Republicans

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:

Tennessee Republicans’ Club for Growth ratings fall

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

Tennessee lawmakers didn’t fare very well in the Club for Growth’s ratings for 2020. The average House GOP scores were 45% in 2020, down from 67% the previous year. The ratings for Senate Republicans decreased from 64% to 43%.

The group’s ratings docked lawmakers for supporting legislation to tighten requirements for online vendors to collect Tennessee sales taxes from those doing at least $500,000 worth of annual business in the state to $100,000. Economists have cited the new threshold as a major reason for the state’s strong sales tax revenues while shoppers avoided brick-and-mortar stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are the ratings:

House MemberChamberParty2020LifetimeRating in chamber
LaffertyHouseR69681
HoltHouseR61712
OglesHouseR58663
DoggettHouseR56654
J. SextonHouseR56674
RuddHouseR55706
WindleHouseD54597
LundbergSenateR54641
TravisHouseR53548
Van HussHouseR53608
BowlingSenateR52602
LittletonHouseR516310
SparksHouseR496211
CrawfordHouseR496611
MoodyHouseR496911
GrillsHouseR494911
BellSenateR49643
CalfeeHouseR475015
ByrdHouseR475615
GriffeyHouseR475115
HallHouseR476015
LeatherwoodHouseR476115
M. HillHouseR466220
HowellHouseR465720
HulseyHouseR466320
CochranHouseR465220
HastonHouseR465120
WeaverHouseR465620
KeislingHouseR455326
ReedyHouseR455526
SherrellHouseR456026
CepickyHouseR456026
EldridgeHouseR455326
WatsonSenateR45564
YagerSenateR45514
GreshamSenateR45534
WhitsonHouseR444831
BaumHouseR445331
ChismHouseD443831
HurtHouseR445931
RudderHouseR445231
ToddHouseR445431
C. JohnsonHouseR445631
DanielHouseR445731
DeBerryHouseD445631
StevensSenateR44567
WhiteSenateR44567
SoutherlandSenateR44507
GardenhireSenateR44447
KelseySenateR44567
RaganHouseR435540
D. PowersHouseR436040
LamberthHouseR435540
BoydHouseR435540
C. SextonHouseR435040
RobertsSenateR435712
HensleySenateR435812
HolsclawHouseR424345
ZacharyHouseR425945
TillisHouseR425145
MoonHouseR425545
VaughanHouseR424345
GarrettHouseR425545
BrickenHouseR425045
HeltonHouseR425545
WrightHouseR425945
SmithHouseR425545
WhiteHouseR425345
FaisonHouseR425345
DunnHouseR425945
GantHouseR425045
HazlewoodHouseR425545
HalfordHouseR424845
HicksHouseR424845
T. HillHouseR426945
HawkHouseR424645
MarshHouseR425445
HaileSenateR426014
BaileySenateR424714
BriggsSenateR424414
JacksonSenateR425514
ReevesSenateR425714
RoseSenateR425414
B. PowersSenateR424714
NiceleySenateR425014
McNallySenateR425514
MasseySenateR425014
J. JohnsonSenateR425514
CurcioHouseR405465
PottsHouseD404365
CarrHouseR404765
LynnHouseR406065
CarterHouseR395569
KumarHouseR385370
FarmerHouseR385270
RamseyHouseR384370
WilliamsHouseR384770
RussellHouseR375274
CroweSenateR375325
StewartHouseD362675
LamarHouseD352976
ShawHouseD354376
MillerHouseD353776
ColeyHouseR354476
FreemanHouseD343380
PodySenateR345326
StaplesHouseD332981
HardawayHouseD333181
TownsHouseD323483
JerniganHouseD323683
MitchellHouseD313385
CasadaHouseR304786
ParkinsonHouseD303286
DickersonSenateR304127
ClemmonsHouseD292988
PowellHouseD272989
ThompsonHouseD272789
DixieHouseD262391
HodgesHouseD243292
LoveHouseD232893
Sara KyleSenateD233328
HakeemHouseD223194
BeckHouseD222294
G. JohnsonHouseD211996
YarbroSenateD203029
RobinsonSenateD182630
GilmoreSenateD152731
AkbariSenateD132532
CamperHouseDn.a.35n.a.
CooperHouseDn.a.32n.a.
TerryHouseRn.a.89n.a.
SwannSenateRn.a.57n.a.

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Sethi breaks cover, endorses Hagerty

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Forty-nine days from his disappointing showing in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi is breaking his silence and endorsing former Ambassador Bill Hagerty.

Sethi was a no-show at the state Republican Party’s traditional “unity rally” following the bitter primary campaign. Some of the ill will appears to have faded with time.

“The odds we faced were very difficult, but we stretched the campaign to 12 rounds, went toe to toe with a well-funded opponent, and won the hearts of 250,000 Tennesseans all across the state who placed their trust in me,” Sethi said in an email blast to supporters. “We had a grassroots team second to none, great senior staff leadership, and we kept the campaign clean and focused on the issues.”

Here’s the full email from Sethi:

My friends,

First of all, from the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for standing with me in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. It was indeed an honor to run for public office, but most importantly, to meet folks from all walks of life who love this country and will continue to fight for the freedoms we value. Since August, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family and have been reminded that there is nothing more important in life than faith and family. Of course, my children miss rolling on the Big Orange RV, but they are certainly happy to have their dad back home.  

Elections are tough and not for the weak, and while we came up short,  I am so proud of what we accomplished together. The odds we faced were very difficult, but we stretched the campaign to 12 rounds, went toe to toe with a well-funded opponent, and won the hearts of 250,000 Tennesseans all across the state who placed their trust in me. We had a grassroots team second to none, great senior staff leadership, and we kept the campaign clean and focused on the issues. As my daddy would say, “Not bad, not bad at all.”

Our conservative cause remains just as true today, as it did over a year ago when I decided to run for the Senate. The one amazing thing that stands crystal clear after all the television ads and rallies, the child of two immigrants from India, who grew up in rural Tennessee and ran for the United States Senate on the Republican ballot, was able to write a chapter in the book called the American story. We should never lose sight of reaching for the top and capturing our dreams. In the weeks ahead, regardless of what the media and the Democrats try to portray about our country, just remember we are Americans — we make no apologies on who we are and what we stand for because we are the greatest country in the world.

Our way of life is literally on the ballot in November, and now more than ever, it is critical that we stand behind and strongly support our Republican candidates. We must re-elect President Donald Trump, and we must elect Ambassador Bill Hagerty, who has served our state and country well, for the U.S. Senate. Our future is in our own hands, I know you will do your part. For me, this wasn’t my place in time to be in public office, but my resolve is not shaken, and my spirit is not broken, so let’s work together to ensure victory for all Republicans on November 3rd. Our future depends on it.

God Bless,

Dr. Manny

Farmer challenging Lamberth for majority leader

Reps. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), right, and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) speak before a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) is challenging Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) for the position of House majority leader this fall, according to a letter to colleagues obtained by the The Tennessee Journal.

Farmer and Lamberth were two of four Republican attorneys first elected to the House in 2012 (the other two were Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and disgraced former Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin). Farmer won the District 17 seat following Republican Rep. Frank Niceley’s election to the state Senate, while Lamberth was elected the District 44 seat vacated by the retirement of Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland).

Lamberth won the chamber’s No. 2 leadership position in November 2018 in the same caucus election that saw Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) nominated for what turned out to be a truncated speakership.

Here’s Farmer’s letter:

Dear Members,

As most of you know, I have been considering the opportunity to run for a caucus leadership position. Realizing the challenges of the upcoming session, I am ready to work with you to face those challenges to make a positive impact on our great state. After much prayer, deliberation and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to announce my candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Our caucus benefits from a wide range of abilities, viewpoints and experiences among the members. As Majority Leader, I will work to help every member effectively represent their district. We all deserve to make a difference, and that is only accomplished when all of our voices are heard. We only reach our full potential when we recognize the wisdom of our constituents who put us here in the first place. After more than a decade as an attorney I have experienced the challenges that individuals, businesses, and families face. I have learned that listening and understanding their needs are always the first step in helping. By applying those same principles we can make the upcoming session both exciting and productive.

I appreciate the support that so many of you have already offered and I look forward to meeting individually with each one of you to discuss how we, together can reach new heights as a unified caucus. I am respectfully asking each of you for your support and vote.

Sincerely,

Andrew Farmer