Conservatives and Tea Party activists in Tennessee have recently pushed several Republican Party county organizations to pass resolutions criticizing the state’s Republican governor for, among other things, employing Muslims, gay people, and Democrats.“The action or actions of the Republican elected Governor of the Great State of Tennessee and his administration have demonstrated a consistent lack of conservative values,” a resolution passed by the Stewart County Republican Party reads in part, according to a copy obtained by The Tennessean. (The Tennessean obtained two of the resolutions.)
Three county party chairman — from Stewart County, Williamson County, and Humphreys County — confirmed to TPM that the resolutions had passed. Kyle Mallory, chairman of the Stewart County GOP, said that, all together, nine counties have passed related, though not identical, resolutions. (One county chairman is apparently holding the resolution for revision.) The resolutions, according to Mallory, address concerns ranging from the governor’s appointment process to “other conservative issues within the executive branch here in Tennessee.”
“Each county has done their own thing,” Mallory said.
The state party, meanwhile, considers the resolutions distractions involving only a minority of the state’s 95 counties.
“We stand behind our governor, Gov. Bill Haslam, 100 percent,” state Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney told TPM. “We do think, while the county parties are certainly free to pass such resolutions, that they’re distracting during an election year.”
At least two of the resolutions, from Stewart County and Williamson County, oppose the Haslam administration’s recent appointment of Samar Ali, 30, as international director at the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD). Ali, a lawyer and a 2010-2011 White House fellow, received both her undergraduate and law degrees from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where she was the first Arab-Muslim student body president. In an emailed statement, Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications for ECD, called Ali “one of the brightest leaders of her generation from this state.”
“Her extensive work experience in international business makes her eminently qualified to serve the people of the Volunteer State,” Brewer said. “We have absolutely no plans to dismiss her. On the contrary, we are proud of her hire and lucky to have her as part of our team.”
The county GOP resolutions denounce Ali as an expert in “Sharia compliant finance.”
“Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has elevated and/or afford [sic] preferential political status to Sharia adherents in Tennessee, thereby aiding and abetting the advancement of an ideology and doctrine which is wholly incompatible with the Constitution of the United States and the Tennessee Constitution,” the Williamson resolution, dated July 10, 2012, states.
The Stewart County resolution, meanwhile, lists several grievances against Haslam beside Ali’s appointment. The document faults the governor for retaining state employees hired under former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen; for retaining gay people who work in the Department of Children’s Services, and allowing them “to make policy decisions”; and for refusing to sign legislation opposing Agenda 21, a non-binding UN plan concerning sustainable development that is the subject of numerous fringe conspiracy theories.
The Stewart resolution calls on the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee to “take meaningful action” against Haslam. County resolutions don’t have much teeth when it comes to the state party. And, in any case, while the chairman of the state party didn’t dismiss the debate entirely, he said he supports the governor’s hiring practices.
Mallory, the Stewart County chairman, told TPM the core complaint from conservatives involved with the resolutions concerns the appointment process, and the number of state employees and appointees held over from the Bredesen era.
“You have a gay rights organization, and an immigration organization defending a Republican governor. How crazy is that? Maybe not crazy — how unusual is that?” Mallory said. “Personally, I want Gov. Haslam to be successful. And I want Gov. Haslam to fire some liberal Democrats and replace them with conservative Republicans. That’s what I would like to see.”
Mallory said the resolutions had been spurred by conversations between conservatives on Facebook. He also said that the issue was born last year, after “14 to 16 [county] chairs” wrote a letter to Haslam asking, “when are you going to start getting rid of a lot of these liberals and hiring some conservatives?”
“We got no response, not even a ‘we got your letter,’ nothing,” he said. “That kind of set several of us off.”
But when asked about the more explosive complaints included in his group’s recent resolution, Mallory hedged. Asked about Ali, for instance, Mallory said he was more bothered by her ties to the Obama administration than her religion. And pressed about the opposition to gay employees at the Department of Children’s Services, Mallory said he would have to think it over before he could offer a comment.
“I’m going to hold off comment on that one,” he said. “I don’t know how to respond appropriately to that one.”
Kevin Kookogey, chairman of the Williamson County Republicans, was more forthright. (In Kookogey’s view, the counties all agree on the Shariah issue.)
“To date, the Haslam Administration has displayed an unfortunate ignorance to the threat of Shariah,” Kookogey said in an email to TPM. “They seem willing to accept the claims and defense of the Muslim Brotherhood at face value, refusing to even consider that, perhaps, those bent on destroying Western Civilization might just be infiltrating our institutions. … It is not like this has never happened before. The Muslim Brotherhood is following the blueprint of the Communists, who infiltrated the highest levels of government and society in the 1950’s. Shariah, however, is an even greater threat, because it has cloaked itself under the auspices of a religion, thus confusing the uninformed.”
Asked about Ali, Devaney, the state party chair, said the opposition to her appointment was the product of “misinformation,” and he defended her as “the most qualified person” to fill the role she was picked for.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Devaney said. “What we’re trying to do is educate folks about the specifics. … Samar Ali is a lady who grew up in a small town called Waverly, Tennessee, and was a member of 4-H when she was in high school. We’re not talking about a radical Islamist.”
When it comes to hiring more generally, Devaney said that Haslam has followed preset guidelines, and added that “it’s not something that somebody can just go in and start firing people to hire Republicans.”
“Quite frankly, [and] this is not specifically pointed at anybody, but it might be just the fact that certain people are disgruntled that they were passed over because they weren’t hired by the government,” Devaney said.
At least one of the resolutions is the subject of a dispute. A spokesman for the Carroll County Republican Party told TPM that Chairman Nina Smothers is “holding” the resolution that passed for revision. He said the current version is not “productive,” and that Smothers wants to “revise and tone it down.”
“I will say that I am not in total agreement with [the] resolution and neither is Nina,” Russell Bush said in an email. “I was not at the meeting the night it was adopted. … [A]t said meeting the resolution was railroaded through from local Tea party members at the meeting.”
According to Bush, Carroll County Republicans don’t agree with all of Haslam’s decisions, “but we should be fighting the Dems and not each other.”