Monthly Archives: April 2021

New PAC takes aim at Gov. Bill Lee’s re-election bid

(Image credit: Beat Bill Lee PAC)

A new political action committee called Beat Bill Lee takes aim at the Republican’s re-election efforts. The PAC is run by Emily Cupples, the former communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Lee is running for a second term next year. While limited polling has shown his popularity has slipped with Democrats, he remains popular with Republicans. No Democratic candidate has won a statewide race in Tennessee since 2006.

Here’s the release from the new PAC:

GROUP OF CONCERNED TENNESSEANS LAUNCH BEAT BILL LEE PAC
April 29th, 2021 (Tennessee) – Today, Tennesseans from across the state filed a political action committee against Governor Bill Lee’s bid for re-election in 2022. Funded by small dollar donations, the PAC will use funds raised to organize hard working families across Tennessee and America to mobilize against the power grab from Bill Lee and other fringe conservatives. This political action committee is composed of Tennesseans from all parts of the state and members include working families, single young folks, white collar professionals, politicians, and Tennesseans from all backgrounds united around the mission to beat Bill Lee in 2022. Beat Bill Lee will utilize a mixture of traditional and unconventional campaign tactics to lead a campaign against the current sitting governor.

“Since Bill Lee took office 7 rural hospitals closed, 4 during the COVID19 pandemic, unemployment reached an all time high, gun violence increased by 50%, and our student proficiency dropped. Spending $7 million taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, it’s evident Lee is serving dark interest groups and not Tennessee families. We cannot wait until 3 months out from election day, when the primary is over, to start mobilizing against Lee. We must stop Bill Lee and the dark money interest groups he represents from their continued destruction of Tennessee. The work to Beat Bill Lee begins today.” – Emily Cupples, Beat Bill Lee PAC Director.

Ogles returns to House after extended absence

Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin), second from right, attends a floor session April 26, 2021. (Image credit: Screengrab from legislative feed)

State Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) returned to the House this week after missing several weeks with what he called an “extended battle” with COVID-19 and pneumonia.

“I am thankful for those who have called, sent texts, and helped out during my absence,” Ogles said in a message posted on his Facebook page. “I am looking forward to being back in the office, serving District 61 and finishing out this legislative session strong.”

Legislative attendance records show Ogles was excused from House floor sessions on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, and then missed another session March 15. He was then away for every floor session between March 25 and his reappearance on Monday.

Several other lawmakers have missed time this year due to COVID-19.

Senate deals setback to effort to block local governments from suing state

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

The Senate on Monday rejected a proposal by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to ban local governments from filing lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly.

Kelsey said his bill would only apply to lawsuits filed after the bill went into effect. But he cited recent legal challenges over school vouchers, voter ID, and funding for large school districts as examples of litigation he is seeking to outlaw.

Kelsey’s bill went off the rails when Republicans like Sens. Ken Yager of Kingston and Page Walley of Bolivar began questioning why local governments should be prevented from challenging the constitutionality of measures that may bring them fiscal harm.

Walley noted that when he was a state House member in the 1990s, 77 small school districts successfully sued the state for more equal education funding. Kelsey argued that instead of the lawsuit filed by the late Lewis Donelson, the small school districts should have pursued their aims by “talking to the legislature.”

Walley agreed it would have been better for the General Assembly to act on its own accord, but recalled “an intransigence” on the part of lawmakers that prevented a solution at the time.

The vote on Kelsey’s amendment failed 14-14, with three Republicans and two Democrats missing the vote. Kelsey asked to move his bill to Wednesday, at which point he is expected to introduce another amendment seeking similar restrictions.

Kelsey’s amendment failed on a 14-14 vote on April 26, 2021.

DesJarlais, Blackburn get highest TN rankings from American Conservative Union

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a rally in Franklin on Oct. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Per a press release from the American Conservative Union:

Alexandria, VA – The American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), host of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has just released the 50th Edition of its annual Ratings of Congress.  

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the scorecard, ACUF has released a comprehensive new platform to help better hold lawmakers accountable to conservative principles. The system breaks down the voting records of over 15,000 historical and active lawmakers and identifies each lawmaker’s specific policy strength and weakness. The system also provides head-to-head comparisons of elected officials through its 1.4 million vote database. Lawmaker ratings will be used to determine speaking invitations to CPAC and other ACU regional events.

In the 2020 session, four members of the Tennessee congressional delegation received awards for earning scores of 80% or higher from ACUF:

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (96%)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (96%)

Rep. John Rose (89%

Rep. Mark Green (85%)

Tennessee’s other Republican members received the following scores: Rep. Tim Burchett (79%), Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (79%), Rep. David Kustoff (78%), Rep. Phil Roe (74%), and Fmr. Sen. Lamar Alexander (74%).

Democratic lawmakers Rep. Jim Cooper (4%) and Rep. Steve Cohen (0%) qualified for ACUF’s “Coalition of the Radical Left” for earning scores of 10% or lower.

This year CPAC and ACUF will present awards to 122 of the 535 members of Congress. The awards are used to help voters and activists identify which lawmakers are best upholding conservative principles and who to rally behind.

To produce this year’s scorecard, the ACUF’s Center for Legislative Accountability analyzed every vote taken last session and selected a wide-array of issues relating to fiscal, tax, regulatory, education, environment, Second Amendment rights, election security, life, and government integrity. All lawmakers in America at the federal and state levels are scored on a 100-point scale.

Remembering Thelma Harper

Sen. Thelma Harper, in one of her trademark hats, poses for a selfie with then-Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow lawmakers before the State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 (Photo credit: State of Tennessee)

Former state Sen. Thelma Harper, who died Thursday at age 80, was the first African-American woman to serve in the state Senate. The outspoken Nashville Democrat delivered some memorable lines over her time in politics. Here are some of Harper’s memorable quotes, culled from the archives of The Tennessee Journal:

  • “All my stuff is original.” — Harper after a flustered Sen. Raymond Finney (R-Maryville) twice addressed her as “sir” during a committee hearing in 2005.
  • “If someone wants to tell me something, let him stand up and tell me so I can punch his lights out.” — Harper, then a Nashville Metro Council member, to the Nashville Banner in 1989 about a letter she received in support of keeping a landfill in her district open.
  • “If Senator Fowler could be impregnated, he wouldn’t be trying to take these rights away.” Harper arguing against a 2004 anti-abortion resolution by Sen. David Fowler (R-Signal Mountain).
  • “I offered to sew up his pants for him. Shows you what I know. ” — Harper after she joined country singer Marty Stuart — whose trademark is jeans with tattered knees — to present a bluegrass music award at a Nashville awards show in 1995. Harper admitted she had no idea who Stuart was before the show.
  • “Sometimes men dress up to look like women. My question is, are you going to raise up and see?” — Harper speaking on 1996 bill by Sen. Jim Holcomb (R-Bluff City) that would require Tennessee not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
  • “It’s not our fault that Shelby County has so many people that don’t know how to behave.”Harper responding to a comment by Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) during a meeting of the Select Oversight Committee on Correction in 1993. Committee members were discussing empty jail cells in Davidson County.
  • “What you’re telling them is they’ve got to have a spittoon…. They shouldn’t be spitting out. I just think it’s not fair.” Harper to Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), on his 2015 bill to let college students under the drinking age but at least 18 taste beer in college brewing classes provided they don’t swallow it.
  • “I was eating before I got here — that’s obvious — and I’ll be eating after I leave.” — Harper responding to comments by Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) criticizing a bill that placed weak restrictions on lobbyists’ wining and dining of legislators.
  • “Senate Bill 3929 comes from the governor, and it does nothing to help anybody.” Harper, the sponsor of the bill, asking Senate Commerce to take the measure off notice in 2006. The legislation pertained to blasting, a topic on which she’d butted heads with Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.
  • “Now I don’t know if the sponsor realizes that slavery is dead…. We have worked as diligently as we can as a committee … but we’re not going to be whipped with straps and made to do anything.”Harper addressing the Senate in 2003 on complaints by Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) complaints that her committee has held up a lottery implementation bill.
  • “Your church people have been calling me all week. These people said they would never have voted for you.” Harper to Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) in 2006 after saying she had been “disrespected” because Jack Daniel’s had chosen Tracy, whose district included its distillery, to sponsor a bill to place a $10 million museum and store in downtown Nashville, which was in her district. The bill failed on a 4-4 committee vote, with Harper voting against.
  • “There are some men on this commission – some real Tarzans.” Harper speaking in 1995 of the predominantly female Women’s Suffrage Commission.
  • “At some point, our children are just going to realize we’re winers. We’re drunks, even at the grocery store.” Harper on a 2016 bill to allow grocery stores to allow on-premise wine consumption.
  • “What we’ve done here tonight is not going to help our students because we have decided that everybody … has to have a brain like legislators.” — Harper complaining to the Senate in 2003 that lottery scholarship standards were too high.
  • “I think what you just heard is that any kook who can get their name on the ballot and run for judge and get a majority vote — they will be deciding the issues of life.” — Harper on 2009 legislation to reestablish contested elections for the Supreme Court.
  • “Every once in a while we ought to give him what he wants. He doesn’t ask for a lot.” Harper in proposing an amendment in 2014 to give Gov. Bill Haslam more appointments to the Tennessee Textbook Commission than the three provided in a bill by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville). The Government Operations Committee rejected her amendment.
  • “Feeding me doesn’t influence me. I was fat when I came, and if I’m still healthy I’ll be fat when I leave.”Harper on legislation dealing with lobbyist spending in 2005.
  • “I hope you have a woman on it because when I was coming up, women couldn’t talk about whiskey.” — Harper to Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) after the Senate State and Local Government Committee decided to form a study committee for a liquor bill in 2014.
  • “Hell, we didn’t have choice, not at all, and we shouldn’t have choice now. We should take care of our students in public schools.” Harper on a 2015 school voucher bill by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga).
  • “He championed and understood that we could be fiscally responsible and still care about the welfare of others.” Harper on the death of Sen. Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) in 2017.

White House declares major disaster in TN counties affected by February storms

The White House has declared a major disaster in 13 Tennessee counties rocked by a winter storm in February.

Here’s the release:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms from February 11 to February 19, 2021.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms in the counties of Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Moore, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, and Smith.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Robert J. Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments. 

Lee’s addition of lawmakers to stimulus group seen as effort to forestall support for special session

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday added two lawmakers, House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) and Senate Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), to his Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. The move is being perceived in some circles as an effort to let the air out of a movement to have the General Assembly come back into special session later in the year to take a direct hand in appropriating billions of dollars flowing to the state in the former of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Here is the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the addition of Senator Ferrell Haile and Representative Patsy Hazlewood to the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG). The bipartisan group will continue its work to support Tennessee’s economy and ensure proper fiscal management of federal relief funds, meeting publicly and reporting regularly to bring transparency to the process.

“As Tennessee’s strong economic recovery continues, we must ensure federal dollars coming to our state are used wisely and effectively,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I thank Sen. Haile, Rep. Hazlewood and all members of this group for their valuable input as we steward these resources and serve Tennesseans.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve on this panel which is charged with ensuring this money is used properly to best benefit our citizens,” said Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile. “We have a huge responsibility to see that these funds are managed in the most effective manner and Governor Lee is taking every step possible to ensure the most efficient use. I look forward to working with him and the other members of the group to make good decisions about how these funds are spent.”

“One of the biggest challenges facing our state currently is using federal stimulus dollars in a fiscally responsible manner to ensure all Tennessean’s benefit,” said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. “I appreciate Governor Lee appointing me to Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, and together our work will make sure we can continue to effectively address the immediate and emerging needs of our state.”

Since its founding in April 2020, the FSAG has overseen nearly 90% of all federal dollars distributed to Tennessee through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, authorized in the CARES Act. In 2020, the group proactively invested these dollars into the state’s unemployment trust fund, which successfully protected jobs and prevented tax hikes. The FSAG also supported the allocation of over $300 million in grants to small businesses across Tennessee.

The FSAG is currently preparing for implementation of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, an additional tranche of relief authorized by Congress in March 2021.

Effective April 2021, members of the group include:
• Governor Bill Lee
• Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally
• House Speaker Cameron Sexton
• Senator Bo Watson
• Senator Raumesh Akbari
• Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile
• Representative Patsy Hazlewood
• Representative Pat Marsh
• Representative Harold Love Jr.
• Jason Mumpower, Comptroller of the Treasury
• Commissioner Butch Eley, Finance & Administration

Biden appoints four to TVA board, including two from Tennessee

President Joe Biden has announced plans to nominate four members to the board of the TEnnessee Valley Authority, including two from Tennessee.

Here’s the details from the White House:

Beth Geer, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Beth Prichard Geer is Chief of Staff to former Vice President Al Gore and serves as a member of Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Geer has extensive policy and outreach experience on issues including climate change, environmental justice, and regenerative agriculture. She has served in senior roles in the Clinton-Gore White House, Department of Labor, and United States Senate. As a native of rural Tennessee, she graduated with honors from Middle Tennessee State University and earned the Public Leadership Executive Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Managers in Government program.  She resides in Brentwood, Tennessee with her husband, Dr. John Geer.

Robert Klein, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Robert P. Klein is a lifelong resident of Chattanooga having attending Hamilton County public schools graduating from Tyner High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and National Beta Club.  He also attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Klein served in the Tennessee Army National Guard where received an Honorable Discharge.

He began his professional career at the Chattanooga Gas Company before continuing at the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (now EPB) where he worked in the Overhead Line Department.  He completed the Joint Lineman Apprenticeship Program becoming a Journeyman Lineman in 1982.  He furthered his career by becoming a Line Foreman supervising the building and maintaining of the power distribution system. Klein took a leave of absence with EBP to work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 175 and was appointed in 1998 as an International Representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).  In 2003 he was appointed as the International Vice President of the IBEW Tenth District, which consists of Tennessee, Arkansas, North and South Carolina.  He was re-elected as Vice President at the 37th and 38th IBEW International Conventions.

During his career Klein has served on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the United Way of Chattanooga, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Labor-Management Conference, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Safety and Health Congress, sat on the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, where is served as President for fourteen (14) years.  He also sat on the Tennessee Valley Authority Labor -Management Committee as well as on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Labor-Management Public Affairs Committee.  Additionally, he was a Trustee for the IBEW-NECA Family Medical Healthcare Plan.  He officially retired from EPB in 2011 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 2015.

Klein, who is known as Bobby to his family, friends and colleagues attends Silverdale Baptist Church and still resides in Chattanooga with his wife, Sharon.

Kimberly Lewis, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Kimberly Caudle Lewis of Huntsville, Alabama, is the Chief Executive Officer of PROJECTSYZ, Inc., a business that provides services and products in the areas of engineering, logistics, technical services, manufacturing, and international foreign military sales. She leads a workforce that supports federal and commercial customers across several diverse subsidiaries and at locations across the US and around the world. Lewis has a 25-year career spanning business operations and management, technology, and federal government contacting.

A life-long resident of Madison County, Alabama, Lewis would later become the first black female elected as Board Chair of the Huntsville / Madison Chamber of Commerce and most recently, the first minority owner of North Alabama’s only locally owned broadcast television station, WTZT-TV.

Lewis’ previous career roles and studies in healthcare and information technology set the foundation for starting PROJECTXYZ and where she was previously involved in management of large-scale IT implementations and projects for large healthcare companies. She earned a degree in Computer Information Systems at John C. Calhoun State Community College.

Michelle Moore, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
A social entrepreneur and former White House official with roots in rural Georgia, Michelle Moore is a purposeful leader with a passion for connecting clean energy with economic growth. Her passion for community power and getting good stuff done is rooted in her faith and the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Moore currently serves as CEO of Groundswell, a nonprofit that builds community power through community solar, clean energy, and resilience programs that share power, savings, and economic opportunity with more than four thousand families. Her accomplishments range from building the global green building movement as a senior executive with the U.S. Green Building Council to leading the sustainability and infrastructure delivery teams for the Obama Administration.

Moore got her start in sustainability in 1997 as Director of eBusiness for Interface Inc. in her hometown of LaGrange GA, where working for Ray Anderson showed her how to connect people, planet, and profitability and the pathway to “doing well by doing good.” Moore is married to Linwood Boswell, a local music mainstay, father of three, and community real estate agent in Richmond, Virginia.

New super-chancery court would be appointed by governor, take over cases … against governor

Senators reach to their voting buttons during a floor session on March 16, 2020. Seated from left are Republican Sens. Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Rose of Covington, Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, and Paul Bailey of Sparta. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest version of the Republican effort to create a statewide chancery court with jurisdiction over constitutional challenges would allow all pending cases to be transferred to the new panel upon the motion of the Attorney General. The initial three members of the court would be appointed by Gov. Bill Lee, who is usually named as the defendant in lawsuits challenging new laws and executive orders.

The governor would select three chancellors — one from each Grand Division — from lists of finalists chosen by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission, which is entirely made up of appointees of the House and Senate speakers. The appointed chancellors would serve until the
August 2022 elections for the next eight-year judicial terms. At that point, the three chancellors would be elected via a statewide popular vote, a process unseen since the state adopted the Tennessee Plan for yes-no retention elections in the 1990s (which was overwhelmingly affirmed in a 2014 constitutional amendment.)

Tennessee currently has only three offices elected statewide: the governor and two U.S. senators. The old Public Service Commission used to be popularly elected — current state Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) was among the last members until then-Gov. Don Sundquist replaced it with the appointed Tennessee Regulatory Authority in 1996.

Here’s the (UPDATED) amendment proposed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville):


SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 16, Chapter 11, is amended by adding the following as a new part:

16-11-301.

There is created and established a court of original jurisdiction in this state to be designated and styled the statewide chancery court.

16-11-302.

(a) The statewide chancery court shall be composed of three (3) chancellors, of whom no more than one (1) shall reside in each grand division of the state.

(b) The chancellors of the statewide chancery court shall be appointed and elected in the manner provided by § 17-1-103(b) and title 17, chapter 4, part 3; provided, however, that the judicial district for each chancellor is the state of Tennessee and each chancellor must be elected in a statewide election. Candidates for statewide chancery court must file an original nominating petition, pursuant to § 2-5-103.

(c) The governor shall appoint three (3) persons to serve as chancellors of the statewide chancery court, and each person so appointed shall serve in that capacity until September 1, 2022, or until the person’s successor is elected and qualified. At the August 2022 general election, and every eight (8) years thereafter, the qualified voters of the state shall elect three (3) chancellors for a full eight-year term.

(d) The initial terms of the chancellors shall begin on October 1, 2021.

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Here are the maps for the Chattanooga mayor’s race

(Image credit: Don Johnson)

Our favorite political mapmaker is at it again. This time he’s breaking down the Chattanooga Mayor’s race won by businessman Tim Kelly.

Kelly, the former owner of a prominent auto dealership and the Chattanooga Brewing Co., defeated Kim White, a protege of former Mayor Bob Corker who had the support of the Chamber crowd, by 20 percentage points last week. Kelly has succeeded term-limited Mayor Andy Berke.

Kelly and White were separated by just one percentage point in the first round to qualify for the runoff. Here’s a closer look at first round, which featured 15 candidates:

Kelly, who broke with Republicans over the nomination of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, describes himself as being a member of the “Chattanooga Party.” During the runoff phase, Kelly gained endorsements from the African-American community, including from four black candidates who split 36% of the vote in the first round. They included third-place finisher Wade Hinton, a former city attorney who had been Berke’s choice in the race.

Here’s how the runoff panned out:

Again many thanks to Don Johnson for his fine work. Follow him on Twitter for more fine maps.