A Republican running for the House District 61 seat in Williamson County wants to invoke the 10th Amendment and rein in federal spending, yet his former law firm received nearly $500,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Brentwood attorney Gino Bulso, who is squaring off against Bob Ravener for the seat being vacated by Rep. Brandon Ogles, initially told the Tennessee Lookout his firm didn't receive any of the funding approved by Congress to keep companies afloat during the pandemic.
But records show Leader, Bulso & Nolan PLC received $274,422 on April 28, 2020, and again on Jan. 29, 2021.
Asked about the discrepancy in his initial statement denying his firm received any money, Bulso said he was speaking about his current firm Bulso PLC, which was formed in May 2020 and didn't apply for or accept any of the federal money.
The candidate acknowledged his previous firm, in which he was a partner, did apply for the funds.
"That was a former firm I was associated with back a few years ago," Bulso said. The law firm received the money 18 months ago.
Asked how he could justify taking the Paycheck Protection Program funding when his priority is to dial back federal spending, Bulso said the decision was based on a vote by the law firm's partners.
"It was a time we were closing the office, and there was a program to go ahead and allow us to continue to pay the employees, and we participated in the program," he said. "Virtually all of the limited liability partnerships, all of the firms in Nashville, did the same thing, even the big ones."
If elected, Bulso plans to seek legal action at the state level to reverse spending policies of the federal government and cut the $30 trillion budget deficit.
Bulso contends the problem won't be resolved by Congress but will take Tennessee or another state using their 10th Amendment rights to ask "this U.S. Supreme Court" to determine whether the federal government is functioning outside the Constitution with "out-of-control" budget deficits.
"I think the five conservatives that we've got are going to conclude that, yes, the federal government is way outside the scope of its powers under the Constitution, which James Madison once said are 'few and defined,'" Bulso said.
When taxation and spending are under control at the federal level, then states will have more resources, he says.
Ravener says he was aware of the payments made to Bulso's former firm.
"If you look at what people say, if they don't want money going to the private sector, and firms turn around and take the PPP money, that was certainly authorized, it seems like a contradiction," Ravener said.
He contends Bulso has also tried to paint him as a "liberal," while Bulso is the only candidate of the two who voted in Democratic primaries and contributed to Democratic candidates.
Ravener, who served in the U.S. Navy before taking positions with PepsiCo, Home Depot, Starbucks and Dollar General, said his focus is not on the federal government but on local issues, such as maintaining strong public schools and dealing with heavy growth's effect on infrastructure and Williamson County's quality of life.
HILLSDALE INTRODUCED INTO FRAY
A Tennessee Education Association mailer backing Ravener vilifies Hillsdale College's president and his negative comments about teachers as election day arrives Thursday.
"Being a true conservative means preserving and protecting what makes our country great," the association mailer for Ravener says. "In this election, conservative means defending our great public schools. We have a history of electing common sense conservatives to the legislature. Teachers were proud to support Charles Sargent, and Bob Ravener fits in that great tradition."
The late Sargent served in the House for 22 years and was chairman of the finance committee.
The other side of the mailer depicts Hillsdale President Larry Arnn as a charter school snake oil salesman with the wording, "Williamson County teachers and schools are dumb, and we need his charters and vouchers."
Teachers and political leaders across the state were outraged when Arnn was captured on secretly-recorded video at a Franklin reception saying teachers come from the "dumbest parts of the nation's dumbest colleges" and that anyone can be a teacher.
Gov. Bill Lee sat quietly at the event and didn't refute Arnn's statements then or afterward when questioned about the matter by reporters, though he did say he supports Tennessee's teachers.
"It's time to reject what Arnn is selling," the mailer goes on to say. "Let's protect our schools."
It also claims Williamson County has some of the nation's best schools, which contribute to strong home values, but that people such as Arnn and candidates he supports would institute charter schools and vouchers for private schools, which drain funding for public schools and trigger property tax increases.
Ravener, who says he didn't know the association was going to send out the mailer, claims he follows the "conservative Republican agenda," which includes charters and vouchers. He contends they are needed in Davidson and Shelby counties.
"Williamson County's got a great public school system. It's one of the reasons, one of the magnets that's bringing all the people into Williamson County," Ravener says.
Nevertheless, critics of Lee and his education initiatives claim they are part of a plan to chip away at public education and build up charters and private school vouchers.
One of Bulso's points of emphasis in the District 61 campaign involves supporting Lee's "forward-looking education initiatives," such as a new K-12 funding formula, education savings accounts and vocational education. It doesn't mention charter schools, even though Bulso supports education choice.
Bulso says he finds it interesting that the Tennessee Education Association, which contributed $5,000 to Ravener's campaign, is supporting him with a mailer.
"It's odd that you've got such a liberal teachers' union that backs things like (critical race theory) and transgender agendas in grade schools backing a Republican candidate in a primary," Bulso says.
Bulso said he believes it is "imperative" for parents to be able to use vouchers for students to attend private schools in Davidson and Shelby counties because of the number of "failing" public schools. Up to 5,000 qualifying students in districts with a certain number of schools on the state's "priority" list are being allowed to apply for the vouchers this school year after the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled lower court rulings that found the program violated the state's Home Rule Amendment.
Bulso also says he doesn't think a "market" exists in Williamson County for vouchers or charter schools because of the high quality of public schools there.
Yet at least one charter school organizer, Founders Classical Academy, applied to operate in Williamson County. The local school board turned it down in February, but the charter could apply for a waiver to a charter authorizing commission appointed by the governor.
Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.