Update: TN GOP dismisses challenge, allows former sheriff to run as Republican


By Josh Smith, Anchor, WJHL – email

UNICOI COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Kent Harris will be allowed to run as a Republican in the August election for the Republican State Executive Committeeman.

Just before 6 p.m., Harris told News Channel 11 via text, “I just spoke with the state chairman. He said I will be on the ballot.”

TN GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood also emailed this statement to News Channel 11.

“The Subcommittee considering Mr. Harris’ challenge has just concluded their meeting. On a 4-0 vote, the committee dismissed the challenge against Mr. Harris and TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney has certified that recommendation. This means Mr. Harris will be able to seek the State Executive Committee position for District 3.

It should also be noted that Kelly Wolfe, the current State Executive Committeeman, wrote in a letter vouching for Mr. Harris’ bona fide status as a Republican which weighed heavily in the final decision.”

We requested a copy of the letter sent to the TN GOP by Wolfe, the Mayor of Jonesborough. Here it is:

Chris and Brent –

I just read an article in the Johnson City Press in which it was stated that a challenge of the bona fide status of Kent Harris has been filed.

For the record, I do not endorse this challenge and would strongly encourage you not to disqualify Mr. Harris from the August ballot.

He has been an established and well-known Republican in Northeast Tennessee for many years.

Kelly Wolfe
District 3 Committeeman

(Clarification: Brent Leatherwood said Harris was told in the original notice of the TN GOP investigation that he could respond to the allegation in writing, and that included a response sent through email. An earlier report alluded to Harris having to respond to the allegation in writing through the mail.)

Below is an earlier report.

The former Sheriff of Unicoi County still doesn’t know if he’ll be allowed to run as a Republican in the August 7th election.

Tuesday, the Tennessee Republican Party informed Kent Harris his status as a “bona fide Republican” was under investigation after a claim from a man named Chip Boyd that Harris’s actions were detrimental to the Republican party.

Harris submitted paperwork to run for Republican State Executive Committeeman in Tennessee Senate District 3. He hopes to challenge the incumbent Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe.

Harris’ ten-year term as Sheriff ended under criminal investigation, but despite three criminal trials he was never convicted of a crime.

Harris served as Unicoi County campaign Chair of co-chair for Phil Roe, Ron Ramsey, Bob Corker, John McCain, and George Bush.

“I’ve voted in every Republican primary since I’ve been eligible to vote,” Harris said Wednesday. “I really hate this, because it’s Republicans trying to hurt Republicans.”

The TN GOP gave Harris until 11 a.m. Wednesday to submit evidence he of his Republican loyalty.

The party leadership has until noon Thursday to announce a decision on the Harris case.

Calls Tuesday and Wednesday to TN GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood were not immediately returned.

Below is an earlier report.

A controversial former Sheriff now running for election to another post says he’s being forced to defend his record as a Republican to the top brass in his own party.

Kent Harris submitted paperwork to run for Republican State Executive Committeeman in Tennessee Senate District 3.

Harris says he received an email Tuesday morning from the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party informing him his status as a so-called “bona fide Republican” is being challenged by a man named Chip Boyd.

“Based on his submission, he alleges your conduct has been detrimental to the Republican Party,” said TN GOP Executive Director Brent Leatherwood in an email provided to News Channel 11 by Harris.

Calls for comment from Leatherwood and Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, were not returned late Tuesday.

Harris said he’s never met a man named Chip Boyd and had no idea why he’s challenging Harris’ ability to run for office as a Republican.

“A special committee of five State Executive Committee members has been formed in order to review the bona fide Republican status of candidates,” said Leatherwood. “This committee will meet and make a recommendation to TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney who will make the final decision about a candidate’s bona fide status.”

Harris resigned in March 2012 after 10 years as Sheriff of Unicoi County amid a criminal investigation. Three times, Harris went on trial to face criminal indictments. The first two trials ended without a conviction and the third trial was canceled during the middle of the proceedings.

Harris said Leatherwood’s letter indicates he can rebut the allegation with personal proof of his support for so-called “Republican principals” including letters of support from elected Republicans who can vouch for his status as a Republican.

But Harris said Leatherwood’s letter dated Tuesday April 8th at 11:06 a.m. only gives him the ability to respond in writing by 10 a.m. Wednesday April 9th, less than 24 hours later.

Harris told News Channel 11 his attempts to call Leatherwood Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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