AFL-CIO makes endorsements in state, federal races

The state chapter of the AFL-CIO has announced the names of the candidates the labor group is backing this year’s primary elections. Most are either incumbents or unopposed for the Democratic nomination in their respective races.

Here’s the release from the AFL-CIO:

NASHVILLE, MAY 23, 2022- Following a joint meeting of its Executive Board and Committee on Political Education (COPE) held last week, the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council is announcing its list of endorsed candidates ahead of the August 4th State and Federal Primary Election.

“After a robust discussion, our membership believes that the following list of candidates will best represent our interests in the Tennessee General Assembly and the halls of Congress,” said TN AFL-CIO President Billy Dycus. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen what happens when corporate special interest groups, big business, and greedy politicians continue to have unchecked power and total control of the political process. Working families are tired of being represented by legislators who couldn’t care less about their needs or well-being. It’s time to start chipping away at the supermajority and elect candidates who will stand up and speak out for all of their constituents, not just the wealthy few.”

The Council will hold another meeting in mid-August to discuss additional endorsements for the November 8th General Election, including its positions on the four proposed constitutional amendments.

U.S. House of Representatives, District 2: Mark Harmon

U.S. House of Representatives, District 5: Heidi Campbell

U.S. House of Representatives, District 7: Odessa Kelly

U.S. House of Representatives, District 9: Steve Cohen

State Senate, District 3: Kate Craig

State Senate, District 21: Jeff Yarbro

State Senate, District 29: Raumesh Akbari

State House of Representatives, District 15: Sam McKenzie

State House of Representatives, District 28: Yusuf Hakeem

State House of Representatives, District 41: John Mark Windle

State House of Representatives, District 48: Matt Ferry

State House of Representatives, District 50: Bo Mitchell

State House of Representatives, District 51: Bill Beck

State House of Representatives, District 53: Jason Powell

State House of Representatives, District 54: Vincent Dixie

State House of Representatives, District 55: John Ray Clemmons

State House of Representatives, District 56: Bob Freeman

State House of Representatives, District 58: Harold Love, Jr.

State House of Representatives, District 59: Caleb Hemmer

State House of Representatives, District 60: Darren Jernigan

State House of Representatives, District 67: Ronnie Glynn

State House of Representatives, District 80: Johnny Shaw

State House of Representatives, District 84: Joe Towns, Jr.

State House of Representatives, District 85: Jesse Chism

State House of Representatives, District 86: Barbara Cooper

State House of Representatives, District 87: Karen Camper

State House of Representatives, District 88: Larry Miller

State House of Representatives, District 90: Gloria Johnson

State House of Representatives, District 91: Torrey Harris

State House of Representatives, District 93: G.A. Hardaway

State House of Representatives, District 96: Dwayne Thompson

State House of Representatives. District 98: Antonio Parkinson

Report: Rep. Gloria Johnson had mini-stroke

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) sits at her desk moved into a hallway in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville on Jan 28, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) suffered what doctors described as a possible mini stroke over the weekend, according to KnoxTNToday columnist Betty Bean.

Johnson, who is in the process of moving to run for a new House seat after Republicans drew her into the same district as fellow Knoxville Democrat Sam McKenzie, collapsed at a TJ Maxx on Saturday night. Fellow shoppers Michael and Mandy Knott called 911 and informed Johnson’s mother she was being taken to the hospital, Bean reported.

As of the report, Johnson hadn’t yet seen a cardiologist. But she was tentatively diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. The contributing causes could include campaigning for the newly created District 90 seat during a heat wave and the stress brought on by fundraising and moving to a new neighborhood.

Johnson, who is soon to be 60, is a retired special education teacher and a longtime thorn in the side of Republican leadership in the House.

Read Bean’s full account here.

Lee: Unclear when voucher program can get off the ground following high court ruling

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

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is hailing the Supreme Court’s decision upholding school vouchers but says “a lot of steps” are still required before the program allowing parents in Nashville and Shelby County to spend taxpayer dollars on private school tuition can go live.

“Once we determine the speed with which the court will make its final decisions, then we can move forward with the particulars to make sure this works and fits, and how it is that we roll it out,” The Associated Press quoted the governor as saying on Friday.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision that the voucher program doesn’t violate the state constitution’s home rule protections, which prevent the General Assembly from passing bills targeted at specific counties without local buy-in. The voucher law affects school districts — which aren’t covered by the home rule provision — and not the counties that fund them, the high court ruled.

Despite the voucher program being frozen since 2019, the Lee administration has included a recurring $29 million item in the budget to cover its costs in the event legal challenges were turned back. But the money has been dedicated toward other priorities, including for the spending plan for the budget year beginning on July 1.

It remains to be seen how much appetite lawmakers have to revisit the voucher question. Of the 51 House members who voted for the final version of the bill in 2019 (just one more than the constitutional minimum), only 37 are up for re-election this fall. Here’s the list of voucher backers who will no longer be around next year:

Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah). Died of pancreatic cancer in May 2021.

Glen Casada (R-Franklin). Not running again this year. Lost bid for Williamson County clerk earlier this month.

Michael Curcio (R-Dickson). Not running again this year.

John DeBerry (D-Memphis). Lost re-election bid as an independent in 2020 after state Democrats decided he couldn’t run in their primary. Now in the Lee administration.

Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville). Didn’t run again in 2020. Now in the Lee administration.

Mark Hall (R-Cleveland). Running for state Senate this year.

Matthew Hill (R-Jonesbough). Lost Republican primary in 2020.

Timothy Hill (R-Blountville). Didn’t run again in 2020. Lost bid for Congress.

Andy Holt (R-Dresden). Didn’t run again in 2020. Now in the Lee administration.

Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton). Stepped down in August 2019.

Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station). Not running again this year.

Robin Smith (R-Hixson). Resigned in March after pleading guilty to participating in a kickback scheme.

Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg). Lost Republican primary in 2020.

Micah Van Huss (R-Gray). Lost Republican primary in 2020.

Two other representatives abstained when the vote was initially recorded, but later changed asked the clerk to have their votes changed to yes. The moves are considered a formality because they only be accepted if it doesn’t change the outcome. Neither won’t feature in the next General Assembly:

Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville). Didn’t run again in 2020.

Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin). Not running again this year.

New TNJ edition: Lee’s signature bill and Lee’s unsigned bills

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

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

— Lee’s signature voucher law gets Supreme Court win. Now what?

— Unsigned, Bill: Governor avoids vetoes but increasingly turns to refusing to sign measures.

— From the campaign trail: Winstead runs first ad and gets a conservative endorsement, Ortagus launches a PAC, and The Tennessean lets ousted GOP candidate Starbuck attend forum anyway.

Also: The big Legislative Plaza overhaul gets the green light, a potential defense witness for Brian Kelsey’s federal trial dies, Nashville mayor’s office blames “clerical error” for missing $200 million in cost projection for football stadium, and a “satisfied customer” gets escorted out of a Registry meeting.

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

Or subscribe here.

Supreme Court finds Lee’s school voucher program doesn’t violate home rule protections

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Three years after lawmakers narrowly passed Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher program, the state Supreme Court has overturned lower courts’ findings it violated home rule protections against laws targeted at individual counties by applying only to Nashville and Shelby County.

The 3-2 decision released Thursday came after the high court decided to rehear arguments following the death last year of Justice Connie Clark. Court of Appeals Judge Skip Frierson sat in on the case and sided with Chief Justice Roger Page and Justice Jeff Bivins. Justices Sharon Lee and Holly Kirby dissented.

UPDATE: When the voucher bill passed it was tied to moving dollars calculated through the Basic Education Program to cover private school tuition. Lawmakers this year approved an overhaul of the school funding formula called Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement, which funds individual students rather than districts as a whole. The Lee administration included a provision in the law to change the funding mechanism for the voucher program from the old formula to the new one:

SECTION 53. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-6-2603, is amended by deleting the language “basic education program” wherever it appears and substituting “Tennessee investment in student achievement formula (TISA)”.

Here’s the release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

In an opinion released today, the Tennessee Supreme Court determined that, while two Tennessee county governments had standing to challenge the Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the “ESA Act”), the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Home Rule Amendment, article XI, section 9, of the Tennessee Constitution.

In 2019, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted ESA Act. The Act establishes a program allowing a limited number of eligible students to directly receive their share of state and local education funds, which would ordinarily be provided to the public school system they attend, to pay for a private school education and associated expenses.

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Shelby County Government, and Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education filed a declaratory judgment action that named as defendants Governor Bill Lee, the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner, and the Tennessee Department of Education. The trial court also allowed additional parties to intervene and participate as defendants. The complaint alleged that the ESA Act violates several provisions of the Tennessee Constitution, including the Home Rule Amendment, the equal protection clauses, and the education clause.

Defendants filed separate motions challenging Plaintiffs’ standing to pursue the claims presented and the legal sufficiency of those claims. Plaintiffs, in turn, filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to their Home Rule Amendment claim. The trial court determined that the two county plaintiffs had standing to pursue the claims, but it dismissed the Metro School Board as a plaintiff for lack of standing. The trial court also granted the motion for summary judgment concluding that the ESA Act violates the Home Rule Amendment and enjoined the State from implementing the Act. The trial court reserved ruling on Defendants’ challenges to the equal protection and education clause claims.

The trial court granted Defendants permission to seek an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals granted Defendants’ applications for appeal. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court, holding that Metro and Shelby County had standing to challenge the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment and that the Act was unconstitutional pursuant to the Home Rule Amendment.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Defendants’ applications for permission to appeal. Because it is an interlocutory appeal, the issues before the Court were limited to the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment and Plaintiffs’ standing to bring that challenge. The Supreme Court agreed with both the trial court and the Court of Appeals that Plaintiffs Metro and Shelby County had standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment Claim. However, the Supreme Court, after reviewing the applicable constitutional language, held that the ESA Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Home Rule Amendment because the Act is not “applicable to” the Plaintiff counties for purposes of the Amendment. The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Plaintiff counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of the local education agencies and not the counties. Thus, the Act does not violate the Home Rule Amendment. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for the dismissal of the Home Rule Amendment claim and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

Justice Sharon G. Lee and Justice Holly Kirby joined in a separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part. They agreed with the Court that Metro and Shelby County had standing to challenge the ESA Act but concluded that the Act violates the Home Rule Amendment. In their view, the ESA Act substantially affects Metro and Shelby County’s ability to self-govern and decide school funding issues. Under the ESA Act, only Metro and Shelby County and no other counties in the state must pay for students who leave public schools and use their vouchers for private school tuition. Because the ESA Act is local in effect and application, and because the Act gives Metro and Shelby County no choice in the matter, it violates the Home Rule Amendment.

To read the majority opinion in Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education, et al., authored by Chief Justice Roger A. Page, and the separate opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.

Longtime Tennessee GOP lawyer John Ryder dies

John Ryder, a Memphis attorney who was active in the state and national Republican parties for decades, has died.

Here is a statement from state GOP Chair Scott Golden:

We have sadly just learned of the passing of our friend and a true champion for all Tennessee Republicans, Mr. John Ryder of Memphis. There are very few in our state that haven’t had the impact of the life of Mr. Ryder. While working as an attorney at the firm of Harris Shelton, he volunteered and consulted in a variety of different capacities in both government and politics. Most recently, he just finished as President’s Trump appointee to the Tennessee Valley Authority. For 16 years he served our state on the board of the Republican National Committee, completing his final tenure as the RNC’s General Counsel. He’s been the Shelby County attorney and led multiple Republican redistricting efforts for the last 30 years. Mr. Ryder has been a confidant of almost every elected Republican in Tennessee for the last half century through his tireless and selfless giving, support, and expertise. With his in-depth knowledge of both legal, bylaw, and rules, Mr. Ryder has crafted the process by which the Republican Party selects our Presidential nominees during his many appearances at the RNC Conventions over the years. His unmatched legacy and resume will never be forgotten by those who knew him and I am fortunate to have called him a friend and mentor as have many Chairmen of the Tennessee Republican Party. Our deepest sympathies are with his wife, Lain, and his family during this time. Thank you for sharing John with the entire State of Tennessee and our Republican family and know that he will be truly missed by many.

And here is Lamar Alexander, a former governor and U.S. senator:

With deft legal skills and an easy manner, John Ryder helped build the Tennessee Republican Party over nearly a half century. He effectively served the Republican National Committee as its counsel and the people of this region as a TVA board member. I admired John and counted him as a friend. Honey and I send our sympathy and respect for his life to Lain and their family.

New TNJ edition alert: The Cameron Sexton interview

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), left, and Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) await the begin of the State of the State address on Jan 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— TNJ Interview: House Speaker Cameron Sexton reflects on recovering from ‘trauma’ of scandals in House, building trust with Senate, and his expectations about future relations with Gov. Bill Lee.

— No cakewalk for Joe Carr in Rutherford County?

— Federal judge shoots down Starbuck’s effort to be restored to GOP ballot in 5th District.

— AG’s office confirms 5th District ballots could be changed until next month, raising questions about why redistricting fixes couldn’t have been made in time.

Also: Speculation about attorney general successor kicks into overdrive, Brian Kelsey gets another delay for his federal campaign finance case, and Memphis’ Democratic mayor backs “truth in sentencing” law.

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

Or subscribe here.

Judge denies Starbuck’s effort to be put back on 5th District ballot

U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw has denied music video producer Robby Starbuck’s motion to be placed back on the Republican primary ballot for the 5th Congressional District.

“Exactly why Mr. Starbuck’s name was removed from the ballot the Court may never know,” Crenshaw wrote in Thursday’s order. “His Complaint speaks of smoke-filled rooms with carpetbaggers engaged in political chicanery reminiscent of the Daley machine in Chicago during the 60’s and 70’s, and New York’s Tammany Hall in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Whatever the reason, the only question now is whether Mr. Starbuck is entitled to a preliminary injunction under Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He is not.”

Model legislation group wants Lee to veto disclosure rules for dark money spending

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides over a floor session on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

ALEC Action, the advocacy arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council, wants Gov. Bill Lee to veto a bill requiring 501(c)4 groups like itself to disclose spending meant to influence the outcome elections within 60 days of the vote.

ALEC Action in a letter to the governor claims legislation championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), could cause nonprofits to identify their donors. Sponsors were adamant during the debate over the measure that it would only require expenditures to be made public — not donors.

“If enacted, this legislation would implement an extremely broad, unclear, and dangerous state registry dragnet targeting non-profit organizations, many of which are currently engaged in standard issue advocacy,” according to Lisa Nelson, ALEC Action’s CEO.

Other conservative groups like the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, and the Beacon Center have spoken out against the measure. But the final version still passed on a vote of 85-3 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Governor Lee,

ALEC Action writes with strong concerns regarding S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201. Given the extremely ambiguous language, low thresholds for expenditure reporting, and what would likely be unconstitutional requirements of compelled donor identity disclosure, we strongly encourage you to veto this legislation.

This bill requires organizations designated as tax-exempt by federal law, including 501(c)(4)s, (5)s and (6)s, to report their expenditures to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance after certain communication and financial thresholds are met. This non-profit reporting requirement is triggered after a financial threshold in the aggregate amount of only $5,000 is met and when spent towards certain communications 60 days before an election, however, this legislation fails to provide a clear definition of qualifying communications. If enacted, this legislation would implement an extremely broad, unclear, and dangerous state registry dragnet targeting non-profit organizations, many of which are currently engaged in standard issue advocacy. Further, it is unclear how Tennessee agencies and courts will interpret this law, creating a variety of issues for them, the tens of thousands of organizations spread across the political spectrum in Tennessee, and the donors who support them.

The right of philanthropists to keep their giving private is a longstanding constitutional protection that should be respected by states. It is for this reason that ALEC filed an amicus brief in support of a case where the United States Supreme Court upheld these very principles and privacy protections. Further, the proposals in S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201 are inconsistent with ALEC Action principles, such as the Statement of Principles on Philanthropic Freedom as well as the Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy. Referring to a candidate’s position on policy matters should never result in the disclosure of donor information from non-political groups, and legislation should not seek to classify such organizations as entities required to do so. Policy that seeks to address campaign finance issues simply by expanding legal thresholds and reporting requirement windows does not truly address election integrity matters, but instead burdens numerous organizations with onerous reporting requirements, while violating the privacy rights organizations and their supporters are entitled to.

S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201 is a drastic overreach that would encroach on the privacy rights of non-profit organizations and their donors, all while creating a chilling effect on free speech. Because of the consequences of such a proposal, along with its inconsistencies with limited government principles, ALEC Action encourages you to veto S.B. 1005/H.B. 1201.

Sincerely,

Lisa B. Nelson
Chief Executive Officer
ALEC Action

Ogles camp announces $453K haul for 5th District bid in first 30 days

Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles says his campaign for the Republican nomination for the open 5th Congressional District seat has netted $453,000 in the first month since joining the race. Ogles didn’t officially enter the contest until the end of the Federal Election Commission’s most recent reporting deadline, so he won’t have to make official disclosures until July 15 — 20 days before the primary.

The Ogles campaign says none of his fundraising total came in the form of loans and that all contributions were from within Tennessee.

Here’s the full release:

COLUMBIA, TN – Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles raised $453,000 in the first thirty days of his bid for the 5th District Congressional seat. Ogles, who was a late entry into the race, officially became a candidate on April 6th. 

Mayor Ogles stated, “I am humbled and overwhelmed by the support I’ve received since entering the race. Not only has the fundraising response been incredible, the results in recent straw polls in both Wilson and Marshall Counties, as well as the candidate auction in Williamson County demonstrate the strength of my grassroots campaign.” 

Mayor Ogles attributes his success with the grassroots to his decades of activism where he has helped lead the charge against Obamacare expansion, government overreach and various tax increases. “Tennesseans want elected officials who will fight for them in the same way President Trump fought for us. During Covid I never wavered, I fought for freedom and liberty in the face of threats, and I will fight for Tennessee against a Federal government that has gone too far and grown too powerful,” said Ogles.

Recently Mayor Ogles made national headlines as he refused to close Maury County during Covid. Ogles actively campaigned against State and Federal mandates by holding the ‘Freedom Matters’ tour where he recruited other elected officials and TN citizens to standup against government overreach with the town hall meetings consistently drawing crowds between 500 and 800 individuals. 

Lee Beaman, a well-known businessman and conservative fundraiser, who serves as Mayor Ogles Campaign Chairman added, “I recently attended an event with several very conservative Members of Congress who were asking about the 5th Congressional Race and I told them Andy Ogles is Tennessee’s Ron DeSantis and, like the Florida Governor, Andy is a true fighter for the people and he is exactly who we need serving us in Congress.”