Manny Sethi’s Cast of Characters

On Thursday, Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Dr. Manny Sethi released a list of 174 “grassroots” activists supporting his campaign. Spoiler alert: We’re betting his opponent, former Trump ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, didn’t lose any sleep last night.

For instance, the most prominent official on Sethi’s list is State Rep. Bruce Griffey (District 75, Paris) and his wife, Rebecca. The Griffeys recently made statewide news for breaking state Republican Party bylaws in an attempt to intimidate a chancery court judge and ensure Rebecca Griffey’s appointment to the bench. The judge submitted her resignation to Governor Bill Lee after nine days, citing intimidation by the Griffeys.

Rep. Bruce Griffey and his wife, Rebecca, with disgraced former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada.

Elected officials also include State Rep. Kelly Keisling (District 38, Byrdstown.) In 2012, Keisling used his official state email address to share the rumor with constituents that then-President Barack Obama was planning to stage a fake assassination attempt in order to stop the 2012 election.

In a press release,  Forrest Barnwell-Hagemeyer, Sethi’s campaign manager, said, “It’s clear that Dr. Manny is the choice of Tennessee conservatives.”

In addition to the Griffeys and Keisling, those conservatives include:

  • State Rep. Dan Howell, (D22-Cleveland,) whose legislative accomplishments have included voting for Governor Lee’s education voucher scheme, voting to authorize adoption agencies to deny adoption to parents who don’t comply with the agency’s religious beliefs, and voting to allow Gov. Lee to submit a waiver of Medicaid in favor of block grants to “cover” healthcare.
  • Former (Nashville) Metro Council Member Duane Dominy, currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging Metro violated its own laws in the pending deal to place a Major League Soccer stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville.
  • Former Metro Council Member and current TNGOP Executive Committee Member Robert Duvall, who supported the legalization of gun carry in Metro Parks during his time on the council.
  • Dr. Ming Wang of Nashville, lasik eye surgeon.
  • Rick Williams, Nashville, former 5th Congressional District chair of 2016 Trump for President campaign.
  • Helen “Tootie” Haskins, longtime Tennessee legislative aide.
  • Fred Decosimo, Chattanooga, board member of the Beacon Center of Tennessee and treasurer of Lee’s gubernatorial campaign.
  • Marshall County Trustee Scottie Poarch, who in 2017 was nominated by Congressman Scott DesJarlais as the 4th Congressional District’s Statesman of the Year.
  • Dr. Omar Hamada, former chair of the Williamson County Republican Party.
  • Cyndi Miller, state GOP Executive Committee member (D23-Williamson County), who has advocated for the sale of the public Williamson County Medical Center.

For a full list of Sethi’s grassroots cast of characters, go to the Tennessee Journal.

Williamson GOP on Climate Change: Never too hot for tin-foil hats!

Finally! The Williamson County Republican Party, party of deposed-House Speaker Glen Casada and Senator Marsha Blackburn , weighed in on climate change yesterday, and on the hottest October day on record to boot.

Nashville Severe Weather noted yesterday was the area’s hottest day on record.

Wait.

Before we get too hopeful for rationality, let’s review what the local GOP said. An email sent to subscribers began with a request for right-wingers to step up and run for Williamson County School Board — a non-partisan race — in 2020.

According to the Grand Ole Party, it’s necessary for good conservatives to come to the aid of their party and their county because all those poor underpaid public school teachers are bent on indoctrinating children with wild theories about climate change and oh, showing respect for people who aren’t white.

“The sad reality is that like Climate Change activist Greta Thunberg, students all over the country have become products of indoctrination and fear in the public school system from a very young age,” said the post. (Psst: Which country? Greta is from Sweden.)

Screen shot of email sent by Williamson County GOP to subscribers.

The post added “certain staff and educators” are forcing white privilege training on teachers in the county school system.

These claims aren’t new. Earlier this year, the Williamson GOP made news when they went bonkers about a training on inclusion in schools. 

Nor is this the party’s first time at interjecting partisan politics into the local school elections. In 2014, GOP donor Kent Davis advised Republican candidates for the — again, for the cheap seats: non-partisan — school board on strategies for ousting then Director of Schools Mike Looney, a frequent target of the right. In an email outlining his strategy, Davis included Casada and Susan Curlee, who was elected to the board that year. (Curlee has since moved to Lawrence County, where she chairs the Lawrence County Republican Party.)

In 2015, the Williamson board made the Atlantic Monthly in a story citing then-board member Dr. Beth Burgos, also on the 2014 Davis email cited above, and her campaign to remove alleged “Islamic indoctrination” from the schools.

So, the fear of indoctrination and a bent for injecting partisan politics into what is — and should be — non-partisan races isn’t surprising.

But, Greta is still right.

First a Permitless Hog Farm, Now An AR-15 Giveaway – Is Rep. Holt’s Fundraiser “Door Prize” Legal?

Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) is hosting a “Hogfest and Turkey Shoot” campaign fundraiser at his home this Saturday, and has announced he will be giving away an AR-15 Assault Rifle – the weapon used in tragedy after tragedy in America – as a “door prize”… but is it legal?

That Holt would give away a weapon that even NASCAR won’t feature in ads anymore despite the message it sends to those concerned about the gun death crisis in America should come as no surprise – he is after all the sponsor of a recent bill to weaken our permitting system in Tennessee to make it possible for people to get a permit to carry virtually anywhere in our state without ever actually firing one on a range, simply by taking a quick online class.

But is his giveaway actually legal? It would appear the answer is no.

The Secretary of State’s website is very clear: Raffles like the one described in Holt’s event – where people pay to get in, and are entered to win a prize – are considered gambling in Tennessee, and not permitted by any organization that isn’t a charity and hasn’t been pre-approved.

From the Secretary of State’s site:

Raffles and games of chance are considered gambling, which is prohibited in Tennessee. However, certain charitable organizations are allowed to apply to have one raffle, reverse raffle, cakewalk or cakewheel each year if that event is conducted in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Tennessee Charitable Gaming Implementation Law.

Only a qualified 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) organization that has submitted an application to the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming and that has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly can hold a raffle.

When asked about this on Twitter, Holt responded that the AR-15 was a “doorprize”:

But the SOS site makes no exception for such semantic arguments. What Holt describes in his event post is pretty clearly not allowed by law.

Again, from the SOS site:

No. An event is considered a raffle if someone must pay for a chance to win a prize and would be a violation of law. It does not matter that the payment is called a “donation.”

When asked if he had applied and been approved, Holt gave no answer.

There is even a question on the site itself about exceptions for political campaigns, to which the answer is very clearly also a resounding NO:

Are political candidates and campaigns allowed to conduct raffles or other games of chance?
No. The law only allows qualified 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations to hold gaming events. Political candidates and campaigns for public office are not considered 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) tax exempt organizations… If someone is required to pay for a chance to win a prize, it is considered a raffle. Only qualified and approved 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations may hold a raffle. It does not matter that the payment is called a “donation.”

As for the consequences, the site has this to say:

If the Division of Charitable Solicitations is notified of an unapproved event, the Division will notify the local district attorney general. Conducting an unapproved game of chance may be a violation of the criminal gaming statute, and local law enforcement has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the individuals responsible for the event… Please contact the district attorney for the county in which you believe the game of chance is taking place or contact the Division of Charitable Solicitations at (615) 741-2555 and the Division will notify the appropriate authorities.

In this case, the District Attorney to holler at would be Tommy Thomas: (731) 364-5513

And here’s how to holler at the Division of Charitable Donations: (615) 741-2555 & charitable.solicitations@tn.gov

It’s worth pointing out that Holt is no stranger to breaking the law and doing things without a permit – he was previously found to be operating a pig farm without one.
He also recently mocked a Republican County commissioner who criticized disgraced former speaker Glen Casada, teasing him about beastiality (all class that Andy!) – and called a constituent who disagreed with him “mentally ill”.
We have heard from someone who was able to get Rep. Holt on the phone, who says she asked him if there is a way to register for the door prizes without buying a ticket for admission. Apparently Holt said he would get back to her, and hung up on her.
The charitable gaming office within the secretary of state’s office said they would look into it and get back to us, but when we followed up we were told all investigations are private until the investigations are closed, and that even whether or not there is an open investigation will not be disclosed to the public until after the investigation is closed.
Now you might be thinking – it’s just a raffle, who cares? And you’d have a point.
But the bigger point here is that laws exist for a reason, and laws that apply to the rest of us should apply equally to lawmakers themselves – otherwise we live in a two-tiered society, which is exactly the opposite of the “all men are created equal” principle.
Surely a “constitutional conservative” like Rep. Holt wouldn’t want to violate that bedrock principle just to give away an AR-15 and trigger some libs, would he?
As for the AR-15 itself, we’ll freely admit we find the idea of giving one away when they have been the source of so much heartbreak and misery feels irresponsible and heartless. We support the 2nd Amendment, but even Justice Scalia said it didn’t allow for “UNLIMITED” right to own and keep any weapon, anywhere, any time.
And even the maker of the AR-15  believed they shouldn’t be in civilian hands. The safety of our children should take precedence.

Instead of giving away AR-15’s at campaign fundraisers, it would be nice to see Holt working to make Tennessee a safer place, especially considering how unsafe a state we are when it comes to gun deaths, especially of women and children.
If you agree, or even just think laws should apply to lawmakers, Holler at Rep. Holt HERE – or on twitter HERE.

New TN GOP Caucus Chair Faison Downplays Gun Deaths, Misstates *Fact* About Guns (Again)

In a week in which America was yet again rocked by gun violence, newly minted Tennessee House Republican Party caucus chair Rep. Jeremy Faison has taken to Twitter to minimize the problem of gun deaths in America, using misstated facts to do it.

“Gun-related deaths are no where even close to the problem that liberals make them out to be,” Faison told a commenter:

Faison’s tweet came as a reply to a response to an earlier tweet where he had posted “pesky facts” above a post from @RealSaavedra, who listed other causes of death in America on a per day basis, including abortion, heart disease, cancer and more.

It’s a familiar talking point in anti-gun safety law conservative circles:

Faison keyed in on the “All Rifles” item at the bottom, which makes the point that only 1 American dies each day by rifle on average.

What this widely circulated statistic obviously and intentionally leaves out is all the deaths and shootings caused by non-rifles. In actuality, Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured. Over 100,000 Americans are shot on average each year, far more than other countries – which means Faison turning the stat for “rifle deaths” into “gun-related deaths” in his follow-up tweet was either intentionally misleading, or yet another big mistake on Faison’s part.

It wouldn’t be the first flub from Faison in which he made up his own gun-related *fact* to help prove his ultimate point, which is apparently that that guns in America are really no big deal.

This past session Faison was on a committee that passed a gun permit-weakening bill which made it possible for Tennesseans to get a permit to carry a gun nearly everywhere in the state simply by taking a quick course online, without ever even having to fire one  on a range.

After fact-filled, emotional testimony from witnesses including Beth Joslin Roth of the Safe Tennessee Project, who demonstrated clearly that stronger gun laws do in fact save lives, Faison confidently informed Beth that despite all the numbers she presented to the contrary tighter gun laws don’t lead to fewer gun deaths – because if they did, the Bahamas wouldn’t have so many homicides, since according to Faison you can get the death penalty for illegally carrying a gun there.

As it turned out, we looked into it, and that *fact* was not true. Nobody has been put to death in the Bahamas in many years, and certainly not for having a gun.

Where had Jeremy heard this, you might ask? According to him, he heard it from a “Bohemian” he knew in college. (He meant Bahamian. Sigh.)

To his minimal credit, he apologized and retracted his made up *fact*. But for a man who sits on a committee that makes laws in Tennessee to be presenting false information that was so loosely sourced is a pretty devastating indictment not only of Faison, but of the level of accountability GOP Supermajority lawmakers are currently facing in Tennessee.

Inevitably, that permit-weakening law passed, and Faison has since been elected chair of the TN GOP caucus. But one thing hasn’t changed: Faison is still making up *facts* about guns to minimize a very real, very tragic problem, which makes all of us, and our children, much less safe.

Again, studies of the issue in general have shown repeatedly there is a relationship between stricter gun laws and a lower amount of guns, and gun deaths. Even Justice Scalia said you can support the 2nd Amendment while still supporting some common sense gun safety laws.

If you have a problem with state legislators putting out false information about serious issues like gun safety, holler at Faison HERE.

Senator Reeves, The #1 TN Opioid Pills Distributor, Admitted He Makes Laws to Benefit His Business (And Opposes Medical Marijuana)

With Senator Marsha Blackburn helping to keep the money-spigot turned on for Big Pharma by making it harder for the DEA to fight the opioid crisis, a federal database recently found a pharmacy in Murfreesboro owned by state Sen. Shane Reeves sold 46 million pills over six years, distributing the most opioid pills in Tennessee BY FAR, with no close second.

Reeves initially said he wasn’t surprised, but now his company TwelveStone is demanding a recount, so it’s worth remembering that during his campaign Reeves came out durinn a Pharmacy Podcast Network interview and openly said he told his company partners that he’s running for office because being a state senator would be good for his company in two areas: “Public Policy and Networking”

Yes, Reeves comes right out and says the quiet part out loud – that from his position at state senator he’ll be able to help his own company, Twelvestone. Here’s the quote, and you can hear it for yourself in the video below:

“One [way TwelveStone will benefit is] obviously public policy, trying to drive and make a difference in the issues that are impacting pharmacy and healthcare so much in business. The second thing is business development growth and networking. Clearly as a state senator I’m going to meet a lot of people which can help for the company — anytime someone looks up Shane Reeves, they’re going to see TwelveStone.” 

Again- Reeves is literally reassuring his own partners that by running for state senate he can influence the regulations that govern his industry and promote the company through his position.

And he has been doing it.

The list of bills Reeves has sponsored includes a number of bills related to the pharmacy industry in which he works.

As TwelveStone shovels pills out by the millions, Tennessee is one of the few states in which opioid death tolls are still going up even as states around us see theirs going down. We’re also far behind the overall trend of dropping opioid addiction numbers, which studies show is very clearly tied to our unwillingness to expand Medicaid – which Reeves does not support.

Importantly, he is also one of the voices against Tennessee passing a law legalizing medical marijuana, which would allow Tennesseans to deal with their pain in a manner other than with the pills his company makes a killing off of.

During his run for the senate against Gayle Jordan, who did support Medical Marijuana, Reeves had this to say on the topic:

“There absolutely are benefits to cannabis, medical marijuana, for people who’ve got cancer, glaucoma, nerve pain and headaches. There are also other ways you can take it other than smoking it. There’s oils, capsules, and I think over the next years we should look at some other options… But right now my answer to medical marijuana is not now.

Sorry Tennesseans suffering from cancer, glaucoma, nerve pain headaches – many of which are veterans, who overwhelmingly support medical marijuana – your pain relief will have to wait, because TwelveStone has money to make.

As the Tennessee Democratic Party said during Reeves’ campaign:

“Shane Reeves loaned his campaign more than $255,000 and raised at least half a million dollars for a job that pays $22,000. Now we know why: In his own words, getting elected would help boost his name recognition and help his pharmaceutical company TwelveStone succeed.”

If you agree Reeves running for state senator to help his own company while helping to block things like Medicaid expansion and Medical Marijuana, which would actually help people, is not a good thing, holler at Senator Reeves HERE.

Disgraced Former Speaker’s N Word-Using Chief: “Send KKK Bust To Museum”

On August 2nd, speaker Glen Casada became former Speaker Glen Casada. Cameron Sexton will be stepping in to fill his very small shoes during a special session August 23rd.

The disgraced now-former Tennessee speaker’s downfall can be traced back to his refusal to meet with activists who insisted the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest – the KKK’s first Grand Wizard – be removed from the capitol. This week, Casada’s also disgraced former chief of staff Cade Cothren, who was outed for using the N Word and calling black people “idiots”, among other things, joined them in their call to move the bust, saying in a Twitter conversation it should be “sent to a museum”.

The list of Casada’s transgressions is long – we did our best to list them in video form HERE – but the beginning of his downfall can be traced back to one very specific issue: The bust of the KKK’s first Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, which sits prominently in Tennessee’s state Capitol, and Casada’s refusal to meet with the activists who have long been calling for its removal.

Casada’s predecessor Speaker Beth Harwell Met with the activists, many of which are students. Casada would not. Instead, he gave them the runaround, dodging them in the halls of the Capitol and having his chief of staff Cothren lie directly to their faces about misspelled emails.

Eventually the frustration of activists Justin Jones and Jeneisha Harris boiled over and resulted in Jones throwing a paper cup of iced (not hot) tea (not coffee) at Casada as he fled into a private elevator.

The assault & disorderly conduct charges filed against Justin Jones and Jeneisha Harris respectively in the aftermath are still pending. (The next hearing is August 15th at 9AM in courtroom 4D)

Another issue still outstanding is that of Casada’s former Chief of staff Cade Cothren, who resigned amid numerous scandals of his own, and whether or not he falsified the date on an email date to make it look like Jones contacted Casada in violation of a court order, which would have landed Jones in jail.

Casada and Cothren claim the date discrepancy can be chalked up to an issue with the legislature’s SPAM filters delaying the email, and special prosecutor on the case Craig Northcott – the D.A. in Coffee County, who himself is under fire for open Islamophobia, homophobia, and a refusal to respect the authority of the Supreme Court – appears to be taking their word for it. Despite calls by Jones, and even Cothren himself, for Northcott to bring in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for an independent investigation about the possibly fraudulent emails, Northcott has refused.

The possible framing of a civil rights activist aside, Cothren resigned due to numerous other scandals – many of which Casada was complicit in – including lewd, sexist texts and behavior, an admission that he was doing cocaine at his desk during work hours, and racism. Lots of racism. 

Cothren used the “N Word” to describe quarterback Jameis Winston. He said “black people are idiots.” The list goes on.

A lot has happened since the beginning of Casada and Cothren’s downfall, and so many Phil Williams stories later it’s hard to remember how it all started… but it can all be traced back to one thing: That bust of the KKK’s first Grand Wizard in the legislature.

Casada has not expressed a willingness to move the bust, instead saying that adding “historical context” would be more appropriate (without specifying what that means).

Govenor Lee says a “conversation needs to be had” about the bust, again without providing specifics, and just recently agreed to take action to stop celebrating July 13th as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” after nationwide backlash – including from Republican Senator Ted Cruz – in the wake of his signing a proclamation to reaffirm it.

While Casada and Lee remain noncommittal, Casada’s “N Word”-using Former Chief of staff Cade Cothren has now changed his tune, conceding in a conversation on Twitter with Nashville native @AliceRolli1 that the bust should indeed be moved:

The comment comes as part of what appears to be an effort by Cothren to repair his image, an effort that has mainly consisted of joining Twitter and sending Taylor Swift memes to his critics while using Taylor Swift lyrics to challenge them to a fight in his Twitter bio.

“Sure, send it to the museum” is clearly a flippant, dismissive way to come around to a position on a serious topic concerning a statue much of Tennessee’s African-American population considers to be a painful reminder of a dark past. That being said, it’s also a clear departure from the official position his disgraced boss Casada’s office held when the then-speaker was dodging Jones & Harris in the halls, turning a deaf ear to protestors who were imploring Tennessee leadership to listen to Tennessee’s black citizens and move the symbol of hate.

Cothren is clearly trying to make himself employable in the state of Tennessee again so his motives can’t be viewed as entirely altruistic, but if a Republican speaker’s chief of staff who once said “black People are idiots” and called Jameis Winston the N Word is now willing to publicly call for the bust to be sent to a museum… well, these days in Tennessee, that certainly counts as progress.

Holler at Governor Lee and soon-to-be Speaker Sexton if you agree it’s time to “send the bust to the museum”.

Trae Crowder Takes Down D.A. Northcott

“Sorry LGBT people, your marriages are invalid – so sayeth CRAIG.”

Watch the great Trae Crowder take down “broke-brained” Islamophobic, homophobic D.A. Northcott’s refusal to recognize the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in his 1st episode of #DoWhatNow?

Election Eve Shenanigans

Metro Nashville has certainly had elections with more drama and mud-slinging than the one scheduled for tomorrow, but as is always the case, disputes between candidates and their camps always rise to fever pitch the week of the election. The Holler is doing our part to call attention to some of the more egregious acts with our Election Eve Shenanigans Spotlight.

Mayor’s Race

Depending on who you favor, it’s either worse than John Cooper – widely considered to be the biggest challenger to incumbent David Briley – has self-funded his campaign with about $1.5 of his own money, some of which has been earned from private development, or that Briley has taken hundreds of thousands in contributions from members of Nashville’s development community.

While controversial, neither rises to scandal. However, activist Eric Patton charges Cooper has violated campaign finance law by accepting contributions for a run-off he isn’t assured of making yet.

Cooper’s pre-general election financial disclosure, filed with the Davidson County Election Commission, shows he’s taken the maximum donation amount – $1,600 – from his treasurer, Mary Falls, and from his oldest brother, William Cooper. But he’s also taken the maximum amount from both Falls and William Cooper and earmarked it for the runoff election, which is slated for Sept. 12.

Patton filed an ethics complaint with the office of District Attorney Glen Funk Tuesday and said today he’s waiting on a response from the DA.

Screen shot of Eric Patton’s twitter post showing hand-written ethics complaint filed against the John Cooper for Mayor campaign.

 

Screen shot of Eric Patton’s twitter alleging ethical violations by Cooper.

 

 

 

 

Davidson County Administrator of Elections Joan Nixon confirmed in a phone call with the Holler that candidates are prohibited from accepting contributions for the runoff until after the August 1 general election.

In 2015, four mayoral candidates —  Megan Barry, Charles Robert Bone, Bill Freeman and Jeremy Kane — similarly took too much too soon and were ordered by Nixon to refund it.

And in Metro Council Races . . .

Thus far, no punches have been thrown, as there were in 2015 when candidates Nick Leonardo (now a judge) and the late Loniel Green became physical at on Election Day 2015 at Cathedral of Praise, D1’s largest precinct. But the usual negative mail pieces and Facebook posts abound. Here are a couple:

District 13

District 13 features a three-way race between front-runner Russ Bradford, Andrew Dixon and Dan Meredith.

Davette Blalock, a two-term Metro Council member and 2016 Trump backer, supports Dixon, as does former council member Roy Dale. Dale is an engineer and developer who attracts controversy: In 2018, he served as a consulting engineer in the proposed move of a grease and waste water treatment to in North Nashville. Earlier in his career, while running for Council at Large in 2003 (against David Briley and current At Large candidate Adam Dread) Dale took an anti-gay approach and sent mailers disparaging Briley for supporting anti-discrimination measures to protect gay and lesbian Metro employees.

“David Briley and Adam Dread voted to give ‘special rights’ to the gay and lesbian community. If you want Nashville to be more like California, say ‘hello San Fran Nashville’ and vote for David Briley and Adam Dread,” read Dale’s mail piece.

Dale’s anti-gay rhetoric is notable: Bradford is openly gay. And Dale and Blalock have formed a PAC that has apparently spent money on nothing but mail pieces to support Dixon

Mailer sent by Good Government PAC.

In fact, ‘Good Government PAC’ wasn’t registered with Metro Nashville as of Tuesday, July 30 but is federally registered to

Dale’s office address. One would think two people with a combined four terms on council would know the dangers of supporting a local candidate with an illegal PAC, but apparently not.

Unlike Dale and Blalock, Meredith doesn’t make voters guess at his motives. Scoop Nashville wrote in April about Meredith’s tweets saying that calling black women apes is funny; that the business world would be better without women; and referring to gay men as ‘prissy homosexuals.’

So no surprise Meredith attacked Bradford on Facebook today, using an unflattering picture of Bradford presumably in costume with the phrase: ‘Why send a boy to do a man’s job?’

Meredith was promptly roasted on his own page for his derogatory portrayal of Bradford.

District 35

Incumbent Dave Rosenberg faces Michelle Foreman, a member of the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee. Foreman makes a number of charges against Roseberg, including belittling him for moving to Nashville, as many others have, from other cities, voting to make Nashville a sanctuary city and critically tweeting about Trump. We at the Holler can’t vote for Rosenberg but on the basis of Foreman’s charges, he sounds good to us.

Michelle Foreman nastygram.

 

 

Pulitzer Prize Winner Maraniss Talks Trump and What Makes an American with the Holler

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling writer

The New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss says the Trump era holds many similarities with Senator Joe McCarthy’s 1950s Red-baiting period.

Maraniss, recently in Nashville on tour for his latest book, A Good American Family, discussed the comparison over coffee with The Tennessee Holler.

“There are obvious parallels (between Trump and McCarthy,)” said Maraniss, noting he started the book prior to Donald Trump’s 2016 election as president. “There’s the same use of fear as a political weapon and the demonization of outsiders as a tool.”

A Good American Family is a biography of sorts, with the focal point being the work of House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Detroit in 1952. One of the men called to testify on charges of being a Communist: Elliott Maraniss, David’s father.

Maraniss, only two years old at the time of the hearings, had no memory of the hearings but knew the experience shadowed the family’s history. The day Elliott Maraniss was issued a subpoena, he was fired from his job at the now-defunct Detroit Times. Thus began a  five-year odyssey for the family, as Elliott moved about the Midwest, losing one job after another as part of a blacklist, before settling at the Capital Times in Madison, Wisc.

For Maraniss, the conundrum at the heart of the book is what it means to be American. How was his father, despite commanding an all-black company for the U.S. Army in World War II, considered ‘Un-American’? Or his uncle, Robert Adair Cummins, who fought against fascists in the Spanish Revolution, and also a HUAC target?

Both were active in the Michigan Communist Party of the 1930s and ’40s, but America was founded on the basis of free speech, a point Elliot made in the three-page statement he prepared for his HUAC testimony, a statement he wasn’t allowed to give and that Maraniss only found in the National Archives in 2015.

While McCarthy exploited Cold War-era fears about the USSR and the rise of Communism, Trump uses an older tactic to manipulate fear for his own gain.

“Race is at the center of American politics and always has been,” he says. “It’s always been easily manipulated and Trump very easily exploits that.”

“The concept of America and who is American . . . Who decides that? Native Americans weren’t American enough, blacks weren’t American enough,” said Maraniss.

(Meanwhile, Congressman George Stephens Wood, the chairman of HUAC — someone who, presumably, WAS American enough — was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his home state of Georgia and had been present at the lynching of Jewish businessman Leo Frank in 1915.)

As president, Trump is far worse than McCarthy, says Maraniss.

“There’s a huge difference between then and now: Trump has a lot more platforms and as president, a greater ability to disrupt the government.”

A Good American Family is Maraniss’ 12th book. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his coverage of President Bill Clinton and again in 2007 as part of the Washington Post team that covered the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. He has also been a Pulitzer Prize finalist another three times, a writer and editor with the Post for more than 40 years, and a visiting distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University.

Support local bookstores by purchasing A Good American Family at Parnassus Books in Green Hills or Landmark Booksellers in Franklin.

KINGSPORT’S BALLAD HEALTH PROTEST ENTERS 40TH DAY

Residents in the Sullivan County/Kingsport, TN area have just entered their 40th day of protesting a recent hospital merger that will put the health care of many at risk. The merger is a demonstration of the intersection between political and corporate corruption.

Dani Cook, a local advocate from Bristol, Tennessee, explains the situation in detail below… And watch our brief VIDEO from Day 39:

BALLAD HEALTH: 

Where Apparent Healthcare, Political, & Corporate Corruption Meet

In one of the most unusual healthcare-related actions ever taken by 2 states, State Senators, Representatives, Departments of Health, Attorneys General, and Community Business and Education Leaders joined together with two separate healthcare systems to create a medical monopoly, intentionally displacing competition and granting state and federal antitrust immunity.

The State of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Virginia have executed a “COPA” – a Certificate of Public Advantage/Cooperative Agreement – unlike any in the history of healthcare in America.

The COPA annual review has just finished, and the TN Health Dept. couldn’t “grade” Ballad Health as laid out in the Terms of Certification. Because the Terms of Certification included a Plan of Separation requiring Wellmont Health System, Mountain States Health Alliance, and Ballad Health (the new health system) to keep 90% of their assets separate for the first 18 months after the COPA was issued, there is a unique window of opportunity to have the COPA modified or terminated!

The COPA law states:

“This COPA is subject to modification if at any time the Department (of Health) determines the likely benefits resulting from the Cooperative Agreement no longer outweigh any disadvantages attributable to any potential reduction in competition that may result from the Cooperative Agreement.

This COPA is subject to termination if the Department determines the benefits resulting from the Cooperative Agreement no longer outweigh any disadvantages attributable to a reduction in competition that may result from the Cooperative Agreement, and modification of the COPA is not obtained.”

Read the COPA Agreement HERE.

Since the COPA has been executed, there have been reductions in pay, changes in services, repurposing and deletions of services, and a severe reduction in access to quality healthcare.

The changes have caused severe staffing shortages, true emergencies being treated in triage/waiting rooms, significantly increased wait times, patients being held in the ER for days to weeks, increased transports (often not covered by insurance), over-billing, and lawsuits from the health system against patients for bills, among other negative effects.

The region is rural, and has a poverty rate of 20-30%.

The people here are suffering. Doctors and nurses are leaving. And those that cannot leave are scared to speak out for fear of retaliation from Ballad Health.

Those fears are well founded, as several employees have already been admonished, warned, and even fired for doing so.

If we are going to save our healthcare system, the time to act is now, before the assets are combined on July 31st, 2019, which is why 10 residents have signed onto a federal lawsuit requesting Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.

HOW WE GOT HERE

The original COPA legislation – The Hospital Cooperation Act of 1993 – allowed health systems that were in financial trouble to work together in order to reduce costs, remain profitable, and still provide quality healthcare.

It did not, however, allow those health care systems to merge.

In 2014, Wellmont Health System announced it was looking for a strategic partner to help keep their hospitals operating, and reduce their $411 Million debt. The concern with this prospect was that Mountain States, with their own $892 Million debt, would be forced to do the same.

Shortly thereafter, prominent local businessman and BancTenn Chair, Bill Greene, was in the hospital for cellulitis in his leg. According to several interviews Greene gave in the press, it was  this hospital stay that set off a chain of events that would change healthcare in our region.

It started with Greene’s cardiologist stopping by to check on him during the stay. Green asked the cardiologist to take a look at his chart, but he explained he could not do so because he was a Wellmont physician, and Greene was in a Mountain States Health Alliance hospital.

On a subsequent golfing trip Greene expressed his dissatisfaction that the two systems could not access each other’s information, especially given their proximity to each other (although this is common with all competing hospitals).

Greene asked Alan Levine, the new CEO of Mountain States, what the options were to rectify the situation. Levine explained that the two health care systems would not be allowed to merge by the FTC because they would be creating a medical monopoly, and that the FTC has a 70% success rate in blocking such acquisitions/mergers.

Levine then shared the idea of a COPA – a so-far unused state mechanism that put price and competitive controls in place, and shielded health system mergers from FTC scrutiny. 

Per Greene, he and a group of self-proclaimed “Hole-in-the-Wall Gang” members gathered together at his home to determine if it was “worth it” to pursue the idea. This group of 15 local business, education, and community leaders who manage approximately 65% of the region’s employees spent 4-5 hours discussing the option, and determined that it was worth it.

Over the course of the next few months the “Hole in the Wall Gang” began to hold public forums, created a website, and leveraged the local media to convince the public of two things:

1. Their hospitals were failing financially and were in such terrible shape that they were about to be sold to an outside healthcare system who would have no knowledge of or interest in the local region, and would dismantle, reduce, and close hospitals.
2. That the merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance was their only chance of survival.

In addition to spreading their message to the public, the Hole in the Wall Gang needed to change the existing COPA Law, since it did not allow for the hospitals to merge. To accomplish that mission and get around the FTC’s 70% success rate blocking such mergers for antitrust reasons, The Gang would need to get new legislation introduced and passed.

Fortunately for them, one Gang member – Mountain States Health Alliance – had the Chair of the Tennessee Senate Health Committee on the payroll: Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Washington & Carter Counties).

Crowe had been a contracted employee for Mountain States for several years, and was the perfect vehicle through which these new pieces of legislation could be passed. On April 8, 2015 Senator Crowe introduced SB0994 to the Health and Welfare Committee.

Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knox County) abstained from voting due to a conflict as he also works for a healthcare system in nearby Knoxville TN.

Senator Doug Overbey (current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of TN) abstained, stating:

“What is being proposed is an attempt to provide some insulation from anti-trust scrutiny under traditional anti-trust principles under both federal and state law and in fact, I think that’s what it says what it’s trying to do in Section 2.8.”

Senator Rusty Crowe – again, a paid hospital employee/vendor of Ballad Health – declared Rule 13, which states that he has a personal interest in this law being passed but that he promises his vote is in the best interest of the people.

As laws were being drafted, sponsored and passed by the politicians, the healthcare system administrators and Hole in the Wall Gang members were busy getting letters of support together from local businesses and organizations.

On June 2015, Commissioner of Health John Dreyzehner sent a letter to FTC Staff asking for an opinion. His question: If the New Health System that results from the merger under the COPA was subsequently sold to a non-COPA healthcare system outside of the region, would that trigger an antitrust review?

Better question: Why was he asking that?

At the time, Wellmont and MSHA had not filed a letter of intent to apply for the COPA or submitted the application. So why was the TN Commissioner of Health asking a question that appeared to only be of informational benefit to two private healthcare systems?

After 6 months, and subsequent phone conversations with the TN Dept. of Health, the FTC finally responded to this request for opinion, saying that typically once a merger is allowed to happen, and the assets have been combined, it is extremely difficult to undo.

They said it’s like trying to unscramble an egg.

A few weeks later, Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System submitted their application for a COPA.

Over the next two years, there were public hearings held in the local community, but with the local news media only being fed information from the two health systems and the Hole in the Wall Gang, the public was unaware of just what’s at stake, and hardly participated. 

The local and state politicians, businessmen, and education leaders did attend those hearings, and advocated for the merger to be approved and COPA granted.

(*Important to note the participants in these public hearings because of their positions, the companies they own, and roles in the community – See “Cast of Characters” below… Also important to note the expert testimonies of FTC Staff and Bob Leibenluft, a DC antitrust attorney, formerly of the FTC Healthcare Antitrust Division)

(**It’s also interesting to note the investment Bill Greene seemed to have in this outcome. He’s a banker. Why the interest in healthcare?)

During the course of the public hearings, several independent investigations and subsequent reports were conducted, 2 of which are of particular importance, as they were financed by the FTC and by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

(Spoiler Alert: They both said “DO NOT DO THIS” – a merger is not necessary to accomplish the efficiencies and commitments promised, and no detailed plan has been provided to prove through clear and convincing evidence that this will be an advantage to the public.)

Independent Report by Robert Town (Commonwealth of VA Hired Expert): Here

Independent Report by Kenneth Kizer (FTC Hired Expert): Here

While there is a lot of information and additional players to be mentioned in this section, including people who worked with Alan Levine at his past companies coming to work with him, one of which was fined $260 Million for fraud, a CEO coming out of retirement, and more questionable political connections, let’s keep moving…

Fast-forward to January 31st, 2018, when the COPA is issued.

Even though the State of TN and Commonwealth of Virginia knew this day was coming, and the laws passed required oversight for the granting of the COPA, no COPA Oversight had been set up at that time.

In fact, it was approximately 4 months before the external COPA Oversight Monitor, Larry Fitzgerald was hired.

During that 4 month unsupervised period, the new health system – Ballad Health – made a move to refinance their debt through hospital municipal bonds. Keep in mind, between the two health systems they had approximately $1.3 Billion in debt.

As a combined system, their overall value was $3 Billion.  The current rating on their bonds was a BBB+, so they shopped around to get the bonds refinanced, with the goal of getting a better bond rating to reduce their debt.

They located the Greeneville TN Health and Education Facilities Board, a board whose members had just been in trouble for not bothering to meet for 2 years, and had a better rating than Ballad’s bonds.

Keep in mind, Ballad Health is a nonprofit organization, and therefore a bond that refinances their debt is not allowed… unless you know a couple of politicians – in this case former TN Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who called U.S. Representative Diane Black, who chaired the House Budget Committee and could rewrite the wording that allows the refinancing to take place. 

Still crunching the numbers… but over $100 Million of them were traded between May 10th– May 15th, and the bonds weren’t delivered until 6/6, so the question is: Who had the bonds before the rating was improved, and who bought and sold the bonds?

The CFO of Ballad Health, Lynn Krutak – who helped CEO Alan Levine get the bond to refinance the debt – is also on the Healthcare Advisory Board for PNC Bank.

PNC Capital Investments is one of the three underwriters for the bonds, along with B of A, Merrill Lynch, and US BancCorp.

Bond Series A: Click Here

Bond Series B: Click Here

Ballad Health states in the SEC paperwork that they do not have the money to repay this debt or meet the COPA commitments, and that these funds (during their Forward-Looking Statements) would be derived from merger synergies and consolidations/deletions of services.

In this paperwork they outline certain changes that were not announced to the public or TN Health Department until 6 months after they had already begun implementation.

These changes, specifically the downgrading of the Level III NICU at Holston Valley Medical Center (FULL DISCLOSURE: where my granddaughter was born in 2017 weighing 1 pound 3 ounces), are what prompted my interest, subsequent research, and activism against Ballad Health, the TN Health Department, and VA & TN politicians.

(Yes, there is a lot that happens in Virginia as well… it’s just too much to go into here.)

You may be wondering why people weren’t upset and outraged by all of these things prior to November 2018… Well, it’s pretty simple: Within days of the COPA being issued, Senator Rusty Crowe introduced SB2048 (the revised version of HB2020 first introduced by Rep. Gary Hicks) which is a law protecting the information from the public:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 13, is amended by adding the following as a new section: 68-11-1310.

(a) The following records received by the department or the attorney general and reporter from the recipients or applicants of a certificate of public advantage for a cooperative agreement issued pursuant to this part shall not be subject to disclosure pursuant to title 10, chapter 7, part 5:

(1) Operating and capital budgets;

(2) Existing and future business plans other than any plans, and any modifications to those plans, that are required to be submitted to the state pursuant to a certificate of public advantage or application for a certificate of public advantage;

(3) Financial audit working papers as defined in § 4-3-304(7);

(4) Contracts or agreements with payors and payorpricing information;

(5) Physician recruitment plans and contracts or agreements with physicians;

(6) Contracts or agreements with vendors;

(7) Complaints, including hotline complaints and open investigations of such complaints; and Senate Health and Welfare Committee 1 Amendment No. 1 to SB2048 Crowe Signature of Sponsor AMEND Senate Bill No. 2048 House Bill No. 2020* SA0731 014499 -2-

(8) Employee personnel files, including performance evaluations, disciplinary actions, individual compensation amounts, and employment contract terms not otherwise publicly available.

In addition to these items being protected by this piece of legislation, it also stipulates that if you request this information, are denied, and then sue to obtain it, you – the citizen – are required to pay the attorney’s fees for the healthcare system/TN Dept. of Health.

So to recap: They created a medical monopoly, gave it anti-trust immunity on a state and federal level, protected non-proprietary information including complaints and changes to services,  and on top of all of that they have placed the financial burden of seeking this information directly on the citizens for whom this COPA is supposed to be an advantage.

REVIEW

There are 1.2 Million people in rural Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina, and Southeast Kentucky who are at the mercy of a medical monopoly that exists ONLY because a healthcare corporation, run by a CEO with an employment history that includes two companies that received judgments of $1.7 Billion and $260 Million in healthcare fraud, a group of local and state politicians, and a “Hole-in-the-Wall Gang” of city business, education, and community leaders banded together to change state law that allowed them to merge and granted them IMMUNITY from federal and state antitrust laws.

This unprecedented use of state law borders on unconstitutional given the protections of the Sherman Antitrust Act. And if not quite unconstitutional, certainly unconscionable, unethical, and immoral considering the impact on an already impoverished, under-served community.

We do not have a healthcare crisis in this country, we have a corruption crisis in this country, and corporations, politicians, and governmental policies and practices create, perpetuate, and celebrate its existence.

That is why we need you. No one is watching them. No one is hearing us.

And despite Ballad Health’s motto “It’s Your Story, We’re Listening.”

Our cries are falling on deaf ears.

Please help.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Alan Levine, CEO Ballad Health, HMA (Health Management Associates) 2010-2013 – President & CEO of the Florida Group of Hospitals  – DOJ $260M Fraud Judgment for 2008-2012 false claims.

2017 Broward Health Whistleblower Case Referencing Alan Levine Kickbacks 2006

Columbia/HCA Fraud Judgment (Where Alan Levine first works with/becomes friends with Rick Scott) 

Alan Levine is a member of the Federalist Society (his page as a “Contributor”) and is extremely active in political campaign contributions

Bill Greene – Chairman, banquet 

Articles for Reference:

http://bjournal.com/effort-to-influence-wellmonts-merger-strategy-spreading/

https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/majority-voice-support-for-merger-ftc-opposition-continues/article_e2b48c1e-8136-5bce-91b5-d931f6a78840.html

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Health-Care/2017/09/23/How-a-case-of-cellulitis-and-a-meeting-of-the-hole-in-the-wall-gang-led-to

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Health-Care/2018/01/31/Ballad-Health-merger-timeline

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Business/2017/08/24/New-ETSU-stadium-named-for-William-B-Greene-Jr

https://www.juniorachievement.org/web/ja-tnva/william-b.-greene-jr.

Scott Niswonger – President Niswonger Foundation (Money Influence)

Brian Noland – President, East TN State University & Member of Ballad Board of Directors

David Golden – SVP Safety & Sustainability, Eastman Chemical Company

Tony Keck – Worked with Alan Levine in Louisiana & SVP at Ballad Health

Andy Hall – Ballad Health Gov’t Relations

Eric Deaton – Ballad Health Marketing

Bart Hove – Wellmont CEO – came out of retirement to help make the COPA happen. Was supposed to stay on as 2nd in command at Ballad Health but left the day the COPA was issued.

Melody Trimble – Worked with Alan Levine at HMA and came to work with him at MSHA – also left the day the COPA was issued.

Identified Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Members (10 of 15): Bill Green, Brian Noland, David Golden, Scott Niswonger, Alan Levine, Dennis Phillips, Keith Wilson, Roy Harmon, Jerry Miller, John Tickle, Dr. Bill Hazel  (Secretary of Health & Human Resource for the Commonwealth of Virginia met with the Hole in the Wall Gang Sept. 2014.

Politicians —

Tennessee: Senator Rusty Crowe, Senator Mark Norris, Speaker Ron Ramsey, Representative Gary Hicks, Senator Diane Black, Representative Bud Hulsey, Senator Jon Lundberg, Representative David Hawk  – Also on COPA Advisory Council

Virginia: Terry Kilgore

Dani Cook is a local advocate from Bristol, Tennessee.