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Casada considering bid for vacant whip position

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) greets colleagues during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to allow the House majority whip position to remain vacant for the rest of the year has been abandoned and the caucus now plans to hold a vote on Jan. 27. Speculation immediately turned to whether Rep. Glen Casada, who was driven from the House speakership last year, might jump in the race.

Casada (R-Franklin) tells The Tennessee Journal he hasn’t yet made up his mind. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s made a leadership rebound. Casada was widely seen as the Republican favorite to be nominated speaker in 2010, not least because of the fierce opposition by then-ascendant tea party forces to Beth Harwell’s bid. But Casada ended up losing to Harwell (R-Nashville).

Instead of sending him into internal exile, Harwell decided to keep Casada in the fold by naming him chairman of the Health Committee. He received high marks in that role but was soon back to focusing on politics over policy after winning back his former post as House Republican Caucus chairman two years later. But Casada increasingly became a thorn in Harwell’s side in that role (and later as majority leader) by encouraging GOP colleagues to pursue hot-button bills as he began preparing for his own speaker’s bid.

The House majority whip’s main responsibility in election years is to oversee incumbents’ reelection efforts. The position is open because of the resignation of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) amid a caucus fight over anonymous Twitter posts. The post has previously been held by the likes of Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) and former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).

The latest edition of the Blue Book is yellow

This year’s version of the Tennessee Blue Book honors the 100th anniversary of the state’s ratification of 19th Amendment granting women  the right to vote. The book’s cover is yellow — the color of the women’s suffrage movement. It’s the first time the bianniel volume has appeared in a non-blue cover since the 2013-2014 edition, which was orange to honor Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit. About half of that year’s edition appeared with the orange cover, while almost all of the newest version will appear in yellow.

Blue Books had white covers for much of the 1960s and early 1970s. They changed over to the familiar blue covers for in 1975.

Here’s the release from the Secretary of State’s office.

Nashville, Tenn. – The 2019-2020 edition of the Tennessee Blue Book, released this week, honors the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
 
Initially introduced to Congress in 1878, the 19th Amendment was not submitted to the states for ratification for 41 years. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th (and final) state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, thereby making women’s suffrage legal in the United States.
 
“This commemorative edition honors the steadfast efforts of Tennessee suffragists and the pivotal role Tennessee played in ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “It is fitting to dedicate our state’s official historical reference, the Tennessee Blue Book, to this significant milestone.”
 
The cover of the 2019-2020 Tennessee Blue Book is yellow, honoring the symbolic color of the national women’s suffrage movement.
 
Published every two years, the Tennessee Blue Book is the definitive manual on Tennessee state government. It features detailed information about all three branches of government, Tennessee state history, biographies of elected and appointed state officials, census data, election statistics, and more.
 
The 2019-2020 Blue Book, published by the Secretary of State’s office, is available free of charge to any Tennessee resident through members of the General Assembly or the Division of Publications at (615) 741-2650 or publications.information@tn.gov.
 
Previous editions of the Tennessee Blue Book can be viewed at sos.tn.gov.

Company announces plans to build fiber optic system from DC suburb to Nashville

A fiber optic system would connect the Washington suburbs and Nashville under a plan announced Monday. Osprey Communications said it had struck a deal with the Virginia Department of Transportation to build the underground fiber line beneath highway rights of way from Haymarket to Bristol, Va. The company plans to continue that deployment across the state line and onward to Nashville.

Here’s the full release:

Blacksburg, Va.— Paul Elswick, Chief Executive Officer of Osprey Communications, LLC (Osprey) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Stephen Brich today announced that VDOT and Osprey have executed a Fiber Optic Resource Sharing Agreement.  This agreement and the accompanying permits enable Osprey to construct an underground, multi-conduit fiber optic system in the VDOT limited-access right-of-way from Haymarket, Virginia to Bristol, Virginia. From the Virginia-Tennessee border, Osprey plans to continue the deployment to Nashville, Tennessee.

“Since its inception in 1998, VDOT’s Fiber Optic Resource Sharing program has allowed communications providers to install fiber infrastructure in VDOT’s limited-access rights-of-way. In return, VDOT has received over 4,700 miles of fiber routes to support transportation operations across the Commonwealth.” said Commissioner Brich. “Our agreement with Osprey dramatically enhances our traffic management capabilities along the I-81 and I-66 corridors, while bringing significant savings to Virginia taxpayers.”

“Virginia is the key juncture in America’s fiber optic infrastructure. Connecting major growth centers utilizing diverse protected routes with low latency is key to the sustainable growth of the world’s data needs,” Elswick said. “Osprey is meeting that need with fiber and fiber conduits to fulfill the demands of data companies and telecommunications providers alike.”

VDOT’s Fiber Optic Resource Sharing program allows telecom providers to install fiber resources within limited-access rights-of-way, which are not congested with other utility installations. Additional efficiencies are gained as providers coordinate solely with VDOT along these routes rather than multiple landowners.  In exchange, VDOT can receive compensation in any combination of goods, services and/or cash.

“This program is a win for both parties.  VDOT gets access to incredibly fast fiber capacity and Osprey is able to build its network from Ashburn to Nashville utilizing VDOT’s rights-of-,way for the Virginia portion of their route,” said Brook Lunsford, President of Osprey Communications.  “We have constructed over 10,000 miles of fiber and look forward to this project,” he added. 

“With Governor Northam’s focus on broadband deployment in the Commonwealth, we believe this agreement will not only strengthen the broadband infrastructure in Virginia, it will likely provide access to underserved communities along the route,” said Cathy McGhee, Director of Research and Innovation for VDOT. 

Elswick noted that “In addition to this project updating our aging national fiber optic infrastructure, it is personally important to me and my family that we were able to bring this fiber construction through Southwest Virginia, and continuing to upgrade the ability of the region to access high quality, high speed connectivity.”

“Direct fiber optic connectivity to major cities will benefit every area of Virginia we pass through, but perhaps none more so than Southwest Virginia as it takes its place as an ideal location for data centers; no hurricanes, extremely rare earthquakes, electrically diverse power grids, and with this diverse long-distance fiber optic construction, it will be even more attractive,” he added. 

Sexton agenda as House speaker includes health care, sentencing, early childhood reading

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

New Speaker Cameron Sexton gave a wide-ranging speech to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week, outlining his agenda as he takes the reins of the Tennessee House of Representatives. The Crossville Republican took aim at health insurance companies for acting like “big brother” by blocking information about taxpayer-funded services and for having “absolute control over the marketplace.” He also called for stronger truth-in-sentencing laws, better funding for early childhood reading programs, and a long-term approach to spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reserves.

Sexton speech was in contrast to his predecessor, Glen Casada, who often appeared more driven by political considerations than political ones. Sexton also placed several stakes in the ground that could end up being at odds with the plans of Republican Gov. Bill Lee as he heads into his second session.

Here is a transcript of Sexton’s speech:

It’s great to be here this morning and see so many familiar faces as we look forward to what next week may bring. One of the question and I usually I get all the time is ‘When do you think we’re going to get out?’ I get 50 variations of the question because I usually won’t answer it, and they say, ‘Well, you know I’m planning and trip and it’s looking like this date.’ And my question back to them is: ‘well, is it refundable?’ We make no promises, but we’re hoping to have a very good session, a very productive session, and we’re hoping to announce in the coming couple days or week some processes and changes we’re making to hopefully make it more efficient and flow a little bit better.

I’d like to start out the day by saying, isn’t Tennessee doing great? The Tennessee Vols won the Gator Bowl and the Tennessee Titans beat the Patriots. And oh yeah, we have a pretty good economy in the state of Tennessee as well. But one of the things I have learned is it doesn’t really matter what’s going on, if the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Vols are doing well, Tennessee is happy, so everything looks pretty good in the state and as long as we keep that going, we’re going to do very good. So everything looks like it’s settling in right into place four months into my speakership. Tennessee’s happy, so I’m happy.

But it’s an honor to be here today, and I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. Back in 1994 – I know some of you know this and some you may not – I worked on my first political campaign after graduating from the University of Tennessee. It was a state Senate race and I worked for a great candidate, although have we ever really met anyone who says they hadn’t worked for a candidate – everybody’s candidate is great. But I can tell you this candidate was really, really good. And if you fast forward 26 years to today, I have this opportunity to lead the House, and I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity, but I do beside that very same state Senator I worked for in 1994, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, as he is preparing to lead the Senate, and I look forward to the partnership with him as we continue to move Tennessee forward.

We have been very fortunate as a state to have had many great leaders who have laid a solid foundation for us, and each one has passed the torch to the next person and everyone has taken it and continued to move. And now it’s is in our hands and we have to fill the purpose and the destiny that they helped us get to. 

But I don’t want to just hold serve, I don’t want to take a knee, and I sure don’t want to run out the clock. I believe we are tasked to accept it and make it shine brighter for all Tennesseans. Because isn’t that what America’s greatest generation did for us many years ago when they sacrificed and made things better for us?

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Former Kingsport Mayor Clark announces congressional bid in 1st District

John Clark (Photo credit: Clark campaign)

Former Kingsport Mayor John Clark has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to start raising money for his bid to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). Clark’s announcement comes amid decisions by state Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and state Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) against running for the seat.

Clark told WJHL-TV on Monday that his decision to run for the seat wasn’t contingent on Roe retiring.

“I was going to move forward regardless,” he said. “But as it turns out Congressman Roe made it his announcement and the timing couldn’t be better.”

Here’s the full release from the Clark campaign:

Kingsport, Tenn.— Former Kingsport Mayor John Clark announced today his candidacy for Tennessee’s 1st District congressional seat. Clark has filed the required Federal Election Commission documents needed to compete in the August 2020 Republican primary election.

Clark served on Kingsport’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) for seven years, three years as alderman and four as mayor. His term ended in July 2019. “During my time on the BMA, we worked with many community and business leaders to improve the quality of life for all residents, thereby ensuring a prosperous future for our city. We achieved a lot on both fronts and I’m very excited to do the same for the 1st District,” said Clark.

Clark said he is running for congress because, “I have a passion for public service. Making a positive difference in the lives of my fellow Northeast Tennesseans truly energizes me. My focus is on conservative Republican values with a special emphasis on jobs, healthcare, and expanded opportunities for veterans and farmers. I will be a strong voice in support of President Trump’s policies and will fight against big government and for expanded freedoms for all Americans.” 

Clark is a man of faith and a dedicated family man, businessman, and public servant. After a 36-year career in business, Clark said, “Community service is the most personally rewarding experience of my life. Working with people to improve the lives of others is a passion of mine. I would be honored to serve the people of the 1st District and am committed to giving my all to the residents of our region.”

Clark is excited to begin this campaign, which will be his fourth but first full-time campaign. His family, particularly his wife Etta, will be very involved in his campaign. Clark said, “I look forward to having my family and friends actively participate and experience this opportunity with me. I am ready to work hard over the next eight months to meet as many voters as possible throughout the 1st District. I’m all-in for the 1st District. We can do more and we can do better for our residents and businesses. I have the experience, passion, and energy to bring more high paying jobs to our citizens and ensure our freedoms are protected.”

Lundberg out of 1st District race, Crowe in?

State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) is the latest sitting lawmaker to bow out of the running for the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City).

I have been greatly humbled by the visits, phone calls, texts, messages and words of encouragement to run for congress. …

Posted by Jon Lundberg on Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Lundberg’s decision follows an announcement by state House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison of Cosby that he won’t run for the seat.

Meanwhile, WJHL-TV reports fellow state Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) said he is now considering a bid after receiving several calls encouraging him to run.

“I believe I’ve helped improve the state of Tennessee for 30 years, and would be interested in the opportunity to work on the federal level and represent the district,” Crowe said.

Crowe, 72, wouldn’t have to give up his seat in the state Senate to run because his four-year term isn’t up until 2022. Lundberg wouldn’t have had that same luxury, as his seat is up for reelection this year.

The Tennessean reported last week  that former Kingsport Mayor John Clark has announced he will run. Former state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, former House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower, and former Safety Commissioner David Purkey said they won’t make a bid.

Lee signs order granting 12-week paid family leave for state workers

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that state workers will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or an ill family member. That will make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer the full package of coverage under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Lee said.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee announced that Tennessee will provide paid family leave for state employees. The Governor signed an Executive Order today directing the Tennessee Department of Human Resources to issue the new policy effective March 1.  

“Strong families make for strong communities, and I am proud that Tennessee will lead the nation in supporting our employees,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “This is an impactful investment in the state workforce and will allow us to continue to attract and retain the best workforce possible.”

While 69% of full-time working Americans believe that receiving paid parental leave is important when looking for a job, only 17% of employees across the U.S. have access to it. One additional month of paid family leave is associated with a 13% drop in infant mortality.

“Paid family leave will improve quality of life for state employees both at work and at home. I am grateful to Governor Lee and Senator Dickerson for making this a priority,” said Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

“I appreciate Governor Lee’s desire to support our state employees through this initiative, and I support the idea of allowing new mothers and fathers opportunities to spend more quality time with their newly adopted or newborn children. I look forward to working with the Governor, the House and Senate, Rep. Helton and our Fiscal Review Committee to determine the best ways we can continue to strengthen our Tennessee families,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“Paid family leave for state employees builds upon our recent efforts creating safe, nurturing environments for our children, while strengthening bonds between parents and their newly adopted or newborn sons and daughters. This important benefit levels the playing field for our state departments, agencies, and the General Assembly so we can attract and retain the best and brightest employees. I applaud Governor Lee for this pro-family initiative because it supports those who work tirelessly on behalf of this state to make it the best in the entire nation,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth.

“I am pleased to sponsor this bill so our state government can continue to retain the finest employees possible,” said Chairman Steve Dickerson.

“Tennessee is proud to be a pro-family state, and this initiative strengthens our commitment to families and is a step in the right direction. We have all experienced scenarios where we have had to choose between work and family. This initiative ensures our state employees will no longer have to make that difficult choice, and I am honored to serve as co-prime sponsor of this legislation in the House,” said Representative Esther Helton.

This new policy confirms Tennessee state government’s position as a pro-family employer while also improving its ability to effectively serve taxpayers by reducing turnover rates for high performing employees and reducing long-term state health care costs.

The expanded paid family leave will apply to all state executive branch employees subject to the TEAM Act and will not include a mandate on private business. Included in this policy is parental leave, making Tennessee the tenth state employer to offer benefits to parents in addition to the federal government. Qualifying events will be consistent with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The new policy will go into effect on March 1 to provide sufficient time for the Department of Human Resources to draft policy guidance, train managers, and ensure accurate tracking of time and leave.

Faison won’t seek vacated congressional seat

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) speaks to colleagues after being elected House Republican Caucus chair in Nashville on Aug. 22, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Jeremy Faison, the new chairman of the House Republican Caucus, has announced he won’t run for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) this year. Faison will instead run for re-election to the House District 11 seat he has represented since 2010.

Faison won a four-way race for caucus chair after Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was elected speaker. Faison is known for his outsized persona, his longtime support for legalizing medical marijuana, and his uncanny vote-counting ability.

The Tennessean reported last week that former Kingsport Mayor John Clark has announced he will run. Former state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, former House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower, and former Safety Commissioner David Purkey said they won’t make a bid.

Dunn doesn’t want Cordell Hull Building named after him

Former Gov. Winfield Dunn awaits the start of the of the inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to rename the Cordell Hull Building after former Gov. Winfield Dunn sparked a round of self-congratulation among Republicans in the state House. But key members of the Senate were less enthralled by the idea. And now Dunn himself is asking the legislature not to go through with it.

The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard spoke to Dunn about the proposal on Monday.

“I was very surprised to learn what the representative had undertaken to do,” Dunn told the publication. “It seems so completely out of proportion to the historical context of our state. I personally consider Cordell Hull to be an unblemished representative of what Tennessee is. I expressed my reservations to the legislator.”

Dunn was governor from 1971 to 1975, serving at a time when incumbents weren’t allowed to run for re-election. Dunn took another swing at the governor’s office in 1986, but fell short to then-House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter (D-Dresden).

State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) last month announced plans to name the building Dunn. The facility has been named after Cordell Hull, the country’s longest-serving secretary of state, since it was first constructed in the 1950s.

Dunn is a Republican, while Nobel Peace Prize-winning Hull was a Democrat. Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 48 years when he was elected in 1970.

So is Dunn’s demurral the end of the renaming effort? Not according to Gant.

“Anybody who thinks a building should be named after themselves probably isn’t worthy of such an honor,” he said in a statement. “Governor Dunn does not have an over-inflated sense of self worth like many politicians in this day and age. Former Gov. Dunn is a humble man and was a dedicated servant for our state. It is not surprising he is hesitant of this honor being bestowed upon him.”

Roe announces plan to retire from Congress, setting off mad scramble

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) announced Friday he won’t seek a seventh term in Congress, a decision likely to set off a mad scramble among potential successors. State lawmakers expected to consider bids include House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison of Cosby and fellow GOP Reps. David Hawk of Greeneville, Timothy Hill of Blountville, and maybe even Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough. Jon Lundberg of Bristol is the only sitting  state Senate member believed to be mulling it over. Add to that a laundry list of current and former mayors from northeast Tennessee district. It’s likely to be a wild ride.

For an in-depth look at previous races and potential candidates in the 1st District, see the Dec. 6 print edition of The Tennessee Journal.

Here’s Roe’s full statement:

Serving East Tennesseans these past 11 years has been the honor of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the trust my friends and neighbors put in me to represent them. As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career. After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.

First and foremost, I want to thank my family. No one could do this job without a loving a supportive family, and I look forward to spending more time at home with my wife Clarinda, my adult children and my grandchildren.

As a veteran, I was honored to be selected to chair the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2017. I had one, three and six-year legislative goals for the committee: to increase access to care, improve the electronic health records system, review VA assets to ensure an effective use of resources, and bring true accountability to the department. I never could have imagined that we would accomplish all that in my first term leading the committee – in large part because of the leadership of President Trump. In particular, I was proud to author the MISSION Act – a transformative piece of legislation to ensure veterans have the ability to receive the best possible care now, and in the future – and the Forever GI Bill – to ensure veterans never lose access to the education benefits they have earned. I’ll leave Congress at the end of the year knowing that our nation’s heroes are better served today because of our work. I am still hopeful that, before the 116th Congress adjourns, we will pass important reforms that improve outreach to veterans in crisis to address the suicide epidemic.

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