Haslam spokeswoman: ‘Political affiliation did not play a role’ in appointing school safety panel

Through a spokeswoman, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s office is pushing back against criticism of his appointments to a  task force assigned to study school safety and recommend revisions in state laws or policy, reports the Times Free Press. Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris has been the lead critic, saying the 16-member panel is solid Republican with no Democratic members “where a bipartisan consensus is sorely needed.”

“The governor appointed experts in each of these fields [education, safety and mental health] from across the state. Political affiliation did not play a role in asking these people to serve on the group. Period,” said Haslam Press Secretary Jennifer Donnals in an email Tuesday. “I cannot reiterate this enough.”

Donnals called it “very disappointing that this baseless story gained any traction.”

…Members are tasked with coming up with quick safety proposals for Tennessee schools to take following the deadly mass shooting last month at a school in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and faculty dead.

According to Donnals, the governor asked House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, both Republicans, to name two members each. They did. The two senators and two representatives are all Republicans.

(Harris) said the task force “also lacks representation for Shelby County schools, the largest school system in the state.”

But Donnals said one of the appointments is from Shelby County. She said the governor did not ask members he appointed about their political affiliations.

“He sought out individuals with various, but relevant, perspectives to serve on the working group, which does, in fact, include a member from Shelby County,” Donnals added.

McNally’s spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, said the Republican speaker named Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Transportation and Safety Committee Chairman Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, because their respective panels’ “subject matter intersects most directly with the issue of school safety.

…Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen did not respond to a Times Free Press email on the House speaker’s reasons for naming Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville, and Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro.

Byrd is pushing a controversial bill that would allow school districts to designate school personnel to be trained and carry firearms.

Harris was unapologetic about his criticism of the governor.

“You form your own committee and hand off the job of forming the committee to someone else? There’s a leadership vacuum,” the Memphian said.

Asked if it were not reasonable to have the speakers name some members, Harris, who is running for Shelby County mayor, said “it’s the governor’s initiative; the governor’s formed this committee. You have to take responsibility for the population of the committee.

“I mean, he formed the committee. It’s not the lieutenant governor’s [McNally]. Don’t pass the buck to the lieutenant governor. That is not the way to lead.”

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