congress

Dems submit congressional redistricting plan

Legislative Democrats are submitting a congressional redistricting plan that would avoid breaking up Nashville. The proposal would also reimagine the 4th District as being comprised of fast-growing suburban Williamson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties, while ceding most of its current rural population to the 6th and 3rd districts.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban communities would elect their own member of the U.S. House of Representatives under a congressional map proposed by state Democrats on Monday.

While most of the map will look familiar, Democrats say their nine-seat congressional plan improves representation by keeping almost every city and county whole while also better connecting communities that have shared socio-economic interests — like Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, rural West Tennessee and booming suburban Middle Tennessee communities along I-840.

“People all over the state shared the same message: please keep our community together,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Democratic caucus chairwoman. “People want their elected officials to be responsive to the needs of their community. So, in addition to drawing districts that are near identical by population, we are proposing districts with deep community connections and shared needs—like housing, healthcare, education, transportation and job creation.”

The biggest change recommended by Democrats is a new configuration for the 4th Congressional District that combines three Middle Tennessee counties, Williamson, Wilson, and most of Rutherford, along with the cities of Hendersonville and Spring Hill. The current district lines sprawl across southern Tennessee from Nashville’s southeastern border nearly to North Carolina.

“The 840 corridor encompassing Williamson, Rutherford & Wilson are facing the shared challenges of explosive growth, infrastructure and services spread thin, alongside effective regional coordination and collaboration. The future of these communities is inherently linked together regardless of county lines or city lines,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the minority leader in the Senate. “The congressional lines is one way we can recognize and respond to that reality. It’s not only good for these communities experiencing rapid growth to have common leadership, but also more advantageous for other regions to address the different but equally complicated economic, education and health decisions they face.”

Democrats in the legislature held five meetings across the state and participated in dozens more meetings to gather public input from communities across the state. This proposed congressional map incorporates feedback from people who spoke at those hearings and submitted public comment in other ways.

“This map proposal is a reflection of real people and the concerns that are shared by underserved communities across the state,” said Rep. Karen Camper, the minority leader in the House. “We look forward to presenting their ideas and policy priorities to the General Assembly.”

Before the 2022 election cycle, the Tennessee General Assembly, by law, must draw political boundaries so that every congressional district in the state has an equal number of people.

The community districting process — also called redistricting or reapportionment — happens every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every city, town and county in the nation.

A good district map reflects a whole community or a community of shared interests, such as a city, neighborhood or group of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district.

While Republicans who control legislature have so far kept their proposed congressional maps a secret, Democrats are making their draft congressional proposal available for public comment ahead of the next legislative session.

“We know Republicans are cutting deals on district lines behind closed doors and playing partisan politics with their maps, but that’s not going to stop us from engaging Tennesseans in a good faith process,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We welcome input from the community because we want fair maps and a healthy democracy.”

To offer feedback on the congressional maps proposed by state Democrats, email maps@tndemocrats.org..

1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District proposal includes 11 counties from the current map: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington.

Additions: Claiborne, Grainger, Union and a portion of Campbell County just west of the city of LaFollette.

Other changes: Sevier County shifts to the 2nd Congressional District.

2nd Congressional District

The 2nd Congressional District proposal includes Knox, Anderson and Sevier counties as well as the city of Maryville in Blount County.

Knox County residents offered public comment making the case for including both Anderson and Sevier counties in a district with Knoxville due to the shared interests in those communities.

For example, the Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville are tied together through tourism, and Knoxville’s innovation sector is intrinsically linked to the science being performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

3rd Congressional District

This map would move the 3rd Congressional District into Tennessee’s southeast corner—rather than its current configuration which extends from downtown Chattanooga to the Kentucky border.

What’s in: Bradley, Hamilton, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane counties, the city of Maryville and part of Blount County.

What’s out: Everything north of Knox County — Scott, Campbell, Union, Morgan and Anderson counties.

4th Congressional District

The plan’s reimagined 4th Congressional District undergoes the biggest change to create a district for Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban counties along the I-840 bypass.

Their shared status as booming suburban communities and similar growth-related needs make a strong case for these areas to be included in a single district.

What’s in: Williamson and Wilson counties, most of Rutherford County, as well as the city of Hendersonville and the city of Spring Hill, which straddles the Williamson-Maury County line.

5th Congressional District

Nashville-Davidson County is about 50,000 people short of qualifying to be its own congressional district.

To complete a full district, this plan draws from public comments that asked mapmakers to link Nashville to neighboring cities that are confronting similar challenges.

What’s in: Davidson County, the city of La Vergne, the city of Goodlettsville, which straddles the Davidson-Sumner County line, and Millersville, which shares a long border with the city of Nashville along I-65.

What’s out: Dickson and Cheatham counties.

6th Congressional

This plan expands Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District to the south, putting the shared interests of rural communities at the forefront.

What’s in: Bledsoe, Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Franklin, Grundy, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Marion, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Sequatchie, Smith, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren, White counties as well as portions of Sumner County and Campbell County.

What’s out: Wilson County.

7th Congressional District

This proposed map includes most areas of the current district, including Clarksville and Columbia, but it shifts away from counties in West Tennessee. Instead, the Tennessee River serves as a western boundary for most of district.

What’s in: Bedford, Cheatham, Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Perry, Robertson, Stewart, Wayne counties and most of Maury and Hardin counties.

What’s out: Benton, Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Henderson and McNairy counties.

8th Congressional District

The 8th Congressional District would become the rural West Tennessee district. Bordered mostly by the Tennessee River on the east and the Mississippi River on the west.

What’s in: Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion and Tipton counties, as well as a portion of Hardin County and the Shelby County cities of Arlington, Collierville, Germanton Lakeland and Millington.

What’s out: Parts of East Memphis.

9th Congressional District

In this map, the entire city of Memphis is included within the boundary of the 9th Congressional District.

To complete the district, the whole city of Bartlett is also included as well as some unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Complaint filed against Harshbarger for failing to make timely stock disclosures

The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint against freshman Rep. Diana Harshbarger for failing to report hundreds of disclosures about stock transactions within the 45-day requirement. The Kingsport Republican’s chief of staff, Zac Rutherford, told Insider the congresswoman self-reported the transactions after realizing her advisers had failed to do so.

Here’s the release from the Campaign Legal Center:

WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Rep. Diana Harshbarger for failure to comply with the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act.

In a periodic transaction report filed earlier this week, Rep. Harshbarger acknowledged over 700 trades that violate the STOCK Act due to the fact that they were not disclosed within the proper window of time. While the stocks are assets of her trust, this is not a blind trust, and the report concedes that she was notified of the transactions soon after they occurred.

“The reason we have the STOCK Act is to allow voters full, real-time awareness of interests held by elected officials that may conflict with their official duties. But we don’t currently have meaningful enforcement,” said Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics at Campaign Legal Center. “Members of Congress cannot continue to shirk their responsibility and see a nominal fine as their only repercussion for denying voters transparency when it comes to their financial interests.”

The actions of Rep. Harshbarger follow a troubling, bipartisan trend. Already this year, CLC has filed similar complaints over violations of the STOCK Act by Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Tommy Tuberville as well as Reps. Pat Fallon, Blake Moore, and Tom Malinowski.

This is just one more example of an elected official ignoring the STOCK Act by failing to report a large volume of stock trades and facing little consequence. Because ethics proceedings lack significant transparency, it is next to impossible to determine what consequences, if any, members who commit such violations face.

What we are witnessing is the dismantling of the STOCK Act as members wait until their annual financial disclosures to reveal stock trades and are thus not held accountable for failing to provide real-time disclosure under the law. It is clear that the current ethics enforcement system, built on a foundation of self-policing in which members of Congress are responsible for enforcing their own ethics rules for their own colleagues, is not working.

As elected officials craft laws that directly impact the lives of all Americans, the public must be able to trust that their representatives are acting in the public’s interest, and not for their own financial gain.

Burchett takes to WSJ opinion section to decry proxy voting in Congress

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville) has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today denouncing the ongoing practice of proxy voting and virtual meetings in Congress.

“I didn’t run for Congress to sit on Zoom in my district office or to have one of my colleagues cast votes on my behalf,” Burchett writes. “These often-abused protocols were implemented in response to a pandemic that is in retreat.”

The current rules are “ineffective and abused by members of both parties,” he writes. Some GOP members used proxy voting so they could attend a CPAC meeting in February, while Democrats have done so to campaign or accompany President Joe Biden on a trip to Wisconsin, according to Burchett. He is similarly critical of virtual meetings.

“Policy experts work in Washington offices, where these hearings should be taking place in person,” Burchett said.

While Burchett sees bipartisan lapses, he blames the current state of affairs on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“Exploitation of the House’s coronavirus protocols won’t stop unless the rules change so that members are expected to show up to work and do their jobs,” Burchett said. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to take a step back, look at the rest of the country, and re-evaluate how she is running the House.”

Lee joins Iowa counterpart in calling for congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is joining Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in calling on a congressional hearing on unaccompanied minors being flown to their states by the federal government.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds joined with U. S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in calling for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding the crisis at the southern border and the ensuing flow of unaccompanied minors to states.

“We are writing to support your continued calls for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold an oversight hearing regarding the current border crisis,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “We believe this hearing should also address the Biden Administration’s failure to provide notice and transparency in their movement of unaccompanied migrant children into states.”

Both Iowa and Tennessee have faced a series of disturbing incidents involving the transport of unaccompanied children into respective states, under the cover of darkness, with no advance notification, consent or plan from federal partners.

“These experiences sow seeds of mistrust in our communities, and work to intentionally subvert the will of the people for a secure border and a clear, lawful immigration process,” the governors wrote in their letter to Senator Grassley. “Additionally, the lack of transparency places an undue burden on our law enforcement partners to determine whether these types of flights constitute a criminal act of human trafficking or the federally-sponsored transport of vulnerable children.”

Both Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator Bill Hagerty support calls for a hearing.

“The Biden Administration is secretly transporting migrants to communities throughout the United States, including in Tennessee, without the knowledge of or permission of the communities involved,” said Senator Blackburn. “President Biden’s failed immigration policies have turned every town into a border town. The Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately hold an oversight hearing on the crisis at our southern border. I applaud Governor Lee for his efforts to protect our state and the people who are being trafficked by the Mexican cartels.”

“Tennessee and states all across the country are seeing the real, tangible results of President Biden’s total failure to solve the crisis at the border—a crisis of his own making—with the systematic resettling of migrants in our communities,” said Senator Hagerty. “Mayors, sheriffs and governors are on the front lines of combatting increased human trafficking and drug smuggling, as well as addressing strains on public resources. I applaud Governors Lee and Reynolds for continuing to draw attention to these matters, asking questions and urging Congress to perform its proper oversight function.”

House adopts resolution calling for convention on congressional term limits

Rep. Chris Todd (R-Jackson) makes the motion to close all House Republican Caucus meetings to the public and the press on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state House has voted 53-34 to join a call for a national constitutional convention to set term limits for members of Congress. While the margin appears lopsided, the measure sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd (R-Jackson) received only three more votes than the minimum needed to clear the chamber. The resolution now heads for the consideration in the Senate.

Tennessee’s congressional delegation has seen some turnover in recent years. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Winchester and Chuck Fleischmann pf Chattanooga have the longest tenures among Republicans as they are in their sixth terms. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Memphis) is in this third term, while Reps. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), Mark Green (R-Ashland City), and John Rose (R-Cookeville) are in their second. Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-Kingsport) is a freshman.

Among Democrats, Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville is in his 10th term and Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis is in his eighth.

Here’s a release from the group U.S. Term Limits lauding Thursday’s floor vote:

Nashville, TN — Today, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed HJR8, a resolution declaring that the state legislature seeks to join other states in proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to establish term limits on Congress. The bipartisan vote was 53 yeas – 34 nays, overwhelmingly in favor of passage. The effort, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Todd, is being spearheaded by the nonpartisan, grassroots nonprofit, U.S. Term Limits.

Rep. Chris Todd said, “Now, more than ever we see the need for limiting the terms of the U.S. Congress. You would be hard-pressed to adequately defend the loss of new ideas and vision we all observe and the potential corruption that comes with being a career politician in Congress.”

According to a recent RMG Research poll, 78% of likely voters in Tennessee support term limits on Congress, including strong support among Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike.
U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel commended the Tennessee House of Representatives saying, “The people of Tennessee are lucky to have public servants who see what is going on in D.C. and are willing to take action to fix it. They know that Congress won’t set term limits on itself. Therefore, it is the obligation of the states to do so.”

Once the senate passes the sister resolution, Tennessee will join other states in the call for a convention for the exclusive purpose of proposing term limits on the U.S. Congress. Thirty-four state legislatures must pass similar resolutions on the topic and approve the term limits amendment before it goes to the states for ratification.

Hargett signs letter opposing federal voting bill

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee’s Tre Hargett has signed onto a letter from from Republican secretaries of state opposing legislation in congress aiming to set national voting guidelines. The letter is written by John Merrill of Alabama and signed by 15 other top state election officials.

The letter comes as Tennessee’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery has also joined Republican colleagues from other states in opposing the legislation.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and House Minority Leader McCarthy:

We are writing you today to urge you to reject the “For the People Act” otherwise known as H.R. 1 or S. 1, which is a dangerous overreach by the federal government into the administration of elections.

Each state legislature should have the freedom and flexibility to determine practices that best meet the needs of their respective states. A one-size-fits-all approach mandated by Congress is not the solution to any of our problems.

These bills intrude upon our constitutional rights, and further sacrifice the security and integrity of the elections process. We firmly believe the authority to legislate and regulate these changes should be left with the states.

H.R. 1 and S. 1 blatantly undermine the extensive work we, as election officials, have completed in order to provide safe, accessible voting options for our constituencies. Many of the proposed practices would reverse the years of progress that has been made. We are strongly opposed to these bills and hope you will dismiss efforts to advance this legislation.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter.

/SIGNED/

John H. Merrill
Alabama Secretary of State

Kevin Meyer
Alaska Lieutenant Governor

Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State

Connie Lawson
Indiana Secretary of State

Scott Schwab
Kansas Secretary of State

Michael Adams
Kentucky Secretary of State

Kyle Ardoin
Louisiana Secretary of State

Bob Evnen
Nebraska Secretary of State

Alvin A. Jaeger
North Dakota Secretary of State

Steve Barnett
South Dakota Secretary of State

Tre Hargett
Tennessee Secretary of State

Mac Warner
West Virginia Secretary of State

Ed Buchanan
Wyoming Secretary of State

Slatery signs onto GOP AGs’ letter criticizing congressional voting bill

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has signed on to a letter urging the defeat of a bill by congressional Democrats they say would “federalize state elections and impose burdensome costs and regulations on state and local officials.”

The letter is written by Indiana AG Todd Rokita and joined by 19 others including Slatery.

Here’s the full text (footnotes omitted):

Dear Madame Speaker, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McConnell:

As the chief legal officers of our states, we write regarding H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2021 (the “Act”) and any companion Senate bill. As introduced, the Act betrays several Constitutional deficiencies and alarming mandates that, if passed, would federalize state elections and impose burdensome costs and regulations on state and local officials. Under both the Elections Clause of Article I of the Constitution and the Electors Clause of Article II, States have principal—and with presidential elections, exclusive— responsibility to safeguard the manner of holding elections. The Act would invert that constitutional structure, commandeer state resources, confuse and muddle elections procedures, and erode faith in our elections and systems of governance. Accordingly, Members of Congress may wish to consider the Act’s constitutional vulnerabilities as well as the policy critiques of state officials.

First, the Act regulates “election for Federal office,” defined to include “election for the office of President or Vice President.”1 The Act therefore implicates the Electors Clause, which expressly affords “Each State” the power to “appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” the state’s

allotment of presidential electors, and separately affords Congress only the more limited power to “determine the Time of chusing the Electors.” That exclusive division of power for setting the “manner” and “time” of choosing presidential electors differs markedly from the collocated powers of the Article I Elections Clause, which says that both States and Congress have the power to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of congressional elections. That distinction is not an accident of drafting. After extensive debate, the Constitution’s Framers deliberately excluded Congress from deciding how presidential electors would be chosen in order to avoid presidential dependence on Congress for position and authority. Accordingly, the Supreme Court, in upholding a Michigan statute apportioning presidential electors by district, observed that the Electors Clause “convey[s] the broadest power of determination” and “leaves it to the [state] legislature exclusively to define the method” of appointment of electors. McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1, 27 (1892) (emphasis added). The exclusivity of state power to “define the method” of choosing presidential electors means that Congress may not force states to permit presidential voting by mail or curbside voting, for example.

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Roe announces plan to retire from Congress, setting off mad scramble

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) announced Friday he won’t seek a seventh term in Congress, a decision likely to set off a mad scramble among potential successors. State lawmakers expected to consider bids include House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison of Cosby and fellow GOP Reps. David Hawk of Greeneville, Timothy Hill of Blountville, and maybe even Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough. Jon Lundberg of Bristol is the only sitting  state Senate member believed to be mulling it over. Add to that a laundry list of current and former mayors from northeast Tennessee district. It’s likely to be a wild ride.

For an in-depth look at previous races and potential candidates in the 1st District, see the Dec. 6 print edition of The Tennessee Journal.

Here’s Roe’s full statement:

Serving East Tennesseans these past 11 years has been the honor of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the trust my friends and neighbors put in me to represent them. As someone who practiced medicine for over 30 years, I said I would serve five or six terms because I never intended this job to be a second career. After prayerful consideration, I have decided to retire at the end of the 116th Congress.

First and foremost, I want to thank my family. No one could do this job without a loving a supportive family, and I look forward to spending more time at home with my wife Clarinda, my adult children and my grandchildren.

As a veteran, I was honored to be selected to chair the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2017. I had one, three and six-year legislative goals for the committee: to increase access to care, improve the electronic health records system, review VA assets to ensure an effective use of resources, and bring true accountability to the department. I never could have imagined that we would accomplish all that in my first term leading the committee – in large part because of the leadership of President Trump. In particular, I was proud to author the MISSION Act – a transformative piece of legislation to ensure veterans have the ability to receive the best possible care now, and in the future – and the Forever GI Bill – to ensure veterans never lose access to the education benefits they have earned. I’ll leave Congress at the end of the year knowing that our nation’s heroes are better served today because of our work. I am still hopeful that, before the 116th Congress adjourns, we will pass important reforms that improve outreach to veterans in crisis to address the suicide epidemic.

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Lee’s Medicaid block grant proposal deemed ‘illegal’ by House chairman

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at the state Capitol on Sept. 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s application for a Medicaid block grant is drawing fire from a power chairman in the U.S. House, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

“This is illegal and the Trump Administration does not have the authority to do this,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter.

“I wrote to [Health Secretary Alex] Azar this summer reminding him HHS does not have legal authority to implement a block grant or per capita cap on the Medicaid program,” Pallone said. “While Secretary Azar has yet to respond to me, ignoring oversight letters from Congress doesn’t change the fact that block granting Medicaid is illegal.”

The Tennessee proposal has drawn praise from Republican Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn.

The details of Lee’s block grant application were unveiled this week, launching a 30-comment period before it is submitted to the federal government. Supporters say it can be approved without congressional oversight.

“Gov. Lee has reiterated that point throughout this process and it will be up to [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] to communicate what they are willing to accept during the negotiations,” said Laine Arnold, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Corker trying, again, to set up congressional block to Trump tariffs

Republican Sen. Bob Corker is making a new push to allow Congress to block President Donald Trump’s tariffs on U.S. allies, though GOP leaders may stop it in its tracks once again, reports Politico.

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