Were it not for the hundreds of lawn signs and bumper stickers collecting dust in her garage, Susan Lynn might have chosen a different slogan to launch her political comeback.
But the outspoken former state rep nevertheless does feel fully entitled to run a “Re-Elect Susan Lynn” campaign, even though she hasn’t been a member of the Tennessee Legislature for the last two years.
“I don’t even have a logo that doesn’t say ‘Re-Elect Susan Lynn,’” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who served four terms in the state House before launching an unsuccessful run at the Senate in 2010. Lynn says it just makes sense to try and save a few bucks by reusing signs, stickers, T-shirts, hats and other sundry political paraphernalia leftover from her House District 57 campaigns starting in 2002 and ending in 2008.
Lynn faces Linda Elam, a one-time real estate attorney, formerly the mayor of Mt. Juliet mayor and — most notably — the incumbent who enjoys the House GOP Caucus’ support going into the August 2 primary election. The winner will run unopposed in November.
Elam, who is finishing up her first term in state office, kicked off her campaign recently with an event co-sponsored by 58 fellow Republican lawmakers. The GOP establishment’s endorsement, Elam says, represents a clear and “dramatic” message to voters signaling which candidate has proven she can “work well with their colleagues, get things accomplished and work on behalf of the people rather than their own interest.”
The race is one of several that political insiders are following closely. The race will also test the electoral clout of the business-friendly caucus leaders as they try to protect Tennessee incumbents from constitution-focused Tea Party conservative challengers.
“While Susan Lynn is one of my very best friends I’ve ever had, I know that my job as leader, when I was elected by the caucus, is to help the incumbents. It’s not a comfortable thing for me at all,” said House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, who was known to socialize with Lynn when they served as seat-mates in the Legislature together. “I know Susan would understand if she was in the caucus still. She would expect me to support her just as we are doing with Linda Elam.”
Aside from calling themselves Mt. Juliet conservatives seeking “re-election,” Elam and Lynn offer voters significant differences in style and background.
Lynn won her first House election in 2002, in the aftermath of the state income tax battles in the Legislature. She made a name for herself championing limited-government constitutionalism and state sovereignty issues. Some of her most well-known bills sought to restrict the effect of Obamacare on Tennesseans, ban the government from implanting microchips in individuals against a person’s will, and requiring those on public assistance to submit to random drug tests, a measure which won approval in a different fashion this year.
After lots of hand-wringing, she ultimately chose to vacate her House seat in 2010 and run for the state Senate against her ideological analog and political archrival, Republican Sen. Mae Beavers, who decided three weeks before the filing deadline to drop out of the Wilson County mayor’s race and run for re-election. Beavers handily beat Lynn in the primary election 48 percent to 42 percent.
While Beavers and Lynn share a notoriously combative history with one another, Beavers wouldn’t say whether she plans to help Elam defeat Lynn in this year’s primary. “I’m not having to run an election, I’m not going to be drawn into one,” she told TNReport, adding, “I don’t have to discuss this.”
Elam, who has teamed up with Beavers on several issues, says she prefers to work behind the scenes instead of filing “scurrilous bills” or acting like a “media hound.”
It is unusual for Elam to take up the mic and launch into an impassioned speech on the House floor, and she’s rarely seen giving interviews to reporters. She says her proudest moment in the Legislature these past two years was when she delayed a vote on a bill she felt didn’t go far enough in policing judicial ethics, which bought time for Beavers and others to come up with a compromise.
Elam also sponsored a resolution urging Congress to revert to the original interpretation of the Commerce Clause, which Beavers carried in the Senate, and convinced lawmakers to edit a proposed law changing pain care management regulations. The General Assembly passed both measures.
“Some people would prefer to get in front of TV cameras and go wave signs and make wild accusations and things like that rather than the hard work it takes to be a responsible legislator,” Elam said.
Elam points out that she brings a “professional, level-headed, hard-working, sensible, collegial work environment to the Capitol,” painting Lynn as something of a drama queen.
“I think that’s absolutely foolish,” said Lynn.
If anyone has drama, it’s Elam, she says, pointing to the representative’s “tumultuous” tenure as mayor, which included a handful of lawsuits and a fight over whether she should serve as both mayor and state legislator at the same time.
The 57th District now sits on the north and west sides of Wilson County and no longer includes parts of Sumner County since this year’s legislative redistricting. Voter turnout for Lynn was strong in Sumner whereas Elam squeaked by.
In the new area, Lynn garnered 58 percent of the vote against Beavers two years ago. When Elam ran, she won 38 percent of votes in a three-way race for the seat.