Monthly Archives: September 2019

Lee names members of standalone charter authorizer

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has appointed the members of the new state charter school authorizer. The new standalone panel can overturn local school board votes to reject charter school applications.

The members are:

  • Tom Griscom of Hamilton County
  • David Hanson of Davidson County
  • Alan Levine of Washington County
  • Terence Patterson of Shelby County
  • Mary Pierce of Davidson County
  • Christine Richards of Shelby County
  • Derwin Sisnett of Shelby County
  • Eddie Smith of Knox County
  • Wendy Tucker of Williamson County

Griscom is a former editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Smith is a former Republican state representative from Knoxville. Pierce was known as the Nashville school board’s leading charter school advocate before announcing last year she wouldn’t run for re-election. Hanson is a board member of the Beacon Center, Teach For America Nashville, and Valor charter schools.

Under the previous law, the State Board of Education served as the charter authorizer. But it had overturned only three of 21 denials, and supporters of the change hope the new panel will be less deferential to local school boards.

Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis, who opposed the bill, told rural and suburban colleagues that under the bill “everybody gets a taste of the charter medicine” that has previously been applied to to cities.

Griffey defends caucus move after wife denied judicial post

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey and his wife, Rebecca, were outraged when Republican Gov. Bill Lee selected Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King to become the chancellor for the judicial district covering Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin, and Henry counties.

Rebecca Griffey had failed to make the list of three finalists for the position in June, but her husband had been lobbying the governor to choose her anyway — even offering Harvey Durham, the father of ousted former state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), as having particular insight over the matter. In a letter to Lang Wiseman, the governor’s top legal adviser, Bruce Griffey said it would be a “gross miscarriage of justice” if his wife didn’t end up on the bench, according to correspondence obtained by The Tennessee Journal under public records laws.

Despite those entreaties, Lee on Sept. 4 announced he had chosen King from the list of three finalists. Two days later, Rebecca Griffey took to Facebook to express her anger.

“Today was a big slap in the face to longtime, dedicated Republicans who have devoted blood, sweat, tears and money for years to the Republican cause,” she wrote.

Wiseman took note of the Facebook post, texting a copy to Bruce Griffey on Sept. 6.

“Why are you txt me this?” Griffey responded. Then the lawmaker sent him the copy of a news story about former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile saying she had “proof” that Hillary Clinton had rigged the presidential primary in 2016.

It’s unclear why Griffey sent Wiseman the link to that story, but it was then that King alleges the Griffeys and their allies began manipulating county Republican officials and the state GOP, where Rebecca Griffey is an executive committee member, to give them greater sway over who would be the party’s nominee for the chancellorship in 2020 — in other words, not King. So just nine days after her appointment to the bench, she quit.

The Republican parties in the five counties comprising the 24th District had been given the option of whether to hold a primary election for the chancellorship, or to plot the more unusual course of holding caucuses to determine their standard bearer. When the vote was tallied, the preference among the majority was to hold a primary.

Under party rules, the counties were bound by the decision of the majority to inform their respective county election commissions that they were going to hold a primary. Three county parties did, but those in Henry and Hardin counties failed to submit the notices by the June 17 deadline. King wrote in her resignation letter that what should have happened next is that the two counties that failed to submit their filings should have been excluded from the nomination contest.

But on Sept. 6 — two days after King’s appointment and the same day Bruce Griffey sent the cryptic text message about the “rigged” Democratic primary — the state party informed the county parties that a majority had asked to reconvene to reconsider its actions. This time the vote was 8-2 to abandon the primary and instead hold a caucus. King alleged in her letter to the governor that nothing in state GOP bylaws allowed for that redo. The party says it consulted with state Division of Elections before going forward with another vote.

Bruce Griffey in a statement said the decision to hold a caucus had “nothing whatsoever to do with Ms. King being appointed by Governor Lee.” Instead, he said, the decision needed to ensure that all five counties got a chance to participate in the nomination process.

But the timing of various votes has led to widespread speculation that GOP officials in Henry and Hardin counties purposefully withheld their filings so the case could be made later that that it wouldn’t be right to exclude them from the nomination contest.

Not so, Griffey said it in his statement.

“It was a matter of fundamental fairness in allowing all 5 counties in the district to participate and was done in accordance with the TN GOP Bylaws,” he said.

Alexander among Republicans targeted by conservative group over Trump investigation

A conservative group called Republicans for the Rule of Law has launched a $1 million ad campaign urging GOP lawmakers to support an investigation into President Donald Trump’s efforts to persuade the Ukrainian president to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s son.

The ads running on TV and digital platforms are aimed at 20 Republican members around the country.

“This an abuse of power by the chief executive of our country. He won’t stop unless Republicans like you stand up and say that it’s wrong,” the ad’s narrator says. “Senator Alexander, your voice is critical. Stand up for the country and stand up for the rule of law.”

Jerry Adams, budget adviser to 10 Tennessee governors, dies

Longtime former Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams, who served under 10 Tennessee governors, has died of an apparent heart attack.

Jerry Adams (handout photo)

Adams was hired in 1962 by Harlan Mathews, who was finance commissioner in Gov. Buford Ellington’s administration. He was named deputy commissioner during Ellington’s second term in 1967, and Gov. Winfield Dunn appointed him commissioner for the final months of his term after Ted Welch left government. Adams was acting commissioner for about six weeks under Gov. Ray Blanton, and then settled back into being deputy commissioner under Govs. Lamar Alexander, Ned McWherter, Don Sundquist, and Phil Bredesen.

After officially retiring from state government, Adams remained a consultant on budget matters under Gov. Bill Haslam and Bill Lee.

“In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement,” Bredesen said in a statement. “A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked.”

Alexander called Adams “the consummate professional as a state employee.”

“Everyone trusted and respected him,” he said. “It was my privilege to know and work with him.”

The Tennessee Journal recounted this incident about Adams in 2005:

About 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, Deputy Finance Commissioner Jerry Adams left his office on the first floor of the Capitol to head home. He took the elevator to the ground floor, where the only exit that can be used on weekends is located. The elevator reached the floor but wouldn’t open. The phone didn’t work. An alarm did, but there was no one in the building to hear it. About 4 a.m. Monday a worker entered the Capitol, and Adams was able to get his attention. By 4:30 the door was open, and he walked out to find three Nashville firefighters. After his 13-hour ordeal, Adams went home and slept. But he was back at work at 9 a.m.

A visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the West Harpeth Funeral Home in Nashville.

Here’s the full statement from Bredesen:

Jerry Adams devoted his professional life to making Tennessee’s government be its best, and he was extraordinarily successful.

In January 2003, I was a brand-new governor, innocent of the details of state finances, and faced with a $300 million shortfall in a state with a strict balanced-budget requirement. A lot of hours with Jerry Adams in my conference room solved the problem. He knew everything there was to know about the budget, about how things fit together and actually worked. Legislators from both parties held him in such high regard that his briefings gave them the comfort they needed to take some tough actions that spring.

I loved to work with him. He was a problem-solver, completely honest and without guile, earnest, smart, deeply knowledgeable. He worked hard, had a sense of humor, was completely non-partisan. I would have been a different and inferior Governor without him and I suspect many of my predecessors from Frank Clement on could say the same. When I heard of his death, it was a bittersweet moment: Sadness at his passing, but profound respect and admiration as he wrapped-up a long, constructive, well-lived life.

Pence to hold Nashville fundraiser for Trump re-election effort

Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Nashville on Oct. 7 to headline a fundraiser for President Donald Trump’s re-election effort.

The event is co-hosted by RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, RNC Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks Jr., National Finance Chairman Todd Ricketts, and Campaign Manager Brad Parscale.

Attending the dinner costs $1,000, a photo opportunity is $15,000, participating in a round-table is $50,000, and co-chairing the event carries
a $100,000 price tag.

Donors at the top level include truck retrofitter  Tommy Fitzgerald, Pilot Flying J founder Jim Haslam, Takl CEO Willis Johnson, Advance Financial chairman Mike Hodges, and former labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder.

A location has not yet been announced.

Here’s the invite:

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Sethi, Hagerty ramp up fundraising before quarterly deadline

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi and former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty have ramped up their fundraising activity in advance of the end of the of the third quarter on Monday.

Sethi held fundraisers in Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis. Event
hosts include Fred Decosimo, the former campaign treasurer for Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign, former HCA Tristar President Larry Kloess, healthcare entrepreneur Bill West, developer Jim Sattler, and wealth management adviser Frank Bumstead.

Hagerty has events being hosted at the Nashville homes of Barry Stowe, the former CEO of Prudential’s North American operations, state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe, lobbyist Dale Allen, and Blair Wilson, the brother of state Comptroller Justin Wilson. Two of the events will be held after the current quarter ends, but all checks are supposed to be received by Sept. 30.

Here is the Hagerty invite (home addresses have been deleted):

Ambassador Bill Hagerty has announced his bid for U.S. Senate and we want you to join Team Hagerty. Please see below for a personal invitation to join Bill and be part of his campaign launch. There are four opportunities to attend a kick-off reception over the next few weeks. Details are below or click here for an invitation. Please reply and let us know of your support. – Kim

Kim Kaegi

Please select a date and location most convenient for you.
* All events 5:30 – 7:00 pm *
Limited capacity for each reception to allow for more one-on-one engagement.

Thursday, September 26
Sherri & Barry Stowe

Monday, September 30
Kathy & Bobby Rolfe

Thursday, October 3
Linde & Blair Wilson

Wednesday, October 9
Julie & Dale Allen

$11,200 ~ Sponsor
$5,600 ~ Host
$2,800 ~ Attend

To make your reservation & contribute: TeamHagerty/donate
All contributions encouraged to be made prior to 9.30.19

Here are the invites for the Sethi events:

Continue reading

Cooper supports impeachment process against Trump

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) has announced support for impeachment proceedings to begin against President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senate candidates Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi are trying to use the growing support for impeachment as part of their campaign efforts.

Here’s Hagerty:

And here’s Sethi:

 

IRS placed $240K lien on state Rep. Griffey’s home

The saga of freshman Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) unsuccessfully trying to pressure first-year Gov. Bill Lee into appointing his wife, Rebecca, to a vacant judgeship is the subject of this week’s Tennessee Journal. The Associated Press has done a fine job following up on the story as well.

Griffey wrote to a top Lee adviser that choosing his wife would have several potential benefits for the governor: making an “automatic ally” out of the lawmaker and taking Rebecca Griffey “out of state politics.” If she didn’t get the job, he mused, “what do Rebecca and I have to lose?”

Rebecca Griffey didn’t make the list of three finalists for the position and Lee ultimately chose Huntingdon attorney Jennifer King for the post. But she quit after just nine days on the bench under what she described as political pressure and maneuvering by the Griffeys and their allies.

Bruce Griffey alleged a political conspiracy against him and his wife by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission, with a sympathetic story in the Tennessee Star claiming the panel was made up of appointees of former Gov. Bill Haslam. It isn’t. The commission is entirely appointed by the speakers of the state House and Senate.

During interviews of the candidates for the job, members of the panel took particular issue with Rebecca Griffey’s answer to a question on her application that she had not had a tax lien or other collection procedure instituted against her over the previous five years. Members of the panel had been given a copy of IRS notices indicating Griffey and her husband had a lien placed on their home for failing to pay $240,060 in 2015 and another $23,030 in 2016.

Lee’s Medicaid block grant proposal deemed ‘illegal’ by House chairman

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at the state Capitol on Sept. 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s application for a Medicaid block grant is drawing fire from a power chairman in the U.S. House, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

“This is illegal and the Trump Administration does not have the authority to do this,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter.

“I wrote to [Health Secretary Alex] Azar this summer reminding him HHS does not have legal authority to implement a block grant or per capita cap on the Medicaid program,” Pallone said. “While Secretary Azar has yet to respond to me, ignoring oversight letters from Congress doesn’t change the fact that block granting Medicaid is illegal.”

The Tennessee proposal has drawn praise from Republican Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn.

The details of Lee’s block grant application were unveiled this week, launching a 30-comment period before it is submitted to the federal government. Supporters say it can be approved without congressional oversight.

“Gov. Lee has reiterated that point throughout this process and it will be up to [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] to communicate what they are willing to accept during the negotiations,” said Laine Arnold, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Lee’s block grant proposal: What they’re saying

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration on Tuesday unveiled its Medicaid block grant proposal, kicking off a 30-day public comment period. Here’s a sample of how Tennessee news outlets are covering the news.

Tennessean:

Currently, the federal government provides about $7.5 billion to $8 billion annually to pay for TennCare. This funding increases or decrease as the need grows or shrinks, and the money is theoretically limitless if the state continues to operate TennCare in accordance with federal guidelines.

As proposed, Gov. Bill Lee’s administration’s plan would convert that funding into a “modified block grant,” giving the state government more authority over how this money is spent. Block grants are generally finite, raising concerns this money might run out, but the governor’s proposal asks the federal government to commit to providing more money if it is needed by the state in the future.

Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Lee’s proposals have already come under fire even before he made full details public.

“I think the issue is that when they say that they’ve created all these ‘savings’ for the federal government, that includes like the 220,000 children that were cut off even though tens of thousands of them were eligible,” said Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, in an early September interview.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Johnson said. “The Trump administration has said they’re going to cut over a trillion dollars out of the [national] Medicaid program through block grants. The Lee administration says we’re going to be able to get all this money, an expansion of health care? The math doesn’t work out.”

_ The Daily Memphian:

Initially, the governor avoided answering how much the state could net through the block grant proposal. But after TennCare Director Gabe Roberts acknowledged the state’s “budget neutrality” figure is $2 billion, the governor conceded Tennessee could land $1 billion if the feds agree to the state’s entire proposal.

Lee couched that comment by noting the amount will depend on whether the feds place new service requirements on TennCare, which typically receives about $8 billion from CMS and about $4 billion from the state.

_ WPLN-FM:

Primarily, the additional money comes from a plan to split savings TennCare already generates with the federal government. Under its current waiver, Tennessee’s Medicaid program costs the federal government billions of dollars less than if it were just the open-ended federal benefit. Tennessee now wants to share those savings 50/50, which is expected to be a key sticking point in negotiations.

The block grant also envisions saving money by cutting red tape, like the periodic reapprovals of Tennessee’s waiver. Even when very few changes are made, the process takes nearly a year. Tennessee is asking for its new block grant proposal to be considered permanent.

TennCare wants to change a few rules that would ensure it’s the “payer of last resort,” particularly in cases where a patient also qualifies for Medicare.

_ The Associated Press:

The plan’s likelihood of ever being implemented, however, remains largely unknown. To date, no state has been given permission to rely solely on block grants to cover Medicaid expenses. The idea has been floated by Republicans for decades but never implemented, due to possible legal challenges and concerns that doing so would result in large spending cuts to the states’ most vulnerable populations.

Yet Lee remains hopeful, noting that support is growing under President Donald Trump’s administration and asserting that no services to the state’s indigent population will be cut. Tennessee’s GOP U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn have also expressed interest in the plan, an endorsement that some say could help push the idea further along.

The Nashville Business Journal:

The 50/50 split Lee is pitching, as well as other aspects of the proposal, are subject to changes and negotiation once Tennessee submits a formal proposal to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We think we have crafted a waiver that is going to really mitigate the risk that Tennesseans have and actually give us an opportunity to benefit from the efficiencies and the way that we run our program,” Lee said. “That benefit will give us an opportunity to provide enhanced services to our TennCare population … and eventually, for the same money, provide additional services to more people.”

While health systems have yet to comment publicly on Lee’s plan, Republicans in Congress had pitched a similar proposal in 2017 as their effort to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act. At the time, more than 20 organizations, including the American Hospital Organization and the American Medical Association, came out against the proposal, which ultimately failed.

_ The Washington Post:

Tennessee is setting up the nation’s first test case of how far the Trump administration is willing to go to allow a state the “flexibility” that has become a watchword of the administration’s health-care policies.

If TennCare, as that state calls its Medicaid program, wins federal approval for its plan, it could embolden other Republican-led states to follow suit. It also almost certainly would ignite litigation over the legality of such a profound change to the country’s largest public insurance program without approval by Congress.

The Wall Street Journal:

If block grants catch on, the Trump administration could be successful in achieving the Medicaid changes congressional Republicans were unable to in their failed 2017 repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Tennessee’s proposal released Tuesday would be submitted to the Trump administration in November following a public comment period.

Under Tennessee’s draft proposal, the state would get a lump sum based on projected Medicaid costs. The grant would be adjusted each year for inflation. The federal government would increase its funding on a per capita basis when Medicaid enrollment eclipses the number used to calculate the state’s initial grant amount.