secret meetings

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.

GOP leaders hold secret weekend budget negotiations

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison made the trek into the legislative office complex over the weekend to check up on budget negations between Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Once she showed up, the meeting was abruptly adjourned.

Secret meetings are nothing new at the General Assembly, which has exempted itself from the state’s open meetings laws. But that doesn’t make it look any better for leadership to hammer out details of the state’s annual spending plan behind closed doors.