Tag Archives: legislators

Conservative group rates TN legislators

The American Conservative Union Foundation has released its rating of Tennessee legislators for 2016, giving its highest scores to five Republicans at 96 – with 100 being perfection in the ACU view – and its lowest score to Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a 7.

The five highest-rated Republicans at 96 were Sen. John Stevens of Huntington and Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Roger Kane of Knoxville, Judd Matheny of Tullahoma and Micha Van Huss of Jonesborough.

The Senate average rating was 80 percent (Republicans overall 85; Democrats 49). The House average 70 percent (Republicans 86, Democrats 28). The combined average was 85.5, down from 92 in 2015.

Lowest-rated Republicans: In the Senate, Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville at 57 percent. In the House, Speaker Beth Harwell had the lowest rating, 71.

Highest-rated Democrats: In the Senate, Sen. Thelma Harper at 75. In the House, Rep. Kevin Dunlap of Sparta at 73.

The full Tennessee rating list is HERE.

The ACU Tennessee press release is below. Continue reading

McCormick for mayor?

State Rep. Gerald McCormick says he had no thought of running against incumbent Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke when he decided against another term as House Majority leader, but lots of people have raised the possibility since — and he’s not ruling it out.

Further from Andy Sher:
“That was definitely not on my mind,” McCormick said Tuesday of the idea of running for mayor. “It’s been surprising the number of people who’ve called me.”

Berke, a Democrat and former state senator, recently announced he is running for a second four-year mayoral term in the city’s March 7 election. City Councilman Larry Grohn last month announced he is challenging Berke for the non-partian position.

…The lawmaker, who noted he personally likes Berke, said “I’ve had people I respect very much” raise the issue in the days since about running for mayor. “I do not have any plans to run for mayor and if I had to give a quick answer the answer would be no.”

But, McCormick said, “I don’t want to close out the door completely.”

Berke, 48, has been embroiled in controversy after a domestic incident involving adviser Lacie Stone and her husband, Bobby. Bobby Stone has alleged his wife was having an affair with Berke. The mayor has denied the claim.

McCormick is a principal in the commercial real estate firm of Stone Fort Properties. He recently became a director with the investment banking firm of Decosimo Corporate Finance. In addition to overseeing Chattanooga-based Stone Fort, McCormick is assisting Decosimo in sourcing and executing sell-side advisory engagements and debt and equity raises.

Durham hit Florida fan during UT football game

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham hit a University of Florida fan in the face during the University of Tennessee’s football game Saturday and was escorted out of Neyland Stadium by a law enforcement officer, reports The Tennessean.

Several witnesses confirmed an officer approached Durham and asked him to leave. The recently expelled lawmaker complied and was escorted out of the stands by a Blount County sheriff’s deputy.

Photos and video obtained by The Tennessean verify that Durham was approached by the deputy and others after the hitting incident.

When initially approached by event staff, Durham said, “Did you see what he did? He pushed me. And I pushed his sunglasses off.”

A Tennessee fan who saw what happened said Durham was sitting with his wife and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a longtime friend of Durham’s. The Tennessee fan said a particularly boisterous Florida fan was yelling loudly, and at one point Durham responded to the yells. The Florida fan started yelling at Durham. Once the Florida fan yelled at Durham, the Tennessee fan said Durham turned around and hit the man in the face.

“As he hit the guy’s face, almost slapped at his face, he caused the guy’s glasses to fly off his face. (The glasses) probably went 10 to 12 people down the aisle and one row in front,” said the fan, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

…David Williams, son of former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams, who was seated three rows behind the Florida fan and four rows behind Durham, said, “I saw Mr. Durham turn around and basically smack the guy in the face and it knocked the sun glasses off his head.” Continue reading

Six legislators went to Europe at Andy Miller’s expense

Investigations into Jeremy Durham’s finances reveal gaping holes in state campaign finance laws that allow lawmakers to receive overseas “education” trips from wealthy donors and use campaign money for investments not reported to the public, reports The Tennessean.

Durham invested his campaign funds in the company of well-known Republican donor Andy Miller, who is the leader of an organization described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Miller also paid for six lawmakers — one Democrat and five Republicans — to take a trip in fall 2011 to Europe to learn about “radical Islam.”

The trips and the investments involved thousands of dollars, and raised concerns among ethics and open government advocates about the influence of money on the lawmakers. But none of these transactions or travel are required to be reported on any state campaign finance document, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

…Miller is a prominent tea party-aligned donor and leader of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the group is opposed to Islam and those who practice it, landing the organization on the SPLC’s list of hate groups for years, said Stephen Piggott, a senior research analyst at the SPLC.

…The “gift” loophole in state law allowed Miller to pay for six lawmakers to go on a five-day “fact-finding” trip to Europe. Because Miller isn’t a registered lobbyist, Rawlins said, there’s no violation of law, and there is nothing Miller or the lawmakers on the trip would need to report to his agency.

“They can’t accept a gift from a lobbyist or an employer of a lobbyist. So if it was paid for by a lobbyist or employer of a lobbyist, then it would be a prohibited gift. Otherwise, there’s no prohibition on taking a — and I’ll use the term gift, but a trip in this case — there’s no prohibition on that,” Rawlins said.

Miller’s trip included stops in Dearborn, Mich. — a city with a large Arab-American population — London, Brussels, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Those on the trip include: Sens. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro; Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; and then state Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Diane Black in recent primaries.

“The purpose of the trip was to discuss immigration issues with their peers in parliaments there that I had met on previous encounters,” Miller said in an email, also confirming paying for the trip.

“It may be hard for some to understand that I went to this expense simply out of love and concern for my country,” he said. “But that is the fact.”

Carr said Miller paid for flight and hotel costs. When asked is he was concerned about possible criticism of Miller financing an international trip for lawmakers, Carr said: “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

For Reps. Brooks, Carr: surgery instead of session

Medical problems resulted in two area legislators missing the special legislative session in Nashville called to bring the state’s law on federal zero tolerance for DUI into compliance, reports Georgiana Vines.

State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Knox County Republican who represents the 19th District, said Friday his absence was due to having a heart stent procedure Tuesday at the former St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Rep. Dale Carr, a Republican representing Sevier County, said he had a gall bladder attack and finally had the organ removed Thursday.

Brooks said Friday he is recovering but the doctor has told him he has to “kind of cool it.”

…Brooks said if he had attended the sessions, he would have voted to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, accused of sexual misconduct toward at least 22 women and under investigation by state and federal officials.

“It would have not been difficult to vote,” Brooks said.
Carr said he would have voted yes as well.

Both men said they approved rescinding the state law that was not in compliance with the federal law.

Carr said he had been having problems with his gall bladder most of the year.

“I would have loved to have been (there). I didn’t want to take any chances,” Carr said.

Casada, Sargent deny Durham kiss and hug claims

Ousted Rep. Jeremy Durham tells WSMV=TV that two prominent Republican legislators have hugged or kissed women at the Legislative Plaza. He also declared that another lawmaker who voted to remove him from office has smoked marijuana at the state Capitol and several others have consumed alcohol at legislative offices.

Durham did not name the individual he alleged smoked marijuana, but he did identify others for different claims.

“Charles Sargent, that’s who I’m talking about,” Durham said. “I’ve watched him kiss women on the mouth in Legislative Plaza. But I can’t even, like, send a remotely flirtatious text message.”

In July, the Attorney General released a report that accuses Durham of sexually harassing 22 women at the Legislature. The investigation also alleged Durham had sex with a college student in his office after providing her alcohol.

Durham denies he had sex or even made sexual contact with the women interviewed in the report.

Instead, he’s raising questions about his former colleagues.
“You know, the Glen Casada, the Charles Sargent, like let’s all hang out and hug on women,” Durham said. “That’s the ones that are in power.”

So is any of this actually true?

On Thursday Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, denied kissing women on the mouth at the legislature, only acknowledging the occasional hug or peck on the cheek if he knows the person.

“I don’t know where this young man is coming from,” Sargent said in a phone interview. “I feel sorry for him. We have a young man whose life is falling apart.”

Rep. Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, echoed those statements.
“I understand he’s hurting and he’s angry. I wish the best for him,” Casada said in a phone interview.

He added: “I hug women at church. I hug women at the Capitol. I hug men. I think hugging is proper, if done correctly,” Casada said.

But Durham didn’t stop there. He named lawmakers who he said regularly drink in their office.

Those men did not return calls from Channel 4. But even Durham admits, he too drank on state property.

“I have drank in my office before,” Durham said. “I did keep alcohol in my refrigerator, I did.”

When asked if she would look into these claims, Speaker Beth Harwell stated, “Jeremy has again called 22 victims liars, and he has no credibility. Beyond that, I have no additional comment.”

Koch-sponsored forum talks TN criminal justice reform

Conservatives gathered in Nashville Wednesday for wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation over criminal justice reform, reports The Tennessean. They discussed topics ranging from curbing court fees that prevent people from obtaining driver’s licenses, thus capturing people in a cycle of repeat offenses and poverty, to providing jobs for people who are released from prison. Panelists also showed support for decriminalizing minor, non-violent offenses as a way to cut down the state’s prison population.

“It’s important that conservatives understand the reality of our criminal justice system,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of conservative thinktank the Beacon Center of Tennessee. “We want conservatives to understand what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years isn’t working.”

For some like Owen, the dollars make sense to tackle reform.

“By and large we’ve done very little in the state of Tennessee to reform our criminal justice system, and it’s cost taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said. “It’s become the third-highest expenditure in our state budget and our crime rates have continued to go up.”

The event was hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, an outreach effort backed by one of the nation’s richest and most politically influential men.

Perhaps luckily timed because the Tennessee General Assembly’s special session brought lawmakers to Nashville the same day, those in the audience included state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and several other legislators. Also there were active local donor and businessman Lee Beaman (who is on the Beacon Center board) and Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City in Memphis, a group of lawyers and activists who advocate justice reform.

53 GOP legislators want to intervene in same-sex divorce

Fifty-three Republican state legislators have teamed with a Christian conservative group in trying to become involved in the pending divorce of two Knoxville women who are arguing over child custody.

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) announced Friday that its legal arm, known as the Constitutional Government Defense Fund, is representing the legislators in filing a motion to intervene in the divorce case of Sabrina Renae Witt vs. Erica Christine Witt.

The motion contends the legislators’ “unique and substantial interest in the legislative power and process will be impeded, impaired, and/or nullified” if courts interpret a state law “to apply to any persons other than a man and woman joined together as ‘husband’ and ‘wife.”

Knox County Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan ruled in June that Erica Witt has no legal rights under Tennessee law to involvement with a daughter born to Sabrina Witt through artificial insemination, as reported by the News Sentinel at the time. The couple were legally married at Washington, D.C., in April of 2014, when same-sex marriage was prohibited in Tennessee. There is still no state law on the books authorizing same-sex marriages, but they were validated by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. Continue reading

Legislators getting $16 ‘per diem’ boost

Most state legislators will soon get a $16 per day increase in the daily stipend they are paid while engaged in lawmaking endeavors, but not in time for the special session that begins today.

Legislators’ general “per diem” expense payment is currently at $204 per day, but will increase to $220 per day effective Oct. 1, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration. Under state law, the payment rate is adjusted each year, based on what the federal government pays its employees for spending a day away from home in Nashville.

The federal formula is based on two parts — one for the average cost of spending a night in a motel; the other for the average estimated daily cost of meals for a Nashville visitor. Starting Oct. 1, Ridley said the formula pegs the daily meal cost at $59, the same as now. But the motel cost average is up to $161, a $16 increase. Continue reading

Durham invested campaign funds with political donor

A state campaign finance audit shows Rep. Jeremy Durham invested money from his campaign, his political action committee and his personal bank accounts into the company of well-known Republican donor and activist Andrew Miller, reports the Tennessean.

Miller, who was scrutinized in 2014 after another GOP lawmaker invested money in his company, confirmed Monday he’s been contacted by the state about Durham’s investment.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, an entity within the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, is investigating whether Durham, R-Franklin, used his campaign funds for personal use or anything else that would be deemed a violation of state law.

“Yes, the state did contact me for clarification on an investment Jeremy’s campaign made. I have provided them that information and they seemed satisfied with our response,” Miller said in an email to The Tennessean.

On Monday, Drew Rawlins, executive director of the bureau, confirmed Miller’s company had provided information. Rawlins said Miller provided details about the amount of money Durham had invested in the company, along with the payouts Durham received from those investments.

Tennessee law states candidates can’t use campaign funds for personal purposes.

…When asked Monday if the information pertaining to these investments showed any illegal activity by Durham, Rawlins said, “We are still looking at it, so I can’t really say yet.”

On Monday, Nashville defense attorney Peter Strianse confirmed he is representing Durham in relation to an investigation by local U.S. Attorney David Rivera into Durham’s use of campaign finances and a possible tax violation. Durham has received two subpoenas, Strianse said. Late Monday, Miller said he has not been contacted pertaining to the federal investigation.