Monthly Archives: November 2021

Wiseman to leave Lee administration on Friday

Deputy to the Governor Lang Wiseman, left, and then-Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter confer before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lang Wiseman, the deputy to Gov. Bill Lee and the administration’s chief legal counsel, is stepping down on Friday. Wiseman’s plans to leave had been announced earlier, but he had not given a firm date for his departure. Lee has yet to name a successor.

Wiseman is a former University of Tennessee basketball star who went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University. He is also a former Shelby County Republican Party chair who later served on the reconstituted UT board. Wiseman’s departure coincides with a changing of the guard in the chief of staff position. Blake Harris, who was a top Lee campaign adviser, is being succeeded by Joseph Williams, who previously handled outreach to conservative activists.

Here’s is an email sent by Wiseman on Monday:

After announcing a number of weeks ago that I would be transitioning back to the private sector, I wanted to confirm that my last day of service in the Governor’s Office is scheduled for this next Friday, December 3rd.  I wanted also to take moment to say what an honor and privilege it has been to serve alongside you these past few years.  I will certainly miss the meaningful work and opportunity to serve, but I will miss most the people with whom I’ve been so fortunate to walk this journey, and I hope and expect to continue our friendship.  Thank you so much for your many kindnesses, assistance, understanding, and patience shown to me along the way.

My plan is to stay here in Nashville and, after a few weeks off to recharge, to start my next professional endeavor in January (the specifics of which I am still mulling over).  […]  Please do not ever hesitate to reach out. 

Looking forward to keeping in touch.

New TNJ edition alert: Randy Boyd settles in UT role, Lee administration’s warnings about mask bill

Randy Boyd, right, and Bill Lee attend a gubernatorial forum at the Nashville library on Feb. 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is shipping early because of the holiday weekend. Here’s what’s in it:

— Randy Boyd hits his three-year anniversary as UT president on Friday. He sits down with The Tennessee Journal talk about his gubernatorial bid, “completing the mission” on advancing education opportunities, and shutting down his political action committee.

— The Lee administration warned lawmakers of legal problems with the omnibus COVID-19 bill, but the governor signed it anyway.

— Tennessee general fund revenues grew by 16% last year. The State Funding Board sees next year’s increase falling to a more modest 2.25%.

Also: Jeremy Durham’s latest legal setback, Todd Gardenhire takes aim at party fees to run in GOP primaries, Jimmy Haslam drops a half million to federal candidates (including two Dems), and the law banning satirical attacks in campaign literature is back on the books.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lee declines to sign nullification resolution passed during special session

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a resolution passed during a recent special session touting the state’s purported right to pass laws to nullify federal COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements.

The Republican governor does not appear to have transmitted a statement to lawmakers about why he is allowing the resolution to go into effect without his signature.

The Senate version passed 24-6, while the House vote was 64-17.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) carried the measure on behalf of House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

“The nullification theory was first broached in 1832 when Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson was president,” Ragan said in floor comments. “The state of South Carolina began it, and President Jackson threatened to invade with federal troops to settle the issue. However, the federal government ultimately backed down.”

Ragan’s statement drew a retort from Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

“I wanted to make sure the record was clear: the federal government didn’t back down, South Carolina quit,” said Curcio, who voted against the resolution. “But they continued in their behavior until eventually Fort Sumter was fired on, creating a tragedy for this country. I want to remind everybody that emulating such behavior is very, very serious.”

The full language of the resolution follows.

Continue reading

Report: Sewanee president to be nominated as ambassador to South Africa

Reuben Brigety II, the president of Sewanee in Monteagle, is being nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to South Africa, according to SABC News.

Brigety is a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union and served as dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University before being named the first black president of Sewanee in 2020. The school is also known as the University of the South.

Brigety in February spoke out against repeated vandalism and threatening messages left at his home at the school. He had received pushback from students for imposing strict COVID-19 mitigation efforts and for clamping down on alcohol and drug use on campus.

The university’s board of regents last year issued a statement acknowledging the school “was long entangled with, and played a role in, slavery, racial segregation, and white supremacy—forces that found particular and painful expression in the Confederacy and, later, in the ‘Lost Cause’ mythology of the white South.”

Here’s who is in the mix for the Tenn. Supreme Court vacancy

The deadline to apply for the Tennessee Supreme Court vacancy was noon Friday. The Tennessee Journal has learned 11 people applied. They are:

  • William Blaylock, chief hearing haring officer on the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s unemployment appeals tribunal.
  • Sarah Campbell, associate solicitor general and special assistant to the state attorney general.
  • Kristi M. Davis, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Timothy L. Easter, state Court of Criminal Appeals judge.
  • Kelvin Jones, Nashville circuit judge.
  • W. Neal McBrayer, state Court of Appeals judge.
  • Doug Overbey, former U.S. attorney and state senator.
  • Robert F. Parsley, Chattanooga attorney in private practice.
  • Jonathan T. Skrmetti, chief deputy state attorney general.
  • Gingeree Smith, Smyrna attorney in private practice.
  • Jeffrey Usman, Belmont University law professor.

New TNJ edition alert: Kelsey hires new legal team, Griffey confirms departure, Sethi a no-go for Congress

Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and state Sen. Brian Kelsey’s new lawyer.

In this week’s edition of the print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Kelsey’s new legal team previously represented a certain mayor and some high-profile murder defendants. Trial has been scheduled for January.

— The uncertainty principle: Rising inflation complicates revenue projections.

— From the campaign trail: Griffey confirms departure from state House, Sethi won’t run for new-look 5th Congressional District.

— Fallings out: New books detail ousters of NRA lobbyist, Trump’s defense secretary.

Also: Miss Tootie passes away, Biden names Memphis attorney to 6th Circuit and Sewanee president to ambassadorship, the megasite loses its Memphis designation, and Lee rolls out the red carpet for out-of-state law enforcement.

As always, access your copy of the TNJ here or subscribe here.

Lee to let state of emergency expire nearly 7 months after declaring end of public health crisis

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

Gov. Bill Lee in April declared COVID-19 no longer presented a public health crisis in Tennessee. Now, 206 days later, Lee is announcing he won’t renew a state of emergency related to the pandemic when it expires Friday night.

Here’s the statement from the governor:

For almost 20 months, this tool has provided deregulation and operational flexibility for hospitals and industries most affected by COVID’s challenges. Should our state face any future surges, we will consider temporarily reinstating this tool, but in the meantime, we are evaluating opportunities for permanent deregulation.”

Since the governor’s springtime announcement, Tennessee experienced a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due to the spread of the delta variant. But the state’s numbers have eased in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, a potential Republican primary challenger to Lee’s re-election bid next year, issued his own state of emergency in an effort to “secure the liberties” of health care workers who don’t want to adhere to vaccination mandates, The Daily Herald of Columbia reported.

Ogles was joined in his Facebook announcement by state Reps. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka), Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin), Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski), and Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill).

(Image credit: Screengrab from Facebook Live)

Nashville-London flight is back. More Euro destinations to come?

A rendering of the planned international arrivals facility at Nashville International Airport. (Image credit: BNA)

The nonstop British Airways connection between Nashville and London is being reestablished after a 632-day absence. The flight resumes on Dec. 9, according to Nashville International Airport.

As The Tennessee Journal reported last month, state officials are considering using federal COVID-19 relief funds to help spur more nonstop connections between Tennessee and Europe. The Department of Tourist Development is specifically eyeing Nashville-Paris and Memphis-Amsterdam flights. The latter would restore service between Memphis and the Netherlands first established by Northwest Airlines and its Dutch partner KLM in 1995. The flight was canceled in 2012 after the carrier’s takeover by Delta, which decommissioned the former Northwest hub at the Memphis airport the following year.

American Airlines launched a nonstop flight between Nashville and London to great fanfare in 1993, but the service lasted only a year. The link was recreated by British Airways in 2017 with the help of $1.5 million in incentives from the state and a $500,000 “stop gap” guarantee from the city to cover any potential losses. Nashville International Airport kicked in another $2.6 million in marketing and two years’ worth of waived airport fees to seal the deal.

The London flight was billed as giving Tennessee a gateway to Europe, but Britain’s subsequent withdrawal from the European Union complicated onward travel to the continent. Flights to Amsterdam and Paris would place business and leisure travelers within the 26-country zone without border controls and sharing a common visa policy.

Here’s Thursday’s release from BNA about the restored Nashville-London flight:

NASHVILLE  – Fancy a hop across the pond? After a 632-day absence, the highly anticipated return of the British Airways transatlantic flight from Nashville International Airport® to London Heathrow will resume December 9, 2021. The service, which originally launched on May 18, 2018, ceased operations on March 17, 2020, due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 virus.

“This is a tremendous milestone on our road to recovering the air service we lost due to the pandemic,” said Doug Kreulen, president and CEO of BNA. “As passenger confidence continues to increase, it was important for us to reinvest in British Airways to regain the nonstop service we previously enjoyed to London, England, and the world. We anticipate that business and leisure travelers from Nashville and Middle Tennessee will once again embrace this opportunity to explore England and all of Europe.”

The flight will be available three times per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The aircraft is a Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner with 214 seats (35 business, 25 premium economy, 154 economy). It’s a 4,182-mile flight to London, which takes approximately eight hours from BNA.

Marie Hilditch, British Airways’ Head of North America sales, said: “We can’t wait to welcome our customers back on board our Nashville flights, and we are honored to be playing our part in reuniting families and friends with their loved ones after such a long time apart.

“The safety of our customers and colleagues has always been at the heart of everything we do. We know some customers won’t have flown for a long time. We can assure them we have a range of Covid-19 preventive measures in place to provide stress and hassle-free travel.”

For details about travel requirements for this flight, visit the Covid-19 Travel Hub section of the British Airways website at https://bit.ly/3ogU5aS.

Dems submit congressional redistricting plan

Legislative Democrats are submitting a congressional redistricting plan that would avoid breaking up Nashville. The proposal would also reimagine the 4th District as being comprised of fast-growing suburban Williamson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties, while ceding most of its current rural population to the 6th and 3rd districts.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban communities would elect their own member of the U.S. House of Representatives under a congressional map proposed by state Democrats on Monday.

While most of the map will look familiar, Democrats say their nine-seat congressional plan improves representation by keeping almost every city and county whole while also better connecting communities that have shared socio-economic interests — like Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, rural West Tennessee and booming suburban Middle Tennessee communities along I-840.

“People all over the state shared the same message: please keep our community together,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Democratic caucus chairwoman. “People want their elected officials to be responsive to the needs of their community. So, in addition to drawing districts that are near identical by population, we are proposing districts with deep community connections and shared needs—like housing, healthcare, education, transportation and job creation.”

The biggest change recommended by Democrats is a new configuration for the 4th Congressional District that combines three Middle Tennessee counties, Williamson, Wilson, and most of Rutherford, along with the cities of Hendersonville and Spring Hill. The current district lines sprawl across southern Tennessee from Nashville’s southeastern border nearly to North Carolina.

“The 840 corridor encompassing Williamson, Rutherford & Wilson are facing the shared challenges of explosive growth, infrastructure and services spread thin, alongside effective regional coordination and collaboration. The future of these communities is inherently linked together regardless of county lines or city lines,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the minority leader in the Senate. “The congressional lines is one way we can recognize and respond to that reality. It’s not only good for these communities experiencing rapid growth to have common leadership, but also more advantageous for other regions to address the different but equally complicated economic, education and health decisions they face.”

Democrats in the legislature held five meetings across the state and participated in dozens more meetings to gather public input from communities across the state. This proposed congressional map incorporates feedback from people who spoke at those hearings and submitted public comment in other ways.

“This map proposal is a reflection of real people and the concerns that are shared by underserved communities across the state,” said Rep. Karen Camper, the minority leader in the House. “We look forward to presenting their ideas and policy priorities to the General Assembly.”

Before the 2022 election cycle, the Tennessee General Assembly, by law, must draw political boundaries so that every congressional district in the state has an equal number of people.

The community districting process — also called redistricting or reapportionment — happens every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every city, town and county in the nation.

A good district map reflects a whole community or a community of shared interests, such as a city, neighborhood or group of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district.

While Republicans who control legislature have so far kept their proposed congressional maps a secret, Democrats are making their draft congressional proposal available for public comment ahead of the next legislative session.

“We know Republicans are cutting deals on district lines behind closed doors and playing partisan politics with their maps, but that’s not going to stop us from engaging Tennesseans in a good faith process,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We welcome input from the community because we want fair maps and a healthy democracy.”

To offer feedback on the congressional maps proposed by state Democrats, email maps@tndemocrats.org..

1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District proposal includes 11 counties from the current map: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington.

Additions: Claiborne, Grainger, Union and a portion of Campbell County just west of the city of LaFollette.

Other changes: Sevier County shifts to the 2nd Congressional District.

2nd Congressional District

The 2nd Congressional District proposal includes Knox, Anderson and Sevier counties as well as the city of Maryville in Blount County.

Knox County residents offered public comment making the case for including both Anderson and Sevier counties in a district with Knoxville due to the shared interests in those communities.

For example, the Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville are tied together through tourism, and Knoxville’s innovation sector is intrinsically linked to the science being performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

3rd Congressional District

This map would move the 3rd Congressional District into Tennessee’s southeast corner—rather than its current configuration which extends from downtown Chattanooga to the Kentucky border.

What’s in: Bradley, Hamilton, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane counties, the city of Maryville and part of Blount County.

What’s out: Everything north of Knox County — Scott, Campbell, Union, Morgan and Anderson counties.

4th Congressional District

The plan’s reimagined 4th Congressional District undergoes the biggest change to create a district for Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban counties along the I-840 bypass.

Their shared status as booming suburban communities and similar growth-related needs make a strong case for these areas to be included in a single district.

What’s in: Williamson and Wilson counties, most of Rutherford County, as well as the city of Hendersonville and the city of Spring Hill, which straddles the Williamson-Maury County line.

5th Congressional District

Nashville-Davidson County is about 50,000 people short of qualifying to be its own congressional district.

To complete a full district, this plan draws from public comments that asked mapmakers to link Nashville to neighboring cities that are confronting similar challenges.

What’s in: Davidson County, the city of La Vergne, the city of Goodlettsville, which straddles the Davidson-Sumner County line, and Millersville, which shares a long border with the city of Nashville along I-65.

What’s out: Dickson and Cheatham counties.

6th Congressional

This plan expands Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District to the south, putting the shared interests of rural communities at the forefront.

What’s in: Bledsoe, Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Franklin, Grundy, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Marion, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Sequatchie, Smith, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren, White counties as well as portions of Sumner County and Campbell County.

What’s out: Wilson County.

7th Congressional District

This proposed map includes most areas of the current district, including Clarksville and Columbia, but it shifts away from counties in West Tennessee. Instead, the Tennessee River serves as a western boundary for most of district.

What’s in: Bedford, Cheatham, Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Perry, Robertson, Stewart, Wayne counties and most of Maury and Hardin counties.

What’s out: Benton, Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Henderson and McNairy counties.

8th Congressional District

The 8th Congressional District would become the rural West Tennessee district. Bordered mostly by the Tennessee River on the east and the Mississippi River on the west.

What’s in: Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion and Tipton counties, as well as a portion of Hardin County and the Shelby County cities of Arlington, Collierville, Germanton Lakeland and Millington.

What’s out: Parts of East Memphis.

9th Congressional District

In this map, the entire city of Memphis is included within the boundary of the 9th Congressional District.

To complete the district, the whole city of Bartlett is also included as well as some unincorporated areas of Shelby County.