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    Stockard on the Stump: Tennessee governor will sign anything, just put it in front of him

    By Sam Stockard,


    Gov. Bill Lee. (Photo: John Partipilo)

    Greetings from Cicada-ville, not to be confused with Margaritaville.

    Often encouraged and only rarely disappointed, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is loath to turn down a bill that reaches his desk.

    While the Republican governor has allowed a limited number of bills to take effect without his signature, including one on truth in sentencing and criminalizing homelessness in 2022, neither of which he supported, he still hasn’t vetoed a bill in his six years at the helm.

    Lee says he’ll put the hammer down if necessary, a claim tempered by the fact Tennessee puts the governor in a weak position, requiring only a majority vote by the Legislature to override.

    “It’s safe to say that if a bill comes across my desk that I disagree with and believe that it’s appropriate to veto it, I’ll veto it,” Lee said in the recent closing press conference for the 113th General Assembly. (The governor spent Thursday touring storm-damaged Maury County, so he can get a little slack here.)

    Taking things a bit further, Lee said, “There hasn’t been a piece of legislation, and I believe it’s because of the mutual work together, our office and leadership here, there hasn’t been a bill that’s come across my desk that I believe was worthy of a veto. It’s a lot of work to make sure bills we don’t believe should go forward, that might be worthy of a veto should they get in front of us, they don’t make it there.”

    One could surmise, then, that the governor supports 99.99999% of bills that come to his office. We could also reach the conclusion that his office pays close attention to the hundreds of pieces of idiocy that dot the legislative landscape each year. Thus, when he tells us he can’t comment on a bill until it comes to his office, what he really means is he just doesn’t want to talk about it.

    After all, he does have legislative liaisons who bust their rear ends trying to keep at least some bizarre bills from becoming law, because if they pass, he’s probably signing.

    It’s a lot of work to make sure bills we don’t believe should go forward, that might be worthy of a veto should they get in front of us, they don’t make it there.

    – Gov. Bill Lee, addressing his failure to veto a bill in his six-year tenure

    Take, for instance, this year’s menu, complete with the “veggie vaccine” bill by Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky. Since he’s dealing with a terrible tornado that hit Columbia Wednesday, we’ll cut him some slack, too. But if he’d spent less time trying to keep COVID-19 boosters out of beans, he might have been able to pass the governor’s bajillion-dollar private-school giveaway. It didn’t help that Cepicky was recorded saying he wanted to blow up public schools. But that’s the type of crackpottery we’re dealing with, folks.

    Cepicky acknowledged during committee debate he knows of no instances in which vaccines have been put in food without easy-to-read labels. When you’re in the Tennessee Legislature, though, you’ve got to learn to preempt these problems — for the good of Tennesseans from Memphis to Mountain City, of course.

    Granted, it took the governor a full 12 days to sign the “sick tomato” bill. He wasn’t quite as jumpy as he was the day he signed the bill to replace Tennessee State University’s board of directors within minutes of House passage.

    The measure had to be expedited, no doubt, to enable TSU to start a presidential search after lawmakers forced out Glenda Glover by making her life miserable when the real culprit for the university’s financial woes were the lawmakers — past and present — who underfunded TSU for 100 years.

    Report: State cost TSU tens of millions in land grant funding

    Instead of giving the historically Black university the facilities and funds it needs to thrive, lawmakers this session provided businesses with a $1.9 billion franchise tax cut and rebate, $400 million of which carries on annually. That baby will be with us for a while.

    Getting back to silly bills, the Legislature spent more time debating whether to poison Bigfoot with chemtrails than replacing the TSU board with Gov. Lee’s handpicked directors, who are guaranteed to be better than former Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointees.

    Afraid that the federal government is going to start slipping chemicals into the clouds, Republican Rep. Monty Fritts of Kingston, who seems to have a pretty good handle on science, pushed the bill along with Republican Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown. While Fritts focused his argument on concerns that the feds could be putting something into the air to control the weather, Southerland admitted he was worried about emissions from airplanes, specifically the vapor trails from jets that criss-cross the skies on bright blue days.

    A lengthy House debate ensued on concerns that these chemtrails could keep Bigfoot or Sasquatch from thriving and reproducing, thus the infrequent sightings of hairy creatures who hide in the mountains from Cherokee, North Carolina to Denver, Colorado into “infinity and beyond.”

    Signed, sealed and delivered: No-veto Gov. Bill Lee apparently supports a measure to ban vaccines from being injected into vegetables, one to tied claims the government is slipping chemicals into clouds, and near-instantly signed into law a bill to boot all of Tennessee State University’s board members for his handpicked selections.

    It wasn’t quite as bizarre as the extended argument to turn back a bill prohibiting first-cousin marriage, something that common sense alone should handle. But every little thing we can do to strengthen the gene pool is helpful.

    If you’re worried I’ve gone off the rocker, you could be right. When I hit 60, my attitude went to hell in a handbasket.

    The theory, nevertheless, is: Tennessee lawmakers have one constitutional requirement — to pass a budget.

    With plenty of money in the bank, enough to give away $2 billion to businesses, big farmers and private schools, lawmakers are defaulting to red-meat bills for primary voters, beating up on the LGBTQ community and trying to control people’s lives from before conception to the bitter end. Remember, they knew us even before our parents met.

    And keep this in mind, too. They have to do something to justify their existence, keeping the money flowing to lobbyists and into their own election accounts — knowing Gov. Lee will take the bait.

    No need for state money?

    TSU’s problems in recent years began with a housing shortage caused, in part, by a resurgence in historically Black universities and the administration’s inability to say “no” to hopeful scholars.

    The Legislature followed with a $200 million allotment for campus improvements. But according to a Thursday release, Metro’s Industrial Development Board approved a $180 million bond issue to develop a 719-bed apartment called Cobblestone Village next to TSU.

    The best part is TSU isn’t on the hook for the money, according to the release. Instead, National Development & Infrastructure Corporation, a nonprofit organization, is borrowing the money and taking responsibility for the debt in this public-private partnership, according to the release.

    The effort is designed to deal with the “social crisis of housing at TSU, offering a market-driven approach to a longstanding challenge,” the release says.

    I guess the only other question is: What took so long?

    Let the mud fly

    The Bobby Harshbarger campaign against 4th District Senate Republican Jon Lundberg in northeast Tennessee is off to a roiling start.

    Several news outlets report that Sen. Ken Yager, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, is coming to his buddy’s defense with a complaint claiming “collusion” on the part of the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC, U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger (they have the same treasurer, Thomas Datwyler) and her son’s campaign to defeat Lundberg in the August Republican primary. Lundberg, a proponent of the governor’s school choice plan, is said to be too liberal.

    Sen. Ken Yager, a Kingston Republican, has jumped to the defense of his colleague, Sen. Jon Lundberg, a Republican from Bristol who is trying to stave off a challenge from a congresswoman’s son. (Photo: John Partipilo

    Yager mentions the misleading texts in his letter to the Registry of Election Finance complaint but says the connection between those involved is more troublesome.

    “In addition to collusion between the campaigns, I believe there may also be an effort to skirt campaign finance limits,” Yager wrote.

    WJHL in East Tennessee reports the complaint stems from text messages critical of Lundberg for his stances on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and a “bathroom bill” that could have spurred lawsuits for using the wrong restroom. WJHL reported that Lundberg said the texts were false or misleading.

    (This reminds me of the time I waited forever outside a Cracker Barrel restroom somewhere between here and Eastern Kentucky, only to see a little 80-something-year-old woman come out. She looked up at the sign on the door and said, “Oh, I didn’t know I was in the men’s room.” Man, woman, chicken or child, it didn’t matter. I was dying either way.)

    Anyway, Harshbarger’s campaign treasurer, Phillip Marshall, says he has nothing to do with the East Tennessee Conservatives PAC or his client’s mother’s committee.

    East Tennessee Conservatives PAC landed $95,000 from the American Policy Coalition in Alexandria, Virginia. This appears to be a case of dark money flowing into state elections to decide winners and losers based on pissing, pooping and immigration.

    When in doubt, castigate those at the bottom of the totem pole, but if you sprinkle, “please be a sweetie and wipe the seatie” (I might have seen that at the Cracker Barrel).

    A little shell game

    Lawmakers this session refused to pass a bill by Democratic Rep. Aftyn Behn of Nashville that would have eliminated the 4% grocery sales tax and replaced it with a method for collecting taxes on money hidden in offshore accounts.

    Instead, the Legislature passed a bill — awaiting Gov. Lee’s signature — giving local governments the option to cut the local sales tax on groceries.

    The Nashville Banner reports that Hendersonville officials requested it as the Board of Mayor and Aldermen considered setting a referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for parks, public safety and road work.

    Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary contemplates cutting one tax but raising another. (Photo:

    It begs the question: Why raise one and lower another?

    But they appear ready to forge ahead regardless. Mayor Jamie Clary says the reduction will cost Hendersonville about $2 million a year when it takes effect at the end of 2024, according to the Banner report. Call me crazy, but it seems that money could be used to pave a lot of streets.

    Hendersonville recently finished work on a greenway along Drakes Creek and Sanders Ferry Road. Some call it a waste, while others say it’s the best thing the city ever built. They certainly never built any community centers because those could attract the wrong kind of people.

    (If you get too cold, cold) I’ll tax the heat / (If you take a walk, walk) I’ll tax your feet.” *

    By the way, to increase audience participation, does anyone know why the group refers to Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath in this little ditty

    * “Taxman,” The Beatles

    The post Stockard on the Stump: Tennessee governor will sign anything, just put it in front of him appeared first on Tennessee Lookout .

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