Monthly Archives: August 2019

Here are Sexton’s House committee assignments

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the committee assignments made by new House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) upon his election to lead the chamber last week. Additions are in italics (full committees only).

Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee
Chair – Halford
Vice Chair – Todd
Carter
Cepicky
Chism
Holsclaw
Holt
Hulsey
Keisling
Marsh
Moody
Shaw
Stewart

Continue reading

Pro-voucher group targets freshman Republican in online ads

A national pro-voucher group is going on the attack against at least one lawmaker who voted against Gov. Bill Lee’s signature “education savings account” legislation, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi report.

The American Federation for Children, which is once chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has run online ads targeting freshman Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) as having “turned his back on President Trump” by voting against the bill.

An American Federation for Children ad targeting Rep. Mark Cochran.

Cochran was hardly alone in opposing the voucher measure. The roll call was 49-49 on the House floor in May, but then-Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) kept the voting board open for 40 minutes in an effort to get one member to flip to the ‘yes’ column.

Among the other Republican opponents of the bill: Newly-elected House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

A spokesman for the Tennessee chapter of the American Federation for Children refused to comment about the ad or whether other lawmakers might be targeted. The group spent about $6,400 in direct mailers supporting Cochran in last year’s election.

“This type of activity obviously doesn’t have an impact on me and is just part of politics,” Cochran said in a statement to the AP. “At this point, I’m looking ahead at our next session and am excited about the progress we’ll continue to make for Tennesseans.”

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, was critical of the attack ads.

“They not only attack pro-public school legislators, they’ve sent positive mail into districts of pro-voucher legislators,” said Jim Wrye, the organization’s spokesman and lobbyist. “They hide vouchers as well as they can on the mailer. Yet as any Tennessee teacher knows, when you’re afraid to explain what you’ve done, you know it’s wrong.”

Nashville mayor blasts comptroller’s letter as ‘political document’

Nashville Mayor David Briley is blasting a letter from state Comptroller Justin Wilson‘s office questioning the city’s finances as “essentially a political document.” The letter, Briley said, was instigated by Councilman John Cooper, his opponent in Nashville’s mayoral runoff next month.

“It’s my understanding that Councilman Cooper and his conservative, Republican friends on the council solicited it,” Briley said in a candidate debate Monday evening. “So he certainly should know a fair amount about it.”

The comptroller is elected by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which has a long track record of nullifying ordinances enacted in the heavily Democratic city.

Cooper, the brother of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), called the letter a “big wake-up call” as Nashville’s debt has doubled over the last four years.

“The facts speak for themselves,” Cooper said. “It’s not Republican and Democratic — I’m, of course, a long-time Democrat myself — it’s dollars and cents. Are we being well-managed? Are we on it?”

Briley cited the city’s strong credit rating from Moody’s as an objective seal of approval for the Nashville’s finances.

“Our finances are, in fact, under control,” he said. “And when the final budget is assessed at the end of this year, you’ll see that our fund balances are actually up over last year.”

The runoff is on Sept. 12. Early voting is underway and runs through Sept. 7.

Report: Feds and TBI involved in probe of voucher vote

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) speaks with House Finance Chair Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the House chamber on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Despite the housecleaning that has taken place in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, state and federal officials are still looking into allegations that former Speaker Glen Casada offered inducements to lawmakers in exchange for supporting controversial voucher legislation, The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard reports.

The publication confirmed that agents with the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have spoken to lawmakers about allegations that Casada and his staff about made promises as part of an effort to break a 49-49 vote on the bill in May. Casada kept the board open for more than 40 minutes to try to make the case to various lawmakers, including on the balcony outside the House chamber.

Casada has denied any wrongdoing, calling allegations of inducements “unequivocally false.”

State Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) said the move to keep the board open  set a bad precedent for close votes.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens because it was certainly improper and one of the things Glen did that unraveled his speakership,” Coley said.

Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis, the chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, is preparing a letter to TBI Director David Rausch requesting an investigation into potential “public corruption,” in connection with the voucher vote.

One area of widespread speculation is whether Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), who recently became a full colonel in the Tennessee National Guard, was offered a promotion to general if he switched his vote to favor the voucher bill.

Windle has confirmed a conversation took place in which Casada suggested he could be made a general if he supported the bill. But he remained in the ‘no’ column.

“I voted no on the bill as a matter of principle, and that vote decision did not change. The people of Fentress, Jackson, Morgan and Overton counties are fiercely independent, and their vote is not for sale,” Windle said in a statement after the allegations were first made public. “After the vote, as a former prosecutor, I sought the guidance of Tennessee ethics authorities and followed their recommendations.”

Sexton elected speaker, Byrd ouster deferred

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) makes a motion to oust Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) for sexual misconduct during a special session in Nashville on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was elected House Speaker on Friday and the chamber turned back Democrats’ attempts to oust Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) over sexual misconduct allegations.

Sexton was elected on a 94-0 vote, a rare moment of unity in a House rocked by the scandal-plagued speakership of Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who did not attend the special session.

Efforts to oust Byrd were sent back to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal) 

Faison wins 4-way race for House GOP Caucus chair

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) speaks to colleagues after being elected House Republican Caucus chair in Nashville on Aug. 22, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby has been elected chair of the House Republican Caucus. The position was vacated by the nomination of Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) as House speaker.

Faison defeated Rep. Michael Curcio of Dickson in the final ballot on a 40-31 vote. Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain was eliminated in the second round and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station failed to clear the first round.

Faison is known for his bombastic persona and his vocal support for legalizing medical marijuana. He has shown an uncanny ability to count votes within the caucus. His prediction for his caucus chair victory was within one vote, and he was almost as close in his count going into the caucus meeting to declare lost confidence in former Speaker Glen Casada in May.

AG asked to opine on power to oust Byrd from House

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee to be elected speaker during Friday’s special session, is asking state Attorney General Herbert Slatery about whether the chamber has the power to oust Rep. David Byrd over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s.

UPDATEThe Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that the AG’s office does not anticipate being able to answer in time for the special session.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear General Slatery:

Article 11, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides:

  • 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 offence; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free State.

The Tennessee House of Representatives has used the power to expel only twice since 1866. In both instances, the member was expelled for conduct that occurred during the time of the member’s service. I am writing to request an opinion as to the following question:

  • May the House of Representatives expel a member for conduct which occurred more than twenty-five years prior to the member’s initial election to the House of Representatives and that is publicly known at the time of the member’s most recent re-election to the House of Representatives?

As always, I appreciate the work that you and your staff provide to the General Assembly and to the citizens of Tennessee. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

/signed/
Representative Cameron Sexton
25th Representative District

Gill jailed for failing to pay $170K in child support

Radio talk show host Steve Gill is behind bars for failing to pay $170,000 in child support, The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports.

Gill was booked into the Williamson County jail on Tuesday night. He had been ordered in May to pay the child support to his ex-wife, Kathryn B. Gill, within 10 days. His bond was set at the same $170,000.

Gill’s former wife filed a petition in January for civil contempt. She sought $86,000 in child support, plus $4,400 in medical expenses, $133,000 in college expenses, $11,000 for a car she purchased for the children.

Steve Gill told the newspaper in May that he would seek to overturn the judge’s order  by going to “to court and present the facts and numbers.”

Gill runs a political consulting business and has spearheaded the conservative Tennessee Star website. He is also a former two-time congressional candidate.

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.