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Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

3 finalists chosen for sports gaming executive director

The Sports Wagering Advisory Council has narrowed the field of more than 45 applicants to become the panel’s first executive director to three finalists.

The hiring committee decided the final three from a list of about 10 who had made the first cut. Council member Mike Kenney, who headed the search, declined to publicly name the three finalists because they hadn’t yet been informed of their status.

The Council is being spun out from the Tennessee Eduction Lottery Corp. on Jan. 1 following the passage of a new state law earlier this year.

Garth Brooks, Carla Thomas among winners of Governor’s Arts Award

Singers Garth Books, Trisha Yearwood, and Carla Thomas are among the winners of this year’s Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award.

Here’s the release from the Tennessee Arts Commission:

Nashville — Governor and First Lady Lee have announced the recipients of the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award, Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts. Since 1971, the Governor’s Arts Awards have celebrated those who have made outstanding contributions to the state’s cultural life. 

“Tennessee has a rich artistic heritage, and we are proud of these outstanding recipients who are leaders in the arts across our state,” said Gov. Lee. “Maria and I congratulate each of them, and we are proud of their accomplishments.”

The recipients come from all walks of life and symbolize the tremendous variety of the arts and culture of Tennessee. The Governor’s Arts Awards are presented in three different categories — Distinguished Artist, Arts Leadership and Folklife Heritage.

“The awards are a testimony to the value that the arts bring to our communities, our schools, and our lives,” said Jan McNally, Chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The 2021 Governor’s Arts Awards recipients are:

Arts Leadership Award
Birthplace of Country Music, Bristol
Frank Bluestein, Germantown
Borderless Arts, Gallatin
HoLa Hora Latina, Knoxville
Debbie Litch, Memphis

Distinguished Artist Award
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Nashville
Doyle Lawson, Kingsport
Carla Thomas, Memphis

Folklife Heritage Award
Ludie Amos, Clarksville
Dr. Robert (Roby) Cogswell, Nashville
National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship and Festival, Hilham
Richard Turner, Stanton

“The arts help build stronger communities by enhancing the quality of life and the distinctive character of Tennessee places,” said Anne B. Pope, Executive Director of the Tennessee Arts Commission. “The 2021 recipients of the Governor’s Arts Award have each contributed significantly in defining who we are as a state.”

About the Tennessee Arts Commission

Through a variety of investments, the Commission encourages excellence in artistic expression through the state’s artists, arts organizations and arts activities. That commitment has expanded through the years to increase access and opportunities for all citizens to participate in the arts. 

Potential gubernatorial candidate Ogles: ‘We are not Nashville’

Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, a potential GOP challenger to Gov. Bill Lee in next year’s primary, is touting his refusal to impose a mask mandate or impose other restrictions on businesses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In that chaos, my objective was to keep Maury County open for business,” Ogles told the Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance, The Daily Herald of Columbia reports. “I could not afford to let our downtown square close. We are not Nashville. We don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on tourism.” 

Ogles has criticized what he has called Lee’s “abuses of power” and backed calls to hold a special session to push back against mask mandates. Ogles had declined to impose a requirement to wear face coverings despite the governor previously extending that authority to county mayors.

“Nowhere in the state constitution do I have that authority,” Ogles said. “Nowhere in state law did I have that authority, and I refused to accept that authority. That is not what government is designed to do.” 

Ogles’ comments at the Chamber event were mostly focused on economic matters and population growth issues facing the county. The Daily Herald did not report on any reaction by Ogles to Lee landing a $5.8 billion Ford plant for the Memphis Regional Megasite last week.

Ogles has been more pointed in his previous attacks on what he called “Lee’s indecisiveness and half measures.”

“At a time when truly conservative Governors are aggressively fighting against both local and federal assaults on our freedoms, Governor Lee is taking the twisting path to appease the Left and their allies,” Ogles posted on social media in August.

Republican lawmakers being called back into a special session later this month to take up a $500 million incentive package for Ford are clamoring for yet another special session to try to block mask mandates.

New TNJ edition alert: Megasite comes out on top

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— Dirty word no more: West Tenn. megasite lands huge Ford plant.

— Obituaries: 16-year justice Clark, GOP player Shoaf, income tax backer Stewart.

— Federal jury convicts Democrat Robinson of wire fraud charges.

Also: Niceley touts “soft secession,” Fiscus wants to put muzzle business behind her, congressional delegation wants to name post office after Harper, and a look into endangered species among Tennessee politicos.

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

Sexton threatens abstentions on Ford deal if there is no second session on COVID-19 mandates

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues at a House Republican Caucus on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Republicans may sit on their hands rather than vote for a $500 million incentive package for Ford’s massive investment in West Tennessee if there isn’t going to be another special session on COVID-19 mandates, Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said Friday.

“If there wasn’t a special session, you’d have members who vote against [the Ford deal] in the House,” Sexton told WWTN-FM. “Instead of getting the 90-plus votes that is like everyone’s in unison with the decision and wanting Ford, you’d be in the 70s. It would still pass, but is that really the message you want to send to the biggest investment in Tennessee history?”

Gov. Bill Lee has called a special session for the week of Oct. 18 to address issues related to the Ford deal. He extended his executive order allowing parents to opt their school children out of mask mandates on Thursday and said he wants to fight against federal rulings and orders about the issue in court rather than in the General Assembly.

That’s not good enough for some GOP lawmakers.

“You just have members who are like, If I’m in East Tennessee, and it’s great that we landed that in West Tennessee, but I’ve got families and parents over here and who need help and we’re not doing anything to help them. And why can’t we?” Sexton said.

“Members at that point may choose to vote for it anyway or they may choose to say I may not vote no, but I’m not going to vote yes,” he said.

One issue Sexton said lawmakers may want to take up is whether businesses should be subject to lawsuits from workers they require to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Currently they have absolute immunity if an employee has a reaction to that vaccine,” Sexton said. “So, I think it’s important for us to go in and take a look and say if you do a mandate on your employees then you shouldn’t have the immunity to where they don’t have any repercussions if that happens.”

The business community is likely to take a dim view of lifting liability protections enacted amid the pandemic.

Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) issued a joint statement on Friday:

The Ford megasite deal is transformational for Tennessee, and we look forward to working with Gov. Lee to finalize this project as part of his special session call for Ford Motor Company. At the same time, we have heard from many Tennesseans seeking relief from burdensome Covid-19 mandates being imposed upon them. We are working together per our state constitution to call an additional special session upon the completion of the megasite session to address issues surrounding Covid -19.”

Lee calls special session limited to Ford deal

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at Ford’s announcement it will build an electric vehicle and battery plant at the Memphis Regional Megasite on Sept. 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has issued a call for lawmakers to return into a special session starting on Oct. 18 to take up a $500 million grant for Ford to build a new electric vehicle and battery production campus in West Tennessee and to establish a college of applied technology at the site.

While Republican lawmakers are clamoring for a platform to denounce what they see as federal overreach on mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccines, Lee is limiting the call of the special session to matters related to the Ford deal.

While it remains unclear what exactly lawmakers could do to fight federal court rulings or executive orders, there is still a growing sentiment that a special session should be held if lawmakers are coming back to Nashville anyway for the Ford deal. If so, they may have to take the route of calling themselves into their own separate special session by gathering the signatures of at least 66 House members and 22 senators — a step that has occurred only twice in Tennessee history.

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee called for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene on Monday, October 18, 2021 for a special session to address funding, buildout and oversight of Ford Motor Company’s historic $5.6 billion investment at the Memphis Regional Megasite.

“Our partnership with Ford and SK Innovation will transform West Tennessee, and it’s important we ensure this project has the structure, funding and accountability needed to be successful,” said Gov. Lee. “I am calling a special session to secure a lasting impact for Tennesseans, and I thank the legislature for their partnership in an efficient, productive assembly.”

During the special session, lawmakers will address funding to support and benefit the Memphis Regional Megasite, including site development, education and workforce preparation.

The full special session call may be viewed here.

Democratic Sen. Robinson convicted in federal fraud case

A federal jury has found Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson of Memphis guilty of four counts of wire fraud.

Katrina Robinson (Image credit: Tennessee General Assemlby)

Robinson’s prospects at trial had been looking up after the judge last week granted a defense motion to acquit her of 15 of the 20 counts she had been charged with. But the trial proceeded this week on the remainder of the case and the freshman senator was convicted after the jury of eight women and four men deliberated Thursday for five hours.

The dismissed counts include allegations Robinson had illegally spent grant money on her 2018 Senate campaign, legal fees for her divorce, and contributions to her retirement account.

What remained of the more than $600,000 prosecutors had alleged Robinson misspent were two counts of wire fraud related to $2,326 she paid an artist through a booking agent and $1,158 that went to a wedding makeup artist. Also surviving the judge’s ruling were three counts of wire fraud alleging Robinson made fraudulent representations in annual performance reports from 2017 through 2019. The jury acquitted Robinson of any wrongdoing on her 2018 report.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) called on Robinson to resign.

“While Senator Robinson’s convictions did not stem from actions taken while in office, they are nevertheless very serious,” McNally said in a statement. “As public servants, we are held to a higher standard. My personal opinion is that it would be in the best interest of the state and her constituents for Senator Robinson to step down at this time.”

Robinson faced up to 20 years in prison for the full set of wire fraud charges before she was acquitted of most of them. Sentencing is scheduled for January.

Gunmaker Smith & Wesson moving to Tennessee

Gunmaker Smith & Wesson is moving its headquarters and assembly operations from Massachusetts to Blount County. Gov. Bill Lee’s administration says the deal involves a $125 million investment and 750 new jobs.

Tennessee is also home to Italian gunmaker Barretta and 19 other small arms and ammunition manufacturers.

Here’s the release from Department of Economic and Community Development:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc. officials today announced the U.S.-based leader in firearms manufacturing and design will relocate its headquarters and other major operations from Springfield, Massachusetts to Maryville, Tennessee.

In addition to its headquarters, Smith & Wesson will relocate its distribution, assembly, and plastic injection molding operations to Tennessee. The project represents an investment of approximately $125 million and will create 750 new jobs.

Smith & Wesson will locate in Partnership Park North in Blount County, where the company plans to break ground before the end of the year.

Founded in 1852, Smith & Wesson is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and designers of firearms. They manufacture a wide array of handguns (including revolvers and pistols), long guns (including modern sporting rifles, bolt action rifles, and shotguns), handcuffs, suppressors, and other firearm-related products for sale to a wide variety of customers, including firearm enthusiasts, collectors, hunters, sportsmen, competitive shooters, individuals desiring home and personal protection, law enforcement and security agencies and officers, and military agencies in the United States and throughout the world.

Smith & Wesson joins more than 20 small arms and ammunition manufacturers located in Tennessee. Tennessee ranks No. 1 in the nation for employment in the small arms and ammunition sector, with employment increasing by 54% over the last five years.

Since 2017, TNECD has supported 10 economic development projects in Blount County, resulting in approximately 3,100 job commitments and $1.4 billion in capital investment.

Congressional candidate, Alexander counsel Shoaf dies at 71

Forrest Shoaf, an investment banker who was general counsel to Republican Lamar Alexander’s 1996 presidential campaign, has died. He was 71.

Shoaf, a West Point graduate with a Harvard law degree, planned to run for an open 5th Congressional District seat in 2002 until discovering redistricting had put his house — barely — in the 7th District.

“When I go out in the morning to get the paper, I’m in the 7th District,” Shoaf told the Memphis Flyer at the time. “When I lean over the curb to pick it up, I’m in the 5th.”

Shoaf decided to run for the 7th District but ended up coming in fifth in the Republican primary won by Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood. He later called the campaign the “biggest damn-fool mistake” of his life and a “cure for narcissism,” according to the Nashville Post. 

Shoaf was an attorney with the Nashville firm of Bass, Berry & Sims until taking leave in 1995 to serve on Alexander’s campaign.

“Forrest Shoaf was a good friend, fine attorney and a patriot,” Alexander said in a statement Wednesday. “We had fun together, especially in the New Hampshire presidential primary in 1996. 

“I can still see him up early in the morning and late at night putting up campaign signs in the snow. Honey and I send our condolences and respect for his life to his family,” he said.

Shoaf later moved on to J.C. Bradford & Co. as managing director for corporate finance. He worked in mergers and acquisitions until joining Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores Inc. in 2005 as chief legal officer. He had stepped down from his position as chief administrative office for Atlanta-based Resurgent Financial Advisors this spring due to health problems.

Shoaf mulled moving from Lebanon to the 4th District to mount a challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Sherwood) in 2014, but ultimately decided against taking the plunge. In 2014, Shoaf was named among three finalists for a state Court of Appeals vacancy, but then-Gov. Bill Haslam chose Neal McBrayer of Nashville.

Shoaf served 12 years of active duty in the Army and was a member of the English faculty at West point.

Ford picks Memphis Regional Megasite for $5.6B electric vehicle and battery plant

Ford is announcing plans to build a $5.6 billion electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility on the sprawling Memphis Regional Megasite. The Dearborn, Mich-based automaker said the project dubbed Blue Oval City will create nearly 6,000 jobs.

Gov. Bill Lee said he will call a special session in the coming weeks for lawmakers to approve a $500 million incentive package for the project slated to comprise nearly all of the 6.5-square-mile site in Haywood County. Lee noted that Tennessee will join Indiana as the only states where four auto companies produce vehicles. The Volunteer State’s existing manufacturers, General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen also have made heavy investments in electric vehicles.

Ford plant is projected to start assembling electric F-Series trucks in 2025 and the joint venture with South Korea’s SK Innovation is slated to begin making batteries there the same year. Company officials say it is Ford’s first all-new plant to be commissioned since 1969.

The Ford F-150 Lightning Electric Truck. (Image credit: Ford)

The ongoing development of the megasite has been a subject of a yearslong debate among lawmakers and politicians, some of whom have complained it was too big, remote, and expensive. According to an outside study previously commissioned by the Lee administration, 18 prospects had considered — but decided against — the megasite, including five original equipment manufacturers, five battery or stored energy companies, six tiremakers, one data center, and an appliance manufacturer.

Here’s the full release from Ford:

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