Image Credit: Heidi Campbell / Twitter
The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –
As Tennessee’s special legislative session to address gun laws quickly approaches, it has been discovered that Governor Bill Lee (R-TN) has been discreetly meeting with a group of state lawmakers throughout the summer.
The governor has previously insisted that his new gun control “framework” would be better than simply expanding current law, but there are still many opponents of his proposals.
Last Friday, The Tennessean published a piece stating that according to “multiple people with knowledge of the group,” Gov. Lee and his legislative team have been meeting with lawmakers “behind closed doors” to discuss ideas for potential legislation and share feedback.
It looks as though informal coffees with the governor have been held at the Executive Residence on Fridays throughout the summer, typically consisting of about two to six state lawmakers.
It appears from a recent post on Sen. Heidi Campbell’s (D-Nashville-District 20) Twitter, that both she and Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis-District 98) accepted such invites themselves.
Jade Byers, a spokesperson for the governor, did come out with a statement on Gov. Lee’s efforts to discuss his legislative proposals with Tennessee lawmakers.
“Throughout the summer, Gov. Lee and members of the General Assembly have heard from Tennesseans and discussed thoughtful solutions to keep communities safe, preserve constitutional rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health,” Byers said. “So far, the Governor has spoken with more than 100 legislators, both individually and in numerous groups, and looks forward to continuing these productive conversations ahead of the special session on public safety.”
Some of these “productive conversations” however, have involved an inner circle of lawmakers attending secret meetings hidden from the public eye.
This “inner circle” consists of between 12 to 15 House and Senate members, gathered by Gov. Lee’s team to supposedly advise the executive administration on potential legislation.
Republican Senators John Stevens, Becky Duncan Massey, and Dawn White, as well as Democrat Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari were all noted as attending these meetings.
According to Senate Republican Caucus Press Secretary Molly Gormley, “The working group has not been a part of drafting the governor’s ERPO [Extreme Risk Protection Order] proposal, and instead has focused on legislation to address mental health and violent crime while maintaining constitutional rights of citizens.”
A few group members and staff have acknowledged their participation in these meetings, but the governor’s office has declined to confirm that the group exists at all.
Even House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville-District 55) when asked, stated that he had not heard of the “super-secret bipartisan committee allegedly reviewing proposals” until he met with the governor in person about two weeks ago.
Rep. Clemmons added that the governor would not disclose which of his legislative colleagues were members of said group.
“One would think both parties’ caucus leadership would be involved or at least in the loop on such a thing,” he noted.
Throughout Gov. Lee’s time in office, a special session has never lasted longer than a week. It is yet to be seen if this will be the case for August’s special session.
According to those contacted by The Tennessean, the circumstances don’t seem to warrant any quorum violations and it is by no means a shock that lawmakers would get together to discuss ideas for bills in advance of a session, especially a session that may only last a week.
But some are understandably bothered by the governor’s secrecy regarding such a hot-topic issue.
“In a constitutional republic with a so-called conservative Governor in a ‘red state’ like Tennessee, few would expect that the Governor would be […] conducting ‘secret’ meetings,” stated John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Well, if you are a Second Amendment advocate who has watched this particular Governor and several in the Republican legislative caucus over the last 13 years, you might be one to expect exactly that kind of shenanigans.”
About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.