Gov. Bill Lee gets by with a little help from his friends. He passes out patronage like a Chicago alderman, especially to former legislators.
We’ll start with those on the way in and move on to those who are out.
Three legislators who supported Lee’s voucher plan and then retired or got beat have all been offered nice jobs with rather ill-defined duties. Bill Dunn, who sponsored the bill, is a special adviser in the education department at $98,000. John DeBerry, thrown off the ballot by Democrats, a special adviser to the governor at $165,000.
You may remember Andy Holt who rose to national fame when 880,000 gallons of pig, er, excrement overflowed his lagoons into a stream and the EPA proposed a fine of $177,000. He’ll still be in agriculture. He’s the new director of business development for the Agriculture Department, hiring in at $92,700. After a lot of wrangling and debate, the EPA issued a cease-and-desist order and suspended the fine if Holt would clean up the mess.
Holt argued it was the fault of a once-in-100-years rain and he had to release the sewage or his dam would break.
Holt was a power player during the Lee/Speaker Glen Casada era. After Casada’s inglorious exit as speaker, Holt found himself on a back bench and decided not to run again.
The salaries of the three former legislators hired in the last two months total $355,700. All of them have a state pension and the formula for computing it is based on the highest salary attained.
When Lee took office, he hired former state Rep. Courtney Rogers as commissioner of Veterans Affairs and former state Rep. Tilman Goins as deputy commissioner. Rogers resigned after an investigation of her abusive behavior of employees and racist and homophobic comments. Goins resigned after being accused of being involved with two different women in his department.
Hodgen Mainda, commissioner of Commerce and Insurance, was investigated for making sexual advances toward an employee while at an out-of-state conference. He has resigned to spend more time with his family. It has been discovered that even though he had a job as commissioner he also had a contract for $8,000 a month to do public relations for his old employer, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga. When he became commissioner, he moved into a house owned by the state. So, he had $161,000 in salary, $96,000 from a side job, and free rent and utilities worth $12,000 a year.
When Lee was running for governor as a long-shot outsider he didn’t have a lot support among political figures. Former state Rep. Joe Carr had run a credible race against Lamar Alexander and he also lost a race against Diane Black, a congresswoman running for governor. He had nothing to lose by endorsing Lee.
State Sen. Mae Beavers resigned her seat to run for governor and soon realized she was in deep water. So, Beavers dropped out and endorsed Lee, cause where else was she gonna go? She happened to be chair of the Wilson County party and so could be helpful to Lee.
After he was elected, Lee gave Beavers the biggest plum job a governor can award. A seat on the Pardon and Paroles Board. It’s a six-year term with a salary over $100,000 a year. But you do have to go to four meetings a year.
Carr got hired as deputy commissioner of environment and conservation, though he has since left.
Danielle Barnes, commissioner of Health and Human Services, resigned to spend more time with her family after it was revealed that she had stockpiled over $700 million in a fund to give temporary help for needy families while poor people are suffering from the pandemic.
But Lee enjoys stock-piling things instead of doing something for citizens. There has been a budget surplus every month this fiscal year. There is roughly $1 billion floating around state coffers.
When the vaccine for Covid arrived, instead of rushing the first batch to critical cases, Lee had the first batch held back for “emergencies.” You wonder what Lee would consider an emergency.
Lee uses state funds like a piggy bank to pass out jobs to his supporters, often without proper vetting or looking at credentials. Instead of using stockpiled money and vaccine to alleviate suffering, he has successfully reduced Covid criticism to whether or not he should issue a mask mandate.
He should be doing a lot more than that. They have this thing down there in Nashville they call the Rainy-Day Fund. Legislators need to explain to Lee that it’s raining. It’s raining as hard as it did on Holt’s hog farm.
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.