Monthly Archives: February 2022

Check out plans for the massive new Ford plant in West Tennessee

Ford’s new Blue Oval City in West Tennessee is coming into focus. The Tennessee Journal has come across a schematic for the 3,600-acre, $5.6 billion plant located about 40 miles from downtown Memphis.

The buildings in red are 100% owned by Ford, while the purple ones represent the joint venture with battery maker SK Innovation of South Korea (right-click on the image to open a larger version in another tab).

Lawmakers in October approved an inventive package totaling $884 million to secure Ford investment. The deal included $500 million in grants for the automaker and its partners, $200 million for road work, $138 million for site prep and a wastewater pipeline, $40 million for a new College of Applied Technology, $5 million for consulting and legal services, and $728,000 to pay for the first year of the new Megasite Authority’s operations and salaries.

About 5,800 people are expected to work at Blue Oval City once it is up and running.

Here’s what the site looked like before the state got Ford to agree to start building there.

Here’s a look at the partisan breakdown of Tennessee’s new congressional districts

It all fits together somehow.

Tennessee voters in the 2020 presidential election preferred Republican Donald Trump by double digits in eight of the state’s nine congressional districts under the new maps recently signed into law.

The 2018 U.S. Senate race results are somewhat more encouraging for the minority party, as Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Marsha Blackburn were essentially tied in what is now the 5th District, while the GOP candidate won the 7th district by just over 1 point. But that was a somewhat unique race featuring a popular former governor and a divisive Republican congresswoman. The same year’s governor’s race may prove to be more of a guide for future performance, as Republican Bill Lee beat Democrat Karl Dean by 11 points in both the 5th and 7th Districts.

Here is a look at the Republican advantage in the newly drawn districts over four recent statewide races:

District2016 President2018 Governor2018 Senate2020 President
1st+57+53+43+54
2nd+35+28+15+30
3rd+35+29+19+32
4th+42+33+24+38
5th+17+110+12
6th+32+20+11+30
7th+17+11+1+15
8th+39+37+28+37
9th-47-44-52-48

New TNJ alert: A pricey plan to revive the old Legislative Plaza, a new deputy governor, and an interview with Ortagus

_ Planned overhaul of old legislative complex costlier than new one, state to ‘dispose’ of controversial office tower.

_ Legislative roundup: Campbell approved for Supreme Court, standardized test requirement punted in Senate.

_ The outsider’s insider: Butch Eley named top Lee deputy.

_ Congressional races: An interview with Morgan Ortagus after she jumps into the 5th District race with Trump’s endorsement in hand.

Also: David Lillard doubles down on fossil fuel investments, a “mysterious man” walks along the Smokies, battle lines are forming in the Hamilton County mayor’s race, and a very large check arrives in an unmarked envelope.

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

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Lawmakers confirm Campbell appointment to state Supreme Court

A joint convention of the General Assembly on Thursday approved Gov. Bill Lee’s nomination of Sarah K. Campbell to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Here’s a release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

Sarah Keeton Campbell is officially the newest justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Justice Campbell was confirmed today during a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the final step in the appointment process, and took the oath of office.  She was nominated by Governor Bill Lee on January 12 after being one of three candidates out of 11 applicants recommended by the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments.

Justice Campbell fills the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Cornelia A. Clark on September 24, 2021. She is Governor Lee’s first Supreme Court appointment and the second justice to navigate the confirmation process that was enacted in 2016 after Tennessee voters approved a ballot initiative in 2014.

“Sarah has created a truly remarkable and unique career focused almost exclusively on appellate work with a strong passion for public service,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “The Court is thrilled to welcome her to the bench as a colleague. She is accomplished and determined, yet humble and personable, and I am sure she will serve the citizens of Tennessee well.” 

Strong Tennessee Values

Justice Campbell was born in LaFollette in Campbell County.  Her extended family still lives in Campbell County and Scott County, where her grandparents made their living working on farms, in factories, and on the railroad. Her father was the first in her family to attend college, and the family moved to Rogersville in Scott County when Justice Campbell was beginning middle school. She graduated from Cherokee High School in Rogersville, where her parents and brother, a local attorney and municipal judge, still reside.

“My parents and grandparents taught me to work hard, live with integrity, and treat everyone with fairness and respect,” Justice Campbell said. “I am proud of my rural East Tennessee roots.  The values I learned there shaped who I am today.”

Justice Campbell attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on a full-tuition merit scholarship and was recognized as a Torchbearer, the university’s highest student honor.  While a student at UT, she was elected president of the Student Government Association; served as chairperson of the Undergraduate Academic Council; and was a founding member of the Baker Scholars Program. She graduated from the College Scholars program with emphases in political science, educational policy, and Spanish.

“I did not have any lawyers in my family, but I was always drawn to public service,” Justice Campbell said. “I developed an interest in the law while at UT and decided to attend law school with the aim of using my legal education to improve my community.”

Justice Campbell was awarded a full-tuition merit scholarship to Duke University School of Law, where she served as managing editor of the Duke Law Journal, was a member of moot court, and participated in the Appellate Litigation Clinic. She graduated magna cum laude and in the top 10 percent of her class. While at Duke, she also earned a master’s degree in Public Policy.

A Focus On Appellate Law

Justice Campbell quickly realized the intense legal research, analysis and writing required when cases are appealed after trial or an initial court decision was her niche.  After graduating from law school, she secured a federal clerkship with Judge William H. Pryor Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. That position was followed by a clerkship with Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. on the Supreme Court of the United States. There are approximately 36 U.S. Supreme Court clerkships each year, and obtaining a clerkship is extremely competitive with candidates with the highest credentials from the most prestigious law schools applying.

“My clerkships were formative experiences. I was fortunate to clerk for two of the finest jurists in the country. Those experiences allowed me to refine and strengthen my research and writing skills and gain an appreciation for the limited yet important role of a judge in our constitutional structure,” Justice Campbell said. “I found it very rewarding to work on the complicated legal issues that came before the appellate courts.  It was then that I developed an interest in becoming a judge.”

After practicing in Washington D.C. at Williams & Connolly, LLP, Justice Campbell felt the time was right to come home to Tennessee. For the past six years, she has worked in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, most recently as the Associate Solicitor General and Special Assistant to the Attorney General. During that time, she has represented her home state in both federal and state appellate courts, handling a wide range of criminal, civil, and constitutional law issues.

“Serving on the Tennessee Supreme Court is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Justice Campbell said. “I thank Governor Lee for putting his trust in me to serve Tennesseans in this capacity, and I also thank the General Assembly for confirming me to the position. I do not take the task before me lightly. The job of a judge is to decide cases fairly and impartially by applying neutral, objective principles.  That is how I will approach each case that comes before me.”

Family & Community Involvement

Justice Campbell met her husband Scott while they were students at the University of Tennessee. The couple currently resides in Nashville and have three children.   Mr. Campbell has dedicated his career to public education, serving both as a teacher and principal.  The family belongs to Christ Presbyterian Church.

Justice Campbell is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, the TBA Leadership Law Alumni Association, the American Law Institute, and the Federalist Society.  She has been an invited speaker to dozens of continuing legal education courses focused on updates and reviews on state and federal appellate law.

A public investiture ceremony will be planned for the spring.

Lee names Eley deputy governor

Finance Commisioner Butch Eley attends a State Funding Board meeting in Nashville on Nov. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has named Finance Commissioner Butch Eley as deputy governor. Eley succeeds Lang Wiseman, who left the administration in December.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointment of Butch Eley as Deputy to the Governor. Eley will continue serving in his current role as Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) and as a member of Gov. Lee’s cabinet. The position of Deputy Governor was previously held by Lang Wiseman who has returned to the private sector.

“For the past three years, Butch has played a pivotal role in our strong economic recovery and in maintaining Tennessee’s reputation for conservative fiscal management,” said Gov. Lee. “His extensive public and private sector experience will continue to add enormous value as we invest strategically in infrastructure, education and other priorities to serve Tennesseans and support our state’s growth.”

Eley previously served as Chief Operating Officer in the Governor’s office from January 2019 to May 2020, where he led the state’s first four-year strategic planning process. In his subsequent appointment as Commissioner of Finance and Administration, he has developed multiple state budgets and works closely with legislative leaders of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG) to oversee and allocate the influx of federal relief funds provided to Tennessee over the past two years.

Prior to joining the Lee Administration, Eley was a founder and CEO of Infrastructure Corporation of America (ICA). Headquartered in Nashville, ICA was one of the nation’s leading infrastructure asset maintenance management companies with comprehensive asset management contracts throughout the country.

Eley earned his bachelor’s degree and MBA at Belmont University. He and his wife Ginger reside in Nashville.

Feds appeal judge’s decision to throw out 2 of 4 charges in Robinson fraud conviction

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Federal prosecutors are appealing a judge’s decision to undo the jury verdict on two of four wire fraud charges former state Sen. Katrina Robinson was convicted of. The Memphis Democrat was ousted from the Senate last week on a 27-5 vote.

While the appeal works its way to the 6th Circuit, the government is also calling for the Memphis Democrat to be sentenced to up 2 1/2 years in prison and urging U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman against agreeing to a lighter sentence because of “the truly extraordinary breadth and scope of [Robinson’s] refusal to accept responsibility.”

“She has not simply declined to admit guilt; she has embarked on an extended campaign — before, during, and after trial; in front of the jury and in frequent statements to the media — to paint herself as the victim,” U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Murphy Jr. wrote in a motion filed Friday. “A consistent and recurring theme of this campaign is that the consequences she is facing are the result not of her own actions but of racial animus on the part of anyone who dares call her to account.”

The prosecutor cites news accounts in the Tennessee Lookout and Commercial Appeal about the Senate ouster, including Robinson’s statement that she was being subjected to a “procedural lynching.”

“This defiant refusal to accept responsibility and to instead cast herself as the wronged party in this case should be reflected in the sentence,” Murphy wrote.

Robinson is scheduled to be sentenced on March 3, and her legal team argued the Senate ouster was premature until her case reaches its official conclusion on that date.

“At this time we are considering every option we have to try to get those last two counts removed or dismissed,” Robinson attorney Larry Laurenzi told the chamber on Wednesday. “And we will continue doing that up until March 3. Has anything been filed today? No. Can I tell you that nothing is going to be filed next week? I can’t tell you that.”

Ortagus makes 5th District bid official

Former State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus is making her congressional bid official. Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Ortagus on Jan. 25 came as a surprise to many observers in Tennessee political circles and spawned a backlash among some conservatives who preferred the candidacy of music video producer Robby Starbuck.

UPDATE: Attorney and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead has filed papers to start raising money for a bid for the GOP nomination. So has Williamson County businessman Baxter Lee.

Ortagus’ launch video hits on familiar Trump-heavy themes:

Here’s the release from the Ortagus camp:

NASHVILLE, TN — Today, former Trump State Department spokeswoman, active duty Navy Reserve Officer and business executive, Morgan Ortagus, formally announced her bid to represent Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District. On January 25th, President Trump announced his “complete and total endorsement” of her candidacy.

Speaking about the announcement, Ortagus said, “In President Trump’s Administration I fought for conservative policies that put America first, but now, we must fight harder than we ever have before to push back against the Democrats’ extremism. We built the wall, created a strong economy, stood up to our adversaries, and promoted freedom at home and abroad, but the Biden Administration and their radical Democrat allies in Congress are dead-set on undoing that good work. As a U.S. Navy Reserve Officer, I am answering the call to service, and I will never back down from fighting for my country and the good people of Tennessee to stand for American greatness. I’m grateful to have President Trump’s support, and I look forward to earning your vote and standing with you to protect our conservative values.“

Morgan Ortagus is an active U.S. Navy Reserve Officer and a business executive. She served in President Trump’s Department of State. Morgan and her husband Jonathan have a daughter, Adina, who is the light of their lives. They live in Nashville.

New TNJ alert: What does a stationary bike maker have to do with the Tennessee economy?

Lawmakers attend Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Are Peloton’s struggles a cautionary tale for the state economy? Lee delivers annual budget address, lawmakers fret about a future economic downturn.

— Removed without delay: Convicted Sen. Katrina Robinson calls ouster from chamber a “procedural lynching.”

— Campaign finance update: Lee raises big money for re-election bid, House GOP haul is down from two years ago, and Casada travels to Santa Fe.

Also: Registry to hold special meeting to take up subpoenas on mystery PAC on March 7, McNally gives Lamberth an inadvertent “promotion,” and the Senate Finance chairman bats down ballpark funding proposal by his hometown mayor.

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

Or subscribe here.

Who did ‘America at Its Best’ better?

For longtime State of the State watchers, Gov. Bill Lee’s speech on Monday night had something of a familiar ring to it. A recurring theme was the state slogan “Tennessee — America at Its Best.” Lee’s predecessor, Bill Haslam, also made the phrase the focus of the final State of the State address of his first term in office back in 2014.

Here are some excerpts of the respective governor’s rhetorical flourishes about state slogan:

Haslam in 2014Lee in 2022
As I begin my fourth year in office, I am convinced that Tennessee – America at Its Best is not just a 50-year-old slogan.  Over the years, leaders have reminded Tennesseans that America at Its Best is more than our slogan – it’s our north star. However, America at Its Best means something different today than it did in 1965 or even in the last decade.  
Expecting great outcomes will ensure that Tennessee is America at its best. Tennessee fulfills America at Its Best because of our optimism.  
For Tennessee to be America at its best, we must get health care right – for those who need health care coverage and for the long-term fiscal health of our state.  I am proposing a budget and America-at-its-best policies that reinforce freedom, innovation, exceptionalism, and optimism.  
Tennessee is America at its best because we employ one of the best tax strategies of all time – common sense.  If we are to embody America at Its Best, that starts with acknowledging that it is our creator who endows us with freedom, and the government merely maintains that freedom.  
Being America at its best means not doing government business the way we’ve always done it before.  Tennessee – America at Its Best embraces both sides of the coin: we acknowledge our shortcomings but build on our best.  
In the year 2025, 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree beyond high school to get a job. Today, only 32 percent of Tennesseans qualify. To truly be America at its best, that’s not good enough.  In Tennessee, there’s no reason why our institutions of higher learning can’t be an exceptional part of America at Its Best.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Randy Boyd for taking a leave of absence from his company and dedicating a year of his life – at no cost to the state – to work on this. He did it because he loves our state, and he wants Tennessee to be America at its best.  We are also proud to propose a series of research investments to ensure we stay on track to be America at Its Best.  
In Tennessee, we truly are America at its best.May we ensure that the beacon that is Tennessee – America at Its Best – shines brighter than ever before.

Senate votes to oust Memphis Democrat Katrina Robinson from chamber (UPDATED)

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate voted 27-5 to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) from the chamber for federal wire fraud charges related to misspending grant money intended for her nursing schools and her agreement to pretrial diversion on another case.

Robinson called the case a “procedural lynching.”

The chamber earlier voted 16-16 on a motion to delay consideration of the ouster proceedings until after Robinson is sentenced in March, meaning the motion failed. Democratic Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville was missing due to a COVID-19 infection, otherwise the motion might have prevailed.

Several Republicans said later they had been confused about whether the vote was to end debate or delay consideration.

Here is an image gallery of proceedings on Tuesday.

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), right, attends a floor session in which colleagues were to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Democrat state House members watch the Senate discussion of a proposal to oust Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis). From the top are Reps. Torrey Harris of Memphis, Vincent Dixie of Nashville, Sam McKenzie of Knoxville, and Larry Miller of Memphis. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber as Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), top, watches on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
A supporter of Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) holds up a sign in the gallery while members considered an ouster proposal in Nashville on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), center, addresses colleagues during a floor session to decide whether to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson’s attorney, Larry Laurenzi, addresses the Senate chamber during a floor session to decide whether to oust his client from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)
Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)