published Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Tennessee Democrats act to keep anti-gay activist out of governor race

NASHVILLE — After watching anti-gay rights activist Mark Clayton unexpectedly capture the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2012, a state party panel is anxious to avoid a repeat in the governor's race this year.

Members of a Tennessee Democratic Party panel voted Saturday to ask the secretary of state to strike Clayton from the list of Democratic candidates finalized by Thursday's filing deadline.

County party development committee chairwoman Sylvia Woods said members decided that Clayton isn't a "bona fide" Democrat under party rules.

State Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said he must investigate and decide what to do by Thursday, the last day a party can move to prevent someone from appearing under its banner on the ballot.

"Denying someone who's filed a petition the opportunity to run is a serious decision, and I'm going to do appropriate investigation," Herron said.

Clayton could not be reached for comment.

He won the 2012 Senate nomination by garnering about 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field of virtual unknowns.

A day later, Democrats discovered their nominee was a conservative activist who had served as vice president of Public Advocate of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based group battling gay rights.

Chip Forrester, then the party chairman, disavowed Clayton after it became known that the Southern Poverty Law Center had labeled Public Advocate a "hate group," a designation Clayton rejected.

On his 2012 Senate campaign website, the magazine Mother Jones reported Clayton fretted about an "Orwellian superstate" and suggested that people who disagree with the government could be sent to "a bone-crushing prison camp similar to the one Alexander Solzhenitsyn was sent or to one of FEMA's prison camps."

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., won re-election with 65 percent of the vote. Clayton, who spent virtually no money, received 35 percent.

Clayton later sued Forrester and other party officials. That lawsuit is still pending, and Herron and others at Saturday's State Executive Committee meeting spoke with caution.

The committee required Herron to notify them by Wednesday whether he will act in regard to Clayton and potentially other candidates for various offices whose party credentials have come under question.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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