Tennessee Journal

New TNJ edition alert: Tiptoeing through Tipton, Robinson’s travails, and a Merritt obit

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

— Senate approves slightly revised maps, House votes next week. Changes include splitting Tipton County between Rep. Cohen’s and Kustoff’s districts.

— Ethics panel calls for Robinson’s Senate expulsion, Democrats protest.

— Obituary: Gil Merritt, Supreme Court finalist who threw out fleeing felon laws.

Also: Another potential GOP candidate in the new-look 5th District, Orgel gets weak-kneed over decrepit buildings in Memphis, and Lundberg gets a new office.

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

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: How the GOP’s new congressional, state Senate maps shake out in Tennessee

It all fits together somehow.

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

 — From one into three: Congressional remap cracks Dem stronghold of Nashville.

— State Senate redistricting solidifies current GOP seats.

— Read state Supreme Court nominee Sarah Keeton Campbell’s answers about finding meaning in messy legislation, how oral arguments influence appellate cases, and what she would take into consideration in appointing a new attorney general.

— Legislative roundup: Senate Ethics Committee to consider ousting a sitting member before pending legal issues come to conclusion, treasurer of anti-Tillis PAC says she registered group at the behest of Cade Cothren.

Also: A forgiveness fest between Justin Jones and Glen Casada, the Memphis police chief has her gun stolen out of her husband’s Porsche, and Bud Hulsey gets a new phone.

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

Or subscribe here.

New TNJ edition alert: Congressional redistricting on tap, Robinson seeks to avoid prison time

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

It’s The Tennessee Journal’s first print edition of the year! Here’s what’s in it:

 — House to release congressional maps, but Senate mum on plans.

— Nashville is reportedly a finalist, but how far will mayor push for convention if GOP breaks up his brother’s U.S. House seat?

— From the courts: Robinson lawyers argue loss of Senate seat would be punishment enough for fraud conviction; Kelsey can’t use money campaign fundraiser to pay defense attorneys.

— State casts doubt on whether pharmacy benefit manager bill does what sponsors said it would do.

Also: Boyd runs Antarctic marathon, ECD halts China recruiting, Tennessee Waltz figure rejected for Memphis job, and Faison’s referee pantsing.

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

Or subscribe here.

Notable deaths in 2021 included former U.S. Sen. Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Clark

Former Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) speaks with U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), right, at a reception before the state Repbuilcan Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner on June 15, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As 2021 draws to a close, we take a look back at some of the year’s notable deaths. They include former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, and radio talk show host Phil Valentine. Several former state lawmakers also passed away this year, including Mike Carter, Jim Coley, Roscoe Dixon, Thelma Harper, Jim Holcomb, Cotton Ivy, Carl Moore, and David Shepard.

Here is a roundup of the year’s obituaries, as culled from the print edition of the The Tennessee Journal:

Retired Memphis Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. died at age 64. Appointed to the bench in 1995, Beasley presided over several high-profile cases. They included the trial of Jessie Dotson, who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing six people in 2008. Beasley previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Memphis, where he was part of the team prosecuting Charles McVean, a commodities broker who allegedly supplied the money to offer a $10,000 bribe to Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to vote in favor of a gambling bill. McNally was wearing a wire for investigators as part of the FBI’s Rocky Top corruption probe. The case ended in a hung jury. 

Republican Bill Brock, who ended Albert Gore Sr.’s 32-year political career by defeating the Carthage Democrat in the 1970 U.S. Senate race, died at age 90. Brock lost his re-election bid in 1976, but would go on to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and was later named U.S. trade representative and labor secretary in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the 1970 race, Brock painted Gore as a liberal who was out of touch with Tennesseans on matters like school busing, gun control, school prayer, and the Vietnam war. His campaign slogan, “Bill Brock Believes in the Things We Believe In,” was criticized as playing into the racial fears of disaffected whites. When asked about the campaign in later years, Brock insisted it wasn’t focused on anything but bona fide issues. Six years later, Brock was put on the defensive for his vocal support of President Richard Nixon during Watergate, a poor economy, and the disclosure that the heir to a candy company fortune had paid just $2,000 in federal income taxes. Buttons declaring “I paid more taxes than Brock” became popular, and Democrat Jim Sasser went on to win the race by 5 percentage points.

Eddie Bryan, a longtime leader of the Tennessee AFLCIO, died at age 88. The Nashville native was first elected secretary-treasurer in 1981 and held the position until his retirement in 2011.

Frank Cagle, conservative columnist who relished poison pen, died at 72.  Cagle stepped down as managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2001 to become deputy to then-Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe. He was later named communications director for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Democrat Phil Bredesen. But Cagle was always best at calling out officials’ shortcomings rather than propping them up. After Bredesen won the governor’s race, Cagle launched a talk radio show and later returned as an opinion writer for Metro Pulse, the News Sentinel, and Knox TN Today (he estimated in 2018 he had written more than a million words worth of columns over 30 years). Cagle had hoped to highlight what he saw as all-powerful House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s bullying ways when he referred to him in print in 1998 as “the Antichrist.” Much to Cagle’s chagrin, the Covington Democrat turned the tables by skillfully presenting himself as the victim of vicious attacks in the press. On a visit to the Capitol Hill press room more than 20 years later, Cagle shook his head at the memory, saying he had inadvertently managed to stir public sympathy for the iron-fisted Naifeh, who would remain in charge of the chamber for another decade. Cagle joked he expected the “Antichrist” line to appear on his gravestone.

Todd Campbell, a longtime legal adviser to Al Gore who was later named to the federal court bench in Nashville, died at age 64. The cause was a neurodegenerative disease Campbell had battled for years. Campbell, who as an attorney specialized in election law and constitutional matters, had worked on Gore’s presidential and Senate campaigns. He later served as counsel for the 1992 presidential transition followed by two years in the vice president’s office. Campbell had recently returned to private practice in Nashville when Gore recommended him to fill a federal court vacancy in the Middle District of Tennessee in 1995. Campbell presided over several high-profile legal disputes, including the Brian A. v. Sundquist class action case over foster care, which led to a 2001 consent decree requiring court supervision of the Department of Children’s Service for the next 15 years. Campbell in 2008 sentenced former state Sen. John Ford (D-Memphis) to 14 years in prison for wire fraud and concealment involving more than $850,000 in “consulting fees” he received from TennCare contractors while serving as a state lawmaker. His conviction was later thrown out by the 6th Circuit on the basis that Ford’s failure to report the consulting income to the Senate and state Registry wasn’t a crime under the federal statute prosecutors charged him with.

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Early TNJ edition alert: An interview with the new Chattanooga mayor and a deep dive into the GOP’s state House redistricting plan

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

It’s the year’s last print edition of The Tennessee Journal! Don’t all rejoice at once! Here’s what we delved into this week:

— New Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly sits down for an interview with TNJ to discuss his unlikely path to elected office and his plans for the state’s fourth biggest city. Kelly talks early childhood education, the challenges facing midsized cities, and his efforts to bridge racial gaps.

— Redistricting update: A look at how the Republican plan for redrawing state House districts might affect incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

Also: Richard Briggs wonders if politics might soon inform hemorrhoid treatment decisions, Katrina Robinson gets pretrial diversion in her second federal fraud case, and our annual look at what Tennessee politicos should get for Christmas (spoiler alert: nothing good).

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

Happy holidays!

Kelsey gets yearlong delay for federal campaign finance trial

State Sen. Brian Kelsey denies wrongdoing in a video conference call following his indictment on Oct. 25, 2021. (Image: screengrab from call)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has been granted a yearlong delay before the start of his federal campaign finance trial.

Originally scheduled to begin next month, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw ordered the proceedings to be re-set for Jan. 23, 2023. The motion to delay the case was made by Kelsey’s legal team and unopposed by the U.S. attorney’s office or codefendant Josh Smith.

The attorneys for all parties met with Crenshaw behind closed doors for 45 minutes on Monday morning while Kelsey and Smith urgently whispered to each other in the courtroom that was devoid of spectators other than two reporters. Upon ending the in camera meeting, the public portion of the hearing lasted about 10 minutes to formalize the new trial date, which Crenshaw described as a “firm.”

As previously reported in this week’s Tennessee Journal Kelsey attorney Paul Bruno said in a legal filing he faced a conflict with the original Jan. 18 court date because he is scheduled to go to trial in a quadruple homicide case in Nashville the following week. Bruno added the government has already provided “a significant amount of discovery” in the case and indicated more would be forthcoming. Given the volume of materials in the case, Kelsey and his legal team did not believe they had enough time to prepare for a trial next month.

Prosecutors say Kelsey funneled campaign funds from his state account through other political action committees to the American Conservative Union, the Washington-based organizer of CPAC conferences. The bulk of the money was then allegedly spent on radio ads supporting Kelsey’s unsuccessful bid for the 8th Congressional District in 2016. Kelsey has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has claimed to be the subject of a political witch hunt.

New TNJ edition alert: Supreme Court finalists in their own words, Little Debbie lawsuit

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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

— We spent two days at judicial selection hearings so you didn’t have to. Here’s what the finalists for the Supreme Court had to say about legislative intent, their judicial role models, and the significance of the Federalist Society.

— Little Debbie snack maker files lawsuit to block new Pharmacy Benefit Manager law championed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

— Of the state’s 15 largest counties, all but two are moving to partisan school board nomination contests.

— Indicted senators update: Kelsey seeks delay for federal campaign finance trial, prosecutors seek to seize Robinson property following conviction.

Also: The state’s revenue collection surge continues, racial tension on the MTSU board, and a difference in perception about automotive incentives in the Beacon Center’s Pork Report.

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

New TNJ edition alert: State GOP executive committee update, finalists emerge from SCOTENN sweepstakes, Dole’s legacy in Tennessee

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what we delve into this week:

— GOP executive committee mulls judicial candidate fees, pride coalition, presidential convention.

— Three finalists emerge for state Supreme Court vacancy after one leading candidate drops out to take top legal job in Lee administration.

— Political roundup: Bridgestone looks to turn the tables on the clawback provision, Memphis politicos leave for Nashville and don’t come back, and Slatery gets awarded.

— Obituary: Bob Dole outmaneuvered two of Tennessee’s most prominent Republicans on the national political stage.

Also: Kelvin Jones mounts an Alabama defense under questioning about buried cash, Knoxville kicks of 40th anniversary celebrations for 1982 World’s Fair, and Jon Huntsman likens Bob Corker to Led Zeppelin.

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

New TNJ edition alert: Ranking Supreme Court applicants, flight vouchers fizzle

Scorch marks from a portable toilet fire are seen on the John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee)

The newest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what we delve into this week:

— Will the Supreme Court nominating panel break the mold or stick with tradition? The TNJ ranks the applicants for the vacancy on the state’s highest court.

— Launched to great fanfare (and no small amount of ridicule), Gov. Bill Lee’s flight voucher giveaway finds few takers.

— Prisoners could become eligible for reduced sentences after lawmakers dropped enhancements for drug dealing within 1,000 feet to 500 feet of schools and playgrounds.

— Lawmakers worry about recouping lost gas taxes from increased electric vehicle purchases.

Also: Lee sees the light (after a delay in illuminating the state Christmas tree), Gardenhire on taking the wrong hill, Robinson sentencing delayed, and the portable toilet fire outside the AG’s office goes to court.

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

New TNJ edition alert: Randy Boyd settles in UT role, Lee administration’s warnings about mask bill

Randy Boyd, right, and Bill Lee attend a gubernatorial forum at the Nashville library on Feb. 1, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is shipping early because of the holiday weekend. Here’s what’s in it:

— Randy Boyd hits his three-year anniversary as UT president on Friday. He sits down with The Tennessee Journal talk about his gubernatorial bid, “completing the mission” on advancing education opportunities, and shutting down his political action committee.

— The Lee administration warned lawmakers of legal problems with the omnibus COVID-19 bill, but the governor signed it anyway.

— Tennessee general fund revenues grew by 16% last year. The State Funding Board sees next year’s increase falling to a more modest 2.25%.

Also: Jeremy Durham’s latest legal setback, Todd Gardenhire takes aim at party fees to run in GOP primaries, Jimmy Haslam drops a half million to federal candidates (including two Dems), and the law banning satirical attacks in campaign literature is back on the books.

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

Happy Thanksgiving!