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Carter Lawrence sworn in as interim Commerce & Insurance commissioner

Gov. Bill Lee has sworn in Carter Lawrence as the interim commissioner of Commerce & Insurance. He succeeds Julie Mix McPeak, who left to take take a job in the private sector.

Lawrence, of Williamson County, had served as deputy commissioner for the department’s administration and for regulatory boards. He has law and business degrees from the University of Tennessee.

McPeak was a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.  Greenberg Traurig announced last week that she is founding the law firm’s new Nashville office — the company’s 41st location worldwide and 31st in the U.S.

McPeak was president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners last year.

Editor’s note: The Tennessee Journal is on summer break next week. Blog posting will be lighter than usual until July 1. 

Lee names Lawrence commissioner of Commerce & Insurance Department

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters during budget hearings in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has promoted Carter Lawrence to commissioner of the Commerce & Insurance. Lawrence, who had served as the department’s chief deputy, succeeds Hodgen Mainda, who resigned following a sexual misconduct investigation. Mainda has denied any wrongdoing.

Lawrence previously served as interim commissioner after former agency head Julie Mix McPeak left for the private sector last year.

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

NASHVILLE – Today Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced Carter Lawrence will serve in his cabinet as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, effective immediately.

“Carter is a proven public servant who has stewarded key priorities for the administration throughout his tenure and I’m confident he’ll continue to support Tennessee businesses and consumers with integrity,” said Gov. Lee. “We appreciate his dedication to the Department of Commerce & Insurance and look forward to his continued service.”

Lawrence currently serves as Chief Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Commerce & Insurance.

He has also served on Tennessee’s Economic Recovery Group throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting Gov. Lee’s efforts to reboot the state’s economy.

A lifelong Tennessean and Nashville native, Lawrence earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence and a Master of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Prior, he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois.

He currently resides in Nashville with his wife and three children and is a member of Nashville’s Church of the Redeemer.

McPeak to leave Lee administration

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)

Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak has become the first member of Gov. Bill Lee’s Cabinet to step down.

McPeak, a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, is seeking unspecified “career opportunities in the private sector,” according to a release from the Lee administration.

McPeak is the past president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak announces today she is leaving Tennessee state government in order to pursue career opportunities in the private sector. Her last day as commissioner will be June 14, 2019. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has named TDCI Deputy Commissioner Carter Lawrence to serve as the Department’s Interim Commissioner until a permanent commissioner is selected. 

“We thank Julie Mix McPeak for her over eight years of service and her tireless commitment to her Department and to Tennessee. We wish her the best in her future endeavors,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Carter Lawrence has ably served as Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Commerce and Insurance, and I look forward to serving alongside him as he steps into the role of Interim Commissioner.”

McPeak, who was first appointed commissioner by Governor Bill Haslam in 2011, is the immediate past president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance, McPeak is the first woman to serve as chief insurance regulator in more than one state.

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Thursday is last day to vote early

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The early voting period for the Nov. 3 election ends on Thursday following what has been a record turnout.

In-person and absentee voting through the first 12 days had already exceeded the total turnout during the entire early voting of the last presidential election in 2016 period by 16%.

Only five counties had seen decreases with two days of results left to report: Haywood (-12%), Carter (-11%), Franklin (-8%), Madison (-4%), and Knox (-1%).

The biggest increases in early and absentee balloting have occured in Shelby (+44,914), Davidson (+40,278), Rutherford (+25,177), Williamson (+25,177), and Hamilton (13,573).

Here is the statewide breakdown:

County2020 through
12 Days
Compared with
all of 2016
Anderson23,70510%
Bedford12,47220%
Benton4,91810%
Bledsoe2,18439%
Blount43,46226%
Bradley31,97514%
Campbell7,3613%
Cannon3,35622%
Carroll7,03325%
Carter10,295-11%
Cheatham14,45828%
Chester4,77212%
Claiborne7,83217%
Clay2,06128%
Cocke9,07229%
Coffee14,68915%
Crockett3,71517%
Cumberland20,55815%
Davidson218,78723%
Decatur3,30817%
DeKalb4,2719%
Dickson13,83521%
Dyer9,75010%
Fayette13,8146%
Fentress5,54312%
Franklin8,922-8%
Gibson12,73722%
Giles7,4088%
Grainger5,57021%
Greene12,87212%
Grundy2,96923%
Hamblen13,8554%
Hamilton88,32418%
Hancock1,20022%
Hardeman6,0967%
Hardin6,63613%
Hawkins14,0928%
Haywood4,051-12%
Henderson7,45210%
Henry9,30014%
Hickman6,09831%
Houston2,32615%
Humphreys5,4019%
Jackson2,73833%
Jefferson15,44523%
Johnson4,75213%
Knox140,685-1%
Lake1,34512%
Lauderdale5,78413%
Lawrence10,03022%
Lewis3,55021%
Lincoln8,0426%
Loudon21,91716%
Macon6,28419%
Madison24,788-4%
Marion6,68726%
Marshall9,96135%
Maury26,1918%
McMinn13,81014%
McNairy6,30011%
Meigs3,33224%
Monroe13,27820%
Montgomery42,13214%
Moore2,31926%
Morgan4,37019%
Obion8,3986%
Overton6,16823%
Perry1,92336%
Pickett1,55413%
Polk4,69340%
Putnam18,3383%
Rhea8,38023%
Roane16,69412%
Robertson19,19017%
Rutherford104,59332%
Scott5,67035%
Sequatchie4,27229%
Sevier23,26912%
Shelby288,56018%
Smith5,49315%
Stewart4,04514%
Sullivan46,6452%
Sumner55,59521%
Tipton18,7328%
Trousdale2,58418%
Unicoi5,47213%
Union3,45033%
Van Buren1,57621%
Warren8,9603%
Washington35,95416%
Wayne3,46612%
Weakley9,03918%
White6,79910%
Williamson107,07528%
Wilson54,03828%
TOTAL1,962,90016%

Early voting down 8% compared with 2018 primary

Early voting was down 8% compared with Tennessee’s 2018 primary election featuring a heated governor’s race and another open U.S. Senate seat.

Republican voting was down 11%, while Democratic turnout was up 2%. GOP voters still showed up in far greater numbers than Democrats, 354,600 to 215,790.

Only 21 counties saw increases in Republican early voting, led by a 63% growth in Washington County in the heart of the 1st Congressional District, where 16 Republicans are vying to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). Other counties in the district posing GOP gains included Unicoi (21%), Sullivan (14%), Sevier (11%), and Grainger (8%). Turnout decreased in the district’s remaining counties: Jefferson (-9%), Hamblen (-13%), Greene (-21%), Johnson (-23%), Hancock (-28%), and Cocke (-30%).

Democratic turnout saw its biggest boost in Davidson County, where early voting was up 53% compared with two years ago. Knox County also saw a Democratic gain of 29%, while GOP turnout dropped 10%. In Hamilton County, Democrats saw a 24% increase but Republican turnout also grew 19%.

In Shelby County, which usually accounts for the state’s largest turnout for both parties, Democratic early voting was down 4%, while GOP balloting cratered by 25%.

The full early voting list by county compared with the 2018 primary follows below.

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Here’s how much federal relief money is flowing to Tennessee counties

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

A total of $13 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money is flowing to Tennessee, and a new interactive state website allows users to break down how much is headed specific counties.

In a meeting of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group on Monday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) asked whether the amounts can be broken out on a per-capita basis to ensure smaller counties weren’t getting less than the likes of Metro Nashville and Shelby County. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration didn’t have those figures at their fingertips, so the Tennessee Journal has crunched the numbers. Here are the top 10 per-capita recipients of federal aid (Anderson County, where McNally lives, comes in at No. 12):

  1. Jackson, $7,126
  2. Cheatham, $4,363
  3. Davidson, $3,931
  4. Carroll, $3,380
  5. Smith, 3,738
  6. Fayette, $3,525
  7. Cannon, $3,056
  8. Carter, $2,643
  9. Giles, $2,643
  10. Bledsoe, $2,557

The full per-capita breakdown follows:

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GOP early voting lags behind 2018, while Nashville surge boosts Democrats’ totals

(Graphic credit: Don Johnson)

Republican turnout has been down 10% compared with the first 13 days of early voting in 2018, while Democratic turnout has been up 3%. Overall turnout has been down 7%.

(This post has been updated to reflect turnout figures for the first 13 of 14 days of early voting.)

Early voting for the Aug. 6 primary runs through Saturday.

The nominations for the open U.S. Senate race in 2018 were settled by the time the primary rolled around, but that year featured a rough-and-tumble primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. This year’s campaign season has been dominated by a bitter GOP contest for yet another U.S. Senate vacancy between former Ambassador Bill Hagerty and Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi.

Despite the comparative lag, Republicans have still turned out in far higher numbers than Democrats across the state, 330,580 to 194,368.

The biggest increase in GOP early voting has been a 64% jump in Washington County, which is in the heart of the 16-way 1st District primary to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). It’s also home to heated primary challenges of state Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss (both R-Jonesborough). GOP voting has been down in 72 of 95 counties.

The biggest increase in early voting among Democrats has occurred in Nashville, where turnout has been  61% higher than it was through the same period two years ago. This year’s primary features Keeda Haynes’ insurgent campaign against longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) and a spirited contest for the Democratic nomination to challenge state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville).

See your county’s turnout compared with the first 13 of 14 days of early voting in 2018 below.

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Absentee voting well ahead of 2016 primary, nearing level of last presidential election

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Requests for absentee ballots are well ahead of the number cast in the August 2016 primary and are already coming close to matching the levels of that year’s November presidential election, according to data gathered by The Tennessean‘s Joel Ebert and Carmel Kookogey.

The Secretary of State’s office said it doesn’t keep track of absentee ballot requests, referring the newspaper to local election commissions. The newspaper contacted officials in all 95 counties. Eighty provided information on how many mail-in ballots had been requested as of last week, nine refused to release data, and six did not respond.

A judge last month ordered the state to allow anyone who fears infection by the coronavirus to cast absentee ballots. The state is appealing that ruling, but it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will decide the issue before the Aug. 6 primary.

About 57,000 absentee ballots had been requested as of last week. That compares with about about 12,000 for the August 2016 primary and 64,000 for that year’s general election.

A look at the percentage difference between absentee ballot requests this year and the number cast in August and November 2016 follows after the jump.

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Early voting up slightly compared with 2016

About 3,000 more early ballots were cast through the first four days of early voting in Tennessee compared with the same period in the 2016 presidential primary.

Republican voting was down by 3,456 votes, while Democratic voting jumped by 6,465 ballots. It’s not an entirely unexpected result given President Donald Trump isn’t facing serious opposition in the GOP primary. And even then, Republicans have accounted for 60% of the early ballots cast so far.

The biggest increase in Democratic primary votes has so far occurred in Shelby (+3,248), Knox (+1,490), Hamilton (+661) and Rutherford (+404) counties.

Shelby County also saw that largest increase in Republican voters with 1,314, followed by Washington (+707), Blount (+412), Knox (+391), and Wilson (+315) counties.

Davidson County saw the biggest drop in both Democratic (-1,602) and Republican (-1,564) votes. The next biggest GOP drops were in Rutherford (-883), Monroe (-743), and Sumner (-433) counties. Democrats’ next biggest losses were votes in Monroe (-192), White (-133) , and Stewart (-108) counties.

(95-county breakdown after the jump)

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Sethi names 174 ‘grassroots supporters’ for Senate bid

Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is releasing a list of “grassroots support” in all 95 counties in his bid for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

“I am so honored to have support in every corner of Tennessee,” Sethi said in a release. “From Mountain City to Memphis, and Turtletown to Tiptonville, these grassroots leaders are eager to elect a conservative outsider to the United States Senate. I look forward to adding to this list in the coming months as we work towards victory next August.”

The list includes state Reps. Dan Howell (R-Cleveland) and Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), as well as former state Rep. Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport). Also represented is Rebecca Griffey, the wife of freshman state Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris), who has been in the news lately. She is one of 12 members of the state Republican Party’s executive committee endorsing Sethi.

“Conservatives from across the state are hungry for a fresh voice to take on the Washington establishment and support our president,” said “It is a remarkable accomplishment for a campaign to have this level of broad grassroots support this early in a campaign,” said Forrest Barnwell-Hagemeyer, Dr. Manny’s campaign manager. “It’s clear that Dr. Manny is the choice of Tennessee conservatives.”

Here’s the list broken down by county:

ANDERSON:
State Executive Committeewoman Amy Jones

BEDFORD:
Reverend Jeff Heard

BENTON:
James Peach

BLEDSOE:
Robert Standefer

BLOUNT:
Sharon Earley

BRADLEY:
Jonathan Cantrell
Sarah Cantrell
State Representative Dan Howell

CAMPBELL:
Les Barnaby

CANNON:
Denise Caffey
Shirley Boren

CARROLL:
Colonel Jim Harding

CARTER:
Lynn Richardson

CHEATHAM:
Linda Klingmann

CHESTER:
Sam Boyd

CLAIBORNE:
Daniel Chauncey

CLAY:
Bev Young

COCKE:
Joan Fine
Rama Brunswick

COFFEE:
Benny Jones
Dow Jones
John Roberts

CROCKETT:
Ruste Via

CUMBERLAND:
State Executive Committeewoman Barbara Gregson
Steve Frank

DAVIDSON:
David Birdsong
Dr. Ming Wang
Duane Dominey
Neil B. Chaffin
Reverend Louie Johnston Jr.
Rick Williams
Scooter Clippard
State Executive Committeeman Robert Duvall
Tootie Haskins

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