A week after state filings revealed the considerable amount of fuel that the National Rifle Association has poured on the House District 45 Republican primary, the race between House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart and Tea Party challenger Courtney Rogers is only getting more contentious.
Yesterday, in response to revelations about a bankruptcy in her past, Rogers issued a sharply worded statement on her website, addressing the possibility of an ethics violation on her part and decrying what she called "bully tactics" coming from the Maggart camp. The issue was first broached in a July 9 story by TNReport.
“The ink wasn’t dry on my petition before my opponent began announcing to her colleagues on the Hill that she would bury me with my husband’s past bankruptcy,” Rogers said in the release. “We had received inquiries from several reputable media outlets regarding this issue and they dismissed it as a non-story. Now that TNReport has taken the bait and Maggart has started her smear-tactic, personal destruction radio ads, I am compelled to respond to these 'bully' tactics."
Rogers continued, "I can only conclude that my opponent believes she is entitled to the seat she holds and is getting desperate. Let the record show that we have not made an issue of my opponent’s past failed business.”
The past failed business Rogers alluded to, as noted in TNReport's story, is Best Buy Carpet and Flooring Inc., which Maggart owned until it closed down in 2008. Maggart dismissed to TNReport any comparison between that situation and the one involving Rogers' husband's failed business and the resulting bankruptcy.
Rogers' campaign manager, Jeff Hartline, addressed questions about whether Rogers had committed an ethics violation by not disclosing the bankruptcy on her state ethics form. His comments are excerpted from the release below:
The Ethics disclosure questionnaire filled out by all prospective candidates asks whether a candidate has been “discharged” from a bankruptcy within the past five years. “She answered the question correctly,” said Rogers’ campaign Manager, Jeff Hartline. “We checked with counsel and did extra research with the Rogers’ attorney to confirm that Courtney answered the question within the letter and spirit of the law. In fact, the TNReport story found out the same thing through its own research with the comment from the bankruptcy attorney they consulted. Once a bankruptcy is “discharged”, the individuals involved are released from the action and the Trustee goes about his/her work paying off creditors. This can take years and the individuals involved are not consulted in any further actions.”
Hartline continued, “The language of the question was written by lawyers and is very specific, ‘In the past five years, have you been discharged from…’. It was just a matter of time before Rep. Maggart was able to get someone to treat this as a real story. As for Maggart’s failed business, you only have her assertions about its demise. I’m pleased for her that she did not have creditors hounding her for payment. Otherwise, she would have been in the same situation as the Rogers found themselves in during 2005. One wonders whether any creditor would have pursued a sitting State Representative for fear of reprisals.”
“But the issue in this election is not Maggart’s failed business or the Rogers’ business setback. The issue is her failed leadership in manipulating the legislative process to suit her Big Business and Lobbyist contributors and her lack of representation of her constituents. The issue is whether Lt. Col. Rogers’ character, leadership experience and moral soundness benefit and represent the citizens of District 45 better than Maggart’s. The clear answer to that question is ‘Yes’.”
As Hartline notes, TNReport consulted Edgar Rothschild, a Nashville bankruptcy attorney, who said he saw "nothing in the report which indicated that the [Rogers] did anything questionable."
The Maggart campaign tells Pith that Maggart will not be filing an ethics complaint against Rogers with the Tennessee Ethics Commission. That means, in lieu of a complaint filed by someone else, the issue will not be reviewed any further by state officials.
Maggart responded to comments from the Rogers campaign in a statement released to Pith through a spokesman.
"As a small business owner, I brought jobs to our community and now, as a legislator, I've helped bring jobs to our state," she said. "I have a clear and proven record. It's a shame my opponent couldn't do the same and now she seems to be blaming everyone except herself. Excuses demean voters. Tennesseans want to talk about jobs and the economy. Running to hide behind government when the bills come due — and then misrepresenting that situation on a disclosure — is no way to create jobs. It's a recipe for disaster, which is alarming considering the fact she wants to handle our tax dollars. Trust is the issue."
She also addressed comments from the Rogers camp about her own closed business.
"As for her campaign manager’s comment about my business, this highlights the clear difference between the two of us: As a job creator, I paid my bills, had no debt, and made a strategic decision to close it on my terms. She piled up debt, the bills came due, and she ran to the government," she said.