As primary challenges loom for many state Republicans, the latest press release from John Harris' Tennessee Firearms Association calls on conservatives to "form a consensus and start picking these incumbents off like political snipers." Displeased conservatives aren't likely to unseat the entire GOP leadership at once, the group reasons, so they should take them down one at a time — "use their political careers as 'hides' and as a political warning" — starting with a previous object of Harris' affections, House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart.
A release from the Tennessee 8th District Tea Party Coalition, included within the TFA release, announces the decision of multiple Tea Party groups to coalesce behind Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers and support her primary bid against Maggart.
Harris' previous comments, calling for Maggart's political crucifixion and suggesting that a "used crucifix" be placed on the Capitol steps, had everyone from the governor to a top NRA lobbyist seeking distance from the activist and practicing lawyer, who has been increasingly wiling to bare it all this year.
But a rebuke from the governor, and the cold shoulder of the state's GOP leadership, has only spurred him on more.
I reached Harris at his office, but he hung up in the middle of a question about whether or not he has any concern that such violent rhetoric, even in metaphoric terms, could have consequences beyond his intent. When I called back and told him we had apparently been disconnected, he corrected the record.
"No we weren't. I hung up. I don't have time for your silliness," he said before hanging up again.
We've reached out to Maggart through a GOP spokesman, and will update here if she has a response. (She has previously said, referencing Harris: "In my experience, weak men do not like strong women.") Attempts to reach Lt. Col. Rogers, to see if she's comfortable with this type of rhetoric being used by her supporters, have been unsuccessful.
As always, TNReport has posted the full press release here.
UPDATE: Reached by phone, Jeff Hartline, who is serving as Lt. Col. Rogers' campaign manager responded to the TFA release thusly:
"That’s not who [Rogers] is. She is the person who seeks to gain a consensus by explaining the differences and engaging people to understand the reasoning behind it, to sign on," he said.
“That’s not her style. Certainly, if people want to help her she wants their vote. She wants their support. It’s kind of like, on the other side, there are a lot of people that run in the Democrat party that don’t like what Bill Maher says, but they certainly want his support.”
Hartline, who was himself a Republcian Congressional primary candidate in 2010, an ultimately failed bid to challenge the incumbent Jim Cooper, does seem to agree with the TFA when it comes to the accusation that Maggart — who he says is "in total love" with her power as caucus chair — has betrayed her constituents, though he said he doesn't condone the way they're discussing it.
"[Rogers] is a stark contrast to Rep. Maggart in so many ways, and I think that’s what’s drawn these groups who feel like Rep. Maggart has abandoned the things that were near and dear to them that they were promised would take place in this session," he said. "Rep. Maggart has forgotten who she represents. Lt. Col. Rogers is a 28-year veteran of the armed forces, served in combat, led men and women in combat. She knows how to lead. She knows what it’s like to put others above self. She’s not someone who’s looking to garner big bucks around her, but really is interested in representing the people of the 45th district."
Update 2: Responding to the TFA release (and Harris in general) House Republican spokesman Brent Leatherwood emails:
"His previous statements reveal a lack of basic decency and today's screed is no different. Our Second Amendment rights deserve to be fought for with logic and professionalism, not through incomprehensible blather from some fringe personality with a Napoleon complex."