General Assembly convenes under ethical cloud

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Members of the General Assembly gather today for opening session and one suspects the main topic behind closed doors will be an FBI raid on Friday on legislators’ homes and offices and the suspension of staff members. The FBI is tight-lipped, as usual, but the nature of the raids provides clues.

In the wake of Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher bill passing in 2019 stories went around about the FBI interviewing members about possible illegal inducements for their votes. Would you like to get a new interstate exit? Do you want to be a general in the National Guard?

Frank Cagle

So, the initial reaction to the raid Friday was the assumption that it was related to the voucher bill. Former Speaker of the House Glen Casada, his aide Cade Cothern and his former chief of staff Holt Whitt were targets of the raids. But upon reflection, the raids also included state Rep. Robin Smith and newly elected member Todd Warner. Warner, who will be sworn into office today, wasn’t around during the voucher bill vote.

Warner defeated state Rep. Rick Tillis. Tillis angered Casada and his allies by publishing anonymous “insider” information on Twitter. Casada, Cothern and Smith were a formidable team supporting Warner, and Tillis was toast. It appears that the FBI is investigating campaign shortcuts and the origin of huge sums of money spent on the race.

Meanwhile, Lee will call a special session on education next week while his first education initiative, vouchers for Nashville and Memphis, is still in the courts.

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said in a press conference he was told about the investigation after he became Speaker, though he is vague about when. Meanwhile the staffers raided Friday are suspended with pay. Lee says he is aware of the investigation but he has not been questioned.

So now comes the special session on education while the FBI is examining boxes full of records seized Friday.

Right now, there is an ethical cloud over the General Assembly. The FBI needs to step up and charge somebody or announce the investigation closed.

Though I confess, since it involves the FBI, that will be a cold day in hell.

Overshadowed victory: While the FBI raided offices in Tennessee and terrorists were attacking our nation’s Capitol comes news that the feds have granted Gov. Bill Lee’s block grant proposal for Medicaid to go forward. It is described as a first in the nation, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

But news of Lee’s victory on the Medicaid front got stepped on by rioting and raids.

Disappointed: I’ve followed the career of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and thought he might be a good, well-educated personable Republican to run for president. But his pursuit of what he knew to be a lie leading the charge to have Congress award Trump the presidency is unforgivable. He is either stupid beyond belief or he has blood on his hands for providing the framework for a violent assault on the nation’s Capitol.

I was not disappointed in Tennessee’s two senators, Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn. There was no question that this pair of mega-MAGA supporters would not have the courage to do the right thing. They signed on to help Hawley and Ted Cruz set up the scene we watched as right-wing looneys broke windows and killed a Capitol Hill police officer. But they did pull back after the Capitol was trashed and didn’t join Hawley and Cruz in the final vote.

If they indict the whole mob for causing a riot, they need to include Hagerty, Blackburn, Hawley and Cruz.

Question for the Republican establishment: Are you proud of your boy Hagerty? I think you may have figured out he’s no Howard Baker. Or even a Lamar Alexander.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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