Bill Lee

Dunn won’t seek re-election to House in 2020

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presents school voucher legislation on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, the longest-serving Republican in the state House, says he won’t run for re-election next year. Dunn was the lead House sponsor of this year’s controversial school voucher legislation. He had already drawn a primary opponent.

“After the 2019 session was over, and we had passed Educational Savings Accounts legislation, as well as one of the most pro-life measures in the country, House Bill 1029, I decided it was the right time to conclude my public service on a high note,” Dunn said in a statement.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) today announced he will not seek re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2020.

Dunn currently serves as Speaker Pro Tempore — the second ranking member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. He recently was the acting Speaker of the House due to the resignation of the previous Speaker. Dunn was first elected to the General Assembly to represent the citizens of House District 16 in 1994, making him the longest tenured Republican House member now serving.

“After the 2019 session was over, and we had passed Educational Savings Accounts legislation, as well as one of the most pro-life measures in the country, House Bill 1029, I decided it was the right time to conclude my public service on a high note.”

Dunn said that he wanted to go ahead and make his plans known so that those interested in running for the seat could start making their own plans.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of our community for the past 26 years as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. I have reached a point in my life where it is time for me to seek new challenges. I am not sure what my future holds, but I look forward to many new and exciting adventures.”

During his tenure, Tennessee students became the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading and science. In 2019, Dunn championed an initiative that establishes the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program which gives students and their families the opportunity to select the school that most meets their educational needs.

Additionally, Dunn has been an unwavering and passionate voice for the Right to Life. He has fought to strengthen Tennessee’s pro-life laws in recent years and has strongly supported initiatives to protect unborn children and their mothers.  This year, the legislature passed one of the country’s strongest pro-life measures, House Bill 1029, which restores Tennessee’s pre-1973 pro-life laws when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Dunn was tireless in pursuing road improvements in the district, and he will leave office with major improvements to Emory Road in Powell, Highway 33 in Halls, and the I-640/Broadway interchange in Fountain City.

Dunn and his Republican colleagues have also cut more than $700 million in taxes since 2011, and they have supported a business-friendly environment that has led to statewide unemployment rates remaining near historic low levels.

“I will be leaving office with our state in a stronger position than when I first came to Nashville,” said Dunn. “We have vastly improved our education system, our state is ranked number one in fiscal responsibility, and, because of the conservative leadership, we continue to attract quality jobs.  I appreciate my colleagues for their friendship and for their dedication to the citizens of Tennessee. I represent the best people in the state and thank the constituents of the 16th House District for the opportunity they have given me to serve them and the great state of Tennessee.”

Bill Dunn is Speaker Pro-Tempore for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. Dunn is also a member of the House Calendar & Rules, Education, Government Operations, and Naming, Designating & Private Acts and Transportation Committees. He is also a member of the House Curriculum, Testing, and Innovation, and the House Infrastructure Subcommittees, as well as the Judiciary & Government Subcommittee of Joint Government Operations Committee. Dunn lives in Knoxville and represents Tennessee House District 16, which includes part of Knox County.

Voucher sponsor Bill Dunn draws GOP primary challenger

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presents school voucher legislation on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Bill Dunn, the lead House sponsor of this year’s school voucher bill, has drawn a primary challenge from Patti Bounds, a former teacher and Knox County school board member, Knox TN Today reports.

“I opened the bank account today,” Bounds told the publication.  “And now it feels real.”

Bounds opposes the “Education Savings Account” measure enacted at first-year Gov. Bill Lee’s behest. Dunn has been a longtime supporter voucher proposals. He has served in the General Assembly since 1994. He currently serves as speaker pro tem, the ceremonial No. 2 position in the House.

It’s on! Bounds vs. Dunn 2020

Dunn is the second incumbent to draw a primary opponent over the voucher issue. Freshman Rep. Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington), who voted for the education savings account bill, has drawn a primary challenge from Lee Mills, a former Shelby County GOP
chairman who opposes the measure..

 

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.

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.”

Lee holds Cabinet meeting to launch distressed counties summit

Gov. Bill Lee welcomes delegates to a summit on economically distressed counties in Linden on Aug. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has convened his Cabinet in Perry County to kick off a summit on economically distressed counties

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

LINDEN, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee convened his cabinet for a meeting with local officials from Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties during the Governor’s Rural Opportunity Summit in Perry County.

The meeting caps a state government-wide audit mandated under Executive Order 1 which examines how departments are serving rural areas, specifically distressed counties. Executive Order 1 also required departments to provide suggestions for improvements moving forward.

“I’ve challenged my cabinet to think critically about how we are helping our rural areas,” said Lee. “With 15 distressed counties in the bottom 10 percent of the nation in terms of poverty, average income and unemployment, we have serious work to do and I believe we are up to the challenge.”

23 state government departments submitted significant analysis that showed rural areas will benefit from the improved coordination of services and overall alignment of departments in serving rural Tennessee. Additionally, departments provided innovation recommendations for potential programs and solutions to be considered by the Lee Administration.

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Cagle: Casada downfall a reminder that lawmakers don’t work for governor

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Frank Cagle, the former Knoxville News Sentinel managing editor and spokesman for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, says there’s a clear lesson for lawmakers in the implosion of Rep. Glen Casada’s speakership:

Anybody who thinks about going all-in for the governor instead of listening to the folks back home needs to remember Casada. Perhaps it’s good for Casada to hang around in the House as a walking object lesson. If you sold your soul on the voucher vote because Casada offered you incentives, where are your incentives now?

Cagle had his own run-in with the forces of Casada this year. A day after he wrote a Knox TN Today column blasting the voucher bill, his nomination to the state Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission was killed in the House. Eight weeks later, the voucher bill had been signed into law, Casada was on his way out, and Cagle was back on the textbook panel as a recess appointment by Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-
Oak Ridge).

Read Cagle’s full column here:

The Casada Lesson: You don’t work for the governor

Lee profile delves into surprise GOP nomination, first months in office

Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, clap along to “Rocky Top” at his inauguration celebration in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest edition of the Almanac of American Politics includes a profile of first-year Gov. Bill Lee that chronicles his surprise win in the Republican primary and the accomplishments of his first legislative session The folks over at the Almanac have graciously given the TNJ: On the Hill blog permission to post this sneak peak at the profile: 

Businessman Bill Lee easily won the governorship of Tennessee in 2018, becoming the first Tennessee Republican to succeed a Republican governor since 1869. Lee’s victory shattered another longstanding pattern in Tennessee: Since the 1960s, partisan control of the governor’s office had changed with every new governor. This electoral habit finally came to an end as Tennessee became one of the most Republican states in the union.

Lee, a seventh-generation Tennessean from Williamson County south of Nashville, earned a mechanical engineering degree at Auburn University, then returned home to join the Lee Co., a business founded by his grandfather in 1944 that specializes in HVAC, electrical work, and plumbing. Starting in 1992, Lee served as president and CEO; by the time of his gubernatorial run, the company was employing 1,200 people and earning annual revenues of more than $220 million. The company collected $13.8 million from state contracts between 2012 and 2018, but it stopped signing new state contracts during his campaign, and Lee put his holdings into a blind trust. Separately, Lee helped operate the Triple L Ranch, a 1,000-acre farm founded by his grandparents with 300 head of Hereford cattle. Carol Ann, Lee’s wife and the mother of their four children, died in a horse-riding accident in 2000. Lee eventually became close to a third-grade teacher of one of his children, and in 2008, they married. Bill and Maria Lee attended a conservative, charismatic church, and Lee served as a board member of the Men of Valor prison ministry.

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Will Sexton tap the brakes on early roll-out of voucher program?

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues before a House Republican Caucus meeting to nominate a new speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Count Rep. Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee for House speaker, among the skeptics of Gov. Bill Lee’s push to roll out the school voucher program a year early.

“I do not think it needs to be accelerated at this point,” Sexton told The Tennessean, adding that his colleagues feel the same way.

Read the full story here.

Haslam talks about Senate race, Gov. Lee, and UT in wide-ranging interview

Former Gov. Bill Haslam has tackled a wide variety of issues in one of his first extensive interviews since deciding against running for the U.S. Senate. In his sit-down with WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Haslam discusses how he came to that decision, as well as about his successor Bill Lee’s performance through the first six months of his time as governor, the ongoing saga surrounding the honoring of Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Randy Boyd’s job as interim president of the University of Tennessee.

Take a look here:

10 most read TNJ posts of the year (so far)

A breakdown of the attendees at a closed-door meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos was the most read post on the TNJ: On the Hill blog in the first half of 2019.

Inspired — as always — by our friends at the Nashville Post, here are the 10 most read posts on the the TNJ: On the Hill blog through the first half of the year: