TENNESSEE HOUSE SPEAKER CAMERON SEXTON DISCUSSES THE UPCOMING LEGISLATURE AS LAWMAKERS CONVENE ON TUESDAY; CONFIRMING THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY MANY TIMES OVER; EXCEDRIN HEADACHE #2 FOR HOUSE REPUBLICANS; THE RECESSION WATCH CONTINUES; BURYING THE NEWS ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON AT THE BEGINNING OF A HOLIDAY WEEKEND; A SLIGHT POWER SHIFT IN METRO
TENNESSEE HOUSE SPEAKER CAMERON SEXTON DISCUSSES THE UPCOMING LEGISLATURE AS LAWMAKERS CONVENE ON TUESDAY
The 113th Tennessee General Assembly convenes for the first time at high noon next Tuesday, January 10th.
What can we expect from lawmakers in the next few months?
Someone who can help answer that question is the man who will gavel the House into session.
He is Representative Cameron Sexton of Crossville, the Speaker of the House, and our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.
We welcome the Speaker back to the program and thank him for joining us again.
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CONFIRMING THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY MANY TIMES OVER
This was the week Republicans were supposed to take over control of the House of Representatives in Washington.
Except, at least through Thursday, at least 11 times this week, GOP members have failed to elect their leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker of the House. It is something that has not happened in 100 years. In fact, late Thursday, after the 10th vote that went against McCarthy, it has now been since 1839, more than a decade before the Civil War, that Congress has been so undecided about its House leader.
There is no way to describe this except embarrassing. Republicans claim in their control of the House, they will prove they can lead and know how to govern. But so far, they have shown nothing of the sort. In fact, if they cannot agree among themselves on who in their caucus should lead the body, what hope is there they can get anything done?
What is gumming up the works, is a small group of GOP representatives (about 20). They want changes in the House rules. They think McCarthy is too much a part of the Washington establishment, and frankly, some of them just don’t like or trust McCarthy. This group has refused to vote for him, and with the Republican majority in the lower chamber so narrow, if more than 4 vote against McCarthy, he can’t win.
But until a Speaker is chosen, the House can do nothing else, except keep voting to elect a speaker. Not even members can be sworn in for their terms. That includes one of Nashville’s Republican congressmen, new 5th District Representative Andy Ogles. The former Maury County Mayor is an outspoken leader among the renegades, leaving him with potential political challenges not usually faced by a rookie congressman with his leadership.
All seven of Tennessee’s other Republican congressmen are backing McCarthy in every vote. One of them, 6th District Congressman John Rose is beginning to push back on Ogles saying the new Congressman Ogles had, at one point, pledged “unconditional support” for McCarthy.
Ogles is also getting pushback from a Republican leader in Knoxville who posted up a picture on Twitter of Ogles and McCarthy when the Minority Leader came to Tennessee last year to help Ogles raise money. The photo had this caption.
Knox County Democrats Chair Matt Shears: "This is @AndyOgles handing a giant speaker’s gavel to a fundraiser that Kevin McCarthy flew to Nashville to host for him when he was being out-fundraised. Today Andy Ogles voted against McCarthy to be speaker. LOL…you reap what you sow."
Meantime all week on the House floor, doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result, is the very definition of insanity, which is exactly what has been happening. There are reports that progress has been made in negotiations behind the scenes to cut a deal to elect a speaker (presumably McCarthy). But, so far, no deal has been reached and indications are it may be over the weekend, or even into next week, before something is finalized. Even if a deal is reached, it is unclear if it will persuade enough of the renegade Republicans to vote for McCarthy to give him the Speaker’s chair.
Meanwhile, even though the House is holding a rare session on Friday to possibly vote some more for Speaker, don’t expect any breakthrough or a final resolution. In fact, up to several members won’t be present due to already scheduled plans, and they are all McCarthy voters. That means his numbers for Round 12, and beyond on Friday, would be even lower than they have been all week.
In terms of negotiations, it appears that McCarthy has agreed to almost all the demands made by his hard-line conservative members. So, what’s left to bargain? And even if the California congressman achieves his long-sought political dream, what kind of weakened leadership post will he have as Speaker, if 5 members of his GOP caucus can seek to kick him out of his position on any issue before the House? That’s true as well for any other Republican who is elected to lead the House as the renegades are certain to want the same new rules in place to receive their votes.
Early Friday morning came an NPR report that McCarthy is willing to “vacate the Speaker’s chair” even if just one member raises a challenge. If that goes into place, will the House be completely ungovernable? Will our new divided government really mean a Congress that can’t function?
Such is the tyranny created by the Republicans’ much smaller-than-expected margin in House. But this also stands in contrast to the wizardry of outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She faced a similarly narrow majority yet managed not only to again get elected Speaker on the first ballot, but also pass one of most robust legislative agendas in recent history the past two years.
McCarthy has likely been so weakened as a leader in losing over and over and over again to be Speaker, what can he do when he has to negotiate a new budget or debt ceiling legislation with the Senate and the White House or any other major legislation?
While the nation is politically agog with what is happening in Washington, there may be something in the legislative waters across the nation this week with surprises in selecting leadership in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Unexpected things in the legislative leadership process have occurred even in Tennessee. In the organizational session of the 106th Tennessee General Assembly in January 2009, Republicans appeared poised to elect their first Speaker of the House since 1969.
But the GOP held but a one-seat advantage 50-49. But the winner that day was Kent Williams, a little-known Republican legislator from Carter County in upper East Tennessee. The first indication something unexpected was afoot was when Nashville State Representative Gary Odom took the floor and nominated Williams who had been a family friend.
This cross-party nomination sent shockwaves through the House chambers. A brief recess was called while back in the studios at NEWSCHANNEL5 while anchoring our live coverage of the session, I was also scrambling through my Tennessee BLUE BOOK, trying to figure out who Williams was.
What happened was that the Democrats and Williams had made a deal to make Williams Speaker of the House, combining their 49 votes with William’s one vote. That is exactly what happened. Republicans were caught flatfooted and were outraged!
Afterward, the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, still stinging over the unanticipated election defeat of the GOP’s Speaker candidate Rep. Jason Mumpower, voted to eject Williams as a bona fide member of the Tennessee Republican Party. In response, Speaker Williams then chose "Carter County Republican" as his new party designation. Williams served as Speaker in 2009 and 2010.
He was reelected to the House as an independent in 2010 and 2012. He did not stand for re-election to the Speakership in 2011. The former speaker did not run in 2014, leaving Capitol Hill as perhaps the most unexpected Speaker of the House in Tennessee history.
EXCEDRIN HEADACHE #2 FOR HOUSE REPUBLICANS
While Republicans try to figure out how to fix the embarrassing mess of who will be the next Speaker of the House, there is another problem looming for them to deal with concerning the qualifications and veracity of one of their new House Caucus members.
He is George Santos from New York State. It is rare, but it has happened in the past, that a candidate embellishes his or her resume to make it stronger than it really is. As for Santos, until he was discovered by media reporting largely from THE NEW YORK TIMES after the November election, he was telling so many whoppers on the campaign trail, it has been hard to keep track.
Because Santos had pledged to support and voted for McCarthy for Speaker, the would-be House leader has gone radio silent on the controversy, not wanting to potentially lose a vote. Actually, Congress can’t take any disciplinary steps or begin investigations until Santos is sworn in and becomes a member. When that will happen again remains up in the air. Eventually, it is possible the matter could be referred to the House Ethics Committee but that process might take weeks, if not months. Congress could also expel Santos but that requires a two-thirds vote of the House which seems difficult to achieve.
Nobody ever said it would be easy, but this first week back in power has brought more unexpected challenges for Republicans, than probably anyone ever expected, to try and show they can lead and can govern. Better luck next week? Or more of the same insanity of this week?
The people I felt sorry for in watching the House proceedings on the floor these last few days have been the families of the members of both parties, who had traveled to Washington to be present and to celebrate this historic moment in their family’s history, when a loved one takes the oath of office to become a member of Congress.
Most of them likely won’t be able to do that now. They have to go home for work, school, or to get back to the rest of their lives. All this after a week in hotels or marking time visiting on the House floor. One video shot I saw on CNN really struck me.
A grandmotherly member of Congress had an infant in her lap. In a week when Congress, in general, is being lampooned for infantile behavior, this baby was doing something infantile too. The child was fast asleep, perhaps the only person on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives doing something productive…taking a nap!
THE RECESSION WATCH CONTINUES
Is the U.S. economy in, or headed toward, a recession?
When will the Federal Reserve cut back or end its interest rate hikes?
The first major clue about all this for the new year of 2023 is the December jobs and unemployment report due out Friday.
It won’t be out before this Capitol View is published.
Here’s what the speculation is about what the report will say.
The story may be accurate but remember sometimes it is not.
So, take it with a grain of economic salt.
BURYING THE NEWS ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON AT THE BEGINNING OF A HOLIDAY WEEKEND
Remember when our election officials disenfranchised hundreds of Nashville voters (full disclosure: including me) in the elections last year?
That happened because they messed up in assigning voters to the right districts for Congress and the Legislature after the Republicans gerrymandered Davidson County to be sure and elect more GOP candidates, especially to Congress.
At the time, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office promised a full review of what occurred and why. That review was done and released on Friday afternoon December 29, the last workday of 2022, and just before the New Year’s holiday weekend was starting.
How convenient. In my years in media, government and public relations, the “best” time to release negative or difficult news was to do so late on a Friday, and even better, send it out on a Friday afternoon when a holiday weekend looms.
The hope is such a release would get less coverage or maybe almost no coverage at all. It worked.
The only news coverage I have seen about this state study about the 2022 Nashville election screw-up was a story I found buried Sunday night towards the bottom of THE TENNESSEAN’s website. Later I found an Associated Press report. It was the AP that first uncovered this mess.
Another reason why I am not at all surprised about how this news release was handled is the top takeaway in the news release concerning the study. It blames it all on “human error.” But if you read further in the full study, you’ll find it was not just an error. Those involved were sloppy or lazy in not checking their work for assigning precincts to align with new district boundaries, even though that could have apparently been done fairly easily. Instead, these election officials didn’t even figure out their “human error” until the A. P. became aware of it out and started asking questions.
As best I can tell, for those who committed this “human error,” no corrective or disciplinary action is being recommended or taken.
In all likelihood, this instance of hundreds of local voters being disenfranchised is done and over. But maybe not. The Republican legislature, still mad the Metro Council refused to pursue Nashville being the host city for the 2024 GOP National Convention, is mumbling about taking revenge by passing a law to cut the size of the Council in half, from 40 to 20 members.
If that happens this legislative session, new district lines and precinct lines might have to be drawn with the next Metro elections set for August, now less than 7 months away. If the past is precedence for Metro voting officials, the mind boggles at the size and impact of the “human error” that could come into play this time!
A SLIGHT POWER SHIFT IN METRO
Without much comment or controversy, there was a subtle, but noteworthy power shift at the Metro Courthouse Tuesday night. The Metro Council, without debate on its consent calendar, gave final approval to an ordinance that will give the body a much larger say on who serves on several of the hundreds of boards and commissions that help run local government.
Council bill BL2022- 1528 would increase the size, and who makes appointments, to 11 of the city’s boards and commissions to foster more diversity and representation. The boards impacted are the Board of Property Standards and Appeals, Metropolitan Transportation Licensing Commission, Auditorium Commission, Historical Commission, Human Relations Commission, Housing Trust Fund Commission, Board of Ethical Conduct, CATV Special Committee, Short Term Rental Appeals Board, Beer Permit Board, and Stormwater Management Committee.
In many cases the boards will be expanded in size, with appointments made, not just by the Mayor with Council confirmation, but by direct election of the Council. It appears this legislation has been negotiated with Mayor John Cooper’s office, so that, now that it has been approved, he seems ready to sign it into law. All these members of Metro boards and commissions serve multi-year terms on a volunteer, unpaid basis.
The change does not apply to boards and commissions created by the Metro Charter. That would take a referendum to change the Charter. Nor does it impact those boards and commissions created by state law. That would take passing a bill through the General Assembly.
Both the Council and Mayor had been committed to increasing diversity and representation on these boards and commissions and the mayor’s office has issued a recent study proving that is happening. But Mayor Cooper and his staff have struggled with getting some appointments made on time and the number of new boards being created by Council legislation continues to grow.
It would seem this mayor is comfortable with sharing more of these appointment duties with the Council, and there is more of a trend on the state level for legislative bodies to share these responsibilities. But it is hard for me to believe that the Mayor I worked for (Fulton) and others, would do be OK about it, even if these are not patronage positions.