Monthly Archives: October 2020

Counties surrounding Nashville restore mask mandates

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)

The mayors of Williamson, Sumner, and Wilson counties are restoring mask requirements that had been dropped earlier. A spokesman for Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron said “it’s not inconceivable” for a mask requirement to be reinstated there, though no decision has been made.

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate despite the White House officially calling on Tennessee to do so. But the governor has extended an executive order granting the authority to require face coverings to local authorities.

Early voting passes 1M mark in Tennessee

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

More than 1 million Tennesseans have cast ballots through the first six days of early early voting. Those figures are up 47% compared with the same period in 2016.

Here’s the details from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Through the sixth day of early voting in Tennessee, 1,085,384 voters have cast their ballot for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“The massive turnout shows Tennesseans’ confidence in the safety precautions taken by county election commissions,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “As I visit early voting sites across the state, I continue to see elections officials doing a great job helping voters cast a ballot in a smooth and efficient process.”
Statewide, there is nearly a 47 percent increase of in-person and absentee by-mail voters compared to 2016, with each county reporting higher numbers than ever before.
“At this rate, we are on pace to break the state’s previous early voting turnout record, set during the last presidential election,” said Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.
Early voting for the State and Federal General election runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Oct. 29. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Tennessee voters can find their early voting and Election Day hours, polling locations and more with the GoVoteTN app or online at GoVoteTN.com. The GoVoteTN app is free to download in the App Store or Google Play.
While visiting the polls, Tennesseans are encouraged to wear a face covering and maintaining a six-foot distance from poll officials and other voters.
Voters planning to vote early or on Election Day will need to bring valid photo identification to the polls. A Tennessee driver license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee state government or the federal government are acceptable even if they are expired. College student IDs are not acceptable. More information about what types of ID are acceptable can be found on sos.tn.gov or by calling toll free 1-877-850-4959.
Tennessee state law requires polling locations and the area within a 100-foot boundary surrounding each entrance to remain campaign-free zones. This includes the display or distribution of campaign materials and the solicitation of votes for or against any person, party or question on the ballot in these areas. Voters wearing campaign-related clothing or paraphernalia will not be allowed within the 100-foot boundary.
For early voting turnout updates, follow the Secretary of State’s social media channels Twitter: @SecTreHargett, Facebook: Tennessee Secretary of State and Instagram: @tnsecofstate.
For more information about early voting in Tennessee, go to GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

Alexander backs Barrett confirmation to Supeme Court

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) announced he supports Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“During her confirmation hearings, Judge Barrett demonstrated respect for the law, intelligence, good character and steady temperament. Having attended college in Tennessee and law school in Indiana, her background will strengthen the Supreme Court by making it more diverse,” Alexander said in a statement.

“She is well-qualified and has said she will decide cases based upon the law, not her personal views. Judge Barrett will be an excellent Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and I will vote to confirm her nomination.”

Fellow Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) has been a vocal booster of Barrett since President Donald Trump nominated her.

Lee launches new COVID mask campaign

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is launching a new ad campaign highlighting Tennesseans going to concerts, gyms, and dining together while also wearing masks when they are out in public.

The spot comes as coronavirus infections are on the rise in Tennessee and the governor quarantines at home after being exposed to a member of his security detail who tested positive for COVID-19.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee today announced a new ad campaign, “Choices”, to promote responsible decision-making by Tennesseans as the state continues to fight the spread of COVID-19. The ad will air across the state on broadcast, cable, and digital media.

“The most effective way for us to combat this virus is through individual Tennesseans making responsible decisions for the safety of themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors,” said Gov. Lee. “Masks remain one the most effective, widely available tools as we await a safe, approved vaccine. We recognize that life looks different during a pandemic, and we’re encouraging Tennesseans that as they live their lives they make the responsible choice and choose to wear a mask.”

The PSA launches in tandem with a new COVID-19 website from the Tennessee Department of Health that provides Tennesseans with improved tools to make informed decisions for their health. The website can be found at https://covid19.tn.gov/.

Script:

We Tennesseans all have a choice to make in our fight against COVID-19. 

I choose to enjoy live music.

I choose to cheer on my team.

I choose to go out.

I choose to stay healthy.

I choose to celebrate with my family.

The choice is simple. 

Choose to live your life. 

And choose to live responsibly. 

Face it. Masks fight COVID-19.

Tennessee Equality Project rescinds Dickerson endorsement over Senate speaker’s ad

The Tennessee Equality Project has rescinded its endorsement of Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville over an ad being run on his behalf by the Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s political action committee.

The ad targets Dickerson’s Democratic challenger, Heidi Campbell, for saying supportive things about Gideon’s Army, which the spot describes as an extremist group calling for “revolutionary changes to our way of life.” Democrats have pushed back against the ad presenting Gideon’s Army as supporting rioting. They point to the group’s efforts to mentor young people and de-escalate violence in predominantly black North Nashville. The organization was also heavily involved in cleanup efforts after a tornado wrought heavy damage in the neighborhood in March. The Tennessee Equality Project denounced the spot as a “disgusting, racist ad.”

“Although he has an exemplary record on LGBTQ rights in the Legislature, elected officials are called to speak out against racism in politics,” TEP executive director Chris Sanders said in a blog post.

Here’s the ad:

The decision to withdraw the Dickerson endorsement means the group is now backing just one Republican candidate for the General Assembly: Knoxville businessman Eddie Mannis, who is running to succeed retiring state Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville).

Early voting turnout well ahead of 2016 so far

Here is a look at turnout in early voting in Tennessee by our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson.

Shelby County has seen one of the biggest increases compared with four years ago, while the suburban counties around Nashville have been among those with the largest percentage of their registered voters casting their ballots early.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office says 249,302 more voters have cast early ballots so far than in 2016, a 52% increase.

How Knoxville public radio got the White House coronavirus report Gov. Lee didn’t want to release

Gov. Bill Lee arrives for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee ranked fourth worst in the country for COVID-19 related deaths per 100,000, according to a White House report that Gov. Bill Lee didn’t want to release to the public. The report was obtained under public records laws by a Knoxville public radio station.

The report took a circuitous path toward becoming public. The Center for Public Integrity in Washington reported about it’s existence last week, and the TNJ: On the Hill blog posted about the finding that Tennessee had slid into the “red zone” of 24 states most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That led another reporter to ask the governor about the report (and the related refusal to make it public) during his weekly press conference.

Lee responded that not all the of the details in the White House report are up to date and that he wanted to limited the sources of information about the outbreak.

“Multiple streams of data from multiple places is not helpful to people,” Lee said.

While the Lee administration didn’t want to share the White House report with the media, it did send copies to health officials around the state. That’s where WUOT-FM, the public radio station in Knoxville, comes in.

The station requested a copy from the Knox County Health Department. Director Martha Buchanan said since she shared the report with the county Board of Health, a a decision-making body, it became subject to Tennessee open records laws.

The report includes a recommendation to impose a statewide mask mandate, which is something Lee has decided to leave to county mayors and health departments.

The report says Tennessee saw a 41% spike in new coronavirus cases between Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, and a 32% increase in COVID-19 related deaths over the period. At the same time, the number of tests being conducted around the state has dropped. The sharpest increases in coronavirus cases has occurred in Putnam, Wilson, and Sullivan counties, according to the White House.

Read the full WUOT and the White House report on Tennessee report here.

Lee calls for suspending negative consequences from school testing

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee announced Friday he will ask lawmakers to suspend any consequences for schools, teachers, and students if they do poorly on testing during the current school year.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn today called for removing negative consequences for schools and educators associated with student assessments for the 2020-2021 school year. Student assessments will be conducted as planned.

“Given the unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic and extended time away from the classroom has had on Tennessee’s students, my Administration will work with the General Assembly to bring forward a solution for this school year that alleviates any burdens associated with educator evaluations and school accountability metrics,” said Gov. Lee. “Accountability remains incredibly important for the education of Tennessee’s students, and we will keep this year’s assessments in place to ensure an accurate picture of where our students are and what supports are needed to regain learning loss and get them back on the path to success.”

“Due to COVID-19, Tennessee districts and schools experienced extended periods away from the classroom and missed critical instruction time during the spring. The department supports Governor Lee’s call for holding teachers and schools harmless from negative consequences associated with accountability measures this school year,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “Administering assessments to gauge student learning and ensuring strong accountability best enables us to meet the needs of all students, however we know the significant challenges our teachers and school and district leaders are facing and it remains critical to reward their good work. We look forward to working together with our elected officials on a solution for this school year that preserves our strong foundations while ensuring that every teacher feels supported in focusing on educating their students.”

Bradshaw raises $893K since surprise win in Democratic Senate primary

Memphis environmental activist Marquita Bradshaw, the surprise winner of the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate despite spending just $22,300 on her primary campaign, raised $893,000 in the third quarter.

Bradshaw is the first African-American woman to win a statewide primary in Tennessee. Her campaign said she has received more than 23,000 contributions, averaging $24.12.

“Our campaign isn’t funded by millionaires and billionaires, but by hardworking Tennesseans,” campaign manager Ken Taylor said in a release. “So, our total raised may still be just a fraction of what our opponent has already spent, but a single mom knows how to make a dollar stretch in a way a rich man simply doesn’t.”

Bradshaw faces Republican Bill Hagerty in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville).

UPDATE: The Hagerty camp says he raised $1.26 million in the quarter.

(This post has been updated to reflect Bradshaw’s fundraising totals for the third quarter, and Hagerty’s since the Aug. 6 election).

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Gov. Lee in quarantine after COVID-19 exposure

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, are in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 by a member of his security detail. The governor has tested negative so far for the virus.

Here’s a statement from Lee’s office:

Today, a member of the Governor’s Executive Security Detail has tested positive for COVID-19. Gov. Lee is feeling well and has tested negative for COVID-19 but out of an abundance of caution, he is quarantining at home with the First Lady until further notice. Governor’s Office protocol requires masks and social distancing and no staff are believed to be positive at this time.