Establishment Republicans may be fighting a rearguard against Tea Party conservatives, but Tennessee’s governor won’t criticize gun-rights activists for shelling out big bucks to try bagging a trophy election win against an incumbent he’s backing.
The National Rifle Association is plugging $75,000 into a primary race in Sumner County that pits challenger Courtney Rogers, a retired United States Air Force officer, against one of their least-favorites in the Tennessee House of Representatives, GOP Caucus Leader Debra Maggart.
“They have the right to participate in the process any way they want to. That’s the way the system’s set up,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters this week when asked about a billboard that has sprung up in the district equating Maggart’s commitment to gun rights with that of Democratic President Barack Obama.
The governor, who as a candidate was himself criticized on ideological grounds by his more conservative opponents in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary election, added, though, that he’s bewildered anyone would question whether Maggart is “conservative enough.”
Records with the state Registry of Election Finance through June 30 show that the NRA’s Political Victory Fund threw in almost $38,000 worth of independent expenditures to oppose Maggart, who they blame for the failure of their attempt to pass the so-called guns-in-parking lots bill.
“She claims to support our gun rights publicly, but behind closed doors she cut backroom political deals to ensure vital self-defense legislation allowing hard-working Tennesseans to protect themselves was never allowed to come to the floor for a debate or vote,” said Chris Cox, NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action executive director.
Maggart has argued she was merely one of many in the Republican caucus who wanted kick the issue down the road another year.
The measure would have allowed gun owners to lock their guns in their cars while parked on work property. The fund injected more than $30,500 worth of independent expenditures into Rogers’ campaign, such as advertising, radio spots and signs. The group contributed $7,100 directly to Rogers’ campaign.
The National Rifle Association also circulated surveys to political candidates this summer, asking pointed questions as to where each candidate stands on the guns-in-lots measure and whether they would stand up against legislative leaders who run afoul of the NRA’s agenda.
The primary is Aug. 2.