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.

Continue reading

Byrd to have GOP primary challenger if he runs again

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) will have a Republican primary opponent if he reneges on his previous pledge not to seek another term representing House District 71.

Garry Welch, a former city manager of Savannah, announced he will run for the GOP nomination for the seat representing all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence County.

“I’m excited to pursue the opportunity, and I am running for the office to serve all the citizens of the district,” Welch said in a statement to The Courier of Savannah. “As city manager, I was in Nashville quite a bit. I understand the process and think I am well qualified to represent the district.”

Welch retired in 2018 after serving as city manager for 12 years.

Byrd told colleagues before a recent special session that he wouldn’t run again amid moves to oust him over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) told The Tennessean it will be up to the House GOP’s seven-member campaign committee to decide whether to support Byrd if he runs again.

“Personally, Jeremy Faison will not be a part of that race,” Faison told the paper. “I will stay out of the race and leave it up to his constituents if he runs.”

Here are the most-viewed TNJ: On the Hill blog posts of 2019

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

Here are the top 2019 posts in the TNJ: On the Hill blog:

1. Here are Gov. Lee’s proposed raises for state employees.

2. Who was at the closed-door DeVos meeting?

3. Lee announces Tennessee will keep accepting resettled refugees.

4. Report: Feds and TBI involved in probe of voucher vote.

5. Lee’s voucher bill: How they voted.

6. Lee to include repeal of ‘gym tax’ in budget proposal.

7. Ethics Committee member calls for Casada to resign over effort to ‘rig and predetermine’ report.

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

8. Lee and McNally weigh in on Casada text message scandal.

9. Here’s what is in the Senate version of the voucher bill.

10. Griffey defends caucus move after wife denied judicial post.

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Elizabeth Warren names Tennessee staff

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren announced her senior Tennessee staff  includes Elizabeth Henderson as state director, Robin Alberts-Marigza as organizing director, and Sara Burklin as regional director for East Tennessee. (Henderson’s appointment was first reported by the Nashville Post’s Stephen Elliot in October.)

“Our campaign is committed to organizing everywhere and visiting parts of the state that are often overlooked in a Democratic primary. We are investing in communities from Memphis to Mountain City, connecting with Tennesseans on what Elizabeth Warren’s plans would mean for them,” Henderson said a statement.

The hires come on the heels of former New York Mayor Bloomberg naming Courtney Wheeler as the Tennessee director
for his Democratic presidential bid. Holly McCall is his state spokeswoman, and state Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) will serve as outreach director. Additional staffers include political director Ashford Hughes, digital director Spencer Bowers, and senior adviser Carol Andrews. Bloomberg visited Nashville and Memphis last week.

Billionaire Tom Steyer hired Tequila Johnson of The Equity Alliance and the Tennessee Black Voter Project as his state director.

Here’s the full release from the Warren campaign:

Nashville, TN – Today, Tennessee for Warren announced three senior staff hires, with over a dozen paid staff on the ground in Tennessee. The announcement follows months of outreach to voters across the state.
 
Elizabeth Warren was the first candidate of the primary cycle to visit Tennessee in March of 2019 when she held a town hall in Memphis. Over the past several months the Warren campaign became the first to open a field office in the state, and has held organizing events in every corner of Tennessee — including barnstorms in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Team Tennessee for Warren has already organized canvasses and house parties in over two dozen counties. The team has been on the ground since October 2019.
 
“Our campaign is committed to organizing everywhere and visiting parts of the state that are often overlooked in a Democratic primary. We are investing in communities from Memphis to Mountain City, connecting with Tennesseans on what Elizabeth Warren’s plans would mean for them,” said State Director Elizabeth Henderson. “Our team includes not just experienced campaign hands but also rural organizers, teachers, social justice organizers — grassroots leaders that have been on the ground fighting for working families in their communities for years. Together, we are building a grassroots movement to fight for big, structural change and put power in the hands of all Tennesseans.”

Continue reading

House GOP congratulates Grills on special election win

Rusty Grills has won the special election to serve out the term of resigned Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) in House District 77 in northwest Tennessee. And the House GOP is understandably thrilled about it.

Here is the celebratory release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee House Republican leadership including House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), and House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) today congratulated Rusty Grills on his overwhelming victory during last night’s special election to fill the vacant District 77 seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

A current Dyer County Commissioner, Grills received 85 percent of the vote Thursday evening, overwhelmingly defeating democratic challenger Michael Smith and three independent candidates. He fills the vacancy created when former five-term State Rep. Bill Sanderson stepped down in early September.

“Congratulations to conservative Rusty Grills on his resounding victory during last night’s special election,” said Speaker Sexton. “Having campaigned with him, Rusty is committed to fighting for his constituents and upholding their conservative values. I know he will do a great job serving his community, West Tennessee, and our state. I look forward to working with him in Nashville, and I welcome him to our General Assembly.”

“It matters who governs, and the citizens of District 77 have overwhelmingly sent a true conservative to Nashville to serve them,” said Leader Lamberth. “We are excited to have Rep. Grills join our General Assembly, and I am confident Rusty will be a strong voice for his community.”

“I want to congratulate Rusty Grills on his victory and welcome the newest member of our House Republican Caucus to Nashville,” said Chairman Faison. “I have enjoyed getting to know Rusty over the last few weeks, and I know he will do a great job representing the men, women, and families of District 77.”

Rep. Grills will officially be sworn in when the new legislative year begins on Jan. 14, 2020.

Lee’s criminal justice task force releases recommendations

Gov. Bill Lee’s criminal justice task force has released its initial set of recommendations.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force released a comprehensive package of data-driven policy recommendations for upcoming legislative sessions that seek to improve public safety, increase reentry support and reduce recidivism, address unmet behavioral health needs and make Tennessee communities safer. 

“My administration is committed to addressing public safety and reentry throughout Tennessee, and I’m grateful to have the support of the members of this Task Force,” said Gov. Lee. “Dedicated leaders from across our state have come together to address this important issue, and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”

The Task Force’s 23 recommendations are aimed at:

  • Strengthening responses to individuals with behavioral health needs;
  • Equalizing the treatment of those housed in local jails with those housed in state prisons;
  • Tailoring our response to different types of offenses;
  • Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of community supervision; and
  • Minimizing barriers to successful reentry.

Continue reading

Mayor Jacobs says Knox County to remain in refugee program

Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs meet at the state Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee’s office)

Glenn Jacobs, the libertarian Knox County mayor best known for his role as WWE star Kane, is joining Republican Gov. Bill Lee in giving consent to the remain open to the federal refugee resettlement program.

“I have found, overwhelmingly, the people in this program come here to be contributors to society, to breathe the air of the greatest nation on the planet as free men and women,” Jacobs said in a statement.

Jacobs said 99 refugees were resettled in Knox County in 2018.

Here’s the full release from Jacobs’ office:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—Today Governor Bill Lee announced his consent to initial refugee resettlement in Tennessee in response to Executive Order 13888 issued by President Donald J. Trump in September. This Executive Order requires consent from both local and state governments to allow refugee resettlement.

Gov. Lee said, “The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution.” He also expressed his consent to working with President Trump and his administration to responsibly resettle refugees.

A refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin specifically because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. A refugee does not include a person who has left their home country solely to seek a more prosperous life here.

Knox County has been welcoming refugees through Bridge Refugee Services since 1982. Ninety-nine refugees were resettled in Knox County in fiscal year 2018.

Continue reading

Lee announces Tennessee will keep accepting resettled refugees

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

First-year Gov. Bill Lee says he won’t seek to opt-out of the federal government’s refugee resettlement program in Tennessee. President Trump in September issued an executive order giving state and local governments control over whether to continue to allow refugees to be resettled in their areas.

“The United States and Tennessee have always been, since the very founding of our nation, a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity for the persecuted and oppressed, particularly those suffering religious persecution,” Lee said in a release. “My administration has worked extensively to determine the best outcome for Tennessee, and I will consent to working with President Trump and his administration to responsibly resettle refugees.”

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) issued a joint statement to say their preference would have been for Lee to reject further resettlement:

“Both our nation and the state of Tennessee have been extremely welcoming to immigrants throughout modern history. In 2016, the General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing the desire of our citizens to file a federal lawsuit to halt refugee resettlement in Tennessee. Our opinion has not changed on this issue since legal action was taken, and our personal preference would have been to exercise the option to hit the pause button on accepting additional refugees in our state. However, the federal order makes this the sole decision of the Governor, and he has made his call.”