Monthly Archives: February 2021

Oh, Chihuahua! The announcer and the senator

Republican Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tim Hagerty is a radio play-by-play announcer for the El Paso Chihuahuas, a minor league baseball team in Texas. Bill Hagerty is a freshman U.S. Senator from Nashville who is keeping the Donald Trump dream alive in Congress. So other than their last names, there’s little reason to get the two men confused.

But leave leave it to social media users not to be able to distinguish between @tdhagerty and @BillHagertyTN. The radio announcer has been on the receiving end of vitriolic comments by people unhappy with the senator’s actions in Washington.

Things may get a little more confused when minor league baseball returns following a halt caused by the pandemic. The Chihuahuas play in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, which is also home to the Nashville Sounds.

Warner a no-show at Registry hearing over failure to file disclosures due to FBI raid

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) was a no-show at Wednesday’s meeting of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance to take up his request to waive his campaign finance disclosure requirement due to an FBI raid on his home and office.

Executive Director Bill Young said Warner had indicated he or his attorney would attend the meeting. But nobody appeared on his behalf.

“The FBI confiscated all files and documents related to my campaign including check copies from donations and checking account ledgers,” Warner said in last month’s email first reported by The Tennessee Journal. “They also took all computers and back ups for the campaign and my business.”

Registry member Hank Fincher said nothing prevented Warner from reconstructing his fourth-quarter disclosure from electronic bank records.

“The FBI took my bank records is not much of an excuse,” Fincher said.

The Registry agreed to send a letter to Warner saying the panel doesn’t have the authority to waive filing requirements.

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) also missed filing his report while hospitalized for COVID-19. Family members had alerted the panel only the lawmaker had access to the information needed to make the disclosure. The Registry again determined it wasn’t in a position to give Byrd a pass on filing requirements.

Lee speech shorter, but hardly short

Frequently used terms in Gov. Bill Lee’s three State of the State addresses (via MonkeyLearn)

Bill Lee’s third State of the State address clocked in at 42 minutes on Monday evening. That was still on the long side of budget addresses for Tennessee governors, but a good deal shorter than his previous two speeches.

Lee’s first State of the State in 2019 was 5,994 words long and lasted 57 minutes. Last year’s address came in at 5,493 words. But this year’s speech totaled 4,506 words as prepared for delivery.

For some historical perspective of State of the State speeches, see this TNJ: On the Hill analysis of a couple years ago:

A word cloud analysis processed through MonkeyLearn reveals Lee’s most frequently used terms over her his last three speeches:

  1. State (162 times)
  2. Tennessee/Tennessean (157 times)
  3. Year (126 times)
  4. School (71 times)
  5. Students (57 times)
  6. Teachers (56 times)
  7. Budget (43 times)
  8. Dollars (36 times)
  9. Investment (33 times)
  10. Health care (15 times)

Full text of Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is Gov. Bill Lee’s third State of the State address, as prepared for delivery on Monday evening:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 112th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, fellow Tennesseans:

I would also like to acknowledge the First Lady who is in the audience.
Maria serves our state with genuine compassion and is my partner in every aspect of this role.

I love you and am proud that you are ours.

I also share my gratitude to members of my Cabinet and staff who are here tonight.

Each of these men and women have committed to lives of service and honor.

They are battle-tested and I am proud of their work and their friendship.
Members of the General Assembly, let me say that it’s good to be here in person.

Last year, we stood together at the starting line of 2020 ready for a challenge and even more ready to leave our mark on what was sure to be a historic year for our state.

The events that would take place just a few weeks after, would set the tone for our year.

An unimaginable one for us that included the rise of a global pandemic, devastating tornadoes, flooding, violence, unrest, economic collapse, a downtown explosion and witnessing our nation undergo painful turmoil at the highest levels of government.

There have been heartbreaking losses.

We mourn the more than 10,000 Tennesseans we have lost in those deadly events this year.

In many respects, what was optimism has become a tempered feeling of resolve, and perhaps even cautiousness about what lies ahead in 2021 as we move forward but work to make sense of it all.

Scripture has a lot to say about that crossroads and what to do on the heels of suffering.

Where do we find the promise in this season?

The promise is found in perseverance, which produces character that leads to hope.

Tennesseans will know tonight that tragedy has no hold on who we are or where we are headed.

Tragedy will not define us and will not rob us of the opportunity that 2021 holds.

In fact, this year holds its own unique place for our state as we celebrate 225 years of statehood.

Since 1796, our state has been the portrait of perseverance, character and hope because of everyday heroes.

Ordinary Tennesseans are more than constituents – they are the strength of our state and the lifeblood of our country.

From early settlers, the farmers and factory workers, teachers and tradesmen, doctors and pastors.

We will celebrate that since 1796 the ordinary has made us extraordinary and remember that generations before us have not just weathered but excelled in the cycle of perseverance, character and hope.

I will once again travel to all 95 counties to reach the unsung people and places that make our state who she is.

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Effort falls short to designate site of State of State as House chamber for a night (UPDATED)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate passed a resolution seeking to remedy legal questions raised by The Tennessee Journal about holding the annual State of the State address outside the state Capitol, but the House didn’t take the measure up before the speech took place.

Under a 1970s-era law, the governor’s annual budget address must be given to a joint convention of the General Assembly in the House chamber. But Gov. Bill Lee gave his speech within the nearby War Memorial Auditorium on Monday evening.

While the War Memorial Auditorium is part of the Capitol complex and offers more space for social distancing, it does not meet the description of the House chamber. The Senate passed SJR100, which would have declared that “that for the sole purpose of hearing the state of the state address by the governor on February 8, 2021, the War Memorial Auditorium shall serve as ‘the chamber of the house of representatives.'”

But the House didn’t take up the measure before heading across the street to hear from the governor.

Gov. Lee’s annual State of the State won’t be held in the state Capitol. But is that legal?

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

In the interest of social distancing, tonight’s State of the State address has been relocated to the War Memorial Auditorium. There’s just one problem: State law requires the annual address to be given inside the state Capitol.

A 1973 newspaper ad.

Governors used to deliver their annual State of the State speeches to the Tennessee Press Association. Lawmakers didn’t like that arrangement, so they changed the law in the 1970s to require the speech to be given before a joint convention of the General Assembly gathered in the House chamber.

It’s not the first time Gov. Bill Lee’s plans for the State of the State have raised questions. Following his 2018 election, Lee announced he’d try to get out of the “bubble of Nashville” by delivering the annual address at various locations around the state.

Those plans were thwarted by the same state law requiring the speech to be given in the state Capitol, the Associated Press reported at the time.

“Bill will give the State of the State speech in the House Chamber each year as mandated by the statute,” a Lee spokeswoman told the AP in 2018. “But he also plans to give addresses outside of Nashville around the State of the State to engage with Tennesseans.”

UPDATE: Lawmakers point to a joint resolution passed by both chambers on voice votes in January that said the House and Senate would meet “in the War Memorial Auditorium for the purpose of hearing the State of the State address by the Honorable Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee.”

But the state law says the General Assembly “shall” call a joint convention “to convene in the chamber of the House of Representatives.” Whether the statute gives lawmakers the leeway to call a meeting outside of the House chamber is a matter of interpretation.

Lee gives preview to annual budget address

Gov. Bill Lee is giving a preview to his annual State of the State address in a video released Monday morning.

Democrats on Friday made their prebuttal, which can be viewed here:

Here are some excerpts from Lee’s speech issued from a press release sent Monday:

Budget and Legislative Priorities

“We have conservative proposals for your consideration that will reduce crime, support strong families and get our economy back up to speed, especially in rural Tennessee. Our proposals honor the individual yet benefit the state as a whole, and they will leave us well-positioned for the recovery that has already begun across our state.”

Celebrating 225 Years of Statehood

“We will celebrate that since 1796 the ordinary has made us extraordinary and remember that generations before us have not just weathered but excelled in the cycle of perseverance, character and hope. I will once again travel to all 95 counties to reach the unsung people and places that make our state who she is.”

Vision for K-12 Education

“The reason we place so much focus on education is because students should be prepared for productive lives, not just the latest standardized test. I recently had a conversation with Commissioner Schwinn that the mission of the Department of Education should be simple: Students should be prepared for life beyond the classroom.”

Rural Investment

“Whether it’s running a small business, accessing virtual learning or accessing health care via telemedicine, slow internet speeds have many in rural Tennessee left at a disadvantage. A significant, one-time investment, combined with significant private investment, will get broadband to just about every community in Tennessee, and tonight, that’s exactly what I’m proposing.”

Pro-Life & Pro-Family

“But being pro-life isn’t just about defending the unborn and we must also think about how to use our passion for this issue to improve the lives of struggling families. My administration is preparing a number of new initiatives that we’ll announce throughout the year that will make Tennessee a national leader in foster care and adoption.”

Ramsey Farrar lobbying firm adds new principals

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

The lobbying firm headed by former state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Russell Farrar has promoted Addison Russell, Matt Russell, and Ross Smith to principals. The outfit will now be rebranded as Ramsey, Farrar, Russell & Smith LLC.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Nashville, Tennessee-based Ramsey, Farrar & Bates, LLC, announces that the firm is rebranding as Ramsey, Farrar, Russell & Smith. The group is also promoting Addison Russell, Matt Russell and Ross Smith to principals, joining founders Ron Ramsey and J. Russell Farrar.

Addison Russell joined the firm in 2016 after serving as research analyst for the Tennessee Senate’s State and Local Government Committee under Chairman Ken Yager, and as legislative director for the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Prior to joining the firm in 2018, Matt Russell ran several campaigns across the state. He also served in multiple roles with the Tennessee Senate, including research analyst to the Transportation and Safety Committee under Chairman Jim Tracy.

Ross Smith, a skilled attorney and lobbyist, joined the firm in 2016 and has significant experience representing local governments and agencies.

“I am proud to introduce Addison, Matt and Ross as named principals,” says Farrar. “Each member of our governmental relations team brings valuable legislative experience, knowledge and capability to the work we do on behalf of our clients, and they have played an integral part in our success.”

Ramsey, Farrar, Russell & Smith represents clients in governmental relations, business development, crisis management, lobbying, public policy and regulatory solutions. The firm represents a multitude of clients covering issues such as health care, local government, nonprofits, education, business, procurement, retail, public safety and more.

“This transition is a better reflection of the breadth and depth of our group,” Ramsey says. “I have enjoyed working with Addison, Matt and Ross, and look forward to their future with the firm.”

State Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal over school voucher law

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The State Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear an appeal of lower court rulings that Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher to be unconstitutional.

Nashville Chancellor Anne Martin ruled in May that the law violated home rule provisions of the Tennessee Constitution by applying to only Nashville and Shelby County school districts without seeking support from either voters or local legislative bodies. The state sought a direct appeal to the Supreme Court but the justices declined to bypass the intermediate Court of Appeals, which unanimously upheld Martin’s original ruling.

Attorneys for Nashville and Shelby County governments argued the Supreme Court shouldn’t take up the appeal because the defendants hadn’t brought new arguments about the case. The state maintains home rule protections shouldn’t apply because school boards are separate from the operations of county governments.

The Supreme Court case will be closely watched as home rule disputes are only expected to multiply as rural-urban tensions largely match the partisan divide in the state.

Here’s a primer on the history of the home rule amendment from The Tennessee Journal in May 2020:

The subject of extending greater home rule powers was the subject of the greatest debate at a 1953 constitutional convention, but opposition failed to materialize at the ballot box as the change was approved with over 70% of the vote. The overwhelming approval reflected a sentiment summed up in an editorial in the Knoxville News Sentinel at the time that the change was needed to “make it tough on city charter meddlers in Nashville.”

State Supreme Court Justice A.B. Neil told the delegates to the constitutional convention the home rule question would be key to their deliberations. The General Assembly had handed down “too much unwise local legislation” over the years, the justice said, adding that many of those acts had “no merit other than to serve the basest ends in partisan politics.”

In a historical twist, the president of the 1953 constitutional convention was Prentice Cooper, a former governor who opposed the home rule amendment. Cooper, who died in 1969, was the father of Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who has led the charge to dismantle the voucher law on the basis of home rule violations.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s wife, Martha, dies at 66

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) announced that his wife, Martha, died Thursday after a multi-year struggle with Alzheimer’s. She was 66.

Here is the the Cooper family’s obituary:

NASHVILLE – Martha Hays Cooper died peacefully at home in Nashville on Thursday, Feb. 4, after years of struggling with Alzheimer’s. “Ookie” was married to Rep. Jim Cooper for almost 36 years, mother of their three amazing children, Mary (Scott Gallisdorfer), Jamie, and Hayes, and grandmother of the incomparable Jay.

Martha was born on Sept. 13, 1954, the second child of the late Dr. A.V. Hays and Dr. Martha Hays Taylor of Gulfport, Mississippi. Her siblings, Art Hays (Debbie) of Gaithersburg, MD, and Mary Hays Peller (Steve) of New Orleans, survive her. Martha graduated from Sweet Briar College in 1976 and from Mississippi State in 1980 with an M.S. in ornithology. Her first job was in a cubbyhole in the attic of the Natural History Museum, the Bird Division of the Smithsonian, staffing the first two editions of the million-selling National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. An adventuresome soul, Martha smoked cigars in swamps to repel mosquitoes, made lifelong friends in Buenos Aires, taught children and studied Puffins for the Quebec-Labrador Foundation, protected Least Terns on Gulf of Mexico beaches, camped in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and worked the Galápagos Islands for World Wildlife Fund, all while keeping an African-Grey parrot named Baroot in her kitchen.

Martha lived in Georgetown and drove a 1971 Robin’s-egg-blue Volvo P1800E when she met Jim, the youngest congressman in the U.S., who proposed at a White House Christmas party. Part Audrey Hepburn, Ali MacGraw, and Penelope Cruz, Martha was wary of politics until she lived in Shelbyville with Jim’s mother for a few months in 1984 to manage Jim’s first re-election campaign. The experiment worked. They married on April 6, 1985, followed by the birth of Mary Argentine in 1990, John James Audubon in 1991, and Hayes Hightower in 1995. Martha loved Mardi Gras, Galatoires (“the big G”), hurricanes and snow, peonies, Little Cayman Island, Ernie Banks, homemade popovers, Radnor Lake, friends in the Query and Centennial Clubs, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney, Standard Poodles (Ruby, Sirius Black, and Romeo), Cicadas, golf, City House’s belly-ham pizza, families of Crows, Prince Charles, her Cardinal-red 2003 Mini-Cooper, and the Hermitage, serving as Regent of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. Her favorite president was Barack Obama; favorite bird: Upupa Epops.

Martha’s charm and optimism were heroic, eclipsing her illness. She ALWAYS smiled and said thank you. She loved car travel; on bumpy roads she’d say “this makes me wiggle.” In recent years, she drew wobbly hearts on everything… with a Sharpie when she could find one.

The family is grateful to Martha’s main caregiver, Sandy Mathers, her friend of 25 years, as well as newer friends, Heather Tavasti and Alyssa Action. The team at Alive Hospice was godsent. Natural burial by Feldhaus Memorial Chapel of Shelbyville and Larkspur Conservation of Nashville. Anatomical gift to the Vanderbilt Brain and Biospecimen Bank. Due to COVID, family ceremony only.