Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

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:

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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:

Complaint alleges Humble failed to register as lobbyist

Complaints filed with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance and the state Ethics Commission allege conservative activist and state Senate candidate Gary Humble failed to file as a lobbyist and sent out a mailer without a disclaimer. Humble is challenging Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson of Franklin in the Republican primary.

The ethics complaint was field by Brentwood resident Tom Freeman. It says Humble as the head of the group Tennessee Stands often spoke about lobbying state lawmakers, but never filed official paperwork to do so. The Registry complaint says campaign literature didn’t include information about source.

Here’s is the sworn statement of facts from the ethics complainant:

According to the Tennessee Lookout’s story “New conservative group Tennessee Stands takes on government mandates” (published on 1/21/21) Tennessee Stands and its founder, Gary Humble, have filed lawsuits against Gov. Bill Lee and county officials…. and lobbied for law changes, although there is no record Humble or others associated with the organization have formally registered as lobbyists.

In an April 2021 interview with the Tennessee Star (available on their website at “Tennessee Stands Gary Humble Describes His Visits to the Tennessee Capitol Hill as a Grassroots Activist”), Humble stated the chooses “not to participate” regarding the ethics commission rules. Of note, in this interview, Humble also admits that he could register as a lobbyist.

Tennessee Stands, the organization founded by Humble, has previously listed “Lobbying” as one of their functions, but this has since been removed. Despite admittance of carrying out lobbying activities, Gary Humble has never been a registered lobbyist. Tennessee Stands has never had a lobbyist registered under their name, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

In an April 2, 2021 video entitled “How Tennessee’s Vaccine Medical Exemption Bill Was Amended To Only Apply To COVID-19” on The Tennessee Conservative’s YouTube, Humble said, “… I had no idea that was going to happen, I have been lobbying this bill…”

In a video posted to the Tennessee Stands YouTube account on November 13 2020 entitled “So much going on…here’s an update from Gary,” Humble solicits donations to help sustain “lobbying” activities carried out by Tennessee Stands, saying: …”There is a donate button, we need help, we’re continuing to build a legal fund, we need help with lobbying activities…”

Neither the Registry nor the Ethics Commission meet before the Aug. 4 primary. Members of the Registry have taken issue recently with complaints they see as having been “weaponized” for political purposes.

Humble responded with the following comments to the Tennessee Star:

I have not registered as a lobbyist because I am not a paid lobbyist. I am not paid to lobby for any special interests. Tennessee Stands is an advocacy group that engages citizens all across the state of Tennessee in grassroots lobbying efforts. I have travelled across the state engaging citizens to work with their legislators, email, and call to support conservative legislation. And yes, as a citizen of the state of Tennessee, I myself have asked our legislators to support conservative legislation. Those are not efforts that require a permission slip from the government to engage in and are constitutionally protected for any citizen.

We did send out a mailer where the “paid for” disclaimer was unintentionally missed in the design. The mailer came directly from my campaign. The mailer contained my branding, my image, and a personal message from me as the candidate and was clearly sent from my campaign. The mailer was invoiced to my campaign and paid for in full by my campaign. Further, that invoice has already been provided to the DA’s office satisfactory to the complaint that was filed. This was a clerical error, nothing more.

New Harwell ad calls Ogles tax raiser, lobbyist

Former state House Speaker Beth Harwell is running the first negative ad of her 5th Congressional District campaign against Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, calling him a lobbyist and a tax raiser.

Harwell has been the subject of a barrage of attack ads by super PACs linked to the Club for Growth and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Here’s the transcript of the new Harwell spot:

NARRATOR: The D.C. special interest group that attacked Donald Trump is now lying about Beth Harwell. They support Andy Ogles because he’s a D.C. insider. He’s also a tax raiser. Lobbyist Andy Ogles pushed for a sales tax increase that would have hit working families hard. Conservative Beth Harwell is Tennessee tough. Build Trump’s wall, cut our taxes, pass term limits. Beth Harwell will put America first.

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

The ad cites a 2016 news report about the Club for Growth criticizing Trump, though the group and the former president have been on the same page numerous times since then. Ogles did back a referendum on a local-option sales tax hike in Maury County. It’s unclear why the script uses conditional language that the tax “would have hit working families,” as it was approved by voters there on a 52%-48% vote in 2020.

Oops, I did it again? Arnn strikes differing tones in Tennessean, USA Today op-eds

Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn penned two op-eds last week to try to explain his remarks about teachers and education programs. “Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,” Arnn said at the event attended by Gov. Bill Lee, who has refused to repudiate the comment.

One of Arnn’s op-eds appeared in The Tennessean while the other was published in Gannett’s flagship USA Today. They struck surprisingly differing tones. In the USA Today piece, Arnn started out by declaring “I have said this many times, in public and in private, and will likely say it again.” He also said he’d apologize to Lee if he caused him any embarrassment.

Arnn did not pledge to “say it again” in the Tennessean item and also made no offer of apology to Lee. Both op-eds are dated July 18 and it’s unclear why Arnn took differing approaches for the national and local audiences.

Here’s the top of the Arnn piece in The Tennessean:

At a recent event with Gov. Bill Lee, I remarked that “Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.” I’ve made similar critiques of the education bureaucracy my entire career.

This does not contradict my deep and abiding affection for teachers. After the students, the most important people in the college where I work are teachers (the maintenance workers are third — and I tell everyone this often).

Dumb can mean “unintelligent,” which I did not mean. Dumb also means “ill-conceived” or “misdirected,” which is, sadly, a fitting description for many education schools today.

And here’s how Arnn started out in in USA Today:

During a recent event in Nashville, I made news by saying, “Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

I have said this many times, in public and in private, and will likely say it again. This time it was important because Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was present. Many were outraged. I was not speaking for the governor, and I would rather do anything than embarrass him. If I have done that, I apologize to him. 

Early voting down so far from last two gubernatorial cycles

Early voting through the first six days of the period was down 23% compared with the last gubernatorial election cycle in 2018 and 22% from 2014. Republican turnout has been 24% less than four years ago, when Gov. Bill Lee was first nominated for governor in a competitive primary. Democratic early voting is down 30% over 2018.

Shelby County has seen the biggest increase in early voting — more than 5,000 more than in 2018 — amid a competitive race for district attorney general between incumbent Amy Weirich and Democratic challenger Steve Mulroy.

Republican voting has been down by 29% in the new 5th Congressional District, which is made up of parts of Davidson (-28%), Williamson (-21%), and Wilson (-52%), and all of Lewis (-16%), Marshall (-15%), and Maury (-25%) counties. But voting is up 2% compared with 2014.

Here’s the full breakdown from the Secretary of State’s office:

County2022Change
from 2018
Change
from 2014
Anderson2,135-30%-42%
Bedford949-56%-62%
Benton1,290-2%-20%
Bledsoe207-30%-61%
Blount3,230-22%24%
Bradley1,980-46%-45%
Campbell1,798-18%-11%
Cannon592-18%-29%
Carroll1,006-29%-23%
Carter1,256-43%-55%
Cheatham1,1467%-39%
Chester8907%-24%
Claiborne1,724-13%-7%
Clay77227%9%
Cocke1,86314%17%
Coffee2,289-19%-7%
Crockett241-63%-78%
Cumberland2,080-21%-29%
Davidson6,297-30%176%
Decatur969-5%-7%
DeKalb1,10820%6%
Dickson1,446-8%-33%
Dyer1,439-4%-32%
Fayette1,137-26%-40%
Fentress1,380-18%-17%
Franklin1,8953%7%
Gibson1,096-42%-24%
Giles1,309-28%-12%
Grainger307-47%-47%
Greene862-65%-67%
Grundy63425%-31%
Hamblen1,101-28%-6%
Hamilton6,380-23%-29%
Hancock191-20%-64%
Hardeman1,343-7%8%
Hardin708-53%-42%
Hawkins875-49%-49%
Haywood863-31%-27%
Henderson604-57%5%
Henry1,232-28%-28%
Hickman1,145-4%-22%
Houston8199%-6%
Humphreys9664%-34%
Jackson587-11%-8%
Jefferson766-55%-39%
Johnson1,094-27%-35%
Knox11,091-29%-21%
Lake553-5%-21%
Lauderdale1,65154%-5%
Lawrence2,10547%18%
Lewis678-28%-37%
Lincoln1,24129%-26%
Loudon2,585-35%17%
Macon1,803-25%-5%
Madison2,730-31%-51%
Marion683-14%-24%
Marshall1,189-16%-41%
Maury2,769-35%-38%
McMinn914-48%-55%
McNairy858-37%-44%
Meigs435-33%-43%
Monroe1,433-48%-48%
Montgomery3,912-6%-27%
Moore471-24%29%
Morgan676-37%-49%
Obion1,287-35%-19%
Overton1,1656%-19%
Perry449-28%-13%
Pickett366-2%-48%
Polk78220%-41%
Putnam1,898-38%-48%
Rhea1,628-24%-22%
Roane2,328-21%-26%
Robertson1,646-39%-30%
Rutherford5,656-32%-21%
Scott1,696-11%-3%
Sequatchie504-63%-43%
Sevier751-68%-51%
Shelby28,15422%3%
Smith977-26%-32%
Stewart1,251-5%-16%
Sullivan1,477-72%-74%
Sumner2,558-38%-12%
Tipton1,330-32%-38%
Trousdale703-9%-18%
Unicoi348-53%-58%
Union471-40%-34%
Van Buren50778%39%
Warren2,307-15%18%
Washington2,203-35%-32%
Wayne975-8%-18%
Weakley1,242-33%-35%
White977-31%-29%
Williamson3,907-28%47%
Wilson3,186-55%-35%
Cumulative174,507-23%-22%

Ogles claimed he raised $453K in first 30 days, but collected only $247K in entire quarter

Turns out Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles wasn’t being truthful when he announced in May he had raised $453,000 in the first 30 days of his campaign for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District. After missing Federal Election Commission’s disclosure deadline by more than a week, Ogles finally reported Saturday he had raised $247,087 throughout the entire quarter.

Another $320,000 came in the form of a loan from the candidate on April 15. Lest anyone think Ogles was counting the loan toward his total in May, he told a reporter at the time his haul didn’t include any loans.

Ogles raised another $17,315 in the pre-primary period and spent a total of $301,063 and had balance of $283,338. But $53,534 of his cash on hand is reserved for the general election, meaning he had a $229,804 balance for the primary.

New TNJ edition alert: Ogles files a lawsuit, but not his campaign finance disclosure

Andy Ogles is suing to stop this attack ad in the 5th District race.

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

— Outside super PACs ramp up attack ads in 5th District, and one candidate takes his complaints to court

— Andy Ogles, who has been targeted for his late property tax, has now missed the campaign finance disclosure deadline by a week.

— A look at key donors to Beth Harwell and Kurt Winstead (and some who hedged their bets by giving to both).

— From the campaign trail: Todd Warner cries foul over mailers highlighting FBI raid and connections to “disgraced former speaker,” competitive primaries for two open House seats in Williamson County, and Scott Cepicky’s fight for reelection.

Also: Larry Arnn says he “will likely say it again,” John Mark Windle retires from the National Guard, Torrey Harris gets arrested, and Registry member Tom Lawless blasts the attorney general’s office.

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

Or subscribe here.

Democratic Rep. Torrey Harris charged with domestic assault, theft

Rep. Torrey Harris, top right, and fellow House Democrats attend a Senate hearing. on Feb. 2, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Torrey Harris (D-Memphis) has been charged with domestic assault and theft. His first court date is scheduled for Oct. 10, well after the House District 91 primary in which he faces Democratic challenger Barbara Farmer-Tolbert.

Harris was arrested on Sunday in Nashville after an ex-boyfriend told police the lawmaker had scratched his arm while trying to prevent him from leaving his apartment. Harris had been at the home to return the man’s dog after a pet-sitting stint. The former partner left the apartment and found on his return that Harris had taken the dog, a gaming console, computer, earphones, and other items. Harris later confirmed to police he had taken the dog but told officers the other items he had taken had been gifts he had purchased.

The assault charge is a misdemeanor, while the alleged theft is a felony.

Harris said he plans to plead not guilty. Here’s his full statement:

I first want to say thank you for all the support and to those who have reached out during this time.

I have retained legal counsel and myself and the team are working diligently to cooperate with the investigation. I maintain my innocence and will plead not guilty to the charges. I know that at the end of this I will be cleared of all allegations.

My focus will remain on serving the people as it always has been, but my ask is that if someone you know – loved one, friend, or neighbor is battling with mental health, that you help them as best as you can. Never deter from supporting those who need us even at their toughest moments.

As for me, I want to say thank you for all the calls and to those who have reached out during this time. This has been a lived example that will help me better help those I serve. Trust me, I have already noticed steps in policy that lawmakers like myself must work to improve throughout the justice system.

Over the next couple of weeks you will learn more about this matter and I look forward to moving on after it is all said and done.