Monthly Archives: October 2019

Lee names census task force

Gov. Bill Lee awaits his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has named the membership of the Tennessee Complete Count Committee, which is tasked with working along the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020.

“I am proud to appoint these leaders and appreciate their willingness to serve our state and nation in this critical undertaking,” Lee said in a release. “We look forward to working together to make sure all Tennesseans are accounted for and our state receives the necessary resources to support our growing population.”

Here’s who Lee named to the panel:

The following Tennesseans were appointed to serve on the Tennessee Complete Count Committee: 

  • Jeff Aiken, President, Tennessee Farm Bureau
  • Joseph Butler, Mayor, Carroll County
  • Karen Camper, Tennessee House Minority Leader, 87th District
  • Butch Eley, Chief Operating Officer, Governor’s Office
  • Brandon Gibson, Senior Advisor, Governor’s Office
  • Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State
  • Clifton Harris, President, Urban League of Middle Tennessee
  • Mike Harrison, Executive Director, Tennessee Association of County Mayors
  • Jack Johnson, Tennessee Senate Majority Leader, 23rd District
  • Mary Kiger, Executive Director, Tennessee Charitable Care Network
  • Mike Krause, Executive Director, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Tim Kuhn, Director, Tennessee State Data Center
  • William Lamberth, Tennessee House Majority Leader, 44th District
  • David Lillard, Tennessee State Treasurer
  • Raul Lopez, Executive Director, Latinos for Tennessee
  • Sen. Becky Massey, 6th District
  • Anna McDonald, Chief of Staff, First Lady’s Office
  • Randy McNally, Lieutenant Governor, 5th District
  • Stuart McWhorter, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration
  • Margaret Mehary, Executive Director, Tennessee Municipal League
  • Tony Parker, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Ryan Porter, COO and General Counsel, Jackson Chamber
  • Claude Pressnell, Director, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
  • Emily Reynolds, Vice-Chair, Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Beverly Robertson, CEO, Greater Memphis Chamber
  • Cameron Sexton, Speaker of the House, 25th District
  • Jim Shulman, Executive Director, Tennessee Commission on Aging & Disability
  • Rep. Robin Smith, 26th District
  • Rufus Smith, Executive Chairman, Memphis Christian Pastors Network
  • Gloria Sweet-Love, President, Tennessee NAACP
  • David Tomita, Former Mayor, Johnson City
  • Flora Tydings, Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Carol Westlake, Executive Director, Tennessee Disability Coalition
  • Joseph Williams, Director of External Affairs, Governor’s Office
  • Marie Williams, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • Justin Wilson, Tennessee State Comptroller
  • Dave Worland, Executive Director, Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
  • Jeff Yarbro, Tennessee Senate Minority Leader, 21st District

Casada ‘doubles down’ on grant pool criticized as pork

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to fellow Republicans about his bid for House speaker on Nov. 20, 2018.. He was later nominated for the position by 47 of 73 members. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Glen Casada says it is a “slap in the face” of Tennesseans to criticize a grant pool that some fellow lawmakers have called pork barrel spending.

As first reported by The Tennessean, the dispute began over a recent announcement by Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) that Isaiah 117 House, a ministry that helps foster children, would receive an extra $75,000 from the state to open another location. That came as news to other area lawmakers, who said no such money had been earmarked.

Hill said the money came out of a $4 million pool approved by lawmakers at the end of this year’s legislative session. But asked about the grants at an event in Sneedville, Gov. Bill Lee said the money won’t be spent until the next budget year.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s office issued a statement saying the Oak Ridge Republican opposes the use of state money for “legislative pork projects.” Sexton, a Crossville Republican who took over as speaker in August, called the lack of information about grant pool “troubling.”

Casada sent out a statement Tuesday, calling for the administration to lift the hold on the grant funding. Here’s his full statement:

Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R–Franklin) today called for the immediate release of $4 million in grant funding that was included in the 2019-2020 budget approved earlier this year by the Tennessee legislature. The funds, which were backed unanimously by both the House and Senate, were recently put on hold after questions were raised by a small number of lawmakers about how the grant dollars made their way into the budget.

However, despite these questions recently posed in the press, Casada defended the funds, noting the countless discussions between House leadership, Finance Committee members, and the entire legislative body as the budget made its way through the committee process before receiving final approval by every member of the House and Senate and being signed into law by Governor Lee.

Specifically, the grant funds approved by the legislature were documented in the budget for the sole purpose of making rural and community grants for capital projects, repairs, maintenance, and operations to local governments and non-profit public safety, library, community, and recreational service organizations.

“I am not distancing myself from this grant funding in any way,” said Casada. “I believe passionately what we did was good and will benefit countless districts across the state who have fallen behind with local repairs and upgrades over the years. The process for communities to obtain this funding is completely open and transparent and the funds are designed to enhance our local communities and to be used for the benefit of all citizens.”

Regarding claims that some legislators were unaware of these grant dollars being included in this year’s budget, Casada doubled down on his stance that this funding will help Tennesseans across the state.

“This grant fund was documented and addressed with all of the other budget items discussed this year in committees and in meetings. Leadership supported it. House and Senate members alike supported it. Implying something was done improperly in the creation of this grant fund is a direct slap in the face of the very Tennesseans who need it most and each community this funding is intended to help.”

Sethi in new TV ad: “Let ’em try to call me racist.”

Republican Senate candidate Manny Sethi has launched his first TV ad. His campaign says the ad will run statewide — and in Washington, D.C.

The spot features Sethi’s mother speaking about the seven-year process she and her husband went through to immigrate to the United States from India.  “Others come here illegally, take all the benefits and then if you dare say that’s wrong – you are called racist?” she says.

The candidate warns about an “illegal immigrant invasion” if Republicans don’t win next year.

“That’s why I’m running,” he says. “Let ‘em try to call me a racist.”

Here’s the script of the ad:

Dr. Chander Sethi: My husband and I were young doctors in India who wanted to come to America. We followed the law and immigrated legally. It took seven years. We were country doctors in Tennessee for twenty-five years. I delivered thousands of babies, worked hard to be a good citizen. So why do others come here illegally, take all the benefits and then if you dare say that’s wrong – you are called racist? My son, Manny, is a Tennessee surgeon, he’s now running for U.S. Senate. And he knows this is wrong.

Dr. Manny Sethi: We’re gonna have an illegal immigrant invasion if Republicans don’t win in 2020. Democrats are going to give this country away. That’s why I’m running. Let ‘em try to call me a racist.

Democrat James Mackler’s campaign quickly seized on the Sethi ad in a fundraising email:

Unbelievable — one of James’ opponents just launched a despicable ad. Here’s what he says:

“We’re going to have an illegal immigrant invasion if Republicans don’t win in 2020… Let ‘em call me a racist.” – Manny Sethi

DENOUNCE THE AD BY CONTRIBUTING TO JAMES’ CAMPAIGN

James’ opponent is a first generation American who wants to shut the door behind him, and he’s fueling his campaign with fear tactics, divisive rhetoric, and extreme views.

PAC set up by disbarred tea party figure takes aim at Romney

A political action committee set up by Judson Phillips, the disbarred founder of Tea Party Nation, is reporting new independent expenditures against Mitt Romney in the presidential race, the Nashville Post’s Stephen Elliott has found.

The PAC called Drain the DC Swamp was formed in November 2017. Phillips was listed last year as its treasurer and custodian of records. A new statement of organization filed last week no longer lists Phillips in either of those positions.

The PAC reported spending money in support of President Donald Trump and against Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and current U.S. senator.

The State Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility disbarred Phillips in June after he acknowledged “he could not successfully defend himself” on 41 pending disciplinary complaints. Phillips had previously been disbarred last year after clients alleged he charged unreasonable fees and misled them about the results of timeshare litigation.

Hagerty raises $1.9M for Senate bid, Sethi adds $839K

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)

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty raised $1.9 million for the Senate bid in the final three week’s of the reporting period, the campaign announced Thursday. Rival Republican canddiate Manny Sethi reported $329,000 in contributions, plus a $500,000 loan from himself.

“Chrissy and I are deeply humbled by the support our campaign has earned so far,” Hagerty said in a statement. “I’m ready to fight for your family in the U.S. Senate, and this support is essential as we work to share my conservative vision for our state and our country. We will continue to talk with Tennesseans about how I can best serve them in the Senate and fight to pass President Trump’s agenda.”

The Hagerty campaign said it spent just $20,000 in the quarter.

Sethi, a Vanderbilt surgeon, raised $542,000 in the previous period and loaned his campaign another $1 million. All of Hargerty’s contributions this quarter come from outside donors.

Lee announces membership of Health Care Modernization Task Force

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has announced the membership of his Health Care Modernization Task Force. Here is who’s on it:

Co-chairs:

  • Stuart McWhorter, commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration.
  • Bill Carpenter, former chairman and CEO of LifePoint Health.

Task force membership:

  • James Bailey, professor and director of the Center for Health System Improvement at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
  • Mike Carrigan, chief administrator of Premier Medical Group.
  • Brian DeBusk, first vice-chairman on the board of trustees if Lincoln Memorial University.
    James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical C0llege.
  • Melanie Keller, CEO Meritan Inc.
  • Mary Kiger, executive director of TN Charitable Care Network.
  • Kathie Krause, chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
  • Shantelle Leatherwood, CEO of Christ Community Health Services.
  • Alan Levine, chairman, president, and CEO of Ballad Health.
  • Jim King, family physician.
  • Kim Parker, director of inpatient and crisis services, Pathways Behavioral Health Services.
  • Jeff Tibbals, Scott County Mayor.
  • Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.
  • Andrea Willis, chief medical officer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
  • Randy Wykoff, dean and professor of the College of Public Health at  East Tennessee State University.

Lawmaker members:

  • Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin.
  • Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson, R-Hixson.
  • Senate Commerce Chair Paul Bailey, R-Sparta.
  • Senator Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.
  • House Utilities Subcommittee Chair Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville.
  • House Insurance Committee Chair Robin Smith, R-Hixson.
  • House Business Subcommittee Chair Ron Travis, R-Dayton.
  • Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis.

Cagle sees Senate race as ‘Manny against the Machine’

It all goes back to 2014, Knox TN Today’s Frank Cagle writes in his latest column. That’s when incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander lost 27 counties — including the incumbent’s home county of Blount — in the Republican primary to a “broke, no-name former state legislator,” Joe Carr. The prospects of credible, well-funded challenges were enough, Cable writes, to lead Alexander and fellow Sen. Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga) to retire and cause former Gov. Bill Haslam not to run for either seat.

Cagle is a former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and served as spokesman for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. He isn’t averse to throwing bombs in his opinion pieces, and this column is no exception.

The question Cagle raises is: “How does the cocktail party caucus retain control of the Republican political machine in the Age of Trump?”

Manny against the Machine

Haslam’s much-delayed decision not to run for Alexander’s seat this year “froze the field, dried up donors and forced [U.S. Rep. Mark] Green out of the race,” Cagle writes. When Haslam finally begged off, President Donald Trump was “primed to announce an endorsement of Hagerty to give him a clear field to glide into the seat.”

But hopes of clearing the field didn’t occur when Sethi jumped into the race — and has remained a thorn in the side of Hagerty’s efforts.

“Hagerty will be running a top-down campaign, Sethi will be running a bottom-up campaign,” according to Cagle. “While Hagerty was being introduced around the Neyland Stadium skyboxes by Haslam Saturday night, Sethi was at a Montgomery County chili supper.”

Hagerty’s ties to Trump critic Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate and current U.S. senator, could hurt him among the president’s supporters in the state, Cagle writes:

A key to the race may be whether Trump wants to come to Tennessee and rally for Hagerty. It isn’t likely Romney will be getting an invitation.

For now, the rallying cry is Manny Against the Machine.

Media roundup of Pence visit to Nashville area

Gov. Bill Lee and former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty (who also happens to be running for the U.S. Senate) met Vice President Mike Pence on the tarmac for his visit to Nashville. Pence spoke at a Tyson Foods plant in Goodlettsville, recorded an interview for former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s radio show, adn attended a fundraiser for the Trump-Pence re-election campaign.

An anticipated media gaggle — where reporters undoubtedly would have asked the vice president about the congressional impeachment probe — did not take place.

Here’s a roundup of some of the news coverage:

Amid Trump controversy, Pence demands passage of new North American trade agreement (Daily Memphian)

Considered NAFTA 2.0 by some observers, the plan purportedly would update what supporters call an outdated trade agreement with its two neighbors and expand U.S. exports. “This president, he’s impatient for it,” Pence told a crowd of mostly Republican supporters and plant employees. “The truth is we need Congress to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada (agreement), and we need them to approve it this year.”

Ahead of Trump fundraiser, Vice President Mike Pence pushes U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal (Tennessean)

The vice president made an apparent reference to past and ongoing investigations against Trump, including an impeachment inquiry led by Democrats, saying the president’s accomplishments in office had occurred despite “endless investigations trying to overturn the will of the American people.

Pence asks Tennesseans to support Mexico-Canada trade deal (AP)

“It’s time for the Democrats in Congress to set politics aside and pass the USMCA,” Pence said Monday.

He urged attendees to call U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis and tell them, “Tennessee needs the USMCA.”

Sec. of Agriculture talks to local farmers, pushes new trade deal (WTVF-TV)

Farmers had the opportunity to ask the secretary several questions. Some soybean farmers said they were weary because of the tariffs China placed on U.S. Soybeans in response to tariffs the U.S. placed on Chinese imports.

“Farmers get that – they’re honest people, they want to be treated fairly,” said Perdue. “The fact is they know China hasn’t been playing by the rules for a long time.”

Lee administration gives first look at findings from health care meetings

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter has written an op-ed for The Tennessean about what he has found out during a series of closed-door meetings about the state health care in the state. Details of Gov. Bill Lee’s health care modernization task force are expected to be released later this week.

The placement of the op-ed is curious given that the paper’s own news staff was thwarted in its efforts to cover the meetings.

McWhorter said the meetings involved the heads of eight state agencies and private sector experts to “explore improving rural health, reducing chronic conditions, improving transparency and helping to foster innovation.” The discussions are apparently separate from the Medicaid block grant proposal that was panned in a series of public hearings last week.

McWhorter warned that there’s “no silver bullet,” but gave this summary of what was found:

  • First, we heard that transportation is a significant barrier to care. Lack of transportation keeps some Tennesseans from having access to a primary care physician or out-patient services. This inevitably leads to medical problems becoming unmanageable, requiring emergency transportation and services for conditions that could have been managed better.
  • Second, technology, including telehealth, is an underutilized tool in addressing access issues, especially in rural areas of our state. This technology is already having significant positive impacts for other industries. For example, telehealth has enabled schools and law enforcement to provide health care and better manage behavioral health issues which resulted in fewer school absences and reduced jail time.
  • Third, rural areas are hit harder by these issues than other parts of the state, specifically in regard to lack of providers. Tennessee, not unlike other states, continually struggles to attract providers, which can lead to hospital and physician practice closures and, subsequently, a lack of available care within reasonable proximity to Tennesseans.
  • Fourth, addressing social determinants of health could help foster healthier generations. Such efforts can aid in reducing costs, particularly for consumers during a national transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, but also for taxpayers as some costly medical services are preventable by introducing basic lifestyle changes.
  • The fifth and final theme touched on the market challenges related to medical billing. This issue is complex and includes some of the largest facets of our health care system. There is no quick solution for this issue, but it is one our state will need to have a detailed conversation about in the months and years ahead.

Strickland re-elected mayor of Memphis, voters OK sales tax hike

Incumbent Jim Strickland was re-elected mayor Memphis and voters in the city approved a proposal to hike the city’s local option sales tax from 2.25% to 2.75% to restore benefits that had been cut for for police and firefighters in 2015.

“Politics can be pretty toxic… Today’s vote shows that it doesn’t have to be,” the Commercial Appeal quoted Strickland as telling supporters after the vote. “We can disagree without being divisive. That is the campaign I have run. That is the way that I lead. I have been and will continue to be everybody’s mayor.”

Strickland took 62% of the vote. Willie Herenton, a former 18-year mayor, received 29%. County Commissioner Tami Sawyer got 7%. None of the other eight candidates (including the eternal Prince Mongo) received more than 0.5%.

The sales tax referendum passed on a 52%-48% vote. Officials were quick to point out that voters can’t dictate how sales tax money is spent, but that they will follow the will of the electorate in dedicating the money toward police and firefighters.