Speakers can block statue removal

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Sometimes (often?) the Tennessee legislature passes little-noticed housekeeping bills that slide by during session while the body is busy debating who can use what bathroom, the Bible as the state book or whether babies should be issued carry permits.


Bear with me while I quote you Tennessee Code Annotated 4-8-101 Care of Buildings and Fixtures:

“(2) It is the duty of the department of general services, through the commissioner acting with approval of the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to take care of and preserve the Second Floor of the state Capitol, including all chambers, galleries, offices, rooms, hallways, balconies, storage areas and other spaces therein, and all associated furniture and fixtures, and to keep the same in good order.” (Emphasis added)

Frank Cagle

I think it raises a few questions.

It only applies to the second floor. Care of state buildings is the purview of the Commissioner of General Services. Why is it necessary to require that nothing can change on the second floor of the capitol without the approval of both speakers? What’s on the second floor of the capitol? Well, there are busts and statuary that, surprise, include a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, has long been the subject of controversy amid calls for removing his image from the rotunda.

So, what does this mean? It has been assumed that the Capitol Commission is to make a decision on the removal of Forrest’s bust. Then it goes to the state Historical Commission. But as I recall the effort to remove the bust during the Haslam Administration involved the speakers asking the Capitol Commission to study the matter and the vote to remove the bust lost 7-5.

Are the speakers required to sign off again in order for the Capitol Commission to make a decision? Or does the previous request still apply? Even though the motion to remove it was defeated.

If the speakers disagree with the outcome can they change it?

The bust was placed there by action of the legislature. If the speakers remain mum on the issue, can the bust be removed by appointed commissioners? If the outcome of the process somehow calls for removing the bust will the legislature rise up and pass legislation forbidding it?

Does this legislation mean that it doesn’t matter what the Capitol Commission votes to do, or what the state Historical Commission approves? It sounds like nothing can be changed or removed from the second floor unless both speakers approve it. The request that the Capitol Commission study the issue certainly didn’t come from current House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who was nominated this past fall. The last effort to remove the bust occurred during the Haslam administration and the House request came from Speaker Beth Harwell.

It may very well be that no one wants to step up and be held responsible for making the decision to remove the Forrest bust or vote to keep it.

It’s a muddle and I predict that when the session opens in 2021 Forrest will still be in his accustomed place.

Feud: The longest running feud in Nashville, stretching back for a couple of decades, is between state Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and former state Sen. Mae Beavers, also from Wilson County. In fact, Beavers is currently suing Lynn for slander contending that Lynn has accused Beavers of trying to have her killed. When Beavers was a state senator, she announced she wouldn’t be running for re-election. Lynn gave up her House seat to run for the Senate, then Beavers changed her mind. Beavers won 48-42 percent and Lynn had to sit out a term before winning her House seat back. To say it was a bitter campaign is something of an understatement.

That’s the background for a situation where Gov. Bill Lee has stepped in it.

Lynn is chair of the House Finance Committee which controls the governor’s budget. It determines what goes in the budget and what doesn’t. Beavers, an influential conservative in Middle Tennessee, dropped out of the race for governor and endorsed Lee. Lee, in return, has just appointed Beavers to the Pardon and Paroles Board, a plum job that pays $102,000 a year for six years. But you are required to attend four meetings a year. Unless you prefer to Skype it in. Lynn is said to be furious. Did I mention she is chair of House Finance?

SEC West likes UT coaches: Ole Miss has hired former University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin. LSU’s coach for the national championship game was former UT coach Ed Orgeron. Mississippi State has hired Mike Leach. You will recall that UT Athletics Director John Currie was in Washington hiring Leach when he got called back to Knoxville to get fired. Ole Miss and Mississippi State decided not to hire former UT coach Sam Pittman, but Arkansas did. So, half the coaches in the SEC West coached at UT or were almost hired.

Surrender now: Knoxville attorneys Gordon Ball and Sid Gilreath between them have literally won hundreds of millions of dollars for their clients. Each is formidable. Together they are suing the National Park Service on behalf of Gatlinburg residents damaged by the great fire. The fire killed 14 people and injured 191 others. My advice to the Park Service? Settle. Do it quickly.

Frank Cagle is a former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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