Opinion: GOP challenger from the right unlikely if state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood follows through to run for a sixth term

Staff File Photo By Robin Rudd/ Tennessee state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, speaks to a group of high school students at Red Bank High School in 2019.
Staff File Photo By Robin Rudd/ Tennessee state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, speaks to a group of high school students at Red Bank High School in 2019.

An online conservative news site reporting on the intention of state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, to run for re-election seems to be encouraging candidates on her right to oppose her.

The Tennessee Conservative notes that "while she is a Republican, she is far from being a true conservative."

In recent days, Hazlewood, originally elected in 2014, has been the source of speculation that she would not seek a sixth term. In some quarters, it was even said Republicans had lined up a successor for her.

However, she told the newspaper's legislative reporter, Andy Sher, that "her plan right now is to run again." But she also added, "It's a long time between now and whenever the filing deadline is."

In fact, the deadline is April 4. So she has roughly four-and-a-half months to qualify.

Hazlewood opined that talk of her retiring might have come after state Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, the House deputy speaker and one of the senior members in the GOP minority caucus, said he would not be returning for a 12th term.

"I think after Curtis' announcement, I got a couple of texts," she said.

Like Johnson, the former business executive holds a prominent position in GOP leadership as the House Finance Committee chair.

From this vantage point, we can't imagine anyone from the right challenging Hazlewood in a district that, if recent elections are any indication, is less solidly conservative than it used to be.

As any example, the county legislative district that includes Signal Mountain has twice in a row elected the more moderate of two candidates in Hamilton County Board of Education elections. And the two Signal Mountain voting precincts that formerly were solidly conservative gave former President Donald Trump only slim majorities in his 2020 re-election loss to President Joe Biden.

But, by citing Hazlewood's voting record on several cherry-picked issues, the online news site seems interested in soliciting a more conservative candidate.

A year ago, the site named her the Tennessee House RINO (Republican in name only) legislator of the year. In the announcement that she expected to run again, it listed her votes for additional money to help build a new Nashville football stadium for the Tennessee Titans, for a relatively minor deal that allows the Chattanooga Lookouts to retain a portion of sales tax revenue at their new Southside baseball stadium to help pay off bonds on the park, and against lowering the age for a concealed handgun carry permit to 18.

It also listed other votes, one in which a bill failed in the Conference Committee and one in which a bill was placed "behind the budget," essentially killing it for the session.

In yet another vote, the House — again — passed a resolution to make the Bible Tennessee's official state book, though Hazlewood voted no. The bill went no further, which is what we believe should have happened. The Bible, no matter which version one selects, is not a book to be trivialized.

Hazlewood wasn't cited in the Tennessee Conservative's 2023 RINO report, but the news site took her to task for her vote in attempting to moderate the state's abortion law by adding a small number of exceptions. The bill, in essence, would have allowed abortion exceptions for rape or incest if the procedure was performed early enough in the pregnancy. As opposed to abortion as we are, we believe those are reasonable exceptions and would pass the electorate if submitted to a state referendum.

As many Republicans nationwide also have seen in 2022 and 2023, many voters — including in the GOP — are willing to punish candidates whose stances on abortion are absolute.

In the case of the 2023 vote, the original abortion bill was amended to clarify that treatment for ectopic or molar pregnancies or miscarriages are not violations of the Tennessee law, and that a risk to the life of the mother or irreversible harm to a major body function are abortion exceptions.

We suspect Hazlewood understands those in her district and chose to vote the way she did because she believes the majority in her district would vote the same way.

If she follows through with running again — and Red Bank Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton has been mentioned as a possible opponent — we see her winning fairly handily. But a threat from the right? Even if some conservatives thought she was wrong on all those votes, we don't see her being challenged there.

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