Victor Ashe

Tennessee GOP to decide whether to overturn result of Knoxville House primary

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

The Tennessee Republican’s Party’s state executive committee is scheduled to hold a conference call Wednesday evening to decide a challenge of businessman Eddie Mannis’ 99-vote win over real estate agent Gina Oster in the GOP primary for an open state House seat in Knoxville.

Oster, who had the backing of conservative activists, claims Democratic crossover voting made he difference for Mannis. Of course, there’s no way to say from whom voters cast their secret ballots and a counter-argument is that they might have been voting for Oster to give Democratic nominee Virginia Couch an easier path toward victory in November.

Local party activists had sought to keep Mannis off the ballot entirely because of moderate positions and his vote in the Democratic presidential primary in March. But Party Chairman Scott Golden turned back that challenge after Mannis was vouched for by Republican luminaries such as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, and state Sen. Richard Briggs.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe has been keeping a close eye on proceedings, and reports in his column that Knox County executive committee members Jane Chedester and Michele Carringer (herself the GOP nominee to succeed retiring Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn) have indicated they support retaining Mannis’ nomination. So has incumbent Rep. Martin Daniel, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Here’s Ashe’s take:

Defeated GOP legislative candidate Gina Oster keeps trying to snatch a win from Eddie Mannis…. It is hard to believe that a committee in Nashville would discard the valid election result. Oster previously lost a school board contest to Doug Harris. If Oster is handed a nomination she did not win fair and square at the ballot box, the Democratic nominee, Virginia Couch, would become the odds-on favorite to win in November.

As The Tennessee Journal reported recently, the district is no longer a lock for Republicans. Daniel won just 51.5% of the vote in 2018, slightly underperforming the 53% received by Bill Lee in the governor’s race and by Burchett in his bid for Congress. And fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn got just 46% of the district’s vote in the U.S. Senate race against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen two years ago. While 57% voted for Trump in 2016, the president’s numbers are expected to be far weaker this year.

Given the increasingly swing characteristics of District 18, the GOP attacks on Mannis are all the more perplexing. As a well-respected businessman and founder of a nonprofit organization flying veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, Mannis’ more moderate leanings appear to make him a stronger candidate in the general election. But he clearly wasn’t the choice of hardliners who contributed to Oster during the primary. They included House Majority Leader William Lamberth, and Reps. Daniel, Clay Doggett, Rick Eldridge, Johnny Garrett, Bruce Griffey, and Chris Todd.

New Nashville mayor’s transition team raises eyebrows

A  Tennessean report about Nashville Mayor-elect John Cooper’s transition team included several items that raised eyebrows. One was the selection as Greg Hinote, an aide to former Mayor Karl Dean, whose pro-development record ran counter to Cooper’s neighborhoods-first platform. The other was Victor Ashe, the former four-term Knoxville mayor and Republican state senator. Though it turns out there’s a pretty big caveat to the latter’s role in the transition.

Ashe, it turns out, retired after 20 years on the faculty of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he has been involved in the biannual Seminar on Transition for Newly-Elected Mayors (this year’s version is scheduled for Dec. 3 to Dec. 5).

“I am happy to share with mayor-elect Cooper my experience in transition to the mayor’s office, issues likely to be faced in short term, and how to prepare for it,” Ashe said in an email.

Meanwhile, there has been great rejoicing among legislative Republicans about the defeat of incumbent Nashville Mayor David Briley. But it remains to be seen how long the lovefest between the GOP and the brother of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) will endure.

State museum chairman says comptroller review vindicates new leadership efforts to resolve past troubles

A “limited review” of Tennessee State Museum operations finds past problems – ranging from missing booze to nepotism and other conflicts of interest — are now being addressed and Thomas Smith, chairman of the board that oversees museum operations, tells The Tennessean he sees the report as a vindication of new leadership.

“I believe that this letter from the comptroller’s office is excellent,” Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday.

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Bell, Faison question validity of new state museum code of conduct

Chairmen of General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee are questioning the legality of the new operating policies adopted by the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission last week (including a controversial new ‘code of conduct,’ reports the Nashville Post.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the chairs of the committee, sent a letter to DHSMC chair Tom Smith and museum executive director Ashley Howell on Tuesday stating that the changes in the operating policies — including the controversial new code of conduct that prevents board members from disparaging the museum — should have been adopted in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, as it is spelled out in state law.

… “In light of the statutory authority, and in accordance with the past practices of the Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee, we strongly believe that the attached operating policies clearly meet the definition of a rule, and that those policies must be promulgates in accordance with the UAPA.”

(Note: Museum officials contend the new policy is an operating procedure and thus not a “rule,” which is subject to requirements of the UAPA, including advance notice, a public hearing, etc.)

In an interview, Bell said that he thinks the language of the enacting clause creating the DHSMC requires anything relating to the governance of the agency should fall under the UAPA.

“I have issues with the substance of the policies as well, and I know other legislators have been commenting about that,” Bell said. “But I’m very concerned with the process here, which I do not think was followed correctly.”

The new code of conduct seems designed to silence board member Victor Ashe, a former legislator and Knoxville mayor who has been a recent critic of several missteps of the board. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally criticized it last week, expressing “serious concerns.” However, DHSMC members and legislators House Speaker Beth Harwell, now a gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) all voted in support of the policy changes.

“[Commissioners] are free to talk to anyone they want to talk to and say anything they want to say. That’s still the case,” said Harwell after the meeting.

TN State Museum board votes to impose ‘gag order’ (Victor Ashe’s description) on its members

The governing board of the Tennessee State Museum has adopted a “astonishingly broad new code of conduct” that restricts board members’ public commentary on museum affairs, reports the Nashville Post.

The new code, which was adopted without much discussion Monday morning, was emailed to members at 1 a.m. Sunday, less than 36 hours before the vote. Although state law dictates the DHSMC (Douglas Henry State Museum Commission) should “promulgate rules and regulations” in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (as it is spelled out in state law), DHSMC chair Tom Smith said “operating policies” are not subject to the UAPA and thus do not need to go through the state’s lengthy notice process in advance of hearings for rule changes.

Although Smith stated repeatedly the changes to the code of conduct were not singling out any one individual commissioner, the new regulations seem specifically designed to target one particular DHSMC member — Victor Ashe, who was just reappointed to the commission for another four years and has been a regular critic of some of the commission’s recent actions.

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