Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes plans to leave his post later this year, capping a roughly 18-month tenure that saw some criticism of his leadership and team despite continued GOP gains at the statehouse.
Haynes confirmed to the Tennessean and WBIR 10News he will not seek re-election during the Dec. 3 meeting of party officials.
“I feel like we set out what we accomplished to do,” Haynes told WBIR 10News Friday morning. “We have a lot more Republicans elected in this state than ever before and that’s good enough for me.”
Haynes noted that “we faced a lot of distractions along the way but kept the focus.”
“I’m really proud to have done the job and happy to see how it all shook out on election night,” he said.
Haynes told WBIR that he plans to stay in Knox County where he has a home and at this point plans to “enter the private sector and looking forward to that and seeing what the future holds.”
When asked about rumors that he might run for Knox County Mayor in 2018, Haynes declined to give a definitive answer.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who would be extremely qualified to run and I’m looking forward to seeing those names come out,” he said. “There are a lot of people very well suited for that job.”
Elected chairman by a 33-27-3 vote in April of 2015 after leaving his seat in the statehouse, Haynes served as leader for only one election cycle. During his tenure he had to navigate both local and national pressures, forced to walk the tightrope many GOP officials navigated during the tumultuous but successful campaign of President-elect Donald Trump.
In April, Haynes and his staff were accused by Trump's campaign of "doing the bidding" of the GOP establishment in an effort to steal pro-Trump delegates headed to the Republican National Convention. Haynes denied the allegations, but the issue led to mistrust among some Trump supporters in Tennessee.
Later that month, 27 state lawmakers sent a letter to Haynes calling for the firing of Walker Ferrell, the party's political director, accusing him of working with his wife to oust oust certain GOP statehouse members in the August primary. The party rebuked that criticism, and some lawmakers wavered in their critique of the team. But it made for a tenuous relationship between an outspoken minority in the party and Haynes, party Executive Director Brent Leatherwood and others.
Haynes downplayed fractions, saying all members agreed in their repudiation of Democrats, but acknowledged there were some "distractions" ahead of Tuesday's elections.
"We were faced with a lot of distractions by individuals who were not keeping their eye on the prize, and that was picking up those seats," Haynes said in an interview Wednesday.
He congratulated his team on their efforts: Republicans defended all of their 28 seats in the 33-seat state Senate and picked up two seats in the 99-member House, bolstering their supermajority to 75 members. The GOP lost only one race, with incumbent Rep. Steve McManus of Cordova falling to Dwayne Thomspon. Haynes said "that shocked everybody" but overall the party enjoyed marked success.
"The (state) Republican party is now at its highwater mark under my leadership and the staff of the Republican party," Haynes said.
News of a possible departure leaked days ahead of the election when former Knoxville mayor and U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe predicted Haynes' exit. Haynes called the conjecture a distraction, but it spurred some to already announce their interest in the post.
The news of Haynes' possible departure broke after Gov. Bill Haslam ruffled the feathers of state party members, including some in the state executive committee, after saying he would not vote for Trump and wanted the billionaire to step aside.
That includes Republican State Executive Committee member Bill Giannini, who sent out a late-night message Nov. 2 telling the SEC he plans to seek the position.
"While I am proud to have a very broad and diverse base of support across the state from Republican elected officials, small business and grassroots activists, it is your vote and confidence that I am determined to solicit, secure and preserve," Giannini wrote in the announcement, obtained by The Tennessean.
Other names mentioned as possible candidates include Leatherwood, SEC member Scott Golden and state Sen. Jim Tracy. Haynes earned a $110,00 annual salary as chairman.
Reach Dave Boucher at 615-259-8892 and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.