Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

FBI searches nursing school founded by Democratic state senator

The FBI has executed search warrants at a Memphis  home and nursing school of Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson.

Toranio Bishop, who works at the nearby Detroit Barbershop, told the Commercial Appeal he said he saw what appeared to be FBI agents enter the nursing school at at 7 a.m. Friday.

“They came in like a parade,” Bishop told the paper, adding that  students arriving  at the school then left immediately.

The lawmaker didn’t immediately respond to questions from the Commercial Appeal or the Daily Memphian.

“We’ve been made aware of the investigation and have received no indication that it relates to the legislature or her legislative service,” said Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Brandon Puttbrese. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we will not be making additional statements and will defer any further questions to Sen. Robinson’s attorney. Our thoughts are with Sen. Robinson and her family.”

Robinson founded the Healthcare Institute in 2015, according to its website. The for-profit school received at least $1.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 

Robinson in 2018 defeated incumbent Sen. Reginald Tate in the Democratic primary. Tate died last year.

 

Tennessee AG joins effort to block Equal Rights Amendment

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is joining four counterparts in Republican states in trying to block an effort to revive the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Virginia lawmakers last month ratified the amendment stating that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Supporters argue that Virginia is the 38th state to approve of the language, meeting the requirement that three-fourths of states agree to amend the Constitution.

Opponents point to the a ratification deadline set by Congress was 1979 and that it was later extended only to 1982. Those deadlines are unenforceable, according to a lawsuit filed by Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the amendment in 1972, but voted to rescinded their action in 1974.

Read the release from Slatery’s office after the jump:

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Lee now to pursue family leave policy through legislation

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

Gov. Bill Lee’s effort to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to state workers to care for a new child or an ill family member will now be pursued through legislation rather than by executive order. The governor’s office said the change will allow employees from all three branches of government to benefit from the change.

“After consultation with legislative leaders, we feel the best course of action is to implement paid family leave via legislation rather than executive order,” Lee said in a statement. “We will propose legislation that is retroactive to March 1, 2020, so that no state employee is negatively impacted by this change in course.”

Speakers seek delay of sports gambling in Tennessee amid questions about draft rules

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Legislative leaders want the Tennessee Lottery to delay the approval of sports gambling rules. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) wrote in a letter to Lottery Chair Susan Lanigan on Friday that some of the draft rules are outside the scope of the gaming law passed last year.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Ms. Lanigan,
We would respectfully request that the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation Board of Directors and the Sports Wagering Advisory Council delay voting on the rules to implement the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.”

There have been concerns brought to our attention that some of the rules, as drafted, may be outside the authority given to the Board or Council pursuant to the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” For example, there is concern that the additional categories of licenses created within the rules aren’t within the scope or authority of the Board or Council under the “Tennessee Sports Gaming Act.” Specifically, the Sports Pool Intermediary License and the Vendor License, and associated fees, are not authorized in the Act.

Please feel free to contact our office with any questions you have regarding this letter,

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

/signed/
Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton

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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