Monthly Archives: April 2020

House Freedom Caucus endorses Hill in 1st District

Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) confers with House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) March 29, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Freedom Caucus is endorsing and raising money for Timothy Hill bid for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) in the 1st District.

Here’s what the House Freedom Fund had to say about Hill, who is giving up his state House seat to run for Congress:

Timothy is a small business owner with a proven record of fighting for lower taxes, less spending, the 2nd Amendment, and the sanctity of life.

He is the conservative choice in this race who will stand proudly with President Trump and fight the liberal policies promoted by Nancy Pelosi.

This election is in a very strong Republican district so the August 6 primary will determine who wins this seat in November. Please help push this principled leader on to victory.

Hill is one of 16 Republicans running for the seat, including state Kingsport Mayor John Clark, Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City , former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, and state Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville.

Harshbarger has been the biggest spender so far, dropping most of her $231,500 in expenditures on TV ads.

Clark has announced he wouldn’t seek more than three terms in Congress.

“I’m not a career politician, and as Mayor of Kingsport, I limited myself to two terms in office because I didn’t believe it was a job for one person forever,”  Clark said in a release. “I feel the same about Congress. Our Founding Fathers wanted Washington, D.C. to be a place that public servants visited for a brief period of time, did the people’s work, and went back home to live under the laws they had made. I hope by signing the term limits pledge I can encourage others, including my opponents, to take the same approach.”

House Democrats say Lee is putting lives at risk by opening state too soon

House Democrats are blasting Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to allow his statewide stay-at-home order to expire at the end of the month. The caucus announced Tuesday it “fully” supports Tennesseans getting back to work, but not while the number of coronavirus cases is still increasing in the state.

“We have had PPE shortages, insufficient and incomplete testing, and have not had a comprehensive plan for contact tracing laid out to the public. The process for getting Tennesseans unemployment and financially supporting small businesses has been a complete failure,” the Democrats said in a press release. “In light of this, we ask: How can we trust him to handle reopening the state?”

Here’s the full release from House Democrats:

The House Democratic Caucus says Governor Bill Lee is putting the lives of our loved ones and Tennesseans at risk by opening the state too soon.

While the Caucus fully supports getting Tennesseans back to work, it needs to be done in a manner that protects the lives of residents during this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. As of today, the number of positive cases are still increasing in Tennessee.

The Lee administration has proven that it is incapable of managing the state under the stay at home order: We have had PPE shortages, insufficient and incomplete testing and have not had a comprehensive plan for contact tracing laid out to the public. The process for getting Tennesseans unemployment and financially supporting small businesses has been a complete failure. We recognize the hard work of many of the employees of the Department of Labor and, in fact, all Tennesseans across the state, despite how they have been let down by the Governor’s office. In light of this, we ask: How can we trust him to handle reopening the state?

Tennesseans deserve to get the basic services that they pay their tax dollars for: keeping them safe and healthy and financially afloat during hard times. We recognize the economic seriousness that we face, Democrats have always fought for working class Tennesseans regardless of party affiliation. But we need to get the basics right while we are closed before we take the next step and reopen the state.

Health care workers on the front lines like pulmonologist Dr. Aaron Milstone said yesterday: “rolling back health protections like the stay at home order without first having the ability to quickly identify new cases, break chains of transmission, and protect first responders and health care workers from infection only jeopardizes lives and the economy – and it goes against the very recommendations of the Centers for Disease announced today, (yesterday).”

Most Tennessee state parks to reopen Friday

Most of Tennessee’s shuttered state parks will reopen on Friday. All of the state’s 56 parks and natural areas were shuttered amid Gov. Bill Lee’s statewide stay-at-home order. The Republican governor on Monday  announced plans to let that order expire on April 30.

The parks will be open for daytime use only and social distancing guidelines will remain in effect. Visitors are urged to go to parks closest to their homes.

Here’s the release from the Department of Environment and Conservation.

NASHVILLE –Tennessee State Parks will reopen most of its 56 state parks on Friday, April 24, for day-use only. Specific details on which parks will reopen will be available on this week.

“We are eager to serve once again but we urge Tennesseans to continue to practice physical distancing when visiting parks,” Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said. “We have implemented policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we will monitor all aspects of the issue to ensure safety among visitors and our staff.”

When considering a visit, Tennessee State Parks encourages the following:

  • Stay at home if you are sick or do not feel well.
  • Maintain at least six feet of distance between you and other visitors.
  • Visit parks that are only a short distance from your home.
  • Consider visiting earlier in the day so you can adjust plans if a park is full. Tennessee State Parks may limit access to certain parks or areas if capacity is reached.
  • Plan ahead. Many Tennessee State Parks buildings will be closed. Plan to bring your own snacks, water and hand sanitizer.
  • Prepare for limited or no bathroom access. Some restrooms remain open, but many will not.
  • Consider bringing a mask and wearing it when around other people.
  • Carry your trash with you or dispose of it in the appropriate containers to help keep our cleaning staff safe and our parks litter-free.

Overcrowding may cause entire parks or portions of parks to close again.

Facilities and gathering areas, including pavilions and playgrounds, will remain closed. Cabins, lodges, restaurants, campgrounds, and group camps remain closed. For up-to-date information on park closure please visit

Give me refills or give me death? Protest organizer laments need to pay for extra iced tea

According to The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison, a top lament of an anti-lockdown protest organizer at the state Capitol is that he can’t get free refills for his iced tea under social distancing rules.

The tweet has been widely retweeted and copied to Facebook.

Lee announces end of stay-at-home order for 89 of 95 counties

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a Philips event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that stay-at-home orders will expire next week in all but six of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

The counties that will continue to be covered by local bans on nonessential business are Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Madison, and Sullivan.

Here’s the full release from the Lee administration:

Nashville, Tenn. — Today, Governor Bill Lee announced the order for Tennesseans to remain at home will expire April 30, with the vast majority of businesses in 89 counties allowed to re-open on May 1.

“Our Economic Recovery Group is working with industry leaders around the clock so that some businesses can open as soon as Monday, April 27,” said Gov. Lee. “These businesses will open according to specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business.”

The Lee Administration will work with Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Sullivan counties and their health departments as they plan their own re-open strategies.

“While I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible,” said Lee. “Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it.”

The Economic Recovery Group (ERG), composed of 30 leaders from the public and private sector is crafting guidance to assist businesses in a safe reopening. The industry representatives participating in the ERG collectively represent over 140,000 Tennessee businesses that employ over 2.5M Tennesseans. More information about ERG is available here.

More than 11K people got free coronavirus tests over weekend

More than 11,000 Tennesseans got tested for the coronavirus over the weekend as the state opened 33 free sites manned by the Tennessee National Guard and the state Department of Health personnel.

The 11,230 tests set a new two-day high for testing since the pandemic reached the state about five weeks ago, WPLN-FM reports. A total of about 97,000 tests have been given so far.

“If I know today I have a clean slate, then going forward I know that at least as of today, I’m good,” Christine Garner of Hendersonville told the public radio station. “Then I’d probably want to be tested again, since I have to keep meeting with people.”

According to the governor’s office, here’s how many tests were administered across the state:

  • Madison: 1,394
  • Sevier: 910
  • Roane: 901
  • Washington: 829
  • Sumner: 820
  • Williamson: 663
  • Coffee: 515
  • Hawkins: 470
  • Bedford: 411
  • Montgomery: 354
  • Rutherford: 354
  • McMinn: 334
  • Marion: 331
  • Fayette: 277
  • Wilson: 275
  • Maury: 273
  • Tipton: 268
  • Robertson: 254
  • Dickson: 240
  • Grainger: 219
  • Claiborne: 212
  • Union: 196
  • Van Buren: 164
  • Pickett: 149
  • Weakley: 109
  • Loudon: 107
  • Hardin: 92
  • Monroe: 81
  • Scott: 28


Some restaurateurs skeptical of call to reopen on May 1

A committee advising Gov. Bill Lee on reopening restaurants wants the process to begin on May 1. But not all restaurateurs are on board.

“We’re pushing statewide for a quick reopen,” Ernie Mellor, president of the Memphis Restaurant Association and a member of the governor’s task force, told the Daily Memphian.  “We want to phase it in at 50% seating for two weeks, 75% for two weeks, and then reopen 100% after four weeks.”

“Of course, the governor can come back and say whatever he wants,” he said. “And if someone doesn’t want to open, they don’t have to.”

Not all restaurateurs are happy with that timetable.

“We haven’t even peaked yet in Memphis and Shelby County,” Deni Reilly, the co-owner of the Majestic Grille, told the publication. “It’s civically irresponsible, and it’s operationally unobtainable for most restaurants. Where can we even get paper masks for our employees?”

Other restaurateurs skeptical of the May reopening include the owners of The Rendezvous,  Kelly English’s Restaurant Iris, Acre, and Erling Jensen.

Read the full account here.

Protests held in cities around Tennessee over coronavirus response

Protests were held in Tennessee cities over the weekend to demand an end to shelter-in-place and social distancing requirements put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

They included about 300 demonstrators rallying outside the state Capitol in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. The protests came as Tennessee’s confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 7,000, including 148 deaths.

“We’re all here for one reason,” Kim Edwards, a Nashville rally organizer, announced. “And it’s our rights. It’s our freedom.”

The protests followed tweets from President Donald Trump on Friday calling for people to “liberate” states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia, where similar protests had taken place.

One of the protesters in Nashville appeared to be none other than former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who was thrown out of the General Assembly following allegations of serial sexual misconduct.


Bush is back! Senate candidate restored to GOP ballot

Byron Bush, the U.S. Senate candidate who caused widespread consternation with his Super Bowl ads railing against state judges, has been restored to the Republican primary ballot.

Bush, who also ran for the U.S. Senate nomination in 1994, had failed to survive a challenge of his bona fides last week because he had only voted in two out of the last four Republican primaries (party standards require participation in three of four GOP primaries). But his appeal was granted this week after being vouched for by Nashville Republican Party Chair Jim Garrett and state GOP executive committee members Mike Callahan, Joanne Davis, Anita Taylor Hodges, and Ken Meyer.

Here’s Bush’s statement:

Nashville, TN—Today, Dr. Byron Bush announced that he has successfully beat back attempts to block him from the August primary ballot, saying:

“I’m pleased to report that our campaign has defeated an attempt by one of my opponents trying to use obscure rules to limit Tennessee Republican voters’ choice of candidates on the ballot.

I remain committed to bringing the strong conservative leadership we need in representing our values and leading by an example of personal integrity in the U.S. Senate at this pivotal time for the country. We can face these challenges with faith, not fear! 

I find it disturbing that a leading contender for Tennessee’s next Senator would undertake shady tactics like this, rather than stand on the strength of their own character and record. 

For my part, I pledge a different approach. The Republican Party has always stood for the importance of individual liberty and the right to make up your own mind. We are strongest and most united as a party when we honor that tradition, and so I will continue to work to bring together Republicans of all different backgrounds. Now is a time to work with one another to get our citizens back to work and get the government bureaucracy out of the way of individuals and businesses trying to weather the troubled economy. 

I deeply appreciate the Tennessee Republican Party members who vouched for my Republican bona fides, took a stand for what is right, and helped ensure that we will have many qualified candidates on the ballot competing for this important position.”  

Alexander, Blackburn named to Trump’s economic recovery initiative

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attend a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) have been named to President Donald Trump’s economic recovery initiative.

“The way to contain this disease and get back to work and back to school is to put politics aside and work together as fast as we can on new tests, new treatments, and new vaccines,” Alexander said in a release. “Everyone I know wants this to happen as quickly as we responsibly can, and I welcome the opportunity to help in this way.”

“This pandemic is affecting Americans of all backgrounds, in every sector, and figuring out how we re-open our country requires a targeted approach,” Blackburn said in a statement. “I am grateful that President Trump has selected me to join that effort, and look forward to working with my colleagues to come up with a solution that serves the American people.”