GOP bill would give Tennessee AG power to prosecute criminal cases

A man scrubs graffiti off of a building following protests in downtown Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)\

Among the bills proposed for next week’s special legislative session is a measure to for the first time give the state attorney general the power to prosecute criminal cases. The bill sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) is aimed at giving the AG jurisdiction over cases related to protests.

Under longtime practice in Tennessee, popularly elected district attorneys general have authority over all criminal prosecutions, while the state attorney general, who is appointed by the state Supreme Court, can file civil lawsuits and is responsible for defending the state in criminal appeals.

Under new legislation, if the AG decides to bring criminal charges related to protests, the office would have “the authority to exercise all of the powers and perform all of the duties before any court or grand jury with respect to such prosecution that the appropriate district attorney general would otherwise be authorized or required by law to exercise or perform.”

The bill also seeks to require local prosecutors to “fully cooperate” with the AG in any from requested.

The bill would take effect on Oct. 1.

UPDATE 1: To say not everyone is impressed would be an understatement.

UPDATE 2: Word emanating from the corridors of power is that this is a caption bill — in other words one containing placeholder language until the final version can be put together. Whether that was the original intent or in response to criticism is not immediately clear.

 

Winners and losers in Tennessee legislative races

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Reps. Matthew Hill, Micah Van Huss, and Rick Tillis were ousted in Thursday’s primaries, as was Democratic Rep. Rick Staples.

Here is an update to our comprehensive guide to contested primaries for the state Tennessee General Assembly.

(Winners are in red. Incumbents are listed in italics. Open seats are in bold.)

District Party Name City
Senate 6 D Sam Brown Knoxville
D Jane George Knoxville
Senate 20 D Kimi Abernathy Nashville
D Heidi Campbell Nashville
Senate 22 R Doug Englen Clarksville
R Bill Powers Clarksville
Senate 24 R Casey L Hood Obion
R John D. Stevens Huntingdon
Senate 26 R Jai Templeton Stantonville
R Page Walley Bolivar
Senate 30 D Marion Latroy A-Williams Jr. Memphis
D Sara P. Kyle Memphis
Senate 32 R Paul W. Rose Covington
R Scott Throckmorton Collierville
House 3 R Scotty Campbell Mountain City
R Neal Kerney Mountain City
House 4 R Robert (Bob) Acuff Elizabethton
R John B. Holsclaw Jr Johnson City
R Tim Lingerfelt Erwin
House 6 R Tim Hicks Gray
R Micah Van Huss Gray
House 7 R Rebecca Keefauver Alexander Jonesborough
R Matthew Hill Jonesborough
House 15 D Sam McKenzie Knoxville
D Matthew Park Knoxville
D Rick Staples Knoxville
House 16 R Patti Lou Bounds Knoxville
R Michele Carringer Knoxville
House 18 R Eddie Mannis Knoxville
R Gina Oster Knoxville
House 20 R Bob Ramsey Maryville
R Bryan Richey Maryville
House 32 R Kent Calfee Kingston
R Mike Hooks Kingston
 House 42 R Dennis C Bynum Cookeville
R Ryan Williams Cookeville
House 43 R Jerry Lowery Sparta
R Bobby Robinson Sparta
R Paul Sherrell Sparta
House 47 R Rush Bricken Tullahoma
R Ronnie E. Holden Tullahoma
House 52 D Mike Stewart Nashville
D James C. Turner II Antioch
House 54 D Terry Clayton Nashville
D Vincent Dixie Nashville
House 60 D Darren Jernigan Old Hickory
D Grant Thomas Medeiros Nashville
House 71 R David “Coach” Byrd Waynesboro
R Austin Carroll Hohenwald
R Garry Welch Savannah
House 72 R Kirk Haston Lobelville
R Gordon Wildridge Lexington
House 76 R Tandy Darby Greenfield
R Dennis J. Doster Dresden
R David Hawks Martin
R John McMahan Union City
R Keith Priestley McKenzie
House 78 R James Ebb Gupton Jr. Ashland City
R Mary Littleton Dickson
House 79 R Curtis Halford Dyer
R Christine Warrington Humboldt
House 84 D Dominique Primer Memphis
D Joe Towns Jr. Memphis
House 85 D Jesse Chism Memphis
D Alvin Crook Memphis
House 86 D Barbara Cooper Memphis
D Austin A. Crowder Memphis
D Dominique Frost Memphis
D JoAnn Wooten-Lewis Cordova
House 88 D Larry J. Miller Memphis
D Orrden W. Williams Jr. Memphis
House 90* D Torrey C. Harris Memphis
D Anya Parker Memphis
D Catrina Smith Memphis
House 92 R Vincent A. Cuevas Lewisburg
R Rick Tillis Lewisburg
R Todd Warner Cornersburg
House 97 R John Gillespie Memphis
R Brandon S. Weise Memphis
D Allan Creasy Memphis
D Ruby Powell-Dennis Cordova
D Gabby Salinas Memphis
D Clifford Stockton III Cordova
House 98 D Antonio Parkinson Memphis
D Charles A. Thompson Memphis
House 99 R Tom Leatherwood Arlington
R Lee Mills Arlington

(*Longtime Rep. John DeBerry has said he plans to run as an independent in House 90 after being ousted from the primary ballot by the state Democratic Party)

Hagerty wins GOP nomination in Tennessee Senate race

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The AP has called the Republican U.S. Senate primary for former Ambassador Bill Hagerty over Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

Hagerty posted early leads in most Tennessee counties, as his campaign’s barrage of negative ads about Sethi appeared to stymie the Vanderbilt surgeon’s momentum in the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee congratulated Hagerty on his win:

As a lifelong conservative, Bill Hagerty will be a strong voice for the people of Tennessee and an important ally to President Trump in the U.S. Senate. His background as a successful businessman and diplomat bring unique insight to how we solve our nation’s challenges. I look forward to another victory for him come November and working alongside him to continue Republicans’ record of achievement in the Senate.

Who do you love? Top PAC donors of this election cycle

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Political Action Committee giving to legislative candidates may be down in 2020 compared with the previous election cycle, but that doesn’t mean big money isn’t finding its way into the the campaign coffers and leadership committees of Tennessee lawmakers.

Through campaign finance disclosures running through the start of early voting on July 17, here are the top PAC and business recipients among state lawmakers, candidates, and leadership committees.

  1. MCPAC (Randy McNally): $510,380
  2. CAM PAC (Cameron Sexton): $385,287
  3. HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS: $334,500
  4. SENATE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS: $326,250
  5. TENNESSEE LEGISLATIVE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: $259,292
  6. SEXTON, CAMERON: $230,076
  7. ROSE, PAUL: $181,184
  8. JOHNSON, JACK: $147,950
  9. LAMBERTH PAC $138,000
  10. KEYPAC (Ken Yager):  $120,600
  11. REEVES, SHANE: $117,350
  12. LAMBERTH, WILLIAM: $115,750
  13. POWERS, BILL: $111,595
  14. TILLIS, RICK: $99,577
  15. FAISON, JEREMY: $97,750
  16. GARDENHIRE, TODD: $93,617
  17. SMITH, ROBIN: $90,550
  18. HAILE, FERRELL: $88,600
  19. LYNN, SUSAN: $86,550
  20. GANT, RON: $85,550
  21. DICKERSON, STEVEN: $82,150
  22. BELL, MIKE: $78,580
  23. HICKS, GARY: $77,408
  24. YAGER, KEN: $77,065
  25. BAILEY, PAUL: $76,100

The PACs and businesses that have given most generously are:

  1. TENNESSEE REALTORS PAC: $446,700
  2. WINE AND SPIRITS WHOLESALERS OF TENNESSEE PAC: $324,100
  3. TENNESSEE BANKERS ASSN PAC: $189,250
  4. TENNESSEE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: $164,710
  5. AMAZON.COM SERVICES LLC: $163,000
  6. TENNESSEE HIGHWAY CONTRACTORS PAC: $161,500
  7. JACK DANIEL’S PAC: $154,000
  8. FLEX PAC: $149,500
  9. INDEPENDENT MEDICINE’S PAC-TN: $146,250
  10. TN ADVANCE FINANCIAL PAC: $146,100
  11. BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF TN PAC: $134,600
  12. FEDEX CORPORATION PAC: $133,100
  13. CAM PAC: $129,817
  14. FRIENDS OF THA: $121,250
  15. AT&T TENNESSEE PAC: $117,650
  16. CORECIVIC INC. PAC: $115,750
  17. TENNESSEE HEALTH CARE ASSN PAC: $112,750
  18. TENNESSEE REYNOLDS AMERICAN INC. PAC: $105,750
  19. TENNESSEE EMPLOYEES ACTION MOVEMENT: $102,400
  20. HCA TRISTAR FUND: $101,900

Trump lauds Hagerty in phone call with supporters

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

President Donald Trump reiterated his support for former Ambassador Bill Hagerty in the Republican primary to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) in a Wednesday evening phone call with supporters.

Billed as a tele-town hall, the event lasted about five minutes and did not involve any questions. Trump predicted a Hagerty win and did not mention his chief GOP rival, Manny Sethi

According to Jonathan Mattise of the AP:

The president showered Hagerty with praise, calling him a “stalwart defender of our conservative values” on topics ranging from gun rights to abortion opposition.

He said Hagerty was one of Trumps “strongest supporters in 2016,” praised his work on the presidential transition team and said hes still “legendary over there” in Japan.

“He’s a Trump conservative. He’s a friend of mine. He’s a great guy,” Trump said of Hagerty during the fiveminute call. “Tennessee is one of my favorite places. I really appreciate all of your support.”

Your comprehensive guide to contested primaries for the Tennessee General Assembly

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

Today is primary election day in Tennessee. If you’ve been reading The Tennessee Journal and this blog, you know who’s duking out at the top of the ticket in U.S. Senate and House races. But some of the toughest fights are occurring among candidates seeking their respective party nominations for legislative seats around the state.

Here’s your comprehensive guide for contested primaries for the state House and Senate. Incumbents are listed in italics. Open seats are  in bold.

District Party Name City
Senate 6 D Sam Brown Knoxville
D Jane George Knoxville
Senate 20 D Kimi Abernathy Nashville
D Heidi Campbell Nashville
Senate 22 R Doug Englen Clarksville
R Bill Powers Clarksville
Senate 24 R Casey L Hood Obion
R John D. Stevens Huntingdon
Senate 26 R Jai Templeton Stantonville
R Page Walley Bolivar
Senate 30 D Marion Latroy A-Williams Jr. Memphis
D Sara P. Kyle Memphis
Senate 32 R Paul W. Rose Covington
R Scott Throckmorton Collierville
House 3 R Scotty Campbell Mountain City
R Neal Kerney Mountain City
House 4 R Robert (Bob) Acuff Elizabethton
R John B. Holsclaw Jr Johnson City
R Tim Lingerfelt Erwin
House 6 R Tim Hicks Gray
R Micah Van Huss Gray
House 7 R Rebecca Keefauver Alexander Jonesborough
R Matthew Hill Jonesborough
House 15 D Sam McKenzie Knoxville
D Matthew Park Knoxville
D Rick Staples Knoxville
House 16 R Patti Lou Bounds Knoxville
R Michele Carringer Knoxville
House 18 R Eddie Mannis Knoxville
R Gina Oster Knoxville
House 20 R Bob Ramsey Maryville
R Bryan Richey Maryville
House 32 R Kent Calfee Kingston
R Mike Hooks Kingston
 House 42 R Dennis C Bynum Cookeville
R Ryan Williams Cookeville
House 43 R Jerry Lowery Sparta
R Bobby Robinson Sparta
R Paul Sherrell Sparta
House 47 R Rush Bricken Tullahoma
R Ronnie E. Holden Tullahoma
House 52 D Mike Stewart Nashville
D James C. Turner II Antioch
House 54 D Terry Clayton Nashville
D Vincent Dixie Nashville
House 60 D Darren Jernigan Old Hickory
D Grant Thomas Medeiros Nashville
House 71 R David “Coach” Byrd Waynesboro
R Austin Carroll Hohenwald
R Garry Welch Savannah
House 72 R Kirk Haston Lobelville
R Gordon Wildridge Lexington
House 76 R Tandy Darby Greenfield
R Dennis J. Doster Dresden
R David Hawks Martin
R John McMahan Union City
R Keith Priestley McKenzie
House 78 R James Ebb Gupton Jr. Ashland City
R Mary Littleton Dickson
House 79 R Curtis Halford Dyer
R Christine Warrington Humboldt
House 84 D Dominique Primer Memphis
D Joe Towns Jr. Memphis
House 85 D Jesse Chism Memphis
D Alvin Crook Memphis
House 86 D Barbara Cooper Memphis
D Austin A. Crowder Memphis
D Dominique Frost Memphis
D JoAnn Wooten-Lewis Cordova
House 88 D Larry J. Miller Memphis
D Orrden W. Williams Jr. Memphis
House 90* D Torrey C. Harris Memphis
D Anya Parker Memphis
D Catrina Smith Memphis
House 92 R Vincent A. Cuevas Lewisburg
R Rick Tillis Lewisburg
R Todd Warner Cornersburg
House 97 R John Gillespie Memphis
R Brandon S. Weise Memphis
D Allan Creasy Memphis
D Ruby Powell-Dennis Cordova
D Gabby Salinas Memphis
D Clifford Stockton III Cordova
House 98 D Antonio Parkinson Memphis
D Charles A. Thompson Memphis
House 99 R Tom Leatherwood Arlington
R Lee Mills Arlington

(*Longtime Rep. John DeBerry has said he plans to run as an independent in House 90 after being ousted from the primary ballot by the state Democratic Party)

Supreme Court: Reversal on vulnerable voters makes absentee balloting ruling unnecessary

The state Supreme Court has vacated a lower court’s temporary injunction allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to cast absentee ballots after the state reversed itself to say it considers people with an underlying vulnerability to the virus — or those caring for someone who does — to be eligible to vote by mail.

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins told Associated Press reporter Jonathan Mattise in May that “in consultation with the Attorney General’s office the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill.”

But under questioning during oral arguments in the Supreme Court last week, Janet Kleinfelder of the AG’s office conceded that voters’ underlying conditions or of those living with them would be allowed to vote by mail.

“If the voter has made that decision, then yes, they may vote absentee,” Kleinfelter said.

Justice Cornelia Clark wrote in the majority opinion:

At oral argument before this Court, the State conceded that, under its interpretation […] persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it (“persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19”), as well as those who are caretakers for persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19, already are eligible to vote absentee by mail. We hold that injunctive relief is not necessary with respect to such plaintiffs and persons. We instruct the State to ensure that appropriate guidance, consistent with the State’s acknowledged interpretation, is provided to Tennessee registered voters with respect to the eligibility of such persons to vote absentee by mail in advance of the November 2020 election.

The high court said the lower court erred in extending the order to people who have no specific vulnerability to COVID-19.

Attendee at Chattanooga GOP event tests positive for COVID-19

Last weekend’s Hamilton County Lincoln Day dinner has proven to be the source of much intrigue over the veracity of its straw poll, because Senate candidates weren’t wearing masks, and due to allegations of the strategic deployment of campaign workers wearing short skirts. Now, the Hamilton County Health Department is urging anyone who was there to get tested for COVID-19 after someone who attended tested positive.

“We know that COVID-19 is highly contagious and can spread easily at large gatherings,” Health Department Administrator Becky Barnes said in a release. “We recommend staying home if you are sick, practicing social  distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently to stop the spread of the virus in our community.”

Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi, the leading candidates for the GOP nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, both attended.

Here’s what Sethi had to say:

And here’s what the Hagerty camp told  told WCRB-TV:

As Election Day quickly approaches, we are focused on sharing Bill’s positive conservative message with Tennessee voters. They’re tired of mandates and being told what to do by the government. Bill trusts the good people of Tennessee to make the right decisions for themselves.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidate James Mackler wasn’t impressed.

Air war intensifies as 1st District race concludes

The free-for-all in the GOP primary to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) in the 1st Congressional District is reaching its final hours.

A poll commissioned by WJHL-TV indicates a tight race. The survey conducted by Spry Strategies has the race as:

  • Rusty Crowe: 16.1%
  • Diana Harshbarger: 15.8%
  • Josh Gapp: 11.7%
  • Timothy Hill: 10.4%
  • Steve Darden: 9.3%
  • John Clark: 8.9%
  • David Hawk: 6%

The poll of 665 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The Club for Growth has been advertising heavily in support of state Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville while also attacking Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, and Knoxville dermatologist Josh Gapp. A Club for Growth poll had Hill leading the race, with Harshbarger and Crowe within the margin of error.

Harshbarger has her own ads out attacking Hill, Crowe and former mayors Clark of Kingsport and Darden of Johnson City.

“I try to love all God’s creatures, but I’m sorry, I just hate snakes,” Harshbarger says in one ad. “And if you release a snake in the swamp, it’s never coming back.”

Crowe has his own spots out, highlighting his affable nature as a contrast to the attacks going on all around him.

“As a veteran, I know when you’re taking fire you’re over the target,” Crowe says in the spot. “And the Washington, D.C., swamp is firing on me.”

“Ignore the attacks and join my fight to give D.C. a good ole’ dose of Tennessee,” he says.

Gapp, who lives outside the district boundaries, has poured $1.2 million of his own money into his bid. His ad includes images of the candidate wandering through a set tipping over a Planned Parenthood sign, wielding an AR-15 rifle, and pledging to let Nancy Pelosi know that “in Tennessee we celebrate Easter, Christmas, our flag, our national anthem, and we always will.”

NYT: Hagerty didn’t disclose Romney donation before returning it

Bill Hagerty attends the Tennessee Republican Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on June 15, 2019. At right is U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A New York Times setup piece on the U.S. Senate primary election in Tennessee includes an interesting tidbit about how Republican Bill Hagerty’s campaign quietly returned a $5,600 donation from former political mentor Mitt Romney after first depositing it. The Hagerty camp didn’t include the deposit or the refund in its disclosures, a possible violation of campaign finance rules.

According to the Times:

The day after Mr. Hagerty announced his candidacy in September, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Mr. Romney’s Believe in America PAC contributed the maximum allowed amount to Mr. Hagerty’s campaign — $5,600. Bank records indicate that Mr. Hagerty’s campaign deposited the check. But in October, Mr. Hagerty surprised Mr. Romney by quietly returning the donation in full.

(Neither the PAC’s contribution nor Mr. Hagerty’s disbursement of the refund appears in the Hagerty campaign’s filings, a potential violation of campaign finance law. A spokesman for the Hagerty campaign said, “Once we realized it was deposited, we alerted the bank and we reversed the transaction, because we do not share Senator Romney’s liberal, anti-Trump political positions.”)

Rival Republican candidate Manny Sethi, of course, has been hammering Hagerty for his past association with Romney, who is seen as a pariah to many Republicans now for voting to convict President Donald Trump for abuse of power during last year’s impeachment.

Here’s the NYT’s main takeaway from the race:

Thursday’s election stands to lay bare whether Mr. Sethi’s attempts to cast Mr. Hagerty as a pawn of the establishment are enough to outweigh Mr. Trump’s endorsement; it will also indicate whether a Senate campaign, absent any other message, can succeed on that endorsement alone.