Republicans get ready to caucus

Jared Felkins • Updated Dec 21, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The Wilson County Republican Party plans to forego its traditional option of a primary before the August county elections and replace it with an unprecedented caucus, while Wilson County Democrats don’t plan to field candidates. 

Potential Republican candidates for Wilson County mayor, all 25 county commission seats, trustee, sheriff, circuit court clerk, county clerk, register of deeds and constables will participate in Wilson County’s first caucus. 

Wilson County Board of Education seats in Zones 2, 4 and 6 and a Lebanon Special School District at-large board member will also appear on the August ballot. The offices are non-partisan by state law, so candidates cannot identify with any party and won’t be included in the caucus.

“It is time to bring the grassroots political process to Wilson County,” said Republican caucus chairman Alex Stillwell. “We have never had a Wilson County candidate caucus. The caucus process would be in place of a primary, giving Republicans in the precincts the ability to select the precinct delegates who would select Republican candidates for each county office. This is truly a grassroots process.”

Stillwell said the caucus is expected to save county taxpayers about $100,000 with replacing the primary with a caucus, which is expected to cost about $5,000 and paid by the political party. Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren verified the savings. Warren said the deadline for parties to call for a primary for the 2018 county elections was Aug. 21. 

“The only way at this point for a party to get on the county ballot is through caucus,” Warren said. 

It appears no Democrat candidates will be on the August county election since the Wilson County Democrat Party didn’t call for a primary and doesn’t plan to caucus. 

“We will not be fielding candidates via the party for local elections,” said Wilson County Democrat Party chair Kelly Kline. “We believe that the non-partisan system for local elections has worked well for the citizens of Wilson County and its municipalities.

“We don’t agree with the caucus system the Republicans plan to do in 2018 for local elections, because we believe it puts the selection of representation in the hands of a few, not the voters. Caucuses for local elections are simply another means of voter suppression, something Republicans love to do whenever they can such as gerrymandering districts in their favor. 

“There’s a reason the state Constitution requires that primaries be held for state and federal offices – so the people may have a voice in their representation. The same should apply for local elections.” 

According to Stillwell, the Wilson County Republican caucus committee was formed several months ago. He said the next step in the process will be to identify precinct captains in each of the county’s 25 precincts, which should take place in January. 

Stillwell said the precinct captains will each call a meeting where they will explain the process and then ask for delegates. The delegates will be voted on in each precinct.  

“In the precinct meetings, the delegates will be vetted and voted on at that time,” Stillwell said. “They will be the ones to vote on the candidates.”

Stillwell said number of votes cast for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election in each respective precinct would determine the number of delegates in that precinct. He said some precincts could have seven or eight, while others could have 20 or more. 

Once the delegates are selected, the potential candidates would have some time to campaign to become the Republican candidate on the ballot in their respective race. Each potential candidate will need to collect 25 signatures of support from bona fide Republicans.  

At some point, Stillwell said the process would culminate in the actual caucus, which will resemble a convention. He said candidates will speak to the general caucus, and the delegates will then vote by secret ballot to select the Republican candidates. All delegates will vote on candidates in the countywide races, and delegates in each precinct will select their respective commission and constable candidates. 

“What you are dealing with here is a real republic-type system,” Stillwell said. 

Since neither party will hold a primary, a list of all candidates who will appear as Republicans on the ballot must be submitted to the Wilson County Election Commission on April 5 by noon. All Republican executive committee members must sign the list. 

The qualifying deadline for independents and school board candidates in the August county election is also April 5 by noon. 

If a potential candidate isn’t selected by delegates to be a Republican candidate on the ballot, he or she won’t be allowed to register and appear on the ballot as a Democrat or independent candidate. According to Warren, that’s due to the state’s so-called “sore loser” law, which prohibits a candidate to switch parties or run as an independent after losing in the caucus, since the caucus will serve as a replacement for the primary. 

Stillwell wouldn’t release specific dates, along the timeline for the caucus. He said more information would be released next week. 

“I’m not going to give you a lot of dates right now, and I’m not going to give you all the information right now,” he said. “I would rather be vague and right than exact and incorrect.

“When the dates are set, we will release them. We are still early on in this process.”

Stillwell did say any potential county office candidate who wants to be considered as a Republican on the ballot should contact him or Wilson County Republican Party chair Terri Nicholson by Dec. 31. 

Stillwell may be reached at 615-773-2774, [email protected] or P.O. Box 827, Hermitage, TN 37076. Nicholson may be reached at 1303 Camelot Bay, Mt. Juliet, TN 37122 or [email protected]

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