we've seen a dramatic shift from 'D' to 'R.' So at some point in time, all of those people who voted Democrat have started voting Republican."
During Friday's meeting of the GOP's State Primary Board, according to Golden's email, the challenger or his or her representative will have five minutes to present.
The person being challenged or his or her representative will have five minutes to present their side. That includes an attorney doing that.
State Executive Committee members, acting as the State Primary Board, will have 10 minutes to ask questions. Then, the executive committee members, acting as the State Primary Board, will vote.
"But the Republican Party's never overturned a primary vote," said Chris Clem, an attorney, Hamilton County Election Commission member and a former state legislator. "Democrats rarely do it. I mean they don't do it very often either. They've chosen the primary system, and they've chosen a loose primary system where they don't regulate, really, who's voting in it."