Blog Entries

No sleight of hand: The rise and fall of Matthew Hill

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) attends a meeting on Jan. 8, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WJHL-TV’s Jeff Keeling has taken a deep dive into the career of soon-to-be former state Rep. Matthew Hill, from the Jonesborough Republican’s first election in 2004 to his crushing defeat in last month’s primary. Hill, along with his friend Micah Van Huss and brother Timothy Hill made up the core of a bloc of lawmakers who made life difficult for fellow Republican lawmakers and governors.

But Matthew Hill’s ambition for power was also his undoing (as one wag put it, he may have been “flying too close to the sun”), as he first aligned himself with controversial former Speaker Glen Casada and then made an ill-fated bid for the chamber’s top leadership post amid a series of revelations about an unregistered Christian magic company and having his house placed in foreclosure proceedings.

Hill ended up losing the speaker’s race to Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and was then defeated by Rebecca Keefauver Alexander in the GOP primary in August. Van Huss also lost his primary, while Timothy Hill came up short in his bid for Congress.

Keeling’s extensive account features commentary from local politicos and certain editor of The Tennessee Journal. Read the story and watch the video here.

Delayed Bradshaw filing gives more complete picture of how little it took to win Democratic nod

Fifty-eight days after it was due, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Marquita Bradshaw has filed her second-quarter campaign finance disclosure. It shows the upset winner of the Aug. 6 primary had spent all of $15,947 through the first half of the year.

That compares with the $1.4 million Nashville attorney James Mackler had spent to that point. Mackler ended up finishing third in contest to Bradshaw and Robin Kimbrough.

Bradshaw spent about $8,500 in the second quarter, with the largest portion ($4,400) going to Cincinnati-based media consultant Putting Women in Their Place.

Bradshaw raised $18,301 through the first two quarters of the year, including $5,941 in the most recent period. About 63% of her contributions were unitimized.

Bradshaw faces Republican Bill Hagerty (who had spent $1.4 million through the second quarter) in the general election.

UPDATE: Bradshaw’s pre-primary report is in now, too. It shows she raised a total of $23,221 and spent $21,617.

Tennessee looks to lure more investment from China amid political backlash

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on Jan. 23, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While China has become a favorite bogeyman on the campaign trail this year, Tennessee officials are still courting the country’s business.

A recorded message from Gov. Bill Lee was played at the North American Chinese Investment Summit in Beijing over the weekend, according to China.tn.org.

The event was themed “Navigating the New Path of Outbound Investment for Chinese Enterprises in a VUCA World.” VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

“We just want you to know that here in Tennessee we are open for business,” Lee said in the video, which officials send out to various economic development events around the world. “And we understand the value of partnership and relationship, especially with foreign owned companies.” 

“If you’re considering locating here in Tennessee, we would love to have you,” the governor said.

The event was organized by the Tennessee China Development Center.

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”

Lee squashes Capitol Hill rumors by confirming he will run for second term

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has brought an end to persistent statehouse humors that might not seek second term in 2022.

“I love this job,” Lee said when asked about his plans during a press conference late last week. “It’s been a big challenge, but I love serving Tennesseans and I intend to do that as long they’ll let me.”

Pressed whether that meant he would run again, Lee responded: “Yes.”

The question was the last one posed of the governor by The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert before leaving for a new job in his native Chicago.

Ebert reports potential candidate to succeed Lee include House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. Others might include U.S. Rep. Mark Green, former Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty. The paper also includes U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on the list of possible candidates.

The only eligible sitting governor not to seek re-election to second term was scandal-plagued Ray Blanton in 1978.

According to Ebert:

The pep Lee exuded during his early days in office has dissipated some as he’s faced months of difficult decisions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the March tornadoes and occasional bouts with state lawmakers. 

Lee noted Thursday was the six-month anniversary since the deadly tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee, which was quickly followed by the state’s first case of COVID-19.

“Uncertain times, though, bring out the very best of people and we have certainly seen that in our state,” he said.

Check out these precinct-level maps of the U.S. Senate primary

Our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson is back with a fascinating look at where Bill Hagerty and Manny Sethi did best in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Tennessee. Have a look here:

Poll finds partisan divide on return of high school sports in Nashville

A poll commissioned by Baker Group Strategies finds 49% of Nashvillians support allowing high school sports to resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 45% oppose.

The feeling was stronger among Republicans, who support a return of sports without spectators by a 72% to 21% margin. Just 38% of Democrats supported a return, while 57% opposed. Fifty-three percent of indpndents support resuming sprots, while 42% oppose. Democrats support is just 38% – 57%. Among Independents support is 53% – 42%.

Here is a breakdown among various subgroups (note that the Baker group is consulting on Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson’s re-election campaign in District 20):

SUBGROUPSUPPORTOPPOSEDIFFERENCE
Conservatives70%26%44%
New Voters 63%31%32%
Non-College Men59%35%24%
Men 45+57%39%18%
State Senate District 2051%42%9%
Moderates47%45%2%

The phone poll of 500 registered voters found 78% find the quality of life in Nashville to be good or excellent, while 21% said it’s not so good or poor. Among college educated voters, 83% had a positive outlook on living in the city, while 71% of non-college educated voters felt the same.

However, just 37% of voters said they think Nashville is headed in the right direction, while 44% said it is going in the wrong direction.

Tennessee updates COVID-19 reporting details

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration is updating the way it discloses COVID-19 information. Here’s the full release::

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health is improving the format for sharing of data on COVID-19 to update how some metrics are calculated and reflect evolving knowledge of the pandemic. The new format will begin September 3, 2020 and reflect a change in how active cases are calculated and a correction in county of residence for some cases. In addition, TDH is adding new resources including data snapshots for each county and a Critical Indicators Report. TDH data on COVID-19 will be posted at 3 p.m. CDT Sept. 3 at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html as the new format is implemented.

“We’re pleased to be adding new reports to help support rapid public health actions in Tennessee communities,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “We also want to promote data transparency and help Tennesseans understand the reason case counts for some counties will change as we correct information based on their addresses.”

Reporting Inactive/Recovered Cases

Starting Sept. 3, TDH case count reports will include figures for “Inactive/Recovered” cases and will no longer include data for “Recovered” cases. “Inactive/Recovered” cases will include people who are 14 days or more beyond their illness onset date (or, for asymptomatic cases, their specimen collection date). This will more closely align with what is now understood about the infectious period of COVID-19, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after 10 days.

Previously, TDH considered a case recovered after a 21-day period.

Correcting County Locations

TDH is also correcting discrepancies in county location for about 1,700 cases, as the county to which they were originally assigned does not correspond correctly to their street addresses. This can occur in laboratory reports because some lab systems automatically assign county location based on the patient’s ZIP code, which may be incorrect if the ZIP code straddles county lines. These cases will be corrected all at once, which will result in case count changes for some counties. A solution is in place to automate this process in the future.

New Reports and Data Points

Starting Sept. 3, individual County Data Snapshots will provide information on case counts, hospitalizations, testing and more for each county at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov/data/county-data-snapshot.html. In addition, the new weekly Critical Indicators Report includes information to help stakeholders monitor trends in cases, symptoms, testing capabilities and health care system capacity. Find the Critical Indicators Report online at www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/health/documents/cedep/novel- coronavirus/CriticalIndicatorReport.pdf. TDH is also adding data on current hospitalizations to daily information posted at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html.

Tennessee’s county health departments continue to offer COVID-19 testing at no charge to anyone who wishes to be tested. Find a map of health department locations and contact information online at www.tn.gov/content/tn/health/cedep/ncov/remote-assessment- sites.html. County health department testing sites will be closed Sept. 7 for Labor Day.

TDH is posting updated COVID-19 case numbers by 2 p.m. CDT each day at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html. Find additional information at www.tn.gov/governor/covid-19.html and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Republican executive committee rejects challenge of Mannis’ primary win

The Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee has voted 43-18 against a motion to remove Eddie Mannis as the Republican nominee in state House District 18.

Mannis won the primary by 99 votes over real estate agent Gina Oster, who challenged the outcome based on allegations of crossover voting by Democrats.

Mannis will face Democrat Virginia Couch in November.

Here’s a statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini about the GOP proceedings:

Republicans are scrambling to find a candidate who can beat Virginia Couch and all they had to choose from is a political flip-flopper and a far right extremist, both are wrong for the district and neither of them are the candidate House District 18 needs, wants, or deserves.

Tennessee GOP to decide whether to overturn result of Knoxville House primary

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Republican’s Party’s state executive committee is scheduled to hold a conference call Wednesday evening to decide a challenge of businessman Eddie Mannis’ 99-vote win over real estate agent Gina Oster in the GOP primary for an open state House seat in Knoxville.

Oster, who had the backing of conservative activists, claims Democratic crossover voting made he difference for Mannis. Of course, there’s no way to say from whom voters cast their secret ballots and a counter-argument is that they might have been voting for Oster to give Democratic nominee Virginia Couch an easier path toward victory in November.

Local party activists had sought to keep Mannis off the ballot entirely because of moderate positions and his vote in the Democratic presidential primary in March. But Party Chairman Scott Golden turned back that challenge after Mannis was vouched for by Republican luminaries such as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, and state Sen. Richard Briggs.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe has been keeping a close eye on proceedings, and reports in his column that Knox County executive committee members Jane Chedester and Michele Carringer (herself the GOP nominee to succeed retiring Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn) have indicated they support retaining Mannis’ nomination. So has incumbent Rep. Martin Daniel, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Here’s Ashe’s take:

Defeated GOP legislative candidate Gina Oster keeps trying to snatch a win from Eddie Mannis…. It is hard to believe that a committee in Nashville would discard the valid election result. Oster previously lost a school board contest to Doug Harris. If Oster is handed a nomination she did not win fair and square at the ballot box, the Democratic nominee, Virginia Couch, would become the odds-on favorite to win in November.

As The Tennessee Journal reported recently, the district is no longer a lock for Republicans. Daniel won just 51.5% of the vote in 2018, slightly underperforming the 53% received by Bill Lee in the governor’s race and by Burchett in his bid for Congress. And fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn got just 46% of the district’s vote in the U.S. Senate race against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen two years ago. While 57% voted for Trump in 2016, the president’s numbers are expected to be far weaker this year.

Given the increasingly swing characteristics of District 18, the GOP attacks on Mannis are all the more perplexing. As a well-respected businessman and founder of a nonprofit organization flying veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, Mannis’ more moderate leanings appear to make him a stronger candidate in the general election. But he clearly wasn’t the choice of hardliners who contributed to Oster during the primary. They included House Majority Leader William Lamberth, and Reps. Daniel, Clay Doggett, Rick Eldridge, Johnny Garrett, Bruce Griffey, and Chris Todd.