Political notebook: ‘Saturday Night Live’ has some fun at Lt. Gov. McNally’s expense

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Lt. Gov. Rnady McNally, left, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton shake hands before the bill signing on June 17, 2022.

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally got a send up on "Saturday Night Live" with the weekend comedy show zeroing in on a controversy over the Senate speaker's posting encouraging comments and emojis on racy photos posted to Instagram by a 20-year-old aspiring gay performer from Knoxville.

During the program's "Weekend Update," which spoofs news events, cast member Molly Kearney portrayed McNally, 79, an Oak Ridge Republican. Kearney donned a blue blazer, a gray short-haired wig, red tie with white stripes, glasses and a mustache for the role.

In her role as McNally, Kearney apologized for being late, explaining to Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost that "I spent all day printing out MapQuest directions. You may have noticed that I'm not good at the internet."

Noting that McNally is married and had supported the state's new, controversial law restricting drag performances, Jost asked for an explanation of why he commented on a "thirst trap" and posted that "you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine?"

"I didn't think people would find out because I used a screen name," Kearney told Jost ,who followed up by asking what the screen name was.

"Lt. Gov. McNally," Kearney replied.

McNally had posted the responses from his official Instagram account.

The controversy erupted after the Tennessee Holler, a progressive advocacy, news and opinion outlet, put on social media several posts by McNally commenting on pictures and posts by Franklyn McClur, of Knoxville. Some of McClur's Instagram photos focused on his backside. McClur often wears makeup, jewelry and a headband in his wavy hair.

McNally had commented favorably on several posts, including one in which he wrote, "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine." The speaker included heart and fire emojis.

Jost sought to pose additional questions to Kearney, who remained in character and brushed them aside.

"I don't discriminate," Kearney said. "I comment on photos of all orientations. Orientations like: from the side, from the front, from the back. There does not have to be a butt, but it helps."

McNally told reporters last week that "I'm not anti-gay. We pass bills that kind of limit certain things, and I think there are safeguards in these bills.

"I try to encourage people on my posts, and I try to support people," the speaker said of his posts. "And, you know, just because he's gay -- I also have friends that are gay, and I have friends that are relatives that are gay. But I don't feel any animosity towards gay people. And I think that that's fairly clear. I've got friends that are in that community. And I'm not against those individuals. I just, you know, try to encourage and support people."

Other SNL jokes made light of statements by McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider, who last week said in a statement that McNally, a great-grandfather, "enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds and orientations on social media."

McNally later said during an interview with Nashville television station WTVF that "I'm really, really sorry if I've embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed any of the members of the legislature with the posts. It was not my intent to (embarrass them) and not my intent to hurt them."

He also said he has never met McClur in person.

A surprise in Gov. Lee proposed minimum teacher pay boost

When Gov. Bill Lee proposed during last month's State of the State address a plan to boost the minimum base teacher salary incrementally from $4o,000 to $50,000 by 2027, it generated one of the loudest of the 18-or-so standing ovations the Republican governor received that night.

But last week, Democrats were taken aback to learn an amendment to the actual bill that was brought by anti-union Lee couples the increases with a provision targeting the Tennessee Education Association, the teachers union, and a decades-old practice of payroll deductions for association members.

"This legislation will also end the practice of local school district deductions for national, state and local labor organizations," said Sen. Bill Powers, a Clarksville Republican, who presented Senate Bill 281 in the Senate Education Committee, a day after it won approval in the House K-12 Subcommittee.

Powers said school districts are currently allowed to provide "these unions with a free benefit of collecting dues on their behalf.

"Taxpayer resources in K-12 education should not be used to support these activities, political or otherwise, of any organization, including labor unions," Powers said that the bill doesn't try to block a teacher's choice to join and fund "any activity" by the union.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, had questions, among them why a bill was needed to raise teacher salaries, noting it's normally done through the budget. Hensley also questioned why increasing pay and blocking local districts processing union due collections were lumped together.

"We look at items that are like items, and the governor feels strongly that these are both good public policy components, and that's why we included these both in the legislation," Lee administration Legislative Director Brent Easeley said.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the lone Democrat on the panel, questioned rationale in cutting out automatic payroll deduction for union members and asked Easeley why Lee thinks it's good public policy

"My concern is I think this is a great policy to make sure that our teachers are able to receive the long overdue salary increases they need," Akbari said. "But this is a totally unrelated issue, and you guys are combining it. You're putting people in a very tough position when they don't support Section 2 but support Section 1."

Akbari voted against the bill. The eight Republicans on the panel, including Hensley and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor.

In a later phone interview, Jim Wrye with the Tennessee Education Association, described Lee's effort to link pay increases with ending payroll due deduction as "lousy" move.

"They're two very different issues and to be slapped together in a bill is a poor use of what could be a unifying idea, which is improving the professional pay of teachers and especially our rural teachers. We are dedicated to removing Section 2," Wrye said.

He said the bill's legal caption is related to wages and thus "should be about teacher pay and the good idea that the governor outlined about raising the base teacher pay to $50,000 by 2026-2027."

Professional Educators of Tennessee Executive Director and CEO JC Bowman, whose group represents a mixture of public and private school teachers, said by phone Friday "it will affect us in about nine districts."

He said he tried unsuccessfully to convince the Tennessee Education Association some time ago to join his group in pressing to put dues collection requirements in state law.

"I do think it was aimed at both of us," Bowman said, adding he believes it will prove difficult to remove the provision with lawmakers' likely to focus mostly on raising teachers' minimum salaries.

Republicans shoot down former Health Commissioner Piercey to ETSU board

Lee's effort to place former Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey on the board of East Tennessee State University got slapped down last week by the governor's fellow Republicans on the state House Education Administration Committee.

The vote was 12-6 against Piercey, a Jackson, Tennessee, physician who served as Lee's commissioner during the early phase of the pandemic in which the department repeatedly came under fire from GOP conservatives over policies.

That eventually led to the firing of the head of department's vaccine chief, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, for the department's outreach to youths to get vaccinated after GOP lawmakers raised Cain over that. Fiscus later filed a lawsuit for unfair dismissal, which was dismissed by a state judge. She has refiled her suit in federal court.

Vaccine response didn't appear to be the issue committee conservatives were focused on regarding Piercey, who obtained her medical degree from Johnson City-based ETSU and did her medical residency there as well.

"One of the other things, unfortunately, that I hear out there is a lot of folks are starting to feel dejected around a lot of these CRT, DEI issues," Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, said in a reference to the teaching of critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion programs, which have drawn fire from many conservatives,"They feel like universities are no longer for them. They've been excluded by inclusion as odd as that statement is."

Piercey said there are "legitimate concerns" about that, not just at ETSU, but at many other higher education institutions.

"Our No. 1 goal is to make sure that everyone feels like they're treated fairly, that they are welcomed, and they are comfortable in sharing their views and, therefore, feel safe and supported on campus," Piercey said. "And that also extends to students who come from lower income backgrounds, because you make a very salient point about the affordability and the barriers or at least perception of barriers that there could be from some of our under-represented students."

In 2021, Lafferty, who is white, made national news when he claimed during a House floor debate that a provision in the original U.S. Constitution designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was actually adopted for "the purpose of ending slavery."

That came on a bill, which ultimately passed, to restrict educators' teaching about systemic racism.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com.