Partisan sniping over Rutherford sheriff corruption indictment

An indicted Middle Tennessee sheriff says he has no intention of resigning despite calls for him to do so from Republican legislators and the state Democratic Party chairwoman declaring him an example of “Tennessee Republican corruption.”

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold told the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro on Saturday that he has no intention of resigning and, in fact, plans to seek re-election in 2018. The sheriff, one of his top deputies and an uncle were indicted last week on multiple charges of fraud, conspiracy and other misconduct in connection with their alleged profits from a company that sold e-cigarettes to inmates at the county jail, which Arnold oversees.

Arnold was first elected in 2010, defeating the incumbent Democratic sheriff. His win — followed by re-election in 2014 — has been cited as an example in the Tennessee Republican Party’s “Red to the Roots” campaign, which officially got underway in 2013 with the goal of getting more Republicans elected to local office.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini pounced on Arnold’s indictment and tied it to the “Red to the Roots” effort, declaring in a news release, “From Washington, D.C. to Murfreesboro, Tennessee Republicans’ corruption goes from the top all the way to their roots.

“From Sen. (Bob) Corker’s insider trading scandal to Gov. (Bill) Haslam awarding no-bid contracts to his friends to Sheriff Arnold using his position to line his own pockets, it’s clear Tennessee Republicans see our government as their personal piggy bank,” Mancini said.

On the other side of the aisle, Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the state GOP sent this rejoinder:

“Tennesseans expect their elected officials to conduct themselves with the highest ethical standards. That is apparently not what they’re getting in Rutherford County and that’s not right. That said, anyone with a basic understanding of our state’s history knows Democrats have the market cornered on corruption. From (former Gov. Ray) Blanton to (former state Sen. John) Ford to (sitting state Rep. Joe) Armstrong, the TNDP has a history of supporting some of Tennessee’s biggest mischief-makers. It would be refreshing if they’d clean up their own messes first. Instead this is more of the same hypocrisy we’ve become accustomed to with the Tennessee Democratic Party.”

Two Republican state senators who share representation of Rutherford County, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, have both called on Arnold to resign since the indictment.

Note: Relevant previous posts include those HERE and HERE.

Libertarian drive seeks party label on TN November ballot

The Libertarian Party of Tennessee has launched a drive to collect enough signatures to have the party’s candidates listed on the November ballot by party label rather than as “independent.”

Excerpt from a Columbia Daily Herald column on the effort:

Under state law, Democrats and Republicans only need 25 signatures. But alternative parties need 34,000 valid signatures, almost double the votes Johnson received here in 2012. (Note: Gary Johnson was the Libertarian presidential nominee then and has been nominated again. A Politico report on the party convention and November prospects is HERE.)

Republicans, who control the state legislature, have stacked the deck against third parties. Lawsuits and proposed legislation have done little to change the atmosphere. Both Republicans and Democrats think Libertarians hurt their chances in tight races.

“The current political climate has many people looking for alternatives to the two major parties,” (Tennessee Libertarian Chairman Jim) Tomasik said. “In Tennessee, we in essence only have one major party due to the fact that the Democratic Party is dominated overwhelmingly by the Republican super majority.

“Tennesseans looking for more choices are invited to join our petition drive.”

Note: The Tennessee Libertarian Party’s website has a news release on the “ballot access drive” HERE, including a link to the petition form. An excerpt is below: Continue reading

Democrats call for disbanding Blackburn’s abortion panel

Democrats have ramped up their attacks on an investigation of abortion providers by a committee lead by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, reports Michael Collins.

In a letter, Democrats called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to disband the investigation committee. Blackburn insists there’s nothing partisan about the investigation and she’s pushing ahead.

“While the panel’s investigation has never been fair or fact-based, its pattern of reckless disregard for safety has escalated over the past few weeks,” said the letter, which was signed by 181 of 188 House Democrats.

The letter describes a litany of alleged abuses by Blackburn and GOP investigators, including misuse of subpoena power to intimidate scientific researchers, doctors, clinics, health-care providers, universities and others. The investigation reached “a new low” earlier this month, the letter says, when the panel issued a news release identifying an abortion provider and his clinic by name.

“The press release’s hyperbolic rhetoric and misleading allegations pose a real danger to the doctor, the staff at the clinic and the patients of the named clinic,” the letter says. “These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable congressional behavior. We disgrace ourselves by allowing this misconduct to continue.”

Blackburn defended the investigation and fired back at her Democratic critics.

“The question everyone should be asking,” the Brentwood Republican said, “is why are Democrats so afraid of letting the truth come out.”

Ryan didn’t set up the committee, which is formally known as the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. Former House Speaker John Boehner helped form the 14-member panel and named Blackburn as its chairwoman in one of his final acts before stepping down late last year.

But Ryan also has given his backing to the panel’s work.

TN homeland security chief makes ‘lunch hour’ political speech

David Purkey, Tennessee director of Homeland Security, may have violated state law by speaking at a May 13 campaign event for Bradley County Eric Watson, a former state representative, according to the Times-Free Press.

“I cannot imagine having anyone better professionally or personally in the office of sheriff for your county,” Purkey told a crowd that included the Cleveland and Bradley County mayors, at least one state representative and the district attorney, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

By law, state employees may not take part in political events while they are on state business. Purkey said he was on his lunch hour, but his speech was listed on his official daily schedule and the invitations described him as Homeland Security director.

,,,Purkey said that when he was invited during the legislative session to speak at the luncheon, he didn’t realize it was a campaign event. When he learned differently, he said, “I told them I would only do this on my lunch hour.”

Tennessee’s Little Hatch Act, modeled after federal law, says state employees may not “engage actively in a political campaign on behalf of any party, committee, organization, agency or political candidate, or to attend political meetings or rallies during those hours of the day when such person is required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

However, the law exempts employees “on leave or during those hours not required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

Purkey said officials appointed by the governor also are exempt, and he’s one of them.

“I’m not claiming an exemption based on that,” he said. “I’m saying that I made sure it was during my lunch hour on my way home to East Tennessee.”

His hometown, Morristown, is off Interstate 40 northeast of Knoxville. After accepting the speaking invitation, he added a visit to the Homeland Security office in Chattanooga to his itinerary, Purkey said.

Note: The article says the event may have violated other state laws as well — use of marked police cars and emergency vehicles for political purposes, law enforcement officers attending a political event … and the TFP says there are allegations that some county employees were pressured to donate to Watson’s reelection campaign.

DNC chair cancels Knox rally (but will show for Knox fundraiser)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, will be in Knoxville for a private fundraiser Thursday but will not attend a rally of Knox County Democrats as originally planned, reports Georgiana Vines.

The fundraiser will be at the home of Leanne and Rusty Comer, 7151 Sir Arthur Way, in the Deane Hill area beginning at 6:30 p.m. Their son, Scott, is employed at the DNC.

Knox County Democrats planned to have a rally at their headquarters at 311 Morgan St., which Wasserman Schultz was to attend before the fundraiser, but Cameron Brooks, party chairman, said he was notified Wednesday she would not be at the public event.

“When the head of the Democratic Party comes to our community it is my belief that they should be accessible to everyone, not just those with the means to give money. I am extremely disappointed that her appearance at our rally was canceled,” Brooks said.

…Wasserman Schultz is getting flak nationally, particularly from the supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, for her handling of some campaign issues. There is talk of possibly replacing her before the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. Politico reported Sanders recently endorsed her opponent in the Democratic primary in Florida, Tim Canova.

Note: The referenced Politico story is HERE. A recent story from The Hill on Democrats pushing for Schultz to quit is HERE.

Unicoi GOP won’t replace deceased nominee, leaves race to write-in candidates

The Unicoi County Republican party has decided against selecting a party nominee for the position of Assessor of Property oin the Aug. 4 election, reports the Erwin Record. The nominee would have replaced General Election ballot.

A nominee would have replaced Margaret Seward, who won the March 1 primary election but died on election day. Another candidate, Wayne Peterson, who was holding the position on an interim basis, died during early voting.

The party’s Executive Committee met at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse and unanimously voted not to place a candidate on the ballot; instead, allowing individuals interested in the office run as write-in candidates.

Debbie Tittle, the county’s register of deeds and the county party’s vice-chairman, motioned not to place a candidate on the ballot, saying, “… I think that this is still America; it is still a democracy and this ought to be in the hands of the people.”

Tittle’s motion was seconded by Terry Haynes, the county’s road superintendent and vice-president of the county party.

Both Tittle and Haynes voted in favor of her motion. Also voting yes were Executive Committee members Mitzi Bowen, Lynn Woodruff, Kent Harris, Sarah Sellars and Jim Buchanan, who chairs the committee.

From the Johnson City Press: Peterson’s assistant, Teresa Kinsler, now holds the interim property assessor title after being named by the commission on March 28. Commissioner John Moseley was the only opposing vote and Walter Garland was absent.

“She had been helping Peterson run the office for some time and she is now conducting a write-in campaign before we even made (this decision),” Buchanan said of Kinsler.

Sen. Sara Kyle’s husband bows out of hearing election lawsuit

Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle has recused himself from hearing a lawsuit filed by former Memphis City Court Clerk candidate Wanda Halbert related to the accuracy of last year’s election results, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Shelby County Election Commission filed a motion Wednesday for Kyle to remove himself from the case because his wife, Democratic Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis, is in a contested election, Jim Kyle said.

The SCEC motion came after Kyle, himself a former senator, had a run-in with SCEC staff as he tried to get a map of his wife’s district.

“I’m sure I was a bit frustrated,” he said of his repeated attempts to pick up an accurate map.

Kyle said his recusal was “inevitable” once his wife was challenged for her seat, but he stressed that he had abided by the law through the process and hadn’t helped his wife’s campaign in any way.

As a side note, he added: “Today, I got my map.”

The other two chancellors have already recused themselves, so the case could go to a Circuit Court judge, Kyle said. If no circuit judges agree to hear the case, an outside judge would be brought in to hear it.

Halbert filed the lawsuit in October after losing the City Court clerk race to Kay Robilio because voting machine reports didn’t match final tallies.

Indicted Rutherford sheriff won’t resign, plans to seek reelection

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold intends to ignore calls for his resignation and remain in office despite facing federal charges, according to the Daily News Journal.

“On the record, I have no intentions of resigning,” Arnold said in a text message to a Daily News Journal reporter Saturday morning, the day after being brought into a federal courtroom in handcuffs.

Arnold, Joe Russell, the sheriff’s office chief over administration, and John Vanderveer, the sheriff’s uncle, face a 14-count indictment pertaining to profiting off the sale of JailCigs to inmates.

At a time when residents have started an online petition to oust Arnold as sheriff, he has presented himself as an innocent, although imperfect, elected official through an investigation that began more than a year ago and included FBI agents raiding his home.

Arnold sat down for an exclusive interview with a DNJ reporter Saturday morning. Although the sheriff refused to answer questions about the case against him, he did respond to personal questions and shared his plans for the future, which include running for re-election in 2018.

Since running for his seat as the Republican nominee in 2010 with 51.77 percent of the vote, Arnold has remained confident in facing accusations.

Arnold defeated longtime Democratic Sheriff Truman Jones in a year in which Republicans won all elections on the Rutherford County ballot.

The sheriff’s race in 2010 was contentious. Jones, through the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, attempted to block Arnold from being eligible for the election by asserting Arnold had not earned a standard high school diploma.

Arnold divulged then that he had dyslexia when he graduated with a special education diploma from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro in 1995. The Tennessee Commissioner of Education determined that Arnold had earned a valid diploma, thus making him qualified to be sheriff, Arnold recalled.

Note: Previously, the newspaper reported that Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, whose district includes portions of Rutherford County, had called for Arnold’s resignation. The indictment also prompted this emailed missive from Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini:

“From Washington, D.C. to Murfreesboro, Tennessee Republicans’ corruption goes from the top all the way to their roots. From Sen. Corker’s insider trading scandal to Governor Haslam awarding no-bid contracts to his friends to Sheriff Arnold using his position to line his own pockets, it’s clear Tennessee Republicans see our government as their personal piggy bank. Tennesseans are tired of being taken advantage of by Republicans at every level of government.”

Partisan debate in Senate District 10: Bathrooms vs Insure TN

Perhaps setting a precedent for fall legislative campaigns, Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga is attacking the Democrats seeking his seat for failure to speak out against President Obama’s bathroom directive. The Democrats are attacking Gardenhire for voting against Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal.

So reports the Times-Free Press.

The three Democrats seeking the party nomination in Senate District 10 is flogging the transgender-student school bathroom controversy to distract voters from his own record on health care and in other areas.

Democrats Ty O’Grady, Khristy Wilkinson and Nick Wilkinson are competing for the Democratic nomination in the August primary. The winner will face Gardenhire in the November general election.

O’Grady, a business entrepreneur, charged in a statement that Gardenhire’s two votes in 2015 against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan for low-income Tennessee adults has resulted in “many children losing their parents and loved ones throughout our state.”

Calling Gardenhire “Dr. Death,” O’Grady said the senator “only cares about kids while they’re in the bathroom.”

“Gardenhire was unable to stand up for what he knew to be right [on Insure Tennessee] when tougher men and women made him toe the line. Gardenhire’s silence was not golden,” O’Grady said.

That was a reference to Gardenhire’s taunt last week that Democrats’ “silence was golden” in terms of not speaking out about the transgender issue.

Nick Wilkinson is Chattanooga’s deputy administrator for economic development. He said in a statement that “when Senator Gardenhire could be fighting to ensure 35,000 veterans have access to health care by passing Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, working to make neighborhoods safer, or finding ways to ensure all kids in our area have access to a high-quality education, he decides to waste money on a frivolous lawsuit and spends his time on issues counter to the good judgment of east Tennesseans.”

Last week, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery joined 10 other states in suing the Obama administration over its recent guidance to the nation’s public school districts. Federal officials say schools must allow transgender students to use restrooms and locker facilities based on their gender identity and not biological sex.

Khristy Wilkinson, a community activist and former adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who is not related to Nick Wilkinson, said in an interview, “I fully support Obama’s directive and I fully believe that public schools should accommodate transgender students.”

“I feel there are many more important issues facing our children than a seemingly unfounded fear that transgender people are just sexual predators waiting in bathrooms to harm our kids,” she said. “If this were really a safety issue we would have done something about it a long time ago.”

If Gardenhire “is really so concerned about protecting our kids, then he would be working to improve the standard of education they receive” as well as working to eliminate poverty and address the state’s health needs, she said. “I think there are more pressing issues facing our kids and families in Tennessee than where to use the bathroom.”

Gardenhire said he was surprised the three Democrats “didn’t understand the fundamental reasons” for Slatery filing suit against the Obama administration.

The Obama administration says schools that don’t comply with its directive risk losing federal funding due to officials’ interpretation of civil rights provisions related to sex discrimination.

“And that is any president should not be able to change the words of the law — as in Title VII and Title IX,” Gardenhire said. “No. 2, the lack of knowledge. The Obama administration threatened to cut off money to schoolchildren for his social agenda. Those are the fundamental reasons for the lawsuit and it’s interesting that they still refuse to address those issues and call Obama’s hand on it.”

Sunday column: On the need for an Office of Legislative Litigation

In hindsight, given the recent emergence of restrooms as a major issue for Republican legislators, perhaps many members of the Supermajority see as a mistake the rejection of Rep. David Hawk’s proposal for annual September sessions of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Hawk, R-Greeneville, proposed in HB1501 to automatically have legislators return for a couple of days each September, explaining, “in this fast paced world in which we live, there are lots of issues that come up outside the constraints of our regular session that really need to be addressed legislatively.”

After winning initial approval in one House committee, the bill got the cold shoulder late in session – about the same time legislators were also deciding against proposals to hold a special veto override session in May, just in case Gov. Bill Haslam should decide to reject some measure favored by the Supermajority.

The decision against a veto override session proved sound. Apparently as Haslam had tacitly suggested, he was ready to go along with anything else passed, despite his previously-voiced public misgivings on some bills. He did and a veto override session proved unnecessary.

On the other hand, developments otherwise have arguably almost proved Hawk correct about the need for post-session return of legislators to address emerging issues. In this fast-paced world, President Obama’s administration has moved in a post-session “directive” to have transgender persons admitted to restrooms based on their chosen gender, not on the gender appearing on their birth certificate.
Continue reading