Monthly Archives: September 2020

Letting the mask slip: Lee defends lack of face covering for Trump boat rally

(Image credit: Bill Hagerty campaign)

While Gov. Bill Lee has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, he has been a prominent proponent of using face coverings to help stem the spread of COVID-19. But the governor was put on the defensive by a photo posted to social media by Bill Hagerty showing the Republican U.S. Senate nominee living it up at a Trump boat rally with Lee, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Janice Bowling.

“There are circumstances where I don’t wear a mask because I don’t feel I’m at risk in that situation,” Lee said. “But, yeah, I felt safe. And when I don’t, I wear a mask.”

The Lee administration is spending more than $4 million through the end of the year on its “Face It” multimedia ad campaign to urge mask usage.

“I think Tennesseans need to know, and they hear me every day and they see me in masks every day,” the governor said at a press conference this week. “They watch what we say and what we do. I think it’s really important that I think it’s very serious.”

About 3,000 people attended the 400-boat rally, according to the The Herald Chronicle.

Buttigeig endorses Bradshaw, Harris

Pete Buttigeig (Photo credit: Win the Era)

Former presidential hopeful Pete Buttigeig is endorsing Tennessee Democratic candidates Marquita Bradshaw for U.S. Senate and Torrey Harris for state House.

Bradshaw was the surprise winner of the Democratic nomination in August over Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee favorite James Mackler, who ended up finishing third.

According to a Buttigeig statement posted by his Win the Era organization:

Marquita Bradshaw has spent her career advocating for her community and connecting with people around shared policy outcomes. These efforts are now the cornerstone of her groundbreaking, inspiring campaign. She knows first hand that policy should reflect the lived experiences of the people they are designed to help. She will bring this same perspective to the halls of the Senate and I’m excited to support Marquita in her historic run to represent the hard-working people of Tennessee.

Harris won the House District 90 nomination in Memphis after the state Democratic Party booted longtime state Rep. John DeBerry from its primary ballot due to his propensity of voting with Republicans on issues ranging from abortion to school vouchers.

Here’s what Buttigeig had to say about him:

Through Torrey Harris’ tireless work as a community advocate, he has modeled a willingness to listen, empower, and serve. That is exactly the type of leadership this moment demands and I’m proud to support his campaign.

Meanwhile, DeBerry was endorsed by the Americans for Prosperity and Republican U.S. Senate Bill Hagerty got the nod from the National Federation of Independent Business.

According to NFIB National Political Director Sharon Sussin:

Bill Hagerty has a true understanding of the challenges our members are facing. We have no doubt that he will be an excellent champion for them in the Senate, and we are pleased to endorse him”

Americans for Prosperity endorses ousted Democrat DeBerry

The political arm of the conservative Koch network is endorsing state Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis in his bid to hold on to his state House seat after being booted from the Democratic primary ballot over his propensity of voting with Republicans on issues ranging from abortion to school vouchers.

Rep. John DeBerry.

Americans for Prosperity Action adviser Tori Venable said in a release that DeBerry “exemplifies the very best Tennesseans look for in a legislator, someone who is principled and not afraid to put party loyalties aside to do what is right for his constituents.”

Republican lawmakers passed a new law after DeBerry was removed from the Democratic ballot to allow him to run as an independent in November.

“Rep. DeBerry understands we need to make students the center of our education system, not buildings and bureaucracies,” Venable said. “Now more than ever, we are seeing how our education system locks students in a one-size fits all setting that doesn’t provide the flexibility to help students and families meet their needs.”

Torrey Harris won the Democratic nomination in House District 90 following DeBerry’s ouster.

During last month’s special legislative session, DeBerry was cheered by House Republicans following an impassioned speech in favor of legislation aimed at cracking down on unruly protesters camped outside the state Capitol. The bill passed 71-20, with only one other Democrat voting in favor.

District 90 Democratic nominee Torrey Harris charged “DeBerry and other like-minded Republicans” with targeting the protesters because they had embarrassed them. Harris said he couldn’t understand why an African-American lawmaker from Memphis would vote to punish protests in response to an unarmed black man being killed by police, saying it “defies logic to me and reeks of Republican Trumpism.”

Hargett says it will be ‘surprise’ if full results available by end of Election Day

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Secretary of State Tre Hargett says it will be a surprise if full results are available by the end of Election Day, according to reporter Hank Hayes of the Kingsport Times-News.

“We’re going to see a spike in absentee ballots. I don’t know how heavy that will be,” Hargett said. “I hope I’m pleasantly surprised like I was in August, when 95 counties had their election results done by midnight.”

The Secretary of State’s office has taken to the courts to try to fend off efforts to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic.

Early voting starts on Oct. 14 and runs through Oct. 29. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Mail-in ballots must be received via the Postal Service by Election Day in order to be counted.

Hayes pressed Hargett on his plans after the election.

“We’re trying to run an election 50 days from now,” Hargett said. “I am going to ask the legislature to re-elect me for another four-year term in January. I’ve got a lot of work to do. We still see a lot of areas where we think we can do better in. That’s what I’m focused on.”

A joint convention of the General Assembly will vote on the next four-year term for the Secretary of State in January. Hargett, a former state lawmaker, was first elected to the job in 2009. He got into some hot water in 2014 after a staffer reserved a website for a potential gubernatorial bid.

Hargett acknowledged to WTVF-TV at the time it might not have looked good, but said the site had been reserved to protect him from someone else grabbing it. He later announced he wouldn’t run for governor.

No sleight of hand: The rise and fall of Matthew Hill

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) attends a meeting on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WJHL-TV’s Jeff Keeling has taken a deep dive into the career of soon-to-be former state Rep. Matthew Hill, from the Jonesborough Republican’s first election in 2004 to his crushing defeat in last month’s primary. Hill, along with his friend Micah Van Huss and brother Timothy Hill made up the core of a bloc of lawmakers who made life difficult for fellow Republican lawmakers and governors.

But Matthew Hill’s ambition for power was also his undoing (as one wag put it, he may have been “flying too close to the sun”), as he first aligned himself with controversial former Speaker Glen Casada and then made an ill-fated bid for the chamber’s top leadership post amid a series of revelations about an unregistered Christian magic company and having his house placed in foreclosure proceedings.

Hill ended up losing the speaker’s race to Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and was then defeated by Rebecca Keefauver Alexander in the GOP primary in August. Van Huss also lost his primary, while Timothy Hill came up short in his bid for Congress.

Keeling’s extensive account features commentary from local politicos and certain editor of The Tennessee Journal. Read the story and watch the video here.

Delayed Bradshaw filing gives more complete picture of how little it took to win Democratic nod

Fifty-eight days after it was due, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Marquita Bradshaw has filed her second-quarter campaign finance disclosure. It shows the upset winner of the Aug. 6 primary had spent all of $15,947 through the first half of the year.

That compares with the $1.4 million Nashville attorney James Mackler had spent to that point. Mackler ended up finishing third in contest to Bradshaw and Robin Kimbrough.

Bradshaw spent about $8,500 in the second quarter, with the largest portion ($4,400) going to Cincinnati-based media consultant Putting Women in Their Place.

Bradshaw raised $18,301 through the first two quarters of the year, including $5,941 in the most recent period. About 63% of her contributions were unitimized.

Bradshaw faces Republican Bill Hagerty (who had spent $1.4 million through the second quarter) in the general election.

UPDATE: Bradshaw’s pre-primary report is in now, too. It shows she raised a total of $23,221 and spent $21,617.

Tennessee looks to lure more investment from China amid political backlash

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While China has become a favorite bogeyman on the campaign trail this year, Tennessee officials are still courting the country’s business.

A recorded message from Gov. Bill Lee was played at the North American Chinese Investment Summit in Beijing over the weekend, according to China.tn.org.

The event was themed “Navigating the New Path of Outbound Investment for Chinese Enterprises in a VUCA World.” VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

“We just want you to know that here in Tennessee we are open for business,” Lee said in the video, which officials send out to various economic development events around the world. “And we understand the value of partnership and relationship, especially with foreign owned companies.” 

“If you’re considering locating here in Tennessee, we would love to have you,” the governor said.

The event was organized by the Tennessee China Development Center.

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”

Lee squashes Capitol Hill rumors by confirming he will run for second term

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has brought an end to persistent statehouse humors that might not seek second term in 2022.

“I love this job,” Lee said when asked about his plans during a press conference late last week. “It’s been a big challenge, but I love serving Tennesseans and I intend to do that as long they’ll let me.”

Pressed whether that meant he would run again, Lee responded: “Yes.”

The question was the last one posed of the governor by The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert before leaving for a new job in his native Chicago.

Ebert reports potential candidate to succeed Lee include House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. Others might include U.S. Rep. Mark Green, former Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty. The paper also includes U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on the list of possible candidates.

The only eligible sitting governor not to seek re-election to second term was scandal-plagued Ray Blanton in 1978.

According to Ebert:

The pep Lee exuded during his early days in office has dissipated some as he’s faced months of difficult decisions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the March tornadoes and occasional bouts with state lawmakers. 

Lee noted Thursday was the six-month anniversary since the deadly tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee, which was quickly followed by the state’s first case of COVID-19.

“Uncertain times, though, bring out the very best of people and we have certainly seen that in our state,” he said.

Check out these precinct-level maps of the U.S. Senate primary

Our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson is back with a fascinating look at where Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi did best in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Tennessee. Have a look here: