Jun 8, 2022 - Politics

Robby Starbuck's District 5 ballot battle

Robby Starbuck speaking.
Photo: George Walker IV/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

Nearly six months after Republican legislators drew new congressional district boundaries for the Nashville area, it remains unsettled which GOP candidates will be on the U.S. House District 5 ballot.

Driving the news: Activist and first-time candidate Robby Starbuck sued the Tennessee Republican Party after its executive committee kicked him and two other candidates off the ballot.

  • The candidates were removed because they didn't meet the party's requirements of voting in three of the last four Republican primaries. Starbuck moved to Williamson County from California in 2019.
  • Starbuck lost a federal lawsuit but won in local court last week when Chancellor Russell Perkins sided with him.
  • The state GOP appealed Perkins' ruling earlier this week.

Why it matters: The bitter fight over the redistricting process, quickly followed by the battle over if Starbuck should be allowed on the ballot, has created an air of disarray around the District 5 primary.

State of play: The District 5 seat has been represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper since 2003, and by Democrats since the late 19th century.

  • But the redistricting process carved up Cooper's district to include conservative suburbs and rural areas, flipping it into a likely Republican seat. The new district spans parts of Davidson, Williamson, Wilson, Maury, Lewis and Marshall counties.
  • Cooper retired after the newly drawn lines were announced.

Between the lines: While Starbuck's status is decided in court, the top Republican contenders already on the ballot are former House Speaker Beth Harwell, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles and Kurt Winstead, who is an attorney and retired National Guard brigadier general.

What we're watching: The state's top election officials, who are not a party to the lawsuit, filed a petition Tuesday asking the appeals court to toss out Perkins' ruling.

  • Time is of the essence. The officials say ballots will begin being distributed by June 20.
  • Early voting for the primary begins July 15, and election day is Aug. 4.
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