About the same time that the most despicable figure in recent Tennessee political history was found dead in a prison cell last week, a small group of folks gathered in the state House chamber to remember a man they saw as one of the most admirable and respected figures in that history.
I never knew William L. “Dick” Barry, who during tumultuous times presided over 98 other representatives in that ornate chamber as House speaker for four years, from 1963 to 1967, then served as right-hand man to Gov. Buford Ellington and then as mentor and adviser — plus, at least once, also as a backstage organizer of an unorthodox bipartisan coalition. He died quietly, aged 88, in the town of Lexington, Tenn., where he was born and where — in accord with his instructions — no formal funeral was held.
But I trust the judgment of those who did know him, including members of the mostly gray-haired bipartisan coalition that gathered Wednesday. Based on them, and the commentary of others, he was a remarkable and insightful man of great intellect with perhaps even more remarkable modesty.
William Logan “Dick” Barry, who served as speaker of the state House of Representatives in the 1960s and then executive assistant to Gov. Buford Ellington, has died in a Lexington nursing home at age 89, according to friends.
“Dick Barry’s death marks the end of an era,” said former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who served in the state House while Barry was top aide to Ellington.
“He was a solid rock of integrity and a real historian,” said Ashe Thursday “State government was made better by his participation and leadership.”
State Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said Barry died Wednesday evening at a Lexington nursing home, where he had resided in recent weeks after hospital treatment for an illness.
Barry, a lawyer who once served as publisher of the Lexington Progress newspaper, was elected to the state House in 1954 and became floor leader in 1958 and then in 1963 and with the support of Gov. Frank Clement was elected speaker. He served as speaker until 1967, when joined the Ellington administration and served until Democrat Ellington left office in January, 1971, with the inauguration of Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn.
The $12 million in secret donations funneled from two new Tennessee companies to the FreedomWorks super PAC (most recent previous post HERE) grew out of an internal feud within the tea party-oriented PAC, the Washington Post reports.
The mystery donation involves Richard J. Stephenson, described as “a reclusive Illinois millionaire,” and Richard K. “Dick” Armey, a former House majority leader ousted as FreedomWorks chairman in a September “coup” wherein a pistol was produced at one point. Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey’s agreement to leave the group.
The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them.
In the weeks before the election, more than $12 million in donations was funneled through two Tennessee corporations to the FreedomWorks super PAC after negotiations with Stephenson over a preelection gift of the same size, according to three current and former employees with knowledge of the arrangement. The origin of the money has not previously been reported.
These and other new details about the near-meltdown at FreedomWorks were gleaned from interviews with two dozen current and past associates, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.
…According to public records, FreedomWorks received more than $12 million before the election from two corporations based in Knoxville, Tenn.: Specialty Investments Group and Kingston Pike Development. The firms were established within a day of each other by William S. Rose III, a local bankruptcy lawyer.
Rose, who could not be reached for comment, has said publicly he would not answer questions about the donations. But according to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the donations, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC.
Brandon, FreedomWorks’ executive vice president, told colleagues starting in August that Stephenson would be giving between $10 million and $12 million, these sources said. Brandon also met repeatedly with members of Stephenson’s family who were involved in arranging the donations, the sources said.
Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said.
“There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC,” said one person who attended the retreat. “I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it.”
Perhaps on a bipartisan basis, state legislators are moving toward repealing Tennessee’s limits on political campaign contributions while requiring more rapid and complete disclosure.
Rep. Glen Casada, elected House Republican Caucus chairman last week, said Friday that concept is at the core of a “comprehensive” revision of state campaign finance law that he and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron hope to introduce in the 108th General Assembly that convenes Jan. 8.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions, along with the ever-increasing expense of campaigns, mean that contribution limits are no longer needed or desirable, said Casada.
“A campaign is, in essence, getting your message out,” he said. “That is free speech and free speech costs money.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who was reelected to his post last week, told reporters that he has decided the time has come to “re-think” past support of campaign contribution limits because they are no longer effective.
“I’m coming around to that (repeal of limits),” Kyle said. “What we’ve found is that Republicans are so good at circumventing the law, why go through the effort?”
Gov. Bill Haslam has replied to a publicized letter from Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that asked for assurances that Tennessee is taking steps to assure that voters are not denied ballot access because of a new law requiring a photo ID for voting.
Basically, it says: Yes, senator, we are taking steps. It outlines some of the law’s provisions and says voter education efforts are getting underway.
“The Department of Safety and Homeland Security is placing citizens who need photo identification for voting purposes in an ‘express service’ category. While there will still be some wait time at some centers, this should speed up the process for citizens needing photo IDS.
“The Department of Safety and Homeland Security is also working with numerous county clerks’ offices, including some in counties where no driver service centers are located, to issue photo identification cards to registered voters who need them at no charge. This should increase significantly the number of locations where voters can go to obtain photo identification.”
For full pdf text of the letter, click on this link: 091511_Sen._Durbin_Letter.pdf
(Note: Expands and replaces previous post)
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jim Cooper are urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to take steps to ensure ballot access under Tennessee’s new law requiring a photo ID to vote.
Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is holding hearings on new voter ID laws in the Senate. He joined Cooper in his Nashville district on Monday to discuss the Tennessee requirements with reporters. The senator has also sent a letter to Haslam about the issue.
“It is curious that the people most affected by this — who would be those in lower income categories, minorities and the elderly — tend to vote more Democratic,” Durbin said. “And we think in many instances in states that have done this, they will be discouraging those populations from registering and voting.”
Cooper said he recently went with his 92-year-old mother to get a government-issued ID.
“She’s 92, she hasn’t driven in eight or 10 years, and she didn’t have one,” Cooper said. “So I took her by and we got her a special non-driver driver’s license, so she’s able to vote now.
“This is a minefield for the uninitiated,” he said. “And you shouldn’t have to go through all this red tape to vote.”
The state estimates that more than 126,000 registered voters in Tennessee could be affected by the new law because their government-issued IDs don’t have pictures on them.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on state laws requiring a photo ID for voting, reports The Tennessean, with arguments apparently echoing the differing positions taken by Republicans and Democrats in Tennessee.
“I am deeply concerned by this coordinated, well-funded effort to pass laws that would compromise the right to vote,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the civil rights subcommittee, said at Thursday’s hearing.
He said the incidence of voter fraud is “minimal” and doesn’t justify such measures.
Durbin wrote to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday, asking him to explain the steps his administration is taking to “ensure that Tennesseans without the forms of photo identification now required by the law can obtain it — efficiently and free of charge — before the next election.”
In a Sunday editorial, The Tennessean suggests that Gov. Bill Haslam is missing the point when it comes to open government issues. Both the editorial and a companion piece by Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause, review the governor’s record and politely suggest there are several shortcomings.
From the editorial:
In a phone conversation on Friday, Gov. Haslam was asked if he would rescind his January disclosure policy. He said he has no plans to do so, and then asked “What is the public good?” But the good that comes of knowing your public officials is vital, indeed. What citizen would not want to know the extent of an elected official’s business holdings, since those dealings often intersect with the work of government? How these officials have conducted their careers, whether in the public or private sector, obviously informs their decisions about who they will vote for. And businesses, nonprofits and other institutions who might in future deal with these officials likewise want to know whom they are dealing with.
It comes down to trust — a pact between public officials, voters and taxpayers that goes beyond the vote that put them in office.
Gov. Haslam could take a big step toward assuring Tennesseans of that trust by rescinding his January order, and along with his senior administration officials, disclose not only their sources of income, but also how much they make.
It does matter to Tennesseans, governor, whether you made $1 or millions of dollars. They not only have a need to know but a right to know.
Williams hopes that Haslam’s present attitude is the result of inexperience. These examples are not insignificant for the public to be aware of, but not necessarily the final word on the administration. We can hope that these are examples of a new administration coming from the private sector into the public sector with its responsibilities for openness.
In the waning hours of the legislative session, the House and Senate passed and sent to the governor a bill (SB1666) that provides for issuance of a free photo ID on request to persons who sign an affidavit saying they need it to vote – which some will under the bill passed earlier mandating a photo ID for voting.
The bill was sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, who also sponsored the voter ID bill. Democrats had argued that, without such a bill, the voter photo law was unconstitutional, amounting basically to a poll tax for those who now lack a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID acceptable under the bill.
(Previous post on the arguments HERE.)
The fiscal note on the bill estimates costs at about $450,000 and has an explanation of how many voters are impacted.
I was reminded of this – and that I haven’t seen it reported anywhere — when reading through Dick Williams’ end-of-session memo on open government and election legislation which the gentleman who runs the Common Caucus show in Tennessee was kind enough to pass along.
It’s reproduced below.