Monthly Archives: February 2020

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.

Photo gallery of Bloomberg visit to Tennessee

Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg visited Chattanooga and Nashville as part of his campaign strategy of targeting states voting on Super Tuesday and beyond. Here are some photos of the former New York mayor’ appearance in Chattanooga on Wednesday.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg meets with supporters after speaking at a rally in Chattanooga on Feb. 12, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg waits backstage to speak a rally in Chattanooga on Feb. 12, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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A WashPost reviewer didn’t like a book likening Trumpism to a cult. Fake news, says TN lawmaker

Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), standing,, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Washington Post is fake news, according to a resolution sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss. The Jonesborough Republican wants to condemn the paper for an Oct. 3, 2019, article which purportedly “suggested that Trumpism is cult-like.”

The article in question appears to be a review written by Marc Fisher in the Post’s opinion section of a book titled The Cult of Trump, by Steven Hassan, a former member of Sun Myun Moon’s Unification Church.

Fisher in his review takes serious issue with Hassan’s premise, arguing that the word cult “turns out not to be a very useful guide to the nature of charismatic leaders.” Fisher goes on to say:

The search for evidence that the president has some unnatural hold on his supporters can feel too much like an effort to bash them.

So in conclusion, Van Huss wants to label The Washington Post fake news because a reviewer didn’t like the central thesis of a book likening Trump to a cultist.

So where does that leave Van Huss?

Here’s a look at the fundraising sweepstakes among legislative incumbents

Lawmakers await the start of Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was the top fundraiser among legislative incumbents in 2019 with $349,701, followed by freshman state Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), who raised $227,881.

On the other end of the spectrum is embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro), whose $1,500 was the least amount raised by an incumbent up for re-election in 2020. Byrd, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by former players when he was  high school basketball coach in the 1980s, appeared to be waffling on an earlier pledge not to run again, but has ultimately said he won’t seek another term.

Other House members who haven’t been very active on the fundraising front are Memphis Democrats G.A. Hardaway ($2,900), John DeBerry ($4,250), and Joe Towns ($5,750). On the Republican side, Reps. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) raised $3,250, Mike Carter of Ooltewah brought in $3,900, and Bruce Griffey of Paris landed just $8,400.

See the full list of fundraising totals after the jump.

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Bloomberg to campaign in Chattanooga, Nashville on Wednesday

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is scheduled to appear in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, the first day of early voting for Tennessee’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

Bloomberg previously visited Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville in December and January, while most of the other candidates have been focused on the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries. Bloomberg decided to sit those contests out in favor of concentrating on the far larger number of delegates available on Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg’s Tennessee events are being held at the  Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga at 2 p.m. Eastern and at Rocketown in Nashville at 7 p.m. Central. The latter was a favorite among Republicans running for president in the 2016 cycle, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich.

Here’s the release from the Bloomberg campaign:

NASHVILLE — Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will be in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, February 12 to hold rallies marking the start of early voting in the state ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.

This is Mike’s third trip to Tennessee since announcing his candidacy in late November.

In late December, Mike announced his national healthcare policy in Memphis and kicked off the grand opening of the state campaign headquarters in Nashville. He returned to the state on January 10 to open the Knoxville regional field office.

“The time, resources and attention Mike gives Tennessee shows his care and focus on Tennessee voters,” said Courtney Wheeler, Tennessee state director for Mike Bloomberg 2020. “We are glad to see he cares about our voices and are looking forward to giving him another big welcome this week.

The campaign’s deep presence in Tennessee is part of Bloomberg’s  campaign to engage voters, win delegates on Super Tuesday and defeat Donald Trump.

 

Poll: Gov. Bill Lee has 55% approval rating

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has a 55% approval rating going into his second year in office, according to a new Mason-Dixon poll. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they disapproved of the governor’s performance, while 18% were unsure.

Lee’s popularity was highest among fellow Republicans, 79% of whom viewed him favorably, while 26% of Democrats had a positive view of the governor. About half of independents approved.

The pollsters also asked respondents how they would vote in head-to-head matchups in the U.S. Senate race. Respondents said they would prefer Republican Bill Hagerty over Democrat James Mackler by 55% to 33%, and Republican Manny Sethi over Mackler by 46% to 35%. Mason-Dixon did not release details on the GOP primary matchup between Hagerty and Sethi.

The poll of 625 registered voters, including 247 Republicans, 207 independents, and 171 Democrats, was conducted between Jan. 28 and Jan. 30. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Nashville and Shelby County sue to block school voucher law

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

The governments of Metropolitan Nashville and Shelby County have filed a lawsuit seeking to block Tennessee’s school voucher bill from going into effect.

The lawsuit filed in Nashville Chancery Court on Thursday claims the law violates home rule provisions of the state constitution by “unilaterally and arbitrarily” having the Education Savings Account, or ESA, Atc affect only students in Nashville and Shelby County.

“The General Assembly cannot impose its will on only two counties without their approval,” according to the lawsuit. “If the legislature believes that education savings accounts are good policy, it may pass a bill of general application so that all counties share the purported benefits of the program. If the legislature prefers to limit the bill’s application to two counties, it must include a local-approval option and hope the program’s merits will convince the affective counties to choose to participate. The ESA Act does neither and is the very model of such prohibited legislation.”

Lawmakers narrowly passed the voucher last year after the Lee administration agreed to back away from initial efforts to have the bill apply to the state’s four largest counties. Lawmakers from other parts of the state felt so strongly about excluding (or “protecting,” as some put it) their districts from the bill that they included a provision stating that if a judge were to rule that limiting the bill to just Nashville and Shelby County were unconstitutional, the whole program would be canceled rather than have it apply statewide.  The “reverse severability clause” has become a major focus of efforts to defeat the voucher legislation in court.

Supporters of the legal challenge point to a  2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays that struck down a state law allowing six Shelby County municipalities to hold referendums on creating new school systems. Mays, a onetime chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist, found the legislation paving the way for those votes violated the state constitution because it affected just one county.

In examining the legislative history of the bill, Mays determined it “never would have passed had it not been intended to apply only to Shelby County.” Opponents of the voucher bill say the same applies to last year’s legislation, with the caveat that the measure also included low-income students enrolled in Nashville.

Mays noted in his 2012 ruling that the state Supreme Court had upheld the power of the General Assembly to have laws apply to a certain class of counties (e.g., those with a population of 300,000 or more), but only if it was based on “reasonable, rational and pragmatic rules [of construction] as opposed to theoretical, illusory, or merely possible considerations.” The judge determined that the municipal school bid had been passed with “a wink and a nod” about its intentions.

The voucher bill didn’t use population brackets to tie the law Nashville and Shelby County, instead basing eligibility on how many schools have fallen among the state’s worst in the past — a static measure, meaning no other district could join the ranks of voucher eligibility in the future.

Gov. Bill Lee in his State of the State address this week pledged to press ahead with implementing the voucher law.

“We created the Tennessee Education Savings Account Program, which will serve low-income students in districts with the highest number of low-performing schools,” he said. “Disruption is hard and sometimes controversial. But we cannot expect extraordinarily different outcomes without extraordinarily different inputs, so I’m proud of these initiatives, and I look forward to their success.”

Poll: Trump has big advantage over any Democrat in Tennessee

New polling results suggest President Donald Trump doesn’t have much to fear in his efforts to carry Tennessee again in November. According to a survey by Mason-Dixon, Tennessee voters give Trump a wide advantage, regardless of who turns out to be the Democratic nominee.

Here are the head to heads:

  • Trump 55%, Joe Biden 39%.
  • Trump 57%, Bernie Sanders 37%.
  • Trump 57%, Elizabeth Warren 36%.
  • Trump 55%, Pete Buttigieg 38%.
  • Trump 54%, Mike Bloomberg 39%.

The poll of 625 registered voters, including 247 Republicans, 207 independents, and 171 Democrats, was conducted between Jan. 28 and Jan. 30. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Tennessee Super Tuesday presidential primary is on March 3.