Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Chattanooga mayoral candidate Tim Kelly talks with Larry "Bear" High from Bear's Barber Shop after his rally at City Hall on Thursday.

Who's endorsing whom?

In government, leadership — and its support — matters.

It seems Chattanooga mayoral runoff candidate Tim Kelly has some real momentum building, as dozens of former candidates and elected officials made runoff election endorsements for him last week on the steps of Chattanooga City Hall.

Having already picked up the endorsement of defeated candidate Monty Bruell, who came in fourth among the 15 candidates seeking to succeed term-limited Mayor Andy Berke, Kelly has now amassed endorsements from four more former opponents heading into his April runoff match with election runner-up Kim White, the former CEO of River City Company.

In addition to Bruell, former candidates Russell Gilbert, Andrew McLaren, Lon Cartwright and Robert Wilson endorsed Kelly. But that's not all.

A dozen local and state elected officials — Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, Democratic state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, Hamilton County Commissioners Chip Baker, Katherlyn Geter and David Sharpe, Chattanooga City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, Councilwoman-elect Raquetta Dotley and Hamilton County Board of Education members Karista Mosley-Jones, Marco Perez and former school board member Kathy Lennon, are on board, as are Red Bank Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stephanie Dalton.

That's an impressive bipartisan group supporting a candidate for a non-partisan position.

No former opponents have backed White's candidacy, but on Thursday she said she is optimistic about her own supporters, who include: Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Martin and Sabrena Smedley, Assessor of Property Marty Haynes, Hamilton County Board of Education members Tucker McClendon and Tiffanie Robinson, Chattanooga City Councilmen Darrin Ledford and Ken Smith, and former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey.

Stay tuned.


Who's doing business with whom?

Repeat: Government leadership matters.

Sometimes, even when it's too little, too late to avoid scandal — or at least the appearance of one. That seems the case now in Nashville as one Tennessee lawmaker said last week the state has "blurred the lines" between mixing personal and government business.

Tennessee's top House and Senate leaders made a push Thursday for a bill to bar legislators from doing any business with the state following the Jan. 8 FBI raids on two lawmakers who, as political consultants, handled taxpayer-funded constituent mail for some colleagues as well as for themselves.

Pause here for a moment: Doesn't it just make sense that a state lawmaker should not be doing business with the state? Those lawmakers are Republicans who, one could argue, were just following the example of their former president who amassed (but did not keep track of) his Washington hotel profits from U.S. politicians, lobbyists, and foreign nationals who sought to do business with him and with the country's government.

But we digress.

In Nashville last week, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, brought forth a bill to expand the state's existing ban on legislators selling goods to the state into a new arena — that of "services."

The speakers acknowledged their effort comes at least in part as a result of the FBI's raids on the homes and legislative offices of our own Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and of Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, the former House speaker who was forced to step down from the speaker's post amid another scandal in 2019.

Both Smith and Casada have political consulting firms that offer campaign services, and they have provided those services to send legislative updates and surveys for some GOP colleagues through members' state-funded postage accounts.

The FBI has yet to specify what it's investigating, but Smith, who runs Rivers Edge Alliance, billed the General Assembly's Office of Legislative Services $10,969 in early January 2020 for mailers created for Reps. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, and Casada, copies of invoices show. Casada, who owns Right Way Consulting, meanwhile, submitted billings totaling $12,439 for mailings on behalf of Reps. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville; Chris Hurt, R-Halls; Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport; Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, and John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge.

On Wednesday, House GOP Caucus chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, added an amendment to Sexton's bill. The amendment reads that it "is an offense for any member of the General Assembly, any member's relative, or any entity in which a member of the General Assembly has a controlling interest to bid on, or offer for sale, any service to the state during the tenure of such member's office, or for six (6) months thereafter."

Faison, whom Smith challenged for his caucus chair seat last fall, told the panel: "I believe in Tennessee, that [mixing business and government] has probably blurred the lines of some of the things we do in here, and I feel like moving forward, we would best serve the people and the people's money by putting 'services' into the bill."

Good idea. Where has it been before now?