Monthly Archives: November 2016

Some TN political reading suggestions, 11/20/2016

On John Henry Eaton and Cordell Hull

Politico has a regular feature on historical political happenings on each date of the year and two posting in the past week are focused on Tennesseans. The first Tennessee history posting is about an Andrew Jackson political ally and begins:

On this day (Nov. 16) in 1818, the Senate’s presiding officer administered the oath of office to John Henry Eaton of Tennessee, who was 28 years old at the time.

The U.S. Constitution sets the minimum age of Senate service at 30 years. The framers reasoned that adding five years to the 25-year minimum they had established for members of the House would enhance the deliberative nature of that body which, they felt, required a greater “stability of character.”

Apparently, nobody asked Eaton how old he was.

The full article is HERE.

–The second:

On Nov. 18, 1943, Secretary of State Cordell Hull became the first presidential cabinet officer to address a joint meeting of Congress. The article includes a fair amount of background on the Tennessean who served 11 terms in the U.S. House and then 11 years and nine months as Secretary of State, which still stands as the longest term ever in that office. And he won the Nobel Peace prize in 1945. The article is HERE.

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Email onslaught asks TN electors not to vote for Trump

Some members of Tennessee’s Electoral College say they’ve been inundated with emails and phone calls from critics of President-elect Donald Trump who want them to change their electoral vote, reports The Tennessean.

“Certainly I would call it harassment,” said Pat Allen of Clarksville, Tennessee’s Electoral College representative for the 7th Congressional District.

Allen said she spent almost an hour deleting the emails, many of which circle around the same talking points hammered by Trump opponents. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote nationwide, but Trump won the electoral votes.

Allen and others say they don’t plan to change their vote next month when the Electoral College votes are officially recorded across the country.

“There’s no amount of money you could pay me to (change my vote),” said Lynne Davis, an Electoral College member from Lascassas, part of the 4th Congressional District.

…Allen said the emails appear to be written by residents across the nation, not an automated system. In several she shared with The Tennessean, the emails do circle around the same talking points but have different subject lines, body text and signatures.

One, from a sender named Kristi Beal, who told the Tennessean she lives in Southeast Missouri, was sent to dozens of recipients, It said Trump lacks experience, is a misogynist and xenophobe, and that Clinton won the popular vote.

Did blog attack on Casada help him win majority leader post?

Rep. Glen Casada says an video showing him at a bar with a young woman was an effort to “sabotage” his election as House majority leader by trying to deceive lawmakers and others, destroy his reputation and wreck his marriage by implying untruthfully that he had been unfaithful to his wife. Others say the video, posted on an anonymous right-wing blog, may have helped him win the contest with Rep. Mike Carter, reports the Times-Free Press.

“These are outrageous tactics,” charged Casada.

He added that if elected “I will expose these people. Help me stop this.”

Carter later denounced the video, calling it beyond the pale… Carter said he “absolutely did not” have anything to do with the video posted on the Rocky Top Politics blog, which often attacks Republicans it disagrees with. The list includes Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam.

“It was as big a shock to me as it was to him,” Carter said of the video. “It was a gross distraction. It was unfair to Glen and it was offensive to all of us.”

Casada and Carter were vying to replace Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, as majority leader, the No. 2 post in the chamber after speaker.

McCormick said he believes that instead of hurting Casada, the House GOP Caucus chairman, the video sealed the election for him.

“I’ve known Mike Carter for over 20 years and I would bet my house he was not involved in it,” McCormick said.

“I think you had some other people or groups involved in it. I don’t know who they are, but I think the caucus resented that at the last second, their coming in and basically trying to affect our caucus election,” he said.

“And I think it played to Glen’s favor,” McCormick added. “I think it boomeranged the other way and that’s what the caucus said.”

Harwell reelected House speaker, Casada majority leader, Williams GOP chair

House Speaker Beth Harwell won a new term in the office today, defeating Rep. Jimmy Matlock 40-30 in a House Republican Caucus vote.

Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin was elected House majority leader by a vote of 42-29, defeating Mike Carter of Ootelwah after a speech that included denouncing an anonymous blog that posted of a video of Casada in a bar with a young blond woman. Casada later said the video had been edited to eliminate other people present, including the woman’s date and that he is contemplating a libel lawsuit in the matter, believing it an “outrageous” and unfounded effort to “sabotage” his campaign for majority leader and his reputation.

(Note: The video referenced by Casada was posted by Rocky Top Politics, an anonymously written blog on Tennessee politics, HERE. )

Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville was elected House Republican Caucus chairman, gaining 47 votes to 23 for Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland.

All voting was by secret ballot. A motion to let two absent members, Reps. Dale Carr of Sevierville and Kelly Keisling of Byrdstown, have a proxy cast their ballots was defeated.

Harwell, first elected speaker in 2011, acknowledged “the past year has been a difficult one on this body, but I commend you for remaining focused on what is important, and that is moving Tennessee forward.” She declared  there have been a series of accomplishments and “I will stand on that record anytime, anywhere.”

Matlock, of Lenoir City, told caucus members that Donald Trump’s election as president shows the American people were ready to move “in a different direction” and new leadership in the House would help do the same thing for Tennessee. He said that GOP caucus have told him there is a need to assert independence and “push back… do not allow us any longer to be led by the media or the administration.”

Other Republican leadership positions filled in the voting:

Caucus Vice-Chairman: Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro.

Assistant Republican Leader: Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville.

Republican Whip: Rep. Timothy Hill of Blountville.

Republican Floor Leader: Rep. Micah Van Huss of Gray.

Secretary/Treasurer: Rep. Dawn White of Murfreesboro

Assistant Floor Leader: Rep. John Crawford of Kingsport and Rep. Ron Gant of Rossville

House members of the Fiscal Review Committee

Rep. Susan Lynn of Old Hickory

Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville

Rep. Bill Sanderson of Kenton

Rep. Ron Travis of Dayton

Rep. Mark White of Memphis

Rep. Tim Wirgau of Buchanan

High-ranking sheriff’s officer indicted for lying about citizenship

A leader in the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office has been indicted on criminal charges accusing him of lying about his citizenship status to become a police officer, reports the Daily News Journal.

Maj. Terry McBurney was indicted Wednesday on charges of unlawful procurement of naturalization, making false statements under oath in matters relating to his application for U.S. citizenship and wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee announced Thursday.

The indictment came down the same day as a Tennessee comptroller’s audit alleged McBurney lied and said he was a U.S. citizen to become a law enforcement officer. The criminal case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, officials said.

McBurney is from Ireland and is now a U.S. citizen. But authorities say he broke the law when he lied on his application to become a police officer in 2010 and on several immigration and employment documents since then.

The indictment says McBurney submitted an application for naturalization in September 2015 and, on the application and during an interview in that process, denied he had ever claimed to be a citizen. If convicted of the federal charges against him, McBurney could face prison time of up to 20 years. His citizenship could also be revoked, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Republican Caucus unanimously chooses McNally as Senate speaker

Republican state senators voted unanimously today to make Sen. Randy McNally the next Tennessee Senate speaker and lieutenant governor. They also reelected the current slate of Senate leaders to new terms in office for the 110th General Assembly.

Since Republicans hold a 28-5 majority in the state Senate, the Senate Republican Caucus’ selection of McNally, 72, of Oak Ridge, assures he will be elected to the position when the legislature convenes Jan. 10.

The Caucus members also reelected Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville as Senate majority leader, Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro as Senate Republican Caucus chairman, Sen. Becky Massey of Knoxville as caucus secretary and Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin as treasurer.

McNally said he anticipates no major changes in leadership style or policy when he formally takes the reigns from retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has held the position since 2007.

When Ramsey announced his retirement earlier this year, McNally promptly announced he would seek to become Tennessee’s 50th Senate speaker, a position that also makes holder of the office lieutenant governor under the state Constitution. No other candidate emerged, leading to today’s unanimous vote.

UPDATE/note: The Caucus news release is below.

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McNally a ‘champion of ethics and transparency’

Sen. Randy McNally, expected to be chosen by fellow Republican senators as lieutenant governor and Senate speaker, is depicted as “a longtime champion of ethics and transparency” in an AP profile story.

An excerpt:

McNally played a key undercover role in the FBI’s Rocky Top bingo investigation in the 1980s, and later in the response to the agency’s 2005 Tennessee Waltz bribery sting operation that sent five former lawmakers to prison.

As a member of the state House in 1980, McNally was among lawmakers voting to oust then-Rep. Robert Fisher, an Elizabethton Republican had been convicted of bribery for asking for a bribe to kill a bill.

Fisher was the last sitting member expelled from either chamber of the General Assembly until the House ousted Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, over sexual harassment allegations in September.

McNally had been elected to the state Senate by the time the FBI launched its investigation into fishy bingo operations in Tennessee. Frustrated by state regulators ignoring his concerns, McNally called the FBI to complain and ultimately agreed to wear a wire during his interactions in the legislative office complex.

…“At first, it was rather stressful,” McNally recalled a decade later. “You don’t get used to walking around with a recorder on your back.”

…The 2005 Tennessee Waltz operation involved an FBI front company that secretly recorded 2,000 hours of video and audio of lawmakers being wined and dined — and paid off in cash by undercover agents.

After the lawmakers’ arrests, McNally was among the first lawmakers to write then-Gov. Phil Bredesen calling for stronger ethics, campaign finance and transparency rules in Tennessee…  The resulting compromise was a watered-down ethics bill and an agreement to delay some of the bigger issues until later years.

McNally in 2006 expressed disappointment in the decision to punt.

“I feel a little bit negligent saying, ‘We give up; we can’t accomplish this,‘” he said at the time. “We should at least try.”

Armstrong to receive state pension despite federal tax conviction

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville has been deemed eligible to receive a state pension despite his federal conviction on a felony charge of filing a false income tax return, according to Shelli King, a spokeswoman for the state treasurer’s office.

Jill Bachus, director of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, says in a memo provided by King that a review of relevant state law and the circumstances of his conviction led her to decide that Armstrong should receive his pension.

The law says that a legislator forfeits pension benefits if convicted of a felony “arising out of that person’s official capacity, constituting malfeasance in office.” Apparently, Bachus determined the veteran Democratic lawmaker’s conviction didn’t amount to malfeasance in office – though the memo doesn’t elaborate. (Note: Text of the memo is available by clicking on this link: armstrong-tcrs-memo-1 )

Armstrong’s conviction was based on failure to pay taxes on profits he made by buying state cigarette tax stamps – with a tobacco wholesaler as middleman – prior to a 2007 tax increase. He supported the tax increase, then sold the stamps after it passed. The lawmaker said he was the victim of a lying accountant, who told him the taxes were paid but actually kept the money for himself.

King had said earlier that Armstrong’s application opts for receiving maximum monthly benefits with no survivor benefits upon his death. If approved, she said he will receive $2,395.34 per month based on 27 years, 10 months of service in the General Assembly” – or $28,744.08 per year.

Armstrong is scheduled to face sentencing in U.S. District Court at Knoxville on Nov. 30.

AG says city marijuana decriminalization ordinances are invalid

City ordinances approved in Nashville and Memphis to decriminalize possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana are invalid, according to state attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday.

The opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery, requested by Sen. Brian Kelsey and Rep. Ron Lollar, says that the state’s Drug Control Act establishes penalties for marijuana and city governments to not have authority to lessen the penalty. The Nashville and Memphis ordinances, enacted earlier this year, allow police to issue a citation for payment of a $50  civil penalty for possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana.

State law sets the minimum penalty as a $250 fine on first offense, a $500 fine on second offense and $1,000 on third offense. The maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to 11 months, 29 days in jail.

“The ordinance’s significantly lesser penalty provisions are repugnant to the State’s policy decision as to the requisite penalties for the offense of marijuana possession,” says the opinion.  “Moreover, the ordinance frustrates the State’s ability to enforce the Act’s penalty provisions in a unified manner throughout Tennessee, which would result in disparate and impermissibly unequal treatment of offenders.

“One of the rudimentary objectives of our criminal code is to “[p]rescrib[e] penalties that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense.”  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-101(4).  The ordinance’s lesser penalty provisions run afoul of this objective, as well as the policy objectives of the Drug Control Act.

“The ordinance also conflicts with state law because it interferes with the discretion of a district attorney general to prosecute violations of the Drug Control Act,” the opinion says.

The full opinion is HERE.

Cooper, Mancini bash Trump appointment of Bannon

Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini today joined Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper in declaring that President-elect Donald Trump should rescind his appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist.

Cooper signed a letter with other congressional Democrats berating Bannon and called the  former head of Breitbart News a “hate-monger and a fear-monger.” Mancini’s press release says Tennessee Republicans should call on Trump to abandon the appointment.

Press releases from both are below.

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