CPAC

Few surprises in CPAC ratings of Tennessee congressional delegation

The American Conservative Union Foundation, the organizer of CPAC conferences, is out with its latest congressional ratings. The Tennessee delegation’s scores are about what one would expect.

Here are this year’s ratings, with last year’s scores listed in parenthesis:

Senate

Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood): 92% (96%).

Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville): 92% (n/a).

House

1st District: Diana Harshbarger (R-Kingsport): 96% (n/a).

2nd District: Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville): 97% (79%).

3rd District: Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga): 79% (79%).

4th District: Scott DesJarlais (R-Sherwood): 90% (98%).

5th District: Jim Cooper (D-Nashville): 8% (4%).

6th District: John Rose (R-Cookeville): 94% (89%).

7th District: Mark Green (R-Ashland City): 96% (85%).

8th District: David Kustoff (R-Memphis): 79% (78%).

9th District: Steve Cohen (D-Memphis): 3% (0%).

CPAC organizer pans Tennessee’s ‘truth-in-sentencing’ bill

Lawmakers attend Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union is speaking out against legislation pending in the Tennessee General Assembly to make people convicted of violent crimes serve 100% of their sentences without the possibility of parole. The measure has been championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and his Senate counterpart, Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), but appears to fly in the face of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s criminal justice reform efforts.

Lawmakers are expected to include the sentencing measure in the annual state spending plan they intend to pass later this week.

Legislative analysts have projected a $28 million annual cost increase for making the change, while the state Department of Correction puts the number at $90 million.

“It would be one thing to spend massive sums on prisons if the proposal was based on evidence that requiring criminals to serve 100% of their sentences would increase public safety,” according to the letter. “However, there is no such data.”

The ACU “strongly opposes” the bill and urges lawmakers to reject it. Voting in favor will adversely affect annual lawmaker rankings, the group said.

Here’s the letter sent to McNally and Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga):

Dear Lt. Governor McNally and Chairman Watson:

The American Conservative Union (“ACU”) is the nation’s oldest grassroots advocacy organization. Founded in 1964 by William F. Buckley, we have a 50-plus-year track record of advancing policies that reduce the size and scope of government, advance liberty, and reduce burdens on families.

Historically, Tennessee has been a beacon of conservative principles and leadership. With an overall rating of 74% all-time from our sister organization, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Tennessee stands head and shoulders above other state legislatures in its conservative voting record. But we find ourselves very concerned about a particular proposal making its way through the legislature: House Bill 2656/Senate Bill 2248.

Commonly referred to as “Truth in Sentencing,” the proposal under consideration would require individuals convicted of certain crimes to serve 100 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for release. While this sounds tough on crime and reasonable on its face, there are many factors that go into the effectiveness and long-term consequences of such policy changes. More than 90% of those in Tennessee’s prisons will pay their debts to society and return to their communities. Our goal is to have them return as better versions of themselves by completing their education, addressing addiction, and participating in mental health counseling and other proven anti-recidivism programs. Offering prisoners time off for good behavior is a key incentive that makes this possible, and in turn makes Tennessee safer.

Of course, no one is arguing that people should be given a pass for wrongdoing. Those who break the law must be held accountable for their actions. The counter is that if we fail to provide incentives, prisons will remain mere warehouses of humanity. Those returning will be no better than when they went in. And this means that Tennessee communities will forgo public safety benefits that would otherwise be available.

Adding to the concerns around the public safety impact of this bill is the tremendous uncertainty around its true fiscal impact. While the fiscal note indicates this bill will create $27.7 million in increased expenditures, TDOC data reflects costs much closer to $90 million. One report reflects that increasing aggravated burglary offenses alone to 100 percent will cost taxpayers $38.7 million per year, including $8.7 million of that absorbed locally.

As eye-opening as these numbers are (especially for a state that prides itself on fiscal conservativism), this legislation could cost taxpayers far more. According to TDOC testimony before the Senate Judiciary, cost projections around this bill do not account for the possibility that new prison facilities might be necessary to accommodate the prison population growth that would result from the passage of this bill. With Tennessee’s prisons are already operating at 92% capacity, there would become a much higher likelihood TDOC will either have to build new prisons or contract for more capacity. Either option is likely to run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in new government spending.

It would be one thing to spend massive sums on prisons if the proposal was based on evidence that requiring criminals to serve 100% of their sentences would increase public safety. However, there is no such data. But there is analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission that indicates that early releases of drug offenders had no adverse impact on crime. In fact, there was a marginal reduction in recidivism for those who were granted early release.

Finally, we would note that eliminating time off for good behavior in the Truth in Sentencing package under consideration would endanger the safety of Tennessee’s corrections officers. Stated simply, those who have nothing to lose have no reason to follow the rules. And this has proven true in other states.

After Arizona enacted its own version of Truth In Sentencing, rules infractions in facilities increased by 50 percent, education program enrollment dropped by20 percent, and the three-year reincarceration rates rose by over 7 percentage points(a nearly 40 percent increase). Unfortunately, this trio of negative results also cost the Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars, while furthering the damage to already broken communities and families.

Accordingly, we view House Bill 2656 and Senate Bill 2248 as proposals that cost too much, do too little to make Tennessee communities safer, and endanger correctional staff along the way.

Accordingly, ACU strongly opposes this legislation and urges you to reject it. We have also recommended to our colleagues at the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Legislative Accountability (Ratings) that they rate a vote to approve HB 2656/SB2248 negatively in our 2022 ratings.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me […].

Respectfully,

Patrick Plein

American Conservative Union

Mark Green is getting involved where now?

U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) has long been known for his pursuit of higher office, whether it is for governor, U.S. Senate, or beyond. He’s also been actively lobbying his former colleagues in the Tennessee legislature to not fundamentally alter his congressional district when they draw new political maps this winter.

But it turns out Green’s political interests aren’t limited to Tennessee — or even this hemisphere. The New York Times reports Green is now agitating in Brazil, where supporters of the country’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro are echoing many of the themes adopted by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

From the Times story:

Representative Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who has pushed laws combating voter fraud, met with lawmakers in Brazil to discuss “voting integrity policies.” […] The American Conservative Union paid about $15,000 to send Mr. Green, the Tennessee Republican, according to a lobbying disclosure. His planned agenda included a discussion, over lunch, of voting laws with two Brazilian members of Congress who pushed to change Brazil’s.

The American Conservative Union has been in the news in Tennessee lately following the federal indictment of Green’s former state Senate colleague Brian Kelsey on charges he conspired to funnel campaign donations to the group through two political action committees. Kelsey has pleaded not guilty.

DesJarlais, Blackburn get highest TN rankings from American Conservative Union

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn speaks at a rally in Franklin on Oct. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Per a press release from the American Conservative Union:

Alexandria, VA – The American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), host of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has just released the 50th Edition of its annual Ratings of Congress.  

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the scorecard, ACUF has released a comprehensive new platform to help better hold lawmakers accountable to conservative principles. The system breaks down the voting records of over 15,000 historical and active lawmakers and identifies each lawmaker’s specific policy strength and weakness. The system also provides head-to-head comparisons of elected officials through its 1.4 million vote database. Lawmaker ratings will be used to determine speaking invitations to CPAC and other ACU regional events.

In the 2020 session, four members of the Tennessee congressional delegation received awards for earning scores of 80% or higher from ACUF:

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (96%)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (96%)

Rep. John Rose (89%

Rep. Mark Green (85%)

Tennessee’s other Republican members received the following scores: Rep. Tim Burchett (79%), Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (79%), Rep. David Kustoff (78%), Rep. Phil Roe (74%), and Fmr. Sen. Lamar Alexander (74%).

Democratic lawmakers Rep. Jim Cooper (4%) and Rep. Steve Cohen (0%) qualified for ACUF’s “Coalition of the Radical Left” for earning scores of 10% or lower.

This year CPAC and ACUF will present awards to 122 of the 535 members of Congress. The awards are used to help voters and activists identify which lawmakers are best upholding conservative principles and who to rally behind.

To produce this year’s scorecard, the ACUF’s Center for Legislative Accountability analyzed every vote taken last session and selected a wide-array of issues relating to fiscal, tax, regulatory, education, environment, Second Amendment rights, election security, life, and government integrity. All lawmakers in America at the federal and state levels are scored on a 100-point scale.

American Conservative Union endorses Hagerty

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty attends a CPAC conference in Memphis on Oct. 27, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The American Conservative Union, the group known for putting on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is endorsing Bill Hagerty in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race.

Hagerty spoke at a regional CPAC meeting in Memphis in October 2019. Rival Republican candidate Manny Sethi was also part of the program at the event, though his speaking slot was pushed back to late in the afternoon to accommodate an appearance by My Pillow founder Michael Lindel.

The American Conservative Union in 2018 endorsed U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) in her unsuccessful bid for the gubernatorial nomination.

Here is the release endorsing Hagerty:

Alexandria, VA – The American Conservative Union (ACU) today announced its endorsement of Bill Hagerty for election in Tennessee to the United States Senate.

“In Tennessee the race to become the next U.S. Senator has come down to a choice between two candidates with conservative policy positions, but for ACU the choice is clear. We know from personal experience the impact that Bill Hagerty has had advancing conservative successes,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “Ambassador Hagerty served effectively under President Trump as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, and in that role helped shape the aggressive approach that the United States has taken over the last few years holding China more accountable on trade, national security, and human rights. The Ambassador directly assisted our efforts on CPAC Japan and helps our efforts to combat communism in Asia. Ambassador Hagerty’s accomplished record is not just one of working overseas to advance conservatism, but also here at home. He led the Trump transition team and created the single most conservative cabinet in U.S. history. We have worked with Bill Hagerty for years and in that time we have seen him as an effective leader and we know that he can do the same in Congress. That’s why we are endorsing him to be Tennessee’s next Senator.”

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