Senate Republican Caucus

16 of 27 Senate Republicans agree: Get vaccinated

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Majority Leader Jack Johnson, and Caucus Chair Ken Yager are among a group of 16 Republicans in the state Senate signing onto letter urging Tennesseans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This should not be political,” the senators say in the letter.

Others signing the missive are Sens. Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ferrell Haile, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, and Bo Watson.

Eleven Republicans declined to sign on. They are Sens. Paul Bailey. Mike Bell, Janice Bowling, Rusty Crowe, Joey Hensley, Brian Kelsey, Frank Niceley, Mark Pody, Kerry Roberts, Steve Southerland, and John Stevens.

The Senate’s six Democrats were not asked to participate.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Tennesseans,

Although we have made progress, COVID-19 is not over. There has been a recent spike in the number of cases, which includes the virus’s more contagious delta variant. A strong majority of these cases are among those who are not vaccinated. And virtually all of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated.

As people across our state are exposed to the spread of this deadly virus, we strongly urge Tennesseans who do not have a religious objection or a legitimate medical issue to get vaccinated.

The vaccines have been found to be safe and effective against COVID-19. If they had been available from the start and widely used, over 600,000 American families that are mourning the loss of a loved one, along with tens of thousands of people who are awaiting lung transplants, or trying to learn to walk again, would have avoided that heartache.

Vaccines have been saving lives for over a century. As a result, polio and smallpox have been eradicated and measles, mumps and rubella are rare. Building on these 20th century medical breakthroughs, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed utilizing high standards and the best medical technology available.

Even the new mRNA technology, which has caused some people to be vaccine hesitant, has been around for decades. The mRNA vaccines teach your body how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response, without using a live virus. This technology is found in essentially every pharmacy, medical office and laboratory. Recombinant DNA technology has almost completely replaced insulin obtained from animal sources for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes with great success for over 30 years.

We are well beyond the COVID-19 vaccine trial stage. Nearly 338 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the U.S. with few adverse effects. Please compare the very rare instances of side effects with the more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S. which have occurred due to COVID-19. The facts are clear — the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risks.

Under no circumstances will the state of Tennessee require mandatory vaccines or vaccine passports for adults or children. We recognize this is a personal choice. However, we urge every Tennessean to consider the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine and talk to your doctor about their recommendations on the best way to protect yourself and your family against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, efforts to get more people vaccinated have been hampered by politicization of COVID-19. This should not be political. Tennesseans need factual information to make educated decisions regarding their health. Please consider looking at the facts which are presented by Vanderbilt University Medical Center or the New England Journal of Medicine, both which are among the most respected health resources worldwide.

Every life lost to this virus is tragic. The COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Again, we strongly urge all Tennesseans to study the facts, talk to your doctor and get vaccinated.

Signed,

Randy McNally, Jack Johnson, Ken Yager, Ferrell Haile, Richard Briggs, Todd Gardenhire, Ed Jackson, Jon Lundberg, Becky Massey, Bill Powers, Shane Reeves, Paul Rose, Art Swann, Page Walley, Dawn White, Bo Watson

24 of 27 Senate Republicans agree: Trump should challenge outcome

The Tennessee Senate meets on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate Republican Caucus is voicing support for President Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge his re-election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. A letter to this effect has been signed by 24 of 27 GOP members — all but Sens. Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, and Brian Kelsey of Germantown.

Briggs and Kelsey face potentially tough re-election campaigns in two years. Gardenhire just won another four-year term last week.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Tennessee Voters,

The Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus stands absolutely and unequivocally with President Donald J. Trump as he contests the unofficial results of the Presidential Election of 2020.

While this election may have been “called” by various media outlets, the election process is far from over. This election was extremely close in multiple states across the country. The coronavirus pandemic led to an extraordinary amount of absentee ballots and voting by mail. We believe that, due to unprecedented mail-in voting and razor-thin margins in multiple states, the ultimate result remains uncertain.

There have been reports of irregularities in many critical states such as Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Until these irregularities have been thoroughly investigated and court appeals have been exhausted, no winner should be declared.

This is not an unprecedented situation. In 2000, the Presidential election result was not clear until December 13. This was after several recounts and court challenges. President Trump has at least another month to contest this election through recounts and litigation, as Al Gore did. We support him in this effort to ensure the integrity of our election process is preserved.

This is an important election. There is no reason to come to a premature conclusion with this many lingering questions. While the results of most presidential elections are clear on or around election day, the results become official only when the presidential electors vote in December. President Trump has a right to challenge the results of this election until at least that point.

We support him in doing so and encourage all Tennesseans and Americans to be patient until the result of this election can be determined.

Sincerely,

/signed/

Lt. Governor Randy McNally

Jack Johnson

Ken Yager

Ferrell Haile

Paul Bailey

Mike Bell

Rusty Crowe

Becky Massey

Steve Southerland

Bo Watson

Janice Bowling

Joey Hensley

Ed Jackson

Jon Lundberg

Frank Niceley

Mark Pody

Bill Powers

Shane Reeves

Kerry Roberts

Paul Rose

John Stevens

Art Swann

Page Walley

Dawn White

Sen. Kerry Roberts hoping to be released from hospital next week

Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Sprinfield) speak on the Senate floor on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

An update from the Senate Republican Caucus on the health status of state Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), who suffered an aneurysm earlier this month:

Many of you have asked for an update regarding Senator Roberts related to the subarachnoid hemorrhage he experienced on Friday, October 9th. Senator Roberts remains in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit and continues to experience vasospasms, placing him at risk for a stroke and requiring him to be under careful monitoring. Wednesday marked the first day of significant decline in vasospasms. With further improvement, he is expected to be released as early as next week. His medical team continues to anticipate a full and complete recovery and his recovery timeline remains within expectations for a brain hemorrhage.

Sen. Roberts said, “I am very thankful for all of the prayers, calls, cards, and texts from those who have expressed their concerns. Due to the severity of headaches, I have not been able to take phone calls, text messages, and emails, except to communicate with family members who are not able to visit because of COVID-19 protocols. I have been touched by so many kind messages and look forward to responding soon.”

Battle of the ex-commissioners: Templeton, Walley to run for Gresham’s state Senate seat

Jai Templeton and Page Walley are announcing their bids to seek the Republican nomination to succeed retiring state Sen. Dolores Gresham.

Templeton is a former state agriculture commissioner, while Walley was once commissioner of the state Department of Children’s Services. Senate District 26 comprises Chester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy, and Henderson counties.

Gresham was elected to the West Tennessee seat after John Wilder (D-Mason), retired after 44 years in the Senate — 36 of them as speaker. Gresham, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, has served as chair of the Education Committee ever since she joined the Senate.

Templeton, a former McNairy County mayor, lives in the Stantonville community, about 15 miles southwest of Savannah. Walley, of Hardeman County, served in the state House from 1990 to 2000. State Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville) plans to stay in the House.

Read the campaign releases after the jump.

Continue reading

Dispatches from the Senate GOP retreat: Emptying jails, appealing to millenials

Senate State and Local Government Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), left) and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), attend a hearing on open records exemptions in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean‘s Joel Ebert trekked out to Crossville to catch up with a gathering of the state Senate Republican Caucus. Members got an update from their campaign consultant, Facebook, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, and Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee said Republicans need to change “the way we’ve been doing things forever” as it relates to criminal justice in the state. He said he was hopeful for an overhaul.

“Because of y’alls leadership, I think we’re going to get criminal justice reform,” he said, adding: “We can empty our jails in the same way that some other states have done. I know we can do that.”

Political consultant Bonnie Brezina said of the 15 GOP incumbents on the ballot, the toughest race will likely be the re-election campaign of Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville).

I think we need to spend as much as we can to make sure Dickerson stays put,” she said.

Attracting new voters is a major challenge, she said.

“Millennials these days, I mean it’s tough,” she said.  “Changing their mind is just a tough thing to do right now.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the millennial generation refers to anyone born between 1981 and 1996, or those between the ages of 23 and 38 in 2019.

Read Ebert’s full account here.