NASHVILLE — Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green says he won't run against Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker next year and instead will devote his energy to a new nonprofit group he hopes will prepare Christian conservatives for politics and governing.
The Ashland City, Tenn., physician and social conservative's move came amid speculation he might challenge Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, in the 2018 GOP primary or run in the open Tennessee 6th Congressional District race.
"As everything sits right now with the races as they're forming for 2018, I don't intend to run for any office in 2018," Green said Wednesday on WWTN's "The Ralph Bristol Show." "I'll just stay a state senator and serve in that capacity."
Green said he was motivated to start his nonprofit Five Stones Network for faith leaders as a result of his own experience after being nominated earlier this year by President Donald Trump for U.S. Army secretary.
The state senator, a West Point graduate and decorated U.S. Army flight surgeon who served in Iraq, quickly found himself the subject of national controversy and attack over his views and statements regarding Islam and LGBT issues.
Green ultimately withdrew his secretary nomination in May, announcing soon after he would not restart his Republican gubernatorial campaign but instead turn his attention to a then-unspecified "higher capacity" in Washington.
That drew speculation — as well as hopes among some hard-right boosters in Tennessee — that he might challenge Corker or run for Congress.
Green noted in a May interview with a Tennessee-based conservative website that he and Corker "have not always agreed on policy decisions." But he also described Corker as having been "a huge advocate for me in this [confirmation] process including working to get the truth in response to the attacks against me to the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee."
Speaking Wednesday on his new focus, Green said it "was very clear there were people attacking me because of what I believe and what my faith is."
Because several other Trump nominees have undergone similar controversies, Green said he saw the need for a group to advocate for people of faith and provide training for them before entering the public arena.
He is setting up the Five Stones Network as a 501(c)4 nonprofit group with Judson Hill, a former state senator from Georgia.
"We're basically going to recruit people of faith to run for elected office," Green said.
As for his own political future, Green said, "I think in 2020 you'll see me back in the election cycle. Right now I have a real passion to make sure that people of faith have a future voice in America."
He later added, "The U.S. Senate, I think, is going to be a potential opportunity for me later — not in 2018."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will be up for re-election in 2020 if he chooses to run for a fourth term.
Corker's office had no immediate comment about Green's remarks. While Corker has been publicly coy about his candidacy, he is expected to run for a third term in 2018.
Andy Ogles, head of Tennessee's chapter of the Koch Brothers-affiliated Americans for Property, is continuing to explore a GOP primary challenge to Corker but has not made his intentions public.
Right now, Green said, what's "probably the most heavy on my heart is what happened to me in Washington, D.C.," as his nomination melted down. Green has blasted critics as distorting his remarks.
In a statement later issued by the Five Stones Network, Green cited the "animosity" he "personally experienced in the confirmation process" as well as what others have undergone as "honestly un-American."
"Despite my years of military service and professional qualifications, the confirmation process turned to my comments as a believer in the Biblical creation story. I knew this was about my Christian faith," said Green, who went on to criticize an "indefinite hold" placed on his nomination by an unnamed Senate Democrat.
"The sequence of events demonstrated the urgent need for more men and women of faith in the political process," Green said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.