Category Archives: Joe Armstrong

Armstrong’s state pension benefits uncertain

Former Rep. Joe Armstrong’s state pension would provide him with $28,744 annually under the application he has filed, but state officials have not decided whether he is entitled to receive the benefits after a felony conviction for filing a false federal tax return.

Shelli King, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, said Armstrong’s application was received on Tuesday and officials are conferring with attorneys to decide whether it will be approved.

King said that Armstrong’s application opts for receiving maximum monthly benefits with no survivor benefits upon his death. If approved, she said in an email, “Rep. Armstrong will receive $2,395.34 per month based on 27 years, 10 months of service in the General Assembly” – or $28,744.08 per year.

Those making the decision will include state Treasurer David Lillard, who oversees the pension system, TCRS Executive Director Jill Bachus and others, she said, and “not just a single person.” She estimated that the process of making a consensus decision – one that might generate political controversy — could take four to six weeks.

Under state law, a legislator forfeits his or her pension benefits when “convicted in any state or federal court of a felony arising out of that person’s official capacity, constituting malfeasance in office.”

That raises the question of whether Armstrong’s federal court conviction arises out of his “official capacity” as a state legislator. The filing of his tax return, of course, was not an official duty as a legislator.

But the conviction was based on a failure to pay federal income taxes on more than $300,000 profit Armstrong made by buying, through a tobacco wholesaler, Tennessee cigarette tax stamps at the rate prior to a 2007 increase in the state cigarette taxes – which he supported as a legislator – then selling them after the increase was approved. Continue reading

Reaction to Armstrong’s retirement

Statements to media on the retirement of state Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville:

Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is publicly expressing it’s gratitude to State Representative Joe Armstrong of Knoxville for his years of service in the Tennessee State Legislature.’

Caucus Chair Brenda Gilmore said today “for almost 30 years, Joe Armstrong has worked hard serving the people of Knoxville in the State Legislature. He also had a distinguished record of public service in his community prior to his election to the House of Representatives in 1988.

“Joe Armstrong has been a tireless warrior for the disenfranchised of this state. He served as Chair of numerous House Committees during his legislative career and as President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Representative Armstrong’s experience, institutional knowledge and diplomacy will definitely be missed in the Tennessee General Assembly.” Continue reading

Write-in candidate files in House District 15

Rhonda Lynnese Gallman, who is known as “Mousie” and often demonstrates on behalf of justice and unity on Knoxville’s Martin Luther King Avenue, has qualified as a write-in candidate in House District 15, reports Georgiana Vines.

On the certificate she signed requesting that her ballots be counted, Gallman said she was running in a Democratic primary and a general election. Cliff Rodgers, Knox County elections administrator, said it is “fine” for her to do that, since she apparently identifies with the Democratic Party, but this is not a primary election and only a general election.

The ballot will list Rick Staples, whom the Knox County Democratic Party chose as its candidate after a felony conviction disqualified incumbent state Rep. Joe Armstrong from running, and Independent Pete Drew.

Armstrong was found guilty by a federal jury of filing a fraudulent income tax return on Aug. 8. His attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, has asked a judge to either throw out the conviction or grant him a new trial.

Armstrong said Friday he had filed retirement papers on Thursday, his anniversary date from when first elected in 1988, with his retirement becoming effective the same day as the special legislative session that begins Monday to resolve an issue on federal funds that are jeopardized.

Armstrong resigns as state representative

Veteran state Rep. Joe Armstrong, who was convicted Aug. 8 of filing a false income tax return, said Friday he has retired from representing the 15th District House seat, reports the News Sentinel.

Armstrong, a Democrat who first took office in 1988, said he took care of the paperwork in Nashville on Thursday. He said he hand-delivered papers to the Tennessee Consolidated Retired System and letters to the offices of the governor, House speaker and majority leader.

“I’m trying to follow protocol,” Armstrong said.

He said he was prompted to retire after Gov. Bill Haslam called for a special session beginning Monday to resolve an issue that could cost the state $60 million in federal highway funds that were in jeopardy after the state passed a law that made changes to Tennessee’s DUI law.

…Armstrong said he considered providing an excuse for not attending the special session because of other commitments.

“I decided since I’m not going to be a part of that, I got to think that I’d go ahead and submit my retirement,” he said.

He said about eight other people already have announced they will not attend the special session.

“He (the governor) has the votes. I’m retired. I’ll be a constituent,” Armstrong said.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell has declared that ouster of state Rep. Jeremy Durham will be considered during next week’s special session and others — notably including House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick — have said that the expulsion of Armstrong should be taken up as well.

Armstrong’s brief letter say his retirement/resignation is effective Monday, Sept. 12, the day the special session begins. A copy of the letter is available by clicking on this link: armstrong-resignation

Apparent Armstrong successor owes child support

Rodney “Rick” Staples, who has been chosen to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the Democratic party nominee in House District 15, is involved in a legal dispute over child support payments, according to Nashville Post Politics (crediting much of the Post post to a Knoxville Mercury story).

Armstrong is barred from running for public office because of his conviction earlier this month on a felony charge of filing false income tax return. Staples defeated former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown to become successor nominee in the executive committee vote and he now needs only defeat perennial candidate Pete Drew, running as an independent with no Republican on the ballot, in the November election.

An arrest warrant was issued for Roderick “Rick” Staples in March after he failed to show for court in a case involving more than $8,200 in past-due child support, court records show. The warrant was rescinded in June, when Staples’ court-appointed attorney issued a $3,000 check on his behalf. A new court date was set for Oct. 5.

“I know I missed a court date. I just had the wrong date,” Staples says. “I look forward to serving the 15th District as their state Representative, and one great aside to that is, I’ll have an assistant to help manage my schedule.”

… Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks says he was aware of Staples’ ongoing child-support case. He says he thinks everyone on the 15-person committee considering the House nomination was also aware, though it wasn’t discussed openly during a meeting and vote on his appointment on Thursday, Aug. 18. Staples beat out two other top contenders for the nomination, including Knoxville City Councilman Daniel Brown and LeTonia Armstrong, who is Joe Armstrong’s wife.

“We’re standing behind him as a party and we’re looking forward to the November election and to seeing him elected to the Legislature,” Brooks says.

Staples expects the court case to be resolved next year when his estranged son — whom we’re not naming because he’s a minor — turns 18 and graduates from high school.

Armstrong attorney: Split verdict invalid

From Jamie Satterfield:
If former state Rep. Joe Armstrong did not try to evade taxes, he cannot be guilty of filing a false tax return.

So argues Armstrong’s defense attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, in a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to either judicially acquit Armstrong of the felony filing a false tax return conviction he suffered this month or grant the now ex-lawmaker a new trial. Continue reading

Democrats pick Rick Staples to replace Joe Armstrong

Knoxville community activist Rick Staples was chosen Thursday to replace Joe Armstrong as Democratic nominee for the House District 15 seat, reports the News Sentinel.

Veteran lawmaker Armstrong won the nomination on Aug. 4 but lost it a few days afterwards when convicted on a felony charge of filing a false tax return. That bars him from seeking office under state law.

Armstrong’s wife, LeTonia Armstrong, had sought her husband’s position, but was not nominated at the Thursday night meeting of the Knox County Democratic party. Only Staples and Knoxville Councilman and former Mayor Daniel Brown got nominated.

Staples said after the vote that his recent losses in the city council and county commission races will help in approaching the 15th District election.

“I’ve gained experience the whole way … and I’m thankful for that. They may not have been wins, but they were lessons I learned,” he said.

Staples, a former Knox County Sheriff’s Office employee, is project management and communications supervisor for Castles of Choice project, and vice president and chair of mentorship for 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville. Earlier this year he lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for Knox County Commission’s 1st District seat.

Note: The last paragraph is from a separate, earlier News Sentinel story.

‘I am more than Joe Armstrong’s wife’

LeTonia Hardin Armstrong was politicking Saturday, passing out a resume of her qualifications to serve in the House District 15 seat at a Democratic women’s gathering, reports Georgiana Vines. The Knox County Democratic Executive Committee meets Thursday to choose a replacement nominee for Joe Armstrong, who was convicted of filing a false federal income tax report.

“I am more than Joe Armstrong’s wife,” she said following the luncheon at the Foundry.

…(She) distributed to some Democrats and the media a copy of an email she has written to 15 members of the Knox County Democratic Party who will make the decision. Continue reading

LeTonia Armstrong may seek husband’s House seat

LeTonia Armstrong, wife of veteran state Rep. Joe Armstrong, is one of the three top candidates to replace the veteran lawmaker in House District 15 following his conviction on a felony charge of filing a false tax return, according to the News Sentinel.

The other two are Knoxville City Councilman and former city mayor, Daniel Brown, and Rick Staples, a community advocate who has run several recent unsuccessful bids for local office.

The Knox County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee meets Thursday to choose a successor to Joe Armstrong as the party nominee. Armstrong’s conviction means he cannot run for public office under state law, but he won the nomination without opposition before the jury verdict. No Republican qualified to run for the seat, but the new nominee will face independent perennial candidate Pete Drew in November.

Letonia Armstrong, who has worked as a lobbyist in Tennessee and other states, tells WATE TV: “I’m talking with as many people possible in order to make a decision based on what is in the best interest of the 15th District.”

But the News Sentinel says some Democrats are worried that appoint her could lead to controversy in a situation where Joe Armstrong’s conviction has already created controversy enough.

“A lack of controversy, and heavy community involvement is probably the big thing for me,” Paul Witt said.

Witt will be among the 15 Democrats who will make the decision on who to place on the ballot.

…Avoiding controversy may make Armstrong’s wife less attractive to the position, though Witt didn’t call her out specifically. Witt said he didn’t want the appearance that the committee’s selection next week had any impression of being a backdoor deal.

…Outgoing Knox County Commissioner Sam McKenzie (mentioned earlier as a prospective candidate) said he isn’t seeking the seat, though he would likely be a favorite if he did. McKenzie said that he doesn’t have the time to dedicate to the office between looking after his ailing father and his job as facility manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But he didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking the 15th District in future elections.

“As things evolve in two years or four years, I’ll look at running for it,” McKenzie said. “I think I’m capable, but not right now.”

Knox Democrats eye three for Armstrong’s seat

Three names have emerged as potential candidates to replace Rep. Joe Armstrong as the party’s House District 18 nominee on the November ballot and the Knox County Democratic Party will pick one or perhaps another person who steps forward, reports the News Sentinel.

Armstrong, who had run unopposed in his primary race last week, was convicted Monday on a felony charge of filing a false income tax return, disqualifying him from seeking re-election.

Party members Monday pointed to outgoing County Commissioner Sam McKenzie, City Councilman Dan Brown and community advocate Rick Staples, who most recently lost in the March primary to replace McKenzie, as top candidates to replace Armstrong on the ballot.

Knox County Democratic Chairman Cameron Brooks said he called an Aug. 18 meeting of the Board of Governors for 6 p.m. at the party headquarters. The 16 members who live in House District 15 will nominate and vote on the nominee, he said.

“We’ll take nominations and then go through a roll call,” he said, adding that a majority is not required and whoever received the most votes will face perennial Independent candidate Pete Drew in the general election.

A nominee must be submitted to the state by noon on Sept. 29, which is 40 days before the Nov. 8 election, according to state officials.