Monthly Archives: March 2021

Slatery sits out GOP AGs’ letter questioning federal stimulus rules for states, cities

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 sitting out an initiative by Republican colleagues from other states raising concerns about rules attached to a key part of the $1.9 trillion federal economic aid package signed into law last week.

A letter signed by 21 Republican AGs questions Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration for announcing that $350 billion in COVID-19 relief for state, local, and tribal use cannot be used to offset tax cuts. That restriction would represent “the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic,” according to the letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

A White House official told The Washington Post the stimulus bill sets conditions about how states can use the money, but does not say they can’t cut any taxes. “It simply instructs them not to use that money to offset net revenues lost if the state chooses to cut taxes,” the official said.

Previous rounds of federal stimulus funding passed under former President Donald Trump included provisions barring states from using the money to “backfill” revenues lost during the economic downturn.

Slatery earlier this month was one of 19 attorneys general signing on to a letter urging defeat a bill by congressional Democrats they said would “federalize state elections and impose burdensome costs and regulations on state and local officials.” In December, Slatery joined 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.

Smith wants to cast wider net on banning lawmakers from doing business with state

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) attends a House floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill introduced by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is aimed at ending the practice of having lawmakers’ political consulting firms be paid with taxpayer dollars to send out constituent mailers for their colleagues. The measure would apply to two GOP lawmakers who recently had their homes and offices raided by the FBI, Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin and Robin Smith of Hixson.

Smith’s Rivers Edge Alliance last year billed the General Assembly nearly $11,000 for work on behalf of three colleagues. Casada’s Right Way Consulting billed $12,500 to six GOP lawmakers’ accounts. Smith and Casada have also refused to say whether they have a stake in a secretive vendor Phoenix Solutions that sprung into prominence last year.

Smith tells Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher she wants to amend Sexton’s legislation to make it “even better” by expanding it to also include legislators’ “consultant or agent.”

Smith didn’t tell Sher whom she was seeking to target with her amendment, but her attorney has been blaming Sexton adviser Chip Saltsman for the FBI probe into his client, calling the matter a “turf war between political consultants.”

Saltsman and Smith are both former political consultants to the House Republican Caucus. They have been at odds since a 2010 congressional race in which Saltsman client Chuck Fleischmann defeated Smith in the Republican primary.

Sexton is cool to the idea of Smith amending his bill.

“Her amendment and what she wanted to do would not fit the caption of my bill,” Sexton told the Times Free Press. “Nor has she come to me about adding an amendment to my bill. What she’s wanting to do would not fit the caption, therefore you can’t do it even if I gave her the approval, I would accept the amendment — which I have not.”

Tennessee offers online document check for Real ID applications

The yellow star, top right, indicates an Real ID compliant license. (Image credit: TSA)

A crush of Tennesseans trying to update their driver’s licenses to comply with Real ID standards caused long lines and delays before the federal government issued a reprieve during the pandemic.

A year ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security put off the enforcement deadline from October 2020 to October 2021, when Real IDs will be needed to board domestic flights.

With that date now approaching (and with vaccines making travel more likely), the state Department of Safety is offering a digital upload service so documents can be verified before people go to a Driver Service station to upgrade their IDs. That way, people won’t face the prospect of waiting in line only to find out they don’t have the correct paperwork with them.

Here’s the release from the Safety Department detailing the program.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s (TDOSHS) Driver Services division is pleased to announce the addition of document uploads to its online services options. This service allows new and existing customers to upload required identity documents to be pre-vetted and added to the customer’s profile prior to visiting a Driver Services Center.

“This new service will reduce the number of potential visits and cut down transaction time at the Driver Services Center with our staff by pre-vetting the customer’s uploaded documents,” said Commissioner Jeff Long. “One of the biggest frustrations we see for customers visiting a Driver Services Center is finding out they don’t have the correct documents with them when they arrive.”

Current customers wanting to apply for a REAL ID; first-time driver license and ID applicants; and new resident applicants are eligible to use this service. To begin the document upload process, visit www.tn.gov/safety/driver-services/online and navigate to e-Services. Existing customers will enter the required information fields and select “Upload Documents” from their service menu. New residents or first-time applicants will click, “Apply for a Tennessee permit, license, or ID” to begin the application and document upload process. Customers who complete the online document upload process will receive an email notification of their document review status.

Customers should allow up to five business days for their documents to be reviewed. Once approved, customers may visit any Driver Services Center or participating county clerk partner.

The approved uploaded documents must be presented in-person at a Driver Services Center or participating county clerk partner to verify the documents are original or certified. Proof of name change documents are not accepted for online document upload and need to be presented at the time of service.

The department encourages all Tennesseans to utilize the online portal to complete driver services such as driver license or CDL renewal, submitting reinstatement documents, change of address and many more. For services not available online in e-Services, customers may visit a Self-Service Kiosk, participating county clerk partner or are encouraged to make an appointment for their Driver Services Center visit.

NTT, title sponsor of IndyCar, announces 350 jobs coming to Nashville

Image credit: IndyCar.

Japanese information technology company NTT DATA Corp. is spending $10 million to open a Nashville office and hire 350 employees. The company is the title sponsor of the IndyCar series, which is scheduled to run its first race on the streets of Nashville in August.

NTT is ranked No. 62 on the fortune Global 500, employing 130,000 people in more than 50 countries.

“NTT DATA’s decision to locate a strategic innovation and digital delivery center in Nashville underscores the vibrant economy and highly-skilled workforce of the entire Nashville region,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement.

Here’s the release from the state:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and NTT DATA officials announced today that the company will establish an innovation and digital delivery center in Nashville.

The global IT services leader will invest $9.9 million and create 350 jobs, including a focus on healthcare and manufacturing technology, as a result of the project.

NTT DATA’s new center will focus on developing and deploying digital and industry skills within the IT sector. The company will provide U.S.-based service delivery to local, national and international clients and serve as a cross-industry and technology showcase from its office in downtown Nashville’s Capitol View.

NTT DATA Corporation, based in Tokyo, Japan, is one of the world’s largest IT and business service providers. Ranked 62nd in the Fortune Global 500, NTT DATA Corporation employs 130,000 people worldwide and delivers services in more than 50 countries. NTT DATA Services is a U.S.-based division with headquarters in Plano, Texas that employs more than 50,000 professionals who work with the world’s leading brands.

Over the last five years, TNECD has supported nearly 65 economic development projects in Davidson County, resulting in more than 18,000 job commitments and $2 billion in capital investment.

GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While many members of the General Assembly are privately breathing a sigh of relief about the defeat of a resolution to throw out a judge over an absentee balloting ruling last summer, they are now being faced with another threatened ouster, this time of Republican Gov. Bill Lee if he were to violate a proposed new ban on moving busts from the second floor of the state Capitol.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) have introduced legislation to reconstitute the Tennessee Historical Commission to give the General Assembly control over eight of its 12 members. The panel, which last week OK’d moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to the State Museum, is currently appointed by the governor.

Ragan has also had an amendment drafted declaring:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the statues currently on the second floor of the state capitol must never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion without approval in accordance with this section and must be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.

If an elected official were to go ahead and do it anyway, “the violation is an impeachable offense and grounds for ouster,” according to the amendment. Public officials would also be personally liable for damages, penalties, and fines.

Ragan was scheduled to present his bill the same day the Historical Commission voted for move the Forrest bust, but he took the measure off notice (which used to mean it was dead, but now indicates it could come back at any time). Hensley is scheduled to present the upper chamber’s version on Wednesday.

The Ragan amendment also includes a provision to add protections for monuments located on private land. If approved, it would likely apply to the garish Forrest statue alongside I-65 in Nashville that its late owner left to either the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Battle of Nashville Trust. The latter has said it would remove the statue.

It is unlawful for a person, firm, corporation, or other entity acting without authority to multimate, deface, defile, abuse contemptuously, relocate, remove, or obscure a privately owned monument, plaque, marker or memorial that is dedicated is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state , the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.

Tennessee Democratic Party announces new staff hires

New state Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus has named his political and party affairs directors, along with a new operations manager. Announcements for other key positions, including executive director, communications, and finance are expected soon.

Here’s the full release from the party:

March 10th, 2021 (Nashville, TN)  – The Tennessee Democratic Party is excited to welcome and announce key members of our 2021-2022 leadership team. Chair Remus has vowed to build a diverse team that reflects our party’s big tent philosophy and that will help us to reimagine democratic politics in Tennessee. Therefore, he has selected Tamara Bates as Director of Political Affairs; Maria Brewer as Director of Party Affairs & Training and Arsenio Williams as Operations Manager.

 “In order for us to move the needle in our state, we have to be intentional about who is leading the charge and the experiences that they bring to their roles. We must ensure that we have the type of political engagement that will mobilize our base along with the type of operational and organizational knowledge to deliver results. This core team I’m announcing today, with the future additions to come in weeks, has the necessary skill and talent to turn Tennessee blue in 2022.” – Hendrell Remus, TNDP Party Chair

Tamara Bates recently helped to flip the senate as a Regional Field Director for Woke Vote during the U.S. Senate races in Georgia. With an abundance of campaign experience rooted in southern politics on the national, state, and local levels, she brings the type of political and strategic insight that will allow TNDP to expand its reach with its core constituencies through organizing, while building and strengthening our relationships with elected leaders and allied organizations, to win.

Maria Brewer has served as the Director of Party Affairs for TNDP since 2017. She will continue in her role while also leading our statewide training initiative. She has worked with and understands the complexities of the inner workings of our county parties, the DNC, and the Executive Committee. 

Arsenio Williams will bring a depth of operational experience to the day-to-day office operations of the TNDP. His knowledge in financial compliance and experience managing contracts and personnel will be an asset to ensuring that business operations flow seamlessly.

In addition, Joshua Karp will serve as Strategic Communications Advisor to the TNDP. He has served as the Communications Director for the Florida Democratic Party as well as the Deputy Campaign Manager for Andrew Gillum. Karp most recently served as an Advisor to current DNC Chair Jaime Harrison while also helping to flip the Senate with Jon Ossoff as Communication Strategist.

In the near future we look forward to naming our Executive Director, Data, Communications, and Finance Directors.

FBI visit to Tennessee Capitol sparks jitters

Federal agents meet with legislative staffers outside the office of Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

FBI agents visited the first floor of the state Capitol on Tuesday, setting off shockwaves around a statehouse complex still reeling from raids on three lawmakers’ homes and offices on the eve of the legislative session. But authorities were quick to disavow any connection to the probe into Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill.

“The visit by several of our agents was not related to the raid that occured in January,” FBI spokeswoman Elizabeth Clement-Webb told The Tennessee Journal. “This was solely outreach.”

The agents were spotted flashing badges at troopers manning the gate to the Capitol, and later as they were escorted past security to the floor housing the offices of Gov. Bill Lee, his top advisers, and the state’s constitutional officers.

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the visit “had nothing to do with the raids.”

WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams has reported that Casada has been telling associates the FBI asked him questions about how he helped pass the governor’s signature school voucher law when he was the House speaker in 2019. Casada was asked about allegations of bribes being offered to help gain support, the people he spoke to told Williams.

Casada has denied offering inducements in exchange for votes when voucher bill was deadlocked on a 49-49 vote. The measure later passed by a single vote.

Blast from the past: Ramsey featured on HBO’s ‘Last Week Tonight’

A clip of a 2011 Ron Ramsey presser featured on HBO last weekend. (Screengrab from HBO)

Former Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey made an unexpected appearance on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” over the weekend.

The bit featured a clip of the Blountville Republican speaking to members of the Tennessee Capitol Hill Press Corps in 2011 about imposing tighter restrictions on unemployment benefits.

Here’s the exchange captured by the defunct TNReport.com:

Ramsey: “If you were fired from your job for just cause, maybe even for stealing from your employer of chronic absenteeism, you shouldn’t be able to get unemployment.”

Reporter: “You don’t get unemployment insurance if you’re fired for cause now –“

Ramsey: “The law says you’re not supposed to, but buddy let me assure you, nine times out of 10 they get their unemployment.”

Reporter: “Nine times out of 10?”

Ramsey: “I don’t know about that. OK, that was a Ron Ramsey blanket statement there. But there are plenty of examples that they get it.”

Watch the full clip below, starting at about the 10-minute mark (warning: customarily colorful language used by Oliver):

Lee, Blackburn say state being short-changed by $164M in COVID-19 relief bill

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn say in an opinion piece for Fox News that congressional Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is a “blue state payday that shortchanges Tennessee by $164 million because it uses a distribution formula based on unemployment figures rather than population.”

Left unsaid is that the difference makes up about 2.7% of the $6.1 billion in federal money projected to flow to the state under the plan. And nobody is talking about saying no to the massive influx of federal dollars into Tennessee.

“This hyper-partisan bill and the process through which it’s being passed represents everything that’s wrong with Washington,” Lee and Blackburn say in the piece. “And unfortunately, Tennessee and other fiscally conservative states are on the losing end of the deal.”

Historical Commision approves move of Forrest bust from Tennessee Capitol

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Historical Commission has approved a petition to move the bust of Confederate cavalry general, slave trader, and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol.

Petitions to change historical monuments require two-thirds votes by the commission. Twenty-five members of the panel voted in favor, while Joanne Cullom Moore was the lone commissioner voting against.

The waiver authorizes the move of the Forrest bust, along with those of U.S. Navy Adms. David Farragut and Albert Gleaves, to the Tennessee State Museum.

The speakers of the House and Senate have argued that Gov. Bill Lee’s administration skipped a step following the State Capitol Commission’s recommendation to move the bust because it did not seek concurrence from the State Building Commission.