NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker on Tuesday called Gov. Bill Haslam a "traitor to the party" over what he called efforts by a political action committee run by supporters to defeat opponents of Common Core education standards.
State Rep. Rick Womick of Murfreesboro said in a phone interview that he stands by a letter sent to the governor's office last week taking issue with what he perceived as Haslam trying to do away with opponents in the Legislature and on the state Republican Party's executive committee.
"You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don't agree with him 100 percent of the time, that's treason," Womick said. "That's a traitor to the party."
The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported that the Advance Tennessee PAC, which poured thousands into GOP primary races, involved key supporters of Haslam and state House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. The PAC opposed lawmakers like Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who lost his race after calling it a "fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party."
One of the principals for the direct mail firm used by the PAC is Bryan Kaegi, a fundraiser for both Haslam and Harwell. Top contributors like Orrin Ingram and Scott Niswonger are also board members on the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, which is closely allied with Haslam on education matters.
Haslam shrugged off Womick's letter when asked about it after an economic development announcement in Cookeville on Monday.
"I don't know why my supporters should be precluded from doing what everybody else is doing, in terms of being engaged and trying to make certain good people are elected," Haslam said. "Obviously we have folks who care about our agenda and helping make that happen."
Womick endorsed state Rep. Joe Carr's primary challenge against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, but said he sees that race differently than the governor's supporters getting involved in state legislative contest.
Womick said he was justified in getting involved in the Senate race because he's a constituent of the statewide officeholder, while the governor "funded those opponents in districts he doesn't vote in."
Womick said he expects lawmakers to respond with a harder line against Haslam when they come back into session in January.
"He's making a lot of enemies very quickly," he said.
Haslam drew no serious opposition in the GOP primary and faces a political unknown in the general election. He is expected to overwhelmingly win a second term in November and said he has no plans to change his governing style.
"The job is to propose an idea and then to get at least 50 members of the House and 17 members of the Senate to vote in favor of it," Haslam said. "I don't think that's changed. That's always been the mission: To find what's the best policy for Tennessee, and then you've got to get enough people to support it."