Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

Supreme Court picks Skrmetti for AG

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 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.

Winstead says poll shows him in statistical tie with Harwell for 5th District lead

Retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead says new polling shows him in a statistical tie with former state House Speaker Beth Harwell and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles trailing in third for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.

The poll of 300 voters was conducted for the Winstead campaign by Spry Strategies of Knoxville. It has Harwell with 22%, Winstead with 20%, and Ogles with 15%. Little-known Timothy Lee got the support of 10%, while Army veteran Jeff Beierlein had 9%.

Spry Strategies was the pollster of choice in the 2020 cycle for state House Republicans, who spent $72,650 with the pollster, including $17,400 by Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville, $15,100 by Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, and $11,600 by ex-Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson. The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, spent $39,100 with the outfit in the second quarter of this year.

UPDATE: Trump Nation News reports an 1892 poll of 400 likely voters has Ogles at 30%, compared with 24% for Harwell, and 13% for Winstead. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9%.

UPDATE 2: The 1892 poll refers to the race being “a tossup in the final weeks,” meaning its likely a bit dated.

Polling website FiveThirtyEight.com gives both Spry and 1892 a B/C rating

Mailer barrage in Johnson-Humble primary in Williamson County

Tennessee Stands founder Gary Humble’s primary challenge of Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson in Williamson County has unleased a mailer barrage. Campaign literature is being sent out by groups like Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s PAC, Tennessee Conservatives PAC, and Tennesseans for Putting Students First.

“We don’t need Gary Humble representing prosperous Williamson County,” says on mailer.

Here’s a sampling:

Continue reading

Congressional candidate Wittum escorted from GOP fundraiser after outburst

A sign in the Senate Finance Committee office in Nashville indicates aide Tres Wittum is on leave while running for Congress. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican congressional candidate Tres Wittum was removed from the Tennessee Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner fundraiser after causing a disturbance when House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally took the stage.

According to witnesses, Sen. John Stevens escorted Wittum out of the ballroom when he started loudly berating McNally, Sexton, and others. Wittum was a longtime aide to Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) before taking leave to run for the new 5th Congressional District.

UPDATE: Wittum responds:

This weekend Republicans from all over Tennessee came together to celebrate the accomplishments of our party and most importantly, the future of our party.  Like President Trump, I can be very vocal against the the establishment swamp — even in our party. Our state and our country are run by political establishment. I’ll stand up to my party. I’ll always stand up to the left. But in the end, I will always stand up for hard working Tennesseans and I’ll never back down.

Director of Legislative Adminstration Connie Ridley said Wittum had been informed late last month that he would not be returning to work at the General Assembly following his leave. The discussion took place before Saturday’s incident.

Sexton said Wittum’s “actions were out of character with the person we have interacted with in the past.”

”I think Mr. Wittum has had a bad week and compounded it at the Statesmen’s Dinner,” Sexton said in a statement. ”Hopefully, it was just a a one-time incident that he regrets, and we can all move past it.”

Sexton’s comments appear to refer to a social media post that made the rounds earlier in the weekend suggesting Wittum had been heavily inebriated.

McNally’s office declined to comment.

The primary election is on Thursday.

GOP chair denies endorsement in Davidson primary

Tennessee Republican Party Chair Scott Golden is stressing he has not endorsed either candidate running for the GOP nomination in the open House District 59 seat in Davidson County. The statement came after a mailer by Michelle Foreman included a laudatory quote by Golden on a mailer listing her endorsements.

“A recent mailer was sent out implying I endorsed a candidate for state House in your district,” Golden said, according to Facebook post by rival candidate Wyatt Rampy. “Let me set the record straight. That is inaccurate. As chairman, I have not, and will not endorse any Republican candidate in a contested primary.”

The new seat comprises several wealthy communities in southern Davidson County, including Belle Meade, Oak Hill, and Forest Hill. The General Assembly redrew the lines of retiring Democratic Rep. Jason Potts’ district earlier this year to try to make it more favorable to Republicans. Caleb Hemmer, a former aide to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, is the lone Democrat running.

Foreman is a member of the state GOP’s executive committee. It’s not the first time her mailers have been problematic. A previous one urged people to scan a QR code to find their voting locations. But doing so led to the website of the election commission in neighboring Williamson County, which is outside the district. The primary is on Thrursday.