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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 18, 2019

Capitol View
Posted at 1:31 PM, Jan 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-08 13:27:05-05


John Ray Clemmons, West Nashville state lawmaker and now mayoral candidate, is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. This is his first depth television interview since announcing his city-wide bid. He is also the first to enter the race against incumbent Mayor David Briley. Election Day is August 1st with a September run-off if no candidate gets a 50% plus one-vote majority.

Clemmons has some experience taking on an incumbent. He defeated long time local lawmaker Gary Odom to gain his post in the General Assembly. He’s not mincing words so far about the Mayor, telling THE TENNESSEAN’s Joey Garrison about Briley. “He doesn’t have a vision for the city and…he can’t communicate it.”

Can Clemmons raise the money and support he’ll need to win? No incumbent Metro Mayor has been defeated for re-election in the nearly 54- year history of consolidated city/county government for Nashville. But all those mayors had at least one full-four year term of service in the office, while Briley only became mayor about 10 months ago after former Mayor Megan Barry resigned and Briley won a special election to serve out the rest of her term.

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Williamson County businessman Bill Lee becomes Tennessee 50th Governor this week. His swearing-in ceremonies and his inaugural address will highlight a weekend-long series of events marking the occasion.
From the office of the Governor-elect:

Governor-elect Lee’s Believe in Tennessee celebration events are in Nashville, January 18-20. Event details, tickets and reservations are available at through Friday, January 11. With exception of ticketed Saturday evening inaugural events, all celebration activities are free and open to the public with limitations based on venue capacity.

Friday, January 18 (all times Central)

Boots on Broadway: Music & More, an evening of live music at Acme Feed & Seed, 101 Broadway, 8 p.m.

Saturday, January 19:

Inaugural Worship Service, 8:30 a.m. Grand Ole Opry House (Opryland), moved from Ryman Auditorium due to high demand for tickets).

Inaugural Ceremony, War Memorial Auditorium, 11 a.m. (moved indoors from the Legislative Plaza due to expected bad weather)

Tours of the Tennessee State Capitol, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Tennessee State Museum, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., 1000 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard.

First Couple’s Inaugural Dinner and Ball, Music City Center, 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the black-tie optional event are $250 per person.

Believe in Tennessee Inaugural Ball, Music City Center, 8 p.m. Tickets for the black-tie optional event are $50 per person.

Sunday, January 20:

Tennessee Residence Open House, hosted by Governor Lee and First Lady Maria Lee, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Inaugural celebration events and activities are wholly supported by private donations according to contribution guidelines. The morning worship service will feature Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, Steven Curtis Chapman, Nicole C. Mullen, Matthew West and others. Tickets for the worship service are required and free to the public at based on seating availability. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early and be seated for the start of the worship service. “

The swearing-in ceremony will be held as a part of a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly. NEWSCHANNEL5 will provide live coverage of the event on the main channel (WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5) beginning at 11:00 A.M. and continuing until its conclusion at 12:30 PM. By the way, the last time I remember the swearing-in ceremony being moved inside was in January, 1975 when Ray Blanton took the oath of office indoors because of an ice storm.

The prayer service, which is a tradition of many years for gubernatorial inaugurations and which is funded with private not public monies, is also receiving criticism by a “freedom from religion” group.


With a flurry of appointments this week, Governor-elect Bill Lee completed forming his cabinet as promised prior to his swearing-in on Saturday. The announcements began on Tuesday with three commissioners being named:

From the office of the Governor-elect.

Clay Bright – Department of Transportation

David Salyers – Department of Environment and Conservation

Juan Williams– Department of Human Resources

Clay Bright, of Davidson County, currently serves as the vice president of Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the nation’s largest privately held general contractors. Bright has worked with the company for 36 years and was instrumental in opening the Nashville office of Brasfield & Gorrie. He managed some of the most complex projects in Tennessee including the construction of the AT&T Building.

David Salyers, of Madison County, currently serves as the executive director of the West Tennessee River Basin Authority, a division of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Salyers is a registered professional engineer, geologist and certified professional hydrologist who has worked with WTRBA for more than 20 years to develop conservation solutions for West Tennessee streams and rivers. During Salyers’ tenure, he has helped secure millions in federal grants for Tennessee and was also instrumental in developing the statewide water plan known as TN H2O.

Juan Williams, of Davidson County, currently serves as the operations manager for the Duke Energy Nashville Resource Center where he advises managers, supervisors and employees on matters including operations and workplace culture. Previously, Williams served as the Director of Change Readiness for Duke Energy, with focuses on business process, talent management and restructuring. In addition to nearly 17 years of human resources and operations experience, Williams is an active member of the community and serves on the Pencil Foundation Board of Directors.

Then on Thursday, first, three more cabinet posts were filled:

• Lisa Piercey – Department of Health.
• Brad Turner – Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
• Christi Branscom – Department of General Services.

Bio information from the Governor-elect’s office:

Dr. Lisa Piercey, of Gibson County, currently serves as the executive vice president of West Tennessee Healthcare. In this role she oversees a roster of hospitals with an emphasis on rural hospitals in Bolivar, Camden, Milan, Dyersburg and Martin. Dr. Piercey’s clinical background is in pediatrics with a specialization in child abuse pediatrics. She serves as the Medical Director for the Madison County Child Advocacy Center and is also on faculty at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Brad Turner, of Rutherford County, currently serves as the director of client services at HealthStream, Inc. Turner has worked with the State Interagency Coordinating Council to serve infants and toddlers with disabilities through early intervention programming connected to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He also works closely with special needs volunteer organizations including Project Help and Rising Above Ministries. Turner has served as a Rutherford county commissioner since 2010.

Christi Branscom, of Knox County, currently serves as the chief operating officer and general counsel at Partners Development. Previously, Branscom served as the chief operating officer and deputy mayor for the City of Knoxville, where she was the first female in Knoxville history to serve in this role. She spearheaded a number of complex projects, including the transfer of ownership of Lakeshore Park from the state to the city, negotiating the Regal Entertainment Group move to the South Waterfront and overseeing construction of the city’s Public Works Service Complex. She has also served the City of Knoxville as the senior director of public works and was also the first female in Knoxville history to serve in this role. Branscom founded Grace Construction in 2003 which specializes in custom home construction.

That left just one Cabinet spot to fill: a new Commissioner of Education. That announcement came separately on Thursday. The Education Commissioner pick is seen as a key one in the Lee administration given the new Governor’s outspoken support during his campaign for school vouchers and a greater emphasis on vocational and technical training. There are also the continuing issues to be dealt with concerning the state’ student testing and teacher evaluation program known as TN READY.

The choice is Peggy Swinn, the chief deputy commissioner of education at the Texas Education Agency. She is billed as a national “rising star” for education reform says THE TENNESSEAN.
Her bio information from the office of the Governor-elect is as follows.

“ (In Texas) she pursued a series of reforms including the transformation of a failing state assessment program. She also implemented the expansion of statewide externships and pathway development for improving students’ career readiness upon graduation.

Additionally, Schwinn oversaw the development of open-source instructional materials to empower teachers with high-quality resources for teaching. Prior to serving in the Texas Education Agency, Schwinn was the chief accountability and performance officer for the Delaware Department of Education where she led efforts to conduct a testing audit, which led to nearly a 20 percent decrease in student testing time.
A former teacher, Schwinn taught with Teach for America (TFA) from 2004-2007 with work in Baltimore City Public Schools and Los Angeles. She is also the founder of Capitol Collegiate Academy, a charter school that serves low-income students in South Sacramento.”

THE TENNESSEAN also reports the new Education Commissioner leaves Texas in the wake of some controversy:

“Schwinn leaves Texas amid controversy after the state, in a September audit, said it failed to catch a conflict of interest between her and a subcontractor that led to the state commissioner canceling a $4.4 million contract to collect data about special education students, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The contract eventually cost the state more than $2 million after receiving just $150,000 worth of deliverables, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Schwinn told auditors that while she knew her former coach would be hired as a subcontractor, she didn’t try to influence the contract. The state has since revamped its procurement process, The Texas Tribune reported.”

Clearly, Commissioner Schwinn’s role in reviving the Lone Star State’s failing student assessment program stands out as one of her top tasks to duplicate n Tennessee. Her work bio as an education reformer interestingly does not mention school choice or vouchers. But other media interviews with her indicate she is an advocate of parental school choice. Will the new Governor’s emphasis on that issue mean immediate action with voucher legislation being filed this year? And what about the increased emphasis on vocational and technical training? Stay tuned!

All the Commissioners will be sworn in Saturday as a part of the inaugural ceremonies.


I can’t believe it’s been four decades since Lamar Alexander was sworn into office early as Governor. The action came suddenly after Democratic legislative leaders were convinced by federal investigators that outgoing Governor Ray Blanton seemed poised to use his pardon and clemency power to release an additional number of state prison inmates in exchange for money. There had already been several such cases already under investigation

It was a bi-partisan coup that proved when the integrity and laws of the state seemed about to be broken, our elected leaders were willing to come together and do the right thing. Read Keel Hunt’s book COUP if you wanted to learn more. It’s a great read!

I was working at Channel 5 that day (January 17, 1979). We got word in the late afternoon that something was afoot on the Hill. Reporters were summoned to the State Supreme Court chambers. Out came the Chief Justice, Governor-elect Alexander and his family, along with legislative leaders. Quickly, Alexander was sworn into office.

Obviously, this was a very big deal and Channel 5 went live from the Supreme Court chambers to show the ceremony. That meant interrupting the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. This was in a day when nobody interrupted Uncle Walter, but the station did that, because it was that kind of unprecedented story.

My assignment that evening was to go to now former Governor Blanton’s new home on Robert E. Lee Drive off Granny White Pike in Brentwood. He left us stewing outside for a long time. He did allow long-time radio reporter Drue Smith inside to give her an interview. Finally, he came out on his front porch to make a statement to the rest of us. He took no questions.

There was never much love lost between Blanton and the media, especially the Capitol Hill Press Corps. Therefore, I guess he took some pleasure while he talked with us that night. That’s because while he stood under the covered part of his front porch, the media was left just off the porch…standing in the pouring rain!

When a state decides to schedule its transfer of power (swearing-in a new governor) in the dead of winter in January, you can expect the weather to always be iffy, if not wet, cold, even icy. The Blanton ‘last news conference’ remains one of my most vivid and soggy memories of the Tennessee Inaugurations I’ve covered over the last 40-plus years. Unfortunately, this turn of events to swear in Lamar Alexander early, while necessary, put a pall over the rest of what should have been a great celebration weekend for him, his family and his supporters. 40 years later, that’s still not fair.


New Tennessee Congressman Dr. Mark Green has been in office for nearly three weeks, yet he is still celebrating his new position with a fund raiser at the Brentwood Country Club on January 23.

Tickets range in price from $2700 a couple on the sponsor level to $100 per couple to attend. The special guests being featured on the invitation will catch you eye.

Governor Bill Lee

Senate Speaker Randy McNally

House Speaker Glen Casada

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson

Green is also being strongly rumored to be a candidate to replace Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander next year. That raises the question in my mind which THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL has already articulated.

“It will be interesting to see whether any of those legislative leaders distance themselves from Green if term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam decides to jump into the Senate race.” Haslam is leaving after Saturday for an overseas trip to contemplate his political future.


Former state Senator Rosalind Kurita is back in the upper chamber, temporarily serving in place of now Congressman Dr. Mark Green. Kurita served before as a Democrat. Now she will caucus with the Republican Super Majority. How she wound up across the aisle is an interesting story in terms of the change from Democratic to Republican control of the General Assembly beginning over a decade ago.

The year was 2007. The Senate was split 16-16 between Republicans and Democrats with one Independent. Kurita broke ranks to vote for Republican Ron Ramsey to become Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor. The following year in 2008, the story got even more interesting as related by THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL:

“Kurita survived a primary challenge from fellow Clarksville Democrat Tim Barnes by all of 19 votes. Barnes filed a challenge with the Democratic Executive Committee, with his attorneys contending that “Republicans crossed over en masse.”

Kurita’s lawyers argued the crossover wasn’t out of the ordinary. But after a day-long hearing that also included allegations that Barnes voters were directed to vote in the Republican primary and that Kurita had violated the 100-foot barrier in polling place (to go to the restroom, her attorneys said, deriding the allegation as “potty gate”), the Democratic panel voted 33-11 to strip Kurita of the nomination on the basis of the outcome of the primary having become “incurably uncertain.” She mounted a write-in campaign, but lost to Barnes, 62% to 39%.”

By the way, it took Kurita 13 ballots by the Sumner County Commission to gain the temporary appointment back to her old seat. She is not running in the special election to be held later in the year to fill out the rest of Congressman Green’s term.

Kurita was greeted by this tweet from former-Lt. Governor Ramsey, borrowing a line from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in an ongoing battle he had in 2017 with Senator, now Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren.

Ron Ramsey✔


Democrats stole an election to prevent her from returning to @tnsenate.


Extremely glad to see Rosalind Kurita back in the @tnsenate


State Democratic leaders have voted to retain Nashville’s Mary Mancini for her third two-year term to lead the party in Tennessee.

Her biggest opponent was Williamson County party activist Holly McCall, but Mancini won handily. Mancini got 70% of the vote, compared with 28% for McCall.

The challenge remains how make Democrats relevant in a deep red Republican state outside of largely Nashville and Memphis.


A new legal effort came to light late this week to stop the city from moving ahead with construction of the $275 million MLS Soccer Stadium at the State Fairgrounds. Earlier efforts to stop the project have so far failed. This time the lawsuit is being brought by a group affiliated with new Tennessee Congressman John Rose, contending there just not enough room for the new sports facility and the annual Tennessee State Fair also held the Fairgrounds.


Our elected representatives in Washington continue to act more like children than leaders. Efforts to one-up the other side while playing to their own political bases descended to new lows this week in our nation’s Capitol.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponing the State of the Union speech, followed President Donald Trump cancelling a Pelosi trip overseas to visit the troops, are actions beyond being like children who don’t play well together, they show how out of touch folks are in Washington.

There is growing concern and anger across the nation regarding how 800,000 federal employees continue to be held hostage and used as political pawns over a partial government shutdown that continues because the President and the Congress won’t come together and do their jobs.

We are also learning that these “non-emergency” government agencies being shut down, not fully staffed (or their employees paid) perform some very important and critical services. Let’s hope the shutdown doesn’t result in something tragic happening before some adults show up to end this foolishness.

The polls show voters blame the President more than Congressional Democrats for this continuing mess. But I suspect there will be plenty of blame to go around for both parties especially if this impasse continues. After 4 weeks, it’s enough already.