Category Archives: opinion

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

Sunday column: On the legal validity of dumping Durham

Last week’s extraordinary session of the Tennessee Legislature had some ordinary aspects — predictable partisan and bipartisan bickering, for example — but the Jeremy Durham debacle was really something special.

After the 70-2 vote Tuesday to expel the Franklin Republican from his House seat, Durham made the rounds at Nashville television stations declaring that he’s likely to file a lawsuit, contending that his removal from office violated the state constitution.

This was somewhat anticipated during the House floor debate. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, suggested that a lawsuit would cost taxpayers more than paying Durham’s pension, which he will lose as result of being booted prior to completion of his term in November. That, and concerns about constitutionality, were among the reasons cited by Holt in boldly pushing the blue light on House voting machines, which means he was present but not voting. Three others did the same, including one bold Democrat, Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. Continue reading

A TN political junkie reading list, 9/10/16

Special session is the feds’ fault
In separate writings this week, conservative columnists Frank Cagle and Greg Johnson fault the federal government for the necessity of a special Tennessee legislative session to revise a DUI statute enacted earlier this year – albeit with different approaches in doing so. Cagle sees the matter as “the latest example of congressional impotence,” HERE. Johnson decries it as a federal government “defunding mandate,” HERE.

An excerpt from Johnson: “The feds, never content to let the elected officials who actually live and work in the communities affected make decisions on behalf of their neighbors, insist the state fall in line with the federal 0.02 blood alcohol level for underage drinkers.”

Cagle’s conclusion: “If Congress is too spineless to stand up to federal bureaucrats, international trade treaties, Washington lobbyists, executive orders and federal judges, why keep pretending that who you elect to Congress matters?”
Continue reading

Sunday column: On the foul-up blame game

The special legislative session that convenes Monday to fix a $60 million mistake has inspired a political blame game that will likely continue with speeches to be made while giving rubber-stamp approval to the required fix.

There is, indeed, fault to be found in the situation. But the game participants seem to be ignoring a lot of it, maybe including the fundamental problem.

Democrats have taken the lead in finger pointing, starting when the U.S. Department of Transportation pointed out last month that a bill approved in April lowered the legal presumption for drunken driving from .08 blood alcohol content to .02 for people aged 18 to 21. Continue reading

Sunday column: On TN campaign yawning

After spending most of the year fighting among themselves, Tennessee Democratic and Republican party operations now finally are poised to devote post-Labor Day attention to general election contests wherein candidates clash along party lines.

But there are really very few places to focus that attention beyond a national obsession with the presidential campaign. With the exception of a dozen or so races for state House and Senate seats, the outcome of state-level contests is already a foregone conclusion, just as it has been in the last couple of election cycles.

Maybe that’s why Tennessee barely escaped being dead last among the 50 states for voter turnout in 2014, according to a Pew Charitable Trust review of election data. Texas finished lowest with a turnout of 28.34 percent of registered voters. Tennessee’s turnout was just above that at 28.54 percent. Maine finished at the top of the national list with a 59 percent voter turnout. Continue reading

Sunday column: Sweetheart deals part of the process?

Earlier this summer, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada advocated expulsion of Rep. Joe Armstrong from the Legislature prior to his trial, contending that the veteran legislator’s acknowledged activity — basically making a personal profit from legislation — was wrong even though perfectly legal.

Armstrong bought state cigarette tax stamps, through a tobacco wholesaler, then supported a cigarette tax increase. After the 2007 tax hike passed, he sold them at a $321,000 profit. That was legal. The criminal charges came from failing to pay federal income taxes on the money and a jury convicted him on one felony count of filing a false tax return, which Armstrong’s attorney is fighting.

Casada’s contention was that Democrat Armstrong “violated the public trust,” whether or not convicted, just as did Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, who had not been charged with any crime, but who stands accused of inappropriate sexual “interactions” with more than a score of women interns, legislative staffers and lobbyists. A continuing probe involves the possibility that Durham diverted campaign money to personal use.

Maybe there was a violation of public trust in both cases. But if making a profit from knowledge gained as a public official becomes a standard for judging violators, a slippery slope is created. There’s a long history of public positions being manipulated to create what might be called sweetheart deals. Continue reading

Recent TN political junkie reading list

Demise of Shelby County Democratic Party
Jackson Baker has a review of the decertification and pending rebirth of the Shelby County Democratic Party. HERE.

Trump may be ‘Camfielded’
George Korda likens Donald Trump to former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who “became known locally and nationally for statements and issue positions the news media followed like a deranged stock car spectator yearning for a wreck.” HERE.

McNally shows lack of judgment
Frank Cagle says Sen. Randy McNally’s support of Rep. Jimmy Matlock for House speaker is puzzling. “It’s hard enough herding cats in your own chamber without getting involved in the House Republican Caucus.” HERE. Also, note Cagle’s column last week, wherein he puts Nashville conservative talk radio hosts atop a listing of losers in the Aug. 4 elections.

Boozing at ASD
Sam Stockard eyes the recent audit of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, starting out with a focus on partying with alcoholic beverages but getting into less intoxicating aspects with perhaps more long-range implications. HERE.

Ketron defends voter ID law
Excerpt from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron’s op-ed piece in defense of Tennessee’s voter ID law with similar statutes under court challenge elsewhere: The vast majority of reasonable minds agree with Tennessee’s voter ID law. A Middle Tennessee State University poll determined that 81 percent of Tennesseans support voter ID at the polls. Most people agree it shouldn’t be easier to cash a check or buy cigarettes than to vote in Tennessee. Even the Democratic National Convention has required a photo ID to get in and vote.

Alexander on the Smokies
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander opines that, in many ways, things are better today in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than when it was established 100 years ago. HERE.

Sunday column: Independent spenders educating voters?

Speculating on trends on money in Tennessee politics, halfway through the 2016 election season:

In the 2014 legislative elections, the cheapest seat in the House was won by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who reported spending a total of $235.38 in winning re-election. In a solidly Democratic district, he had no primary opponent that year, but he did have a token Republican foe who reported spending exactly $200.

The most expensive 2014 House seat, going by total campaign expenditures, went to Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who spent $270,141 to be re-elected. In a solidly Republican district, he had a primary opponent who was outspent substantially, but no November foe. Continue reading

Sunday column: On a legislator’s plea to ‘lobby me’

In a late night text message to a woman lobbyist, as recorded in a recent state attorney general’s investigative report, state Rep. Jeremy Durham wrote: “I’m bored as hell. Lobby me.”

Such a plea for lobbyist attention is surely not the most offensive of Durham doings recounted in the report on his interaction with 22 women lobbyists, legislative staffers and interns. But maybe it best reflects a subtext in the overall report that delves a bit into the culture – or maybe it’s a subculture — of Tennessee’s Legislatorland.

Says the report at another point:

“The investigation revealed that lobbyists, much like staff members and interns, depend on maintaining a good working relationship with legislators for their livelihood and future success. A lobbyist depends on favorable support from legislators to satisfy and build a client base, and many female lobbyists interviewed described the substantial financial and professional stake they have in avoiding anything that would jeopardize a good relationship with legislators. As Jane Doe #4 put it, lobbyists do not have clients without legislators.” Continue reading

Sunday column: Money isn’t everything in 2016 TN campaigns

New financial disclosures were filed last week and, if you accept the proposition that the candidate with the most money usually wins a given race, they established clear frontrunners in most of Tennessee’s contested August primaries for seats in the Legislature and Congress.

But just maybe this is a summer for new exceptions to the general rule that money wins. In at least one legislative campaign, the biggest spender has become a clear underdog — Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who has spent $88,232 so far and has a cash balance of $122,147 versus just $13,247 in spending and a $28,312 balance for challenger Sam Whitson.

But then already-embattled Durham was hit with the equivalent of a $1 million attack ad with the release of a tawdry tale of his sexual exploits in Legislatorland. The guy now known as “Pants Candy” suspended his campaign on Thursday.

The “money wins” truism will be more interestingly tested elsewhere across the state. Continue reading