house republican caucus

First House GOP meeting following FBI raid will be secret

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is seen through a smoked glass window to a closed Republican caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is holding its first meeting since federal agents descended on the homes and offices of three sitting GOP members. It will be closed to the press and public under a new rule adopted by its members without debate following the November elections.

During the same meeting two years ago, then-House Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin made the hard sell on rule changes that ended the unrestricted power of the speaker pro tem to vote in any committees and eliminated floor speeches unrelated to pending bills or motions (the latter appeared to apply to all but then-Rep. John DeBerry or Memphis, who was continued to be allowed to speechify to his heart’s content).

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) speaks to reporters in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Casada and fellow Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill were the subjects of FBI searches on Friday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not yet announced the reason for the probe. Search warrant affidavits remain sealed.

The meeting takes place on Tuesday morning before lawmakers are scheduled to start the 112th General Assembly by electing their respective speakers. Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are expected to be re-elected without much trouble.

Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) is sworn into the House in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Republican Caucus meetings remain open to the public.

Step 1: Make all the House GOP meetings secret

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)

Before the House Republican Caucus could go about electing its leaders this week, Rep. Chris Todd of Jackson stood to make a motion for all further GOP meetings to be closed to the public and the media.

There was no debate about the need for blanket secrecy. And fittingly, the members took a vote via secret ballot. The motion passed 56-11.

The question of whether to keep caucus meetings open has been discussed within the House GOP for years. When they were in the minority, Republicans complained bitterly that the media ignored their meetings and pronouncements. Once they gained a majority, however, members quickly moved to shut down access. Matters have been complicated by Republicans gaining a supermajority in the chamber, because it means any caucus decision could easily carry over as the action of the House as a whole.

Senate Republican Caucus rules require meetings featuring the equivalent of a quorum to be open to the public.

Here are the candidates for House GOP leadership

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Following Rep. Andrew Farmer’s withdrawal as a candidate for House majority leader, the only remaining contested GOP leadership race appears to be for caucus chair, where Robin Smith is challenging Jeremy Faison.

Here’s the list circulated among House Republican Caucus members (with the caveat that nominations will also be allowed to be made at the GOP meeting on Tuesday) :

Speaker

  • Cameron Sexton

Speaker Pro Tempore

  • Pat Marsh

Republican Leader

  • William Lamberth

Republican Caucus Chair

  • Jeremy Faison
  • Robin Smith

Assistant Majority Leader

  • Ron Gant

Caucus Whip

  • Johnny Garrett

Floor Leader

  • Paul Sherrell

Caucus Vice-Chair

  • Brandon Ogles

Caucus Secretary

  • vacant

Caucus Treasurer

  • Mark Cochran

Fiscal Review

  • Clark Boyd
  • Jason Zachary
  • Kelly Keisling
  • Kevin Vaughan
  • Ron Gant
  • Rush Bricken
  • Scott Cepicky

7 Republicans decline to sign state House letter demanding litigation over presidential election

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is getting in on the letter-writing campaign to support President Donald Trump’s lawsuits over having the outcome of the presidential election called against him.

“When there are alleged software glitches, lost or destroyed ballots, and questionable practices implemented in some areas of the country, litigation must have a day in court to decide the outcome of this election process,” according to the letter signed by 66 of 73 House members.

Just as with an earlier letter written by state Senate Republicans, there were holdouts. Seven members of the lower chamber declined to affix their signatures to the communique: Reps. Michael Curcio of Dickson, Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Justin Lafferty of Knoxville, Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, Bob Ramsey of Maryville, and Sam Whitson of Franklin.

Here’s the letter:

To all Tennesseans,

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus unequivocally and staunchly stands with President of the United States Donald J. Trump in demanding that all legal ballots, and only legal ballots, be counted in the 2020 presidential election.

Voting is one of the most fundamental pieces of our American republic. One person equals one vote in a system that grants justice and equality for all in deciding our government. In an election where there are alleged examples of voter fraud and malpractice, Tennessee Republicans stand with the rule of law.

We shall not accept the idea that the national media or the political elite have the official say on the winner of any election, let alone the presidency. It is up to the official systems put in place by the constitution and by the people. When there are alleged software glitches, lost or destroyed ballots, and questionable practices implemented in some areas of the country, litigation must have a day in court to decide the outcome of this election process.

We uphold the idea of protecting the rights of all Americans, liberal or conservative, to have their voices heard. After all legal ballots are counted and any illegal ballots are removed, we support confirming the victor. A peaceful transition to the next term, whether it be the incumbent or the challenger, is paramount to our system of government.

We stand with all Tennesseans in defending the integrity of elections. We are asking for the election process to have the ability to finish before prematurely declaring a winner.

It matters who governs,

/signed/
Speaker Cameron Sexton
Chairman Jeremy Faison
Leader William Lamberth
Rebecca Alexander
Charlie Baum
Clark Boyd
Rush Bricken
David Byrd
Kent Calfee
Scotty Campbell
Dale Carr
Michele Carringer
Mike Carter
Glen Casada
Scott Cepicky
Mark Cochran
John Crawford
Tandy Darby
Clay Doggett
Rick Eldridge
Andrew Farmer
Ron Gant
John Gillespie
Bruce Griffey
Rusty Grills
Curtis Halford
Mark Hall
Kirk Haston
David Hawk
Esther Helton
Gary Hicks
Tim Hicks
John Holsclaw
Dan Howell
Bud Hulsey
Chris Hurt
Curtis Johnson
Kelly Keisling
Sabi Kumar
Tom Leatherwood
Mary Littleton
Susan Lynn
Pat Marsh
Debra Moody
Jerome Moon
Brandon Ogles
Dennis Powers
John Ragan
Jay Reedy
Tim Rudd
Iris Rudder
Lowell Russell
Jerry Sexton
Paul Sherrell
Robin Smith
Mike Sparks
Bryan Terry
Chris Todd
Ron Travis
Kevin Vaughan
Todd Warner
Terri Lynn Weaver
Mark White
Ryan Williams
Dave Wright
Jason Zachary
 

House GOP leaders: ‘Trust us’ on secret budget discussions

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After the House Republican supermajority holed up behind closed doors for 75 minutes to discuss the massive overhaul of the state’s budget in response to the coronavirus crisis, Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) and Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) spoke to reporters about their justifications for the secret meeting.

Here’s a partial transcript of what was said:

Lamberth: We’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s a transparent process. That includes, from time to time having a caucus meeting that is a closed caucus meeting so they can merely have the information, but no decisions were made.

Q: Just to clarify, a closed caucus meeting is transparent?

Lamberth: Absolutely. It will be prepare us to be able to discuss this later. And everything that was said in that room will be said again on the record. We emphasized that to the members. No decisions were made, no votes were taken whatsoever, and none will be taken in there. What was done was to lay out a schedule for what will happen for the rest of the day, and to lay out the information they have that will be provided to anyone else who wants it.

Q: How will the public know what that schedule is?

Lamberth: What we’re asking is for you to trust us right now. We will continue to get that information out there every single day.

[….]

Q: The Senate rules dictate that when the caucus meets, because they have a majority of the chamber, they must be open. Why have you guys not followed suit, and why should the House supermajority be able to talk behind closed doors?

Faison: Obviously, we don’t follow what the Senate does. We do what we believe is right for our people and our members.

Q: And it’s right to meet behind closed doors when you have a supermajority?

Faison: If we were making a decision, or taking a vote, or whipping a vote or anything like that, I would be vehemently against closing our doors.

[…]

Q: What about the funding for the Education Savings Account law. Was that discussed?

Faison: We discussed what is currently in the budget that deals with ESAs, and the lack of it dealing with ESAs. There’s appropriation in this budget that a lot of people erroneously thought had something to do with implementing ESAs or making ESAs happen. In fact, the money that’s appropriated in this current budget is money that will go to the public schools in Nashville and Memphis.

Q: But that’s for the implementation of the ESA program.

Faison: It does not have anything to do with the implementation of the program. What it has to do with is if a student and their guardian chooses to come out of a public school, the money that follows them goes to the new school they’re going to and we have created a whole separate pot of money that holds that public school harmless. …. We’re in a place right now that we’re not going to get into the politics of what we did with the bills we passed last year.

[…]

Q:  Surely the money could be used to go toward the raises for teachers whose raises are going to be cut?

Faison: We do have a 2% raise for teachers. We’ve dialed back on a lot of stuff.

Q: Why not use the $37 million for the ESA program for teacher raises? If the program isn’t funded, it can’t go forward.

Lamberth: That is absolutely not true. And as my friend, you know that is not true. You are well aware what this money is for. Whatever talking point you got from the Democratic caucus is not accurate. This money in this budget goes to public schools. You know it and I would appreciate it you get that information out there.

Q: As a reminder, 20 Republicans voted against this legislation, so it’s not just Democrats.

Lamberth: That is a Democratic talking point, and you know it. This money goes to public schools. The ESA program can go forward without this money. It is our preference is to backfill any of that money to a public school.. That’s what this money goes to. Period.

Casada considering bid for vacant whip position

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) greets colleagues during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to allow the House majority whip position to remain vacant for the rest of the year has been abandoned and the caucus now plans to hold a vote on Jan. 27. Speculation immediately turned to whether Rep. Glen Casada, who was driven from the House speakership last year, might jump in the race.

Casada (R-Franklin) tells The Tennessee Journal he hasn’t yet made up his mind. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s made a leadership rebound. Casada was widely seen as the Republican favorite to be nominated speaker in 2010, not least because of the fierce opposition by then-ascendant tea party forces to Beth Harwell’s bid. But Casada ended up losing to Harwell (R-Nashville).

Instead of sending him into internal exile, Harwell decided to keep Casada in the fold by naming him chairman of the Health Committee. He received high marks in that role but was soon back to focusing on politics over policy after winning back his former post as House Republican Caucus chairman two years later. But Casada increasingly became a thorn in Harwell’s side in that role (and later as majority leader) by encouraging GOP colleagues to pursue hot-button bills as he began preparing for his own speaker’s bid.

The House majority whip’s main responsibility in election years is to oversee incumbents’ reelection efforts. The position is open because of the resignation of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) amid a caucus fight over anonymous Twitter posts. The post has previously been held by the likes of Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) and former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).

House GOP congratulates Grills on special election win

Rusty Grills has won the special election to serve out the term of resigned Rep. Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) in House District 77 in northwest Tennessee. And the House GOP is understandably thrilled about it.

Here is the celebratory release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee House Republican leadership including House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), and House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) today congratulated Rusty Grills on his overwhelming victory during last night’s special election to fill the vacant District 77 seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

A current Dyer County Commissioner, Grills received 85 percent of the vote Thursday evening, overwhelmingly defeating democratic challenger Michael Smith and three independent candidates. He fills the vacancy created when former five-term State Rep. Bill Sanderson stepped down in early September.

“Congratulations to conservative Rusty Grills on his resounding victory during last night’s special election,” said Speaker Sexton. “Having campaigned with him, Rusty is committed to fighting for his constituents and upholding their conservative values. I know he will do a great job serving his community, West Tennessee, and our state. I look forward to working with him in Nashville, and I welcome him to our General Assembly.”

“It matters who governs, and the citizens of District 77 have overwhelmingly sent a true conservative to Nashville to serve them,” said Leader Lamberth. “We are excited to have Rep. Grills join our General Assembly, and I am confident Rusty will be a strong voice for his community.”

“I want to congratulate Rusty Grills on his victory and welcome the newest member of our House Republican Caucus to Nashville,” said Chairman Faison. “I have enjoyed getting to know Rusty over the last few weeks, and I know he will do a great job representing the men, women, and families of District 77.”

Rep. Grills will officially be sworn in when the new legislative year begins on Jan. 14, 2020.

Wake me up when September ends? Byrd still mum on re-election plans

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) tried to defuze efforts to oust him from the General Assembly during a special session in August by telling GOP colleagues behind closed doors that he wouldn’t run for re-election next year. When confronted by The Tennessean afterward, Byrd declined to confirm anything, saying only he would have a statement about his plans in September.

Well, September has come and gone. And Byrd, who has never publicly addressed sexual misconduct allegations dating back to when he was a girls high school basketball coach, still hasn’t made any public pronouncements. The lawmaker didn’t respond to several efforts by The Tennessean to reach him for comment.

Rep. Farmer ends law firm advertising campaign touting lawmaker role

State Rep. Andrew Farmer, a likely choice to become House judiciary chairman had an unrelated leadership vote turned out differently, has abandoned a billboard campaign for his law firm touting his role as “an actual lawmaker,” The Tennessean’Joel Ebert reports.

“Who better to argue the law than an actual lawmaker?” read the billboards advertising Farmer’s personal injury, criminal defense, and family law practice.

Farmer said he sought approval from the state Board of Professional Responsibility and ethics officials about the language used in the ads before putting them up. He then started getting calls from constituents raising concerns.

“The first phone call I got, they said, it might be some people are taking this the wrong way,” Farmer told the paper. He then decided to change the billboards.

Farmer, of Sevierville, is the chairman of the House criminal justice subcommittee. He was widely believed to be the frontrunner to succeed House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curico had the latter won his bid for House Republican Caucus chairman. But Curcio lost to Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), so nothing has changed within the Judiciary Committee.

Farmer said he doesn’t use his elected office to drum up business.

“When I talk to clients … I don’t say, ‘Hey hire me because I’m in the legislature,'” he said. “I think that’s over the line.”

Read the full story here.

Faison wins 4-way race for House GOP Caucus chair

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) speaks to colleagues after being elected House Republican Caucus chair in Nashville on Aug. 22, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby has been elected chair of the House Republican Caucus. The position was vacated by the nomination of Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) as House speaker.

Faison defeated Rep. Michael Curcio of Dickson in the final ballot on a 40-31 vote. Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain was eliminated in the second round and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station failed to clear the first round.

Faison is known for his bombastic persona and his vocal support for legalizing medical marijuana. He has shown an uncanny ability to count votes within the caucus. His prediction for his caucus chair victory was within one vote, and he was almost as close in his count going into the caucus meeting to declare lost confidence in former Speaker Glen Casada in May.