Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2014 reelection campaign netted only about a $120,000 gain in the first six months of the year because of expenditures that included payments to three campaign workers who were also on the state’s payroll.
The campaign reported $347,913 in contributions from Jan. 15 until July 1 of this year, along with $226,968 in spending. Thanks to earlier fundraising and an $8,320 carryover from the 2010 campaign, the governor’s re-election fund still had a balance of more than $2 million cash on hand.
The disclosure also shows Haslam is continuing to list $3.5 million that he personally put into the 2010 campaign as a loan to the 2014 campaign, meaning he can use surplus funds from the 2014 effort to repay himself with campaign money if he chooses.
So far, Haslam has no announced opponent to his reelection.
Top donors on the contributor list include Tom Beasley, a founder of Corrections Corporation of America, and his wife, Wendy, and Joseph Gregory of Piney Flats, part of a family that became wealthy through King Pharmaceuticals, and his wife, Lucinda. Each donated $7,600, the maximum permitted by state law for an individual.
With two terms under his belt, ample funding and a voting record that’s solidly Republican and pro-life, Rep. Joshua Evans would seem like a lock to secure the GOP nomination for the 66th House District in August.
But, Chas Sisk observes, he faces a potentially stiff challenge from Lee Harrell, a veteran of the state Capitol who now works as a lobbyist. Evans holds the advantages of a sitting incumbent. His campaign went into the primary with more than $36,000 in the bank, and he has secured the endorsement of Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group.
The two do not appear to differ much on policy.
Harrell is hitting Evans hard over his travel overseas. Harrell also pledges to waive the $173 per day that state lawmakers receive for expenses and compensation — taking on a frequent complaint voiced on conservative talk radio and in tea party circles.
…Evans is not chairman of any committees. He has been a steady rank-and-file vote on Republican legislation, standing out only as the sponsor of several measures favored by pro-life groups.
…Harrell can claim experience in the state Capitol, too, despite never having been elected to office.
Starting as an intern in the Tennessee legislature in 2001, Harrell worked as an aide to state Sens. Douglas Henry, Randy McNally and Jamie Woodson before leaving in 2009. Harrell specialized in education policy, and after leaving the Capitol, joined the influential Tennessee School Boards Association as its director of government and labor relations.
….Harrell was stopped in 2010 on suspicion of drunken driving, a charge that was first reported in May by the Capitol website TNReport after it was brought up by a pair of Evans’ Republican colleagues in the legislature. Harrell pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of reckless driving and violating the state’s implied consent law.
“It was a mistake,” Harrell said. “I fully expect my opponent to bring that up.”
Evans says he did not raise the DUI charge, but he criticizes Harrell for working as a lobbyist after leaving state government.
“People don’t realize that,” Evans said, “and it seems to be an issue when they are told that.”
Meanwhile, Harrell is hitting Evans over his attendance record at the legislature. Evans missed 116 votes in 2011 and 2012, with more than one-third of them unexcused.
A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has a DUI in his history — a fact some lawmakers want to highlight although one of their party peers faces trial on the same charges.
Excerpt from Andrea Zelinski’s TNReport: The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.
“I think it’s probably important for voters to have that information and be able to use that in their consideration,” said Evans, a Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner.
Evans is beating back a challenge from Harrell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, in the 66th District encompassing Robertson County. The August primary election race is one of 21 this year where House Republican incumbents are trying to fend off challengers.
Harrell was arrested Sept. 4, 2010, on drunken driving charges and refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test.
“It was certainly a mistake, but I learned from it. I’ve moved on. I’m a better person because of it,” Harrell told TNReport.
According to the arrest warrant, Harrell was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone on I-40 in Nashville on a Saturday night and was seen “meandering back and forth in his lane of travel, partly crossing into other lanes.” The report said he had watery, bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and “lacked smooth pursuit” while performing field sobriety tests before refusing a blood-alcohol test.
His DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2011, along with violating the implied consent law.
TNReport obtained documents about Harrell’s arrest from Rep. Vance Dennis, a Republican lawyer from Savannah who describes himself as a “good friend” of Evans, and provided the information for “personal” reasons.
News release from Lee Harrell campaign:
WHITE HOUSE–Lee Harrell has qualified to challenge Joshua Evans for the Republican nomination in House District 66. Harrell currently works for the Tennessee School Boards Association as the Director of Government and Labor Relations and resides in White House.
“I am running for this seat because the voters of Robertson County deserve a state representative who is accessible, hardworking, and dependable. As state representative, I will continue my passion for improving education in Tennessee. A strong system of public education will attract industry, generate jobs, and promote economic development,” said Harrell.
“Also, as a Republican, I firmly believe in a smaller, less intrusive government. Washington, D.C. is out of control with its wasteful spending and reckless, unconstitutional mandates, and we need strong leaders in our state legislature to stand up to these bureaucrats,” he added.
Harrell has dedicated much of his career to the issue of public education. Before working for the Tennessee School Boards Association, he served as a research analyst for the State Senate Education Committee. He worked with the committee through the implementation of BEP 2.0, charter school reforms, expansion of lottery scholarships, and several other educational initiatives. With TSBA, he has worked with the General Assembly and other stakeholders in securing Tennessee’s Race to the Top Grant as well as endorsing legislation to end collective bargaining.