Republicans

New TNJ edition alert: It’s primary time in Tennessee

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

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Democratic gubernatorial candidates fight it out for the privilege of taking on Bill Lee in November.

— 5th District Congressional race gets nastier as it comes down to the wire.

— A deep dive into the competitive races for the state House and Senate.

Also: The countdown for Tennessee’s near total abortion ban is underway, Lee scrambles to sign up families for school vouchers before the academic year start and supporters of bringing the Republican presidential nomination convention to Nashville consider the carrot and the stick.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: ‘Dumbest’ teachers, unconventional thinking, and nobody here but us RINOs

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters in Nashville on July 6, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Issue No. 26 of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Lee draws heavy criticism for silence on charter operator’s ‘dumb’ teachers remark.

— Unconventional thinking:  Effort to host RNC in Nashville runs into heavy opposition.

— From the campaign trail: Nobody here but us RINOs, online poll shenanigans, the race for Charlie Sargent’s old seat, and waiting for the gloves to come off in the 5th.

Also: The “poop hits the fan” in Maury County, Jimmy Matlock gets higher ed nod, economic development upheaval around the state, and a new name for invasive carp.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Tennessee reaction to Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade

Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision set off shockwaves around the country. Here is some reaction in Tennessee:

Today’s landmark Supreme Court decision marks the beginning of a hopeful, new chapter for our country. After years of heartfelt prayer and thoughtful policy, America has an historic opportunity to support women, children and strong families while reconciling the pain and loss caused by Roe v. Wade. We have spent years preparing for the possibility that authority would return to the states, and Tennessee’s laws will provide the maximum possible protection for both mother and child. In the coming days, we will address the full impacts of this decision for Tennessee. — Gov. Bill Lee.

For too long, abortion policy in this nation has been controlled by the federal judiciary. Now, once again, the voters of the individual states will have the ability to make policy through democratic means. In Tennessee, the voters have already made their views known through the passage of a constitutional amendment that makes clear that no right to abortion is contained in our constitution. With passage of our trigger law and a comprehensive heartbeat bill, Tennessee’s General Assembly has been well prepared for this day. — State Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge).

This is a victory for democracy. For the first time in almost 50 years, the voters and their elected representatives will have control over this issue rather than unelected judges, and we applaud that. This decision will allow our Tennessee laws to reflect our Tennessee values that unborn children should be protected by law and that every person deserves the right to be born. – Tennessee Right to Life President Stacy Dunn.

This decision is a direct assault on the rights of Tennesseans. The Court’s interpretation of the constitution on this issue is flawed and a direct insertion of political activism on the highest court in the land. This decision made by a conservative majority on the court, will empower a radical majority serving in state legislatures across the country. Politicians will be even more emboldened by this decision to impose their most restrictive views on us. Today, an essential and lifesaving freedom was discarded by a court installed to protect it. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Hendrell Remus.

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling ends a 50-year-long national tragedy that deprived 63 million innocent human beings of life. For decades, Republicans have fought to advance and uphold the pro-life and pro-family values held by an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans. Today, we celebrate a momentous victory. We applaud the justices for their wisdom in recognizing a vulnerable baby still in its mother’s womb is a precious life worthy of protection. Tennessee House Republicans continue our unwavering commitment to fight for families and defend the defenseless. – State House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland).

The Supreme Court’s unprecedented and unconscionable decision today rolls the clock back nearly 50 years on our fundamental rights, forcing anyone who becomes pregnant in Tennessee into second class status. And politicians won’t stop here. The same anti-abortion extremists seeking to control the bodies of pregnant people are coming for our right to access birth control and gender-affirming care, marry who we love, and vote,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

I believe we have a moral duty to protect unborn children who cannot protect themselves. Today is a consequential day, not only for those who believe that all life is a precious gift, but also for American democracy and the rule of law. This decision doesn’t ban abortion—it simply returns decision-making on abortion to the people. That’s how it should be in a republic—matters not addressed by the Constitution should be decided by the people through their elected representatives, not by nine unelected judges in Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville).

Having worked alongside Tennesseans to protect the innocent lives of unborn children for years, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling. Despite false claims from the left, this decision will not ban abortion. Instead, it returns the decision to the states and empowers state legislatures with more flexibility to craft policy through the democratic process. – U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood).

Abortion is a complicated and very personal decision. And I personally believe that we don’t spend enough time on finding solutions to the reasons why some people have to have abortions. However, this ruling means that in Tennessee, all abortions will be criminalized, including for victims of rape and incest. Women should have the right to make their own, personal healthcare decisions. This is an unfortunate decision based on politics instead of established law and, according to the vast majority of polls, the will of people. — State House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis).

Rep. Eddie Mannis is latest to retire from House

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

Freshman Rep. Eddie Mannis is the latest Tennessee lawmaker to announce he won’t run again. The Knoxville businessman is the 10th Republican to decide against seeking re-election to the House this fall (see the full list here.)

Here’s the full announcement from Mannis:

“Yesterday, I informed my fellow Representatives of my intention to not seek reelection as Representative of District 18 in the State of Tennessee General Assembly.

As my guiding principle has always, and will always be, people before politics and partisanship, I wanted to publicly share the reasons behind my decision.

The recent passing of my dad has truly forced me to do a lot of soul searching. I have heard his final words, “Follow your heart,” over and over in my head. After weeks and weeks of prayer and conversations with my family and friends, I decided not to seek reelection when the 112th adjourns. It has been a very difficult decision, but I must truly follow my heart.

Serving in the Tennessee General Assembly has been one of the most challenging, yet fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Making decisions that impact people’s lives and livelihoods is a huge responsibility. I will always be grateful to the people of the State of Tennessee, Knox County, and District 18 for allowing me this opportunity.

It has also been an indescribable honor and privilege to serve with my fellow Representatives. While we haven’t always agreed on issues and I will no longer be serving alongside them, I will continue to support them in their efforts of working towards what is right and just, and what hopefully will make us all better Tennesseans.

I look forward to returning to my business ventures, working alongside my team who have made many sacrifices over the past several years. They have afforded me the opportunity to take on two very

hard-fought campaigns and serve the people of Tennessee for the past two years. I am also excited to restart HonorAir-Knoxville and get back to serving East Tennessee Veterans after a two-and-a-half-year break during the pandemic. Continuing to serve my community will remain one of the most important aspects of my life.

Although this is a bittersweet time for me, I leave hoping that it’s obvious that I’ve tried to make the best decisions possible based on my conscience and my desire to try and do what’s right. I am grateful. Thank you

Hagerty, Blackburn endorse Taylor’s bid to succeed Kelsey (UPDATED)

In a somewhat unusual move, Tennessee U.S. Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn are making endorsements in the Republican primary to succeed indicted state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

Hagerty (R-Nashville) tweeted Wednesday morning that he is backing Brent Taylor, a funeral home operator who recently resigned as chair of the Shelby County Election Commission. Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is also endorsing Taylor, per a news release.

Kelsey announced recently that he won’t seek another term in the Senate to pursue an “exciting change in my personal life.” Kelsey is awaiting trial in January 2023 on federal criminal charges related to a failed bid for Congres in 2016.

Another announced candidate in the District 31 race is Brandon Toney, a Germantown nurse practitioner who has called Kelsey “embarrassing for all of us.” Former Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd has also expressed interest in running for the GOP nomination. House Commerce Chair Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville) was heavily encouraged to run for the seat before Kelsey’s retirement announcement, but decided to run for another term in the lower chamber.

Watson aide Wittum leaning toward congressional bid in new 5th District

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and other check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tres Wittum, a research analyst to state Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga), is considering a bid for the newly drawn 5th Congressional District.

Wittum, who once mulled a Republican primary challenge of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in the 3rd District, was among potential 5th District candidates introducing themselves at a Wilson County Republican Party event over the weekend.

“I have worked in the Tennessee legislature for 11 years,” he said. “I do serve the chairman of Senate Finance, Ways, and Means, who is a tough, tough, tough fiscal hawk. So when it comes to budgeting, believe me, I have been educated by the best.”

Wittum was briefly the chair of the Davidson County Republican Party in 2017, but was ousted by the GOP’s state executive committee after a challenge to his bona fides for failing to have voted in enough statewide primaries.

Wittum noted that he first came to Tennessee to work on the 2009 Hannah Montana movie.

“It’s kind of like deja vu. It’s like, you worked on movie where you’re trying to save a community through Tennessee values away from the big construction from New York and LA, which is interesting, because it looks like we’re probably gonna be doing that here in this congressional race.”

“Politics is like Hollywood for the ugly,” he said. “So, here here I am. And I’m ready to play. Thank you.”

Those running for the Republican nomination so far include former state House Speaker Beth Harwell, former U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, music video producer Robby Starbuck, and retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead. Businessman Baxter Lee has filed papers to raise money, but hasn’t formally announced his candidacy.

Pompeo endorses former spokeswoman Ortagus in 5th District

Morgan Ortagus

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has endorsed former spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.

Ortagus landed the endorsement of former President Donald Trump before formally announcing her bid earlier this month. Some state lawmakers have chafed at her candidacy because she and her husband have only lived in Nashville for a year. A proposal to require a three-year residency to run in congressional primaries is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, but has yet to gain any traction in the House.

“I’ll leave state matters to the state legislature,” Ortagus said in a statement last week. “I’m focused on earning the support of the 5th District Tennesseans who want a conservative fighter to defend President Trump’s agenda.”

Here’s the release from Pompeo’s Champion American Values PAC:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today endorsed Morgan Ortagus for Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Speaking about his endorsement, Secretary Mike Pompeo said, “A Republican majority in the House of Representatives is critical to stopping Joe Biden’s extreme agenda, and that means we’ll need to win in multiple Democrat-held seats throughout the country. In Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District, I can’t think of a stronger candidate than Morgan Ortagus. Morgan played a critical role in our administration’s efforts to put America first and to restore American greatness to our foreign policy. She has served her country honorably in the executive branch and in our military, and I know she’ll continue to champion the American values we share in Congress. I encourage all freedom-loving Tennesseans in the Fifth Congressional District to join me in fully supporting Morgan in the primary this August.”

“I’m humbled to be endorsed by Secretary Pompeo, a man I was honored to work for on behalf of the American people,” said Morgan Ortagus. “Together, we stood firmly against authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba both at home and around the world. In Congress, I’ll continue to fight for freedom and to preserve the American Dream. The forces of communism seek to forever snuff out the flame of liberty– Mike Pompeo and I won’t let that happen.”

Tennessee Democratic Party urges Senate not to oust Robinson

State Sen. Katrina Robinson confers with Rep. G.A. Hardaway (both D-Memphis) after the Sente Ethics Committee recommended Robinson’s expulsion on Jan. 20, 20222. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state Democratic Party is urging Republicans not to go through with ousting Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) from the chamber on Wednesday.

A jury has found Robinson guilty on two counts of wire fraud, but the senator has yet to be sentenced in federal court. Robinson also struck a deal for pretrial diversion in a separate case alleging she defrauded to pre-trial diversion on separate case in which the government alleged she conspired to cheat a man out of $14,470 by falsely claiming the money was needed to cover tuition for a student at her nursing school.

Here’s the release from the Tennessee Democratic Party:

Tomorrow, the full Tennessee State Senate will join a premature and ill-advised effort by a select few to remove duly elected State Senator Katrina Robinson from her seat in the Tennessee State Legislature.

Once again, we see Republicans rush to judgment on their Democratic colleague in a blatant attempt to ruin her career in the name of ethics. The ethical thing for the State Senate to do is provide her with the same due diligence that it has provided her male colleagues in the past. With impending court proceedings, she deserves the right to continue serving until this legal matter has reached its final outcome. 

This action sends a message to women seeking to serve, especially those of color, that State Legislators can deny you a fair process but, most importantly, show complete disregard to due process in hopes of scoring political points. We are encouraging State Senators to give Senator Robinson a fair opportunity and to not uphold the recommendation for expulsion. 

A preemptive decision to remove her from the Senate prior to the final outcome of her ongoing legal matter that has continuously evolved in a way that has favored her, would be a mistake and would set the wrong precedent for the future. 

Jim Cooper to retire from Congress after 5th District redistricting

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) appears at a Senate redistricting meeting in Nashville on Oct. 18, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper says he won’t run for another term after Republicans split Nashville into three congressional districts.

“I am a proud Democrat who refuses to demagogue, and who chooses to be on the right side of history in order to give all our kids a better future,” Cooper said in a statement. “My votes certainly fueled our Republican legislature’s revenge.”

Here is the full release from Cooper’s office:

NASHVILLE – Today Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) released the following statement:

“Today I am announcing that I will not run for re-election to Congress. After 32 years in office, I will be leaving Congress next year.

“I cannot thank the people of Nashville enough. You backed me more than almost anyone in Tennessee history, making me the state’s 3rd longest-serving member of Congress. You allowed me to help millions of people while representing our state capital, as well as 30 of our state’s 95 counties.

“Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville. No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.

“I am announcing my decision promptly so that others have more time to campaign. I will return the individual contributions that I have received for this race so that donors can redirect them as they choose.

“I plan on finishing out my term by maintaining a high level of service to all the 760,000+ people in the 5th congressional district. A member of Congress is only as good as his staff, and I’ve had the very best talent for almost 40 years. They are a joy and a blessing. Many have gone on to great careers inside and outside of government. My 600+ interns over the years are our future leaders.

“I’ve given out my personal cell phone number (615-714-1719) to everyone, unlike almost anyone else in Congress, so that I am accessible, even during Covid. And you have called! It’s been a privilege to hear your thoughts, help cut red tape, and to assist in emergencies.

“Another way I’ve been helping is channeling $9.5 billion in federal funds to the Nashville district in just the last 20 months, far more federal money than ever.

 “Anyone who would like a detailed breakdown of this recent federal aid should contact Cara Ince in my office. And the $9.5 billion does not count the billions of dollars of federal aid that our General Assembly has rejected, or the additional funds from the Infrastructure Act (that no Tennessee GOP federal representative supported).

“Most of my work in the House — the real work of Congress gets no publicity — has been on the Intelligence, Armed Services, Budget and Oversight Committees. I serve on more committees than anyone else while maintaining a nationally-recognized level of civility and bipartisanship, even in these divisive times.

“No one is perfect, and I know I’ve made mistakes. I appreciate those who have educated me and helped me improve. But I am a proud Democrat who refuses to demagogue, and who chooses to be on the right side of history in order to give all our kids a better future. My votes certainly fueled our Republican legislature’s revenge.

“I love the intimacy of solving others’ problems. I am prejudiced, but Tennesseans are the finest people in the world. We include recent arrivals, particularly immigrants, who often have hard lives. I hate the thought that no congressional office may be willing to help them after I leave. One of my remarkable staffers, John Wood, has been a one-man Statue of Liberty for decades.

“I don’t know what the future holds but I am ready to get another job next year and make up for lost time with family and friends. I could not be more excited. Having started as the youngest congressman in America, even after my record tenure I am still only 67 years old.

“For everything there is a season, a time and place under the sun. My time in Congress is ending, but I can’t wait to start the next adventure.”

Funk revels in GOP attacks

Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk appears undaunted by becoming a target of Republican lawmakers during last week’s special session. The prosecutor’s supporters placed placards at tables at last weekend’s annul state Democratic Party fundraiser touting Funk’s record and reveling in negative comments made about him from GOP figures like Gov. Bill Lee, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

Republican lawmakers last week passed legislation calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed if a local DA refuses to prosecute certain crimes. Funk has drawn the ire of lawmakers for saying he wouldn’t bring charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana. He’s also said he won’t prosecute a state law requiring businesses owners to post warnings that they allow transgender people to use bathrooms of their choice.

Funk is up for re-election to another eight-year term in August.

Here are images of Funk’s placard: