New TNJ edition alert: Kelsey’s ‘big mistake,’ lawmakers demand shooter’s writings

Then-Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, confers with then-Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) on the House floor in Nashville on April 30, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Federal judge rejects Kelsey’s claim guilty plea was ‘big mistake’

— Statehouse update: Why ask when you can demand? Lawmakers seek shooter’s writings.

— From the campaign trail: Memphis residency ruling, Ogles gets another big endorsement, GOP race for vacated state House seat down to two candidates.

Also: Dolly Parton takes aim at politicians, Beth Harwell on “lazy” supermajorities, save the date for the Statesmen’s Dinner, and $700,000 for Cordell Hull repairs.

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

Or subscribe here.

White House makes disaster declaration for 45 Tennessee counties

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in 45 Tennessee counties related to severe storms in March.

Here’s the release from the White House:

WASHINGTON — FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the state of Tennessee to supplement recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms, straight-line winds and a tornado from March 1-3, 2023.

Public Assistance federal funding is available to the state, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities in Benton, Bledsoe, Campbell, Carroll, Cheatham, Clay, Crockett, Davidson, Decatur, Dickson, Fentress, Gibson, Giles, Grundy, Hamilton, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Lake, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lewis, Macon, Madison, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, Montgomery, Moore, Obion, Perry, Pickett, Polk, Rhea, Robertson, Stewart, Sumner, Tipton, Wayne and White counties.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Andrew D. Friend has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further assessments.

Group calling for gun reform following school shooting gains nonprofit status

Protesters hold a rally outside the state Capitol on April 3, 2023, marking one week since a fatal school shooting in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a group formed to advocate to gun reform following the mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School, has registered as a nonprofit organization and named the founding members of its board.

Here’s the full release from the group, which is also known as Safer TN:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Voices for a Safer Tennessee (Safer TN), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to prioritizing firearm safety and promoting responsible firearm ownership through bipartisan legislation, today announced that it has formally registered as a nonprofit organization under the 501(c)(4) designation of the Internal Revenue Service. Safer TN also has announced its founding board of directors and board officers, who represent a broad range of professional and political backgrounds in reflection of the organization’s objectives:

— Todd Cruse, chairman and treasurer;
— Nicole Smith, president;
— Whitney Kimerling, secretary;
— Clay Richards; and
— Jill Talbert.

“It is an honor to serve as chairman of the board for Voices for a Safer Tennessee and to have an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the organization’s efforts to advance common-sense firearm safety legislation,” said Todd Cruse. “As a parent, gun-owner and Tennessee voter, I firmly believe that the concepts of firearm ownership and firearm safety are not mutually exclusive, and that there is a clear, bipartisan path forward to protecting our children and communities more effectively than we are doing today.”

Today’s announcement comes approximately six weeks after the volunteer-run group of parents, neighbors, friends and community members came together, and one month after Safer TN’s “Linking Arms for Change” event that garnered national and statewide media attention by bringing nearly 10,000 Tennesseans in Nashville and Knoxville together, ultimately forming a three-mile human chain in support of common-sense firearm safety legislation. Since then, Safer TN has built unprecedented momentum and support by bridging people of diverse interests, religions, political perspectives and geographies to engage in advocacy including:

● Publishing Letters of Support, championed by key Tennessee leaders, including education leaders, healthcare executives and faith leaders respectively;

● Releasing statewide, bipartisan poll results showing strong support for common-sense firearm policies from Tennessee voters with key demographics, including Republicans and households with guns;

● Meeting with United States Senators and other leaders in Washington D.C., to ask for support and have productive conversations about firearm safety;

● Coordinating nearly 100 meetings with state legislators and elected officials in less than six weeks;

● Sustaining a daily visible contingency of supporters on site at the Tennessee State Capitol and Cordell Hull buildings during the regularly scheduled state legislative session;

● Organizing a group of notable artists, including Amy Grant, Sheryl Crow, Ruby Amanfu, Will Hoge, Allison Russell and Margo Price to meet with state lawmakers about addressing firearm safety measures;

● Bringing together more than 65 notable musicians and artists, including Sheryl Crow, Kacey Musgraves, Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Jason Isbell and more, to support a letter addressed to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and members of the Tennessee General Assembly, asking them to put politics aside and the safety of our children above all else;

● Collecting more than 3,000 petition signatures in support of stronger firearm safety and ownership laws;

● Inspiring news coverage in more than 500 media stories across the state and the world – from local community newspapers to international television broadcasts reflecting a nonpartisan, common-ground approach to firearm safety solutions;

● Sharing timely and actionable information with supporters following Governor Bill Lee’s introduction of an order of protection bill and subsequent call for a special session of the legislature to address public safety.

“It is extraordinary what our group of volunteers has been able to accomplish in a short amount of time, and how many like-minded Tennesseans have willingly mobilized to support this cause,” Cruse continued. “By formalizing as a 501(c)(4) and creating the mechanism to raise funds, we are now in a stronger position to continue advancing the short- and long-term goals of Safer TN, including our efforts ahead of the special session that begins August 21.”

Leading up to the special session, Safer TN is continuing to advocate for:

● extreme risk laws with proven language that would allow authorities to temporarily restrict access to firearms from people who pose a risk to themselves or others,

● stronger firearm storage laws that would require firearm owners to provide safe storage and report lost or stolen firearms, and

● closing background check loopholes to keep firearms away from dangerous people.

Safer TN encourages all Tennesseans who believe that we can find common ground to achieve these policies and protect our communities to get involved by donating, signing the petition, and following Safer TN on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for regular updates and calls to action.

About Voices for a Safer Tennessee

Voices for a Safer Tennessee (Safer TN) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition dedicated to prioritizing common-sense firearm safety laws and promoting responsible firearm ownership to make communities across our state safer. Safer TN was founded by neighbors, friends, colleagues and community members who came together with a shared desire for change following the tragic events of March 27, 2023, at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. The organization brings voters and lawmakers together by leading conversations, sharing diverse perspectives and finding commonality to champion the bipartisan change that the majority of Tennessee voters support. Learn more at safertn.org.

Judge rejects Kelsey effort to withdraw guilty plea

Then-Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw on Tuesday rejected former Sen. Brian Kelsey’s effort to withdraw his guilty plea on two felony counts related to funneling state funds through the American Conservative Union to support his unsuccessful congressional bid in 2016.

Kelsey argued he had been distracted by the terminal illness of his father and the birth of newborn twins when he pleaded guilty in November. Prosecutors argued the Germantown Republican was trying to make a tactical move to disadvantage the government by waiting more than 100 days before trying to nullify the deal.

Crenshaw scheduled a new sentencing date for late July.

Haslam to serve as national co-chair for Tim Scott’s presidential bid

Gov. Billl Haslam speaks at an event at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville on Aug. 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Gov. Bill Haslam is slated to serve as national co-chair for U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s imminent presidential campaign, according to Politico reporter Natalie Allison (a former Tennessee statehouse reporter The Tennessean).

Scott, of South Carolina, is expected to formally launch his campaign next week.

“One of the things I learned from being in elected office is it really does matter who we elect,” Haslam told Allison. “The more I talked to Tim, the more I became convinced that he’s got a message that the country really needs to hear right now.”

Read the whole article here.

New TNJ Alert: Legislative box scores, Memphis residency case, House District 3 primary set

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

— Legislative box score gives glance at session’s heroes and zeros.

— Flotsam and jetsam: Sifting through the wreckage of the hundreds of bills that didn’t make it.

— From the campaign trail: Memphis residency, 3rd House District race, Nashville mayor’s poll, Ogles and Trump reunited.

Also: Oprah on the Justins, Gary Humble audit deadline set, Masha Blackburn on walk-and-talks and grandparents providing security, and Scotty Campbell promotes a mystery wrestler.

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

Or subscribe here.

School choice group’s poll finds Campbell, Yarbro, O’Connell atop Nashville mayor’s race

The Nashville Metro Courthouse on March 13, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A Tennesseans for Student Success poll finds Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell leading the Nashville mayor’s race with 22% support. Fellow Sen. Jeff Yarbro is next with 17%, followed by Metro Council member Freddie O’Connell with 16%.

Here are the horse race results per the poll:

  • Heidi Campbell: 22%
  • Jeff Yarbro: 17%
  • Freddie O’Connell: 16%
  • Sharon Hurt: 7%
  • Matt Wiltshire: 7%
  • Jim Gingrich: 4%
  • Alice Rolli: 4%
  • Vivian Wilhoite: 3%
  • Fran Bush: 2%
  • Other: 19%

The poll of 500 likely Nashville voters was conducted by VictoryPhones between May 2 and May 4. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.37 percentage points.

Respondents were also asked who their second choice was in the race. Here are the responses:

  • Heidi Campbell: 20%
  • Jeff Yarbro: 20%
  • Matt Wiltshire: 10%
  • Freddie O’Connell: 9%
  • Sharon Hurt: 7%
  • Jim Gingrich: 6%
  • Vivian Wilhoite: 4%
  • Alice Rolli: 2%
  • Fran Bush: 2%
  • Other: 21%

And here are the top factors in determining which candidate voters would back:

  • Positions on education and infrastructure spending: 22%
  • Positions on social issues: 21%
  • Local government experience: 18%
  • Positions on economic issue: 11%
  • Business experience: 6%
  • Legislative experience: 5%
  • The most liberal or conservative candidate: 4%
  • Endorsements by other public officials: 1%
  • Something else: 12%

Lee calls Aug. 21 special session in response to school shooting

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers back into a special session on Aug. 21. Here’s the release from teh governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he will call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene a special legislative session on August 21, 2023, to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights. 

“After speaking with members of the General Assembly, I am calling for a special session on August 21 to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Gov. Lee. “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Starting today, Tennesseans are invited to engage in the conversation by sharing feedback here.

Gov. Lee will meet with legislators, stakeholders and Tennesseans throughout the summer to discuss practical solutions ahead of the special session. 

The Governor’s office will issue a formal call ahead of the special session. 

Rep. Gant undergoes surgery following heart attack

(Image Credit: Ron Gant Facebook)

Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) has undergone surgery following a heart attack, according the House Republican Caucus.

Gant, who is still recovering from injuries to his arms and hip sustained in a car wreck in October, had a stent placed in a blocked artery.

Gant is an insurance agent from Fayette County. He was first elected to the General Assembly in 2016 and is a former assistant majority leader in the House.

New TNJ edition alert: Legislature’s popularity takes a hit, Lee looks elsewhere to fill Cabinet

A protest on the House floor on March 30, 2023, led to ouster proceedings against three Democratic lawmakers. From left are Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis.

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

— Legislature’s popularity hits the skids after tumultuous session.

— Lee looks outside of Tennessee to fill vacancies within his Cabinet.

— From the campaign trail: Ex-Rep. Timothy Hill angling for appointment to old House seat.

— Obituaries: Early lottery backer Alan Hubbard, official fruit sponsor Dennis Roach.

Also: Bill Frist says gun violence “much worse” than when he ran U.S. Senate, Joe Carr hates need for “significant” property tax hike in Rutherford County, billable barbeque in Memphis, and Marsha Blackburn hawks kitchen utensils.

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

Or subscribe here.


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