Sethi outlines plan to tackle spread of coronavirus

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate Manny Sethi, a surgeon at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, is outlining his plan to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

“We must stop listening to the Wall Street elites, who are more worried about not spooking the markets and their pocketbooks, than they are about protecting Americans,” Sethi said in a release. “And we must start listening to the doctors and researchers who have been sounding the alarm on this.”

Here’s the full release from the Sethi campaign:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Monday, President Trump announced an emergency funding request to address the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19). 

Dr. Manny Sethi, candidate for U.S. Senate, applauded President Trump, called on Congress to act quickly, and released his own plan for how to handle the international epidemic.

Dr. Manny released the following statement and eight-point plan: 

We have a massive international crisis brewing, and need something as bold and ambitious as a Manhattan Project-style effort to combat it.

I appreciate President Trump’s stand to defend Americans from this contagion. Congress must act quickly and give him what he has asked for, without politicizing the issue by adding extraneous requests to the emergency funding bill that have nothing to do with the coronavirus.

We must stop listening to the Wall Street elites, who are more worried about not spooking the markets and their pocketbooks, than they are about protecting Americans. And we must start listening to the doctors and researchers who have been sounding the alarm on this.

Let’s direct every resource available at developing an accurate, reliable screening test capable of identifying virus victims quickly, and stopping them from unknowingly spreading the virus.

Time is not on our side – we need thousands of researchers working on this around-the-clock, which means Congress must give the President the funding he needs to fight this crisis.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that this crisis ends being less terrifying than it looks right now. But hope isn’t a strategy – we need our leaders to take every step we can to protect Americans and be prepared.

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Bloomberg to return for three Tenn. stops Friday

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks to reporters after a rally in Chattanooga on Feb. 12, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is returning for another three stops in Tennessee on Friday.

The former New York mayor will campaign in Memphis on Friday morning, Clarksville in the early afternoon, and Johnson City that evening.

“Tennessee is often ignored by Democratic presidential contenders, so we couldn’t be more excited to welcome Mike back for his fourth trip to the state,” Bloomberg state director Courtney Wheeler said in a release. “Our field team connects with voters every day, and it’s clear that they want a president who is committed to working with our local leaders to solve our biggest challenges.”

Bloomberg last visited Chattanooga and Nashville on Feb. 12. He’s also made previous stops in Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville.

Bloomberg won’t be the only Democratic candidate in the state that day. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is planning a fundraiser in Nashville on Friday.

Tuesday is last day of early voting in Tennessee

Image: Secretary of State’s office.

Early voting for Tennessee’s presidential primary ends on Tuesday.

About 199,000 people voted early through Saturday, down from 208,000 through the same period in 2016. There had been 29,228 fewer Republican ballots casts through the first 10 days, compared with an increase of nearly 20,000  Democratic ones. GOP voters still accounted for 55% of the early votes cast, but that was down from 66% in the 2016 primary.

Democrats have seen their biggest gains in Shelby County (+4,116 votes), Hamilton (+2,023), Williamson (+1,961), Davidson (1,808), and Knox (+1,417) counties.

Republican turnout has been most depressed in Davidson (-4,087), Knox (-3,907), Rutherford (-2,359), Shelby (-2,202), Monroe (-1,681), and Sumner (-1,459) counties.

Wilson County has had the highest increase in turnout compared with 2016, with 2,560 more voters casting ballots (1,423 Republicans and 1,083 Democrats).  The next highest increases were in Shelby (+1,914), Washington (+1,766), Blount (+891), and Williamson (+783).

Tennessee’s Super Tuesday primary is on March 3.

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FBI searches nursing school founded by Democratic state senator

The FBI has executed search warrants at a Memphis  home and nursing school of Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson.

Toranio Bishop, who works at the nearby Detroit Barbershop, told the Commercial Appeal he said he saw what appeared to be FBI agents enter the nursing school at at 7 a.m. Friday.

“They came in like a parade,” Bishop told the paper, adding that  students arriving  at the school then left immediately.

The lawmaker didn’t immediately respond to questions from the Commercial Appeal or the Daily Memphian.

“We’ve been made aware of the investigation and have received no indication that it relates to the legislature or her legislative service,” said Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Brandon Puttbrese. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we will not be making additional statements and will defer any further questions to Sen. Robinson’s attorney. Our thoughts are with Sen. Robinson and her family.”

Robinson founded the Healthcare Institute in 2015, according to its website. The for-profit school received at least $1.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Robinson in 2018 defeated incumbent Sen. Reginald Tate in the Democratic primary. Tate died last year.

Tennessee AG joins effort to block Equal Rights Amendment

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is joining four counterparts in Republican states in trying to block an effort to revive the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Virginia lawmakers last month ratified the amendment stating that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Supporters argue that Virginia is the 38th state to approve of the language, meeting the requirement that three-fourths of states agree to amend the Constitution.

Opponents point to the a ratification deadline set by Congress was 1979 and that it was later extended only to 1982. Those deadlines are unenforceable, according to a lawsuit filed by Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the amendment in 1972, but voted to rescinded their action in 1974.

Read the release from Slatery’s office after the jump:

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Lee now to pursue family leave policy through legislation

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s effort to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to state workers to care for a new child or an ill family member will now be pursued through legislation rather than by executive order. The governor’s office said the change will allow employees from all three branches of government to benefit from the change.

“After consultation with legislative leaders, we feel the best course of action is to implement paid family leave via legislation rather than executive order,” Lee said in a statement. “We will propose legislation that is retroactive to March 1, 2020, so that no state employee is negatively impacted by this change in course.”

Speakers seek delay of sports gambling in Tennessee amid questions about draft rules

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Legislative leaders want the Tennessee Lottery to delay the approval of sports gambling rules. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) wrote in a letter to Lottery Chair Susan Lanigan on Friday that some of the draft rules are outside the scope of the gaming law passed last year.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Ms. Lanigan,
We would respectfully request that the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation Board of Directors and the Sports Wagering Advisory Council delay voting on the rules to implement the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.”

There have been concerns brought to our attention that some of the rules, as drafted, may be outside the authority given to the Board or Council pursuant to the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” For example, there is concern that the additional categories of licenses created within the rules aren’t within the scope or authority of the Board or Council under the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” Specifically, the Sports Pool Intermediary License and the Vendor License, and associated fees, are not authorized in the Act.

Please feel free to contact our office with any questions you have regarding this letter,

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

/signed/
Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton

Early voting up slightly compared with 2016

About 3,000 more early ballots were cast through the first four days of early voting in Tennessee compared with the same period in the 2016 presidential primary.

Republican voting was down by 3,456 votes, while Democratic voting jumped by 6,465 ballots. It’s not an entirely unexpected result given President Donald Trump isn’t facing serious opposition in the GOP primary. And even then, Republicans have accounted for 60% of the early ballots cast so far.

The biggest increase in Democratic primary votes has so far occurred in Shelby (+3,248), Knox (+1,490), Hamilton (+661) and Rutherford (+404) counties.

Shelby County also saw that largest increase in Republican voters with 1,314, followed by Washington (+707), Blount (+412), Knox (+391), and Wilson (+315) counties.

Davidson County saw the biggest drop in both Democratic (-1,602) and Republican (-1,564) votes. The next biggest GOP drops were in Rutherford (-883), Monroe (-743), and Sumner (-433) counties. Democrats’ next biggest losses were votes in Monroe (-192), White (-133) , and Stewart (-108) counties.

(95-county breakdown after the jump)

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So are Tennessee-Georgia state line protesters a thing now?

A man waves a sign outside a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg in Chattanooga on Feb. 12, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The larger-than-expected crowd that came to see Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg in Chattanooga last week included a handful of protesters unhappy with the former New York mayor’s past positions on stop-and-frisk policing and for not being sufficiently supportive of legalizing marijuana. But one man stood out by hoisting a sign reading: “Move the Tn./Ga. state line.”

It’s unclear why the man chose that venue to publicize his demands. As far as we know, Bloomberg has not taken a position on the issue stemming from a more than 200-year-old surveying error that denied Georgia access to the Tennessee River.

Congress in 1796 designated the 35th parallel as the southern border of Tennessee. But the surveying team sent by Georgia to chart the state line in 1818 missed the mark by 1.1 miles. Correcting that error today would slice off the southern portion of Chattanooga — and do the same to Memphis in the west.

Georgia lawmakers have nevertheless passed resolutions calling for the maps be corrected, demands that have largely been ridiculed in Tennessee.

Questions mount about Rep. Rick Staples’ campaign spending

On the heels of news last week that Democratic Rep. Rick Staples has been evicted from his Knoxville home, questions are being raised about thousands of dollars the lawmaker spent out of his campaign account.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel and Cari Gervin’s Dog and Pony Show blog, Staples spent $1,200 at a local restaurant just before his wedding last year, and on a rental car, hotel stays, and air travel coinciding with his honeymoon.

Staples’ treasurer, Wes Knott, told the Knox News, he resigned before the lawmaker’s most recent campaign finance report was made, saying: “I just didn’t feel comfortable being treasurer anymore.”

The Tennessee Registry of Campaign Finance has sent a letter to Staples asking him to clarify several expenditures.

Five days after returning from his honeymoon, Staples was evicted from his home for failing to pay $8,875 in rent. Gervin writes on her blog that Staples’ former home was at 1970 Locarno Drive, a property owned by Lawrence Thompson. Staples’ campaign disclosures say he gave what he deemed to be “donations” of $350 and $950 to a Larry Thompson of 1968 Locarno Drive.

Staples said his eviction was related to a dispute over “fungus” in the home. He told the Knox News he is currently living outside of House District 15 because of trouble finding a home accessible by his disabled son.

“This process has taken much longer than I anticipated and, while frustrating, has made me more aware and sensitive of the needs of my constituents with disabilities in all aspects of accessing public services and private establishments,” Staples told the paper.

As for legal action taken by his former landlord, Staples calls that a politically-motivated “character assassination.”

Staples resigned from his leadership position within the House Democratic Caucus last year after he was found to have violated the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.