legislative campaigns

Sen. Crowe to seek reelection; downplays gas tax retribution talk

State Sen. Rusty Crowe tells Robert Houk that he will run for reelection in 2018, saying he got an “outpouring of support” for another four-year term after Houk did an earlier column on speculation that he would retire.

“It got my energy up to see support coming from so many points,” he said.

Crowe, 70, will complete his 28th year in the Senate next year. His reelection decision is mentioned in a column devoted largely to talk that Washington County road projects got left off Gov. Bill Haslam’s three-year funding plan, recently announced, because local House members – Reps. Matthew Hill and Micah Van Huss – opposed the governor’s gas tax bill.

Crowe, who voted for the IMPROVE  Act, has been trying to downplay that notion.

Even so, Crowe admitted the House leadership is more prone than that of the Senate to dole out punishment at budget time to members who don’t fall in line. That retribution usually comes in the form of no funding for pet projects.

Crowe said he respects the reasons his colleagues in the House have given for not voting to increase the fuel tax. He said he was in a similar situation 17 years ago when he refused to support Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s push for a state income tax. Crowe believes that stand cost him his job at East Tennessee State University.

The senator also said that House members “seemed to be pulling in very different directions… It was like herding cats.”

TSEA backs underdog Democrat in House District 95 special election

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Employees Action Movement endorses Julie Byrd Ashworth, D-Collierville, for House District 95.

“Working to elect candidates who support state employees is an important goal for TEAM-PAC, which is why we are happy to endorse Julie Byrd Ashworth for House District 95,” TEAM-PAC Administrative Committee Chair Patricia Bowman said.

“Ms. Ashworth’s experience as a trail lawyer will be an asset on Capitol Hill in Nashville as she advocates for state employees,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Our local state employees were impressed with her knowledge of the issues affecting state employees.”

Note: Ashworth won the Democratic nomination in the House District 95 special election, called after the resignation of Republican Rep. Mark Lovell after he was accused of sexual harassment, without a primary opponent. The Republican nominee, businessman and school board member Kevin Vaughan, defeated six opponents in the heavily Republican district. The general election is June 15. TSEA Executive Director Stamps, quoted in the release, is a former Republican state representative and former political director of the Tennessee Republican Party.

Collierville school board member wins GOP nomination in House District 95

Collierville Schools board member Kevin Vaughan won the Republican primary election for state House District 95 by 49 votes over former Germantown alderman Frank Uhlhorn, reports the Memphis Daily News.

The unofficial results show Collierville alderman Bill Patton running third in the seven candidate contest. (Vaughan had 1,066 votes; Uhlhorn 1,017. Full results on Shelby County Election Commission website, HERE.)

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Low turnout in House District 95 early voting

Only 2,535 people cast ballots in early voting on choosing a successor to former state Rep. Mark Lovell, Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips tells the Commercial Appeal. That’s 4.9 percent of registered voters in House District 95.

Of those voting early, 2,313 voted in the Republican primary and just 222 in the Democratic primary.

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House panel backs audits of all campaigns spending more than $175K

A House committee voted Tuesday to require audits of all future legislative campaigns that involve spending more than $175,000 – a figure that would catch almost all Senate campaigns but few in the House.

The House Local Government Committee approved the provision in an amendment offered by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Timothy Wirgau, R-Buchannan, who is also sponsor of the bill (HB992). The amendment and the overall bill were approved on voice vote after brief discussion, including questioning of Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

As approved in Senate committee, the bill would increase the number of random audits conducted by the Registry of Election Finance. Currently, the Registry selects 2 percent of legislative campaigns for random audits; the bill would raise that to 4 percent. That part remains in the House version with the $175,000 provision as an extra.

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Rep. Brenda Gilmore seeking seat now held by Sen. Thelma Harper

State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, has announced she will run next year for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 19, now held by veteran Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville.

Harper, 76, who has served 27 years in the Senate, has not announced her plans on seeking another term. In a statement released after Gilmore’s announcement, Harper said she’s considering retirement but will wait until after the legislative session to decide.

Howard E. Jones Jr., pastor of Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church in Goodlettsville, announced in February that he would seek the seat if Harper decides to retire. (Note: Video of his statement, posted by the Tennessee Tribune, is HERE.)

Here’s Gilmore’s news release:

State Representative Brenda Gilmore today announces her candidacy for the 19th State Senatorial District.

“Now more than ever we need leaders with a longstanding record of giving back, listening and responding to constituents’ concerns,” Gilmore said.  “I go to work every day and listen to the concerns and frustrations of our citizens. I have been blessed with the opportunity to actually respond and make a real difference. It would be my honor to continue giving back to this community.”

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On collecting excess PAC money, then voting to raise limits

Senate State and Local Government Chairman Ken Yager, who recently voted to double the amount of money senators can receive from political action committees, broke the existing limit last year and had to refund $60,000 in excess donations, reports The Tennessean.

“I found out about it when I was notified that I exceeded the aggregate limit by the Registry of Election Finance and returned it promptly upon learning about it,” Yager, R-Kingston, said in a statement to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee.

After refunding the money, Yager joined more than 30 other legislators in setting up his own leadership PAC, known as KEYPAC.

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On legislators, a private club, a PAC and ‘a peculiar circle’

The private club and the political action committee operated by The Standard, an upscale Nashville restaurant located near the state Capitol, have been giving and receiving money from state legislator campaign funds, reports The Tennessean. And sometimes there’s “a peculiar circle of payments.”

Twenty-five Republican state legislators and Nashville’s Democratic District Attorney, Glen Funk, are members of the private club and collectively they have paid about $150,000 from their political campaign accounts to the restaurant and club since it was founded in 2009. About $50,000 of that went to pay for private club memberships.

Standard Club PAC, meanwhile, has donated about $100,000 to campaigns of people who are members or who frequent the club, the newspaper says. An excerpt:

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Mailer bashing former Rep. Todd as ‘lobbyist superhero’ wins award


News release from Direct Edge

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Direct Edge Campaigns was awarded two coveted Pollie Awards from the AAPC, the industry’s highest honor bestowed upon political consultants at the national and international level. Direct Edge Campaigns was recognized in the categories of Best Use of Slate Mail – “Morrisey/Mooney 2nd Amendment” (West Virginia Republican Party) and Best Use of Humor – “The Lobbyist Superhero” (Tennessee Federation for Children PAC) in the campaign to defeat (former state Rep.) Curry Todd.

“We are pleased to receive these prestigious awards in two different categories for our work this past election cycle,” said Direct Edge President Gregory Gleaves. “The contest was more competitive than ever this year, so being selected out of the many talented entries is truly an honor.”

The annual Pollie Awards & Conference brings the leading political professionals in the world together to network and hear from top technology innovators, pollsters, pundits and service providers. The bipartisan awards are presented by the AAPC to members of the political advertising and communications industry who have demonstrated superior work on behalf of their candidates and causes.

The AAPC announced this year’s winners at the 2017 Annual Pollie Awards & Conference on March 17 in Huntington Beach, CA. Award winners were selected by a blind jury.

Note: The award-winning mailer was part of about $135,000 in spending by Tennessee Federation for Children’s PAC in attacking Todd, who opposed school vouchers that the federation supports, in last year’s Republican primary. He lost in House District 95 to Mark Lovell, who has since resigned from the Legislature amid sexual harassment allegations.

No interim appointment to vacant House District 95 seat

The Shelby County Commission voted Monday night against making an interim appointment to fill the House District 95 seat vacated by former Rep. Mark Lovell, reports the Memphis Daily News. The vote was five for making an appointment; six against.

Democrats hold a majority on the commission and there had been some talk of appointing a Democrat to the seat, though Lovell was a Republican. A special election to fill the vacancy has been scheduled, though the general election vote will not be held until June 15.

“I don’t see any sense in us going through with this,” commissioner Terry Roland said of the appointment.

But five of the commission’s seven-member Democratic majority voted to move ahead with the appointment. Democrat Justin Ford voted with the five Republicans present not to make the appointment. Democratic commissioner Eddie Jones was absent from Monday’s meeting.

The commission also approved $320,000 in funding for the special primary and general elections for the state House seat as well as another $40,245 for a special Lakeland election in May to fill a vacant commissioner’s seat.

“Not to throw anyone under the bus, but when people run for office it’s serious,” said commissioner Mark Billingsley. “Be sure you know what you are getting yourself into.”


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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