Monthly Archives: July 2022

New local super PAC running ads supporting Harwell

A new super PAC called Government of the People is running ads attacking Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles and supporting former House Speaker Beth Harwell in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. The new group’s treasurer is Debra Maggart, a former state House member and lobbyist.

Here’s the transcript:

NARRATOR 1: DC money flooding into Tennessee, backing lobbyist Andy Ogles for Congress. Why? They want Congress to immediately prioritize amnesty for illegal immigrants. Amnesty. If Andy Oglels wins, he owes them, not you. Lobbyist Andy Ogles. You just can’t trust him.

NARRATOR 2: But you know Beth Harwell. She keeps her word. She cut our taxes. She’ll build Trump’s wall. Tennessee conservatives back Beth. Government of the People is responsible for the content of this advertising.

The ad appears to refer to past positions taken by Americans for Prosperity. Ogles was once the group’s state director and lobbyist.

The School Freedom Fund, a super PAC linked to the Club for Growth, is also out with new ads attacking Harwell and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead, another leading candidate for the GOP nomination.

Here’s what the narrator says:

Prices are soaring under Joe Biden. But in Tennessee, he’s not the only one to blame. As state House speaker, Beth Harwell rammed through a 28% gas tax increase. That’s why Beth Harwell is a Biden Republican. Imagine the damage they’d do together in Washington. Kurt Winstead is no better. Winstead bankrolled the liberal Tennessee Democrat Party. Winstead and Harwell. Too liberal for Tennessee. School Freedom Fund is responsible the content of this ad.

Harwell was speaker when the General Assembly passed a 6-cent gas tax increase in 2017. While she voted for the measure in the end, saying she “rammed” it through is a considerable exaggeration. Throughout most of the debate on the measure, Harwell pushed for finding ways to fund road projects without resorting to the gas tax hike, a position that angered many fellow Republicans.

The same super PAC is also running ad ad featuring spliced together commentary by Ogles at a recent candidate forum. Here’s the transcript:

OGLES: When this administration attacked Americans by weaponizing COVID, I refused to comply with the mandate. I told Biden he could pound sand. I want Washington D.C. out of Tennessee. Our education system has been hijacked through critical race theory. I’m willing to say no. This administration picked a fight and it’s a fight they’re going to get. My name is Andy Ogles, I’m fed up and I want my country back.

NARATOR: School free for those responsible for the content of this ad.

The ad ends with an image of Ogles with former President Donald Trump, who has not endorsed any of the remaining candidates in the 5th District race.

Read Andy Ogles’ attempt to explain late, exaggerated campaign finance numbers

Republican congressional candidate Andy Ogles has been having a tough go of it lately. First, he blew through campaign finance reporting deadline by more than a week. And when he finally filed, it turned out he had vastly exaggerated his fundraising prowess earlier in the race. And then Main Street Nashville reported his treasurer, former auto dealer Lee Beaman, had also been the sole funder of a super PAC, which raised questions about unlawful coordination.

The conservative Tennessee Star website had been a longtime booster of Ogles and his bid for Congress. But his failure to report his campaign finance information in a timely fashion has made him the target of hard-edged reporting he’s not been accustomed to from a friendly outlet. So he took to talk radio this week in search of a sympathetic ear from 99.7 FM host Michael DelGiorno, who announced twice during the interview that he and his family were voting for Ogles.

Here are some excerpts of what Ogles had to say:

The moment you put yourself out there, you know, you’re going to be put through this gauntlet. You mentioned the whole ‘phony’ thing, you know, the the group that’s funding the ads against me apparently he’s like out of Oregon, some billionaire out of Oregon? I don’t know. But I mean, does he want to think that, you know, some Left Coast billionaire has anything in common with Tennessee or Tennessee values, or that they’re looking out for Tennessee. And so I wish these attack ads, they what they end up doing is suppressing voter turnout. And what we’ve seen here across Tennessee, is that voter turnout is incredibly low.

The billionaire in question is Oracle chairman Larry Ellison, a noted Trump supporter whose company is building a $1.2 billion campus in Nashville that is projected to create 8,500 jobs.

Super PACs supporting Ogles or attacking rivals Beth Harwell and Kurt Winstead have spent $1.95 million. Those running negative ads about Ogles have dropped $881,000 as of Friday morning.

Beth, and Kurt, those are people. And we all go out of our way to be kind to one another. And then suddenly, you get these groups come in, and just pound pound everybody into the ground and the voter is left confused. And, you know, of course, I’m biased because it’s me, but you know, the reason why is they have to make up these and exaggerate anything about me, it’s because I’m the most conservative across the board on all these issues. And I’ve got 15 years track record to prove it. As I’ve fought against the gas tax. I fought against the income tax, I fought against Obamacare expansion in Tennessee, I helped other states fight those fights as well, you know, fighting for low taxes and less government.

One negative ad repeats that Ogles “failed to pay his taxes nine time,” without adding that he eventually settled up what he owed.

If you’ve seen the ad, you know, if you’re listening to I haven’t paid taxes in nine years. Look, if I haven’t paid taxes in nine years, I’d be holding a seminar that would be packed. You know, I could pack an arena with everybody wants to know how to do it. Total baloney, right? I mean, come on. Let’s be serious. And so you know, I don’t owe the county, I don’t know the city, I don’t owe the IRS. My wife doesn’t. We have no business that does. […] We had multiple properties, we had interest in multiple businesses, and OK, something was late. But that being said, we paid. And any interest that may have been due, which I don’t know if there was, was paid. And so again, this implication that somehow I’m a deadbeat, you know, my senior college, I started my first business. I bootstrapped it, I rolled up my sleeves, I pursued the American dream, I worked hard.

Gently prodded about his late report, here is what Ogles responded:

When I got into the race, you know, back mid-April, between that time and the election is little over about 100, 105 days, right? It’s a three-month campaign. Typically, when you run for Congress, it’s an 18 month window. So you have plenty of time to raise money, to have records, etc. So we counted on that, you know, monies that we had on hand, monies that were pledged. But as we moved forward, we watched very closely. I don’t know if you’re familiar with J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate race. And of course, you can’t coordinate, you can’t communicate. J.D. Vance, his campaign worked in parallel with a PAC that did positive things on his behalf. And so the campaign, we chose that strategy. So we firewalled off some of our donors away from the campaign to go run positive ads, so there’s been radio, there’s been mailers, there’s been doors knocked, that I have not been able to control because the campaign wasn’t doing it. But that was a better strategy for us, which allowed us to have a smaller team. And we could focus more on the grassroots day-to-day with me going to events, doing meet-and-greets. And the strategy is working. I’m leading. That’s why I’m being attacked so viciously. But you know, when you have an operation that already does mailers for other congressional candidates, or they knock doors for other congressional candidates, that dollar that I would have spent on the campaign is worth $1.50 or $2, on the other side of that firewall. So I’ve doubled my money by doing what J.D. Vance did in Ohio. And it worked for him. And he won and he prevailed, and it’s working for me and I expect to win.

Mailer backing Warner uses image linked to Phoenix Solutions

House Majority Leader William Lamberth’s political action committee is sending out mailers supporting embattled Rep. Todd Warner’s re-election campaign in House District 92. The piece presumably inadvertently uses a photo of Warner that has been linked to Phoenix Solutions, the political vendor that operated in the shadows and caused ex-Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) to plead guilty to a federal public corruption charge earlier this year.

According to a February 2021 report by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the same photo was used among a portfolio presented to a potential client by Phoenix Solutions. Warner, whose home and offices were searched by the FBI the previous month alongside those of Smith and former Senate Speaker Glen Casada, denied he had engaged Phoenix Solutions to do work for his primary campaign against then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg).

The mailer was prepared by an outside vendor unrelated to Warner’s re-election campaign.

Here’s the way the photo played in the newspaper account last year:

Warner has upset his colleagues by attending a campaign rally for Gary Humble (who is challenging state Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson in Williamson County) and for his ongoing use of a vendor, Dixieland Strategies, that is suspected of having ties for former Casada aide Cade Cothren.

Warner faces two Williamson County challengers in next week’s Republican primary, former County Commissioner Jeff Ford and Spring Hill Alderman Matt Fitterer.

Lee’s legal counsel Skrmetti, attorney Schmid apply for AG

Jonathan Skrmetti, the top legal adviser to Gov. Bill Lee since December, has applied for attorney general ahead of Friday’s deadline, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Also putting his name in was Knoxville attorney Culver Schmid of the Baker Donelson law firm.

They join four others who previously submitted applications to the state Supreme Court.

Skrmetti had been chief deputy to Attorney General Herbert Slatery when he decided to apply for a state Supreme Court vacancy last year. But he abandoned that bid at the last moment to instead join the Lee administration after Lang Wiseman decided to return to the private sector (Wiseman, incidentally, has decided against applying for AG).

Skrmetti is a Harvard law graduate who worked for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department before serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Memphis from 2011 to 2014. While later working at Butler Snow, Skrmetti was a member of the legal advisory board for the Beacon Center, the conservative think tank and advocacy group. Hired as the No. 2 position in the AG’s office in 2018, he spearheaded the state’s efforts to negotiate a $26 billion national settlement with opioid producers and distributors.

Schmid, a 2008 state Supreme Court applicant, defended Rep. Eddie Mannis against an effort to have him stripped of his narrow GOP primary win in 2020. He also served on the Tennessee Commission on Practical Government in 1995.

The deadline to apply for AG was noon Friday. The other applicants are:

— Donald Cochran, former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Tennessee.

— Jerome Cochran, a former state representative and administrative law judge.

— Mike Dunavant, former U.S. attorney for the western district of Tennessee.

— Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Public interviews of finalists are scheduled to be conducted on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9.

New TNJ edition alert: It’s primary time in Tennessee

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Democratic gubernatorial candidates fight it out for the privilege of taking on Bill Lee in November.

— 5th District Congressional race gets nastier as it comes down to the wire.

— A deep dive into the competitive races for the state House and Senate.

Also: The countdown for Tennessee’s near total abortion ban is underway, Lee scrambles to sign up families for school vouchers before the academic year start and supporters of bringing the Republican presidential nomination convention to Nashville consider the carrot and the stick.

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

Or subscribe here.

High court relents: AG applicant list released

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state Supreme Court is now releasing the names of applicants to become the next Tennessee attorney general in advance of the deadline on noon Friday. Here is who has submitted their paperwork so far:

— Donald Cochran, former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Tennessee.

— Jerome Cochran, a former state representative and administrative law judge.

— Mike Dunavant, former U.S. attorney for the western district of Tennessee.

— Bill Young, executive director of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

Public interviews of finalists are scheduled to be conducted on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9.

Larry Arnn’s ‘dumbest’ teachers remark gets weaponized in state House race

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, is sending out mailers in a key state House primary featuring the likeness of Larry Arnn, the Hillsdale College president who recently said some unkind things about teachers and the colleges that educate them.

Arnn, whose school has designed a charter school curriculum backed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, said at recent event in Franklin that teachers “are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.” Lee, who sat alongside Arnn at the closed-door meeting, didn’t say anything about the comments at the time. Lee has since insisted he supports public school teachers but refused to repudiate Arnn’s remarks.

The mailer is in support of Bob Ravener, a retired Navy submarine officers who is running against trial lawyer — and school choice supporter — Gino Bulso in the Republican primary in District 61 in northern Williamson County. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) who famously declared during his first election campaign in 2018 that he was opposed to school vouchers only to vote for a bill creating the private school tuition subsidies the following year.

Here’s the other side of the TEA mailer backing Ravener:

Boxes overflowing with 5th District mailers

If you live in the 5th Congressional District, you may want to make sure you keep emptying your mailbox. Otherwise, it’s likely to overflow.

Here is a sampling of mailers that have gone out to area residences this week:

Continue reading

Want to know who’s applied for AG? No dice.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Thinking about throwing in your application to become Tennessee’s attorney general for the next eight years but want to know who’s in the running before making up your mind? Think again.

The state Supreme Court’s deadline for applications is noon on Friday. But the high court won’t be releasing any names of hopefuls until afterward. That means filling out extensive paperwork that will be made public upon its submission even if someone seen as a prohibitive favorite has already thrown their hat in the ring (for example, someone like Gov. Bill Lee’s chief operating office Brandon Gibson or former legal counsel Lang Wiseman — neither of whom has publicly said whether they will make a bid).

Other names of potential applicants include former U.S. attorneys Donald Cochran, Mike Dunavant, and Doug Overbey and Registry of Election Finance director Bill Young. Tennessee is the only state where the Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.

Current AG Herbert Slatery isn’t seeking a second term.

Winstead dips toe into negative ads

Republican congressional candidate Kurt Winstead is dipping his toe into the attack ads that have characterized the closing phase of the 5th District race. The commercial follows a new ad from Harwell, a former state House speaker, attacking Ogles as a “tax raiser” and a lobbyist. Ogles, the mayor of Maury County, is a former lobbyists for the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Winstead, a retired brigadier general in the Tennessee National Guard, starts out his latest spot with photos of rival Republicans Beth Harwell and Andy Ogles, calling them “career politicians.” Here’s the transcript:

NARRATOR: Our choice for Congress? Two career politicians or tough conservative Republican general Kurt Winstead, an outsider. Winstead’s plan for America will slam our border shut. Return a gallon of gas to two bucks. Winstead will put our country first.

WINSTEAD: If you want a politician, I’m not your guy. If you want to fighter for conservative values, I’d really appreciate your vote. I’m retired brigadier general Kurt Winstead. I approved this message.

The ad features Winstead perusing the border with Mexico and footage of gas being pumped into a vehicle. Here it is: