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Sethi on Hagerty’s entry into Senate race: It’s on.

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi in a fundraising email welcomes former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty to the U.S. Senate race, casting himself as the “conservative outsider” versus the “consummate insider.”

The race is now set, and the choice is all the more clear: a political insider, close friend of Mitt Romney, and the choice of the professional political class versus the true conservative outsider who has lived the American Dream in Tennessee.

It’s the consummate insider, versus the conservative outsider.

Like President Trump, I’m a conservative outsider, taking on the establishment, but I can’t do it alone.

The challenge for Sethi will be to try to somehow drive a wedge between Hagerty and his endorsement from Trump without alienating the president’s supporters in the Republican primary.

Blackburn to stay neutral in GOP primary for U.S. Senate

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a rally in Franklin on Oct. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

First-year U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn plans to stay on the sidelines of the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Speaking to The Tennessee Journal before Bill Hagerty joined the race, Blackburn said she expected the former U.S. ambassador to Japan to be “a fabulous candidate” if he got in. Also running for the GOP nomination is Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

Blackburn noted Hagerty has the benefit of President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

“As the president said when he kind of outed him,  he will have the president’s full support,” Blackburn said. “We will stay out of the primary and let the voters have their say and looking forward to supporting the Republican who’s going to be the next U.S. Senator from Tennessee.”

Surprise! Hagerty joins U.S. Senate race

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty has officially joined the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee:

Here’s Hagerty’s statement:

Serving in President Trump’s administration was the honor of a lifetime, but when I saw the threat to Tennessee and our country from the Democrats’ socialist agenda, I felt called to act.  We must stand up to radical liberals like The Squad and their liberal socialist agenda that would deeply damage the America we know and love. With President Trump’s support, I’m ready to fight for your family in the U.S. Senate. In the coming months, we’re going to be working hard and traveling to every corner of our beautiful state to earn your trust. If you’re looking for a conservative family man with real experience, who will stand with President Trump, we’re running this campaign for you.

Rep. Farmer ends law firm advertising campaign touting lawmaker role

State Rep. Andrew Farmer, a likely choice to become House judiciary chairman had an unrelated leadership vote turned out differently, has abandoned a billboard campaign for his law firm touting his role as “an actual lawmaker,” The Tennessean’Joel Ebert reports.

“Who better to argue the law than an actual lawmaker?” read the billboards advertising Farmer’s personal injury, criminal defense, and family law practice.

Farmer said he sought approval from the state Board of Professional Responsibility and ethics officials about the language used in the ads before putting them up. He then started getting calls from constituents raising concerns.

“The first phone call I got, they said, it might be some people are taking this the wrong way,” Farmer told the paper. He then decided to change the billboards.

Farmer, of Sevierville, is the chairman of the House criminal justice subcommittee. He was widely believed to be the frontrunner to succeed House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curico had the latter won his bid for House Republican Caucus chairman. But Curcio lost to Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), so nothing has changed within the Judiciary Committee.

Farmer said he doesn’t use his elected office to drum up business.

“When I talk to clients … I don’t say, ‘Hey hire me because I’m in the legislature,'” he said. “I think that’s over the line.”

Read the full story here.

Lee names EPB vice president as new Commerce and Insurance commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee has named Hodgen Mainda, a vice president of Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, as commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance. He succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, who left for a job in the private sector.

Here’s the release announcing Mainda’s appointment from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Hodgen Mainda will serve in his cabinet as commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance. 

“Hodgen joins my cabinet after an outstanding career as a community leader in Chattanooga,” said Lee. “He is respected for his ability to build partnerships across multiple sectors and we welcome his leadership to such a multifaceted department like Commerce & Insurance.”

Mainda currently serves as the vice president for community development at the Electric Power Board (EPB) in Chattanooga which is the first provider of Gigabit internet in the country. In his role with the EPB, Mainda built partnerships across the state and federal level and increased EPB’s role in regional economic development. 

In addition to his work with EPB, Mainda serves on several non-profit boards including the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club, the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor’s Roundtable and the College of Business Advisory Board. Mainda is also a member of the Leadership Tennessee Class of 2019 and a 2018 graduate of the Harvard Business School Young American Leaders Program.

A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Mainda, moved to Tennessee in 1997 to study at Middle Tennessee State University. He is a graduate of the University of Eastern Africa and currently resides in Chattanooga with his wife and two children.

Mainda will begin at the Department of Commerce & Insurance on October 1, 2019.

Haslam to teach political science course at Vanderbilt

Gov. Billl Haslam speaks at an event at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville on Aug. 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Gov. Bill Haslam is teaching a course at Vanderbilt University this fall. The Republican will join professor John Geer and author Jon Meacham in the course examining leadership strategies of U.S. presidents and of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and civil rights leader Rosa Parks.

Here’s the full release from Vanderbilt:

Former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has joined Vanderbilt’s faculty as a distinguished visiting professor of political science this fall.

Haslam, who served as mayor of Knoxville prior to his two terms as governor, will join John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science, and historian Jon Meacham, who holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in the American Presidency, to teach a popular upper-level undergraduate course titled “Leadership.”

“I am excited about the opportunity to be in class with John Geer and Jon Meacham,” Haslam said. “This class will be a great forum for a lively discussion about leadership in today’s political environment, understood in a historical context. I look forward to sharing some observations and lessons learned from serving as a mayor and governor.”

‘Leadership’ examines the actions of political actors in the interest of better understanding how these individuals not only made important decisions but encouraged and inspired others to support their vision of the nation. In addition to the U.S. presidents, this year’s course will closely study the leadership strategies of former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor and civil rights leader Rosa Parks.

“Leadership is an intrinsic and yet mysterious force in human affairs, and the best way to prepare students for the responsibilities that await them, I think, is to consider how leaders of the past have struggled with the defining issues of the ages,” Meacham said.

“In this era of polarized political discourse, it is important to take a clear-headed look at leadership and its importance to the political system,” Geer added. “This course seeks to accomplish that important goal. Governor Haslam’s experience and insight offers important perspectives, because not only has he practiced leadership in his years of public service, he has given serious thought to the subject. With Jon Meacham’s historical insight, students will have multiple ways to engage with this critical topic.”

Gov. Haslam is a Knoxville native. Educated at the Webb School and Emory University, he was an executive at Pilot Corporation and Saks Fifth Avenue before pursuing public office. Haslam has also served as chair of the Republican Governors Association. He and his wife, Crissy, have three children and eight grandchildren, and split their time between Knoxville and Nashville.

Sethi steps down from nonprofit to focus on Senate race

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is stepping down as head of Healthy Tennessee while concentrating on his bid for the U.S. Senate. Sethi’s wife, Maya, will assume his former duties as president and CEO of the organization, which provides free health fairs and organizes symposiums and candidate forums.

Sethi is the only major Republican in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander so far. Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty is expected to formally enter the the race soon.

Here’s the release from the Sethi campaign:

Nashville, TN — Dr. Manny Sethi, co-founder of Healthy Tennessee and Nashville orthopedic trauma surgeon, announced today that he is stepping down as President and CEO of Healthy Tennessee. Maya Sethi, co-founder of Healthy Tennessee, will assume the duties of President and CEO.

“When Maya and I founded Healthy Tennessee, we did it because of our passion for the health of our fellow Tennesseans. Ten years later that passion still drives both of us, and while I’m focused on meeting folks around our state as I seek public office, Healthy Tennessee is in great hands with my wife, Maya, While I will not be in a leadership role for the coming months I will continue to be involved on the board and joining together with our volunteers across the state to care for patients,” stated Dr. Manny.

Healthy Tennessee has provided free health fairs, educational opportunities, and symposiums to thousands of Tennesseans in dozens of locations over the last decade. Several health care events are in the planning stages, including a statewide summit on the opioid crisis on October 7. Healthy Tennessee held a similar event in 2018 with Governor Bill Lee, Senator Marsha Blackburn, former Mayor Karl Dean and former Governor Phil Bredesen as a few of the speakers.

“I look forward to taking over as President and CEO of Healthy Tennessee so that we can continue to create more awareness about better health lifestyles in our state. We’ve experienced so much success at every level in these communities and strongly believe that our mission has just begun,” Maya Sethi said. “Healthy Tennessee will diligently work to ensure our boots on the ground operation continues.”

Maya Sethi is a litigation attorney with almost 15 years of experience. Prior to her current role as General Counsel for Rocketship Education, a national non-profit charter school management organization, she practiced white collar defense and commercial litigation. Maya also has practiced in the litigation department at HCA.

She is currently the President of the board of Tennessee Voices for Victims and serves on the board of Children’s House Montessori.

Maya and Manny Sethi live in Nashville where they are raising their two children.

Here are Sexton’s House committee assignments

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the committee assignments made by new House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) upon his election to lead the chamber last week. Additions are in italics (full committees only).

Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee
Chair – Halford
Vice Chair – Todd
Carter
Cepicky
Chism
Holsclaw
Holt
Hulsey
Keisling
Marsh
Moody
Shaw
Stewart

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Pro-voucher group targets freshman Republican in online ads

A national pro-voucher group is going on the attack against at least one lawmaker who voted against Gov. Bill Lee’s signature “education savings account” legislation, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi report.

The American Federation for Children, which is once chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has run online ads targeting freshman Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) as having “turned his back on President Trump” by voting against the bill.

An American Federation for Children ad targeting Rep. Mark Cochran.

Cochran was hardly alone in opposing the voucher measure. The roll call was 49-49 on the House floor in May, but then-Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) kept the voting board open for 40 minutes in an effort to get one member to flip to the ‘yes’ column.

Among the other Republican opponents of the bill: Newly-elected House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

A spokesman for the Tennessee chapter of the American Federation for Children refused to comment about the ad or whether other lawmakers might be targeted. The group spent about $6,400 in direct mailers supporting Cochran in last year’s election.

“This type of activity obviously doesn’t have an impact on me and is just part of politics,” Cochran said in a statement to the AP. “At this point, I’m looking ahead at our next session and am excited about the progress we’ll continue to make for Tennesseans.”

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, was critical of the attack ads.

“They not only attack pro-public school legislators, they’ve sent positive mail into districts of pro-voucher legislators,” said Jim Wrye, the organization’s spokesman and lobbyist. “They hide vouchers as well as they can on the mailer. Yet as any Tennessee teacher knows, when you’re afraid to explain what you’ve done, you know it’s wrong.”

Nashville mayor blasts comptroller’s letter as ‘political document’

Nashville Mayor David Briley is blasting a letter from state Comptroller Justin Wilson‘s office questioning the city’s finances as “essentially a political document.” The letter, Briley said, was instigated by Councilman John Cooper, his opponent in Nashville’s mayoral runoff next month.

“It’s my understanding that Councilman Cooper and his conservative, Republican friends on the council solicited it,” Briley said in a candidate debate Monday evening. “So he certainly should know a fair amount about it.”

The comptroller is elected by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which has a long track record of nullifying ordinances enacted in the heavily Democratic city.

Cooper, the brother of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), called the letter a “big wake-up call” as Nashville’s debt has doubled over the last four years.

“The facts speak for themselves,” Cooper said. “It’s not Republican and Democratic — I’m, of course, a long-time Democrat myself — it’s dollars and cents. Are we being well-managed? Are we on it?”

Briley cited the city’s strong credit rating from Moody’s as an objective seal of approval for the Nashville’s finances.

“Our finances are, in fact, under control,” he said. “And when the final budget is assessed at the end of this year, you’ll see that our fund balances are actually up over last year.”

The runoff is on Sept. 12. Early voting is underway and runs through Sept. 7.