Politics

GOP Staffer Chews Out Party Official At Tennessee Event As Gubernatorial Primary Heats Up

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter

Saturday’s Lincoln Day Gala in Memphis, Tenn., wasn’t without drama after Chip Saltsman — campaign CEO for GOP gubernatorial hopeful Randy Boyd — publicly confronted Republican Party of Shelby County Chairman Lee Mills for allowing his primary candidate, Rep. Diane Black, to introduce keynote speaker Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

One attendee who witnessed the encounter said Saltsman used profanity in front of a sizable number of people in the gala while blasting Mills, alleging the chairman “didn’t have the balls to stand up to Diane Black.”

“I was coming down the stairs to the lobby and heard yelling. Chip was upset about dying to get an opportunity to introduce Sen. Scott, and his campaign did not know about Diane being the person that was going to do that,” the source said. “And when the GOP chairman pushed back he made a comment about having been a GOP chairman before and how he would have never done that. The main thing on heard was, ‘You are a ‘p’ word.'”

Mills said he understands the Boyd campaign’s frustration over Black being the only candidate in the race provided with the opportunity to speak at the event, but noted she played a pivotal role in recruiting Scott to appear at the event.

“I can confirm there was an exchange and that they were not happy with the program. However, I would not characterize it as yelling. I would say the tone was elevated,” Mills told The Daily Caller in an email. “Running for governor is high-stakes politics. In fairness, the Boyd campaign was not the only campaign to state disapproval for the program. However, they were the only ones to state it in person.”

Caitlan Baalke — a GOP staffer for  Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, who is also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination — took to social media after the event to air her grievances over Black’s introduction of Scott.

“I didn’t realize @SenatorTimScott was the kind of Senator who could be bought by someone like Diane Black,” Baalke wrote on Twitter.

Mills said he tried to explain his main responsibility is to the county party and making sure the event is successful.

“Part of that responsibility is to have a great Lincoln Day Gala. This begins with a great speaker. Senator Scott was my first choice and Congressman Black played a large part in securing him,” he said. “Though Shelby County is, in my opinion, a must win County in the race for Governor, appearing on stage for three minutes isn’t going to win or lose the governors race. Not attending the dinner would have been a greater blow to any campaign. Thankfully, each major candidate was in attendance and had an opportunity to speak at our VIP reception.”

Follow Juliegrace Brufke on Twitter