Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

House GOP to nominate new speaker July 24

Republican members vote during a House GOP caucus meeting in Nashville on Nov. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Let the countdown begin. The House Republican Caucus plans to meet on July 24 to nominate a new speaker to succeed Rep. Glen Casada, who is stepping down following a loss-of-confidence vote.

(This post has been updated with the morning of July 24 being the scheduled date, not the afternoon of the 23rd, as earlier reported.)

The move comes as lawmakers await word from Gov. Bill Lee about the timing of a special session to hold a formal vote on replacing the speaker. The governor has said he plans to summon lawmakers back to Nashville in mid to late August, but had not settled on a specific date as of Tuesday, according to The Tennessean.

The declared Republican candidates for speaker so far include Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Cutis Johnson of Clarksville, Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, and Jay Reedy of Erin. House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville has recused himself from scheduling and logistics decisions surrounding the speaker vote because he is strongly considering a bid of his own. Others mulling bids include Reps. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station and Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

 

Rep. Jay Reedy announces bid for speaker

Rep. Jay Reedy is the latest candidate for succeed Glen Casada as House speaker. In a letter to colleagues, the Erin Republican speaks out against “self indulgence and moral corruption.”

“We turn our backs on our country and family when we come to Capitol Hill and forget why we are elected,” he writes.

Reedy joins Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, and Curtis Johnson of Clarksville as announced candidates for speaker. Others considering bids include Reps. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Ryan Williams of Cookeville, and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station.

Reedy says he won’t make phone calls or harass member in the campaign for speaker. But he says he looks forward to discussing his bid with colleagues.

Here’s Reedy’s full letter:

Dear Colleagues,

The Eyes of Tennessee are upon us!

Things are forgotten from one generation to the next, which should not be.

It seems that we have forgotten God, Country, and Family. We hold to self-indulgence and moral corruption that goes against Gods Laws. We turn our backs on our country and family when we come to Capitol Hill and forget why we are elected.

The reason that I fought to be elected to HD 74 was to continue my service to God and Country, as I had as an enlisted U.S. Army Soldier and later as a U.S. Army Reserve Officer.

Respect and responsibility require much trust! The trust that we share in the Honorable Tennessee House of Representatives is a must, among the members, for the future of ALL Tennesseans.

Seven Basic Values that I was taught in the Army:

Loyalty – Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other soldiers.

Duty – Fulfill your obligations.

Respect – Treat people as they should be treated.

Selfless Service – Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.

Honor – Live up to all the Army values.

Integrity – Do what’s right, legally and morally.

Personal Courage – Face fear, danger, or adversity (physical or moral).

(I have, will, and will take these values to my end.)

I have the ambition, drive, tenacity, self-confidence, and psychological openness, to continue to be the leader for God, Country, and Family!

The future of all Tennesseans matter!

After much prayers, thoughts, and conversations, I feel obligated to run for the upcoming open- position of Speaker of the House for the remainder of the 111th General Assembly.

I would be honored to have your vote of confidence to serve as your next speaker!

Respectfully,

Jay Reedy

PS: I will not be making phone calls and harassing you for your vote. I look forward in speaking/meeting with you to discuss the future goals of the House of Representatives.

Carter Lawrence sworn in as interim Commerce & Insurance commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee has sworn in Carter Lawrence as the interim commissioner of Commerce & Insurance. He succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, who left to take take a job in the private sector.

Lawrence, of Williamson County, had served as deputy commissioner for the department’s administration and for regulatory boards. He has law and business degrees from the University of Tennessee.

McPeak was a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.  Greenberg Traurig announced last week that she is founding the law firm’s new Nashville office — the company’s 41st location worldwide and 31st in the U.S.

McPeak was president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners last year.

Editor’s note: The Tennessee Journal is on summer break next week. Blog posting will be lighter than usual until July 1. 

Haslam to decide on Senate bid within 3 weeks

Former Gov. Bill Haslam (right) and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander attend the state Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on June 15, 2019.

Republican Bill Haslam plans to make up his mind about a U.S. Senate bid within the next two or three weeks, the former governor told reporters at the state GOP’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner fundraiser.

Haslam said it’s been his intention to decide about whether to make a bid to succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) within six months of leaving the governor’s office.

The former governor sat a table alongside Alexander, junior Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood), and U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty.

Hagerty would be expected to give the race some serious consideration if Haslam doesn’t run. U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) is also mulling a campaign. Surgeon Manny Sethi of Nashville announced his candidacy earlier this month.

Haslam said he enjoyed being back in political circles.

“I loved the job, and when you come back and see a lot of people you haven’t seen, you miss that,” he said. “But being a private citizen has its upsides, too.”

Gov. Lee to call special session on Casada replacement in mid-August

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call a special session for a House vote to replace Speaker Glen Casada in mid-August.

The governor announced his decision to call the special session in a press conference before the state Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner on Saturday.

Casada (R-Franklin) has said he plans to plan resign on Aug. 2 after losing a vote of confidence among members of the House Republican Caucus last month.

House Republicans expect Casada to keep to his original resignation date, meaning Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) would preside until a permanent replacement is elected during the special session.

A House Republican Caucus meeting to nominate the next speaker could be held in the latter half of next month.

Gov. Lee to head trade mission to Japan, South Korea

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

Gov. Bill Lee is headed to Asia on a trade mission later this month, his office announced Thursday. Lee will be joined on the five-day trip by Bobby Rolfe, the commissioner of economic and community development. It’s the first-year governor’s first international trip and it will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Asia June 17 through June 21 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with Asian businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee. This will be Gov. Lee’s first international economic development trip.

During the five-day trip, Lee and Rolfe will discuss Tennessee’s business advantages with a number of Asian businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

“I look forward to traveling to Asia next week on my first international recruitment trip and having the opportunity to meet with business leaders as we showcase the many advantages of doing business in Tennessee,” Lee said. “We are proud to be home to more than 1,000 foreign-owned companies and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that will help companies from around the globe grow and succeed in the Volunteer State.”

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Here’s what the state is doing in response to 2-year-old’s drowning at Cummins Falls

The drowning death of 2-year-old Steven Pierce has caused state officials to close off access to Cummins Falls. The boy was among dozens of people caught off guard by flooding at the park. Thirteen had to be rescued from the waters.

The death is the third at Cummins Falls in the past two years and has led to questions from a bipartisan group of state lawmakers about why the Department of Environment and Conservation had not yet followed through with plans to install a warning system at the park to alert visitors to rising water levels in the gorge.

Here is a memorandum prepared by Jim Bryson, the agency’s deputy commissioner, about plans moving forward.

MEMORANDUM

TO: David W. Salyers, Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

FROM: Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

DATE: June 12, 2019

SUBJECT: Cummins Falls Update

Responding to the Cummins Falls incident remains a top priority. The falls and gorge area are currently closed and will remain closed until we can evaluate the incident and review and implement additional safety protocols. The department will provide further notifications and updates as available.

Ongoing actions:

  • The After Action Report will be completed to investigate and document park policies and actions before, during and after the incident. From this report, additional measures may be identified.
  • Parks and Conservation GIS team has identified the watershed area for the region. See attached map.
  • We are currently talking to the National Weather Service to clarify watershed area that needs to be monitored continually and to agree on a new protocol for warning of potentially dangerous situations.
  • Flash flood warning signs will be posted at trailheads leading to the gorge.
  • An emergency procurement authorization has been secured to purchase and install a water flow monitoring system as an early warning system. It will be installed with all possible speed.
  • Parks has a funded capital project for a Visitor Center which will have the facilities for conducting safety programs. We are looking to implement a permit requirement that will help us manage the visitation and ensure visitors have attended the safety program before going down into the gorge.
  • The Visitors Center will be set up to have monitors for regular weather updates and the ability to receive notification from the flow meters that we are working with TTU to implement.

At a minimum, the falls and gorge area will remain closed until the department conducts a full assessment of the circumstances and considers and implements additional protocols to address rain events in the watershed area.

State Rep. Vincent Dixie sued by former campaign worker

A former campaign worker for state Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) is suing the freshman lawmaker for unpaid wages.

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports that Tamika White, the former field worker, alleges she was evicted from her home last month “in large part due to (Dixie’s) nonpayment” of $4,750 in ages.

Dixie said he had spoken with White a few months ago about paying the remaining balance of her wages over the next three months because he had to replenish his campaign funds and couldn’t raise money during the session.

“We don’t have any written contract,” Dixie said. “I can’t find it.”

“I don’t mind paying what I owe,” said Dixie, who has so far only paid White $1,750. “But I’m not going to pay some amount that (his attorney) has made up and thrown out there and thinks it’s going to stick.”

Dixie had $1,890 in his campaign account as of his most recent filing.

Several House Republicans want earlier Casada exit

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several House Republicans are calling for embattled House Speaker Glen Casada to step aside sooner than his planned Aug. 2 exit date.

“I definitely think he needs to go sooner. He can resign. We have a speaker pro tem who can step in until we could have an election at whatever time is appropriate,” Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) told Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) is the speaker pro tem.

“I definitely think (Casada) doesn’t have the confidence of the legislature, that’s clear,” Hazlewood added. “I think he doesn’t have the confidence of the governor and other people across the state.”

Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) said he’s worried about extending Casada’s power to make key appointments to boards and commissions, including the panel tasked with overseeing the state’s new online sports gaming law.

“If he’d given me some reason, that might have helped me to try and understand it,” said Carter, a candidate to succeed Casada. “But now with all these appointments and things coming, I’m just concerned about it. The bleeding continues.”

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Casada retains appointment power until resignation

Among the panels up for new appointments is the nine-member Lottery Corporation Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which was created under a law passed this session and allowed to go into force without Gov. Bill Lee’s signature. The governor and the House and Senate speakers each get three appointments to the panel.

Among the potential Republican candidate to succeed Casada, three voted for sports gambling bill (Reps. Curtis Johnson, Cameron Sexton, and Robin Smith), while four voted against (Reps. Mike Carter, Bill Dunn, Matthew Hill, and Jerry Sexton.)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally also voted against the sports gambling bill.

Another panel is the reconstituted 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Casada gets four appointments on the panel, one of whom must be an an attorney and three others who cannot be an attorney or a current or former judge.

“I find it just shocking that the disgraced House speaker gets to name anybody to a sports gambling commission and a judicial oversight panel,” said former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe, a former Republican state senator and onetime U.S. ambassador to Poland.  “I would think the Republican majority would want to prevent that from happening.”

Scott Gilmer, who took over as chief of staff to the speaker following the resignation of Cade Cothren as Casada’s chief aide, told the paper the appointments need to made soon.

“Members of the gaming commission need to undergo a background check and that would take some work there,” he said.

Other boards, commissions, and councils with upcoming vacancies include the TennCare Pharmacy Advisory Committee, Advisory Council on State Procurement, the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission, the Commission on Aging and Disability, and Energy Efficient Schools Council. The House speaker has the power to fill two positions on each panel.

“My guess is I don’t think the speaker will fill most of these,” Gilmer said. “Probably most of these we’ll leave to the next person. But if there’s some more pressing ones like the Board of Judicial Conduct and the gaming commission, I think he could appoint those. But we haven’t yet.”