Former President Ronald Reagan was known for two disciplines that have become part of the political lexicon regarding the Republican Party.
The first was his “big tent” approach, reaching out to a broader cross-section of society to educate them on GOP values and why it was good for them, regardless of their creed or color. The second was his “11th Commandment” — “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Today, his tent is threatened by incendiary resolutions and his religiously phrased edict is being challenged by the likes of the Williamson County Republican Party leadership and others as they attack GOP Gov. Bill Haslam for having a woman of Islamic faith, Samar Ali, on staff at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Many longtime Republican activists don’t like what they are seeing or hearing and shared their thoughts with The City Paper.
Tom Lawless is the former chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party and county chairman of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s 2010 gubernatorial bid, and has served in many other GOP roles over the past 30 years.
Lawless told The City Paper, “I can only shake my head. The small-minded xenophobic diatribes to this governor are at best misguided. Let us look at the facts. We have an overly qualified native Tennessean being appointed to a position that is vital to the state. Of her qualifications there can be no doubt. Consistent with the Administration’s attempts to raise the bar of the level of people in state government, Ms. Ali is hard-working, has skills in areas that very few Tennesseans have (such as an understanding of Shariah finance), which provide an insight to other cultures and values which can advance this state of Tennessee.”
He added, “There are hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world, and to brand all as terrorist or evil is narrow-minded and conceptually something more properly relegated to 'the Middle Ages' in Europe. It was not that long ago and during my lifetime when the thought of having a Catholic in the White House was as evil and vile an event imaginable. We cannot let the unreasonable fringe groups of the GOP paint the future of Republicans.”
Vanessa Bryan is the Williamson County Public Defender and, as president of the Williamson County Republican Career Women, serves on the board of the Williamson County Republican Party. Stating that she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of any organization, Bryan said, “I am a staunch Jeffersonian. I have hard time in agreeing with any infringement on anyone’s constitutional right to freedom of religion. As we lose rights, we don’t get them back. I get why people are afraid, but we cannot lose our rights.”
Joseph A. “Woody” Woodruff is a partner at the law firm of Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis and a resident of Williamson County. In addition to having served as legal counsel for Haslam during his gubernatorial bid, he is a life member of the National Republican Committee and served as legal counsel to both of Fred Thompson’s U.S. senatorial campaigns.
“Local and state party organizations exist to help elect Republican candidates,” Woodruff said. “Passing resolutions on policy issues that pick fights with Republican office holders does nothing to achieve that goal and encourages political opponents who want to exploit any division they can find. Creating divisions is an unforced error and does lots of harm to the Republican brand.”
He added, “Elected officials — whether Republican or Democrat — are not ‘accountable’ to party organizations. Nor should they be. ”
Finally there is Bill Phillips, who many know as the former deputy mayor of Nashville. Prior to that he was an appointee in the administrations of presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as chief of staff of the National Republican Party and convention manager of the 1988 RNC. He has served in prominent volunteer capacities at subsequent GOP conventions, most recently backstage at the 2008 RNC convention in Minnesota.
“Political parties — and the GOP seems especially proficient — have a talent for taking the sweet taste of success and turning it into bitter bickering internally,” Phillips said.
“Rather than working on the pressing issues of the day, they appear to be hell-bent on killing their own off at the expense of good governing once they are in power. The small disgruntled groups in a handful of county GOP organizations have managed to swing the spotlight from additional success at the polls in November to petty shots at the governor of their own party. Best I can determine is he [Haslam] is charged with not implementing a policy of bigotry. Certainly they have not called for his censure because he is improving government operations. Both parties need to get back to the basics of discussing the future direction for our state and country, not where employees worship.”