Tensions in closely GOP Tenn. county after conservative takeover replicate wider fight over elections

Those early strikes had been cheered via their supporters. But some Republicans and group participants say the commissioners are working outdoor political norms, inviting complaints and jeopardizing elections and different county operations.

“What’s happened here is the Sumner County constitutional conservative Republican group, they don’t believe in government,” mentioned Baker Ring, a Republican who’s serving his fourth time period at the county fee and isn’t aligned with the brand new majority. “They’re hostile to the federal government. But now they’re the federal government.”

The tensions are very similar to the ones enjoying out in communities around the United States the place conservative teams had been working applicants for native places of work lately and every now and then successful majorities, upending the best way native governments function.

They had been motivated via pandemic restrictions, false claims associated with the 2020 presidential electiondisagreements over race and gender schooling, or a want to reign in what they see as unaccountable bureaucracies, with a function of taking keep watch over of college and library forumscounty commissions and town councils.

With hundreds of thousands of Republican Party citizens proceeding to imagine Former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 presidential election was once rigged, lots of the new majorities overseeing county governments are bearing in mind adjustments to how elections are run, from eliminating vote casting machines to casting off poll drop bins.

The drive has led some native election officers across the nation to hand over. In a couple of instances, they have got been changed via individuals who promoted election conspiracy theories,

While their good fortune at successful place of business has various, the results after they do are turning into obvious in puts corresponding to Sumner County, the place they may be able to wield energy — corresponding to budgeting authority — that can have implications for the way elections are run and votes are tallied.

“If we don’t fund it, you don’t get to do it,” one county commissioner, Jeremy Mansfield, advised the election administrator and chair of the election fee right through a contentious assembly remaining fall.


Sumner County is solely northeast of Nashville, the place city sprawl meets open land. Horse and cow pastures give technique to deliberate communities with bucolic names like Durham Farms and The Retreat at Norman Farm that encompass the principle towns of Gallatin and Hendersonville.

Census figures display the county’s inhabitants, now just about 204,000, grew 22% between the 2010 and 2020, pushed partly via transplants from California and Texas who had been lured via a mixture of conservative politics, decrease housing costs and no state source of revenue tax. The county is ruled via Republicans and sponsored Trump with 69% of the vote. in 2020,

The enlargement has resulted in a necessity for extra executive products and services, together with colleges and lecturers, whilst offering a chance for a right-wing component throughout the native Republican Party to achieve energy.

“They appeal to people who moved here from other states saying, ‘If we don’t get elected, our Sumner County will become like your county that you came from, and you don’t want us to become like you, so you need to vote for our people,’” mentioned Ring, a semiretired highschool executive instructor. “And that works in a lot of parts of the county.”

Eight Republican commissioners had been defeated within the May 2022 number one via challengers aligned with the Constitutional Republicans. That prepared the ground for the gang to shape the bulk after an August common election wherein not up to 15% of registered citizens solid ballots. Helping gas the gang’s upward push had been two assets tax will increase licensed via the county fee during the last decade or so.

Ring didn’t have a number one challenger and has discovered himself referred to as a “RINO” — Republican In Name Only — although “for most of my life, I’ve been the most conservative person in the room.” He is amongst greater than two dozen present and previous native officers featured on a “Wall of Shame” that the Constitutional Republicans created on their web page.

The crew’s social media task comprises common updates on what the fee is doing, along side common swipes towards others of their birthday party.

“The Republican party (GOP) is not your friend! They don’t like us!” learn one fresh put up.

“We exist to smoke out these Rinocrats,” mentioned every other.

Patrick Flowers, a Democrat who’s at the board of a couple of Sumner County nonprofit organizations, mentioned he was once saddened via the speech. He has noticed lifelong conservative buddies classified as “left-wing Democrats” via the Constitutional Republicans crew.

“The newly elected folks have this war mentality,” he mentioned. “It’s not, ‘Let’s listen and talk.’ They think they have instructions from God, and there is no one who can change their opinion.”


When the county’s election administrator got here earlier than the fee remaining fall searching for cash to pay election staff for the November midterms, commissioners refused and pointed to cash she nonetheless had within the financial institution.

The election administrator, Lori Atchley, has persisted to invite, caution the fee that she is working at a deficit for the reason that staff needed to be paid. Commissioners have now not budged.

It was once at that assembly that Mansfield, in his 2d time period at the fee and an influential member of the Constitutional Republicans crew, mentioned two weeks of early vote casting, as required via state legislation, “just seems excessive for this county.” He has expressed improve for adjustments to how elections are performed, together with the use of paper ballots stuffed out via hand that will be hand-counted in native polling puts simplest on Election Day.

When a fellow commissioner mentioned the county would quickly be including vote facilities — polling puts the place any individual within the county can vote — Mansfield responded, “Well, we can always change that, too.”

Whether the county makes use of vote facilities or has more than one early vote casting places falls beneath the authority of the 5 state-appointed participants of the county election fee, which hires the native election administrator. But county commissioners keep watch over investment, and the newly elected conservatives say the election price range is upper than similar counties and that adjustments corresponding to vote facilities are onerous to justify with out evidence they’re going to build up turnout.

The election fee’s want to transport its operations to a bigger development is on the heart of every other dispute between election officers and the ones now main the county fee who say the transfer was once by no means licensed and they would like the distance for different makes use of. Election officers say they simply wanted approval from the county mayor, which they gained earlier than the present fee took place of business. They say they have got already been the use of the brand new location for garage, coaching classes and conferences, and are asking the county for $300,000 to hide the prices of the transfer and the vote facilities.

The election fee says the bigger area and further safety it supplies are had to retailer the county’s new vote casting machines, that are greater and heavier than the present ones. Nevertheless, county commissioners voted in March to require election operations to vacate the development.

The election fee answered via submitting a lawsuit towards the county, arguing the dispute and compelled transfer “threate the integrity of the 2024 election before a single vote has been cast.”


Mansfield mentioned he would now not describe elections within the United States as safe or faithful and that he believes the native election administrator has contributed to an erosion of self belief locally. Among different issues, he pointed to a up to date misdemeanor quotation issued to Atchley over a personal assets dispute unrelated to her process.

“Elections should be about integrity and trust,” he mentioned.

Atchley referred questions concerning the lawsuit to the election fee’s legal professional and didn’t reply to a message searching for remark concerning the quotation and Mansfield’s complaint. Tom Lee, the election fee’s legal professional, mentioned participants regard the quotation as a “private matter.” There had been no stories of large-scale election issues within the county, and the state lately reappointed participants of the election fee.

Commissioner Matthew Shoaf, some of the Constitutional Republicans elected remaining 12 months, mentioned issues stem from election officers making purchases and signing contracts related to the transfer to the bigger development with out authorization from the fee. He mentioned he was once stunned to peer the election fee rent a legal professional and threaten a lawsuit earlier than that they had a possibility to paintings throughout the war of words.

Lee, the election fee’s legal professional, mentioned election team of workers continues to paintings with the county because it seeks readability from the court docket and prepares for the state’s presidential number one early subsequent 12 months.

“We filed our lawsuit because frankly we have plenty to do right now that is pressing business, and we need to be about that business,” Lee mentioned. “We have a job to do, it’s an important job and we’re intent on doing it well.”

Shoaf would now not communicate particularly concerning the election fee’s lawsuit however mentioned the elections division was once now not being handled any in a different way from different county departments when requested to justify their price range requests.

“Everybody says, ‘I’m fiscally conservative,'” mentioned Shoaf. “Saying and doing are two different things.”

Both he and Mansfield described what they mentioned had been frustrations locally with those that sat at the earlier county fee.

“People want small government and government they can trust,” Mansfield mentioned. “But they feel like they can’t trust the government because locally they don’t feel the government has been responsible with the tax dollars they have been entrusted with.”


Charlena Aumiller by no means imagined she could be attending such a lot of conferences of the Sumner County Commission and its committees.

A legal professional who in the past labored for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, Aumiller has grow to be a neighborhood executive watchdog. She has chronicled the county fee’s movements with common posts on a public social media web page and filed a lawsuit towards the fee that claimed, partly, violations of the state’s open conferences legislation.

A Republican and mom of 2, Aumiller mentioned she become involved in the upward push of the Constitutional Republicans crew right through the pandemic and makes an attempt to push their schedule in native colleges.

“At one level, I used to be ignorant, completely oblivious with what was once happening — whoever is in place of business, it is all interchangeable. That’s as a result of I thought there have been safeguards,” she mentioned. “What I’m seeing, they do not care about rules. They do not care about laws. I’ve by no means noticed the rest so fragile as our executive.

Elected to his first time period remaining 12 months, County Commissioner Wes Wynne is a Republican and Christian, however he is not a part of the Constitutional Republican bloc and is anxious via the bulk’s movements, mentioning the submitting of 4 complaints because the new commissioners took place of business.

Wynne mentioned he has been driven apart, assigned to only one committee when others normally serve on 3. He mentioned he has additionally been centered with an ethics criticism after wondering the {qualifications} of an individual nominated to serve on a neighborhood board.

Wynne mentioned he has been disheartened to peer Christian values ​​invoked via commissioners simplest to be adopted via movements he perspectives as questionable. He mentioned he struggled over how he would vote at the Judeo-Christian query, seeing it as an needless felony chance.

“You know, I’m sworn to do the business of the county but also I’m called, too, to follow the direction of God,” mentioned Wynne, who in the end abstained. “That was once one who I felt was once extra of a gotcha-type of vote. If you improve it, nice. If you do not, then we are going to use that towards you later.”

Wynne mentioned he does not perceive why there is been such a lot animosity between the county fee and election officers. He introduced a movement that offered a compromise on the use of the bigger development, however mentioned it was once disregarded.

“So far, our commission has done a fabulous job at grinding every ax that they can find against people they don’t like,” Wynne mentioned.

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