Monthly Archives: March 2022

Brandon Ogles won’t seek third term in state House

Rep. Brandon Ogles attends a House floor session in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Brandon Ogles says he won’t seek a third term in the Tennessee House.

The Franklin Republican was elected in 2018 on a platform that included opposing school vouchers. But upon arriving at the Capitol, Ogles became a key ally to then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his chief of staff, Cade Cothren, and voted for the voucher measure in a controversial 50-48 floor vote in 2019.

Casada and Cothren have been implicated by former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) of participating with her in a scheme to drive business to shadowy campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which they allegedly controlled. Ogles has not been named as part of the investigation, but he has been a vocal defender of Casada, speaking out at a Williamson County chamber of commerce event recently against a Registry of Election Finance subpoena issued for the former speaker and other current and former lawmakers to testify about another mystery political action committee involved in defeating Republican Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg). The Registry has since referred its probe to prosecutors in Williamson County.

Ogles missed about four weeks of last year’s session with what he said was a severe case of COVID-19. The lawmaker says he will work as advocate for victims of violent crimes.

Here is Ogles’ Facebook statement on his retirement:

Lee’s budget amendment is out. Here’s what’s in it.

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

Gov. Bill Lee’s annual budget amendment is out, marking the beginning of the end of the legislative session. As first reported by Axios on Monday, the plan includes issuing up to $500 million in bonds in support of a new domed stadium in Nashville to replace the current home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans (initial debt service would be up to $55 million).

According to slides presented by the administration, the majority of the funding for the new stadium would come from Metro Nashville and private sources.

Also in the governor’s plan:

— $80 million for a one-month mortarium on the state’s 4% sales tax on groceries.

— $66 million for air carrier support and $12 million for general aviation.

— $20 million to reduce the professional privilege tax on brokers, lawyers, doctors, and lobbyists from $400 to $300 per year.

— $20 million for riverfront development in Memphis.

— $17 million in grants to prepare a Nashville track for a NASCAR race.

— $15 million for voting machines with a paper trail.

— $10 million for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Here’s who is hanging ’em up this year in the General Assembly

Sen. Brian Kelsey walks in the state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The candidate filing deadline is April 7, but several state lawmakers have already given notice they don’t plan to seek another term this year. Two others have either stepped down or been ousted from their respective chambers amid federal charges.

[Updated on 4-5-22 to add Rep. Eddie Mannis]:

Here’s is The Tennessee Journal’s running tally:

HOUSE

— District 18: Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville).

— District 24: Mark Hall (R-Cleveland). Running for the state Senate.

— District 26: Robin Smith (R-Hixson). Resigned after pleading guilty to federal charge.

— District 32: Kent Calfee (R-Kingston).

— District 35. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station).

— District 52: Mike Stewart (D-Nashville).

— District 59: Jason Potts (D-Nashville).

— District 61: Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin).

— District 63: Glen Casada (R-Franklin). Running for Williamson County Clerk and under federal investigation.

— District 67: Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville).

— District 69: Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

— District 71: David Byrd (R-Waynesboro).

— District 75: Bruce Griffey (R-Paris). Running for circuit judge.

— District 79: Curtis Halford (R-Dyer).

— District 91: London Lamar (D-Memphis). Appointed to Senate vacancy and running for the upper chamber.

SENATE

— District 9: Mike Bell (R-Riceville).

— District 19. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville).

— District 31: Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown). Under federal indictment.

— District 33: Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis). Ousted following federal fraud conviction.

House backs off delay on residency requirement for congressional candidates, sends bill to governor

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A bill seeking to require congressional candidates to have lived in Tennessee for at least three years before they can seek office is on its way to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk after the House dropped its effort to have the measure apply to the election cycle after this one.

If signed into law, the measure could imperil the 5th District candidacies of former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus and music video producer Robby Starbuck. Ortagus, who moved to Nashville last year, has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Starbuck, a California transplant, has the backing of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

A legal challenge is also widely anticipated because the U.S. Constitution only requires candidates to be at least 25 years old and live in the state they are hoping to represent.

Other GOP candidates for the open 5th District seat include former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, businessman Baxter Lee, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, and retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead.

Grand jury hears from lawmakers, staffers

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State lawmakers and staffers have testified before a federal grand jury believed to be considering charges related to a campaign vendor promoted by former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), who recently pleaded guilty, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

Appearing Monday were House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville, along with fellow Republican Reps. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Esther Helton of East Ridge, Bud Hulsey of Kingsport, and Jason Zachary of Knoxville.

Also giving testimony were Holt Whitt, a former interim chief of staff to the speaker, and Connie Ridley, the director of legislative administration.

Zachary told reporters afterward that he couldn’t speak about his testimony, but said it did not relate to his controversial decision to break a 49-49 tie in favor of Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher bill in 2019.

Rep. Jerry Sexton says he won’t run again

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station)

State Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Bean Station Republican best known for his efforts to declare the Bible the official book of Tennessee, isn’t running for another term in the House.

Sexton made the announcement at the Grainger County Lincoln Day Dinner, according to an attendee.

Sexton was drawn together with Rep. Rick Eldridge of Morristown as part of this year’s redistricting process, meaning the two incumbents would have had to run against each other in the Republican primary to try to hold on to the seat. But Eldridge was expected to have the advantage because his home county of Hamblen has a larger share of the population on the new district than Sexton’s Grainger County.

New TNJ alert: Here come the subpoenas, slammed doors, and divining rods

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— It’s subpoena time in the federal probe that ensnared ex-Rep. Robin Smith. At least three lawmakers and a legislative staffer are set to appear before the grand jury next week.

— Lee’s budget amendment signals the end is near for this year’s legislative session.

— Legislative roundup: Terri Lynn Weaver slams the door after failing to get a second, Indian gaming proposal stalls, the legislature grabs the authority to name six of nine members of the state Board of Education, and it won’t get any easier for minor parties to get on the ballot.

— Andy Ogles jumps into 5th Congressional District race, but his campaign infrastructure has yet to catch up.

Also: Jason Hodges welcomes the FBI to the Capitol, indicted Sen. Brian Kelsey honored as a “public-spirited citizen of the highest order,” Tennessee could grow by 1 million residents in next 20 years, and the state GOP asks for cash for a new computer.

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

Or subscribe here.

Lee proposes 1-month pause in sales tax on groceries

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

Gov. Bill Lee plans to propose a one-month pause in Tennessee’s 4% sales tax on groceries when he unveils his amendments to the annual spending plan for the budget year starting on July 1.

When Republican lawmakers in 2020 proposed a two-month “food tax holiday,” the proposal was estimated to cost the state about $100 million in forgone revenue.

Legislative Democrats have urged Lee to consider a moratorium on the state’s 27.4 tax on each gallon of gasoline amid spiking prices at the pump. Senate Republicans earlier this year floated a one-year break on the state’s $35 license plate fees. The Revenue Department collected $359 million worth of tag registrations in 2021.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his proposal for a 30-day suspension of state and local grocery sales tax to provide direct financial relief to Tennesseans amid surging inflation nationwide.

“As Americans see their cost-of-living skyrocket amid historic inflation, suspending the grocery tax is the most effective way to provide direct relief to every Tennessean,” said Gov. Lee. “Our state has the ability to put dollars back in the pockets of hardworking Tennesseans, and I thank members of the General Assembly for their continued partnership in maintaining our fiscally conservative approach.” 

The Governor’s proposal to suspend state and local sales tax on groceries for 30 days will be included in the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget amendment, which will be delivered on Tuesday, March 29.

Lee will host a roundtable with business leaders in Covington today, Thursday, March 24, to discuss the tax cut proposal and hear about the local impacts of nationwide economic challenges.

House members subpoenaed in federal probe of shadowy vendor

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)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is among lawmakers subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury about a shadowy campaign vendor linked to former Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

“We have been fully cooperating with the federal authorities since I became speaker in 2019,” Sexton said in a statement. “It is not unexpected that I and other members would be called to appear before a grand jury to provide factual statements as part of this ongoing investigation.”

The subpoenas, which were first reported by WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams, follow a guilty plea by former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) earlier this month in which she admitted participating in a scheme to hide who was behind the vendor called Phoenix Solutions. The charging document makes thinly veiled references to Casada and Cothren being the other participants.

Smith has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation as part of her plea agreement.

Senate refuses to back off of Tenn. residency requirements for congressional candidates

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

The Senate has voted to reject a House amendment to a bill seeking to impose three-year residency requirements on congressional candidates. The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Stawberry Plains) would take effect immediately, which could preclude at least two declared candidates from running for the open 5th District seat.

The House last week amended its version of the bill to apply only to candidates running after the current election cycle. House sponsor Dave Wright (R-Corryton) said he supported the Senate version, but still went ahead with putting his chamber’s delay in his bill.

Former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus is the highest-profile candidate whose bid could be thwarted by the legislation as she just moved to Nashville last year. Ortagus has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Another Republican congressional hopeful who might fall under the three-year blackout is music video producer Robby Starbuck, who has the backing of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Legislative attorneys have warned the state-imposed residency requirements could run afoul of a provision of the U.S. Constitution stating: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”