Bloomberg to campaign in Chattanooga, Nashville on Wednesday

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is scheduled to appear in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, the first day of early voting for Tennessee’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

Bloomberg previously visited Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville in December and January, while most of the other candidates have been focused on the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries. Bloomberg decided to sit those contests out in favor of concentrating on the far larger number of delegates available on Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg’s Tennessee events are being held at the  Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga at 2 p.m. Eastern and at Rocketown in Nashville at 7 p.m. Central. The latter was a favorite among Republicans running for president in the 2016 cycle, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich.

Here’s the release from the Bloomberg campaign:

NASHVILLE — Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will be in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, February 12 to hold rallies marking the start of early voting in the state ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.

This is Mike’s third trip to Tennessee since announcing his candidacy in late November.

In late December, Mike announced his national healthcare policy in Memphis and kicked off the grand opening of the state campaign headquarters in Nashville. He returned to the state on January 10 to open the Knoxville regional field office.

“The time, resources and attention Mike gives Tennessee shows his care and focus on Tennessee voters,” said Courtney Wheeler, Tennessee state director for Mike Bloomberg 2020. “We are glad to see he cares about our voices and are looking forward to giving him another big welcome this week.

The campaign’s deep presence in Tennessee is part of Bloomberg’s  campaign to engage voters, win delegates on Super Tuesday and defeat Donald Trump.

 

Poll: Gov. Bill Lee has 55% approval rating

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has a 55% approval rating going into his second year in office, according to a new Mason-Dixon poll. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they disapproved of the governor’s performance, while 18% were unsure.

Lee’s popularity was highest among fellow Republicans, 79% of whom viewed him favorably, while 26% of Democrats had a positive view of the governor. About half of independents approved.

The pollsters also asked respondents how they would vote in head-to-head matchups in the U.S. Senate race. Respondents said they would prefer Republican Bill Hagerty over Democrat James Mackler by 55% to 33%, and Republican Manny Sethi over Mackler by 46% to 35%. Mason-Dixon did not release details on the GOP primary matchup between Hagerty and Sethi.

The poll of 625 registered voters, including 247 Republicans, 207 independents, and 171 Democrats, was conducted between Jan. 28 and Jan. 30. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Nashville and Shelby County sue to block school voucher law

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

The governments of Metropolitan Nashville and Shelby County have filed a lawsuit seeking to block Tennessee’s school voucher bill from going into effect.

The lawsuit filed in Nashville Chancery Court on Thursday claims the law violates home rule provisions of the state constitution by “unilaterally and arbitrarily” having the Education Savings Account, or ESA, Atc affect only students in Nashville and Shelby County.

“The General Assembly cannot impose its will on only two counties without their approval,” according to the lawsuit. “If the legislature believes that education savings accounts are good policy, it may pass a bill of general application so that all counties share the purported benefits of the program. If the legislature prefers to limit the bill’s application to two counties, it must include a local-approval option and hope the program’s merits will convince the affective counties to choose to participate. The ESA Act does neither and is the very model of such prohibited legislation.”

Lawmakers narrowly passed the voucher last year after the Lee administration agreed to back away from initial efforts to have the bill apply to the state’s four largest counties. Lawmakers from other parts of the state felt so strongly about excluding (or “protecting,” as some put it) their districts from the bill that they included a provision stating that if a judge were to rule that limiting the bill to just Nashville and Shelby County were unconstitutional, the whole program would be canceled rather than have it apply statewide.  The “reverse severability clause” has become a major focus of efforts to defeat the voucher legislation in court.

Supporters of the legal challenge point to a  2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays that struck down a state law allowing six Shelby County municipalities to hold referendums on creating new school systems. Mays, a onetime chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist, found the legislation paving the way for those votes violated the state constitution because it affected just one county.

In examining the legislative history of the bill, Mays determined it “never would have passed had it not been intended to apply only to Shelby County.” Opponents of the voucher bill say the same applies to last year’s legislation, with the caveat that the measure also included low-income students enrolled in Nashville.

Mays noted in his 2012 ruling that the state Supreme Court had upheld the power of the General Assembly to have laws apply to a certain class of counties (e.g., those with a population of 300,000 or more), but only if it was based on “reasonable, rational and pragmatic rules [of construction] as opposed to theoretical, illusory, or merely possible considerations.” The judge determined that the municipal school bid had been passed with “a wink and a nod” about its intentions.

The voucher bill didn’t use population brackets to tie the law Nashville and Shelby County, instead basing eligibility on how many schools have fallen among the state’s worst in the past — a static measure, meaning no other district could join the ranks of voucher eligibility in the future.

Gov. Bill Lee in his State of the State address this week pledged to press ahead with implementing the voucher law.

“We created the Tennessee Education Savings Account Program, which will serve low-income students in districts with the highest number of low-performing schools,” he said. “Disruption is hard and sometimes controversial. But we cannot expect extraordinarily different outcomes without extraordinarily different inputs, so I’m proud of these initiatives, and I look forward to their success.”

Poll: Trump has big advantage over any Democrat in Tennessee

New polling results suggest President Donald Trump doesn’t have much to fear in his efforts to carry Tennessee again in November. According to a survey by Mason-Dixon, Tennessee voters give Trump a wide advantage, regardless of who turns out to be the Democratic nominee.

Here are the head to heads:

  • Trump 55%, Joe Biden 39%.
  • Trump 57%, Bernie Sanders 37%.
  • Trump 57%, Elizabeth Warren 36%.
  • Trump 55%, Pete Buttigieg 38%.
  • Trump 54%, Mike Bloomberg 39%.

The poll of 625 registered voters, including 247 Republicans, 207 independents, and 171 Democrats, was conducted between Jan. 28 and Jan. 30. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Tennessee Super Tuesday presidential primary is on March 3.

Tennessee delegation comments on Trump acquittal

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here’s what members of the Tennessee congressional delegation had to say about the Senate’s acquittal of President Donald Trump following his impeachment trial:

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood):

The impeachment of President Donald J. Trump was not a matter of procedure—it was an attempted coup, brought forth at the expense of the safety and prosperity of the American people. Every member of Congress must now reflect, remember, and take to heart the real legacy of this dark moment in history, when ruthless partisanship undermined due process, trampled the rule of law, and very nearly erased from precedent those rules that underpin our democratic republic.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville):

The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution clearly provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that began on Monday in Iowa.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis)

I voted for the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee and on the House floor and believe the House managers proved their case in the Senate beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the Senate required a two-thirds vote to remove the President from office, he will remain. But his ignominious impeachment will always be the legacy of his reckless and lawless presidency. A bipartisan majority of Congress has voted to impeach or convict him, and that’s a blemish on his record that the American public should consider in evaluating his remaining time in office.

U.S. Rep. John Rose (R-Cookeville):

Just as we knew from the beginning, House Democrats’ impeachment process was purely partisan and an embarrassment to our country. More importantly, their focus on this process served as a distraction from the work the American people sent us to Washington, D.C., to accomplish.

U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis):

I commend the Senate for acquitting the President today and putting an end to this partisan endeavor. The fact is, President Trump did nothing wrong, and today’s acquittal proves just that. Now that this impeachment is behind us, I look forward to working closely with President Trump to pass real legislation that would improve our infrastructure, secure our border, and continue to boost our already thriving economy.

 

Casada to run for state House seat again in 2020

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

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) the center of a scandal that brought down his House speakership last year, plans to run for his legislative seat again later this year.

Here’s what Casada said on his Facebook page:

After much prayer and consultation with family and friends, I have decided to run for re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives. I am honored to serve as your voice in Nashville and remain committed to the conservative principles that make Tennessee the absolute best state in the nation. My promise is to continue fighting to help businesses grow and prosper, to be a proponent for lower taxes and less government, to ensure our constitutional rights are protected, and to always work to support the unborn. I humbly ask for your confidence, your support, and your vote in 2020.

Casada was at the helm of the House for all of 133 days before announcing he would resign amid a revolt among Republican colleagues over a text messaging scandal and his heavy-handed approach. He was the first House speaker to prematurely step down from the chamber’s top leadership post in 126 years.

Casada started the year with a combined $549,000 on hand in his campaign and political action committee  accounts— a daunting prospect for anyone who might seek to challenge him in the Republican. But Casada still has an audit pending by the Registry of Campaign Finance. The probe is expected to be completed next month and presented during the panel’s following meeting on March 11.

Lee’s $40.8B budget proposal in the media

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

Here’s a look at how Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address played in the state media:

Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Lee, whose wife Maria is a former teacher, zeroed in on education during much of his speech, noting that “in this building, we work hard to develop student-centered education policies, but out there in the classrooms is where it happens. We make it law, but teachers make it happen.”

Daily Memphian:

Saying the “majority” of the state’s efforts must focus on traditional public schools, Lee said he is putting a $117 million increase into teacher and educator salaries, a 4% pay increase designed to push starting teacher pay to $38,000 a year.

“We make it law, but teachers make it happen,” Lee said. “No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay.”

Associated Press

Education advocates caution that even with a $117 million boost, it may not be enough to help teacher salaries.

“While that is a large yearly increase, it breaks down to about $1,450 per teacher, or approximately $28 a week,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, when talking about the state’s approximately 80,000 instructional staffers.

WPLN-FM

Criminal justice reform was among some issues notably lacking details. Lee, who has been an advocate, had hinted in the past that he’d focus on reforming the state’s criminal justice system. Lee said that based on recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, he will propose legislation that improves community supervision and expand recovery courts.

The Tennessean:

Overall, the mood inside the House chamber was jovial, with Republicans praising Lee’s assessment and vision for Tennessee. Democrats later criticized the governor for doing too little, too late on issues like education funding and criminal justice reform.

With a proposed $40.8 billion budget, Lee’s most significant plans for the year include notable increases in public school teacher pay and the creation of the new endowment fund.

Nashville Scene:

Helping partially fulfill another Republican priority, Lee said he wants to cut the professional privilege tax from $400 to $200. In 2019, lawmakers and the governor teamed to reduce the number of professions subject to the tax. The $200 reduction in the tax — still applied to money managers, lawyers and other professionals — will cost the state $40 million.  Lee called the privilege tax “arbitrary and unfair.”

And for good measure, Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison and photog George Walker teamed up for this gem: A photo of Rep. Kent Calfee swigging from a chocolate syrup bottle on the House floor while clutching crackers in his other hand. The bottle is a favorite prop of the Lenoir Republican, who claims to drink water out of it to amuse his grandchildren. Allison’s tweet had received nearly 10,000 likes by Tuesday morning and 2,700 retweets.

The photo also ran on the front pages of the print editions of The Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Read the full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address

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

Here is the full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State Address, as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Dunn, Members of the 111th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, fellow Tennesseans:

It is an honor to once again be with you this evening.

Before I begin, Speaker Sexton, let me offer special congratulations to you on your election as Speaker.

I am looking forward to working with you during this session and in the years ahead as we make our state a leader in the nation.

Last year, I stood at this podium, newly inaugurated as the 50th Governor of Tennessee. It has been a rewarding year, far more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

To serve Tennesseans, to help make their lives better, to help give them a better education, to help recruit and create good jobs, and to help make our state a leader in the nation, it has been a humbling and truly honorable experience.

To serve with you, the men and women of the General Assembly, has been a tremendous honor as well.

Thank you for your support during my first year, it means an awful lot to Maria and to me.

With all of the noise in our nation these days, whether it comes from Washington, or New York, or Hollywood, I can’t help but look across this room in Tennessee and be inspired.

Inspired by every man and woman in this chamber who sacrifices much and who is dedicated to their beliefs and to the service of their neighbors.

Thank you for what you do, and I look forward to working alongside each of you this session and in the years ahead.

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When is the voter registration deadline? Don’t ask the Dems

Monday is the voter registration deadline for Tennessee’s Super Tuesday presidential primary. An email blast from the state Democratic Party sent out on Friday alerted supporters that that deadline was on March 3 — the date of the actual primary. The party sent out a corrected release the following day.

Graphic: Tennessee Journal.

The date of the voter registration deadline was correct in the body of the email blast, but not in the headline.

All the action this year is in the Democratic primary, given that President Donald Trump hasn’t drawn any serious opposition on the Republican side.

Here’s the graphic that accompanied both emails from the Democrats:

Before it was expedient? New Hagerty ad features Donald Trump Jr.

A new ad for Bill Hagerty features Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, speaking on the Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s behalf at a fundraiser and rally in Gallatin last week. The ad also features the dubious claim by the president’s oldest son that Hagerty was “on the Trump train before it was politically expedient.”

As The Tennessee Journal reported in September:

Despite Hagerty’s heavy emphasis on his links to Trump, his relationship with the president doesn’t go back all that far. The new candidate had been an early backer of Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid and was named to the former Florida governor’s Tennessee slate of delegates alongside former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Nashville) and fellow former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd.

When Bush’s bid fizzled out, Hagerty wrote a $2,700 check to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Florida, on the eve of the Tennessee presidential primary. But Trump ended up carrying all but Williamson County in that contest and was formally awarded the Republican nomination in July. [Hagerty was named a Trump bundler, or state victory finance chair, on July 1, 2016]

Hagerty contributed $2,700 to the Trump campaign in September 2016, but by that point he had already been tapped as the director of presidential appointments for the nominee’s transition team, a position responsible for selecting and vetting, more than 4,000 jobs. Hagerty had done similar work for Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.