Monthly Archives: February 2022

Watson aide Wittum leaning toward congressional bid in new 5th District

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and other check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tres Wittum, a research analyst to state Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga), is considering a bid for the newly drawn 5th Congressional District.

Wittum, who once mulled a Republican primary challenge of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd District, was among potential 5th District candidates introducing themselves at a Wilson County Republican Party event over the weekend.

“I have worked in the Tennessee legislature for 11 years,” he said. “I do serve the chairman of Senate Finance, Ways, and Means, who is a tough, tough, tough fiscal hawk. So when it comes to budgeting, believe me, I have been educated by the best.”

Wittum was briefly the chair of the Davidson County Republican Party in 2017, but was ousted by the GOP’s state executive committee after a challenge to his bona fides for failing to have voted in enough statewide primaries.

Wittum noted that he first came to Tennessee to work on the 2009 Hannah Montana movie.

“It’s kind of like deja vu. It’s like, you worked on movie where you’re trying to save a community through Tennessee values away from the big construction from New York and LA, which is interesting, because it looks like we’re probably gonna be doing that here in this congressional race.”

“Politics is like Hollywood for the ugly,” he said. “So, here here I am. And I’m ready to play. Thank you.”

Those running for the Republican nomination so far include former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, music video producer Robby Starbuck, and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead. Businessman Baxter Lee has filed papers to raise money, but hasn’t formally announced his candidacy.

New TNJ edition alert: Redistricting lawsuit, oral arguments over vouchers, 5th District field grows

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

— Democratic lawsuit claims GOP remap unlawful for county splits, district numbers.

— Likely swing vote silent in Supreme Court rehash of voucher arguments.

— Harwell, Winstead join 5th District race despite Trump endorsement.

— Slatery slams legislative proposal to move consumer advocate office.

— After pandemic-related stagnation, lobbying spending on rise in 2021.

Also:

Lee unveils details of proposed overhaul of school funding formula, Juneteenth holiday runs into House roadblock, HBO’s John Oliver mocks John Ragan, and a fee to access to the Sunsphere observation deck.

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

Or subscribe here.

Lee unveils details of school funding overhaul

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee is unveiling his proposal to overhaul the state’s school funding formula.

Here’s the release from the Education Department:

Nashville, TN –  Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn released the details of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act (SB2396/HB2143) that would transition Tennessee’s K-12 public schools to a student-based funding approach. Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which includes $1 billion in new recurring state funds and $750 million in one-time state funds this year.

The TISA will update the way Tennessee funds public education for the first time in over 30 years to empower each student to read proficiently by third grade, prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success, and provide resources needed to all students to ensure they succeed. Under the TISA districts would receive more than they would under the BEP should enrollment remain stable. Access an overview PowerPoint presentation of the TISA and associated bill language here. To learn more about the student-based funding formula, visit FundingforStudentSuccess.org.

“The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula will be a powerful tool the state can use to ensure we are putting all students on a path to success,” said Governor Bill Lee. “By serving our students well and giving the public greater insight into how their tax dollars are supporting students, the TISA represents an exciting opportunity to improve educational outcomes, strengthen our workforce and propel Tennessee forward.”

“Updating our public education funding model is an investment in our state’s students and our state’s future,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Months of public feedback highlighted how committed Tennesseans are to strengthening how we fund public education, and the TISA puts the focus of education funding right where it belongs – on students.”

The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement is a student-based funding formula that will include the following proposed investments for each of these components: 

— $6.6 billion for base funding for every public school student.

— $1.8 billion in additional funding to be allocated based on weights to address specific student needs.

— $376 million in direct funding for students to receive additional funding allocations to support specific programs, like tutoring.

— $100 million in outcomes funding to be awarded based on achievement to empower schools to help all students reach their full potential.

Additionally, the TISA has reporting and district accountability requirements, including an annual TISA report delivered to the Tennessee General Assembly by the department and individual district-level accountability reports to be submitted by local school boards to the department to establish goals for student achievement in the current school year, explain how the goals can be met within the local budget, and describe how the local budget and expenditures for prior school years enabled districts to progress student outcomes.

Winstead makes 5th District bid official

Kurt Winstead

Kurt Winstead, an attorney and retired general in the Tennessee National Guard, is the latest Republican candidate to join the open race for the new-look 5th Congressional District.

Winstead joins a field that includes former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, and music video producer Robby Starbuck.

Here’s the release from the Winstead campaign:

Nashville, Tenn — Brigadier General Kurt Winstead (Ret.) formally announced his candidacy to run for Congress in the newly drawn 5th Congressional District in the Republican Primary.

General Winstead is an eighth generation Tennessean who has lived and worked in the 5th District for over 30 years. Winstead served in the Tennessee National Guard for three decades, including a deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“In the wake of an unprecedented invasion from Russia, now is the time for leaders in Congress who have real experience. We need people who understand our military and have an actual national security background — this is not the time for on the job training,” said Winstead.

Kurt Winstead is a father, successful businessman, servant leader, man of deep faith, and a conservative political outsider who served in the military overseas and represents everything good about America. Kurt, an attorney by trade, and his wife Beth have been married 34 years and chose Middle Tennessee as their home over thirty years ago building their businesses, raising their family, and giving back to their church and community.

“My family taught me the importance of faith, family, and service. I’ve lived those principles my entire life, and I want to bring those same conservative values to Congress. This is a pivotal moment for our country, and we need someone who understands Tennessee values, and someone who actually knows the Middle Tennessee community,” said Winstead.

General Winstead is 100% pro-life, a proud defender of the Second Amendment, and will fight to stop illegal immigration and secure our border.

“We must be put America First. Joe Biden has put our country in its weakest position since the days of the Carter Administration. Inflation is out of control and illegal immigration is our greatest national security threat. It is our responsibility to return America to a place of strength and respect in the world,” said Winstead.

Kurt was raised in Tennessee in a home of educators and farmers who knew the importance of hard work, integrity, and keeping your word. He served for more than thirty years in the Tennessee Army National Guard, including serving as Director of the Joint Staff, Tennessee’s Staff Judge Advocate, and Brigade Command Judge Advocate during Operation Iraqi Freedom III. All of this service to his country while also building a successful law practice in Nashville.

Kurt is a graduate of Centre College and received a law degree from the University of Richmond School of Law. He also holds a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Kurt and his wife Beth attend St. Matthew Church in Franklin. They are the proud parents of two adult daughters raised and educated in Williamson County.

Harwell joins open 5th District race

House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 29, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Associated Press)

Former state House Speaker Beth Harwell has joined the race for the Republican nomination in the open 5th Congressional District.

Harwell, the first female speaker in the history of the General Assembly, left the chamber in 2018 to run for governor.

Other declared candidates so far include former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and music video producer Robby Starbuck. Others pondering bids include businessman Baxter Lee, attorney and retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles.

Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper announced his retirement after state lawmakers split up Nashville into three heavily Republican districts.

Here’s the release from the Harwell campaign:

NASHVILLE, TN– Beth Harwell announced today that she is running for the Republican nomination for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional district. A life-long Republican and long-time Nashville resident, Beth is a mother, educator, and former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

“As Speaker, we rebuilt the Tennessee economy by eliminating taxes, promoting school choice, and balancing our budget. Before that, I taught American history – real American history,” said Beth Harwell. “Now I’m running for Congress to fix America by bringing Tennessee common sense to Washington – they could learn a thing or two from the way we do things.  It’s time to rein in our federal government, stop the fiscal insanity, and return power to the states.”

Today’s America has been put through the ringer as the Biden Administration has driven inflation through the roof and spent our tax dollars on pet projects. They have taken control over our children’s classrooms and destroyed our businesses with mandates and overbearing regulations. Tennesseans don’t need more taxes, red-tape, and government overreach into their families. It’s time the 5th district had a representative who will fix our economy, secure our border, and ensure parents can be involved with their children’s education. 

Beth is the only proven conservative leader and reformer in this race. As Speaker of the House, Tennessee permanently banned a state income tax and eliminated the gift, death, and Hall income taxes, resulting in the largest amount of tax cuts in state history to the tune of over $5 billion dollars. She led the fight for school choice in Tennessee, empowering parents with a greater voice in their children’s education. Beth was an early proponent and ardent supporter of public charter schools and homeschooling options for families across the state.

The 5th congressional district includes portions of Davidson, Wilson, and Williamson Counties and all of Lewis, Marshall, and Maury Counties. 

To learn more about Beth visit BethHarwell.com.

About Beth. As a life-long Republican, Beth played a key role in expanding the party in Tennessee. As Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, she directed the strategy that saw Republicans capture a majority in the State Senate for the first time in nearly 150 years. In her time as the House Republican Caucus Whip and Campaign Committee Chair, House Republicans captured the four seats necessary to take the majority in the Tennessee House of Representatives. In 2011, Beth became the first female Speaker of the House in the Southeast, a position she held for eight years before being appointed to the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors by President Donald Trump in 2019, a position she still holds. She also currently serves as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Beth and her husband Sam live in Nashville where they raised their three children. She is a graduate of Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University.

Read the Democratic lawsuit seeking to halt the GOP’s redistricting plan

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Tenenssee Democrats seeks to to halt the Republican redistricting plan for state House and Senate.

“From the very beginning, we doubted that the Tennessee redistricting process would be open and fair,” said state Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus. Unfortunately, Republicans also violated the law while gerrymandering our state. We’re proud to be supporting these individuals in their efforts to ensure equal representation for every Tennessean.”

Read the complaint here:

IN THE CHANCERY COURT OF TENNESSEE FOR THE TWENTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT

AKILAH MOORE, TELISE TURNER, and GARY WYGANT v.

BILL LEE, Governor, TRE HARGETT, Secretary of State, MARK GOINS, Tennessee Coordinator of Elections; all in their official capacity only)

COMPLAINT

Over the course of approximately two weeks in January 2022, the Tennessee General Assembly engaged in an unprecedented reapportionment of voters, redrawing state House and Senate maps to ensure maximum partisan advantage for the incumbent Republican supermajority. Redistricting decisions were made largely out of view of the public and largely without input from representatives of the minority party. These one-sided decisions denied voters any real opportunity to participate in – much less stop – fundamental changes to the process through which Tennessee voters choose their elected representatives.

Crucially for purposes of this lawsuit, the Tennessee General Assembly supermajority and Governor Bill Lee ignored the plain, unambiguous text of the Tennessee Constitution in order to enact their partisan redistricting scheme. They did so in two ways: first, by dividing more counties than necessary to create House districts with roughly equal populations, and second, by numbering state senatorial districts nonconsecutively. These actions both contravene the language of the Tennessee Constitution.

Regardless of the supermajority’s motives, the Tennessee General Assembly’s and Governor’s redistricting maps are facially unconstitutional according to the text of our state’s founding document. The above-named Plaintiffs – on behalf of all voters of Tennessee – file this action seeking a swift declaration and injunction requiring that the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor immediately adopt maps that conform with the Tennessee Constitution.

INTRODUCTION

1. This lawsuit challenges the Tennessee General Assembly’s recent reapportionment of the Tennessee House of Representatives and Tennessee Senate for violating two provisions of the Tennessee Constitution.

2. First, the legislature’s reapportionment of the House of Representatives divides more counties than necessary to ensure that all districts have roughly equal populations.

3. Second, the legislature’s reapportionment of the Senate fails to consecutively number the four senatorial districts included in Davidson County.

4. County Divisions: The Tennessee Constitution prohibits legislators from dividing individual counties when creating multi-county legislative districts, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution requires the creation of legislative districts with roughly equal populations. The Tennessee Supreme Court has reconciled these two provisions by holding that the General Assembly must create as few county-dividing districts as is necessary to ensure that all legislative districts contain roughly equal populations.

5. The General Assembly’s reapportionment of the House of Representatives violates this constitutional mandate by creating significantly more county-dividing House districts than necessary to maintain districts with roughly equal populations. The newly-enacted House apportionment plan crosses 30 county lines, despite the fact that significantly fewer county divisions could have been achieved while also maintaining roughly equal populations in each district. The legislative history illustrates this constitutional violation, as one alternate map submitted to the legislature contained just 23 county divisions, while also achieving closer population parity than the plan that the General Assembly approved. The General Assembly’s failure to reduce county divisions in its House plan violates the Tennessee Constitution.

6. Senate District Numbering: When a single county contains more than one senatorial district, the Tennessee Constitution requires the districts in that county to be numbered consecutively. This requirement ensures that half of a large county’s senatorial districts will be on the ballot in presidential election years and half of a large county’s senatorial districts will be on the ballot in gubernatorial election years, given that even-numbered districts are on the ballot in presidential election years and odd-numbered districts are on the ballot in gubernatorial election years.

7. The General Assembly’s new Senate map creates four senatorial districts within Davidson County, including three districts that are entirely within Davidson County and a fourth district that includes a portion of Davidson County along with all of Wilson County. The General Assembly numbered these districts 17, 19, 20, and 21, ensuring that three districts will be on the ballot during gubernatorial elections and just one district will be on the ballot during presidential elections. Before enacting this map, an amendment was proposed that would have corrected this deficiency by properly numbering Davidson County’s senatorial districts. The General Assembly rejected this amendment.

8. The General Assembly’s Senate apportionment map violates the Tennessee Constitution’s express requirement that senatorial “districts shall be numbered consecutively” in counties having more than one senatorial district. Tenn. Const. art. II, Sec. 3.

9. These constitutional violations can be, and should be, corrected before the August 2022 legislative primary elections. This Court should provide the General Assembly with fifteen days to enact new apportionment plans that correct these violations, as required by T.C.A. § 20- 18-105(a). If the General Assembly fails to enact such new maps by the Court’s deadline, the Court should then “impose an interim districting plan,” as authorized by T.C.A. § 20-18-105(b). Such interim districting plan would only apply to the 2022 legislative election cycle. Id.

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Pompeo endorses former spokeswoman Ortagus in 5th District

Morgan Ortagus

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has endorsed former spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.

Ortagus landed the endorsement of former President Donald Trump before formally announcing her bid earlier this month. Some state lawmakers have chafed at her candidacy because she and her husband have only lived in Nashville for a year. A proposal to require a three-year residency to run in congressional primaries is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, but has yet to gain any traction in the House.

“I’ll leave state matters to the state legislature,” Ortagus said in a statement last week. “I’m focused on earning the support of the 5th District Tennesseans who want a conservative fighter to defend President Trump’s agenda.”

Here’s the release from Pompeo’s Champion American Values PAC:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today endorsed Morgan Ortagus for Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Speaking about his endorsement, Secretary Mike Pompeo said, “A Republican majority in the House of Representatives is critical to stopping Joe Biden’s extreme agenda, and that means we’ll need to win in multiple Democrat-held seats throughout the country. In Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District, I can’t think of a stronger candidate than Morgan Ortagus. Morgan played a critical role in our administration’s efforts to put America first and to restore American greatness to our foreign policy. She has served her country honorably in the executive branch and in our military, and I know she’ll continue to champion the American values we share in Congress. I encourage all freedom-loving Tennesseans in the Fifth Congressional District to join me in fully supporting Morgan in the primary this August.”

“I’m humbled to be endorsed by Secretary Pompeo, a man I was honored to work for on behalf of the American people,” said Morgan Ortagus. “Together, we stood firmly against authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba both at home and around the world. In Congress, I’ll continue to fight for freedom and to preserve the American Dream. The forces of communism seek to forever snuff out the flame of liberty– Mike Pompeo and I won’t let that happen.”

UT survey: Businesses most likely to pass inflation costs on to consumers

Forty-four percent of companies plan to pass increased inflation costs on to consumers, according to a new University of Tennessee survey.

Here are the details from UT’s Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research:

Inflation and labor force issues top the list of concerns for Tennessee business leaders, according to the most recent survey by the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Conducted in January, the Tennessee Business Leaders Survey shows that respondents are relatively pessimistic on inflation, with about half (53.8 percent) saying the recent high inflation is “here to stay.” The other half said either that the current inflation is transitory (25.8 percent) or that they were unsure about inflation’s trajectory moving forward (21.1 percent).

About half said their companies plan to increase employee wages in response to inflation. As the cost of running a business goes up, 43.5 percent of employers said they will likely increase prices for consumers. Many also are looking into reorganizing their business or will rely more on artificial intelligence and automation. Very few are considering employee layoffs or the closure of stores or offices.

Figure-1
Figure 1: What companies plan to do about the rising costs associated with inflation.

In early February, about 50 survey respondents took part in a forum moderated by Don Bruce, associate director of the Boyd Center. Attendees discussed the survey results and elaborated more on how inflation affects Tennessee employers through the housing market, the supply chain, and a growing skills gap in the workforce.

“Parents are worried about the cost of buying a home in Tennessee and how unaffordable it is for a new college graduate. They say, ‘Where is the $100,000 starter home? It doesn’t exist anymore,’” Bruce said. “These business leaders also say their cost of operating has gone up and it takes longer to get something built—whether it’s due to supply chain issues or not having enough people trained to do the job.”

The concern about trained workers echoes the survey, where more than 70 percent of respondents reported an insufficient supply. About half said that increasing training opportunities and education is key in bridging the gap, and about a fourth said it would be good to reduce the government safety net in order to encourage more people to work.

Figure-2
Figure 2: What should Tennessee do to expand the supply of workers?

When looking at Tennessee as a whole, roughly 70 percent of survey respondents said they think the state’s economy will outpace the nation’s in 2022. Those from East and West Tennessee were much more optimistic about the state’s economy than those from Middle Tennessee. There was optimism among individual industries as well, with more than half of respondents expecting their businesses to perform better over the next 12 months and only 9 percent expecting their businesses to perform worse.

“A significant number of people are upbeat about their expectations for revenue, profitability, and employment growth in 2022,” said Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center. “Despite worries about inflation, this shows me that business leaders in Tennessee have an entrepreneurial spirit and are finding ways to make their companies succeed.”

Figure-3
Figure 3: How would you describe your expectations for the Tennessee economy compared with the national economy over the next 12 months?

The full set of survey responses is available on the Boyd Center website. A few other highlights:

  • When asked about the local workforce, respondents were able to identify up to three skills or attributes lacking in job candidates. Work ethic was the top concern, listed by nearly two thirds of respondents.
  • Almost 58 percent said their company struggles to retain workers. Cost and availability of housing was the primary reason listed, followed by cost and availability of child care services.
  • Only 10.2 percent said they believe that reducing fiscal and monetary stimulus would result in a recession, while almost 60 percent said it would not.
  • 35.2 percent of respondents believe the Federal Reserve will begin raising interest rates during the first half of 2022. A quarter think it will be later in 2022.

The Boyd Center, located in UT’s Haslam College of Business, conducted the survey between January 10 and 31, gathering responses from business leaders across Tennessee. Respondents represented a broad sample of businesses across all industries and ranging in size from fewer than 50 employees to more than 5,000.

New TNJ alert: Ford labor deal to construct plant worries lawmakers, election changes proposed

The Blue Oval City plans superimposed on a map of the West Tenenssee Megasite.

— GOP lawmakers fret over Ford’s national labor agreement to build West Tennessee site.

— Proposal to require residency requirements for congressional candidates could have big effect on 5th District race – if it’s legal.

— Numbering disparity in new Senate maps could serve as basis for redistricting lawsuit.

— From the campaign trail: Kelsey dodges primary challenge from prominent House chairman, candidates line up to run for seats being vacated by Byrd and Halford, Stewart joins the ranks of retiring lawmakers.

Also:

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center says its in “ongoing discussion” with the state about its future home, Andy Ogles is “offended” by Morgan Ortagus, Lee Beaman is back at Belmont, and the former senator who made it legal to have up to a gallon of booze on you in every Tennessee county has died.

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

Or subscribe here.

Democrat Stewart to retire from state House

Rep Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) speaks to reporters on the House floor in Nashville on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Mike Stewart, a former House Democratic caucus chair from Nashville, announced he is retiring from the General Assembly. Under initial Republican redistricting plans, Stewart was going to be drawn together with fellow Democrat John Ray Clemmons. But the majority party relented in a last-minute change, leaving the two incumbents in their own districts.

Here’s Stewart’s statement:

NASHVILLE — Today Mike Stewart announced in a Facebook Live appearance on the Tennessee Holler that he is not running for the state house seat he has held since 2008.  “I consider the opportunity to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly as one of the great honors of my life and I am grateful to all the people who have helped me along the way,” Stewart said.

Stewart intends to shift his political energy to protecting America’s democratic system, which is under serious internal attack for the first time since the 1850’s.  “We are facing a threat that I never expected to deal with during my lifetime; a former President and his followers attempting to invalidate a Presidential election and with it the system we use in this country to allow the people to choose their leaders.  I was one of those who mistakenly thought that President Trump was just being a sore loser when he made claims of election fraud; now it has been revealed that those claims were part of an orchestrated effort to cancel the 2020 election, thwart the will of the people and retain political control illegally.  It is the sort of thing that I expected to see only in other countries and in science fiction movies,” Stewart observed.

“As a lawyer and a person who has been deeply involved in elections for many years, I hope to do what I can to protect the democratic process in the upcoming 2022 and 2024 elections,” Stewart observed.  Specifically, I will be working with leaders around the nation to ensure that polling places are adequately monitored to prevent false claims of fraud, working to ensure that state legislatures are not controlled by anti-democratic leaders, and working to develop legal strategies to check those who continue to make false statements undermining our system of elections.”  

“Many citizens I’m talking to are feeling overwhelmed and defeated.  They grew up in the world’s most stable and admired democracy, and now see a former President, as well as Senators and Congressmen, debasing themselves on national television repeating claims they know are entirely untrue.  I plan to do everything I can to ensure that such people are not allowed to tamper further with our sacred system of elections so that the people have a fair opportunity to repudiate such irresponsible and, ultimately, immoral leadership.  Many are talking about the threat; it is time to develop concrete plans to respond to it on a state-by-state level.”

Stewart added, “I’d like to close this chapter by saying it has been a privilege to serve the people in House District 52 and I intend to continue fighting for you, as well as the rest of the country, in my new role.”