Harwell challenger missed deadline by two minutes

Tennessee Republican Assembly president handed over qualifying papers at 12:02 p.m.

House Speaker Beth Harwell was moments away from having a challenger in this August’s Republican primary.

That’s according to Sharon Ford, the president of a conservative Republican group who said she walked up to the Davidson County election office last Thursday with papers in hand to qualify her to run against one of the most powerful GOP leaders in the state last week. But by the time she got those documents in the right hands, she was two minutes passed the 12 p.m. deadline.

“Late is late. That’s why the rules have to be followed to the T,” Ford told the Nashville Post, and said she would not rule out a future bid for the seat. “As someone told me many years ago, never turn down a job that hasn’t been offered to you.”

Missing the deadline disqualifies Ford, president of the Tennessee Republican Assembly, from putting her name on the ballot in the Aug. 7 GOP primary. The conservative group refers to itself as “The Republican Wing of the Republican Party” and invited anti-Islamic speakers to its annual conference last month titled “Assessing America’s Risk of Economic Warfare and Collapse.”

The assembly has worked with the Tennessee Freedom Coalition and its founder Andy Miller, a conservative activist who has poured large sums of money into state political campaigns.

Ford pulled papers for the District 56 House seat in January. She also pulled papers to join the state Senate District 21 race which has attracted two high-profit Democrats to face off in the primary to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry. She did not submit papers for that race.

Instead, she wanted to face off against the powerful House Speaker Beth Harwell who has held the seat since 1989.

“I did so to make an official and public statement of discontent,” Ford said in an email to the Post. “I felt it was time to send a message to those who have been holding office for decades with the hope of returning our state government to we the people."

She pointed to legislative difficulty allowing permitted gun owners to leave their weapons locked in their vehicle parked on work property. The bill was passed into law in 2013 after frustrated conservative Republicans ran a campaign that unseated a GOP House leader who became a scapegoat for the bill’s failure the year before.

Ford also pointed to state officials alleging a state-issued price tag on a bill to delay Common Core education standards is being used to kill the legislation. The new standards, opposed by the assembly, have split Republicans in the House of Representatives.

“It appears to many of us, the leadership has been more intent on following the directives of Gov. (Bill) Haslam rather than upholding their oath to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.”

The final straw, she said, was the state Republican Party booking New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie to its annual statesman’s dinner. The possible presidential contender is “more closely aligned with the current sitting president than the citizens of Tennessee. This choice clearly demonstrates a strong disconnect between our state leadership and their constituents.”