Rough Night for GOP Leadership

Thursday’s primary election upsets within the Republican-run Tennessee Legislature signal a new day is coming in the House of Representatives next year.

As many as seven GOP incumbents took it on the chin in their district contests, including the House majority-party’s third-in-command, caucus chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville.

Maggart, backed by the state Republican Party’s heaviest hitters, was convincingly defeated at the hands of a political novice, Courtney Rogers.

While Rogers, a retired Air Force officer, was certainly beneficiary of a huge cache of out-of-state campaign support from the National Rifle Association, she said her victory ought to be interpreted as a very localized warning to politicians against “being aloof in Nashville.”

“The leadership just needs to pay a little more attention to their specific constituents,” she told TNReport at her District 45 victory party at the Millersville Community Center. Vote totals showed her winning with 57 percent to Maggart’s 43 percent of the election turnout take.

Other Republican incumbents who won’t be in the Legislature again in 2013 include House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, former Mt. Juliet mayor Linda Elam, Reps. Jim Cobb of Spring City, Julia Hurley of Lenoir City, Don Miller of Morristown and Dale Ford of Jonesborough.

One familiar GOP face that’ll be returning is that of Susan Lynn, who defeated Elam, a freshman lawmaker who oddly had the public backing of both Maggart and the NRA.

Another prominent Republican incumbent, Vance Dennis of Savanna, had a mere five-vote advantage over challenger Shirley B. Curry of Waynesboro at the end of the night. Dennis was a sponsor of tort reform legislation the passage of which the Haslam administration considered among its most important achievements in 2011.

Over in the Senate, only one Republican faced a primary challenge, moderate Doug Overbey of Maryville. He handily defeated challenger Scott Hughes of Seymour.

Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, a veteran House lawmaker, defeated three other Republicans in a district where no Democrats filed to run in the general.

Andrea Zelinski and Mark Engler contributed to this report.