Category Archives: partisan fighting

More TN partisan sniping over misbehavior

The Tennessee Republican Party has cited the theft charges filed against Hamblen County’s Democratic Party chairman in a news release that declares “misbehavior by Democratic officials has become a theme in 2016.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party has cited domestic violence charges filed against Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, already facing trial on federal corruption charges, as an another example that “Tennessee Republican corruption goes all the way to the core.”

The Morristown Citizen-Tribune reported last week that Timothy Wayne Woodard of Talbott, Hamblen County Democratic chairman and a member of the county election commission, has been indicted by a grand jury on nine misdemeanor counts of theft and illegal removal of documents from the Circuit Court office where he once worked.

The newspaper quoted an investigator as saying there were actually 57 files missing from the court office and all were recovered — 55 from the lawyer’s office where Woodard now works and two from his brief cases. Continue reading

AP story on squabbles over ditching Durham

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A special legislative session to fix a costly drunken driving law kicked off Monday with a squabble about how or whether Tennessee lawmakers should go about trying to expel one of their own.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called the special session because Tennessee stands to lose $60 million in federal road money because of a new state law that increased the maximum allowable blood alcohol content for drivers below the drinking age.

While quickly fixing that to bring it back into line with federal zero-tolerance standards appears to be headed for easy approval, an unrelated ouster effort against a lawmaker who was the subject of an extensive sexual harassment investigation led to heated exchanges on the House floor.

The probe detailed allegations that Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin had improper sexual contact with at least 22 women over the course of his four years in office. Continue reading

Holt vs. TNDP on election administrator’s exit

A Tennessee Democratic Party press release criticizing a new state law declaring that only Republicans can serve as county election commission chairs included a line that says Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, “had a local Weakley County election administrator fired and then replaced her with his inexperienced friend.”

Holt has responded to that with a missive to state Democratic Chair Mary Mancini, declaring in part the “disgraceful & slanderous accusations are baseless, and serve as a reminder that the modern Democratic Party is wrought with corruption.” He included a copy of former Weakley County Election Administrator Barbara Castleman’s letter of resignation to show she left of her “own volition.”

And TNDP’s communications director, Spencer Bowers, has in turn responded to Holt with a “correction” to the press release acknowledging that Holt did not fire the election administrator, then adding, “What he did was much worse. By recommending the removal and replacement of three members of the 5-member election commission he manipulated the system until he got what he wanted, the job for his inexperienced friend.”

Holt includes a link to the blog post (HERE) that included the TNDP press release. TNDP includes a link to a Jackson Sun story describing event leading to Castleman’s departure.

(Note: The Sun story quotes Castleman as blaming Holt’s activities for her decision to quit and avoid “the hassle of the representative calling my shots and things.” Link to full story below with TNDP release; short blog version HERE.)

The Holt letter and the Bowers response are both below. Continue reading

Only TN Democratic election commission chair ousted

The State Election Commission has voted to remove Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons from the Sevier County Election Commission after he refused to step down as chairman in compliance with a new state law mandating that only Republicans serve as county election commission chairs.

In a letter to Fitzgibbons, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins says the commission decided “in a bipartisan 5-2 vote” to remove him from office “as a result of your violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 2-1-111 and 2016 Public Chapter 1069.”

The cited law, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature to take effect on July 1, declares that all county election commission chairmen must be members of the political party representing a majority of the commission. Under separate state law, Republicans have a majority on all county election commissions and on the State Election Commission as well.

Fitzgibbons was elected chairman of the Sevier County panel in April of 2015, becoming the only Democratic chair in the state on a 3-2 vote when a Republican member voted for him by mistake, Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, told the News Sentinel earlier. The change of law to require Republicans only be chairs came in the form of an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

According to State Election Commission correspondence on the issue, provided on request by a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, the Sevier County Election Commission voted to reorganize Aug. 12 and chose Jack Ogle as the new chairman, but Fitzgibbons the vote out of order and continued to describe himself as chairman.

The Tennessee Democratic Party issued a press release on the matter Monday. It’s below. Continue reading

Sunday column: On TN bipartisan party dysfunction

When Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini recently ordered the settlement of a Shelby County Democratic Party squabble over financial mismanagement, her Republican counterpart, Ryan Haynes, promptly issued a press release denouncing “Democrat dysfunction.”

“Instead of taking responsibility and cleaning up the mess, the TNDP wants to ignore the problem in the hope that it goes away. It’s part of a disturbing pattern for them: Democrat public officials do something wrong and their Party pretends nothing ever happened. It’s right out of the Hillary Clinton playbook and it spells disaster for them this fall in Tennessee.”

That followed, by a couple of weeks, a TNGOP news release — with the headline “Tennessee Democrats: Corrupt to the Core” — that recited a list of Democratic officeholders who have run afoul of the law, starting with former Gov. Ray Blanton in the 1970s and continuing to Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who is facing trial on federal tax evasion charges. Continue reading

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.”

Mancini bashes supermajority session; GOP bashes Mancini

Excerpt from a Richard Locker report on Tennessee Democratic Chair Mary Mancini’s news conference on the recently-ended session of the state Legislature:

“This year’s legislative session and the 109th General Assembly perfectly illustrate the differences between Tennessee Democrats and Republicans. Republicans are in the supermajority in the Legislature and at every critical moment when they could have shown leadership they instead at best said ‘There’s nothing we can do’ and at worse showed themselves to be unethical, self-serving extremists,” Mancini said.

“They spent hours debating the state book, the state rifle and whether or not skunks should be house pets — but refused to bring Insure Tennessee to the House floor for even one minute of discussion. They fought hard to give tax breaks to the top wage earners while doing nothing to address the fact that Tennessee has the highest percentage of low-wage workers in the nation.”

Her remarks included references to bills designating the Bible as the “official book of Tennessee,” which the governor vetoed, and the Murfreesboro-made Barrett M82 sniper rifle as the state’s official rifle, which was approved; the failure for the second year of Haslam’s plan to expand health coverage to up to 280,000 low-income working residents, and an approved reduction in the state’s Hall income tax on investment earnings.

…The party chairman said 104 Democrats are running for the state Legislature and for Congress this year: 77 running in 68 state House districts, 10 in six state Senate districts and 17 in nine congressional districts.

Mancini would not predict how well Democrats will do in the state elections.

Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, called Mancini’s statement “over-the-top rhetoric” and a “silly attempt to obscure the fact that they supported an indicted representative and spent taxpayer time sponsoring far-left bills for mandatory” erectile dysfunction treatment and studying “swingers’ clubs.”

“Maybe that’s a winning formula in San Francisco but it’s a guaranteed loser in Tennessee,” Leatherwood said in a statement.

The erectile dysfunction bill he cited, House Bill 1927, was apparently an attempt to draw attention to the impact of anti-abortion legislation because it required 48-hour waiting period for a physician to write a prescription for an ED drug and mandatory counseling. The other bill, HB 1269, asked for a study of the potential regulation of “swingers’ clubs” and was introduced in 2015 when the planned location of a club next door to a school generated considerable controversy. But it was never discussed in a committee and later withdrawn.

ECD promoting GOP on Facebook?

More than half of the money a state agency has spent on Facebook ads targets supporters of Tennessee’s top Republican politicians, with none spent on Democrats, according to WSMV-TV. The report prompted a press release protests from state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and TNDP Chair Mary Mancini.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is to attract businesses to the Volunteer State, as well as to let the community know what’s going on. One of several marketing strategies involves paying for ads on Facebook.

What pops up in a user’s newsfeed may seem random, but Facebook can target users based on interests. And if you “like” certain officeholders, there’s a good chance you’ll see updates from the TDECD Facebook page.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is a nonpartisan state agency, except they’ve paid more than $18,000 to target people who “like” Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker or Sen. Lamar Alexander. Not a dime was spent on targeting fans of Democrats.

That fact troubles Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

“I think the real question is more so, who’s not getting the information who deserves to get the information?” Oppenheimer said.
… So why would an agency that’s interested in developing businesses and creating jobs not cast a wide net to garner fans of all political parties? The I-Team sat down with TDECD Commissioner Randy Boyd.

“Should politics be involved in a department that’s supposed to be apolitical?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“Politics is a pretty broad word,” Boyd said. “We have to work with the legislature and the legislature is always creating new legislation affecting things we do, and they are political. So in that sense, the politics of new laws and legislation do affect what our development and any department does.”
… Many of the ads pushed for more Facebook likes. Others were more specific, such as a post around Valentine’s Day 2014 that targeted users who like “Bill Haslam or chocolate.” But of all the metrics the department used, none mentioned Democrats.

“I think the blatancy of this may be a little different. Probably the thought is, no one is really going to find out about this sort of targeting,” Oppenheimer said. The professor said the strategy also resembles microtargeting, a tactic used during political campaigns to reach voters.

“It looks like something a campaign or somebody who’s thinking of running for office [would do],” Oppenheimer said. “It’s an attempt to get your message out and manage what you’re doing and who you are.”

Political watchers say there’s talk in Republican spheres about Commissioner Boyd running for governor.

Note: The Harris commentary is below. Continue reading

Session-ending games: Democratic goose, GOP gander?

Two Democrat-sponsored bills, seemingly scuttled by Republicans in partisan gamesmanship, were revived and approved during the last days of the session.

One was a measure sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville that would allow indigent people convicted of driving with a suspended license to pay their court costs and fines through community service rather than cash, subject to local approval.

On a motion of House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, the measure (SB2149) was amended on the House floor to instead increase penalties for people convicted of driving while under the influence of methamphetamine when a child is in the vehicle and then sent back to committee.

The move was in retaliation for Stewart and other Democrats forcing floor votes on amendments that Republicans felt inappropriate.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Casada.
Continue reading

On playing partisan games as legislature winds down

A sequence of partisan bickering events last week led to the apparent death in the House — barring a last-minute change of heart by Republican representatives as the Legislature moves to adjourn this week — of a Senate-passed bill (SB2149) allowing indigent people convicted of driving with a suspended license to pay their court costs and fines through community service rather than cash, subject to local approval.

The bill is sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, who has played a pivotal role in pushing Democratic amendments to various Republican-sponsored bills that reached the House floor — almost always voted down by the supermajority.

Here’s a rundown on last week’s events, which began with a noncontroversial bill (HB2009) sponsored by Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, that changes the wording of some education-related statutes:
Continue reading