Monthly Archives: August 2022

Bell stepping down from Senate early to take TWRA position

Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) attends a redistricting hearing on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Retiring state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) is stepping down early to take a position as senior adviser for legislative affairs and policy with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Here’s the release:

(NASHVILLE) The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has named State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville) as the agency’s new Senior Advisor for Legislative Affairs and Policy. A lifelong sportsman and small business owner, Bell will bring a wealth of institutional knowledge and personal experience to the TWRA.  Bell, who had previously announced his intent to retire from the Senate, will resign his seat effective August 31. He begins his new role with the TWRA September 1.

“I look forward to working with TWRA,” said Bell. “For as long as I can remember I have been an avid outdoorsman. I am excited for the opportunity to help advance the agency’s efforts to ensure Tennessee’s rich natural resources can be enjoyed for many future generations.”

“We are excited to welcome Senator Bell to the TWRA family,” said Executive Director Jason Maxedon. “His extensive legislative experience and his passion for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation will make him a valuable team member. We look forward to working with him to advance critical policy to support the conservation and management of wildlife, fisheries, and Tennessee’s waterways.”

Bell was first elected to Tennessee House District 23 in 2006 representing McMinn and Monroe Counties and was subsequently elected to Tennessee Senate District 9 in 2010 representing Brandley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties. 

“Serving in the General Assembly for the last 16 years has been the highest honor of my life,” Bell continued. “I will always be grateful to the citizens in House District 1 and Senate District 9 for the trust they have put in me to represent them in the legislature.”

Bell has been an influential legislator during his tenure in the General Assembly. He has made a significant impact shaping Tennessee’s law around government transparency, Second Amendment rights, and protecting the unborn and victims of crime. Bell has served as Senate Judiciary Chairman since 2019, where he co-sponsored legislation to ensure violent or sexual offenders serve 100% of their court sentence. As part of his work to protect Second Amendment rights, in 2021 Bell carried legislation to ensure Tennesseans can exercise their constitutional right to carry firearms without a permit.  

“Mike Bell has brought a true working-class perspective to the Senate that has been simply invaluable,” said Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker Randy McNally. “An authentic citizen legislator, Mike has served with distinction as chairman of both the Judiciary and Government Operations committees while at the same time owning and operating his own small business. We will miss him terribly in the Senate but I am grateful to know he will not be going far. Mike will be an outstanding advocate for the TWRA. I look forward to working with him as he excels in this new role.”

From 2012 – 2018 Bell chaired the Senate Government Operations Committee where he led legislative oversight for all state government agencies and departments. As Chairman, he worked to improve government transparency by reviewing Tennessee’s open record policies and rules. He also carried legislation to streamline the audit process of state agencies.

In addition to his regular duties as a state legislator, Bell has been an active member and co-chair of the National Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and a member of the Executive Council of the National Association of Sportsmen’s Caucuses.

Lee names new communications director, legal counsel

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Monday announced Casey Black Sellars will take over from Laine Arnold as commutations director and Erin Merrick will succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as chief legal counsel. Arnold is moving to Lee’s re-election campaign while the state Supreme Court named Skrmetti attorney general last week.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointments of Erin Merrick to succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as Chief Legal Counsel, effective September 1, and Casey Black Sellers to succeed Laine Arnold as Director of Communications, effective September 2. Skrmetti will assume the role of Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. Arnold will lead communications for the governor’s re-election campaign in addition to starting a strategic communications venture for corporations and causes.

“Jonathan is a brilliant legal mind with vast experience at the state and federal levels, and Tennesseans will be well-represented by his service as Attorney General,” said Lee. “Erin is a dedicated public servant who will lead with integrity and bring significant expertise as Chief Legal Counsel, and I appreciate her continued service to Tennessee.”

Erin Merrick currently serves as Lee’s deputy legal counsel, a role she has held since 2019. Previously, Merrick was an assistant attorney general in the Tennessee Office of the Attorney General, where she practiced state and federal civil litigation before both trial and appellate courts. Merrick earned her bachelor’s degree at American University and holds a master’s degree in Economics and Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University.

“Laine’s leadership and insight as Communications Director and Senior Advisor have played an invaluable role in my administration. I commend her work to ensure key priorities and accomplishments were communicated effectively, and Maria and I treasure her friendship,” said Lee. “Casey has been an integral member of our team, and I have full confidence that her extensive communications experience will continue to serve Tennesseans well.”

Casey Black Sellers currently serves as Lee’s press secretary. Sellers has deep experience in state and federal political communications, including service with U.S. Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee and former U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Sellers earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Jade Cooper Byers, currently deputy press secretary, will assume key responsibilities as Lee’s press secretary. Byers earned her bachelor’s degree at Belmont University and has served Lee since his successful primary run in 2018.

What the heck is going on with the Nashville race track? The Banner has the answers

(Image credit: Fairgrounds Speedway)

When Nashville Mayor John Cooper first proposed overhauling the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, the project was supposed to require the city to back $50 million in revenue bonds. After a series of delays, inflation and growing construction costs have now doubled that figure. So is the rehab of the historic NASCAR site now getting underway? Not quite. Here’s what The Banner’s Steve Cavendish writes in a deep dive today:

Multiple sources familiar with the negotiations say the deal has been “95 percent” completed for a year. A press release from Cooper in December 2020 anticipated NASCAR racing as soon as this year. In March 2021, Metro signed a letter of intent with BMS to reach a deal on the fairgrounds, and Cooper said that “I look forward to working with the Fair Board and the Metro Council in the months ahead” to complete an agreement “to bring back high-level racing at no cost to taxpayers.”

An announcement was made at the 2021 NASCAR Banquet this past December that the two sides had agreed to a financial framework. .

“This administration has a case of the slows,” said one source. Another called it a “plodding, hand-wringing group.” Cooper supporters say it’s important to reach the right deal, not the fastest one.

Read the whole thing here. And subscribe to the free newsletter here.

New TNJ alert: New AG, Democratic infighting, and another rejection of loosening term limits

AG applicants pose for a photo outside the state Supreme Court chamber on Aug. 9, 2022. From left are Bill Young, Jonathan Skrmetti, Culver Schmid, Don Cochran, Mike Dunavant, and Jerome Cochran.

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

— Supreme Court appoints Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser Skrmetti as new AG.

— Skrmetti in public interview posited creating a new unit to handle lawsuits against the federal government, acknowledged “hunger” for more formal legal opinions.

— From the campaign trail: Democrats fight over text message flap, tiebreaker options in Cocke County, and Memphis voters don’t want their elected officials to serve more than two terms.

— Obituary: Larry Wallace, TBI director in wake of bingo gambling corruption probe.

Also: Lee joins GOP governors blasting climate bill that includes tax credits for electric vehicles (many of which will be built in Tennessee), constitutional amendment campaigns ramp up activity, and diverging fortunes for write-in campaigns.

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

Or subscribe here.

Supreme Court picks Skrmetti for AG

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

The Tennessee Supreme Court has chosen Jonathan Skrmetti to succeed Herbert Slatery as attorney general.

UPDATE: The vote was 4-1, with Justice Sharon Lee dissenting. The order did not include an explanation by Lee, the only justice appointed by a Democrat, about why she disagreed with her colleagues Jeff Bivins, Sarah Campbell, Holly Kirby, and Roger Page.

Here’s the release from the high court:

Nashville – The Tennessee Supreme Court has selected Jonathan Skrmetti to serve as the state’s next Attorney General and Reporter.

From 2018 to late 2021, Skrmetti was the Chief Deputy Attorney General in the Attorney General’s Office, where he managed approximately 160 attorneys in 15 litigating divisions and served as a negotiator in the $26 billion multistate opioid settlement. Since December 2021, he has served as chief counsel to Governor Bill Lee.

“Mr. Skrmetti has dedicated the majority of his career to public service and has the breadth of experience and vision necessary to lead the Attorney General’s office for the next eight years,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “He is an accomplished attorney with a deep understanding of Tennessee government and our judicial system.”

Over his career, Skrmetti has worked extensively with the three branches of Tennessee state government, appearing before all levels of the judiciary, drafting language and advocating in support of legislation, and providing counsel to leadership throughout the executive branch.

“It will be a privilege to continue serving the people of Tennessee as their Attorney General and Reporter,” Skrmetti said. “I look forward to working with the dedicated public servants at the Attorney General’s office to represent all three branches of Tennessee’s government. I thank the Supreme Court for entrusting me with this responsibility and General Herbert Slatery for his eight years of distinguished leadership.”

The Supreme Court formally interviewed six candidates during a public hearing earlier this week.

Prior to joining the Attorney General’s office, Skrmetti was a partner at Butler Snow LLP in Memphis. From 2011 to 2014, he was an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, where he prosecuted federal crimes with an emphasis on human trafficking, official misconduct and hate crimes. Skrmetti also spent five years as an Honors Program Trial Attorney in the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division/Criminal Section. During this time, he spent the vast majority of his time in West and Middle Tennessee and handled all phases of litigation. Skrmetti also served as a law clerk for Judge Steven M. Colloton on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Skrmetti is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. He earned undergraduate degrees from both the University of Oxford (England) and George Washington University.  He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy, and the Memphis Bar Foundation. He was a part of Leadership Tennessee Signature Program Class VIII.

Skrmetti will be the 28th Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. He lives in Franklin with his wife and four children. His family attends Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood.

Lee Cabinet member named president of Northeast State Community College

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig Tennessee Journal)

Jeff McCord, the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce in Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, has been named president of Northeast State Community College.

Here’s the release from the state Board of Regents:

NASHVILLE (Aug. 8, 2022) – The Tennessee Board of Regents today unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Jeff McCord as the next president of Northeast State Community College, effective Sept. 30.

Dr. McCord, currently commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, will be returning to the college he served as a vice president for seven years prior to his appointment as commissioner. As Northeast State’s vice president for economic and workforce development from 2012 to 2019, he led the successful operation and expansion of the college’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing and provided administrative leadership for the Kingsport Academic Village, among other responsibilities.

“I’m excited to come alongside the hundreds of individuals who work at the College, who love the College, and who want the very best for the students and communities in which they live,” McCord said after the board’s vote. “Northeast Tennessee is a special place with enormous opportunity. And Northeast State is central to helping our region realize its potential.”

He will succeed Dr. Bethany Bullock, who stepped down as Northeast’s president in March, and Dr. Connie Marshall, the college’s vice president for academic affairs who is serving as interim president. Board members thanked Dr. Marshall for her work as interim president.

In other action during today’s special-called meeting, the Board of Regents approved criteria for the next presidents of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology at Athens and Murfreesboro. TCAT Athens President Stewart Smith is retiring Dec. 31 and TCAT Murfreesboro President Carol Puryear is retiring Sept. 30, both after 30 years of service in the College System of Tennessee.

Approval of the criteria is the first step in the search process for the next presidents. Search advisory committees, composed of Board members and representatives of the colleges’ faculty, staff, students and alumni and the local civic and business communities, will be appointed soon.

McCord earned a Doctor of Education degree in Learning & Leadership at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Information Systems at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He was appointed commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development by Gov. Bill Lee in January 2019, after he served for seven years as Northeast State’s vice president for economic and workforce development. Prior to joining the Northeast State leadership team in January 2012, he worked in several leadership and management positions at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport from 1996 to 2012. His full resumé is posted on the TBR website at https://www.tbr.edu/hr/executivesearches/president-northeast-state-community-college.

McCord was one of four finalists for the Northeast presidency recommended in late June by a 17-member search advisory committee that reviewed 58 applicants and candidates. Chaired by Regent Miles Burdine of Kingsport, the search committee also included Board Members Emily J. Reynolds and Danni Varlan, representatives of the college’s students, faculty, staff and alumni, and civic and business leaders from the Northeast Tennessee area. The finalists participated in campus visits and open forums with campus groups and the public July 11-14.

After the forums, Dr. Tydings reviewed input from the campus community and the public and conducted further interviews with each of the finalists before recommending McCord to the board.

The Tennessee Board of Regents governs the state’s public community colleges and colleges of applied technology. Today’s meeting was live-streamed and is archived on the TBR website at https://www.tbr.edu/board/august-8-2022-special-called-board-meeting.

New TNJ edition alert: Ogles rolls in 5th

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

— Ogles cruises to 11-point victory in Republican primary for redrawn 5th District seat.

— Martin appears to edge Smiley for Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

— State Reps. Ramsey, Weaver defeated in GOP primaries, but Sherrell and Warner hold on.

— State Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson narrowly turns back primary challenge from conservative activist Gary Humble.

— Local race roundup: Democrat topples GOP prosecutor in Shelby County, the Wamps roll in Hamilton County, and former GOP lawmakers (mostly) prevail in mayor’s races.

— Obituary: ‘Hang ’Em High’ Joe Casey, a former law-and-order police chief in Nashville.

Also: The majority female state Supreme Court will choose among six male candidates for attorney general, Mark Green and Marsha Blackburn praise Pelosi trip to Taiwan, Biden nominates U.S. attorneys for three districts, and we suggest an acronym for Hagerty’s new state PAC.

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

Or subscribe here.

After suing over one ad, Ogles records phone message to rebut another

Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles has already filed a lawsuit in an effort — unsuccessful so far — to block a super PAC from running ads attacking him. On the eve of Thursday’s Republican 5th District primary, Ogles is taking to the phone lines to try rebut an attack ad by rival Beth Harwell.

A text message asks voters to call a number to hear a recorded message from Ogles. Here’s what he says:

Andy Ogles here, I’m against amnesty, but my opponent is desperate and willing to lie. Truth is, lying Beth voted to give illegal aliens driver’s licenses and as speaker of the House gave illegals your hard-earned tax dollars. I’m beholden to no one. In fact, Beth skipped our debate because she was in D.C. having a fundraiser with lobbyist and woke corporations. Oh, and Beth, I’m a mayor, not a lobbyist. Get your facts straight. This is Andy Ogles. I’m a fighter. I’m winning. And my opponents are desperate. Your vote matters. Let’s put an end to the lies. I’m asking you to join the fight by voting Andy Ogles for Congress.

The recording appears to be in response to Harwell’s recent attack ad in which she labels Ogles as a lobbyist backed by “amnesty-loving RINOs who sell out America.”

Here’s the transcript:

HARWELL: I’m Beth Harwell and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: Who’s behind lobbyist Andy Ogles’ campaign? A D.C. special interest group that smeared Donald Trump and another shady special interest group that supports amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. They’re spending big bucks on Ogles, because Ogles will vote for their pro-amnesty agenda. Bought and paid for by never Trumpers and amnesty-loving RINOS who sell out America. Lobbyist Andy Ogles would make the D.C. swamp even worse.

Ogles is a former state director of Americans for Prosperity, a position for which he registered as a lobbyist between 2013 and 2016.

UPDATE: Main Street Nashville reported that a Federal Election Commission complaint has been filed against Ogles over his failure to file his first campaign finance disclosure until a week after the deadline. Ogles attorney threatened to file a lawsuit against the news outlet if it reported about the complaint.

Early voting down 26% in GOP primaries compared with last gubernatorial election

Republican early voting was down 26% compared with the last gubernatorial election cycle in 2018, according to data compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The difference between the current election and four years ago is that there is no competitive GOP primary going on at the top of the ticket, as Gov. Bill Lee is unopposed for the the nomination to second term. But the race for the open 5th Congressional District doesn’t seem to be generating much enthusiasm either, as GOP voting in the six counties the seat is located in has been down 31%:

  • Davidson*: 10,724 votes (-51%)
  • Lewis: 1,241 votes (-13%)
  • Marshall: 2,560 votes (-7%)
  • Maury: 5,962 votes (-16%)
  • Williamson*: 14,369 votes (-3%)
  • Wilson*: 6,881 votes (-46%).

(*Note the 5th district includes about 75% of the population of Wilson, 65% of Williamson, and 50% of Davidson).

Here are the early voting totals:

County20222018Change
Anderson3,6635,347-31%
Bedford1,8933,558-47%
Benton1,5071,752-14%
Bledsoe429658-35%
Blount6,1747,929-22%
Bradley5,1868,227-37%
Campbell2,8993,618-20%
Cannon1,1171,240-10%
Carroll1,7852,224-20%
Carter2,5884,381-41%
Cheatham2,1012,618-20%
Chester1,4461,542-6%
Claiborne2,9743,366-12%
Clay7727641%
Cocke3,6213,692-2%
Coffee3,7654,224-11%
Crockett380953-60%
Cumberland4,0785,292-23%
Davidson10,72421,722-51%
Decatur1,3631,3084%
DeKalb1,9341,29649%
Dickson2,6542,745-3%
Dyer2,5112,867-12%
Fayette1,7243,494-51%
Fentress2,2452,692-17%
Franklin3,1272,84010%
Gibson2,1093,003-30%
Giles2,0452,681-24%
Grainger7031,297-46%
Greene1,6984,905-65%
Grundy89868132%
Hamblen2,0773,341-38%
Hamilton10,99311,913-8%
Hancock275459-40%
Hardeman1,0471,369-24%
Hardin1,3382,592-48%
Hawkins2,0003,535-43%
Haywood9211,125-18%
Henderson1,4742,862-48%
Henry1,8573,042-39%
Hickman2,0341,8599%
Houston898928-3%
Humphreys1,1991,265-5%
Jackson8968209%
Jefferson1,6633,860-57%
Johnson2,0852,511-17%
Knox19,46532,108-39%
Lake549639-14%
Lauderdale1,7231,10356%
Lawrence3,3422,67325%
Lewis1,2411,425-13%
Lincoln1,9821,79510%
Loudon4,2086,851-39%
Macon2,3993,548-32%
Madison4,1535,778-28%
Marion1,0101,223-17%
Marshall2,5602,753-7%
Maury5,9627,113-16%
McMinn2,0253,582-43%
McNairy1,4211,898-25%
Meigs7421,031-28%
Monroe2,5734,252-39%
Montgomery5,7346,205-8%
Moore9071,046-13%
Morgan1,2231,771-31%
Obion2,1893,021-28%
Overton1,6221,46011%
Perry6381,030-38%
Pickett489533-8%
Polk1,0371,0152%
Putnam3,2304,883-34%
Rhea2,7132,910-7%
Roane4,6135,103-10%
Robertson2,9524,680-37%
Rutherford10,58314,531-27%
Scott2,3402,806-17%
Sequatchie9431,855-49%
Sevier1,5404,538-66%
Shelby31,25833,089-6%
Smith1,8132,297-21%
Stewart1,6941,715-1%
Sullivan3,32110,312-68%
Sumner4,7427,993-41%
Tipton2,8523,905-27%
Trousdale9098517%
Unicoi6811,574-57%
Union8701,310-34%
Van Buren72340579%
Warren3,7713,36312%
Washington4,7297,116-34%
Wayne1,9441,8137%
Weakley2,1842,756-21%
White1,9562,456-20%
Williamson14,36914,861-3%
Wilson6,88112,739-46%
Cumulative293,675398,111-26%

Harwell attack ad, Winstead’s ‘dumb vote,’ and Ogles’ liens

A new set of ads are flooding the airwaves before Thursday’s 5th Congressional District primary. House Speaker Beth Harwell has a negative ad out about Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, whom she labels as a lobbyist backed by “amnesty-loving RINOs who sell out America.”

Here’s the transcript:

HARWELL: I’m Beth Harwell and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: Who’s behind lobbyist Andy Ogles’ campaign? A D.C. special interest group that smeared Donald Trump and another shady special interest group that supports amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. They’re spending big bucks on Ogles, because Ogles will vote for their pro-amnesty agenda. Bought and paid for by never Trumpers and amnesty-loving RINOS who sell out America. Lobbyist Andy Ogles would make the D.C. swamp even worse.

Retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Wintead has an ad out trying to blunt criticism that he voted and contributed to Democrats.

RETIRED MASTER SGT. MARK HARRIS: Someone called Brigadier General Kurt Winstead a liberal Democrat. This Davy Crockett conservative got fired up mad and called him. I served under General Winstead for five years. Turns out he cast dumb vote and a donation of two over 10 years ago. Never question General Winstead’s integrity or conservative values. I guarantee those with my life.

WINSTEAD I’m retired Brigadier General Kurt Winston and I approve this message.

And the Conservative Americans PAC is hitting Ogles for allegedly failing to pay taxes on his businesses and have the state place a lien on them.

NARRATOR: You fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me. Andy Ogles already fooled us. He campaigned against tax hikes. “I don’t like taxes, all taxes are evil.” Then, he got elected and backed a tax hike. The same Andy Ogles whose businesses didn’t pay their own taxes — the state had to file liens to collect. Now , Andy Ogles is trying to fool us again. Don’t get burned again. Conservative Americans PAC is responsible for the content of this advertisement.