UPDATE: Lee makes Tarwater pick for Supreme Court official

Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday nominated Dwight Tarwater, a former legal counsel to then-Gov. Bill Haslam, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

Justice Sharon Lee, the lone remaining member of the high court appointed by a Democrat, is retiring in August. The other finalists are state appeals judges Kristi Davis and Tom Greenholtz.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointment of Dwight E. Tarwater to the Tennessee Supreme Court and Matthew Wilson to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Western Section.

“Dwight is a highly qualified attorney who will bring significant experience to the Tennessee Supreme Court,” said Lee. “His understanding of the judiciary’s appropriate role and commitment to the conservative principles of judicial restraint make him well-suited for the state’s highest court, and I am proud to appoint him to this position.”

Dwight Tarwater is a partner at Paine, Tarwater, Bickers, LLP. Tarwater brings more than 40 years of legal background to the Tennessee Supreme Court, including decades of trial and appellate experience and service as Chief Legal Counsel to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Tarwater earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee and J.D. at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Tarwater will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Sharon Lee, effective August 31.

“Matt’s extensive background in criminal prosecution has prepared him well to serve Tennesseans on the Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Lee. “I am confident he will bring valuable expertise to the bench, and I appreciate his service.”

Matthew Wilson is an Assistant United States Attorney in the Western District of Tennessee. Wilson brings significant criminal law experience to the Court of Criminal Appeals, including nearly 20 years of legal service at both the state and federal levels. Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree at Auburn University and J.D. at Florida State University College of Law. Wilson will fill a vacancy created by the death of Judge John Everett Williams.

Each of these judicial appointments is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.

First lady Maria Lee to undergo bone marrow transplant

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

First lady Maria Lee is preparing to undergo a bone marrow transplant, Gov. Bill Lee announced on Thursday. Maria Lee was diagnosed with lymphoma in August.

“The first phase of treatment went well, and we thank the medical team for their exceptional care and commitment,” Lee said in the post.

“While there are difficult days ahead, Maria and I have great trust in the Lord,” he said. “We too are praying that God brings peace and comfort to all Tennesseans who are facing challenges in their own lives.”

Financial columnist pans GOP plan to slash Nashville convention center bond funding

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) wields the gavel during a floor session on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Joe Mysak, a municipal market columnist for Bloomberg news, is blasting a proposal by Tennessee Republican lawmakers to eliminate a revenue stream for Nashville to pay off the $560 million balance on bonds issued to build the city’s new convention center.

“The municipal bond market is no place for political theater,” Mysak writes. “That’s because the market can’t discern between tragedy, comedy and farce. To municipal bond buyers, it’s all drama, and one thing they know is, they don’t like it. Once politicians start playing games with credit, the cost of borrowing in the municipal market is going to go higher.”

The move to ban the capital city from using privilege taxes to pay back the bonds comes after the Nashville Metro Council last year rejected a proposal for the city to host the Republican presidential convention in 2024.

“If Metro has no interest in properly promoting convention tourism, they no longer require the special tax authority granted to them for that purpose,” McNally said about the bill, which is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin).

Mysak writes in the column he doesn’t think Tennessee can change its legal obligation to bondholders in the manner laid out by the bill. The Bass, Berry & Sims law firm, the city’s bond counsel, didn’t return Bloomberg’s calls for comment.

“For some very short-term political fun, taxpayers had better steel themselves for some financial pain,” according to the columnist.

“We’ll see how this plays out, but no good is going to come from it,” he said.

Shrinking the Nashville council vs. cutting convention center funding? Or could it be both?

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton await Gov. Bill Lee’s arrival for his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Nashville is in the crosshairs of state lawmakers for refusing to authorize an agreement to host the Republican presidential convention in 2024. But the House and Senate appear to be taking different tacks toward meting out revenge.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) earlier this month filed a bill to slash the size of the Metro Nashville Council from 40 members to 20. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) late last week filed legislation to repeal Nashville’s authority to impose extra sales taxes in its tourist zone, use privilege tax funds to pay off convention center bonds, or charge a $2 tax on vehicles hired at the airport.

Here’s what Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had to say about the Johnson bill:

Nashville has been afforded certain tools for the express purpose of encouraging convention tourism to the city. Over the last year, Metro has made it clear they are no longer interested in aggressively recruiting top-tier conventions to Nashville. That message has been received loud and clear by the General Assembly. If Nashville wants to prioritize political posturing over prosperity for its people, that’s their prerogative. But the state does not have to participate. If Metro has no interest in properly promoting convention tourism, they no longer require the special tax authority granted to them for that purpose.

McNally didn’t note that the Music City Center in Nashville has been host to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, plus several Statesmen’s Dinners, the state GOP’s annual fundraiser — including as recently as last July.

Some political observers see the competing plans to punish Nashville as similar to GOP lawmakers’ efforts to target then-Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle for her rulings expanding access to absentee balloting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House first introduced a resolution calling for Lyle’s ouster. While the measure at first had the support of a supermajority in the lower chamber, several members got skittish about heading down the road of removing a sitting judge for the first time since 1993. The Senate, meanwhile, introduced a bill to create a “super chancery court” to handle legal challenges to state laws, executive orders, and rules. Under the original proposal, a panel of three such judges would have been elected in statewide elections.

When everything shook loose, the ouster resolution was killed in committee and the chancery court bill was amended to remove the statewide election of judges. Under the version that was eventually enacted, the Supreme Court appoints three-member special panels comprised of one sitting judge from each grand division to preside over cases.

So where does that leave the current bills taking shots at Nashville? Lamberth’s cosponsor on shrinking the Metro Council is Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga), who is a close McNally ally and roommate in Nashville. But McNally’s full-throated support of Johnson’s bill clearly shows where his preferences lie. Meanwhile, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has voiced strong backing for the effort to cut the size of the Council, even though he acknowledges it won’t necessarily make it any easier for Republicans to gain seats.

The question now is whether GOP lawmakers coalesce behind one proposal or the other. Or could it be both?

Legendary lobbyist Tom Hensley dies at 80

Lobbyist Tom Hensely, center, is seen outside Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2019. He is joined by fellow lobbyists Ryan Haynes, left, and Rich Foge. (Image Credit: State of Tennessee)

Tom Hensley, the legendary lobbyist known as “The Golden Goose,” has died. Hensley had been hospitalized in Nashville for two moths after sustaining a head injury in a fall. He passed away after being moved to a rehabilitation center in Decaturvillle on Friday. He was 80 years old.

Hensley began his lobbying career in the 1960s and was a ubiquitous presence at the Capitol complex, wearing his trademark three-piece suit, chomping on a cigar, and sitting in the front row of committee meetings. Hensley was best known for his work for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, especially during an era when state law allowed him to supply lawmakers with free bottles of alcohol and pick up the tab at restaurants and bars.

Hensley was joined in lobbying the liquor wholesalers association in 2016 by Ryan Haynes, a former lawmaker and onetime state Republican Party chairman.

New TNJ edition alert: Ready or not, here comes the fight over premixed cockails

Hard seltzers for sale in a Nashville grocery store on Jan. 24, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Could ready-to-drink cocktails be headed to state grocery stores?

— House speaker says Nashville business community behind effort to slash Metro Council, new bill would repeal special tourism taxes in the city.

— New health commissioner not taking questions on rejection of federal HIV funds, freshman lawmaker withdraws bill to give governors two more terms, and unifying legalized gambling.

— Money matters: The big donors and recipients of campaign funds since the November election.

Also: Memphis girds for release of video of fatal police beating, Glenn Funk recuses himself from Jeremy Durham case, Joe Towns catches a break from the Registry, and Cameron Sexton lists the Nashville representatives he likes.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Environmental activist Pearson wins race to succeed the late Rep. Barbara Cooper

Environmental activist Justin Pearson won the Democratic primary to succeed the late Rep. Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis) in the Tennessee House. There were no Republicans or independents running for the District 86 seat.

The Shelby County Commission was expected to meet Wednesday to vote on whether to name Pearson to the House seat on an interim basis until the March general election.

Pearson won more than half of the 2,359 votes cast in the contest. His closest rival was former longtime County Commissioner Julian T. Bolton, who had been endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr. (D-Memphis). Pearson had the backing of current Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Here are the unofficial results from Shelby County:

  • Justin J. Pearson: 52%
  • Julian T. Bolton: 12%
  • Will Richardson: 8%
  • Juliette Eskridge: 7%
  • Clifford Lewis: 5%
  • Tanya L. Cooper: 5%
  • Rod Blount: 4%
  • Dominique Frost: 4%
  • Andrew “Rome” Withers: 1.5%
  • Rebecca Robinson: 0.5%

Read Gov. Bill Lee’s remarks on the occasion of his second inaugural

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gov. Bill Lee was inaugurated to his second term as Tennessee’s 50th governor on Saturday. Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to every person here – for being here today to celebrate our great state and her rich history.

Lt. Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, members of the General Assembly, constitutional officers, Justices of the Court, members of the Tennessee Congressional Delegation, Governor Dunn, Governor Alexander, Governor Bredesen, Governor Haslam, members of the cabinet, members of our staff…

My family, of whom there are many here today, some from far away… My friends and fellow Tennesseans. Thank you, not only for being here, but for who you are and what you do to make this the greatest state in the greatest country in the world.

Tennessee reminds people in this country that America hasn’t lost her way. That idea is reflected by every person here today, and it’s why our state motto – America at its Best – adopted many years ago, is so appropriate, especially today. Tennessee is leading the nation, and it’s good that we reflect on that and celebrate it.

But before I go on, there is one more person I want to acknowledge – someone who embodies the Volunteer Spirit of the people of our state with courage, strength and service. These last few months have been hard on our family, but God is faithful. Maria and I have cherished your prayers for healing. We are grateful for everyone who has supported us, and I’m grateful she’s here today – my wife and our First Lady, Maria Lee.

While Maria and I are in a time of struggle, we know that we are not alone in these hardships. In fact, the last four years have brought unexpected challenges to many of us in this state – floods, wildfires, a pandemic, tornadoes, even a bombing on Christmas morning – in addition to personal challenges you could be facing right now that your fellow Tennesseans don’t even know about. It doesn’t take away the tragedy, difficulty or fear, but in times of struggle, we can find great hope.

We saw that when Tennesseans converged on the Cumberland Plateau to help their neighbors after those devastating tornadoes. We saw that when six brave police officers put their very lives on the line to protect their fellow man from that bomb on Christmas morning. We saw that in Waverly. I was there the day after the floods, and wept with, prayed with and embraced people who had lost everything, even their loved ones.

Maria was there a few days later to help clean up homes that had been reduced to rubble. For Waverly, that is clearly part of the story – tragedy, difficulty, and fear. But I was also there one year later, as the community gathered in remembrance of all those lost. Once again, we wept, prayed and embraced, but this time, something was different. We also recognized the remarkable transformation that occurred in that community over the past year. It was a stark picture of redemption and hope. Quite frankly, it’s a picture of Tennessee since our founding.

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New TNJ edition alert: Party executive panels could face cuts, Lee readies roads push

Chairs are set out for Gov. Bill Lee’s second inauguration on Jan. 19, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Not just for Nashville? Parties’ executive panels could face cuts, too.

— After being sworn in Saturday, Lee to make big push for roads proposal.

— Legislative roundup: Sexton wants cash-pay arrangements with health providers to count against insurance deductibles.

— Election matters: Registry says warnings enough for not following new reporting rules,

Also: The state’s official rifle goes Down Under, Jeremy Durham gets his trial date punted, Mike Bell recovering after heart surgery, and Memphis has a high-tech method for finding potholes.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

[Note to subscribers: The weekly email containing the Tennessee Journal is being sent from a new address. Please check your spam filter if you don’t see your copy in your inbox.)

Here are the Senate committee assignments for the upcoming session

Senators applaud Sen. Randy McNally’s election as speaker on the first day of session. From front are Sens. Page Walley (R-Savannah), Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), and Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

Here are the Senate committee assignments for the 113th General Assembly:

Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)

  • Calendar
  • Commerce
  • Education
  • Ethics

Paul Bailey (R-Sparta)

  • Commerce, Chair
  • Transportation

Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma)

  • Energy
  • Government Operations
  • Transportation

Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville)

  • Rules, Vice Chair
  • State & Local, Chair
  • Transportation

Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville)

  • Energy
  • Transportation

Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City)

  • Education
  • Government Operations
  • Health, Chair

Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga)

  • Education
  • Judiciary, Chair
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