Sethi names veterans coalition

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi has named a veterans coalition supporting his bid for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race.

“This group of distinguished Tennessee leaders represent generations of Tennesseans who have dedicated themselves in service to us and our great nation. I am so grateful to have these heroes on my team,” Sethi said in a statement.

The chairmen of the coation are retired Army Gen. Gary Harrell, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Carl Schneider, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Jackie Dan Wood.

Sethi’s military platform includes:

  1. Fixing our broken Veterans Affairs system, and ensure that veterans are able to obtain healthcare without fighting through bureaucracy.
  2. Improving rapid access to mental health treatment for our veterans.
  3. Protecting Millington Naval Base, Arnold Air Force Base, Fort Campbell, and other military facilities from cuts or closures.

The membership list of Sethi’s coalition follows:

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Map shows stark divisions in Knoxville mayor’s race

Check out this map of election results in Knoxville’s mayoral runoff. It illustrates the stark partisan divisions within the city, with Democrat Indya Kincannon taking most of the core of the city, and Republican Eddie Mannis capturing most in outlying areas.

Lee announces $25M in vocational education grants

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is announcing $25 million in grants under his vocational education initiative, a major part of the Republican’s campaign platform last year

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced projects receiving funding through the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program which prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties and enhances career and technical education statewide.

“We are proud to work with the General Assembly to pass the GIVE initiative and expand career and technical education for Tennessee students,” said Lee. “These funds directly support our workforce development efforts in distressed and at-risk counties and are a key component of our strategy to prioritize rural Tennessee.”

Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved $25 million in the governor’s budget to incentivize collaboration at the local level among stakeholders such as higher education institutions, K-12 and economic development partners.

The award process began in June when the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP). Each proposal was required to show local data that clearly identified both workforce needs and a sustainable plan utilizing equipment, work-based learning experiences, or recognized industry certifications to increase the state’s competitiveness and postsecondary attainment goals.

The program prioritized economically distressed and at-risk counties in the RFP process. The 28 funded projects will serve all economically distressed counties and 18 of the 24 at-risk counties.

The Appalachian Regional Commission index of economic status categorizes counties as at-risk or distressed based upon their three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rates. Distressed counties rank among the 10% most economically distressed in the nation while at-risk counties rank between the bottom 10% and 25% of the nation’s counties.

The full list of GIVE projects and recipients:

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Election night results in Tennessee

Former school board member Indya Kincannon defeated businessman Eddie Mannis in Knoxville’s mayoral runoff. While it was technically a nonpartisan race, Kincannon is a Democrat and Mannis is a Republican.

Kincannon was elected mayor with 52% of the vote, while Mannis received 48%. Of the 25,460 votes cast in the election, 47% came in the form of early or absentee ballots.

Rusty Grills won the Republican nomination in the special election to succeed former state Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) in state House District 77. Grills received 56%, compared with 25% for his nearest rival, Casey Hood. The Obion County Commission had appointed Hood as Sanderson’s interim successor.

Michael Smith was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

 

Former Senate speaker among those interviewed by feds in Brian Kelsey probe

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is among officials interviews by federal officials investigating fundraising related to state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s failed 2016 congressional bid, The Tennessean reports.

That Kelsey’s campaign money matters are under the federal microscope has been known since this spring. But the newspapers Joel Ebert is first to reveal some of the name of who agents have contacted in the matter.

Ramsey told the paper he was interviewed by an FBI agent in May or June.

“They wanted to subpoena me to appear before a grand jury,” Ramsey said.

Also interviewed was Nashville Councilman Steve Glover, who gave money to Kelsey’s federal PAC during a 2016 after receiving money from the senator’s federal PAC.

“They just had several questions about several things,” Glover said in a phone interview. “I just didn’t have much to share.”

Agents also flew in from Washington in August or September to interview a current lawmaker, whom the paper did not identify in its report.

Candidates are prohibited from using money raised for state races in federal campaigns. As The Tennessean reported in 2017 (and
later augmented by a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission), Kelsey’s state committee, Red State PAC, gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to fellow state lawmakers, who then turned around and gave donations to his congressional account.

The former state Senate Judiciary chairman also had more than $100,000 from his state account transferred to the Standard Club PAC, which then gave money to the American Conservative Union — both directly and through another committee run by conservative businessman Andy Miller Jr. The national group then made independent expenditures on Kelsey’s behalf.

The American Conservative Union’s director of government affairs at the time was the former Amanda Bunning. She and Kelsey married in January 2018.

Kelsey has denied any wrongdoing.

Former GOP executive committee member indicted

Kelsey Ketron, a former member of the executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party and daughter of Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, has been indicted.

The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro reports Kelsey Ketron was arrested on three sealed indictments (UPDATE: the indictments were later unsealed. See below). She was being held a $100,000 bond at the Rutherford County jail on Tuesday.

Ketron has been the subject of an investigation into allegations of insurance fraud. State and federal agents raided her home and her father’s insurance company in July. The mayor told the newspaper at the time he was shocked by the warrants. Bill Ketron is facing an audit into his campaign finance filings. His daughter was his PACs’ treasurer.

Ketron was the state Senate Republican Caucus chairman before he was elected mayor. Kelsey Ketron resigned from the GOP’s executive committee in late July.

UPDATE: 

Kelsey Ketron faces dozens of charges, according to the Daily News Journal. They are:

  • 30 counts of impersonating a licensed professional.
  • 14 counts of money laundering.
  • 12 counts of aggravated perjury.
  • 5 counts of fraudulent insurance acts of $250,000 or more.
  • 5 counts of forgery of $250,000 or more.
  • two counts of fraudulent insurance acts between $60,000-$250,000.
  • one count of a fraudulent insurance act between $10,000-$59,999.
  • one count of theft of property between $10,000-$60,000.
  • one count of theft of property $60,000-$250,000.

Hagerty rejoins board of private investment firm

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty attends a CPAC conference in Memphis on Oct. 27, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty is rejoining the board of the private investment firm he was a member of before his appointment as ambassador to Japan.

Hagerty will become a member of Hall Capital’s automotive and private investment board. Will Alexander, the son of retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, is also affiliated with the firm.

“I am pleased to rejoin my friends at Hall Capital,” Hagerty said in a release. “The Hall family has demonstrated a deep commitment to Tennessee and their investments here are only going to multiply.  I have a long relationship with the Hall family, I have a great deal of respect for their integrity, and I look forward to partnering with them to further grow Tennessee’s economy.”

Judge slashes Jeremy Durham’s campaign finance fines by 75%

A judge has slashed ousted state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s record campaign fine by 75%, The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports.

The Franklin Republican had been hit with $465,000 in fines in 2017 for a series of violations. Administrative Law Judge Steve Darnell in a ruling dated Friday that Durham should instead have to pay $110,000 in fines.

The Registry of Campaign Finance does not have have an “an unbridled right to dole out civil penalties,” Darnell worte. The panel had not proven that Durham had spent money on items like sunglasses and drycleaning in an inappropriate way. The judge also said campaign money the former lawmaker spent on his handgun carry permit and continuing legal education could have been considered legitimate expenditures.

Darnell also found nothing wrong with Durham’s investment of $100,000 in campaign funds into a company owned by conservative donor Andy Miller Jr. or a $30,000 loan to a professional gambler. The legislature only subsequently banned that sort of spending of campaign funds, the judge said.

The House voted 70-2 in 2016 to expel Durham after a state attorney general’s investigation detailed allegations of serial sexual misconduct.

The man from TAKL: Senate majority leader appears in TV ad for employer

Republican Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) isn’t just the chamber’s majority leader. He’s also a TV pitchman for his employer, Takl.

“Growing a business is tough,” Johnson says in the ad, according to The Tennessean. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box.”

The Franklin based company is owned Willis Johnson (no relation to Jack Johnson), who gave $8,000 to Gov. Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018, the paper report.

Johnson was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee when the panel first advanced a 2018 bill to exempt “marketplace platforms” like Takl, Shipt, TaskRabbit, Handy, and Postmates, from traditional employee requirements by declaring their workers to independent contractors.

The measure became law despite concerns raised by then-Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that the measure threatened to unravel social safety net provisions for employees, including minimum wage requirements, overtime pay, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation coverage.

The bill was sponsored by Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Hixson). Johnson disclosed his role in a the company that could benefit from the law change, but did not abstain from voting in favor of the measure.

See the ad here.

 

Some serious coin: Blackburn bill commemorating 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote passes

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a business forum in Nashville on Aug. 15, 2018 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s bill to to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote is on its way for the president’s signature. The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, cosponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), creates a silver $1 coin minted by the U.S. Treasury.

Here’s the full release from Blackburn’s office:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) bipartisan legislation honoring the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote with a commemorative coin has passed Congress and is on its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, cosponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), will create a silver $1 coin minted by the U.S. Treasury. Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) led companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“Every woman in Congress has the women of the suffrage movement to thank for our right to represent our constituents today,” said Senator Blackburn, the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. “The 2020 centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment is a rare moment to celebrate the milestone in American history that made it possible for women to finally have a voice in government. Ninety-nine years after women gained the right to vote, I became the first woman from Tennessee to serve in the United States Senate. I am honored to have worked with Senator Gillibrand and Reps. Stefanik and Lawrence to commemorate the pioneers and trailblazers who made it possible for us to be members of these chambers.”

“Almost a century ago, after women across the nation spoke out and fought for their right to vote, the 19th Amendment was finally passed. It was one of the greatest milestones in American history, and we should do everything we can to celebrate it,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As a New Yorker, I am especially proud to celebrate a historic movement that was born and planned in our state. Though there is still work to be done to ensure that every vote is counted, I’m thrilled that our bipartisan bill to create a commemorative coin in honor of the suffragists has passed Congress. I urge the President to quickly sign this bill into law and pay tribute to the unparalleled contributions that the suffragists had to our nation’s history.”

“I am honored to celebrate the important work of women’s suffrage activists through the Women’s Suffrage Commemorative Coin Act,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “One of the most vocal advocates for women’s suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was born and raised in Johnstown, New York, and I am looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment in my district next year. I’m grateful to my colleagues for supporting this bipartisan legislation, and it is my hope that this bill will encourage women across the country to continue to be active participants in civic life.”

“Ninety-nine years after women gained the right to vote, the 116th Congress brought in a record number of women members and the most diverse Congress in history,” said Representative Lawrence. “As the Chair of the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus and the Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, I‘m proud to stand on the shoulders of the suffragists who played a vital role in rallying support for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. As we approach the historic suffrage centennial, it is my hope that this bipartisan legislation will not only tell the story of the courageous activists who played a pivotal role in the fight for women’s rights, but will remind all Americans that the right to vote was a decades-long struggle.”