Friday, April 25, 2014

Personal attacks, tempers flare at Nashville GOP meeting over Mark Winslow's conflict of interest.

Mark Winslow
There were fireworks at the Davidson County Republican Party Executive Committee (DCRP) meeting earlier this week resulting from the conflict of interest inherent in a member of the Executive Committee serving in that position while at the same time managing the campaign of a Democrat seeking office. “The most interesting meeting ever!!!” is the way one person described the meeting. "Disgraceful," someone else said.  Debate turned into personal attacks, tempers flared, voices were raised, and profanities were reportedly uttered.

Mark Winslow who serves as a member of the State Executive Committee of the Republican Party, by virtue of that position, also serves as a voting member of the Davidson County Republican Party Executive Committee. Mark Winslow is also managing the campaign of Mellissa Blackburn who is running for Davidson County Judge Division II has a Democrat. She has four opponents also seeking that seat.  On the Republican side, Marian Fodyce is seeking the position.

Early in her campaign, prior to the qualifying deadline, Winslow started working for Blackburn as her paid campaign manager. He reportedly took her around introducing her to people telling them that she was really a Republican but was running as a Democrat because her chances of getting elected were much greater in Davidson County if she ran as a Democrat. Mark Winslow works for SmithWaterhouse, a firm that manages political campaigns and lobbies. The principles in the firm are Robin Smith, a Republican and Albert Waterhouse, a Democrat. Robin Smith formerly served as the chairman of the Tennessee Republican party.

Earlier this month, Mark Winslow’s candidacy to again run for a position on the State Executive Committee was challenged because of his managing the campaign for a Democrat. Party Chairman Chris Devaney showed lack of courage however and refused to uphold the challenge and Winslow was allowed to keep his name on the ballot. (link)

At the meeting of the DCRP this week, Beth Campbell who is also a member of the State Republican Party Executive Committee and therefore also a member of the DCRP executive committee, offered a motion to give each judicial candidate running for office as a Republican a sum of money now, to help them in their campaigns. The logic for this is that all the Republican candidates for judge have uncontested primaries. The Democrats candidates do have contested races, so Democrats will be actively campaigning prior to the start of the general election campaign and will have had yard signs posted and have been otherwise gaining name recognition. By giving Republicans some campaign assistance now, at least they would have some money and could be gaining some name recognition. Also, candidates for the office of Judge are prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions. They can accept contribution and have someone else raise money on their behalf but without the ability to personally ask for a contribution, they are handicapped.

Mark Rogers
Robert Duvall, chairman of the DCRP opposed this proposal. He had already appointed a three person committee comprised of Chuck Naab, Ed Smith and Pat Carl charged with vetting candidate. This process was not a vetting of their eligibility to run as a Republican but their deserving of financial support. Duvall’s view was that the Party should only financially support those candidates who are making the best effort to win a race. There are always some candidates who put their name on the ballot but then do not seriously campaign. Mr. Duvall did not want the Party to give campaign money to candidates who were not serious candidates. Also, Robert had reservations about giving money to candidates prior to the primary. The party cannot endorse a candidate in the primary and must not show preference to a primary candidate. While, not likely that a write-in candidate for one of the positions would emerge, Mr Duvall thought that since it was a possibility, he thought it not appropriate to contribute to candidates prior to the primary.

To wait until after the primary however would  result in the money getting to the candidates too late to have much impact, argues Campbell.  These candidates sacrifice to run and running in Davidson County as Republicans, they are the underdogs. The Party should show its support for their willingness to run by supporting them.

Prior to submitting her motion, Beth Campbell had discussed it with Robert Duvall and they had discussed their views of the issue and Robert Duvall had suggested that Beth get the item on the agenda for discussion. She did, and when she brought up the issue, the committee moved to go into executive session to discuss it.  Mark Rogers, not a member of the DCPR executive committee, was at the meeting and asked if he could address the issue under discussion before they moved into executive discussion to deliberate and vote. Mark has been hired by the State Republican party to help recruit local candidates for office as part of the Party’s “Red to the Roots” campaign to increase Republican officeholders at the local level in Tennessee. He is working closely with the various Republicans candidates for Judge helping promote their candidacies. He wanted to make the case in favor of Beth Campbell’s motion.

Beth Campbell
Mark Winslow objected to letting the committee hear from Mark Rogers. Kay Brooks joined Winslow in arguing the Committee should go into executive session immediately without hearing from Rogers. I was not at this meeting and here it gets a little murky. I am not sure who said what and exactly what was the order of the exchange but one person told me that Winslow was “very rude” to Mark Rogers. Someone else said Rogers was “humiliated” by Winslow. I also heard it described as Winslow “went off” on Rogers.

In executive session, the motion by Beth Campbell was discussed and Campbell asked Winslow to recuse himself from the vote, since he had an obvious conflict of interest. He angrily refused and, as I understand it, there was a heated exchange between Winslow and Campbell. The committee voted to appropriate the modest sum to each of the judicial candidates with Mark Winslow voting against it.

To me it appears an obvious conflict of interest that Mark Winslow can take part in the proceedings to determine to what extend and when the Party will support their candidates when he has an interest in seeing the Republican lose the race. One cannot serve two masters. Mark Winslow should do the honorable thing and either resign from the campaign of Milissa Blackburn or resign from the State Republican Party Executive Committee.

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