Resolution to oust Byrd won’t be on calendar. But is one even needed?

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports that a resolution seeking to oust state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) over sexual misconduct allegations dating back to when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s won’t be placed on the House calendar for this week’s special session.

If Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) wants her resolution to be taken up, it would require a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules — the same margin required to oust a sitting member.

But there’s a fairly obvious workaround, if past experience with the ouster of then-Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) is any guide. During the 2016 special session to undo a drunken driving bill that threatened $60 million in highway funds for running afoul of federal guidelines, Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) stood to announce a motion to oust Durham over the sexual misconduct allegations laid out in a state attorney general’s report.

There was no accompanying resolution for the successful effort to remove Durham, which rankled the former lawmaker’s few supporters in the chamber. They included then-Rep. Rick Womick (R-Murfreesboro), who likened the House to a “banana republic” if any member could just stand and make a motion to oust another.

But Joe McCord, the House clerk at the time, cited the following provision in the Tennessee Constitution outlining the power to remove members:

Section 12. Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free state.

While the General Assembly is required to stay within the governor’s call for the special session, which are to pass updates to court rules that didn’t get taken up during this spring’s regular session, internal housekeeping matters like leadership elections are also allowed.

Byrd, who was recorded by one of the now-adult women apologizing for unspecified sins in the past, has been urged by Lee not to seek re-election next year.

Can Curcio counter curse of ‘last supper’ photo?

House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio of Dickson is a leading contender for the vacant No. 3 Republican leadership position in the chamber. But if he wins it would be against a trend of a house cleaning among erstwhile allies of former Speaker Glen Casada.

A photo of Casada’s lieutenants celebrating in a Nashville steakhouse after the Franklin Republican’s nomination as speaker last November has become a symbol of the hubris of the moment. Four of those pictured no longer hold their positions — most notably Casada himself, who became the first Tennessee House speaker in 126 years not to serve out his full term. Another, Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, came in third in the vote to succeed him (his brother and childhood friend, Reps. Timothy Hill and Micah Van Huss, are also pictured).

Former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, whose text message exchanges with the speaker kicked the lid off the scandal that ultimately toppled Casada, is seated at the head of the table. Former aides Shawn Hatmaker (the reputed “hall monitor”) and Michael Lotfi (whose no-show job rankled members) are also pictured.

And on the bottom right sits Curcio, who supporters of Rep. Curtis Johnson’s rival bid for speaker believed was in his camp until they saw this photo after the election. Casada later named Curcio chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Curcio was a vocal supporter of the rule changes pushed through by the new speaker aimed at limiting dissent within the chamber.

Rep. Michael Curio (R-Dickson) checks his phone during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Curcio is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), Americans for Prosperity, and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington.

The other candidates for caucus chair are Reps. Jeremy Faison of Cosby,  Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. The caucus election is scheduled for Thursday.

Groups seek to block new Tennessee voter registration law

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, gestures at Rep. Cameron Sezton (R-Crossville) in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several groups are seeking to block a new Tennessee law placing restrictions on signing up voters from going into effect, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports.

The law, which is presumed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, imposes penalties — both fines and misdemeanor charges — on groups  submitting too many incomplete registrations. The law  is scheduled to take effect in October

The lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of the NCAAP, The Equity Alliance, The Andrew Goodman Foundation and Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities. They argue that while the law purportedly only targets paid groups, it’s an unclear distinctions because many use grant money and pay stipends to workers signing up voters.

“Not only does this law create hurdles that prevent us from helping our community register to vote, it intimidates our members so that they do not want to become officers of the TN NAACP or the local units because they fear criminal penalties and civil fines if they are required to carry out a civic engagement plan that includes voter registration, which they all do,”  Gloria Jean Sweet-Love, president of the  Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a legal filing.

Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett has defended the law adding penalties as bolstering election security, noting that up to 10,000 incomplete registration collected by the Tennessee Black Voter Project were submitted in the Memphis area on the last day to submit filings. His office declined to discuss pending litigation.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).

 

 

Tennessee student testing data shows math improvement

Standardized assessments showed more than half of public school students showed improvement in their math scores compared with last year and that 41% of schools scored in the top two ratings of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS, the state Education Department announced Thursday morning.

Here’s a release from the Education Department:

NASHVILLE— TNReady assessment results released today by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn indicate that students across the state are performing better in almost all math subjects.  The TNReady scores also show that more than half the schools in Tennessee – 56 percent – improved their growth scores (TVAAS scores) from the previous year, with 41 percent of all schools earning a level 4 or 5 TVAAS rating which measures year-to-year growth.

“I’m impressed with the improvement we’ve seen in mathematics,” Commissioner Schwinn said, while adding, “the dedication of our educators, commitment to implementing high-quality materials, and unwavering student focus is what sets Tennessee apart and will continue to be the catalyst for moving our state forward.”

Mathematics

5th grade students claimed the largest grade-level improvement over 2018 (5.6 percent increase over 2018)

High school geometry students achieved the largest increase of all TNReady math scores  (5.9 percent increase over 2018)

Algebra I scores showed a 3 percent increase, which is significant since Algebra I success serves as an early predictor for college readiness

English Language Arts (ELA)

9th grade students across the state improved scores by 7.4 percent, while 10th grade students did slightly better with a 7.5 percent improvement over 2018

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Hazlewood joins race for House GOP Caucus chair

Hazlewood

Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain is joining the race for House Republican Caucus chair, reports Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The position is opening because of the nomination of Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to become the House speaker next week.

Hazlewood is a late entry into the race. She joins Reps. Michael Curcio of Dickson, Jeremy Faison of Cosby, and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station in the contest for the No. 3 caucus leadership position.

Hazlewood, who served as vice chair of the powerful House Finance Committee this session, told Sher she realizes “it is a little bit late in the game” to join the fray.

“But I’ve spent the last few days talking to our members and I do believe there’s room and there’s interest in having me in the role. And again, not to disparage in any way any of the other candidates, I think there’s room for a fourth,” she said.

Hazlewood is a retired AT&T executive and a onetime regional director for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

The caucus chair is responsible for messaging and political functions of the caucus. Fundraising and campaign work are a major focus of the job. The caucus press secretary is also housed within the office.

“I’m accustomed to working with a lot of divergent opinions,” Hazlewood said. “One of the things I want all to understand is we’re all reflective of our districts. Under this leadership, everyone’s going to be free to vote their districts.”

 

Lee holds Cabinet meeting to launch distressed counties summit

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has convened his Cabinet in Perry County to kick off a summit on economically distressed counties

Here’s a release from the governor’s office :

LINDEN, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee convened his cabinet for a meeting with local officials from Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties during the Governor’s Rural Opportunity Summit in Perry County.

The meeting caps a state government-wide audit mandated under Executive Order 1 which examines how departments are serving rural areas, specifically distressed counties. Executive Order 1 also required departments to provide suggestions for improvements moving forward.

“I’ve challenged my cabinet to think critically about how we are helping our rural areas,” said Lee. “With 15 distressed counties in the bottom 10 percent of the nation in terms of poverty, average income and unemployment, we have serious work to do and I believe we are up to the challenge.”

23 state government departments submitted significant analysis that showed rural areas will benefit from the improved coordination of services and overall alignment of departments in serving rural Tennessee. Additionally, departments provided innovation recommendations for potential programs and solutions to be considered by the Lee Administration.

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Woodson decides against U.S. Senate bid

As recently as last week, former state Sen. Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) was still mulling a bid for the U.S. Senate. No longer, The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports.

“I have been humbled and deeply honored by the recent and generous encouragement I have received to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate,” Woodson said.

Woodson, who ran the education think tank SCORE after leaving office, said she and her husband, Bill, had “prayed about this season for our family and our country and how we might best serve,” before deciding against a bid.

Woodson first began contemplating a bid to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) before President Donald Trump declared his support for Ambassador Bill Hagerty in a tweet. Hagerty made his first public appearance on Friday since winding down his diplomatic responsibilities in East Asia, but has yet to formally enter the race.

Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi announced his candidacy in June.

 

Cagle: Casada downfall a reminder that lawmakers don’t work for governor

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Frank Cagle, the former Knoxville News Sentinel managing editor and spokesman for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, says there’s a clear lesson for lawmakers in the implosion of Rep. Glen Casada’s speakership:

Anybody who thinks about going all-in for the governor instead of listening to the folks back home needs to remember Casada. Perhaps it’s good for Casada to hang around in the House as a walking object lesson. If you sold your soul on the voucher vote because Casada offered you incentives, where are your incentives now?

Cagle had his own run-in with the forces of Casada this year. A day after he wrote a Knox TN Today column blasting the voucher bill, his nomination to the state Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission was killed in the House. Eight weeks later, the voucher bill had been signed into law, Casada was on his way out, and Cagle was back on the textbook panel as a recess appointment by Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-
Oak Ridge).

Read Cagle’s full column here:

The Casada Lesson: You don’t work for the governor

Sen. Reeves unsurprised his pharmacy topped opioid recipient list in Tennessee

State Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) tells WPLN-FM he wasn’t surprised when his pharmacy was listed as the top recipient of opioids in Tennessee — more than double the next highest recipient.

A database published by the Washington Post showed that Reeves’ company, now called Twelve Stone Health Partners, took delivery of more than 45 million pain pills over a six-year period.

Reeves told WPLN that most of the opioids cycling through his pharamcy between 2006 and 2012 came from the company’s contract with hospice agencies.

“You’ve got an individual, at home, who’s got cancer, who’s at end of life, and we’re dispensing pain medication to them,” he says. “And if there’s diversion in those homes, at that point in time, it’s a bigger issue within that family.”

While there are numerous examples of family members of caregivers stealing medications from hospice patients, Reeves told the public radio station that its close to impossible to cheat the system on his end of the system.

“I do not believe that the addiction problems and the overdose problems and the diversion problems in the state of Tennessee are being caused because of hospice patients,” he said.

The retail said of the business started by Reeves’ father was sold to Fred’s in 2015. The company, which now mostly focuses on people in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, employs 130 and is licensed in 47 states.

Hagerty makes first public appearance since return from Japan

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty made his first public appearance since returning from Japan on Friday evening at state Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson’s annual barbecue fundraiser in Franklin.

Afterward, Hagerty sat down to discuss his plans regarding the U.S. Senate race with The Tennessee Journal and The Tennessean. 

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Q: What are your plans?

You know, first things first. I just wrapped up a tremendous stint as the U.S ambassador to Japan, and as I said out there, there’s no greater honor than to serve your nation in a position like this and being the president’s representative in a country that’s as large as Japan. The economy is the second-largest free market in the world there, and we have such tremendous intertwined relationships. We’ve got more military based in Japan than any other country, anyplace outside the United States.

It’s a great relationship, a strong relationship, one that’s very important to the president and one that’s important to all of us. So, a great experience, and a wonderful experience for my family, too. We had a terrific two or three-year experience there.

But we’re very happy to be back home now. We have new horizons ahead of us. We’re working on that right now. And I’ll be able to talk very soon about what we’re going to do.

Q: The president sort of let the cat out of the bag, didn’t he? Is it a done deal?

I’m very honored by the president’s tweet. And I just need to put some componentry in place before I can really address what that tweet was about. But I was very honored to be recognized.

Q: As of when are you officially no longer in the diplomatic service?

I’m just an unemployed citizen right now.

Q: After the president’s tweet, you put in your paperwork. But then maybe there were extenuating circumstances that the president wanted you to stick around. Can you talk about any of that?

Actually, not really. I got back home as soon as I reasonably could. We’re got a lot of important things going in the region. And I’ve been involved in a lot of that. We have some important things happening right now in Japan, so I think I’ve got everything in a good place. I’ve got a great team on the ground right now. All of their work is planned out. They know what they need to be doing. And the folks at the State Department are fulling engaged, as is the White House. So I don’t think they’re going to miss me.

Q: Coming out of the world of diplomacy, where you have to be careful and measured about what you say, how do you go about changing your mindset to domestic politics and campaigns?

I understand the question, but a lot of what I worked on has serious implications back home. Like Sen. Blackburn mentioned, the work I was doing on trade was so heavily focused on ag. Our farmers are bearing the brunt of our disputes with China. China has retaliated against American farmers.

Japan is a huge market for us, and we need to make sure Japan is doing as much as they possibly can to support our farmers right now, because Japan benefits immensely from our standing up to China. They suffer just like we do, from property theft and competing with state-owned enterprises, that type of thing. They are also in the neighborhood where islands are being militarized and a lot of bad things potentially could happen out there. What’s happening to the north and to the west of Japan is a tough neighborhood, and we’re their most important ally in all of this. A lot of that has an impact back here at home.

I’d say the next steps that I take will get me back re-engaged in Tennessee. I’ve been gone a couple years, and I plan to spend a lot of time going from one end of the state to the other, talking to people to hear from them what the issues are, and how things I saw over there are affecting things back home, and think about maybe if there’s a way I can help.

I’m glad to be back.