Congressional Hopeful Sues Tennessee Republican Party Over Removal From Ballot

A filmmaker who hopes to represent Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives is suing the state GOP after it removed him from the primary ballot for the upcoming midterm elections.

Robby Starbuck, the congressional hopeful, sued Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) Chairman Scott Golden and two state officials on May 2 over the removal.

Starbuck says the April vote behind closed doors by party officials to kick him and two other candidates off the ballot violates federal and state law and the state GOP’s own bylaws.

While the party can limit participation in primary elections to members of the GOP, Tennessee law does not allow it “to covertly manipulate the outcome of federal primary elections by ordering the state to exclude bona fide Republican candidates—such as Mr. Starbuck—from the ballot,” the 44-page legal challenge, which was filed in federal court, stated.

“Yet that is exactly what the TRP and the state did to Mr. Starbuck and other duly qualified Republicans, and it did it through a secret vote in a non-public meeting in violation of Tennessee open government law.”

The removal of Starbuck, former Trump administration official Morgan Ortagus, and businessman Baxter Lee “clears the way” for Beth Harwell, former chair of the Tennessee GOP, to win the primary, the suit added.

The Tennessee GOP has not responded to requests for comment and has not issued any statements on the removal of the candidates, though Golden has confirmed the votes while speaking with various news outlets.

Lawmakers in the state recently approved a law imposing additional requirements for congressional candidates but Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office confirmed to The Epoch Times that the law would not apply to the 2022 elections.

Some Tennessee Republicans have suggested the removal votes were a way to impose the new requirements during the current election cycle.

The law, Senate Bill 2616, has already been challenged in court, with three voters who say they planned to support Ortagus arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution.

Ortagus and Lee hinted at possible suits in statements issued after the Tennessee GOP’s vote but neither have yet filed cases. Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.

The votes took place after some Republicans reportedly said the trio of congressional hopefuls were not “bona fide” Republicans in part because they had recently moved to Tennessee. Party bylaws allow such challenges, defining “bona fide” Republicans as those who are actively involved in state or county Republican parties and who have voted in at least three of the four most recent statewide Republican primary elections or are vouched for by a state GOP member, or certain lower-level Republicans.

The final vote concerning the status of hopeful candidates shall be determined by a vote of a select committee of the state Republican party, the bylaws say.

Starbuck says he moved to the state in late 2018 and began voting soon after, though he has acknowledged he did not vote in the 2020 Tennessee primaries because he wasn’t yet a full-time resident.

In the complaint, he notes that being vouched for is an alternative to the voting record and that he was vouched for by a number of Republicans.

“This lawsuit is a testing point—and hopefully a turning point—that could end this type of backroom politics that should have gone out of style decades ago,” Starbuck said in a statement.

Starbuck, Ortagus, and Lee filed to represent Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who has represented the district since 2003, is retiring after the current Congress.

Zachary Stieber


Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.

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