Holt whitt

Sexton hires Arnold as chief of staff

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has hired Sammie Arnold, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Economic and Community Development, as his chief of staff.

Arnold’s wife, Laine, is Gov. Bill Lee’s communications director. His first day in Sexton’s office is Sept. 1.

The chief of staff position has been open since Scott Gilmer left in January 2020. Holt Whitt served as interim chief until he was questioned by FBI agents in connection with a raid on three lawmakers’ homes and offices in January 2021. Whitt was placed on leave while the investigation was underway. He was hired as a senior adviser in the state Department of Human Resources in July after obtaining a letter from prosecutors saying he was considered a witness.

Here’s the full release from Sexton’s office.

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) today announced Sammie Arnold as his new Chief of Staff in the Tennessee House of Representatives.  

“I am excited to announce Sammie Arnold as my new Chief of Staff,” said Speaker Sexton. “I’ve known Sammie and his family for several years and have worked with him extensively throughout his time as a staffer with former Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as in his roles with our Department of Economic and Community Development. Sammie’s extensive knowledge of our Tennessee communities, experience in public policy, and working with the General Assembly over the years not only makes him a great choice for the position but will ensure a smooth transition without missing a beat.”  

A native of Dyersburg, Arnold most recently served as Assistant Commissioner of Community and Rural Development for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD). In this role at TNECD, Arnold was tasked with overseeing the department’s efforts to boost investment and development in the state’s rural communities, emphasizing Tennessee’s distressed and at-risk counties.  

“It is an incredible honor to join Speaker Sexton and his team as Chief of Staff in the Tennessee House of Representatives,” said Arnold. “I have known and admired Speaker Sexton since he was first elected to the General Assembly, and no one is better equipped than he is to lead this body during this moment of unprecedented opportunity for our state. I look forward to working with him to ensure he and all of our members continue to serve their constituents with the utmost success.”  

Before joining TNECD, Arnold served as legislative liaison for former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. He was also a staffer on former Gov. Haslam’s successful gubernatorial campaign. Arnold earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Vanderbilt University and his Juris Doctor from the University of Tennessee College of Law. He lives in Nashville with his wife Laine and daughter Magnolia.  

His first day as Chief of Staff is Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021.  

Cameron Sexton is the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. A former Republican Caucus Chairman, Majority Whip, and House Health Committee Chairman, Sexton resides in Crossville. He is in his sixth term serving House District 25, which includes Cumberland, Putnam, and Van Buren Counties.  

In search of Phoenix Solutions

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Journal has ventured deep into New Mexico in search of the elusive political mail vendor believed to be at the center of a federal investigation into three sitting state lawmakers.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions is a mailbox store in a strip mall in Santa Fe, located next to a shuttered vape shop. Other businesses in the complex include a Harbor Freight tool store, a Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant, and a drive-thru coffee shop called Agapao. Felipe’s Tacos is located across the street. There was no sign of the vendor’s purported proprietor, Matthew Phoenix, whom nobody has been able to reach since last year.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The FBI in January raided the offices of Republican Reps. Glen Casada of Franklin, Robin Smith of Hixson, and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, along with the home of Cade Cothren, the former chief of staff to Casada when he was House speaker. Investigators have been mum about the reasons for the raid, but speculation has centered on the sudden prominence of Phoenix Solutions starting in early 2020.

The mailing address of Phoenix Solutions, a PostNet store in Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Holt Whitt, the interim chief of staff for Casada and current speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has obtained a letter from federal prosecutors that he is considered a witness in the case. Suspended after he was questioned in the January raids, Whitt has now been hired as Human Resources adviser in Gov. Bill Lee’s adminstration.

Is Matthew Phoenix out here somewhere? Santa Fe, N.M., on July 2, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)