Category Archives: Legislature

Conservative group rates TN legislators

The American Conservative Union Foundation has released its rating of Tennessee legislators for 2016, giving its highest scores to five Republicans at 96 – with 100 being perfection in the ACU view – and its lowest score to Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a 7.

The five highest-rated Republicans at 96 were Sen. John Stevens of Huntington and Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Roger Kane of Knoxville, Judd Matheny of Tullahoma and Micha Van Huss of Jonesborough.

The Senate average rating was 80 percent (Republicans overall 85; Democrats 49). The House average 70 percent (Republicans 86, Democrats 28). The combined average was 85.5, down from 92 in 2015.

Lowest-rated Republicans: In the Senate, Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville at 57 percent. In the House, Speaker Beth Harwell had the lowest rating, 71.

Highest-rated Democrats: In the Senate, Sen. Thelma Harper at 75. In the House, Rep. Kevin Dunlap of Sparta at 73.

The full Tennessee rating list is HERE.

The ACU Tennessee press release is below. Continue reading

Spivey criticizes Harwell; Butt defends Spivey

State Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, has aimed fresh round of criticism at House Speaker Beth Harwell, who had declared him “irresponsible” for publicizing a complaint against House Clerk Joe McCord earlier in the week.

He says the speaker has adopted a “kill the messenger” stance and suggests Harwell was involved in attention paid to a fishing trip he and other legislators made to the Gulf coast with a school voucher advocate.

(Note: The letter to media is HERE, as provided by Nashville Post.)

Harwell had said earlier (post HERE) that Spivey had been “a longtime defender” of ousted Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, and linked that to the complaint that McCord used abusive language toward a legislative staffer and made an offensive gesture toward the woman’s 2-year-old granddaughter.

Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, said the matter in question was “fully investigated” but declined to provide specifics about the incident.

Further from The Tennessean:

Spivey was not the only lawmaker to push back against Harwell on Thursday. Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, issued a statement in which she defended Spivey.

“Representative Spivey has served his district with honesty and integrity and to impugn his character or suggest that the allegations made are a ‘joke’ even before any further investigation, may be politically expedient, however, it is very unprofessional,” said Butt, who is running to be the next House Majority Leader.

Former lobbyist paid for trip to Carolina by Harwell, others

A prominent voucher advocate who previously registered as a Tennessee lobbyist paid for a private plane in November 2015 to take House Speaker Beth Harwell, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and others on trips to visit North Carolina private schools, reports The Tennessean.

Dean, a Nashville Democrat, and Kara Owen, spokeswoman for Harwell, a Nashville Republican, confirmed the two leaders went on the trip.

Lee Barfield, a well-known local attorney, former lobbyist and voucher advocate, said he organized the trip and paid for the twin-engine propeller plane the group used. Barfield also said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and others were on the trip.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Steve McDaniel said he went on a different trip with Barfield in September 2015 to the same school in North Carolina. Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and then-Rep. Mike Harrison said they also went on that trip. Continue reading

Harwell: Rep. Spivey ‘irresponsible’ in complaint about McCord

Here’s a statement House Speaker Beth Harwell emailed to media today in response to a complaint filed against House Clerk Joe McCord by Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg:

“It is no secret that Representative Spivey is a long-time defender of Jeremy Durham’s and is upset about his expulsion at the special session–which Rep. Spivey failed to attend. Rep. Spivey did not want the Attorney General’s report on Durham released to the public and would not sign off on the report. Just as Durham lashed out last week at those who expelled him, his supporters–including Rep. Spivey–are doing the same this week.

“It is irresponsible for Rep. Spivey to involve himself in something without verifying the facts and in harassing our employees by releasing an inaccurate compilation of events. It is disrespectful for him to attempt to play political football with our state employees and their jobs, all because he personally disagreed with Jeremy Durham’s expulsion.

“I take all allegations of harassment seriously. Personnel issues are always handled by Legislative Administration in a professional manner, and they seek to reach a satisfactory conclusion for all parties. Our legislative staff does an outstanding job for every one of our members, and I sincerely appreciate the work they do.”

Note: Previous post HERE.

House clerk accused of abusive behavior

A Republican lawmaker is calling for an investigation into allegations that House Clerk Joe McCord made abusive comments to a woman staffer and raised his middle finger at her 2-year-old granddaughter when she visited House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office.

Further from The Tennessean:

In a letter emailed to The Tennessean late Tuesday night, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, called for an immediate investigation into what a staffer described as mental and emotional abuses perpetrated by House Clerk Joe McCord against a Legislative Plaza employee over “an extended period of time.”

When reached Wednesday morning, McCord said he wanted to talk to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, before speaking with The Tennessean. Ridley and Harwell are also accused of wrongdoing in the report.

The allegation from a fellow Republican comes as Harwell and House leadership continues to stave off criticism for their handling of the allegations of harassment by now-expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said he hadn’t reviewed Spivey’s report as of early Wednesday morning. After The Tennessean described the allegations in the report, Casada said they surprised him.

“I’ve known Joe McCord for 16 years, and I’ve never seen that behavior exhibited in a malicious way, in a way that was meant to be demeaning. That’s just not the Joe McCord I know,” Casada said.

” A lot of people will kid in a way that, it’s just a manner of joking. It’s not actually the emotion of anger, it’s just the way of kidding.” Continue reading

Brooks running for House GOP caucus chair

State Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland tells Nashville Post Politics that he’s running to become House Republican Caucus chairman, anticipating the man currently holding that office — Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin — will instead run for House majority leader.

“Glen and I have had multiple positive conversations,” Brooks said about his decision to announce his leadership bid during tonight’s House Republican Caucus fundraiser at the Hermitage Hotel. “It’s my understanding that Glenn wants to run [for Leader] … and tonight has been an very important evening — I feel like everyone I talked to offered me their support.”

Since last week’s announcement from McCormick that he wouldn’t seek the leadership role again, a number of legislators have stated or implied they want his job, the second highest ranking position behind House Speaker Beth Harwell. Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) told the caucus that she had already been planning to challenge McCormick, and Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) posted on Facebook that he was “prayerfully” considering running. Brooks also expressed an interest, along with Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and, of course Casada, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House.

According to Brooks, Casada is running for Leader. According to Casada’s staff Monday night, the legislator isn’t thinking past Election Day.

…”I think Glen and I will be a great team, should leadership allow us to serve together,” Brooks said. “He recruited me to run for office in 2006, and it’s a great feeling to think about serving with him now, together.”

Brooks may be the first name in the running for the caucus leadership, but he doesn’t expect to be the last.

“I would be surprised if no one else jumps in the race,” Brooks said.

Durham hit Florida fan during UT football game

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham hit a University of Florida fan in the face during the University of Tennessee’s football game Saturday and was escorted out of Neyland Stadium by a law enforcement officer, reports The Tennessean.

Several witnesses confirmed an officer approached Durham and asked him to leave. The recently expelled lawmaker complied and was escorted out of the stands by a Blount County sheriff’s deputy.

Photos and video obtained by The Tennessean verify that Durham was approached by the deputy and others after the hitting incident.

When initially approached by event staff, Durham said, “Did you see what he did? He pushed me. And I pushed his sunglasses off.”

A Tennessee fan who saw what happened said Durham was sitting with his wife and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a longtime friend of Durham’s. The Tennessee fan said a particularly boisterous Florida fan was yelling loudly, and at one point Durham responded to the yells. The Florida fan started yelling at Durham. Once the Florida fan yelled at Durham, the Tennessee fan said Durham turned around and hit the man in the face.

“As he hit the guy’s face, almost slapped at his face, he caused the guy’s glasses to fly off his face. (The glasses) probably went 10 to 12 people down the aisle and one row in front,” said the fan, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

…David Williams, son of former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams, who was seated three rows behind the Florida fan and four rows behind Durham, said, “I saw Mr. Durham turn around and basically smack the guy in the face and it knocked the sun glasses off his head.” Continue reading

Matlock offers ‘covenant’ to House GOP Caucus

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock has listed what he calls “the guiding principles” of his effort to replace Beth Harwell as House speaker in a document labeled “Covenant with the Caucus,” reports Cari Wade Gervin. The Covenant was emailed to members of the House Republican Caucus.

The one-page “covenant” (Note: Copy HERE) still offers no specifics as to what kinds of legislation Matlock wants to push, but it does throw shade on aspects of Harwell’s tenure.

“After many conversations with friends and colleagues in recent months, it is clear that many of us have a shared sense of concern regarding the manner in which the House operates,” Matlock writes, before elaborating in sections entitled, “SERVICE,” “PROACTIVE INTERACTION,” “CONSISTENT STANDARDS,” “CONSISTENT STRATEGY,” “CONSISTENT SUPPORT,” and “CONSISTENT RESPECT.”

Matlock describes how his office will reach out to members, how he won’t bully them, and how he’ll stand by all incumbents during primary races. 

“I will promote and apply high standards of conduct equally among all members. We cannot secure an environment of trust and confidence apart from the consistent application of such standards (emphasis his),” Matlock writes in the “CONSISTENT STANDARDS” section.

…Matlock stated in his email he plans “to deliver a signed copy of the covenant to each of you in the coming weeks.” However, he added that he wouldn’t be “sharing details regarding specific goals for the coming Session” until after the general election in November.

Five legislators hosted on seaside trip by voucher advocate

Five Republican state legislators were hosted on a three-day trip to the Alabama Gulf coast in 2014 by Mike Gill, a board director of Tennessee Federation for Children, a group that actively pushes school voucher legislation and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legislative campaigns through its political action committee, according to The Tennessean.

Reps. Andy Holt, Mike Carter, Billy Spivey and recently ousted lawmaker Jeremy Durham stayed at Gill’s condo and left one morning for a half-day deep sea fishing trip paid for by Gill. They didn’t catch many fish, but the captain showed them how to filet the ones they did. Rep. Jimmy Matlock also made the trip but went to the beach instead of fishing because he gets seasick.

The group traveled to Gill’s Gulf Shores condo and ate seafood at local restaurants on their own dime. They discussed policy, but some say there was a rule not to do so when Gill was around.

Carter, who bunked on a couch in the condo for the three-day trip, thought he might have to take a quiz after watching the movie. He described the weekend as “intense training in integrity” involving “an odd duck.”

(Note: The referenced movie was “A Man for All Seasons,” a 1966 film on the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who clashed with King Henry VIII on religious principles and was beheaded. The men watched the movie one night, then discussed it at length.)
Continue reading

Sunday column: On McCormick stepping aside

Gerald McCormick’s decision to step to the sidelines in the legislative theater probably will add another bit of drama to a developing political play over leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly, but it may not be as entertaining as some of the Chattanooga businessman’s past performances.

“You’re a disgrace to this state, pal,” McCormick told then-Rep. Kent Williams on the House floor back in 2009, just after then-Republican Williams had teamed with Democrats to be elected House speaker.

Just a couple of weeks ago, then-Rep. Jeremy Durham declared in an eight-page letter to legislators that McCormick had — during a “heated phone conversation” — used some rather explicit language to suggest that Durham had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior. The letter was a prelude to the House floor vote expelling Durham from his House seat, a move in which McCormick was otherwise instrumental. Continue reading