Monthly Archives: January 2022

Lee to deliver last State of the State of his first term on Jan. 31

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

Gov. Bill Lee is scheduled to deliver his fourth State of the State address –the last of his first term in office — on Monday, Jan. 31. Lee is seeking a second term this fall.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced he will deliver his fourth State of the State address to the General Assembly and fellow Tennesseans on Monday, January 31 at 6 p.m. CT. The joint session will take place in the House Chamber of the Tennessee State Capitol.

“I look forward to sharing my vision for Tennessee, including my budget and legislative priorities for the year,” said Gov. Lee. “Tennessee shows the rest of the country that America hasn’t lost her way, and with the support of the General Assembly, we’ll continue to ensure Tennessee is a national leader for opportunity and freedom.”

The address can be found on Gov. Lee’s Facebook and YouTube channels and will be aired statewide.

Is that you, Cade? Read the email to the Registry the PAC’s treasurer says she didn’t write

The treasurer of a PAC that pilloried then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in the 2020 primary says she never did anything beyond register the Faith Family Freedom Fund. Everything else, she testified to the Registry last week, was handled by the man she once thought she was in love with: Cade Cothren.

“He told me that none of this was illegal, that he didn’t do anything illegal, and that it was no big deal to open the political action committee,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student.

“And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware,” she said. “But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees.”

Friedopfer, who now lives in Utah, said she was unaware the PAC had a Gmail address and that someone had been corresponding with the Registry under her name.

That was not me,” Friedopfer said.

An email purporting to be from Friedopfer was sent from a FaithFamilyFreedomTN@gmail.com account on Nov. 2, 2020. It was dismissive of a complaint filed against the PAC for allegedly coordinating its activities with Todd Warner, the Republican challenger who would go on to win the seat.

“It is extremely difficult to follow the rabbit holes of Mr. Hazelwood in this complaint and it seems the majority of his grievances are with other people/organizations,” the email said. “To our knowledge, we have disclosed all information required of our PAC in Tennessee and will certainly continue doing so.”

After offering to answer any further questions, the author signed off: “Thank you again, Sydney.”

The Registry last week voted to subpoena Cothren and others for more information about the PAC.

Ex-girlfriend testifies Cothren had her register PAC that attacked Casada foe Tillis

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

In remarkable sworn testimony to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Thursday, the treasurer of a mysterious political action committee testified she had registered the outfit at the behest of her then-boyfriend, Cade Cothren, and had nothing further to do with it thereafter.

“I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him,” said Sydney Friedopfer, a former Vanderbilt student who now lives in Utah. “And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through.”

The Family Faith Freedom Fund PAC was involved in attacking then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), a foe of Cothren and his former boss, House Speaker Glen Casada, in the 2020 primary won by now-Rep. Todd Warner. (Just as a reminder, Cothren, Casada, Warner, and Rep. Robin Smith had their homes and offices searched by the FBI around this time last year).

Here is a transcript of Friedopfer’s testimony to the Registry on Thursday. The other speakers are Registry chair Paige Burcham Dennis, general counsel Lauren Topping, executive director Bill Young, and members Tom Lawless, David Golden, and Hank Fincher.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Miss Sydney, are you on the phone today?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, I am.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, before we get to you. I want to remind you, we’re going to have Lauren, give us a little bit of background on the Faith Family Freedom Fund case. But I do want to remind you that you are under oath today even though you’re participating by phone.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK, yep, no problem.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. Lauren, can you give the Registry a little bit of background on what’s going on with the Faith Family Freedom Fund case?

Lauren Topping: So as you’ll recall, this case came about as a result of a complaint that was filed with the Registry. As a result of that, there was an audit that was ordered. Up until this point in time, we had been unable to reach Ms. Friedopfer. And so the audit report basically says that we were unable to obtain any information. I think that’s all in your packet. But since then, we have been able to contact her and so she is here on the line today to tell you what she knows. So that’s kind of where we are.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK, so at this time, Sydney, I understand you’re in Utah. Is that correct?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes, that’s correct.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK. I’m Chairman Burcham Dennis, and we’re going to let you tell us what you would like to tell us concerning the case.

Sydney Friedopfer: OK. So I guess I don’t have the exact date, sometime in end of 2019, early 2020. I had a friend of mine that I met when I was back at Vanderbilt ask me to open a political action committee for him. I was advised that I should tell you the name. The name is Cade Cothren. And I trusted him.

Paige Burcham Dennis: Could you repeat that? His name was what?

Sydney Friedopfer: Cade Cothren.

Paige Burcham Dennis: OK.

Sydney Friedopfer: Being a 22, 23-year-old at the time, I, unfortunately, did not have any information about politics. I asked him if it was illegal to open it for him. And he said no. And he said he just couldn’t have a name on it, considering everything he had gone through, which I’m sure everyone’s aware. But yeah, he resigned from his position as chief of staff to Glen Casada. And he didn’t want his name on the political action committees. Like being young and dumb, honestly, regarding this, I –

Paige Burcham Dennis: So Sydney, you had an involvement, a relationship or friendship, with him. And he asked you to do this on his behalf. That’s what you’re saying?

Sydney Friedopfer: Yes. I mean, yeah. At the time, I thought I loved him, I guess. But I was young and he’s 10 years older than me. And I trusted him. And so I opened the political action committee for him. And I filed the papers, signed my name, and that was the last I heard of it. I received the e-filing thing in the mail. And I just sent him a picture of that. And he took over from there. And I didn’t hear about it again until a reporter started calling me. But the first time I had anyone call me from a reputable source that I was going to talk to was when Lauren called me a few weeks ago.

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New TNJ edition alert: How the GOP’s new congressional, state Senate maps shake out in Tennessee

It all fits together somehow.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

 — From one into three: Congressional remap cracks Dem stronghold of Nashville.

— State Senate redistricting solidifies current GOP seats.

— Read state Supreme Court nominee Sarah Keeton Campbell’s answers about finding meaning in messy legislation, how oral arguments influence appellate cases, and what she would take into consideration in appointing a new attorney general.

— Legislative roundup: Senate Ethics Committee to consider ousting a sitting member before pending legal issues come to conclusion, treasurer of anti-Tillis PAC says she registered group at the behest of Cade Cothren.

Also: A forgiveness fest between Justin Jones and Glen Casada, the Memphis police chief has her gun stolen out of her husband’s Porsche, and Bud Hulsey gets a new phone.

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

Or subscribe here.

Hagerty passes first bill in U.S. Senate

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

A little more than a year after being sworn into the U.S. Senate, Republican Bill Hagerty of Nashville has passed his first bill.

Here’s the release from Hagerty’s office:

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) has passed his first authored piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan bill, which Hagerty introduced with Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would add key technologies impacting national security to the sectors that can utilize the FAST-41 improved federal permitting program, which will encourage development of these technologies in the United States.

“Working to advance constructive policy solutions that create jobs for the American people and bolster our national security is one of the reasons I ran for the Senate, and I am pleased with the passage of this legislation to advance those goals,” Senator Hagerty said. “Encouraging American leadership in key technologies, from semiconductors to advanced computing and cybersecurity, will not only create millions of American jobs, but help America win the strategic competition with Communist China that will define the century.”

The Hagerty legislation builds upon the successful FAST-41 permitting program, which promotes increased coordination between permitting agencies, resulting in a more efficient and streamlined process, without compromising health, safety, or environmental protection. By adding key technology areas impacting national security as eligible sectors, these projects can benefit from the same fast-track program. Improving permitting coordination and certainty reduces time constraints, allowing these products to move to market faster and making it more likely that companies will locate their facilities in the United States, rather than abroad, and therefore hiring American workers.

The existing FAST-41 permitting program was established in 2015 to increase investment in American infrastructure and jobs, and it was made permanent and improved upon in the recent bipartisan infrastructure legislation. National-security sectors will now also be able to take advantage of this improved process, which should dramatically reduce the time required to stand up new manufacturing capacity in strategically critical sectors, such as semiconductor fabrication.

Hagerty’s legislation passed the Senate by voice vote, 100-0.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

TNJ exclusive: Lee chooses Campbell for Tenn. Supreme Court

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is naming associate state solicitor general Sarah Campbell to the bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court, The Tennessee Journal has learned.

Campbell, 39, is an associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. She grew up in Rogersville before attending Duke law school and going on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. She later worked for the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington before joining the AG’s office in 2015.

Campbell has represented the state in appeals of federal rulings regarding Tennessee laws on abortion, absentee ballots, and lethal injections. Her references included Solicitor General Andrée Blumstein and state House Judiciary Chair Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

UPDATE: Lee’s office has made it official.

“Sarah is a highly accomplished attorney and brings valuable experience from the federal level, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” Lee said in a release. “Her commitment to an originalist interpretation of the state and federal constitutions will serve Tennesseans well. She is well-suited for the state’s highest court and I am proud to appoint her to this position.”

If confirmed with by the General Assembly (which is a largely forgone conclusion), Campbell will succeed Justice Connie Clark, who died in September. Campbell is Lee’s first appointment to the Supreme Court. Clark and Sharon Lee were appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, while his Republican successor Bill Haslam named Jeff Bivins, Holly Kirby, and Roger Page to the bench.

Here are some of Campbell’s answers to the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments before she was named as a finalist alongside state Court of Appeals judges Kristi Davis and Neal McBrayer.

Should legislative intent in the enactment of state laws factor into judicial rulings?
Campbell:
There are a lot of problems with legislative history. That’s not the law. . . . Particularly when legislative history is cherry-picked in a way to say this is what the sponsors were trying to do. It completely ignores that there were those other interests on the other side that were also being taking into account in that legislative process. All we can say for sure is what language is in the statute.

Who is your judicial role model?
Campbell: My judicial philosophy is very similar to Justice Samuel Alito and Judge William Pryor [of the 11th Circuit, both of whom she clerked for]. I am an originalist and textualist, I believe in judicial modesty and humility. . . to know what the judiciary’s role is vis-à-vis the other branches of government, and not to stray into roles other than what the constitution actually assigns the judiciary.

Does your youth affects your qualifications?
Campbell: Look at the quality and breadth of my experience so far in my career, rather than my age or just the number of years I have been practicing. If you look at the number of cases and sorts of cases I have handled, particularly in the attorney general’s office, where I have been responsible for making the strategic calls and supervising teams of attorneys in cases that are both legally challenging and of significant importance to the state and citizens. That sort of experience sets me apart compared with other lawyers who are my age.

What is the Federalist Society’s significance?
Campbell: One of the ways in which my views became a lot clearer and more nuanced is because at my law school there was a Federalist Society chapter that had great events. At a lot of law schools, particularly elite law schools, there isn’t much intellectual diversity.

How would you deal with negative media attention in high-profile cases?
Campbell: As an appellate judge, my review would be limited to the record that’s before me in that case. And any material outside of that record, whether it’s been media reports, social media, or whatever the case may be, that would be improper for an appellate judge to consider.

Yeah, but what’ll it cost? Lee administration releases draft plan on school funding formula overhaul

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

Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has released a draft framework for overhauling the state’s complicated school funding formula. Most expect it to be an expensive proposition, though nobody is saying for the moment exactly how much it would cost.

Here’s the release from the state Education Department:

Nashville, TN-  After months of strong engagement and conversations about public education funding in Tennessee and years of consistent feedback, today the Tennessee Department of Education released an initial draft overview of a potential student-based funding formula, informed by input of thousands of Tennesseans– parents, educators, superintendents, elected officials, business and community leaders, and citizens from across the state– and is encouraging all Tennesseans to send feedback on this draft framework by an extended deadline of Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT. Comment should be sent to tnedu.funding@tn.gov.

“I want to personally thank the Tennessee parents, teachers, students and citizens who have engaged in this important discussion about our state’s education funding, and to encourage all Tennesseans who want to get involved to send their public comments on this latest draft,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “As we plan for the future of Tennessee, this process will continue to ensure we’re listening to the people of the state and improving how we invest resources to set our students up for success.” 

As part of a robust public review and engagement process, Tennesseans from around the state have submitted public comment that is being shared with 18 subcommittees to help inform potential recommendations for a new funding formula. Any proposed new funding formula would prioritize strategic investments in students, transparent reporting and accountability, and student-centered decisions.

“People know what they want for public school funding, and we are thrilled so many Tennesseans have participated in this process and see what this will mean for students,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We know this cannot just be about a funding formula in isolation, but about what funding can do to accelerate achievement for our students, ensure they have access to a high-quality education, and set them up for success after high school.”  

The draft framework for a new student-based funding formula would include funding for all services and supports for K-12 public schools that are currently funded in the existing formula. The draft framework, available here for public review and comment, also reflects the following feedback from stakeholders:

• Base: Educator salaries, RTI2 support, Counselors and school-based supports, District-specific needs, Technology, Nurses, Coordinated School Health 
• Weights: Poverty and Concentrated Poverty, Rural, Unique Learning Needs (special education English learner, gifted, dyslexia), and Charter Schools
• Direct Funding: Fast Growing Districts, Tutoring for 4th Grade, Career and Technical Education (CTE)
• Outcomes: Literacy, ReadyGrad Indicators with Outcomes, CTE Completers, WBL and Apprenticeships, JROTC, FAFSA Completion 

Tennesseans are encouraged to submit public comment on the components of this draft by the deadline for public comment, which is Tuesday, January 18th at noon CT.

In late December, Commissioner Schwinn gave an update to Gov. Bill Lee on the public school funding engagement process and discussed next steps moving forward. Watch the recording here. 

Hundreds of public comments have been submitted from citizens throughout Tennessee. Common themes include: 
“College & career experiences and culture beginning in K. Create a culture where post secondary ed is the norm, present college and technical education with equality, and expose students to what jobs exist, but also the possibilities of jobs to be created!” – Nicole Carney (@mrsncarney), Twitter Town Hall Participant 

“Right now, it’s my belief that we need more money into our career technical programs. That’ll be our need for a few years and it may change to something else down the road–but we need to have that flexibility as you design this program, to do what we need to do.” – Mark Farley, Gainesboro Town Hall Attendee 

“Students need earlier intervention for reading disabilities and intervention for all that struggle with disabilities. Currently, smart kids with reading disabilities do not receive help if they manage to stay above their schools RTI dividing line. These students deserve to reach their full potential. Targeted intervention should be available for all disabled readers. Reading intervention needs to happen early, Kindergarten. Schools need more and better trained reading interventionists, not unskilled teaching assistants.” – Alison Turner, Emailed Public Comment 

“Fund programming and additional professionals sufficient to meet the needs of low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities, and students that are performing below grade level.” – Jerry Park, Emailed Public Comment 

“In order to strengthen our students and to benefit them in the future, I feel there are several places additional funding should be given. School Counselors; in larger schools, counselors can either hold class or meet with students in need.” – Jennifer Taggart, Emailed Public Comment 

“I feel like we need to have ways to help our teachers such as better pay for our teachers so we can keep good teachers, better retirement. More principles to help with the kids, more nurses, smaller classes with more teachers, more counselors, pay increase yearly with cost of living going up every year. This is just a few of the many ways we can help our schools and community.” – Sue Anderson, Emailed Public Comment 

After Gov. Bill Lee announced in October that the state would review its public school funding formula, hundreds of Tennesseans indicated they would be interested in supporting the work of the 18 school funding subcommittees tasked with making recommendations to a steering committee of legislative leaders for a new student-based funding formula in Tennessee. The department hosted eight public town halls and local match meetings across the state, and created an additional engagement opportunity for Tennesseans to participate in the process and has developed a simple form for School Funding Ambassadors to use to collect public comments from community members. Additionally, members of the Tennessee General Assembly are hosting events across the state. Additional information can be found here. 

All subcommittee meeting recordings are available online. Subcommittees will finalize formula recommendations in the coming weeks, which will be provided to Governor Lee for consideration.  

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.  

Lawmakers scramble to raise money before high-noon deadline

Lawmakers are scrambling to collect last-minute campaign donations as a fundraising ban looms. The blackout begins once the gavel falls on the start of the regular session at noon on Tuesday. It will last until the General Assembly adjourns for the year — or May 15 if they can’t complete their business before then.

As Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) had an event to raise money for his PAC on Monday at the Nashville City Club, while his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), held an event at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse .

Sexton spokesman Doug Kufner told the paper “the practice of hosting fundraisers on the day before the start of a legislative session is not uncommon and has occurred regularly among members of both parties in recent years.

Raising money will be all the more crucial for lawmakers facing potential primary challenges under this year’s newly drawn political maps.

Come and knock on our door: Senate GOP would have three districts meet in Nashville (UPDATED)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) appears at a Senate redistricting meeting in Nashville on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The figurative white smoke is rising above the state Capitol as Senate Republicans have announced they will reveal their redistricting maps on Thursday.

The Tennessee Journal has learned the Senate preference is for a three-way division of heavily Democratic Nashville that would entail the 6th and 7th districts currently held by Republican Reps. John Rose of Cookeville and Mark Green of Ashland City, respectively, grabbing portions of the capital city. (This paragraph has been updated to show it’s Rose’s 6th, not Scott DesJarlais of the 4th District, that would move into Nashville).

Green would retain only about a third of Williamson County, the traditionally anchor of the 7th District when now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) held the seat. The remainder would become part of the new-look 5th District that has been held by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper since 2003.

Rapidly growing Rutherford County would remain entirely within the 4th District, which would likely require an overall westward migration of the seat’s boundaries. DesJarlais is from the eastern side of the district.

The House GOP is scheduled to make its draft congressional maps public on Wednesday amid comments by House Speaker Cameron Sexton that Nashville could be split into two or three districts.

The two chambers have been understood to be at odds about how exactly to go about gaining an eighth seat, so the final shape of the plan could still change.

Sexton to AP: The Nashville split is on

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton is confirming plans to carve up the heavily-Democratic 5th Congressional District in Nashville to give Republicans a chance to pick up an eighth of the state’s nine congressional seats.

According to Associated Press reporters Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise, Sexton wouldn’t say exactly how many districts would split the state’s second-largest county.

“I won’t give an exact number. but it’s either two or three,” Sexton told the AP.

“I’ve never bought into the approach that having multiple people represent a big city is bad thing,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper has held the seat since 2003.

UPDATE: Andy Sher at the Chattanooga Times Free Press spoke to Sexton about whether plowing Democrats into currently safe GOP seats could make future races competitive.

“Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, which is fine. . . . Whether or not it does what people say it does, only time will tell that,” Sexton told the paper.

“It’s not unprecedented in our state where those large urban areas and congressional areas have been split . . . . We think we can do it, and we think it will be constitutional if we go that way,” Sexton said.