Updated at 3:38 p.m.
Rep. Debra Maggart insists she’s a shoo-in to win her GOP primary against retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers.
But that’s not stopping the House Republican Caucus chairwoman from asking party bigwigs like Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to take the time to campaign locally on her behalf.
While Haslam has indicated he’d probably be inclined to support any GOP incumbent this election season, Maggart in particular was “critical” to the administration’s legislative efforts this year — “really helpful,” the governor told reporters recently.
“As a caucus leader, sometimes when you’re the leader, you take a little added heat and pressure from folks. And we wanted to support her, and it worked out well,” Haslam said.
Over the past two years Maggart has deeply angered two influential constituencies that, while they may not typically be aligned politically, do share a recognized ability to get sympathetic Tennesseans to the polls on issues they hold dear.
Those two groups are stalwart gun-rights advocates and unionized teachers. And both would love to see Maggart spend the 2012 general election season wondering what she needs to do to make a political comeback in 2014.
Both the Tennessee Firearms Association and the National Rifle Association have made their displeasure with Maggart widely known.
Maggart, along with other high-ranking House GOP lawmakers, prevented a bill from coming to the chamber floor that would have granted legal protections for certain government-licensed gun owners to keep a firearm stored in their vehicles parked on their employers’ property — even over the objections of the employers themselves.
The NRA and TFA described the legislation as necessary to ensure a gun-owning employee can enjoy a “safe commute” to work and not be subject to an employer’s demand that he or she choose between keeping a gun locked in the car or keeping a job.
Should such a powerful incumbent as Maggart fall in the primary, it would send a message to other Republicans that snubbing the NRA and TFA comes at a cost.
For the Tennessee Education Association, a Maggart loss in the primary would offer a glimmer of hope in what has otherwise been a dismal past couple of years legislatively.
The union is still fuming over Maggart’s instrumental leadership in eliminating collective bargaining for teachers in 2011 and would delight in playing a role in her ouster in 2012, said TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters.
The association has yet to endorse a candidate in the District 45 primary but is considering pointedly reminding Sumner County teachers that they’ll soon have a golden opportunity to cast a powerfully meaningful vote against Maggart, Winters said.
“We’ve got a lot of teachers who identify as Republicans, but I think that they are starting to be much more aware of how individual legislators vote on these education issues,” he said.
Primary elections are open in Tennessee, meaning that voters can cast ballots in whichever party primary they choose.
Rogers, Maggart’s primary opponent, told TNReport she likely herself would have gone along with moves to reduce the TEA’s influence in contract negotiations. But Rogers added that she is “concerned about our teachers” and believes it “important that teachers are taken care of and feel that they’re appreciated.”
Maggart insisted to The Tennessean newspaper recently that attention surrounding her race is somewhat overblown, saying “I don’t know if I would characterize it as a legitimate primary challenge.”
The representative, who contacted TNReport after this article was posted, took issue with the suggestion she predicts she’s a “shoo-in” for re-election. But she stressed that she’s “confident” voters in her district will keep her in office because she’s been active in her community, worked hard to champion conservative issues in the Legislature and had been consistently involved in the Republican Party — credentials she says Rogers lacks.
“I have a good idea about what makes a legitimate candidate,” she said, adding Rogers had only $3,600 in her campaign war chest as of March. According to campaign finance records, Maggart had $86,000.
Maggart also said she’s long been active within GOP and said Rogers is new jumping on the Republican band wagon.
“I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to get involved in the Republican party,” Maggart said. “I believe the people in my district know that I’ve done a good job.”
But Maggart still asked Haslam to headline a reception and fundraiser for her last week and asked Ramsey to come, too, to attend and lend his support. He said “it felt good” to be there for Maggart’s event, adding there was a “huge crowd.”
“Obviously, for some reason, Debra became the focal point of NRA’s misplaced anger, and so it doesn’t surprise me at all that her opponent got the endorsement,” said Ramsey.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, says she, too, is confident in Maggart’s re-election and doesn’t take any issue with lawmakers soliciting primary election support from the governor.
“I think he wanted to indicate his support to Debra, who’s been supportive of some of his initiatives, and I think that was a very gracious use of his time,” said Harwell.
Haslam said he hasn’t gone through the list of Republican incumbents with primary challengers to determine which ones he’ll spend his time campaigning for.
“Right now, there’s certainly not an incumbent that we’re planning on working against,” he said.
Asked if she worries all the notable politicians lining up to support the incumbent will ultimately prove an insurmountable advantage for her opponent, Rogers said not really.
“I don’t think any one of them votes in this district,” she said. “I’ll just take it with a grain of salt.”