Growing Grassroots Anger at GOP Establishment in Tennessee

House State Government Chairman Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.
AP Photo/Erik Schelzig

NASHVILLE, Tennessee–Controversy is threatening to bring an early end to the regime of thirty-year-old Ryan Haynes, who was named chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party in April 2015.

More than two dozen Republican members of the Tennessee House of Representatives signed an April 18 letter to Haynes demanding the immediate termination of his political director, Walker Ferrell, on the grounds that his wife, Taylor Ferrell, a paid consultant of the Tennessee Republican Party, is also being paid to defeat a number of incumbent Republican members of the House in primary challenges.

The latest problem comes less than a month after the Tennessee Republican Party’s cram down of establishment loyalists onto the Trump and Cruz delegate slates to the Republican National Convention angered grassroots conservatives,

The letter, made public at the Tennessee political blog Rocky Top, is quite specific in its allegations.

We believe the party’s political director, Walker Ferrell, has knowingly and deliberatively compromised the integrity and and the impartiality of state GOP operations as it relates to the re-election of incumbent Republican legislators.

Specifically, Southland Advantage, a firm offering fundraising and other political consulting services, has been retained by several candidates for this year’s primary elections. The sole proprietor of Southland Advantage is Taylor Ferrell, the wife of Walker Ferrell. It has come to our attention that Mrs. Ferrell is actively engaged in more than one campaign for candidates who are opposing bona fide Republican incumbents–in the Republican primary–and as such, she is actively involved in seeking to defeat these loyal Republican officeholders…

The fact she chose or was directed to contract with at least two (possibly more) campaigns where she is actively working to defeat incumbent Republican officeholders is not only a gross conflict of interest, but demonstrates an egregious lack of ethics and party loyalty on the part of her and her husband. Through his spouse, Mr. Ferrell stands to personally and financially benefit in the defeat of incumbent Republican office holders…

That relationship, the letter states, means Walker Ferrell is in violation of the bylaws of the Tennessee Republican Party. Consequently, the legislators want Chairman Haynes to terminate Ferrell:

Considering Mr. Ferrell’s position and his spouse’s central role in the political fortunes of said Republican candidates, a situation akin to insider trading, we are demanding his immediate termination. We also demand any existing contract(s) between the state party and Southland Advantage be terminated immediately.

Breitbart News asked Tennessee Republican Party executive director Brent Leatherwood if Chairman Haynes had received the April 18 letter and whether he was going to terminate Walker Ferrell.

“Chairman Haynes considers all these individuals good friends and he would in no way allow his staff to be involved in their legislative primaries. In fact, TNGOP bylaws prohibit that from occurring. It hasn’t happened and it never will,” Leatherwood responded by email.

“Voters decide who the nominees are and we work with those individuals to beat Democrats,” he added.

Leatherwood said Haynes would not terminate Ferrell.

“Mr. Ferrell is a valuable member of our staff. Per our bylaws, no staff member is involved in any legislative primary, therefore no action is necessary,” Leatherwood subsequently told Breitbart News.

One of the signers of the letter was not impressed by the response.

“This answer can only be taken seriously upon proof that Mr. Ferrell and his spouse in no way commingle any assets,” State Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) tells Breitbart News.

“This would include housing, utilities, food, entertainment , transportation, etc. Simply denying any conflict is only asking for round two in front of a larger audience,” he adds.

Matheny notes the relative youth and inexperience of Chairman Haynes and the current staff at the Tennessee Republican Party may not be up to the challenge of leading the party.

“The Tennessee Republican Party needs mature and decisive representation in a time such as this. Confidence is eroding due to unethical business arrangements which violate the trust between incumbents and the party,” Matheny says.

“At a time when there is no viable minority party should be seen as an opportunity to consolidate and strengthen core principals. Instead, the leadership at the TN GOP has allowed its employees and operatives to plunder, poach and take advantage of those that have elevated it over the years to the supermajority it has become,” Matheny adds.

“I do not speak alone and know I am correct in co signing the letter. Just a modicum of restraint on greedy intentions and adhering to previous verbal warnings could have prevented this entire circumstance. The longer the party refuses to acknowledge and correct the gray areas It operates in, the deeper and more divisive this wound will become. Eventually it will prove fatal to remaining in charge,” he concludes.

Here’s how the Tennessean, the left-leaning local newspaper owned by Gannett, reported on the story:

Twenty-seven Tennessee state House Republicans have called for the firing of a high-ranking state Republican Party official whose wife leads a political consulting firm they say is working for candidates challenging GOP incumbents in this year’s primary.

Lawmakers also want any GOP party superiors who knew about or condoned the “engagement” of the consultant to resign. . .

The group, which includes House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, sent a letter dated Monday to Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes demanding the immediate termination of the party’s political director, Walker Ferrell. . . .

Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, said he wrote the letter in consultation with others.

“I signed the letter because the Republican Party is destroying the trust between candidates, incumbents and the party apparatus by allowing its employees and subcontractors (in this case the political director and his spouse) to work against incumbent office holders,” Matheny said in a text to The Tennessean.

Matheny is one of 21 House Republicans facing primary challenges this August. It’s an unusually large number of primary challengers, reflecting the ongoing divide among Republicans nationally and locally.

The letter alleges that Taylor Ferrell is working for two of the challengers, but it does not identify which candidates or races. This arrangement, the letter says, represents a “gross conflict of interest” for Walker Ferrell, who they contend stands to gain financially from the defeat of Republicans in office because of his wife’s role.

The lawmakers go on to suggest that Walker Ferrell could be sharing party information and referrals to assist his wife — and accuse Walker Ferrell’s party superiors of condoning it. . .

After asking Leatherwood for comment on the letter, he said in an email that Reps. Bill Sanderson and Ron Lollar wanted to have their names removed. Leatherwood provided a comment from Rep. Susan Lynn, whose signature also appears on the letter.

“While I have had these concerns under previous chairmen, I do not have these concerns about Chairman Ryan Haynes or the current staff of the TNGOP,” Lynn said in the statement.

Taylor Ferrell did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The state party recently contracted Southland Advantage to help with the travel, organization and other arrangements for Tennessee’s delegates at this summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. . .

According to Southland Advantage’s website, Taylor Ferrell — a GOP fundraiser — worked for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s 2014 re-election campaign and helped Nashville mayoral candidate David Fox raise money after he advanced to the run-off election against now-Mayor Megan Barry.

A September 2015 news release from Grant Starrett, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee, says Taylor Ferrell is the campaign’s finance consultant…

One Capitol Hill insider noted the Tennessean’s account of the controversy was clearly an attempt to minimize the scope of the problems at the Tennessee Republican Party.

“Their reporters focus on criticism of the twenty-seven legislators who signed the letter,” the source tells Breitbart News.

“This pretty clearly removes any question of whether [Tennessee Republican Party Chairman] Ryan Haynes is a conservative or not. The Tennessean would never defend him if he was a conservative,” the source quipped.


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