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Tennessee Republican Steve Gill Confirms He Was In Russian-Occupied Region For “Election” Called A “Sham” By U.S. Officials & Allies

Tennessee conservative mouthpiece Steve Gill confirmed to the Holler he served as an observer in a September 10th election conducted in Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions called a “sham” by U.S. officials and allies.

The European Platform for Democratic Elections urged the EU to consider sanctions and visa restrictions for 34 foreign observers it says were “involved in those “unauthorized activities” it believes to be an act of Russian propaganda.

The Holler has confirmed that one of those 34 election observers was Steve Gill of Tennessee, a staunch Trump supporter and right-wing radio host who was the political editor of The Tennessee Star prior to his August 2019 arrest for not paying child support. (A Williamson County judge denied an order of protection against Gill after his wife filed the order saying she was scared of what would happen when he was released from jail.)

Gill is a regular critic of Ukraine, and frequent guest on RT, “a Russian state-controlled international news television network funded by the Russian government”, according to Wikipedia.
From the European Platform for Democratic Elections release:

“The European Union strongly condemned the holding of the Russian elections in temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories as illegitimate and strongly rejected this further futile attempt by Russia to legitimize or normalize its illegal military control and attempted annexation of parts of Ukrainian territories.

The United States referred to the sham elections in occupied areas of Ukraine as ‘nothing more than a propaganda exercise’, and stated that it will never recognize the Russian Federation’s claims to any of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. The US also reminded any individuals who may support Russia’s sham elections in Ukraine, including by acting as so-called ‘international observers’, that they may be subject to sanctions and visa restrictions… For around two decades, Russian authorities have employed “international observers” to try to whitewash fraudulent elections, legitimize illegitimate plebiscites, and/or advance their foreign policy interests internationally.”

Here was the list of observers they included in their release:

We asked Steve Gill via email if he was the “Steve Gill” from the list (highlighted above). His response:

“I was there.”

We asked Gill to elaborate about why he went, what he saw, and if he knew the US & EU considered it to be a propaganda stunt. We also asked if he could provide any insight into the nature of his connection to the area, Russia, and his relationship with RT.

His responses were lengthy (provided in longer form below), but the key takeaways were that he took issue with Secretary Blinken calling the election a “sham”, said there were no reporters there to report the “truth” and wanted to see things for himself.

Gill described the election process Russian authorities used in the occupied territories as “actual transparency”, claiming to have had “full access to talk to anybody”, and described voters as “excited” and not intimidated.

He added that he didn’t care or know who won, and went out of his way to add that the ongoing sanctions against Russia are not hurting them, only Americans, and that Moscow seemed very “safe” and “clean” with “tall buildings” – obviously very pro-Russia talking points, especially considering we hadn’t asked those questions.

Experts on the region we spoke with have written extensively on Russia’s history of conducting these elections for propaganda purposes.

In our follow-up we asked Gill if he thought it would be easy to put on a show of an election only to rig the results themselves, to which he responded:

“I watched and thought through how I might cheat if I was there, and I could not find a way.”

We also asked Gill if he was joined there by Kline Preston, a Nashville lawyer tied to Marsha Blackburn’s campaigns known to be a big Russia supporter and who reportedly introduced Russian operatives to the NRA, and Gill confirmed Preston was indeed there.
Here’s Gill’s initial response to our questions (slightly edited for brevity, denoted by ellipses):

“Interestingly, Blinken is calling it a sham rigged election. The same wording they are prosecuting Trump for saying but with zero actual proof of anything of the sort. And US and Western Euro media reports are not based on any actual reporting. I didn’t see anybody from Fox, MSNBC, CNN, WAPO, NY Times or anybody else there to report facts or the truth.

I have no relation to Russia and had not been there in 25 years. My relationship with RT is I am frequently contacted to provide commentary and opinion… I had the opportunity to go and went for the same reason I embedded with US troops in Iraq and Kuwait a few times, traveled to see conditions at Guantánamo Bay Terrorist detention center, broadcasted from Democrat and Republican national conventions for years… I’m skeptical of most media reporting, so I like to see it for myself so I can expose the truth based on what I see and hear not what I’m told.

I personally visited seven voting precincts over a couple of days in the Donbas Region, including Donetsk and Mariupol and a couple of smaller towns. I also toured the central election location in Moscow and observed how they collect poll results from around the country.

I had full access to talk to anybody, see anything, ask any questions of election workers, voters, and anybody else we randomly came in contact with… The election processes at the polls I visited, were very similar to what you see in the United States, but more transparent and less likely to allow any form of cheating. For example, they have video cameras set up at each of the 3000+ polling stations across Russia where anybody can watch live feed of what’s happening. Representatives of the political parties and election officials are on site observing as well. And in Moscow with a central election headquarters, the political parties have dozens of representatives with computer terminals, watching in real time whatever is going on at each polling place across the country…

Voters show passports or other government issued photo ID. When they arrive to vote they are issued a paper ballot, at least in most of the voting precincts, although they are experimenting with electronic voting… Voters and stepped behind curtains to cast their votes in secrecy… They then placed their ballots in a large plexiglass box that is locked until the vote count begins. Actual transparency.

There was zero evidence at any polling location of threats or intimidation to encourage voting… Voters were generally anxious and excited for the opportunity to vote. And the polling stations were calm with very efficient poll workers handling the process. Again, very similar to what you would see in any precinct in middle Tennessee…

…I’ve been asked “who won?”, but didn’t really focus on that or care. I certainly didn’t know any of the local candidates. I know the mayor of Moscow won handily, but based upon the clean streets, safe environment, economic prosperity, cranes throughout the city, building new, skyscrapers, etc. that was not surprising in the least. Based upon the economic growth in Russia, generally, and what I observed, in convenience stores, grocery stores, a massive shopping mall next to our hotel, and talking to regular Russians, throughout a several day, stay in Moscow, our sanctions don’t appear to be hurting them. They are hurting American consumers, who are paying nearly double at the gas pump.

…we clearly have a media that is determined to tell only one side of the story, whether it is Covid, the VAX, election fraud, or the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Anytime the media is only telling us one side of the story we should all be much more skeptical. Again, that’s why I went to see for myself when I had the opportunity.

I’ve had several people ask me about whether I felt like I was in danger there in Moscow or anywhere else. Even though we were about 25 km from the front lines at one point, there was not massive military presence, or any evidence of that area of Ukraine being “occupied“.

And Moscow was one of the cleanest safest cities I’ve been in with huge skyscrapers conflicting with the image that most Americans have of Russians, living in cement block buildings from the Soviet era.  Plus, as I told some people asking me about the danger of going to Russia, I pointed out that I regularly go to Memphis.😂

In our follow-up questions we asked Gill if Russia could have shown him and the other observers a seemingly transparent process of voting only to rig the results, and if he had any insight into how the counting of the votes would be protected or confirmed through some sort of independent verification.

Gill’s response:
“The votes in the precincts are counted locally with the live stream providing viewing of that process, too. Plus local party officials are there for the count in person. The numbers are then shown on the cameras and the tally is also transmitted to Moscow. Unlike here in the states, the votes are transported somewhere else for the count, which would, as we see here, allow for all sorts of mischief. I watched and thought through how I might cheat if I was there, and I could not find a way.”
With the “unlike here in the states” jab Gill is clearly referring to the 2020 election here, which we will point out was not stolen.
Gill went on:
“And the live video transmissions of the voting process and accounting process are recorded as well, so, if a question is raised they can go back and review the tapes… They also keep a careful count in each precinct of the number of ballots cast, and compare that to the remaining ballots after the voting is closed to make sure that the leftover ballots are the right number based on the total votes cast. Both cameras, and that count prevent any (after the vote time closes) ballots stuffing from taking place.
And unlike our system, once the time for voting comes to an end, votes aren’t allowed to trickle in for days or weeks later. So they have same day results and their elections without tens of thousands of votes being slipped in secretly and with no accountability after the time for voting comes to an end.”

We asked Gill if he went to Ukraine and connected with the Ukrainians at all, if “getting one side of the story” is the issue he has with American media. His response was highly critical of Ukraine, which comes as no surprise to anyone following Gill’s social media:

“I didn’t observe things from the Ukrainian side. They were not having an election. So it wasn’t a matter of reporting on “both sides“ since there was no election on the other side. And the so-called “democracy” being run by President Zelenskyy has actually canceled their elections. If and when they ever have elections, I would hope that fair-minded truth telling journalist would actually observe and report their process as well.

And I would point out that the “Democracy” that we are supporting on the Ukrainian side has seen the president cancel opposition parties, close independent media, and left only state run media operating, gone after the Russian orthodox churches in the country, and cancel the elections unless American taxpayers pay for them.”

The claim of Ukraine not holding elections is true, but the reason is because Ukraine has declared martial law after being attacked by Russia unprovoked. As of June 2023 77% of Ukrainians supported Zelenskyy’s reelection. President Zelensky recently said elections could happen even under attack if the United States helped facilitate.


“And I’d be happy to report things from the Ukrainian side of the conflict, but since they have put out a “hit” on anybody who questions how the money we have provided has been spent, or who has traveled to report from the territory they once controlled. Their transgender American military spokesperson just got fired for threatening to punish those who witnessed the elections. But that was only done after senator JD Vance from Ohio question whether her job is being funded by American taxpayers, and whether the threats she was expressing, were authorized by the Ukrainian government.”
The Ukrainian government has not put out a “hit” on anybody who questions how the money has been spent or reported from the region, but it is true that President Zelensky has recently attempted to deal with corruption among Ukraine’s leadership, and the spokesperson Gill is referencing was recently suspended for comments threatening people caught spreading Russian propaganda – comments they say were not approved. (And yes, that spokesperson happens to be transgender, which has nothing to do with it. Gill is clearly using that descriptor in a disparaging, transphobic way.)

Gill continues:

“Finally, I was talking to the residents of Donetsk and Mariupol, who have been residing in what has been called Ukraine for a long time. The overwhelming majority of people who live in these areas, speak Russian rather than Ukrainian; identify as Russian rather than Ukrainian; have been seeking their independence from Ukraine for over a dozen years without Western media reporting that conflict.”

Here’s more on the region he’s referring to. While it’s true many speak Russian, referendums showing they supposedly would prefer to join Russia have been accused of being “staged” for years.

Gill adds:

“And by the way, an American born Chilean journalist has been jailed by Ukraine for daring to report, truthfully, from their side of the conflict battle lines and raising questions about their behavior. That is the “democracy“ that we are funding???

“On the Russian side, an American journalist from the Wall Street Journal has been arrested and alleged to have been spying when he was caught photographing munitions areas 240 miles from Moscow. I don’t know if he was spying or not, but the US media should be demanding the release of both journalists not just one.”

Gill is referring to Gonzalo Lira, a Chilean journalist in Kyiv when the invasion began who was highly critical of Ukraine they arrested for spreading what they called “pro-Russian propaganda” (upposedly Lira focused on giving dating and relationship advice under the pseudonym “Coach Red Pill”) and WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich, who Russia arrested on “spying charges”.

Finally, we asked Gill if Kline Preston was with him – a lawyer linked to Marsha Blackburn known to be very pro-Russia/Putin and who reportedly introduced Russian operatives to the NRA.

Gill said yes, Kline Preston was with him.

“Among Preston’s Russian clients and longtime friends is Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian politician who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Torshin is under scrutiny for illegally channeling Russian funds to the National Rifle Association in an effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Preston first introduced Torshin to then-president of the NRA David Keene in 2011 and the pair attended the NRA’s annual convention in Nashville in 2015.”

It’s worth remembering Kline Preston wrote on his old website that he helped lead Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. as recently as 2014 – and that Preston was pictured in the Tennessean with his Russian collectibles from his various trips. His twitter handle is @gittinpaid, and he has “Moscow” listed as one of his locations on his profile:

In general, Gill’s answers to our questions were very pro-Russia, and very negative towards President Zelensky and support for Ukraine in general. Gill says he has no ties to the Russian government itself, however we asked an expert on the region if just anyone could go to the Russian-controlled territories to be “election observers”.

Their response:

“Even to go there you have to be well connected. Russians wouldn’t take a random person into a war zone.”
Here were some of the pictures Gill included in his emails to us:

Tennessee’s Constitution, 1840 TN Supreme Court Decision Show 2A Not Unlimited

In August, Governor Lee is exercising his constitutional right to call for Tennessee’s legislature to come together in Nashville for an “extraordinary” session on “public safety” in the wake of the tragic attack at the Covenant School down the road that took the lives of innocent people, including children.

Lee’s press release about the special session did not include the word “guns”, but many are hopeful the discussion will revolve around some version of common sense gun reform, which even Fox News polls show are supported by the overwhelming majority of the people.

Predictably, pro-gun groups are already attacking Governor Lee for the implication that he will support some sort of “Extreme Risk Protection Order” that seeks to keep guns from dangerous people, saying he is betraying their constitutional rights as outlined by the 2nd Amendment. But 19 states already have these laws, including Florida which passed theirs after Parkland, and thus far they have withstood legal challenges.

The questions at the center of this special session will likely be a familiar one, one which we have been debating for many years: How unlimited is the 2nd Amendment really, and what was its true intention? To answer these questions about our nation’s constitution, our state’s constitution, and our Supreme Court’s interpretation of it, may provide the answers.

First, let’s remember what the 2nd Amendment actually says:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

2nd Amendment absolutists focus on that last part: “Shall not be infringed”, and say that overwrites the rest of it, even though it begins with “well regulated“, which those in favor of common sense gun reforms say would allow lawmakers to place limitations on the owning and carrying of weapons.

Even conservative Justice Scalia interpreted this right as not unlimited.

Former Tennessee House Republican Rep. Brandon Ogles highlighted the “well-regulated” part in committee, drawing ire from his own party.

Another key word to notice there is “Militia”, which many believe means the 2nd Amendment was actually the framers way of making sure the public was able to take up arms against a tyrannical government should the need arise, and not them saying everyone should be walking around armed to the teeth.

Standing here in the year 2023, over 200 years removed from the writing of the constitution, it’s hard to know exactly what they meant. But you know who was a lot closer to it, and in a much better position to understand the intentions of the United States constitution than we are?

The framers of our own Tennessee state constitution.

Article 1, Section 26 of the constitution can provide some clues as to which reading of the 2nd Amendment is closer to the framers’ intentions. It states:

“That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”

Did you catch that 2nd part? Again: “The legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms to prevent crime.”

The first constitution of our state was adopted in 1796, meaning those who wrote it were contemporaries of the framers of our nation’s constitution, and likely had a pretty good idea of what they meant.

So if they believe the legislature can regulate guns, how can we stand here 227 years later and say they can’t? That seems to be a highly unreasonable position to take.

It’s also worth noting that when Governor Lee and others say that we can’t regulate guns because criminals don’t obey the law, as he said to us after Uvalde, he is speaking in direct opposition to the very words in the state constitution he has sworn to uphold.

Now let’s focus on the first part. Just like in the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution, which very clearly says it’s talking about a “Militia”, the Tennessee Constitution’s provision says “for their common defense”. What did they mean by that?

Again, here in 2023 it’s hard to say. But we can draw our answer from the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1840, which was asked to interpret this as it weighed in on a case involving a man who had been arrested for carrying a bowie knife in “Aymette V. State”.

The decision upheld the case against Aymette, who was arguing that Article 1, Section 26 allowed him to carry a bowie knife. In the ruling the Supreme Court made it clear that although he was “insisting” the law “gives every (white, at the time) man the right to arm himself in any manner however dangerous or unusual the weapon” – it went on to say the law did not do that.

Instead, the ruling makes it clear it the Supreme Court believes the phrase “common defense” is key to understanding the law, in that it was really intended to make sure the public could defend itself against a tyrannical government should the need arise again, and that it did not mean individuals could walk around with weapons “efficient only in the hands of the robber and the assassin”, because “these weapons would be useless in war, could not be employed advantageously in common defense.

“The right to keep and bear them is not, therefore, secured by the constitution.”

The ruling goes on to again say that the words “bear arms” are a specific reference to their military use – again useful for our understanding of the 2nd amendment itself – “and were not employed to mean wearing them about the person as part of the dress”.

Not only does the Supreme Court say the legislature can make laws with regard to weapons, it goes so far as to call it “absurd” to think they would not be able to do so, and that the right to weapons in situations of “common defense” would be extended weapons in non-military situations, knowing that “in the hands of an assassin, they might take away life.”

So yes, the Tennessee Supreme Court goes on to say, the Legislature has a right to “prohibit the wearing or keeping weapons dangerous to the peace and safety of the citizens, which are not used in civilized warfare, or would not contribute to to the common defense.

Addressing the argument that the Legislature cannot make these laws, the Supreme Court says it would be to “pervert a great political right to the worst of purposes, and make it a “social evil of infinitely greater extent than abandoning the right itself entirely.”

They go on to imagine “ruffians” entering a “theater” or “church” to the “terror of the audience”, saying it could become “habitual” – which, of course, it has – and say that it would “surely not” be beyond the power of the Legislature to pass laws to stop these horrors.

Prescient, no?

In summation, the Tennessee Supreme Court declares “the right to bear arms is not of that unqualified character” – meaning not without limitations – again reiterating that the law’s intention was of a “common defense” or military nature.

It’s worth noting that the argument of 2nd Amendment absolutists is often that even if it is in reference to a “militia” or the “common defense”, that that includes all citizens. But if they’re going to concede the 2nd Amendment is in reference to the “militia”, that word in the United States constitution is preceded by “well-regulated”.

They cannot have it both ways.

Again, the framers of the Tennessee constitution were alive in 1796. They were contemporaries of the men who wrote the United States constitution itself. Article 1 Section 26 very clearly gives the Legislature the power to make laws limiting the right to carry and keep weapons, and the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld that power in 1840 in Aymette V. State.

Today’s legislators cannot hide behind the constitution. They DO have the power to change our gun laws to keep us and our children safe.

The August special session will be here soon, called by their own Republican governor. It is way past time for them to do it.


Within hours of the Phil Williams report about TN House GOP caucus vice chair Scotty Campbell’s alleged sexual harassment of legislative interns, Campbell had resigned. Even Phil was blown away by how quickly it happened, basically saying he had never seen anything like it in his storied career.

But despite the speed of Campbell’s demise, many questions remained. Why did it take Phil’s report to trigger any consequences? Who knew about the details of the investigation? What was Speaker Sexton’s role in this ugly ordeal?

Sexton was quick to deny any knowledge of the details of the investigation, and majority leader William Lamberth was right there at a press conference to back him up, pointing to the policy governing harassment allegations and saying it protected the victim by keeping the details quiet even from the speaker.

But who is really being protected? Obviously the victim’s confidentiality is paramount, but more and more it’s seeming like what’s really being protected is the speaker from any culpability for his handling – or mishandling – of the situation, and the lack of consequences Campbell faced until the situation became public.

The policy governing harassment complaints itself makes it clear all complaints are to go right to the speaker. And since that initial report we now know more about what went on in the wake of the complaint – including approved expenses taxpayers covered that were shelled out to the tune of nearly $10,000, including almost $1000 in CASH.

Even the intern herself said “it felt like they were trying to buy my silence.”

So who signed the checks? Who approved the expenses, including the cash handout?

Speaker Sexton has pointed the finger at the 4 members of the ethics subcommittee: Rep. Bill Beck (D), Rep, Karen Camper (D), Rep. Pat Marsh (R), and Rep. Sam Whitson (R).

Sexton very clearly is trying to shield himself from blame by using the ethics subcommittee as cover, despite the fact that we know FOR SURE Sexton knew about the Campbell findings as early as March 29th, yet Campbell was met with no consequences until voluntarily resigning 3 weeks later – even as he voted to expel the Tennessee Three for speaking up for common sense gun laws.

We have reached out to each of the 4 subcommittee members to confirm Sexton’s story about them approving the expenses.

2 ignored us entirely.

1 is staying quiet, pointing to the policies governing their committee as the reason they “Can’t talk about that.”

The 4th was not willing to answer anything specifically about the expenses concerning this particular situation, but was willing to answer a more general question: “Does the subcommittee have the power to approve expenses when it comes to sexual harassment allegations?”

The answer from the 4th subcommittee member: “TO MY KNOWLEDGE, NO.”

If that’s true, that means the subcommittee clearly didn’t have a hand in approving those expenses. Which means Speaker Sexton is lying to Phil Williams, and to the public.

What the member is saying makes sense. Everyone we have spoken to at the legislature says they can’t even buy a lamp in that building without the speaker’s sign-off, so it defies logic that $10,000 in taxpayer funds would be spent without his approval, particularly the nearly $1000 in cash.

And again, if Sexton did approve those expenses, and he did know about the Campbell details long before Campbell’s departure, then Speaker Sexton is lying, and the people of Tennessee deserve to know.

Sexton was clearly counting on the subcommittee to maintain their silence to keep folks believing it. An ethics subcommittee allowing itself to be used as cover in that way would seem to be downright unethical – but 3 of the 4 appear to be willing to let that happen.

As for why this 4th member feels the need to remain anonymous when answering a basic procedural question, that seems to speak to a culture of fear and intimidation that permeates the entire capitol under the Sexton regime – one that was apparent in the leaked audio from the GOP caucus meeting we posted a few weeks back regarding the Tennessee Three expulsions, which were in themselves a silencing of dissent and intimidation of a jaw-dropping, undemocratic scale.

The silence of the ethics subcommittee members also begs the question: What does Sexton have on them that they would be willing to provide cover for his lies? Especially when the lies are concerning such an important issue – the sexual harassment of young interns by men in power, one would think they would feel the need to speak up.

Serving on an ethics subcommittee should have 1 requirement: A commitment to the truth. Allowing the speaker to use them as a smoke screen to lie and cover-up his own failures would be the opposite of ethical. And if speaking about who covered the expenses is a policy violation, Sexton already violated the policy by pointing the finger at them.

We asked TN House Dems caucus chair Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) for comment. His response:

“Having never participated in or served on this “double-secret” subcommittee, I cannot speak from personal knowledge about how it operates or what power it wields. However, I know of no rule or authority that would allow a four member group of legislators to unilaterally, secretly appropriate taxpayer funds for any purpose. 
Also, it is my understanding that practically every decision made in the House goes through the Speaker’s office. The Speaker’s office controls everything from assigning legislators’ desks on the floor, committees and specific parking spots to approving staff and office furniture. Now, if someone offered or made a cash payment, as was reported, that is a whole other issue. Such a payment would circumvent all formal channels of normal expenditures or be pulled out of a “petty cash” drawer somewhere in this building that most of us don’t know about.”

AGAIN, the anonymous Ethics Subcommittee member’s response when we asked if the subcommittee has the power to approve expenses in sexual harassment (cover-up?) situations: “TO MY KNOWLEDGE, NO.”

So if the ethics subcommittee didn’t approve the expenses, Sexton must have, which means he knew about the Campbell harassment issue all along and did nothing.

And had Phil’s report not come out, Campbell would likely still be in his seat, and still be vice chair of the Republican caucus.

Between questions concerning his his residency, his inflated self-approved per diem which some want criminally investigated, and now the deception swirling around these very serious sexual harassment allegations, the already loud calls for Sexton’s resignation are sure to grow even louder now.

LEAKED AUDIO: TN House GOP Caucus Infighting Over TN 3 Votes



OP-ED: “TN Republicans Ducking Debates Shows They Know Their Ideas Aren’t Popular”

This op-ed by Holler editor Justin Kanew was originally printed in the Tennessean

In recent weeks we’ve seen Republicans debate Democratic challengers all over the country, in both red and blue states.

Even GOP incumbents like Gov. Abbott in Texas and Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin stood on stages next to Beto O’Rourke and Mandela Barnes respectively and let the citizens hear from the candidates side by side. An essential moment in any thriving democracy.

Yet here in Tennessee, it’s crickets from Republicans. Whether it’s incumbents like Governor Lee or incumbent Republican members of Congress (i.e., Mark Green, Tim Burchett, etc.) or candidates for an open congressional seat like Andy Ogles.

Tennessee Republicans are ducking their opponents, hiding from debate requests, and counting on Tennesseans to elect them purely because of the “R” next to their name.

Here are a few ideas about why they won’t debate

What are they so afraid of? Clearly they don’t actually think their ideas are very popular, and don’t have a whole lot of confidence in themselves to convey those ideas. One can only conclude they believe they have more to lose than to gain by actually letting the voters hear what they have to say.

They must know their draconian positions on things like their “no exceptions” abortion ban even forcing raped teenage girls to carry to term – would not sound good out loud next to a Democrat fighting for women to have control over their own bodies.

Or maybe they don’t want to have to yet again declare that even after the Jan. 6th hearings proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the election was not stolen from Trump — with his own team telling us he knew he lost all along and had planned to say the election was stolen as far back as July 2020 — that they won’t accept that President Biden was “legitimately elected” (Governor Lee recently dodged the question from The Tennessean yet again).

It would be embarrassing to concede on a debate stage that they’ve been running cover for an insurrection by minimizing the tragic events of that day ever since, casting doubt on an electoral process so many Americans gave their lives to preserve. That anti-American, fascist position, where you don’t accept the results of elections unless you get the one you want, would not look good next to a Democrat who respects our democracy regardless of the outcome.

Not all Tennesseans are feeling the prosperity that is touted

Then there are other pesky facts they may not want Tennesseans to hear – like the fact that we’ve lost $22.5 billion not expanding Medicaid while we lead the nation in medical bankruptcies. Or that we’re at the bottom in per pupil spending, poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and violent crime.

Democratic candidates for the fifth, sixth, and seventh congressional districts Clay Faircloth (sixth), Heidi Campbell (fifth), Odessa Kelly (seventh) and Randall Copper (seventh) respond to questions during a primary candidate forum hosted by The Tennessean at George Shinn Events Center on Lipscomb University's Campus Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

Those facts hurt the narrative Republicans here want us to believe, which is that everyone in Tennessee is thriving — when it’s really just those at the top who fund their campaigns who are doing well, while many (especially rural) parts of our state struggle to stay afloat.

They also wouldn’t want you to hear that it’s the Democratically-run cities that prop up the statistics about Tennessee’s economy they love to tout, or that we get 40% of our state budget from the federal government they love to vilify while simultaneously taking money from.

It would be one thing if they were actually working to fix these problems, but they’re doing the opposite. Lee and Green and Burchett and Sen. Marsha Blackburn love to bemoan inflation, and gas prices, and health care costs, yet on a national level our Republicans oppose every effort to address these issues, from a cap on price-gouging at the pump, to a cap on insulin prices, to a bipartisan infrastructure bill (they shamelessly go around taking credit for anyway), to taxing the super-rich.

All citizens lose when candidates don’t debate

The truth is, Tennessee Republicans believe you don’t care. They think all that matters to you is that they have an “R” next to their name, which means they can continue to oppose any effort to actually address our problems and improve our lives without ever being held accountable.

Justin Kanew

So they’ll rob you of the chance to hear from them on a debate stage or go years without having an in-person town hall (like Marsha Blackburn), and we’ll continue along this tragic trajectory.

Until that changes — until we start voting for the person, and the ideas, rather than the letter next to their names — our state will continue to be at the bottom in virtually every important category.

Not every county is Williamson County, governor. Every candidate should debate, regardless of party. When Tennessee Republicans refuse to debate, it’s Tennesseans who lose.

Justin Kanew runs The Tennessee Holler. He ran for U.S. Congress as a Democrat in the old District 7 (Rep. Mark Green’s seat) in 2018.


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(Sponsored by SEIU)
Hollerfest 2022 is here! Join us for a night of inspiration and music in support of the Tennessee Holler as we host the 2nd annual “Hollerfest” Monday night, October 3rd at Exit/In in Nashville beginning at 7pm CST.
Hear from some of the most powerful progressive voices in Tennessee, and some of the candidates running to make a difference. Billed as “a night of inspiration and music”, Hollerfest will feature a series of brief speeches from powerful progressive voices from around Tennessee, including candidates for congress Odessa Kelly and Senator Heidi Campbell, newly elected representative Justin Jones, the Equity Alliance’s Tequila Johnson, Matthew “Coach” Hawn, Rep. Gloria Johnson, Comedian Josh Black, Levi Black, candidate for governor Dr. Jason Martin and more – plus the music of local Nashville artists Lou Ridley & Chuck Indigo.
“The first Hollerfest was all digital during the pandemic, and it was a lot of fun,” said Justin Kanew, founder of the Holler. “We’re excited to be able to get all of these great voices together in person this time to lift up their stories and provide some inspiration to all the Tennesseans working hard to make Tennessee a better place at a time when those in power seem to be doing all they can to drag us backwards in so many ways.”
It’s a night you won’t want to miss. Space is limited, so get your Tickets on sale now HERE, and sign up to subscribe and support the Holler HERE. 
The Tennessee Holler is an independent, reader-supported network of progressive accountability journalism sites with 10 regional Hollers across Tennessee “Yelling the Truth” about what’s going on here in our state, lifting up voices and shining a light on injustices in Tennessee.



As Governor Lee pushed his TISA education funding overhaul, many of us were hollering from the Smoky Mountaintops that the new “student-based funding formula” was intended to enable MORE money to follow kids OUT of the public schools system MORE EASILY to private schools through vouchers, charter schools and the like.

We knew this because we saw it happen in OHIO, where step 2 of their plan is already in progress, and already harming public schools.

We repeatedly asked Governor Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn if their Ed funding overhaul TISA will help steer public money to private schools. They denied it. 

But this week, The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a group behind much of the TISA push, just admitted in an op-Ed in the Washington Examiner that Governor Lee’s Ed funding overhaul TISA is in fact intended to help steer PUBLIC💰TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

There it is in black and white.

It seems with the formula passed, they now feel comfortable saying what it was really all about.

We warned about this. We posted about it daily. We even asked Governor Lee about it-– ⚡️FLASHBACK: “Isn’t this just the VOUCHERIZATION of our public education system?” (of course, he ran from us)

But Education commish Penny Schwinn denied this repeatedly when we asked her🤥 SHE LIED RIGHT TO OUR FACE: “Step 2 after Ohio’s funding overhaul was private school vouchers & charters—can you guarantee it won’t happen here?”

COMMISSIONER SCHWINN: “I haven’t been part of any of those kinds of conversations.”

So many lies. Right to our faces.

And the marketing blitz now being unleashed on Tennessee to sway public opinion in favor of PRIVATIZERS should tell you how much taxpayer 💰 is at stake. #HillsdaleHeist

Who is paying for this marketing? Us? Is this where that $32 million in the budget went that you gave them in the budget, Governor Lee?

Yes. Governor Lee gave teacher-trashing Hillsdale $32 MILLION of our money — for what, Exactly? Where’d that go?

And now HILLSDALE is texting Tennesseans that they’re not getting taxpayer money 🤥 ?

The lies never stop.

As a reminder, Lee’s RIGGED STATE CHARTER APPEAL BOARD is poised to help Hillsdale-affiliated schools overturn rejections by local school boards.

Meet the (Privately Run) Charter School commission Governor Lee picked to overrule locals that reject (Hillsdale) charter schools seeking taxpayer💰👇🏽
email: [email protected]

We’re going to keep yelling the truth about this, but the truth is a lot of damage has already been done.

If your reps supported TISA, and vouchers, and the creation of the state charter commission, they supported the dismantling of our public schools, which Republican Rep. Bob Ramsey told us last week is Governor Lee’s goal. 

And they should be held accountable for it.

People need to know. Spread the word. You can’t support Governor Lee if you support public schools. Period. Hopefully Tennessee will choose another option, which they have in Dr. Jason Martin.

We’ll keep yelling the truth about all this. Please consider chipping in monthly if you can. We depend on your support.

– The Holler
Please consider chipping in even just $5 or $10 monthly to help us continue this work.


Interested in sponsoring? Email:[email protected]



Yesterday, for the first time ever, we had a Republican legislator on the Holler.

The lack of Republicans hasn’t been by choice – we’ve invited them, they just haven’t accepted our invitations. Until now.

Rep. Bob Ramsey out of Maryville agreed to come on, having just been unseated in a primary by a challenger backed by a big war chest from school privatization PACs who were mad at him for standing against Governor Lee’s efforts to steer public dollars to private schools through privately run charter schools, vouchers, and his TISA ed funding (privatization) overhaul.

The main takeaway from Ramsey’s appearance was that he confirmed everything we’ve been warning about when it comes to the privatization attacks on our public schools, which Governor Lee is spearheading. Rep. Ramsey, a Republican, even SAYS LEE WANTS TO END PUBLIC EDUCATION: “I do believe Governor Lee’s goal is to do away with public education.”

Here’s the FULL PODCAST (19 mins) with Rep. Ramsey, the first Republican legislator ever to come on the Holler. (FULL STREAM)

REP. RAMSEY also says “Preparations have been made to make overturning local rejections (of Hillsdale-affiliated schools) a slam-dunk, and that LOCAL EDUCATION AUTHORITIES REALLY HAVE NO POWER.” 

As we’ve been saying, Lee’s state appeal board is rigged to strip local control and push Charter Schools through even where locals have rejected them.😳

And Ramsey’s reward for standing up for public schools? He lost his seat. Governor Lee and his privatization pals sent a message to Ramsey and Weaver that standing against their attacks on public schools will not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, GOVERNOR LEE is out there blatantly lying about his connection to Hillsdale, telling reporters “I’m not engaged in Hillsdale’s efforts.”🤔 

Lee tries to distance himself from Hillsdale’s teacher-trashing as their (privately run) charters try to get local rejections overturned by his rigged state board, but he already gave them $32 MILLION of our💰in the budget.

Ramsey is telling the truth. Governor Lee wants to do away with public education. You can’t support Lee and public schools, which is why we hope people will get behind Jason Martin in November.

We’ll keep covering this attack on our schools, and trying to talk to Republicans like Bob who will tell us the truth.

Please consider chipping in monthly if you can. We depend on your support.

– The Holler
Please consider chipping in even just $5 or $10 monthly to help us continue this work.