New TNJ edition alert: Bid to close primary elections is first GOP bill killed this year

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Latest effort to close primaries is first GOP bill killed this session.

— Bill to cut Nashville Metro Council on fast track.

— Senate mulls eliminating sales tax on diapers and baby formula.

— Shot down: Decriminalizing weed, requiring school nurses to be paid more, getting rid of the TWRA’s online drawing for duck blinds.

Also: Andy Ogles makes something out of nothing, Bill Lee raised $1.4 million for second inaugural, Ford hires new lobbyists in Nashville, and Bud Hulsey wants candidates for constable to get competency certification.

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

Or subscribe here.

Memphis pitch: Former World Cup goalkeeper Tim Howard makes case for soccer stadium funding

A scarf displays the logos of Memphis 901 FC and Liberty Park on Feb. 22, 2023 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former U.S. national team and English Premier League goalkeeper Tim Howard met with Tennessee lawmakers this week to make the pitch for state funding to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Shelby County. Howard is a part-owner of Memphis 901 FC, which plays in the second-tier United Soccer League. The club currently plays its home games at AutoZone Park, the minor league baseball stadium of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. As part of a “big ask” to state lawmakers, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has proposed replacing the moribund Mid-South Coliseum with a new soccer stadium.

Here is what Howard had to say about what he was up at the Cordell Hull Building and the plans for a now field for the Memphis team:

TNJ: So what’s the sell to state lawmakers?

Howard: You know, the fact that we have private funds going into it is a big deal. And Memphis needs a soccer stadium, we can no longer coexist with the Redbirds. We’ve done that, but the team needs its own space. With all the business coming in and the workers that are coming into the city — Memphis and Shelby County — this is what soccer’s future is for them. It’s important.

TNJ: How big does the stadium need to be to fit the team’s needs now and moving forward?

Howard: It’s going to be about 7,500 seats with a total capacity of 10,000. But there’s room to grow. We would be remiss and silly to not create a building that has the opportunity for expansion. From a construction standpoint, we’ll make sure that we have that so that we can get to a level that MLS requires in the future, if that’s what we want to do.

TNJ: Is Major League Soccer a prospect, or is that just too far down the road to contemplate?

Howard: Right now, baby steps. We’ve got to get this thing moving back in the right direction. Pre-pandemic, we felt really good about what we’d done from a marketing and ticketing standpoint. Post-pandemic, what we’ve done on the pitch has been brilliant. And now we’re trying to marry those two together. So MLS is not even something we can really contemplate at this point. But it is something where we’ve seen that if you make enough noise and you create the product that gets enough attention, then there’s going to be that possibility.

TNJ: What’s the estimated price tag for the whole project?

Howard: It’s, give or take, $80 million to build. We’re asking for half of that from the state, and the rest will be the taxes and private funding.

TNJ; Compared with the $2.2 billion NFL stadium they’re talking about building down the street from the state Capitol, that’s almost a drop in the bucket. But do people just get skittish when the talk turns to soccer?

Howard: There’s a lot more to it. We see outdoor concerts that we could have going to Mississippi, unfortunately. Anything over 10,000 people is going to the FedExForum. But there’s an opportunity for concerts under that size in Memphis.

TNJ: People in Memphis have an emotional attachment to the Mid-South Coliseum, even if it’s been closed for more than 15 years. How do you get over that?

Howard: What we’re proposing is going to help revitalize that portion of the city. And currently there is no work that can be done on the Coliseum. It’s a difficult hurdle for people to get over, because when you talk about what it’s meant to the city, you know it’s a big deal. There’s a lot of history there. But we are trying to honor that history and pay homage to that with the new stadium.

TNJ: A new minor league baseball stadium under construction in Knoxville is also being billed as the home to a new professional soccer team. How rigid is the rule against baseball and soccer sharing a facility?

Howard: When we talk to USL – and we have a great relationship with them, as they do with most of the clubs — the idea is that it’s a nudge in the direction that most teams should have their own stadium. Soccer should be played in a soccer-specific stadium. That is obviously the best way to view the game. That’s where clubs have seen the biggest growth . . . AutoZone Park made sense for a few years. It just no longer does. A soccer-specific stadium is a completely different gameday experience. The game is meant to be experienced in tight confines. [A representative later added the Knoxville team is slated to play in the lower USL division, which has different stadium guidelines.]

Nashville DA says recording system akin to residential Ring cameras

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk is likening the security system outside his office to Ring cameras used at residences around the country.

WTVF-TV reporter Phil Williams has been running a series of stories questioning Funk’s management of the office, including a report Monday that Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office had opened a criminal investigation into whether audio recordings made by security cameras violated the state’s wiretapping statute.

Funk in a letter to Skrmetti last week, said he had been in discussions with one of his deputies, Janet Kleinfelter, for three months about security measures at his office before receiving an email from the AG raising concerns.

“We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy,” Funk wrote. “We know what the law allows and what the law prohibits.”

Funk also notes that he and Williams have tangled in court cases over previous coverage.

Even if Skrmetti’s office conducts an investigation, it’s unclear what authority he have would have to prosecute a criminal case. The AG’s office in Tennessee generally deals with civil matters, and its criminal division is largely dedicated to handling legal appeals. But the AG is appointed by a Republican state Supreme Court and counts on the GOP supermajority in the legislature for his funding. GOP lawmakers are often upset by Funk’s declarations that he won’t go out of his way to prosecute people for crimes related to abortions, transgender issues, or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Lawmakers in 2021 passed a law to give the AG the authority to seek the appointment of a special prosecutor if the elected DA declares a blanket refusal to make cases against certain crimes.

Here is Funk’s letter to Skrmetti and Deputy AG Scott Southerland:

Dear Generals Skrmetti and Sutherland,

Members of the Nashville District Attorney’s Office work hard to promote public safety in Nashville and across Tennessee. These jobs are dangerous since we are on the front lines of the criminal justice system. We often receive threats. Some of these threats are credible, imminent and life threatening.

Recently, an Assistant District Attorney received threats of death and violence from an individual who said he knew what time she walked to court. As warrants for these threats were being served, this individual proved so dangerous that he engaged in a 10 hour standoff with law enforcement, fired shots at members of the Metro Nashville Police Department and set an apartment building on fire.  ·

Just two weeks ago, two Assistant District Attorneys were threatened with sexual and physical violence by a former defendant. He even went so far as to demand they let him into our Office and stated he was waiting for them just outside the building. His actions were so dangerous that he was arrested before he could carry out his threats.

Threats come into this Office frequently. The security guards at the main entrance to our Office have discovered a variety of deadly weapons carried by visitors.

I will never forsake my duty to provide a safe working environment for the 160 members of my Office. One of our security measures is to have essentially “Ring cameras” at the front doors of our office. We have discussed our security measures with Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter of your office and have worked with her over the last 3 months responding to FOIA requests without compromising security.

The letter you sent Friday via email at 5:17 p.m. questions our security procedures. We have never conducted any unauthorized audio or video recording of any area where a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy. We know what the law allows and what the law prohibits.

I called General Sutherland at 5:44 p.m. and again at 6:22 p.m. Friday to request clarification of some of your preservation requests. I left a message with my personal cell phone number and have yet to receive a response.

The current Phil Williams story, which has been broadcast by Channel 5 and promoted on social media platforms, was designed to make viewers believe that our security violates the law. However, their reports do not contain any information that our measures improperly audio or video tape any protected areas.

Your comment that “[W]e are aware of the allegations and take them very seriously” is being used to validate their baseless slander and undermine trust in the District Attorney’s office.

Phil Williams and Channel 5 previously broadcast a story claiming I had solicited a bribe. After four years of litigation, they issued a retraction and admitted they “never had any proof.”

Any concerns you have regarding Nashville District Attorney’s Office security practices will quickly be eliminated by a visit to this office to inspect our practices. This is simple and straightforward. Because public trust is essential to our work, I am asking you to come TODAY and then immediately put in writing that our security measures do not violate any Tennessee statute and are in fact prudent measures for public safety.

General Sutherland has my personal cell phone number. Please call me upon receipt of this letter to clarify portions of your letter and to schedule your visit to my Office.



Glenn R. Funk

cc: Director David B. Rausch

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

See where in Tennessee student loan forgiveness has been most popular

Close to half a million Tennesseans applied for President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief program, according to an analysis of data obtained by Politico under the Freedom of Information Act.

About 486,500 state residents submitted applications — about 2% of the nationwide total — during the four weeks the program was live last year before being halted by federal court orders. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in the coming months over the fate of the initiative seeking to provide up to $20,000 in debt relief to borrowers earning less than $125,000 per year.

Here is a breakdown of how many applications were filed in each county and what percentage of the adult population submitted paperwork:

[UPDATE: Due to a spreadsheet sorting error in an earlier version of this story, Maury and Madison counties ended up with a much higher percentage than they actually had. The correct figures are 11.1% and 10%, or fifth and sixth in the state, respectively).

CountyApplicationsPercentage of Adults
Van Buren1593.2%

New TNJ edition alert: Sexton defends members against ‘intimidation’ tactics

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) presides first day of the legislative session in Nashville on Jan. 10, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— Sexton lowers boom on aggressive Right to Life lobbying stance

— Evaluating the vagaries of the lawmaker ratings game.

— Wait until next year? Call for opting out federal education money will take some more work.

— AG leaves few multi-state initiatives unjoined, but was quick to back off on defending state gun law.

Also: Compromise appears to be in the works to tone down legislature’s fight with Nashville, Torrey Harris gets a reprieve from his domestic violence and theft charges, Brent Taylor’s trial balloons, and House committee chairs give bill opponents the red card.

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

Or subscribe here.

GOP executive committee member tells judge Kelsey has ‘suffered enough already’

Sen. Brian Kelsey walks in the state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Republican Party executive committee member Peggy Larkin is urging U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw not to sentence former Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to any time behind bars following his guilty plea to federal campaign finance crimes.

“I believe that Brian and his family have suffered enough already and [he] will be a greater benefit to society serving outside of prison,” Larkin writes.

Kelsey is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28.

Read the full letter dated Jan. 21 here:

Dear Chief Judge Crenshaw:

I am privileged to write this letter in support of Brian Kelsey. I have known Brian as a good friend for 25 years and during that time have observed him as an outstanding young attorney. I have worked with
Brian in the political arena and find him to be a model citizen of his community.

Brian shows extreme professionalism in his work as well as those he serves. He is always courteous, and exceedingly kind to his fellow man. He is industrious, energetic, loyal, and generous.

At Georgetown he was the President of the Christian Legal Society. He served in the office of Counsel to the President of the United States; in the office of U.S. Senator Bill Frist, and served in the office of U.S. Representative Ed Bryant.

At UNC, he was the leader of the Greek Life Bible Study and AGO TV Volunteer. At the University of Memphis Law School, he was an Adjunct Professor of Government Relations in 2017. In the fall of 2010 and 2011 he served as an Undergraduate Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law.

Brian was the only senator in Tennessee history to successfully pass more than one constitutional amendment. He passed three. He served as the Judiciary Committee Chairman in 2009-2018 Senate. He also served as chairman of the Education Committee Chairman during this time.

He was the Student Chapter President at the Georgetown University Law Center, and a member of The Federalist Society. He served on the American Legislative Exchange Council, and was Chairman of the Civil Justice Task Force Council of State Governments; American Federation for Children; Tennessee Holocaust Commission, and a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association. In addition he was voted the Legislator of the Year 2018 and 2011. He received the Conservative Excellent Award in 2017 and 2015 from the American Conservative Union. In 2008 he won the Pro Bono Award. The list
does not end here.

Brian has a heart for public service and has worked diligently for the past 18 years preserving our conservative values, providing jobs for Tennesseans, improving our children’s education, and keeping us safe in Tennessee. He either sponsored or worked on committees that put the Right to Work in our state constitution, allowing students to return to in-person learning, helped in recruiting Ford Motor Company jobs to West Tennessee, banned critical Race Theory from our schools, let first responders live where they want, and protected constitutional rights during the pandemic.

Brian and his wife, Amanda, have three children. One daughter, and twin boys. Bryan’s character is beyond impeccable. He is a Christian and practices his faith daily. He is from a well-known, and well-respected family in Memphis. His mother is an educator. His brother is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. His dad is a successful businessperson, and sadly, currently undergoing cancer treatment [Robert Kelsey died on Feb. 2].

I believe that Brian and his family have suffered enough already and will be a greater benefit to society serving outside of prison.


Peggy C. Larkin

State Executive Committee Woman

District thirty-one

Check out these maps of political leanings based on local food options

(Image credit: Perry Strategies)

Memphis political consultant Cole Perry is on fire lately with a series of maps breaking down congressional voting habits of people based on what sort of food options they have in their home districts. Examples include Chick-fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Waffle House, and In-n-out Burger.

Perry’s company, Perry Strategies, doesn’t just make awesome maps. His ranked 17th in The Tennessee Journal’s recent analysis of state spending on campaign vendors in the most recent cycle.

Here are some of our favorite maps:

Nashville government, airport bond ratings upgraded as lawmakers take aim at both

(Image credit: Nashville International Airport)

Bond rating agencies are upgrading their outlook on Nashville and its airport even as state lawmakers take aim at both in the purported interest of improving their governance.

Kroll Rating Agency last week upgraded the city of Nashville from AA to AA+, one step below a perfect AAA rating. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor’s raised its long-term and underlying rating for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority from A+ to AA-, with a stable financial outlook.

Republican lawmakers are mulling bills to cut the size of the Metro Nashville Council from 40 voting members to 20 and replace mayoral appointments to the Airport Authority with picks by the governor and the House and Senate speakers. Separate measures would limit how Nashville could spend privilege taxes collected at the city’s convention center and take over appointments to the city’s sports authority.

New TNJ alert: How to ease the anti-Nashville frenzy, Lee’s big-money play for express lanes

Each TDOT region gets the same amount of money.

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

— Could deal on 2028 convention ease GOP’s anti-Nashville frenzy?

— Bill Lee’s $3.3B roads plan includes sending big money to sparsely populated areas, indexing the hiked EV fee.

— Supreme Court nominee Dwight Tarwater in his own words.

— Obituaries: Redistricting advocate Maclin Davis and former senator and lobbyist Tommy Haun.

Also: McNally was alerted to heartbeat issues by watch, Cade Cothren gets delay for Registry case, Guy Jones to retire from prosecutors’ group, and lawmakers charge into trying to regulate drag shows.

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

Or subscribe here.

Senate Speaker McNally hospitalized, pacemaker likely needed

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. From left are Sens. Mark Norris, Randy McNally, Bo Watson and Ferrell Haile. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally has been hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. The Oak Ridge Republican said tests showed he will likely need a pacemaker.

Update: McNally said the procedure was a success


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