Monthly Archives: March 2021

Speaker Sexton strips Griffey of committee assignments

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) attends a meeting at the legislative office building in Nashville on Dec. 20, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has stripped Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) of his committee assignments. The move comes after Griffey’s unsuccessful attempt earlier this week to pull an e-verify bill that had earlier been defeated in a subcommittee straight to floor.

Griffey had engaged in a testy exchange with Sexton and House parliamentarian Daniel Hicks on Monday about whether he should be allowed to deliver remarks in favor of his bill while making the motion on the floor. After cutting the lawmaker off, Sexton determined Griffey’s motion didn’t have a second and declared it defeated.

Griffey, who is considering a bid for a judgeship next year, was removed as a member of the Civil Justice, Criminal Justice, and Education Instruction committees.

UPDATE: A statement from Sexton:

There are certain expectations that must be met by members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. These include maintaining decorum and professionalism, as well as respect for others, and perhaps most importantly — respect for our longstanding committee process. If any or all of these expectations become an issue, appropriate actions will be taken — including removing a member from his or her committee assignments.”

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock dies at 90

Former Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) speaks with U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), right, at a reception before the state Republican Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner on June 15, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) has died at age 90, according to a family spokesman.

Brock defeated incumbent Democrat Albert Gore Sr. in 1970, but lost his re-election bid to Democrat Jim Sasser six years later.

Brock went on to head the Republican National Committee before embarking on another bid for the Senate in 1994, this time in Maryland. He won the GOP nomination, but lost to incumbent Democrat Paul Sarbanes.

Here is the family obituary:

Former Tennessee Senator Bill Brock, who served in both chambers Congress and as a Cabinet member, passed away today at the age of 90 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida peacefully, surrounded by his family.

Brock spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1962 to 1970, becoming the first Republican to hold the Third Congressional District seat in 40 years. In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He also served as U.S. Trade Representative and Labor Department Secretary during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

He was elected Chair of the Republican National Committee, rebuilding the GOP through grass roots efforts that welcomed people of different races, backgrounds, and perspectives. 

Brock co-chaired the National Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce and chaired the Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills which set a new course for elementary and secondary education. He received the National Academy of Human Resources highest tribute and recognition for outstanding achievement in advancing human development.

He was as a Senior Counselor and Member of the Board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he chaired the International Policy Roundtable.

Born and raised in Chattanooga, TN, Bill Brock graduated from McCallie School in 1949, attended Washington & Lee University, earning a BS in Commerce in 1953. When Brock returned from serving 2 years in the Navy, he went to work in his family’s candy company.  Like his parents and grandparents, Sen. Brock was called to serve in his community and became active in the Chattanooga Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Brock is survived by his wife, Sandra Schubert Brock; two brothers, Paul “Pat” Brock and Frank Brock; six children and step-children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Health commissioner warns of possible COVID-19 surge

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

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey is warning of the next potential spike in COVID-19 infections despite the downward trends of the last quarter.

The Nashville Post reports the state’s infection rate dropped 85% between January and the middle of this month, but that 8,500 new cases were reported over the last week, with the active case count jumping by 1,000 people. Hospitalization rates are also creeping up.

“I’m fairly certain it’s going to get worse. What I don’t know is how high the next surge might be,” Piercey told lawmakers. “We are already starting to see — we saw a plateau for three to six weeks — now we are starting to see it tick back up ever so slightly. What I don’t know is whether that will be a blip or if that will be a pretty substantive surge.”

Piercey said the statistics underscore the need to convince more Tennesseans to get vaccinated. Gov. Bill Lee has announced the state will drop all restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines by early April, meaning innoculations will be available to anyone who wants one.

“Some of the vaccine hesitancy we have encountered was expected. We anticipated some of it, but there has been, to be honest, some vaccine hesitancy that we did not anticipate, and we can’t readily identify reasons for that,” she said. “That’s why the market research piece is so important, in all 95 counties, particularly among rural conservative and rural white men, why they are hesitant and how to address it properly.”

Tennessee sportsbook sues to undo suspension by Lottery

Tennessee Action 24/7 is asking a court to undo a first-in-the-nation decision by the state Lottery to suspend its sportsbook license due to fraud and money laundering, the Associated Press reports.

Action 24/7, which is run by executives of short-term lender Advance Financial, is questioning the regulatory process used to issue the suspension.

According to Lottery investigator Danny DiRienzo, the company self-reported suspicious activity on March 17, which was several days after the alleged fraud took place. In one instance, he said, a player made a $10 deposit into his betting account, which was then followed by 124 deposits with seven cards in as many different names. The account holder then withdrew money without placing many bets.

“It is serious, serious criminal activity, probably in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damages done with multiple real individuals and business victims,” DiRienzo said during an emergency meeting of the Lottery board on Friday.

According to the the lawsuit, company representatives wanted to be heard during the meeting, but the panel “refused to hear their position.”

The lottery’s actions were “an inadequate or sometimes complete lack of review of the evidence, an unwillingness to hear Action’s side of the story, and a rush to judgment, ultimately resulting in a destruction of Action’s business,” according to the lawsuit.

Tennessee Action said the total number of fraudulent deposits totaled about $37,400, of $14,700 has been recovered.

Bill to ban lawmakers from selling services to the state wouldn’t extend to executive branch

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

Current law makes it illegal for public officials to enter into sales or purchase contracts with the state. A bill moving in the House would also make it a crime for lawmakers to secure service contracts with the state, with the main aim being to curb the practice of members’ political consulting firms getting paid with taxpayer funds to design and send constituent correspondence on behalf of their colleagues.

The bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) initially would have applied to any government official, but as amended it is limited to “any member of the General Assembly.”

When Bill Lee was running for governor, he appeared to have been caught off guard by questions about what would happened to government contracts held by his family plumbing and air conditioning company if he were elected governor.

“I would guess we would be required to do that. I haven’t actually looked into that. I basically went into this thing and said, am I willing to give up state contracts to do this, yes,” Lee said in 2017. “Will we be required to? I don’t know. If we aren’t required to, I won’t.”

Lee later clarified his position and announced he would cancel all contracts if he was elected. Lee Co. trucks have sporadically been spotted around the Capitol complex since the governor took office, but officials say the company has no active contracts.

Jacobs formally announces bid for another term as Knox County mayor

Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs meet at the state Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee’s office)

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has formally announced his bid for a second term as mayor of Knox County. While widely expected, the decision means the professional wrestler won’t be running for governor in 2022.

“Four years ago, I pledged to stay true to my conservative values as Mayor,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Nobody could have envisioned a pandemic and the economic shutdown that followed, but I’m proud Knox County has been able to weather the storm without a tax increase.”

The Republican primary in the mayor’s race is scheduled for May 3, 2022. Jacobs, who wrestles as the WWE villain Kane, won the 2018 nomination by 23 votes over Brad Anders.

Here’s the full release from the Jacobs campaign:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs will file the necessary paperwork to officially claim his spot in the 2022 mayoral race seeking re-election for the county executive seat he has held since September 2018. Alexander Waters will serve as Campaign Treasurer with Jake Ogle assisting.

As Mayor, Jacobs has demonstrated strong, conservative leadership and focused on telling the rest of the world what Knox County citizens already know: Knox County is the best place to live, work, and raise a family. He has committed to creating opportunities for everyone to thrive in an engaged and vibrant community by prioritizing jobs, education and recreation.

Jacobs promises to fervently continue this work in the second term.

Of the candidacy, Jacobs said, “Four years ago, I pledged to stay true to my conservative values as Mayor. Nobody could have envisioned a pandemic and the economic shutdown that followed, but I’m proud Knox County has been able to weather the storm without a tax increase. By tightening our belt and making smart cuts, we balanced our budget while continuing to make forward-thinking investments in our community. If reelected, the public can expect four more years of leadership with conservative values top of mind.”

Prior to his election, Jacobs owned Jacob Insurance Associates and spent more than 20 years as a professional wrestler, most notably as WWE Superstar and three-time world champion Kane.

Jacobs and his wife of more than 25 years, Crystal, have lived in East Tennessee with their two daughters Arista and Devan who both work in the healthcare field, since 1995.

Of their move to Knox County in 2013, Jacobs said, “I was fortunate to travel the world in my previous job, but I visited this area, fell in love with it and never left. I’m honored to serve such an incredible community.”

For more information or to support the Glenn Jacobs for Mayor reelection campaign, visit JacobsForMayor.com.

The Republican primary is set to take place on May 3, 2022, with the General Election following on August 4, 2022. Anyone wishing to vote in the primary must be registered to vote by April 4, 2022. Voter registration information can be found here.


Lee administration giving conservative activists jump on public releases

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Want to know what Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is up to before the general public? Find a way to get on the mailing list of the Republican’s external affairs director. That’s not to be confused with the governor’s communications office, which handles traditional media releases and the likes.

Lee’s External Affairs Director Joseph Williams last week emailed activists to inform them about “a key conservative priority” by the governor to ban China-backed Confucius Institutes at public universities and require transparency for other foreign gifts and investments. The correspondence included a copy of a press release that would be sent out the public and media two hours later.

Here’s the email:

From: Joseph Williams
Subject: Governor Lee’s Transparency In Foreign Investment Act
Date: March 16, 2021 at 12:08:45 PM CDT

Friends,
The Governor wanted y’all to get news on this before we issue a press release. This continues to be a key conservative priority moving forward.
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Best,
Joseph  

Joseph Williams| Director of External Affairs

One recipient was thrilled to hear it, encouraging like-minded folks to send Williams an “attaboy for a job well done,” especially given past policy differences with Lee over COVID-19 mitigation, the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Capitol, and Black Lives Matter protests in Nashville.

Lee appears to be have ramped up his partisan rhetoric in advance of next year’s re-election campaign, but his use of government resources to reach out to potential voters is raising eyebrows among political observers.

Freshman Republican bucks leadership on permitless carry

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. John Gillespie, a freshman Republican from Memphis, speaking out against a bill to eliminate background check and training requirements in order to carry handguns in public.

“Law enforcement opposes this bill, and I take their recommendation seriously,” Gillespie said in a release.

The bill passed the Senate on a 23-9 vote last week (opponents included three Republicans: Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Brian Kelsey of Memphis, and Becky Massey of Knoxville). The House version is up for a Finance Committee vote on Tuesday.

The measure was introduced on behalf of Gov. Bill Lee and has wide support among Republicans in both chambers. But for some gun rights groups, the bill doesn’t go far enough. The National Association for Gun Rights has publicized the phone numbers of Senate Speaker Randy
McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Senate Judiciary Chair Mike Bell (R-Riceville) for opposing efforts to allow people with recent drunken driving or stalking convictions to be covered by the bill.

The state issued 145,237 handgun carry permits last year, but 3,639 applications were rejected and 2,065 were suspended or revoked.

Here’s the release from Gillespie:

State Representative John Gillespie today voiced his opposition to a gun bill regarding what is commonly referred to as “open constitutional carry”. The proposed legislation would allow any Tennessean to carry a handgun openly or concealed without a permit and without any training in firearms use.

“I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment right to possess firearms, but I reservations about this proposed law,” Gillespie stated. “I’ve spoken with numerous constituents and law enforcement professionals about this bill and have decided to vote ‘no’ for two reasons. First, law enforcement opposes this bill, and I take their recommendation seriously. Second, there is no training component to the
legislation. I support Tennessee’s concealed carry law because it requires a course in basic handgun safety. This legislation does not require training, although the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association has offered to provide the training at no charge,” remarked Gillespie.

A graduate of High Point University, Gillespie is a native Memphian. He supports the mission of a local senior living facility by serving as Grant Coordinator. Gillespie began his career in banking and finance starting as a customer service representative at a local bank before working his way up to the mortgage division at another Memphis financial institution. He is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Representative Gillespie was elected to the District 97 seat in the House of Representatives in November. The district includes parts of Bartlett, Cordova, and East Memphis. More information about Gillespie may be found by visiting VoteJohnGillespie.com.

Lobbyists scramble as 27-page amendment to tech privacy bill surfaces

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A Republican bill aiming to protect users’ privacy online strikes all the right chords with people tired of having their personal information harvested and sold to third party vendors. But the devil, as always, is in the details.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville) and Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) originally dealt with with campaign finance disclosures for corporations. But it opened 14 titles of the Tennessee Code — a classic caption bill that the serve as a vehicle for a wide variety of initiatives.

The amendment now circulating would set privacy requirements that could have far-reaching effects on a variety of businesses. There’s already talk of the measure becoming this year’s Lobbyist Full Employment Act.

AP: State election coordinator’s memo served as basis for judge ouster resolution

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)

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins helped lay the groundwork for a controversial resolution to oust a respected Nashville judge for a ruling to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic, according to public records obtained by the AP’s Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise.

Goins sent a five-page memo outlining his complaints about Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle to Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), the sponsor of the resolution that would gain as many as 67 cosponsors before it was killed in a House subcommittee last week. Goins said he wrote the memo at Rudd’s request about a month before the resolution was filed.

According to emails obtained by the AP, Rudd’s assistant sent a Jan. 20 email saying the lawmaker was “in need of verbiage and information for this resolution.” According to Goins’ memo:

“Chancellor Lyle issued numerous orders and expressed her opinion ranging from ordering ministerial checklists, destroying accurate election documents, using her specific language for instructions and websites, to challenging statutory language regarding voting fraud. The practical effect was she became the de facto Coordinator of Elections when it came to voting by-mail.”

Goins also took issue with Lyle’s “tone” during proceedings.

Lyle in June told Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office “shame on you” for taking matters into its own hands by modifying her absentee balloting order without first seeking approval from the court. Goins the previous week had told county election commissions to “hold off” on following Lyle’s order while his office revised application forms and sought a stay.

The state’s creation of a new category for voters unwilling to risk their health was criticized as sowing uncertainty about whether ballots would be counted if the decision is later overturned. While Lyle declined plaintiffs’ motion to impose sanctions for the unauthorized changes, she ordered the state to revise its forms to include concerns over COVID-19 among the existing qualifications for people too ill to vote in person. If her ruling isn’t followed, she warned, criminal contempt proceedings could follow.

“Chancellor publicly chastised defendants saying, ‘Shame on You’ and threatened criminal contempt,” Goins wrote. “However, Chancellor Lyle did not ‘shame’ or ‘threaten to hold in contempt’ the multiple plaintiffs who voted in-person even though they signed a verified complaint under oath in her court saying they did not want to risk their health by voting in-person and needed to vote by mail.”

Goins and Hargett promoted news coverage of the plaintiffs’ decisions to vote in person while the lawsuit was going on.

Read the full AP story here.