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Democrats voting in Republican primaries could become a thing of the past.
“We actually have a piece of legislation drafted that would close our primaries, and I’m using that as a starting ground,” said State Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. “I’ve asked my research analyst to look at what other states are doing and see what works well and what doesn’t work well.”
Harwell, a Nashville Republican, was in Kingston last week to stump for 32nd District state representative candidate Kent Calfee. He faces Democrat Jack McNew and Independent Allen R. Cole in the Nov. 6 election.
Calfee got the Republican nomination by defeating Julia Hurley in the Aug. 2 primary.
Calfee used to be a Democrat, and Hurley said she believed Democrats crossing over to vote Republican helped carry him to victory.
“I don’t know who crossed over,” Calfee said. “I don’t care. I haven’t gone back and researched it.”
A review of county voting history records show that some Democrats cast ballots in the Republican Primary.
The group includes Kingston attorney Dick Evans, who has an Obama-Biden bumper sticker on his car, and former Roane County administrator of elections Tony Brown, who lost his job in 2009 because he was a Democrat.
The Aug. 2 primary was the only time Evans and Brown have voted Republican, according to the records that date back to 1998.
Brian Matthews and Derek Henderson, who worked on former Democrat state representative Dennis Ferguson’s campaign in 2010 when he lost to Hurley, also voted in the Republican Primary.
That was the first time for both of them as well, according to the records.
“We certainly do not encourage Democrats to cross over in our primaries if their goal is to manipulate the results,” said Adam Nickas, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party. “We hope that any Democrats that cross over are doing so because they feel that they are at home in the Republican Party.”
Calfee said he wasn’t bothered that some Democrats crossed over in District 32, which includes parts of Roane and Loudon counties.
“I never asked anybody if they were a Democrat, Republican or Independent,” Calfee said. “I simply asked people to vote for me.”
Matthews said he voted in the Republican Primary to support Weston Wamp, who sought the Republican nomination in the Third Congressional District. Incumbent Chuck Fleischmann won that race.
Crossover voting was a big issue in the Republican Primary. The TBI was called in to investigate whether election officials in Rhea County were improperly challenging voters’ party affiliation during early voting. Rhea, along with Bledsoe, Sequatchie and a portion of Roane, make up House District 31, where state Rep. Jim Cobb accused Ron Travis of getting as many Democrats as possible to vote Republican. Travis won the race.
Harwell, one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, said she leans against restricting primaries.
“The only way we grew as a party is Democrats and Independents decided that they could support a Republican candidate,” she said.
In speaking with people, Harwell said she finds that many are Independents who base their vote on the person rather than party.
“We would force those people who like to have the Independent title into one party or the other,” she said. “Now there’s arguments for that, but there are also arguments against it as well. Believe me, I will let it have a fair hearing in the legislative process.”