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VOL. 39 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 1, 2015

New state chair wants all-GOP Legislature

By Sam Stockard

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Rep. Ryan Haynes, the new New GOP state chairman, speaks with Rep. Kent Williams, I-Elizabethton, during a 2013 floor session.

-- Ap File Photo/Erik Schelzig

With more than six years of experience in the House of Representatives, Knoxville Republican Ryan Haynes is leaving the post to take on a new job: Tennessee Republican Party chairman.

Haynes, a lawyer who graduated from the Nashville School of Law and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee, recently won election to replace Chris Devaney, who is stepping down into the nonprofit world.

In a state dominated by the Republican Party, the 29-year-old (he turns 30 on May 8) says he wants to continue widening the GOP’s control, especially in the state Legislature.

Q: What is your motivation in taking on this new position?

A: “I have grown up in Republican Party politics, my entire life, and I love this party. It’s meant something to me as a very young man. And when this opportunity became available, I felt like this was a way to serve not just the Republican Party but also my state in a very different fashion.

“That’s why I jumped in the race, and now that I’m here I do have a set of goals, and first and foremost of those, is to win elections and spread our conservative message all across Tennessee. That’s why I got in here, and I feel I’m the right messenger for the job.’’

Q: You already have supermajorities in the House and the Senate. How do you improve on that?

A: “I think the reality of it is we can always improve. The Republican Party, one of the things we’re about is constantly improving, constantly staying in touch with voters, making sure our pulse is on each one of those districts, and I will tell you I’m a firm believer, until we have 99 members in the House and 33 members in the Senate, we really shouldn’t rest. Obviously, the political realities will pop up from time to time. But I think we have to spread our message to areas where we haven’t been able to break through yet.’’

Q: How would you do that in Nashville and Memphis that are pretty strong Democratic areas?

Ryan Haynes: Tennessee Republican Party chairman

Born: May 8, 1985

House member, 106th through 109th General Assemblies

Career: Insurance

Education: Bachelor of arts, Magna Cum Laude, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Doctor of Jurisprudence, Nashville School of Law

Church: Baptist

Family: Single

Community involvement: Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors, UT Political Science Advisory Board, American Council of Young Political Leaders, East Tennessee Development District, Board of Directors, Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee, East Tennessee Historical Society, Knox Achieves, Read With Me, Tennessee Alumni Association, West Knox Republican Club, Red Cross Developmental Council, Knoxville Civitan Club, Introduction Knoxville, Mental Health Association of East Tennessee Board of Directors, Jobs for Tennessee Graduates Board of Directors

A: “I think the first thing we need to continue at the Republican Party is the Red to the Roots program. (National GOP ffort to create a grassroots effort to support local candidates and energize volunteers state by state).

“I think there are a lot of office holders in office that really don’t hold true to Tennessee values, our conservative values that are pro-business, pro-education, and I think, some of those individuals should be held accountable come election time.

“So No. 1, you continue that Red to the Roots program and expand it. No. 2, I’m really looking forward to reaching out to younger voters and minority voters. I think that’s an area we can continue to grow in, and I really look forward to that challenge.’’

Q: How do you think you might be able to bring the Tea Party into the fold? Of course, they’re already pretty active in the party, but a lot of times there’s disagreement between Tea Party and mainstream Republicans.

A: “What I tell people is I think we are a big tent party. We truly are, and I think that diversity of ideas is reflected in some of those discussions the public sees take place.

“We’re welcoming of all people. … There’s an old saying that husbands and wives don’t always agree 100 percent of the time, and I think it’s a little naïve to think our own Republican Party’s not going to have challenges that pop up and disagreements.

“But the reality is you look at the successes we’ve had here in Tennessee, and we now have supermajorities in the Legislature, two U.S. senators, the governor, we’re extraordinarily unified right now, and I really do believe that.

“And I think my role as chairman is going to be going out and listening to all different individuals and viewpoints in the Republican Party, and I think just sometimes stepping back and listening is a huge step forward, and that’s what I intend to do.’’

Q: You had disagreements in the House and Senate between Republicans on whether to make the Bible the state book. How do you cope with items such as that?

A: “The reality of it is really we’re actually very unified. I think the problem Republicans had was both sides felt the Bible is really the foundation of who we are as a government, who we are as a people. I think both sides have great respect for the word of God, myself included. And it was just a matter of how we best respect that book.

“Some people felt like one way to do that was to put it in code that that should be our official state book. I certainly respect that opinion. The other side was, ‘Hey, we respect it so much we don’t think it should be that.’ So really it’s kind of a roundabout way of showing that we actually all do agree, that our faith is very important in Tennessee, and Republicans value individuals of faith.

“I ended up voting no. I fell into the camp that the word of God is holy and that it should be respected, and I just felt like that wasn’t the place for it. But I respected my counterparts’ position on it, and I think they had many very, very good points.’’

Q: What about Insure Tennessee? You’ve got a Republican governor who’s the figurehead of the party in the state, but he couldn’t come close to getting a vote in his favor. What does that say? Is there any division in the party on that?

A: “I think it really is a reflection on the Democrats in Washington passing an extremely partisan bill and it left the country reeling trying to find answers to how do we fix this problem.

“Gov. (Bill) Haslam was dealt that problem by the Democrats in Washington. He’s trying to come up with a solution. He will continue to try to come up with a solution because of the problem they’ve created.

“The Legislature obviously didn’t feel like that was the right direction, but the reality of it was this is a problem that was caused by what I think are policies that are bad for our country, and he’s trying to deal with the hand he’s been dealt and so is the Legislature.

“We’ll continue trying to find those solutions, but I will tell you the problem was created right in Washington, D.C., not here in Tennessee.’’

Q: If it had come to a House vote, how would you have voted on Insure Tennessee?

A: “I was continuing to listen to that discussion. I will tell you I was very, very skeptical of the bill that Washington, D.C., put down, so that naturally makes me apprehensive when we touch anything related to Obamacare.

“But at that same time, I applaud the governor for trying to fix a broken system that Washington put down. I can certainly respect what Gov. Haslam was trying to do. But ultimately that didn’t come to me.

“What I really hope is that Washington goes back and fixes the problem they’ve created. That’s really the solution. What I would have done as a legislator, if I’d been fortunate enough to have my say on it, was encourage Washington, D.C. to fix the problem they created.’’

Q: Chris Devaney’s worked pretty hard, getting supermajorities for the party. But really how much of that do you put on the fact Barack Obama is the president because that’s when the red tide came in? How much do you think should really be attributed to Tennesseans’ disapproval or dislike for President Obama?

A: “I think a great deal of it is attributed to President Obama. It’s very clear his policies do not ring with Tennesseans, and we’ve been able to benefit from that at the ballot box. When they listen to our message of limited government, low taxes, less regulation, making this a friendly place to do business, be a worker, I think they realize these are the people we want to vote for, not the Democrats.

“So President Obama’s policies, that’s happening all around the country, not just here in Tennessee. We now control the majority of legislatures around the country, a majority of the governorships, and obviously the majorities in Congress now, so I think it’s proof President Obama has given us failed leadership, and voters recognize, ‘Hey, these Republicans in Tennessee are best equipped to lead."

Q: If Hillary Clinton were to become the next president, what would that do for the Republican Party in Tennessee?

A: “If Hillary Clinton were to become the nominee, and if she was to become the president of the United States, which I don’t think is going to happen, I think it would be continued failed leadership.

“Tennesseans are going to reject that, and they’re obviously going to look to solutions from Republicans, people like Gov. Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. I think those are the type of people they’re going to say, ‘Hey, that’s really who we want to emulate.’

“So if Hillary Clinton’s the Democratic Party’ nominee, it’s going to continue to be a good year for us.’’

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