The National Rifle Association has just a few named enemies this campaign season. The first is obvious – President Obama. Another is much lower profile but perhaps more precedent setting – a Republican state lawmaker from Hendersonville.
“We’ve put up ads and billboards comparing Debra Maggart to Barack Obama,” says the NRA’s lobbying chief in a web video. “That’s because while they both say they support our Second Amendment rights, they’ve both worked against our freedoms behind closed doors.”
Rep. Maggart crossed the NRA by helping block legislation that would have allowed people to keep guns in their vehicles while at work. She says it would have trampled on the private property rights of business owners.
As the third ranking Republican in the state House, Maggart was going along with Governor Bill Haslam, who’d been told in no uncertain terms by the state’s largest employers, they wanted the bill killed. Gun groups threatened payback and are following through.
The tension could be seen at this year’s Statesmen’s Dinner – the Tennessee GOP’s annual fundraiser. Everyone at this soiree supposedly plays on the same team, but the NRA has made the family get-together a little uncomfortable this year.
“Take a picture, quick,” Maggart said, upon being caught in a hallway with the NRA’s Cox.
Making Maggart An Example
While the two exchanged pleasantries, Cox is making an example of Maggart so other Republicans think twice before stepping out of line with the gun lobby. The NRA had spent $75,000 at the end of June, with more activity since then. The unrelated Tennessee Firearms Association chipped in at least $10,000 to defeat Maggart.
These are unheard of totals for state legislative races, but Cox calls the independent expenditures appropriate.
“It’s our First Amendment right to assemble to petition our government,” Cox said in an interview. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Rep. Maggart calls the NRA’s campaign “bullying” and a stunt to raise more money.
“You know they’ve got to have a reason to collect your dues,” she says. “They’ve got to have a reason for people to send them a check.”
Maggart – herself a member – has been sending the NRA checks for years and contends she’s about as big a gun gal as she could be. She hosts a skeet shoot fundraiser. She has her carry permit. And she’s a regular at the range.
But at Guns and Leather, a store in Hendersonville with an indoor shooting range, what’s in the window may say it all – signs for Maggart’s opponent, political newcomer Courtney Rogers.
“Inappropriate” But Effective
Rogers, a retired Air Force officer, says she’s even surprised at some of the NRA’s tactics, like plastering Rep. Maggart’s face on billboards with President Obama.
“I didn’t even know what to say,” she says. “I just looked up at it and said, “[Maggart] is not going to like that.”
Still, Rogers welcomes the NRA in her corner. And the outside spending may be paying off.
Campaigning door to door, Rogers has been getting a warm reception from gun owners like Jim Fitzgerald. He calls Maggart “wishy-washy” on the weapons issue.
But there are signs the NRA is turning off voters too.
“Debra Maggart is a lifetime NRA member as I am as a lot of all of us are,” says Bill Taylor, a dentist in Hendersonville. “We may drop our membership because of that.”
After voting early, Taylor says the NRA trying to take out one of its own is “inappropriate and irresponsible.” He also worries the campaign may be effective.