Monthly Archives: September 2020

Another provision of TN abortion law blocked in federal court

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference announcing his sweeping bill seeking to ban most Tennessee abortions in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Another provision of Tennessee’s sweeping anti-abortion law has been blocked in federal court. U.S. District Judge Chip Campbell, a Trump appointee, put a hold on a requirement that would have gone into effect on Thursday to require patients be informed about “abortion reversal.” He previously blocked other elements of the law seeking to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The plaintiffs argued the law would violate abortion providers’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to convey “scientifically unsupported and misleading information.” Campbell said he was unable to fully assess competing expert opinions about whether such reversals are possible, but said he plans to hear what expert witnesses have to say on the matter during a hearing scheduled for Oct. 13.

But Campbell said he did not have to wait to find one aspect of the law misleading: A requirement for the state Department of Health to post information about the reversal of chemical abortions on its website within 90 days of the law going into effect, meaning there would be up to three-month delay between when such signage had to be posted and when information must be made available. No details had yet been posted on the Health Department site as of Tuesday, Campbell said.

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Lee lifts COVID-19 restrictions in most counties, leaves mask requirement in hands of mayors

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday he is lifting all pandemic-related restrictions on businesses in 89 of 95 Tennessee counties, but will continue to leave it to mayors to decide whether impose local mask mandates.

The governor said it will remain up to the six counties with their own independent health departments (Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan, and Madison) to craft their own rules, but urged them to also quickly rescind restrictions.

Tennessee ranked 13th in the country with about 287 new cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, according to Associated Press data. Nearly 2,400 Tennesseans have died from virus-related causes.

Counties announce end of mask mandates ahead of governor’s decision

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With Gov. Bill Lee’s decision pending Tuesday about whether to extend an executive order allowing county mayors to decide whether to impose mask mandates to help stem the spread of COVID-19, several local leaders are already announcing they will no longer require face coverings.

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, whom Lee had personally lobbied to impose a mask requirement in July, dropped the mandate last week. Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto has announced a local mask mandate will expire Wednesday, but he’s still urging people to wear them in public. (Meanwhile, WZTV-TV reported the administrative building in Lebanon is closing down after eight employees tested positive for COVID-19.)

Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett announced a mask mandate for businesses open to the public will end on Wednesday. But the requirement will remain for government offices, including schools.

Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said he would extend a mask mandate if the governor leaves the decision with local officials. The number of positive tests has declined in the East Tennessee county since the mandate went into effect on Aug. 4, he said. Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman cited improving infection numbers in dropping a mask mandate.

But in Sullivan County, local health department director Stephen May said he wants to extend the county’s mask mandate beyond Sept. 30. Sullivan is among six counties with independent local health departments that have the authority to set their own policy responses to the pandemic. The others are Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison counties.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has been speaking out against the power of local health boards to override the wishes of county mayors.

“They’re acting like a legislative body that are voted or elected and they’re not. They’re appointed and they’re actually putting in criminal enhancements for people not to wear masks,” WCRB-TV quoted Sexton as saying during a visit to Chattanooga last week. “That’s outside their purview.

“They are absolutist and they are able to control anything and make people do whatever they want,” he said. “That’s not good policy. That’s not a good step.”

One week left to register for November election

The deadline to register for the Nov. 3 election is one week away. Here’s a release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office laying out the particulars:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennesseans who want to vote in the Nov. 3 State and Federal General Election only have one week until the voter registration deadline on Monday, Oct. 5.

“To make your voice heard at the polls on Election Day, you need to register to vote,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “With the convenience of our online voter registration system, it’s never been easier or safer for Tennesseans to register to vote or update their registration.”

Registering to vote, updating your address or checking your registration status is fast, easy and secure with the Secretary of State’s online voter registration system. Any U.S. citizen with a driver’s license or a photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security can register online from any computer or mobile device at GoVoteTN.com.

Voters can also download a paper voter registration application at GoVoteTN.com.

Completed paper voter registration applications must be submitted or postmarked to your local county election commission office by Oct. 5. 

Election Day registration is not available. 

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election starts Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Oct. 29.

Voters can find early voting and Election Day polling locations, view and mark sample ballots and much more at GoVoteTN.com or on the free GoVoteTN app available in the App Store and Google Play.

For the latest information on the Nov. 3 election, follow the Secretary of State’s social media channels Twitter: @SecTreHargett, Facebook: Tennessee Secretary of State and Instagram: @tnsecofstate. For more information about registering to vote, voter eligibility, photo IDs, and other Election Day details visit GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

Sethi breaks cover, endorses Hagerty

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Forty-nine days from his disappointing showing in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is breaking his silence and endorsing former Ambassador Bill Hagerty.

Sethi was a no-show at the state Republican Party’s traditional “unity rally” following the bitter primary campaign. Some of the ill will appears to have faded with time.

“The odds we faced were very difficult, but we stretched the campaign to 12 rounds, went toe to toe with a well-funded opponent, and won the hearts of 250,000 Tennesseans all across the state who placed their trust in me,” Sethi said in an email blast to supporters. “We had a grassroots team second to none, great senior staff leadership, and we kept the campaign clean and focused on the issues.”

Here’s the full email from Sethi:

My friends,

First of all, from the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for standing with me in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. It was indeed an honor to run for public office, but most importantly, to meet folks from all walks of life who love this country and will continue to fight for the freedoms we value. Since August, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family and have been reminded that there is nothing more important in life than faith and family. Of course, my children miss rolling on the Big Orange RV, but they are certainly happy to have their dad back home.  

Elections are tough and not for the weak, and while we came up short,  I am so proud of what we accomplished together. The odds we faced were very difficult, but we stretched the campaign to 12 rounds, went toe to toe with a well-funded opponent, and won the hearts of 250,000 Tennesseans all across the state who placed their trust in me. We had a grassroots team second to none, great senior staff leadership, and we kept the campaign clean and focused on the issues. As my daddy would say, “Not bad, not bad at all.”

Our conservative cause remains just as true today, as it did over a year ago when I decided to run for the Senate. The one amazing thing that stands crystal clear after all the television ads and rallies, the child of two immigrants from India, who grew up in rural Tennessee and ran for the United States Senate on the Republican ballot, was able to write a chapter in the book called the American story. We should never lose sight of reaching for the top and capturing our dreams. In the weeks ahead, regardless of what the media and the Democrats try to portray about our country, just remember we are Americans — we make no apologies on who we are and what we stand for because we are the greatest country in the world.

Our way of life is literally on the ballot in November, and now more than ever, it is critical that we stand behind and strongly support our Republican candidates. We must re-elect President Donald Trump, and we must elect Ambassador Bill Hagerty, who has served our state and country well, for the U.S. Senate. Our future is in our own hands, I know you will do your part. For me, this wasn’t my place in time to be in public office, but my resolve is not shaken, and my spirit is not broken, so let’s work together to ensure victory for all Republicans on November 3rd. Our future depends on it.

God Bless,

Dr. Manny

Farmer challenging Lamberth for majority leader

Reps. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), right, and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) speak before a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) is challenging Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) for the position of House majority leader this fall, according to a letter to colleagues obtained by the The Tennessee Journal.

Farmer and Lamberth were two of four Republican attorneys first elected to the House in 2012 (the other two were Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and disgraced former Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin). Farmer won the District 17 seat following Republican Rep. Frank Niceley’s election to the state Senate, while Lamberth was elected the District 44 seat vacated by the retirement of Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland).

Lamberth won the chamber’s No. 2 leadership position in November 2018 in the same caucus election that saw Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) nominated for what turned out to be a truncated speakership.

Here’s Farmer’s letter:

Dear Members,

As most of you know, I have been considering the opportunity to run for a caucus leadership position. Realizing the challenges of the upcoming session, I am ready to work with you to face those challenges to make a positive impact on our great state. After much prayer, deliberation and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to announce my candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Our caucus benefits from a wide range of abilities, viewpoints and experiences among the members. As Majority Leader, I will work to help every member effectively represent their district. We all deserve to make a difference, and that is only accomplished when all of our voices are heard. We only reach our full potential when we recognize the wisdom of our constituents who put us here in the first place. After more than a decade as an attorney I have experienced the challenges that individuals, businesses, and families face. I have learned that listening and understanding their needs are always the first step in helping. By applying those same principles we can make the upcoming session both exciting and productive.

I appreciate the support that so many of you have already offered and I look forward to meeting individually with each one of you to discuss how we, together can reach new heights as a unified caucus. I am respectfully asking each of you for your support and vote.

Sincerely,

Andrew Farmer

Report: Democratic congressional nominee bounced checks to Biden, state party

Christopher Hale, a candidate for the 4th Congressional District who won the Democratic nomination despite fraud allegations dating back to his time as the head of a Catholic nonprofit in Washington, bounced checks to presidential candidate Joe Biden and the state party, according to the Tennessee Lookout.

According to Lookout reporter Nate Rau, Hale bounced a $2,000 check to attend a Biden fundraiser last year. Another $2,500 to the Tennessee Democratic Party didn’t clear in July 2019. Haile issued a series of denials about failing to cover his checks. He told the Lookout he had been invited to the Biden fundraiser by host Bill Freeman without being required to pay. He said he was unaware of a problem with the check to the state party.

After losing a previous bid for the Democratic nomination in the 4th District, Hale proposed launching a political action committee to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support campaigns. While he did found the Our Tennessee PAC, it has since shown no fundraising activity, according to campaign finance reports.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) said Hale told her he planned to raise between $150,000 and $200,000.

“He told me, and he told a lot of people, he was going to raise all this money and he never did,” shesaid.

Read the full report here.

Lynn’s QAnon posts raise concerns with campaign donor

Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) hugs a colleague at GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville while Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, looks on.. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State House Finance Chair Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) tells the Associated Press she doesn’t support QAnon conspiracy theories even through she posted the group’s slogan on her social media accounts.

A spokeswoman for Brown-Forman, the corporate parent of Jack Daniel’s, told the AP’s Michael Kunzelman it wouldn’t have donated to Lynn had the company known of her QAnon postings.

“Now that our awareness is raised, we will reevaluate our criteria for giving to help identify affiliations like this in the future,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Conway said in a statement.

Other corporate donors like Amazon and Walmart didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment.

The AP describes QAnon as being based on “the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.” QAnon has been linked to killings and attempted kidnappings..

According to the AP account:

“This is the United States of America, and I am absolutely free to tweet or retweet anything I want,” she said. “I don’t understand why this is even an issue. Believe me, I am not in the inside of some QAnon movement.”

But in October 2019, Lynn retweeted posts by QAnon-promoting accounts with tens of thousands of followers. One of the posts she retweeted praised Trump and included the hashtag #TheGreatAwakening, a phrase commonly invoked by QAnon followers.

[…]

In April, Lynn updated her Facebook page with a cover photo that included a flag with stars forming a “Q” above the abbreviation “WWG1WGA,” which stands for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” In May and June, Lynn punctuated several tweets with the same abbreviation.

And when a leading QAnon supporter nicknamed “Praying Medic” tweeted the message, “Is it time to Q the Trump rallies?” Lynn responded, “It is time!” in a May 31 tweet of her own. 

Lynn said she viewed “Where we go one, we go all” as a “very unifying slogan” and didn’t know it was a QAnon motto. However, a handful of Facebook users who replied to her updated cover photo in April commented on the QAnon connection. The flag is no longer her cover photo but could still be seen in the feed on her page on Friday. 

Read the full story here.

Alexander supports effort to promptly vote on Ginsburg replacement

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. Sen Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) wants to promptly take up the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nomination to succeed the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even though he was among Republicans who argued against taking up Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination to fill a high court vacancy in 2016.

“No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year,” Alexander said. “The Constitution gives senators the power to do it. The voters who elected them expect it. Going back to George Washington, the Senate has confirmed many nominees to the Supreme Court during a presidential election year. It has refused to confirm several when the President and Senate majority were of different parties. Senator McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot.” 

“I have voted to confirm Justices Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh based upon their intelligence, character and temperament. I will apply the same standard when I consider President Trump’s nomination to replace Justice Ginsburg,” he said.

Here’s what Alexander said in 2016:

Tennessee reaction to passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday was met with condolences from across the country and within Tennessee.

While most delivered laudatory commentary about Ginsburg’s trailblazing career, Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Bill Hagerty wasted little time in calling on President Donald Trump to quickly nominate a conservative replacement on the nation’s highest court. Senate Republicans in 2016 famously refused to take up then-President Barack Obama’s nomination to succeed deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died in February of that year, because of the upcoming election.

Here is some reaction from Tennessee officials:

President Donald Trump can — and should — nominate a constitutionalist to fill this Supreme Court vacancy; the future of our nation for generations to come depends on it.” 

— Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty of Nashville.

Justice Ginsburg was a smart, talented trailblazer who paved the way for women in the judiciary. She worked hard to achieve prominence on her own merit, and I thank her for her service to our country. 

— U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood)

She made a major difference in the lives of all Americans, but particularly in the lives of the young women who just want a chance to compete on a level playing field and pursue their dreams.

— U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis)

Justice Ginsburg brought decency, intelligence and principle to the Supreme Court. Her life inspired many Americans, especially young women. Her service to our country deserves great respect.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville)

The Nashville Post’s Stephen Elliott dug out some comments from Alexander dating back to political fight over the 2016 Supreme Court vacancy: