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Newspaper to local lawmaker: ‘Answer the question’ on no-bid contract

Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), standing,, confers with colleagues as they await Gov. Bill Lee arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Johnson City Press is taking state Rep. Micah Van Huss to task for refusing to answer its reporter’s questions about a no-bid facemask contract.

The state spent $8 million for North Carolina sock maker Renfro Corp. to produce the masks. The see-through material used for the masks has raised questions about their effectiveness in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

The Jonesborough Republican instead cast Republican Bill Lee as the victim of negative news coverage. Van Huss said the Johnson City Press should spend its time “reporting on news that gives Tennesseans hope in our humanity instead of dividing them with a political hit on Governor Lee.”

Van Huss then boasted about his response on social media. According to the paper’s editorial:

If Van Huss actually read this newspaper, he would know that we have published numerous articles about “hope in our humanity” during this crisis. Our reporters repeatedly have written about relief projects, volunteers, creative coping efforts and inspiring people amid this pandemic.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) said he supports granting the governor some latitude during times of emergency.

“During a pandemic, we have expectations that things will need to happen that won’t have that usual check and balance of bids, submissions, requests for comment, requests for quotes in that process,” Lundberg told the paper.

 

The Tennessee legislature in 1879: Secret meetings, prison outsourcing, political rivalries

Taking a page from sports broadcasters showing archived games to make up for the lack of live programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, the TNJ: On the Hill blog is engaging in our own throwback legislative coverage. Today’s offering, a report by the editor of the old Daily Memphis Avalanche, a precursor of today’s Commercial Appeal, about legislative happenings on Feb. 9, 1879.

The author touches on some familiar themes at the General Assembly: legislative secrecy, the need for the Shelby County delegation to stick together, efforts to reduce incarceration costs through outsourcing, rivalries between local officials, and “the doings of lobbyists.”

Here’s the dispatch:

Our Legislative Solons : A Good Word from Them by an Occasional Correspondent

Retrenchment and Reform – A Desire to Do Something

NASHVILLE, February 9, 1879 – Notwithstanding the terrible legislative abortions and the rip-pell-mell style of action of the present General Assembly, it may well be characterized as one of economy, retrenchment and reform. Men of observation concede the fact that more business has been consummated so far during the present session than in some entire sessions of General Assemblies.

The bills passed with special reference to Memphis seem to be necessities and will probably be followed with good results. It is said that additional legislation will be required in order to perfect, if possible, the changed conditions of affairs. The necessary legislation will be enacted without trouble, if the Shelby delegation remains united on the various propositions in the future as in the past.

Committees during recess are working earnestly and sedulously, and if credit and be accorded rumor their labors will produce desirable and satisfactory results. Two committees are at work investigation all the alleged frauds subsequent to the war – by the issuance of bonds, the funding scheme, the Torbett or new issue of the Bank of Tennessee, the leasing of the penitentiary, the doings of the lobbyists, the trading of offices; in fact, their investigation apparently has no limit. But as they sit with closed doors and their proceedings secret nothing will be known until they report.

The State debt will be thoroughly examined, so that holders of the State bonds are likely to learn what class of bonds the State will good and what fraudulent. If any are classed as fraudulent, the people will be warned. The funding scheme and the practice resorted to impair the created of the State, will receive attention. […]

Happily for the State Government there is enough money to in the treasury to pay the current expenses for nearly a year to come; therefore the frauds, if any, in leasing the penitentiary will be thoroughly sifted and the guilty, if any, exposed. Continue reading

Former Tennessean reporter Trent Seibert dies at 47

Trent Seibert, a former statehouse reporter for the Tennessean, has died. He was 47.

Seibert was the founder and editor of The Texas Monitor, which announced his passing on Thursday.

Seibert and then-colleague Brad Schrade in 2005 broke several stories in the Tennessean about problems with the Tennessee Highway Patrol during the administration of then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, including that prominent people were given “honorary badges” that some saw as get-out-of-jail-free cards and that promotions within the THP predominantly went to troopers with Democratic connections.

Bredesen declared early in the series that he often learned of problems at the THP and Safety Department from reading the newspaper, and that he was “tired of The Tennessean doing out work for us.”

Seibert also had reporting stints at the The Denver Post, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Nashville’s WKRN-TV, and KTRK-TV in Houston. Seibert launched and edited the Texas Watchdog a decade ago and did some work for the defunct TN Report. 

Seibert also had a hand in projects with the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (the predecessor to today’s Beacon Center), in breaking the 2007  story about Al Gore’s home in the Belle Meade area of Nashville consuming more electricity in a month than the average American household did in a year.

The Tennessean is (sorta) ending endorsements

The Tennessean is going to focus on helping “citizens make good decisions” rather then on traditional endorsements, according to a fairly confusing column by USA Today Network-Tennessee Vice President Michael A. Anastasi.

“Contemporary readers want to be able to make smart decisions and learn from balanced perspectives,” Anastasi writes. “But they would rather not be told what to think, according to USA TODAY NETWORK research.”

So all endorsements are out, right? Well, not exactly.

“This does not mean we have stopped doing endorsements; rather, we are focused on races where we believe our opinion adds the greatest value,” according to Anastasi.

That apparently means endorsing Jim Shulman for vice mayor of Nashville and retiring Democratic state Sen. Thelma Harper’s chosen successor, Howard Jones, over state Rep. Brenda Gilmore.

As for that little $50 million-plus race to succeed term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam? Crickets.

Candidate profile season is upon us

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean speaks to a business group in Nashville on March 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With early voting getting underway on July 13, state newspapers are in full candidate profile mode. Today, the Gannett papers look into the background of former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, while the Chattanooga Times Free Press examines House Speaker Beth Harwell’s record.

Continue reading