tennessean

Lee squashes Capitol Hill rumors by confirming he will run for second term

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has brought an end to persistent statehouse humors that might not seek second term in 2022.

“I love this job,” Lee said when asked about his plans during a press conference late last week. “It’s been a big challenge, but I love serving Tennesseans and I intend to do that as long they’ll let me.”

Pressed whether that meant he would run again, Lee responded: “Yes.”

The question was the last one posed of the governor by The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert before leaving for a new job in his native Chicago.

Ebert reports potential candidate to succeed Lee include House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. Others might include U.S. Rep. Mark Green, former Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Hagerty. The paper also includes U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on the list of possible candidates.

The only eligible sitting governor not to seek re-election to second term was scandal-plagued Ray Blanton in 1978.

According to Ebert:

The pep Lee exuded during his early days in office has dissipated some as he’s faced months of difficult decisions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the March tornadoes and occasional bouts with state lawmakers. 

Lee noted Thursday was the six-month anniversary since the deadly tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee, which was quickly followed by the state’s first case of COVID-19.

“Uncertain times, though, bring out the very best of people and we have certainly seen that in our state,” he said.

Absentee voting well ahead of 2016 primary, nearing level of last presidential election

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Requests for absentee ballots are well ahead of the number cast in the August 2016 primary and are already coming close to matching the levels of that year’s November presidential election, according to data gathered by The Tennessean‘s Joel Ebert and Carmel Kookogey.

The Secretary of State’s office said it doesn’t keep track of absentee ballot requests, referring the newspaper to local election commissions. The newspaper contacted officials in all 95 counties. Eighty provided information on how many mail-in ballots had been requested as of last week, nine refused to release data, and six did not respond.

A judge last month ordered the state to allow anyone who fears infection by the coronavirus to cast absentee ballots. The state is appealing that ruling, but it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will decide the issue before the Aug. 6 primary.

About 57,000 absentee ballots had been requested as of last week. That compares with about about 12,000 for the August 2016 primary and 64,000 for that year’s general election.

A look at the percentage difference between absentee ballot requests this year and the number cast in August and November 2016 follows after the jump.

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A deep dive into the Rocky Top corruption scandal

The Rocky Top investigation of the 1980s revealed bingo parlor operators had taken over state charters of legitimate Tennessee charities to run illegal gambling operations. Several state officials were indicted in the probe and two committed suicide. Randy McNally, then a backbencher in the state Senate, played a key role in the investigation by wearing a wire for FBI. Today, he’s the speaker of the Senate.

The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert has taken a deep dive into the scandal — and its lessons for the current political climate — for the paper’s its Grand Divisions podcast and in a print story with lots of great archival images.

It’s a great read (or listen) for a rainy fall day in Tennessee. Check it out here.

 

 

Pre-meetings flourish in Tennessee House

The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert seeks good answers to the question of why lawmakers see the need to hold pre-meetings before their regularly scheduled (and live-streamed) meetings. Spoiler alert: There are none.

The pre-meetings are held in hard-to-find — and often changing — locations, with schedules buried in obscure sections of the legislative website. Conference rooms are packed with lawmakers and lobbyists and usually include few members of the public.

From Ebert’s fine report:

Technically, no votes are taken in pre-meetings — that’s what the committee meetings are for. But as some bills are considered in committees, it is clear lawmakers have a sense of the measure’s fate even before a vote.

This year, the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee found several instances of lawmakers counting or influencing members’ votes on legislation.

When Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, presented a bill on March 5, he was told a poll of members would be conducted before the legislation would go before the House State Committee.

“Out of respect for you, of course, I’m going to take time between now and over the next 90 minutes here to try to get a poll here,” (Chairman Kelly) Keisling said.