DNC

Akbari to speak at Democratic presidential convention today

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) takes a selfie with colleagues and Gov. Bill Lee before the start of the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is one of 16 speakers deemed rising Democratic stars scheduled to speak at the party’s presidential convention to nominate Joe Biden on Tuesday.

“Amidst all of the chaos and crises our nation is facing, Democrats are focused on finding new and innovative ways to engage more Americans than ever before—because that’s how we’ll mobilize the nation to defeat Donald Trump in November,” Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said in a release. “The convention keynote has always been the bellwether for the future of our party and our nation, and when Americans tune in next week they’ll find the smart, steady leadership we need to meet this critical moment.” 

Akbari was elected to the Senate in 2018 after previously serving in the state House since 2013. She is the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, former chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, and national treasurer of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. She also spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention in support of then-nominee Hillary Clinton.

State Democrats vote to keep DNC member Bill Owen despite heavy GOP donations

The state Democratic Party has turned back efforts to remove former state Sen. Bill Owen (D-Knoxville) as a member of the Democratic National Committee because of heavy donations to Republicans in recent years.

According to one of the first reports by the newly launched Tennessee Lookout, Owen survived the challenge after a three-hour meeting of the state executive committee, with the panel voting 40-15 against throwing him out.

According to OpenSecrets.org data, Owen has given nearly $32,000 in federal contributions to Republican candidates and committees since 2018, including to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz when he was running against Democrat Beto O’Rourke in Texas and to Martha McSally in her losing Senate bid in Arizona against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Owen has given $13,900 in federal contributions to Democratic candidates and committees over that same period.

Owen argued the GOP donations are the cost of doing business as a lobbyist and said he had given about $500,000 to Democrats over the years. The OpenSecrets records show Owen has given about $99,000 to Democrats on the federal level since 1994 and $39,000 to Republicans. State-level donations are not included in that tally.

The decision to keep Owen in the Democratic fold follows a recent vote to oust longtime state Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) from the primary ballot because of his habit of siding with Republicans on issues like abortion and school vouchers.

UPDATE: Here is a comment from Owen:

My contributions were for the purchase of tickets to the Senators Classic, a Republican fundraiser. I did so solely in the course of representing my client, KLOX Technologies. They manufacture a light therapy product that helps heal chronic wounds for people with diabetes. KLOX had applied for device designation in 2013, but by 2018 they had not received approval. I was contracted in May of 2018 to help move the decision through the FDA’s Office of Combination Products (OCP). Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) sponsored the Obama requested 21st Century Cures Act with the goal of bringing needed products to market more quickly. After I worked on the problem for 14 months, the OCP recommended approval and the product is now in clinical trials. Sen. Burr is also Co-Chair of The Senators Classic. Although I am pleased that the KLOX Light Therapy product should soon be available in America, I realize that my successful lobbying effort has created an appearance of a conflict. Therefore, I have terminated my Washington lobbying practice. It was not my intention to contribute to individual Republican Senators. The staff of the Senators Classic distributed the funds to the individual Senators.

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