john ragan

Lee declines to sign nullification resolution passed during special session

A statue of President Andrew Jackson is seen in front of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a resolution passed during a recent special session touting the state’s purported right to pass laws to nullify federal COVID-19 vaccination and mask requirements.

The Republican governor does not appear to have transmitted a statement to lawmakers about why he is allowing the resolution to go into effect without his signature.

The Senate version passed 24-6, while the House vote was 64-17.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) carried the measure on behalf of House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).

“The nullification theory was first broached in 1832 when Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson was president,” Ragan said in floor comments. “The state of South Carolina began it, and President Jackson threatened to invade with federal troops to settle the issue. However, the federal government ultimately backed down.”

Ragan’s statement drew a retort from Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

“I wanted to make sure the record was clear: the federal government didn’t back down, South Carolina quit,” said Curcio, who voted against the resolution. “But they continued in their behavior until eventually Fort Sumter was fired on, creating a tragedy for this country. I want to remind everybody that emulating such behavior is very, very serious.”

The full language of the resolution follows.

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GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While many members of the General Assembly are privately breathing a sigh of relief about the defeat of a resolution to throw out a judge over an absentee balloting ruling last summer, they are now being faced with another threatened ouster, this time of Republican Gov. Bill Lee if he were to violate a proposed new ban on moving busts from the second floor of the state Capitol.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) have introduced legislation to reconstitute the Tennessee Historical Commission to give the General Assembly control over eight of its 12 members. The panel, which last week OK’d moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to the State Museum, is currently appointed by the governor.

Ragan has also had an amendment drafted declaring:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the statues currently on the second floor of the state capitol must never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion without approval in accordance with this section and must be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.

If an elected official were to go ahead and do it anyway, “the violation is an impeachable offense and grounds for ouster,” according to the amendment. Public officials would also be personally liable for damages, penalties, and fines.

Ragan was scheduled to present his bill the same day the Historical Commission voted for move the Forrest bust, but he took the measure off notice (which used to mean it was dead, but now indicates it could come back at any time). Hensley is scheduled to present the upper chamber’s version on Wednesday.

The Ragan amendment also includes a provision to add protections for monuments located on private land. If approved, it would likely apply to the garish Forrest statue alongside I-65 in Nashville that its late owner left to either the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Battle of Nashville Trust. The latter has said it would remove the statue.

It is unlawful for a person, firm, corporation, or other entity acting without authority to multimate, deface, defile, abuse contemptuously, relocate, remove, or obscure a privately owned monument, plaque, marker or memorial that is dedicated is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state , the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.