Election /

Tennessee Legislature Passes Residency Requirement for Congressional Primaries

Morgan Ortagus and Robby Starbuck could both be disqualified from the state's Republican primary if the bill becomes law


The Tennessee Senate passed a bill that would require any candidate seeking a seat in the United States Senate or House to have lived in the state for the last three years.

To qualify for this year’s primaries, a candidate would have to have established residency by April 7, 2019, as the filing deadline is April 7, 2022.

Senator Frank Niceley, who sponsored S.B. 2616, told the Tennessee Star in February that the state constitution requires candidates for the state senate and house of representatives to have been residents for at least three years prior to filing their candidacy.

The measure does not apply to incumbent members of the state’s congressional delegation who were elected before the bill goes into effect. It would also only regulate primaries and would not stop an independent candidate from running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives during the 2022 elections.

The House previously passed a version of the bill that would not have gone into effect after the 2022 elections. The Senate version of the bill takes immediate effect.

Following the Senate’s March 28 31-1 vote, S.B. 2616 will now advance to Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.

Tennessee’s newly drawn 5th Congressional District would be impacted by the bill. Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, would no longer be able to run for the Republican primary in the District.

Ortagus has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Her voting record indicated that she lived in Washington D.C. and New York City between 2013 and 2021. She registered to vote in Tennessee in November of 2021.

Robby Starbuck, a producer and director running in the district, would also not meet the current state standard that requires “a person from being nominated as a candidate for United States senator or member of the United States House of representatives unless the person has voted in the three previous elections in this state.”

Voting records indicate Starbuck voted in the 2018 California primary and voted in California during the 2016 presidential election. He registered as a Republican in Tennessee in July of 2019 — three months after the April deadline established under S.B. 2016. Starbuck did vote in Tennessee during the 2020 general election. He has been endorsed by Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie.

While Ortagus said she would respect state lawmakers’ decision, Starbuck has indicated that he intends to fight against the bill if it becomes law, reports the Nashville Post.

Tennessee is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. In 2021, the population reached over 6.975 million people. Migration to the state is the number one factor impacting the state’s future population increases, according to the Tennessee State Data Center. The population in the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin metro area grew by 19.1% between 2010 and 2020.

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