Tempers flared at the Rutherford County Republican Executive Committee meeting Tuesday night at party headquarters in downtown Murfreesboro.
After Jake Robinson, a local conservative and husband of Rutherford County Register of Deeds Heather Dawbarn, asked the committee about an e-mail by County Executive Committeeman Tim Rudd, tempers exploded and the meeting nearly turned into a riot, one witness said.
The Rudd-penned e-mail encouraged local Republican candidates in the August Primary to steer clear of activities sponsored by the Rutherford County Tea Party and 9/12 Project.
“Jake said he was disappointed that Rudd would send out an e-mail that was divisive,” Murfreesboro City Councilman Eddie Smotherman said, adding he attended the meeting at the request of fellow Councilman Toby Gilley.
Smotherman said county GOP Chairman Austin Maxwell lost his temper at Robinson's question and started cussing and banging his gavel.
“As soon as he (Robinson) got started, Austin showed poor anger management skills. … One GD was all it took for me and I left,” Smotherman said.
“I was hoping I would see the Republican Party trying to bring people together … We need to work together to solve our big issues,” Smotherman said, adding he was disappointed in Maxwell's leadership after witnessing the meeting.
At issue was an e-mail by Rudd, who is also an executive committeeman with the state party, to Republican Primary candidates Richard Garvin, Dawn White and Ryan Harring, along with incumbents state Sen. Jim Tracy, Reps. Joe Carr, Rick Womick and Mike Sparks about events and questionnaires from outside organizations purported to “vet” Republican candidates.
“I urge you not to participate in this unauthorized 'vetting' process,” Rudd wrote. “No organization outside the Republican Party has the right or responsibility to vet, interview or determine who the Republican Party’s nominee should be.”
Rudd went on to say the two conservative groups were trying to “interfere with another organization’s process” and implied it was a “power grab.”
Rutherford County Tea Party President Chris Beach said the group wasn't trying to grab any power from the local GOP, it was only trying to get information out to voters.
“This (debate) was for candidates to show their stand on the issues and give people information for when they go to the polls,” Beach said. He added neither local Tea Party or 9/12 Project planned to endorse candidates in the primary. The 9/12 Project is a conservative group that “works together to restore a constitutionally-based form of government,” according to its website.
Beach thought the Tea Party had a good relationship with the county Republicans, but Rudd's e-mail really bothered him.
“To me, Tim Rudd is saying he doesn't want voters to have the information they need to make an informed decision,” Beach said. “It's like he's trying to suppress voters.”
Beach said Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney doesn't support Rudd's position, but state party Executive Director Adam Nickas stopped short of criticizing Rudd.
“Tim Rudd is a respected member of the state Republican party ...” Nickas said. “Tim expressed his opinion, and he is well within his rights, according to our bylaws, to do that.”
But then Nickas didn't want to criticize the Tea Party either.
“We have the greatest respect for the Tea Party and share many of their ideals. They played a major role in our success in 2010,” Nickas said.
He added candidates should take part in debates and other events because it gets their message out and “it helps build strong Republican nominees.”
Some have questioned whether Rudd is really interested in building stronger candidates or protecting the GOP brand.
“It’s fairly obvious he has a horse in the newly drawn 37th District House race,” conservative blogger Matthew Hurtt said. “Per Dawn White’s first quarter financial disclosure, she owes Rudd (under the auspices of Stones River Strategies) several thousand dollars.”
Rudd's involvement in a local campaign isn't surprising. He worked on Lou Ann Zelenik's unsuccessful state House run against Carr in 2008 and works under the name Capitol Creative Group building websites for conservative candidates.
According to White's first quarter disclosure, she paid Rudd $2,363 for “campaign consulting and design, which included stickers and banners.”
“From what I understand, Tea Party elements in Rutherford County want to host a series of debates, which is commendable. However, Tim sees this as a losing opportunity for his client,” Hurtt said.
Hurtt then questioned Rudd's true motivations for sending out the e-mail.
“Why is Rudd attacking the Tea Party in Rutherford County?” Hurtt asked.
Beach, for one, doesn't know.
“The Tea Party has a lot to offer a candidate,” Beach said. He added most candidates want all the exposure they can get.
But White, a candidate for the newly created 37th state House of Representatives District, pulled out of the Tea Party-sponsored debate, citing Rudd's e-mail.
Smotherman, who identified himself as an independent, said it should be the priority of any party to get its views out and candidates nominated.
“Truthfully, if you're a real conservative and you went to that meeting, the last thing you would want is those people endorsing you …” he said. “It's discouraging that anyone representing a party would carry on the way (Maxwell) did.”