Monthly Archives: November 2020

Lee names DeBerry to Cabinet

Rep. John DeBerry.

Former Rep. John DeBerry, who lost his independent bid for re-election after being drummed out of the Democratic Party for his habit of voting with the GOP on issues like school vouchers and abortion, has been named to Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s Cabinet. The senior adviser position will pay $165,000 per year.

DeBerry’s reelection bid was notable for the former lawmaker’s decision not to touch a more than $192,000 balance in his campaign account to support the campaign. He ended up receiving just 23% of the vote compared with Democratic nominee Torrey Harris’ 77%.

Here’s the release from Lee’s office.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that former member of the General Assembly Representative John DeBerry of Memphis will join his cabinet as a senior advisor.

“John DeBerry is a respected leader and man of faith who has served our state with integrity for decades as both a legislator and civil rights champion,” said Gov. Lee. “John has fought to protect life, provide better education options for Tennessee students, and to reform our criminal justice system and I’m honored to have his counsel within the Cabinet.”

DeBerry has represented the 90th House District of Tennessee since 1995. He is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and the University of Memphis and currently preaches at the Coleman Avenue Church of Christ in Memphis in addition to churches and organizations across the country.

“It’s been an honor to serve my constituents for the last 26 years,” said DeBerry. “I am proud of the work accomplished throughout my time with the Tennessee General Assembly and I look forward to serving Tennesseans in this statewide role.”

DeBerry will begin on Tuesday, December 1. In his role, DeBerry will serve on the governor’s Executive Leadership Team and his office will be in the Tennessee State Capitol. 

More from the TNJ interview with Lamar Alexander

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville), left, and Gov. Bill Haslam attend an event at the state Capitol in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The current print edition of The Tennessee Journal includes a wide-ranging interview with retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) about his political beginnings, presidential bids, and the legacy of more than 50 years in public service.

Due to space limitations, not everything from the interview could make it into print. So here is some bonus material of Alexander speaking about his longtime relationship with political consultant Doug Bailey, and his role in coming up with Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk around the state as he was making his successful bid for governor in 1978. Bailey, who went on to found The Hotline in 1987, died in 2013.

Here is Alexander discussing his plans for running for governor again after having lost to Democrat Ray Blanton in 1974:

I was through with politics. [Late Tennessean columnist] Larry Daughtrey wrote there will never be a Republican governor for 50 years after ’74. I was practicing law, trying to find a way to make money, and dabbling in business. I bought Blackberry Farm, half of it. And Howard Baker got elected Republican leader in January 1977. He called me to come up there and help him set up the leader’s office. And [Alexander’s wife] Honey said, go on, you’re not doing anything here. So I went there for three months, and I met Doug.

President Carter was already in trouble, so I thought maybe Republicans will come back. And Honey said, ‘Well I don’t want you to run again if you do like you did before — you’ve got to have a sense of purpose and you’ve got to be in touch with the people.’ So we had a big talk about it, and they said what do you like? Well he likes to be outdoors, likes to hike, likes music. So we came up with the idea of the walk and the Washboard Band and spending the night with people instead of going to Rotary Clubs.

Doug at the time, he and John Deardourff were partners, and they were the premier Republican consultants. So he put it to television. And he became very close to me, and I to him, and he was a graduate of Tufts School of Diplomacy and kind of a high-minded person. So when I was elected, he would come down every week from Washington and meet with me and Tom Ingram, and we’d talk about how to be a better governor. Ned McWherter and all of them thought we were just playing politics. We really weren’t. We were doing enough politics to be effective.

Doug worked with me for eight years and tried to help me with how do I recruit this auto company, how do we sell the Better School Program, how do we persuade legislators to vote for the gas tax. The Homecoming idea was something he was very involved in and the Community Days we had in my second campaign.

So he helped design the plan for the walk, and then Lewis Lavine and Keel Hunt went out and mapped it out. They found the families I was going to stay with, marked the route. Every day I’d go out to the X I’d put out the night before, go out and shake hands, going off and doing this and that, and by about 5 o’clock go off with the family, go to their softball game, eat dinner with them in their house. They’d have their friends over, get up in the morning, go to the factory with them, and then go back to the X and start my day. So it was planned spontaneity.

Renovated home of Attorney General’s office scorched by burning portable toilet

Scorch marks are seen on the John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The renovated building that is home to Attorney General Herbert Slatery and the protective detail of the Tennessee Highway Patrol suffered exterior damage this week when an outdoor portable toilet caught on fire.

Slatery and his staff had just returned to the John Sevier Building after a $54 million update of the facility that first opened in 1940.

Barriers erected by construction crews had just been removed from outside the building last week. Officials are investigating what caused the fire in the portable toilet. The THP’s move back into their space will be delayed because most of the damage was concentrated near their space.

The fire caused mostly superficial smoke and water damage, though some windows also appeared to have been broken. The damage is expected to be covered by insurance, so it won’t add to the renovation price tag.

A truck belonging to Gov. Bill Lee’s plumbing and HVAC company was staged outside the Sevier Building in the aftermath of the fire. The governor has said the Lee Co. would no longer do work for state government following his election in 2018. A spokeswoman said this week the company is not involved in state business.

A Lee Company truck is parked outside the John Sevier State Office Building on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Step 1: Make all the House GOP meetings secret

Rep. Chris Todd (R-Jackson) makes the motion to close all House Republican Caucus meetings to the public and the press on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Before the House Republican Caucus could go about electing its leaders this week, Rep. Chris Todd of Jackson stood to make a motion for all further GOP meetings to be closed to the public and the media.

There was no debate about the need for blanket secrecy. And fittingly, the members took a vote via secret ballot. The motion passed 56-11.

The question of whether to keep caucus meetings open has been discussed within the House GOP for years. When they were in the minority, Republicans complained bitterly that the media ignored their meetings and pronouncements. Once they gained a majority, however, members quickly moved to shut down access. Matters have been complicated by Republicans gaining a supermajority in the chamber, because it means any caucus decision could easily carry over as the action of the House as a whole.

Senate Republican Caucus rules require meetings featuring the equivalent of a quorum to be open to the public.

Lee names Mathews interim commissioner of Human Services Department

Gov. Bill Lee has named Tony Mathews as the interim commissioner of the state Human Services Department. He takes over from Danielle Barnes, who has left state government for the private sector.

“Tony Mathews has served the Department of Human Services well and I thank him for his willingness to take on this important role,” Lee said in a statement. “Human Services provides critical programs to Tennessee families in need and we’re committed to maintaining an excellent standard of customer service during this transition period.”

Mathews has served as the agency’s deputy commissioner and chief operating officer since May 2017. He previously worked for private health insurance companies Aetna and Cigna after stints with TennCare and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

Alexander: 40,000 Tennesseans could receive COVID-19 vaccine in December

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, says Tennessee is in line to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 40,000 people in December.

Alexander tells The Tennessee Journal he received a briefing from Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, who said Tennessee could then receive enough doses for 50,000 people in the following month, and more beyond that. Slaoui told Alexander the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the summer.

“It’s a spectacular achievement, which the president should be taking credit for — in a way that convinces people,” Alexander said. But the ongoing dispute over the presidential election results could hamper the rollout of the vaccine, he said.

“You don’t want to lose a day or an hour getting those 40,000 doses to Tennesseans because the transition was sloppy,” Alexander said.

Alexander expanded on his comments last week that Trump should be allowed to examine any claims of impropriety in the election results, noting that it took Democrat Al Gore 37 days to concede in 2000. But Alexander said there’s a limit to the strategies Trump should pursue in his effort to turn the tide against Democrat Joe Biden.

“There’s a right way to contest the election — others have done it — and there’s a wrong way. And the wrong way is this business of trying to get state legislators to send a substitute slate of electors,” Alexander said. “That really crosses the line.”

Alexander: ‘Very good chance’ Biden will be president

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attends an event at the state Capitol in Nashville on Dec. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) says the Trump administration should unlock transition resources for Democrat Joe Biden.

“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement. “That especially should be true, for example, on vaccine distribution.”

Alexander’s former Senate colleague, Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga), also weighed in on Friday, saying Republicans have an obligation to “challenge demagoguery and patently false statements” in Trump’s election challenge:

Here’s the rest of Alexander’s statement:

Recounting votes and resolving disputes after a close election is not unprecedented and should reassure Americans that election results are valid.

Al Gore finally conceded 37 days after the 2000 election, and then made the best speech of his life accepting the result.

My hope is that the loser of this presidential election will follow Al Gore’s example, put the country first, congratulate the winner and help him to a good beginning of the new term.

The prompt and orderly transfer or reaffirmation of immense power after a presidential election is the most enduring symbol of our democracy.

No changes at the top for Senate GOP

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Republicans have renominated Randy McNally as speaker and re-elected Ken Yager as caucus chairman and Jack Johnson as majority leader.

Here’s a release outlining today’s action:

NASHVILLETennessee’s Senate Republican Caucus met today in Nashville where they voted unanimously to renominate Lt. Governor Randy McNally to a third term and to return Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to their top leadership roles as Majority Leader and Republican Caucus Chairman respectively.  Others elected to caucus leadership positions include Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) as Treasurer, Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) as Secretary and Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) as Chaplain. 

Lt. Governor McNally said, “As I reflect back on over forty years in the General Assembly, I cannot think of a more dedicated group of public servants than we have in the Senate at this moment. An effective team not only has to have the right players, but those players’ talents also need to be deployed effectively. Our Senate team is an effective team. I am humbled once again to have been chosen to help lead this great group of leaders.”

Leader Johnson said, “I am grateful for the support of this group of senators who are deeply committed to serving the people of their districts.  Tennesseans have spoken clearly that they want to continue conservative management of our state budget, and to implement policies to encourage growth, and reduce burdens on small businesses and working families.  The stability in our leadership team positions us to move seamlessly into the 2021 legislative session during these difficult times as we unite to focus on policies that will create opportunities and improve the lives of Tennesseans.”

Chairman Yager said, “I am honored and humbled to serve again as caucus chairman to such a hardworking, talented and committed group of individuals.   We have many challenging issues that await us in the 2021 legislative session. This caucus embraces challenges and will chart a bold, conservative path to support economic recovery efforts, improve education, and provide quality health care services, making Tennessee the best place in the nation to live work and raise a family.”

“Our Senate Republican majority has been placing conservative ideas into action over the past decade with great success,” McNally added.  “We reformed education, reclaimed our AAA bond rating and cut taxes while shrinking government. This past year has been a difficult one. Our majority has been tested by fire. Our state has weathered this adversity better than any other state in the union. The reason for this was preparation and leadership. I am proud of the job we have done as well as the job we will do. I am looking forward to getting to work with our outstanding membership to build upon our success.”

Caucus members also voted to nominate Senator Yager, Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), and Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) to serve on the Joint Fiscal Review Committee.  The committee conducts a continuing review of the financial operations of state government.   The nominees will be confirmed by a resolution of the full Senate when the General Assembly convenes.   

The meeting was held as lawmakers prepare to open the first session of the 112th General Assembly on January 12.  Senate Republicans hold a 27-6 super majority, providing direct member representation to citizens in all 95 counties in Tennessee. 

Jury trials suspended in Tennessee through end of January

While Gov. Bill Lee has rejected a return to more stringent government measures in response to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, the state Supreme Court has decided to delay all jury trials until at least the end of January.

Read the unanimous order here:

On March 13, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court declared a state of emergency for the Judicial Branch of Tennessee government and activated a Continuity of Operations Plan for the courts of Tennessee. See Tenn. Const. Art. VI, § 1; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 16-3-501 to 16-3-504 (2009); Moore-Pennoyer v. State, 515 S.W.3d 271, 276-77 (Tenn. 2017); Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 49. This state of emergency constitutes a “disaster” for purposes of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 49 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-116.

On March 25, 2020, the Tennessee Supreme Court continued the suspension of in- person court proceedings and the extension of deadlines. On April 24, 2020, the Court modified the suspension of in-person court proceedings and extended deadlines. Under the Court’s April 24, 2020 order, the Court reviewed and approved comprehensive written plans received from the judicial districts in Tennessee to gradually begin the conduct of in-person court proceedings. On May 26, 2020, the Court extended the state  of emergency, but eased the restrictions on in-person court proceedings, including the lifting of the suspension of jury trials, subject to certain enumerated requirements. On July 9, 2020, the Court ordered the mandatory use of face coverings.

In light of the recent significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee, particularly in the rural areas of the State, and the Court’s receipt of a number of reports of instances of failure to comply with the approved comprehensive written plans of judicial districts by judges, attorneys, and litigants, including in some instances the appearance in open court of attorneys and litigants who have tested positive for COVID-19, the Court considers it necessary to take additional steps to protect all participants in the judicial system and the public at large. As a result, the Court orders:

  1. The suspension of all jury trials from November 23, 2020, through January 31, 2021, subject only to exceptions which may be granted by the Chief Justice on a case-by-case basis.
  2. The previously approved comprehensive written plans of the respective  judicial districts continue in full force and effect.
  3. The Court’s July 9, 2020 mandatory face coverings order remains in full force and effect and continues to apply to all persons who enter the courthouse for court-related business.
  4. As required by the previous orders of this Court and by the approved comprehensive written plans of judicial districts, all court matters should be conducted by means such as video conferencing and telephonic conferences, if possible, as an alternative to in-court proceedings. The Court also re- emphasizes that all in-court proceedings should be scheduled and conducted in a manner to minimize wait-time in courthouse hallways.
  5. Judges and attorneys have an ethical obligation to strictly adhere to the approved comprehensive written plans of judicial districts and to the provisions of all applicable orders of this Court related to COVID-19.
  6. No participant in a proceeding, including judges, lawyers, parties, witnesses, clerks and court officers, shall appear in court or in a court-related proceeding, including a deposition, who has tested positive for COVID-19 until the participant has strictly complied with the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control regarding isolation of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  7. This order applies statewide to all courts and court clerks’ offices except administrative courts within the Executive Branch and federal courts and federal court clerks’ offices located in Tennessee.

Under the terms of this order, the courts of Tennessee remain open, consistent  with the Judicial Branch’s obligation to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. Judges should work with local law enforcement and other county officials to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings.

Except as otherwise provided herein, the provisions of the Court’s May 26, 2020 and July 9, 2020 orders shall continue to govern, and the provisions of this order shall remain in effect until further order of this Court.

This order is intended to be interpreted broadly for protection of the public from risks associated with COVID-19.

It is so ORDERED.

Here are the candidates for House GOP leadership

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Following Rep. Andrew Farmer’s withdrawal as a candidate for House majority leader, the only remaining contested GOP leadership race appears to be for caucus chair, where Robin Smith is challenging Jeremy Faison.

Here’s the list circulated among House Republican Caucus members (with the caveat that nominations will also be allowed to be made at the GOP meeting on Tuesday) :

Speaker

  • Cameron Sexton

Speaker Pro Tempore

  • Pat Marsh

Republican Leader

  • William Lamberth

Republican Caucus Chair

  • Jeremy Faison
  • Robin Smith

Assistant Majority Leader

  • Ron Gant

Caucus Whip

  • Johnny Garrett

Floor Leader

  • Paul Sherrell

Caucus Vice-Chair

  • Brandon Ogles

Caucus Secretary

  • vacant

Caucus Treasurer

  • Mark Cochran

Fiscal Review

  • Clark Boyd
  • Jason Zachary
  • Kelly Keisling
  • Kevin Vaughan
  • Ron Gant
  • Rush Bricken
  • Scott Cepicky