State Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, has sent a letter to colleagues saying that he is considering a challenge to Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, for the position of House Democratic Caucus chairman.
House Democrats meet Wednesday to elect leaders for the 108th General Assembly, which convenes on Jan. 8.
Shaw, a former chairman of the Tennessee Legislature’s Black Caucus, was in Washington for a meeting of the National Conference of Black Legislators, according to an aide, and could not be reached for comment.
Turner said he is confident that he has the votes lined up to be re-elected as caucus chair and hopeful that Shaw may decide against putting his name in nomination as a display of unity among the minority Democrats.
Democrats hold 28 House seats in the coming session — 14 of them members of the Black Caucus, 14 white.
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley apparently has no opposition for re-election as House minority leader, the top leadership position for a House Democrat.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Members of the House Republican caucus on Monday unanimously nominated Speaker Beth Harwell for another term in charge of the chamber, but ousted Rep. Judd Matheny from the No. 2 slot.
Matheny, R-Tullahoma, was defeated by Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville in a secret ballot.
Matheny announced in August that he was mulling a challenge to Harwell for speaker because he felt marginalized by other Republican leaders. He said they worked to dilute his key legislative initiatives ranging from loosening gun laws to battling what he perceived as the spread of Islamic law in the United States.
He later abandoned that bid in favor of another term in his current role, but by that point, Johnson had already begun to round up support for the position.
“We all need to pull together, we should all remember that our caucus tent is big enough to have different opinions,” Johnson said before the vote.
Both the Democratic and Republican caucuses routinely bar media and the public from attending their meetings — a contrast from a few years ago. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey tells Andrea Zelinski that as a “general rule” he thinks the meeting should be open. House Speaker Beth Harwell, well, not so much. “We don’t want to look like we’re hiding things behind closed doors,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate, telling The City Paper his chamber’s Republican Caucus meetings will be open “as a general rule.”
“I just think nine times out of 10, in life in general, most problems are caused by misunderstandings and from lack of information. When you see the sunlight shine on us, you say, ‘I see why you do that now,’ ” he said.
Those meetings should only be closed when the caucus elects its leadership next month or when “the family has fights within the family,” he said. “But if we’re discussing state policy, it’s open and always has been as far as I know.”
In the House, lawmakers aren’t so sure how wide they will extend their doors.
“One of the advantages of having a caucus meeting is to let people voice their opinions freely,” said Harwell who said she’d leave decisions to open normally closed-door meetings to the caucus.
Such closed-door meetings on the Hill fly in the face of the intent of the state’s open meetings law, which requires every other government entity to ensure even meetings between two voting members qualify as an appointment worthy of public announcement and scrutiny.
The issue is problematic particularly when Republicans in both chambers have enough members to conduct business without a single Democrat present, say open government advocates.
Republicans will have a 70-28 majority in the House of Representatives and a 26-7 majority in the Senate. In both chambers, the GOP holds a supermajority, or two-thirds of the chamber, and has the potential to hash out public policy debate in closed meetings instead of in public.
“Since the Republican-dominated legislature can pass any legislation at will, it will be more difficult for anyone to successfully challenge bills presented by the majority, but that makes it all the more important that objections to legislation be heard in committee and honestly debated,” said Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government..
Andrea Zelinski has a rundown on the closed-door Republican Caucus meetings for election of legislative leadership positions. The most interesting of those races will happen Monday, Nov. 26, at the AT&T Building downtown, where members of the massive House Republican caucus are expected to cast their votes for the people they want to lead them through the next two years.
Only one of those races is contested, as of publication. It’s between a sitting leader who fell on the opposite side of party leadership on a handful of conservative, controversial bills and a quiet state rep who has largely worked behind the scenes.
The job is for speaker pro tempore, the official No. 2 ranking legislator in the chamber. Job responsibilities chiefly include manning the podium when the speaker is out of pocket. But more than that, the speaker pro tempore can vote in any standing committee, giving the electee power to cast the tie-breaking vote on just about any piece of legislation.
The post is now occupied by Rep. Judd Matheny, an auctioneer from Tullahoma who has a decade of experience on the Hill. He has been the speaker pro tempore for the past two years.
In his tenure, he performed few of those official duties. Matheny rarely manned the podium for Speaker Beth Harwell — who seldom let go of the gavel — and cast few tie-breaking votes in key committees.
It’s a job that leadership, both past and present, could have utilized better to free up Harwell, the chamber’s top Republican, said Rep. Glen Casada, a Franklin Republican expected to run unopposed for a different caucus position.
“She and the rest of us are kind of learning our way around. I would say the last two years, it’s because we’re still learning where all the gears and levers are, if you will,” said Casada, a conservative who ran an unsuccessful bid for speaker two years ago against the more moderate Harwell, the first GOP-backed speaker since Reconstruction.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic leaders point to insulting comments made by two Republican lawmakers to the Legislature’s black caucus in calling for legislators to undergo diversity and sensitivity training.
State Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson has been criticized for an email he sent earlier this month to the chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators saying: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
His Republican colleague, Stacey Campfield of Knoxville, has supported the comment and even called the black caucus a “segregationist organization” that should be ignored.
Three years ago, Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis held two diversity training sessions for legislative staffers following the revelation that a Tennessee legislative staffer sent a racist e-mail about President Barack Obama from her state computer.
About a year later, Deberry gave the same sessions to state Safety Department officers who provide Capitol Hill security after a state trooper accidentally sent an e-mail proclaiming white pride to 787 state employees.
Those attending the sessions spent at least five hours being coached to avoid discriminatory behavior unacceptable in the workplace. It was the same training Deberry’s marketing firm gave to some clients before he became a legislator.
Deberry, who is a member of the black caucus and a former chairman, said the recent comments reveal a culture of insensitivity that still exists at the Capitol and that maybe it’s time for lawmakers to go through some sessions.
“Statesmanship is the ability to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it,” said Deberry, adding that he would be willing to once again oversee the sessions.
“That’s what we have to do if we’re going to be successful in making good public policy and having good public image. We’ve got to … learn how to communicate better.”
State Sen. Stacey Campfield says a colleague’s reference to a rat’s rump in a rebuke to the Legislature’s Black Caucus has become a “catch phrase” among members of Tennessee’s delegation to the Republican National Convention.
Expanding in a telephone interview on comments made in blog posts from the convention, the Knoxville lawmaker also said Wednesday the Black Caucus is a “segregationist organization” that should be ignored, just as Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, suggested in a controversial email.
That email, sent to Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, with a request that she forward it to other members of the Black Caucus said: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Black Caucus thinks.” He was responding to a Black Caucus comments on a Senate subcommittee report.
Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, chairman of the Black Caucus, said Campfield’s remarks were “asinine.” Adam Nickas, executive director of the state Republican party, said in an email that Campfield was wrong about use of the phrase at the convention.
“The only catch phrase I’ve been hearing is, “We built it,” in response to President Obama’s degrading comments to hard working small business owners,” Nickas wrote.
“In regards to Mr. Campfield and Summerville’s comments: We do not endorse their comments and they are not reflective of the view of the state party. Such statements are simply ridiculous.”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to launch a full inquiry into voting irregularities across the state.
“There are a lot of questions about the integrity of the August primaries, and voters deserve answers,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “We didn’t have these problems four years ago.”
In Shelby and now Davidson County, there have been reports of voters getting the wrong primary ballot and voting in the wrong district. State election officials have admitted that poll worker training was inadequate. Davidson County officials were advised against using electronic poll books, but used them anyway.
“We need to know why the machines defaulted to a particular party’s ballot,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “We need to know who made that decision, and we need to know whether these machines will be used again.”
Democratic leaders called on lawmakers to reconsider the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which requires that precincts use optical scanners that produce a paper ballot. The bipartisan law passed unanimously in 2008 but implementation has been delayed.
“People invest considerable time in deciding how to cast their vote, and when they leave the voting booth, they should be confident their vote counted the way they intended,” Sen. Finney said. “I hope state election officials will take these irregularities seriously and conduct a thorough review.”
Rep. Glen Casada talks with Andrea Zelinski about his anticipated return to the role of House Republican Caucus Chairman, succeeding the defeated Debra Maggart. Casada is generally regarded as more in tune with House conservatives than Speaker Beth Harwell, who edged out Casada to win the gavel two years ago. Harwell typically works hand-in-glove with Gov. Bill Haslam, both of whom are centrists who’ve been criticized at times by party conservatives for being more attentive to big business interests than grassroots concerns.
However, Casada is himself loathe to criticize Harwell. The chief reason he’s uninterested in trying to make a grab at the speaker’s gavel again this year is that “Beth has done a good job,” he said.
“Things are well. We’re cutting taxes. Government’s small. Things are going well in the state of Tennessee so I see no reason to switch at this stage,” Casada said.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, on the other hand, isn’t so happy with the status quo. The conservative Tullahoma Republican is mulling a run for speaker. Matheney told The Associated Press earlier this month that as a result of his conservative politics he feels he’s “purposefully been put in a box” by the caucus higher-ups.
For his part, Casada says House leadership has never made him feel like that. He said he feels he would “add to, not conflict with, the leadership team” of Harwell and GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, who says he expects Casada would fit naturally back into a leadership role, if he pursues the seat.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Sen. Jim Summerville on Friday resigned from the Senate Education Committee after being stripped of his subcommittee chairmanship over an email that insulted the Legislature’s black caucus.
The Dickson Republican has been criticized for sending an email to the chairwoman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators saying: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”
Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham stripped Summerville of his chairmanship of the higher education subcommittee for the remark, but the senator appeared unrepentant in brief remarks to reporters on Friday morning.
“Which part wasn’t clear? The matter speaks for itself,” he said. “Maybe I could have used a more artful term like a ‘rodents posterior.'”
The black caucus had sent Summerville an official response to a hearing over complaints about Tennessee State University’s handling of grade changes. The group called the allegations “much ado about nothing” and questioned why the historically black university was singled out for a legislative investigation.
Summerville did not give a reason for his resignation from the committee in a handwritten letter to Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.
Democrats have demanded an apology, but Summerville hasn’t given one.
— Note: WKRN reports Summerville also made an obscene gesture to a TV news crew, story HERE.
State Sen. Jim Summerville was removed Thursday as chairman of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee after an email sent from his personal email account used a graphic term to convey to the legislature’s black caucus his view of its response to a hearing Summerville chaired last week on grade changes at Tennessee State University.
Further from Richard Locker: “I am very disappointed in the unfortunate choice of words and tone used by Senator Summerville in responding to Rep. (Barbara) Cooper,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, said in a statement Thursday. “There is a standard of courtesy that must be observed by members of the General Assembly and this went beyond what is acceptable. He has been removed as the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee Chairman.”
Summerville, R-Dickson, did not return repeated calls and emails from reporters to his home and office for comment. The email was sent to Cooper, D-Memphis, Wednesday night and, apparently at Summerville’s request, she forwarded it to her colleagues in the black caucus and other legislators. Summerville is a freshman lawmaker known for his candid public statements.
The message from a personal email address that Summerville has publicly posted as his says: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks. Jim Summerville”
The subject line of Summerville’s email to Cooper says “Please share this response with your colleagues”.
The email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, is one that Summerville has publicly posted as his personal contact for several years on various websites, including the National Association of Scholars, of which he was Tennessee chapter president. He is an adjunct professor of history at Austin Peay State University.
Cooper could not be reached for immediate comment but Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, chairman of the legislative black caucus, said that if the message is from Summerville, “that’s appalling. Not only does he embarrass himself, he embarrasses the entire state of Tennessee by making a statement like that. It makes you wonder what his state of mind was at the time. Why would a state senator even think that and why would you put it out publicly?
— Note: Statement from House Democratic Caucus, Democratic party below.