Monthly Archives: December 2020

Tennessee launches COVID-19 vaccination dashboard

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters during budget hearings in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration launched a new COVID-19 vaccination dashboard on Friday.

Here’s a release from the state Health Department:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health will provide data on COVID-19 vaccines administered in the state via a new dashboard to be provided online at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/covid-19-vaccine-information.html. This dashboard will launch Dec. 18 and will be updated each Tuesday and Friday.

Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Reporting dashboard will include data on total vaccinations reported, vaccinations reported in the last day and within the last week. The dashboard will also display the percentage of each county’s population that has been vaccinated. The first reports shared via this dashboard will reflect Tennesseans who have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Future versions will also provide data on Tennesseans who have been fully vaccinated with both their first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are eager to offer this tool to track our progress in implementing Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan and making this important preventive measure available to Tennesseans in every county of our state,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP.

TDH continues to provide daily COVID-19 data reports and will publish these reports by 5 p.m. Central time daily effective on Friday, Dec. 18.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan was last updated Dec. 2 and will be modified as more is learned about the vaccines Tennessee will receive. The plan is available online at www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel-coronavirus/COVID-19_Vaccination_Plan.pdf.

Tennessee’s local health departments continue to offer COVID-19 testing five days a week at no charge to those wishing to be tested. TDH testing sites across the state will employ self-testing kits for adults three days a week beginning December 21, to allow staff members to transition to vaccination of frontline health care providers and first responders. Find testing hours and contact information for TDH health department testing sites online at https://covid19.tn.gov/testing-sites/.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.

Krause leaving Tennessee Higher Education Commission

Mike Krause is stepping down as executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to join the government affairs team at the Bradley law firm.

Gov. Bill Lee said Krause has been “transformational for THEC.”

Here’s a release from THEC

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – December 16, 2020 – The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) announced today that Mike Krause, THEC Executive Director, will be leaving government service after 14 years to join the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm’s Nashville office as a senior advisor for government affairs and economic development.

Appointed as executive director of THEC in 2016, Krause served as the chief advocate before the legislature and executive branch for the state’s $2.1 billion higher education budget and successfully launched multiple workforce training programs resulting in Tennessee being recognized nationally as a leader in education opportunity and economic development.

His tenure culminated in THEC being named as the top higher education agency in the nation in 2020 by the State Higher Education Executive Officers association.

Most recently, Krause also served as the coordinator for all statewide higher education efforts relative to COVID-19 and acted as the chief liaison between campuses and the Tennessee Department of Health and the Governor’s Unified Command Group during the pandemic.

“Mike’s leadership has been transformational for THEC and Tennessee students have been the beneficiaries of his vision for linking education and workforce development opportunities,” said Governor Bill Lee. “We wish him the best in his new role.”

“I don’t believe there is another person in our state’s history who has had a bigger or more positive impact on higher education policy than Mike Krause,” said THEC Chairman Evan Cope. “Mike brought his trademark energy, wit, and dedication to every aspect of the job.”

Prior to his THEC appointment, Krause served on the senior staff of Governor Bill Haslam. While in the Governor’s Office, he was the founding Director of the Tennessee Promise, coordinating the launch of the nation’s first tuition-free college scholarship program and working closely with the legislature on an array of education and workforce issues. His public policy work has been covered by the Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesPolitico, and CNN.

“Being in public service and working with such an outstanding and student-centered group of THEC staff, college and university presidents has been the honor of a lifetime,” said Krause. “I am grateful to Governor Lee and Governor Haslam, the legislature, and the higher education commission for the chance to serve.”

“It’s hard to imagine anyone that has had a greater impact on higher education in Tennessee than Mike Krause,” said Randy Boyd, University of Tennessee President. “His passion and effectiveness in working with the legislature will be sorely missed, but we all wish him well in his new role.”

“Mike Krause is a remarkable individual and the results of his efforts have changed higher education in Tennessee forever.  In his roles as THEC’s leader and as a member of the Board of Regents, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to help our community and technical college students,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings.

Dr. Brian Noland, President of East Tennessee State University and the leader of the Locally Governed Institution Council said “Director Krause was a champion for college access and success, and his leadership of THEC represented the high water mark for public policy innovation in our higher education system. He is a trusted colleague and I wish him well as he embarks upon this new journey.”

Krause, a U.S. Army veteran, served for six years in the 101st Airborne Division. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Austin Peay State University and a Master’s in Public Policy from Vanderbilt University.

Wilson won’t run for another term as comptroller. Is the fix in for Mumpower?

Comptroller Justin Wilson, second from right, presides over a State Funding Board meeting on Jan. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With about a month left in his term, Comptroller Justin Wilson has made the surprise announcement he won’t seek a seventh term. Wilson, who was first elected to the position after Republicans gained an overall majority in the General Assembly in 2008, said he is endorsing his longtime deputy Jason Mumpower to succeed him.

“While the decision is yours, I am pleased to offer Jason my full and wholehearted endorsement to serve as Tennessee’s 35th Comptroller of the Treasury,” Wilson said.

While Wilson’s support for Mumpower is unsurprising — the two often parade around the legislative office complex in matching costumes — the last-minute timing is causing some gnashing of teeth in the Cordell Hull Building. With the holiday season upon us and the ongoing pandemic wreaking havoc on government activities, the deck will be stacked against any other candidate trying to drum up support for a rival bid.

A joint convention of the House and Senate elects the comptroller, meaning the lower chamber, where there are 73 Republicans, has the numerical advantage over the 27 GOP senators.

Here is Wilson’s letter to lawmakers:

Dear Members of the 112th General Assembly,

I write to you today with a tremendous sense of pride. Tennessee is doing just great.

For the last 12 years, I have commended you, the General Assembly, for your focus on the fundamentals of our financial strength. Our state continues to provide essential services to Tennesseans while remaining committed to low taxes, low debt, and strong financial management.

Tennessee’s fiscal stability has proven critically important as we have dealt with the economic challenges and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Tennessee is well positioned for the future. As I have contemplated my own future, I have determined that now is the time for me to step aside. Although it has been my wonderful privilege to serve as your Comptroller, I will not seek a seventh term.

The General Assembly will have an important choice to make in January. I have encouraged Deputy Comptroller Jason Mumpower to seek election to the Office. While the decision is yours, I am pleased to offer Jason my full and wholehearted endorsement to serve as Tennessee’s 35th Comptroller of the Treasury.

Jason is the right person to lead our committed effort to provide independent audits, objective research, and most of all, conservative fiscal management. I know he cares deeply about our state and the Comptroller’s Office. Please join me in supporting Jason as Tennessee’s next Comptroller.

I do believe our Office is carrying out its mission to Make Government Work Better. It is a joy and an adventure to serve our state.

Sincerely, Your Beloved,

/signed/

Justin P. Wilson

Tennessee top state in COVID cases per million

Source: Covidexitstrategy.org

A graphic making the rounds on social media paints Tennessee in an unflattering light when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. Eric Topol, the founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted two charts showing Tennessee and Ohio as the only places in the world where the infection rates have hit 1,000 per million.

The CovidExitStrategy.org map and a Financial Times chart come from data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project.

UPDATE: Arizona has since been added to the list of states with more than 1,000 infections per million.

The New York Times also has this chart of the cities where infections are rising the fastest, which includes eight in Tennessee:

Rep. Byrd needs ‘miracle’ in COVID-19 treatment

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House committee meeting on March 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. David Byrd says he “needs a miracle” to keep from being placed on a ventilator during his hospitalization for COVID-19. The lawmaker was airlifted from to Nashville last weekend after being diagnosed with the coronavirus and pneumonia.

“I really need a miracle today!!” the Waynesboro Republican said a Facebook post Thursday. “My doctor said if my oxygen level doesn’t improve then he has no choice but to put me on a ventilator. So please pray that God will breathe His healing spirit into my lungs!!”

UPDATE: Family members and friends posted on Monday that Byrd had been put on a ventilator.

Byrd attended a recent House Republican Caucus meeting while not wearing a face covering. Days earlier, he hosted a dinner for dozens of GOP colleagues attending a caucus retreat at Pickwick Landing State Park.

Byrd has been under fire ever since being accused of — and never explicitly denying — sexual misconduct with high school basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s.

Byrd was among 55 Republicans who in June voted in favor of a House resolution claiming the “mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.”

Here are the other Republicans who voted for the measure (names in bold indicate lawmakers who have since retired or, like sponsor Micah Van Huss, were defeated in their primaries; names in italics are those confirmed to have contracted COVID-19):

Charlie Baum, Clark Boyd, David Byrd, Kent Calfee, Mike Carter, Glen Casada, Scott Cepicky, Mark Cochran, John Crawford, Michael Curcio, Clay Doggett, Bill Dunn, Rick Eldridge, Jeremy Faison, Ron Gant, Johnny Garrett, Bruce Griffey, Rusty Grills, Curtis Halford, Mark Hall, Kirk Haston, Esther Helton, Gary Hicks, Matthew Hill, Timothy Hill, Andy Holt, Dan Howell, Bud Hulsey, Chris Hurt, Kelly Keisling, William Lamberth, Tom Leatherwood, Mary Littleton, Susan Lynn, Pat Marsh, Debra Moody, Jerome Moon, Brandon Ogles, Dennis Powers, John Ragan, Tim Rudd, Iris Rudder, Lowell Russell, Jerry Sexton, Paul Sherrell, Mike Sparks, Rick Tillis, Chris Todd, Micah Van Huss, Kevin Vaughan, Terri Lynn Weaver, Mark White, Ryan Williams, Dave Wright, Jason Zachary.

Slatery joins states’ legal effort to overturn presidential election

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is joining an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the result of the presidential election to sway it in President Donald Trump’s favor.

“The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has consistently taken the position that only a State’s legislature has the authority to make and change election laws,” Slatery said in a statement. “This Office pressed that argument in cases defending Tennessee’s election laws against pandemic-related challenges and in amicus briefs in cases involving similar challenges in other courts. This is not something new.”

Slatery’s office this year fought efforts to allow anyone afraid of contracting COVID-19 to cast absentee ballots. The state lost at the chancery court level, allowing the looser restrictions on mail-in balloting to take effect for the primary. The state Supreme Court later overturned the the decision, but only after the AG’s office reversed course to say anyone with an underlying health condition making them more susceptible to COVID-19 (or anyone living with someone who did) could cast absentee ballots.

A Trump-appointed federal judge also ruled Tennessee couldn’t enforce its rules this year requiring first-time voters who registered online to cast their ballots in person.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) called Slatery’s move a “low point in the history of the office of the Tennessee Attorney General. “

“Here’s the context: The Attorney General in Texas is under FBI investigation and widely assumed to be fishing for a pardon” Yarbro said on Twitter. “Now the Tennessee Attorney General is spending Tennessee resources to help?”

Lee named policy chairman of Republican Governors Association

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a groundbreaking event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has been named policy chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Lee’s predecessor, Bill Haslam, served two stints as chair of the group.

Here’s the release from the RGA:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Republican Governors Association announced today that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was elected to serve as RGA Chair and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was elected to serve as RGA Vice Chair for 2021. Both assume the positions immediately and will serve for a one-year duration.

“Governor Doug Ducey’s exemplary leadership in the great State of Arizona has prepared him well to assume the role of Chairman of the RGA, and I look forward to his accomplishments on behalf of our nation’s Republican Governors,” said outgoing RGA Chairman Governor Greg Abbott. “Following the RGA’s widespread success in the 2020 election, Republican Governors can count on Governor Ducey to maintain the organization’s effectiveness and help expand their majority even further.”

“I am honored to serve as the next Chairman of the RGA for this upcoming year. I look forward to building on the RGA’s momentum as we work to expand the Republican majority. In Arizona, we’ve put forward bold policy solutions and meaningful reforms that’s made our state one of the fastest-growing in the nation and we look forward to leading Republican Governors in bringing these reforms to the rest of our country,” said incoming RGA Chairman Governor Doug Ducey. “I want to congratulate my friend Governor Greg Abbott on his successful tenure, and I am excited to work with him and the Executive Committee to build a strong foundation for success in the 2021 and 2022 elections. I also am excited to serve with my good friend Governor Kim Reynolds, who has been a mentor for myself and my colleagues.”

“If the challenges of 2020 taught us anything, it’s that leadership matters. Republican Governors across our country stepped up during an unprecedented time and I am honored to be a part of this incredible team,” said incoming RGA Vice Chairwoman Governor Kim Reynolds. “Across the nation, Republican Governors are leading America’s economic comeback, working to grow jobs, expand opportunity, and keep our communities safe. I look forward to partnering with RGA Chairman Governor Ducey to grow our ranks and elect more Republican governors across the country.”

Joining Governor Ducey and Governor Reynolds on the RGA’s Executive Committee for 2021 are Governors Eric Holcomb of Indiana, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Greg Abbott of Texas, who served as RGA Chair in 2020. Additionally, Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee was elected Policy Chairman, and Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi was elected Policy Vice Chairman.

Democrats call on Tennessee to divest McDonald’s shares

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Democratic Reps. Yusuf Hakeem of Chattanooga and Joe Towns of Memphis are calling on state Treasurer David Lillard to divest Tennessee of its $80 million worth of shares in McDonald’s after 77 African-American former franchisees sued the company for allegedly denying them the same opportunities as white restaurant owners.

Here’s the letter Hakeem sent to Lillard this week:

Dear Treasurer Lillard, 

I write to concur with the request made of you by Representative Towns in September of this year to reconsider the Tennessee Treasury’s investment in McDonald’s stock. The allegations in the amended complaint filed against McDonald’s on behalf of 77 former Black franchisees are disturbing, and even more troubling is the significant decline in the number of McDonald’s Black franchisees. I share the concern expressed by Representative Towns’ that the Tennessee Treasury currently holds nearly $80 million of McDonald’s stock and I likewise believe we should use this moment to take a stand for racial equality and divest our state’s stock in McDonald’s.

Studies have shown that income inequality leads to higher rates of health and social problems. While these former franchisees sought to achieve the American dream and financial security, McDonald’s allegedly took steps to ensure that African-American owners were not afforded the same opportunity to succeed at the same levels as White franchisees financially. The State of Tennessee should not support any business that systematically engages in harmful practices to Black business owners and further widens the income gap. Sadly, the company has a well- documented history of racial discrimination and based on the allegations in the lawsuit; they still have much work to do. Until McDonald’s takes steps to correct its misdeeds, Tennesseans should not reward the company by holding onto nearly $80 million in its stock. Please call me at your convenience to discuss.

Sincerely,

/signed/

State Representative Yusuf Hakeem

Report: Former commissioner kept consulting gig, had free housing at state prison

Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda speaks in Nashville on Nov. 8, 2019. (Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Veterans Services)

Former state Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda kept a lucrative consulting contract with his former employer and lived in free state-owned housing on the grounds of the old Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Mainda left his senior position at Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board last year, but signed a consulting agreement with EPB that would pay him $8,300 a month (later revised to $5,000) at the same time he was employed in his $161,904-per-year role of commissioner.

After Mainda announced he was stepping down from his state job last month, news reports surfaced that he had been the subject of a sexual misconduct investigation after a subordinate alleged unwanted advances had been made during an out-of-state work conference in February. Mainda denied inappropriate conduct.

Gov. Bill Lee was dismissive about questions over the propriety of holding a senior role in his administration while at the same time being paid by an outside entity, saying “alternative streams of income” are allowed as long as
they don’t present a conflict of interest. Mainda included consulting work in his state ethics disclosure, but didn’t say for whom he was serving as an adviser.

Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that when TDOC Commissioner Parker reached out congratulate Mainda on his new job last year, he mentioned he was looking for housing. Parker offered Mainda the use of a home on the former prison property usually reserved for wardens, assistant commissioners, and staff.

“It was intended to be temporary,” Carter said. Mainda only moved out in October.

The other shoe drops on Rogers, Goins ousters at Veterans Services

Veterans Services Commissioner Courtney Rogers attends the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans’ Home on Aug. 21, 2019. (Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Veterans Services)

A state investigation into former Veterans Services Commissioner Courtney Rogers found the former Republican lawmaker had engaged in “frequent yelling and belittling employees, inappropriate comments made in public, and use of racial and homophobic stereotypes and slurs.”

Rogers and her deputy, former Rep. Tilman Goins, resigned late last month. Goins was alleged to have engaged in a romantic relationship with a subordinate at the agency.

On a visit to a military base, witnesses said Rogers described a specific race as “prostitutes who slept their way into the United States.” According to the investigation summary, Rogers “did not deny making the statement and did not recall in what context she would have made the comment.”

During a mediation at the department, Rogers is also alleged to have referred to the other party as “another black guy looking for a free ride.” She denied those comments, saying “she may have referred to the individual as ‘someone sticking it to the man.’”

Former Rep. Tilman Goins, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services, speaks at a training conference on Nov. 18, 2019. (Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Veterans Services)

According a person who filed a complaint against Rogers, the commissioner yelled at her during a car ride in October 2019.

“I’m sick of your stupid mouth!” the staffer recalled Rogers shouting at her. “I’m going to quit and tell the governor it’s all your fault!”

Another person corroborated those events, but Rogers said she did not recall yelling.