Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will be sworn in again Saturday and more political news

Privately funded first-term events, festivities tab hit $1.74 million

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee takes the oath of office in War Memorial Auditorium in 2019 in Nashville. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE -- As Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee prepares to be sworn in for his second four-year term of office Saturday, the Republican chief executive says the state is "leading the nation as a guiding light for opportunity, security and freedom."

"Maria and I invite Tennesseans to join us as we reflect on the tremendous success Tennessee has seen over the past four years and celebrate as we move forward in anticipation of our state's continued prosperity," the governor said in a news release.

The swearing-in ceremony for the 63-year-old businessman, open to the public, will take place at 11 a.m. CDT, on Legislative Plaza, across the street from the state Capitol in Nashville.

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Page will administer the oath of office. The ceremony occurs during a joint convention of senators and representatives who are members of the 113th General Assembly.

Celebratory events are taking place Friday and Saturday. Inaugural celebration events and activities are fully supported by private donations, according to contribution guidelines.


PAYING THE TAB

A December filing with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance shows five donors so far have contributed $22,500 total for inaugural events, with $725 spent so far.

But if history is any guide, this year's haul will be much more than the first report in December and will be reflected in subsequent filings with the state.

In 2019, the Bill Lee Inaugural Inc. raised $2.18 million for its "Believe in Tennessee" events, according to Registry filings.

The total spent in 2019 was $1.74 million. Lee's remaining cash balance was $441,233.

Individual donors gave, as did businesses with state contracts or otherwise affected by state government action along with law firms and lobbying or public affairs firms. Individual contributions are limited to $2,500 per person, while companies and corporations can and often did give $7,500.

Lee friends Tom Decosimo, managing principal at Decosimo Corporate Finance in Chattanooga, and Anita Decosimo each gave $2,500 during the first inauguration. Chattanooga businessman and developer John "Thunder" Thornton and Eileen Thornton also gave $2,500 each.

Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, one of the state's major TennCare contractors, gave $7,500. Volkswagen Group of America, which has its auto assembly operation in Chattanooga, gave $7,500 as did a number of other auto assembly plants located in Tennessee.Chattanooga-based insuror Unum Group gave $7,500.

The list of government contractors included CoreCivic, which runs four private state prisons in Tennessee and ran Hamilton County's Silverdale Detention Center until the end of 2020.

State and federal lawmakers also gave in 2018 and 2019 for the governor's first inauguration. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, gave $2,500 as did U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, and a group called Friends of Bo Watson, the Senate Finance Committee chair, according to Registry filings. The Tennessee Titans football team gave $7,500.

In addition to contributions from traditional donors like the Tennessee Road Builders Association, which gave $7,500, more than a dozen auto wash businesses, including Storm Wash in Chattanooga, gave $2,500 each.


SPENDING

So how was the money spent in 2019?

The governor's committee spent $50,000 on gifts to the firm Orcas. Tent rentals came to $62,628, and another $99,999 was spent to use the grand ballroom at Nashville's Music City Center.

The Hatchery, a catering service, was paid $70,498. Another $40,000 was spent on rooms at some of Nashville's top hotels.

Kaegi Resources, a Nashville-based strategic consulting, fundraising and event management firm run by Kim Kaegi, was paid $24,000 for staff support and another $200,000 for fundraising, according to filings.

A more modest but not insignificant $35,118 was paid to Chattanooga's Image Works, a printing, graphics and design firm.

This being Music City USA, money went to entertainment with the William Morris Endeavor agency paid $30,000, another $9,000 going to Prime Source Entertainment and Tennessee-based Cornell Media Group receiving $20,000 for an event video.


NEW DASHBOARD

During this year's opening of the General Assembly, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, announced an overhaul of the chamber's public-facing online "dashboard" that has provided information about bills and their approved amendments.

It now includes real-time information about proposed amendments that previously were available to members but not to the public -- unless provided by a friendly member.

The new system also gives the public access to the "red line" additions, which show how a proposed amendment affects the overall bill.

The House also approved new rules for how the chamber conducts business. Among other things, it puts a stake in "zombie" bills, measures killed in committee but later resurrected, sometimes passing in a big rush. The rules change prevents committees from returning to the same bill during the course of the entire two-year legislative session.

And Sexton is also hitting the delete button on a practice in which members try to get bills up before a full committee, avoiding a subcommittee that had closed for the session.

Another Sexton effort on House floor rules of debate is rankling minority Democrats. It would limit a member's opportunity to speak on a bill to five minutes instead of the current 15.

"I can ask them one question and they can take 4 1/2 minutes to answer that question and my time's up," House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons said later. "So all of my concerns on behalf of my constituents have not been addressed.

"I think it's important for all of us," Clemmons continued. "There shouldn't be a cap on how many people can ask a question or how long we can ask questions. That's defeating the purpose of us sitting in this chamber and eliminating the opportunity" to flesh out perceived flaws on legislation.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com.