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Wilson GOP sets dates for caucus

Jared Felkins • Updated Jan 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

The Wilson County Republican Party announced dates recently for its caucus and deadlines for prospective candidates.

The Wilson County GOP will caucus March 17 for the first time, and prospective candidates have until Feb. 15 to send in applications. Once the applications are received, the prospective candidates will meet with the Wilson County Caucus Committee during scheduled interviews from Feb. 15 through March 15, according to committee chair Alex Stillwell. 

Stillwell said any prospective candidate who wants to appear as a Republican on the Wilson County General Election ballot in August would need to submit an application and a petition with 25 signatures of bona fide Republicans who support his or her candidacy. All applicants’ qualifications will be vetted as to compliance with Tennessee Republican Party rules, Stillwell said. Prospective candidates may get applications and petitions from Stillwell by emailing aestillwell@aol.com.

Since Wilson County is more than 100,000 in population, state Republican Party rules mandate there is a delegated caucus, Stillwell said.  

Each precinct’s caucus and the countywide caucus will be March 17 at 9 a.m. at a location as yet to be determined, Stillwell said. 

At the caucus, prospective candidates will be given a chance to address the delegates prior to voting. Delegates will select commissioner and constable candidates in their respective precinct, and all delegates will vote on countywide offices by secret ballot.

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.

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. 

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, according to Wilson County Democrat Party chair Kelly Kline. 

According to Stillwell, the Wilson County Republican Caucus Committee was formed several months ago. He said the next step in the process would 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 for any needed, depending on the number needed in each precinct. The delegates will be vetted and voted on in each precinct, but many of the delegates were already selected during the Wilson County Republican Convention in March 2017. 

It’s uncertain whether the local GOP planned to have the caucus at the convention.   

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. 

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 post deadline for sheriff is March 22. 

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

Stillwell may be reached at 615-773-2774, aestillwell@aol.com or P.O. Box 827, Hermitage, TN 37076. Nicholson may be reached at 1303 Camelot Bay, Mt. Juliet, TN 37122 or terrinicholson@comcast.net.

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