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Tennessee Primary: GOP battle for governor, open U.S. House seats top ballot

U.S. Rep Diane Black tries to fend off two Republican rivals in governor’s race, without Donald Trump’s endorsement

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Voters in Tennessee are heading to the polls for a unique Thursday primary in which the Republican race for the open governor’s seat is getting the lion’s share of attention.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who had been considered the front-runner earlier in the race, is now facing a battle with Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam, and Bill Lee, a businessman and rancher from Williamson County.

Despite her ardent support for President Donald Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, Black has not received a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.

Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, the candidate who finishes first in the six-way primary will become the nominee.

Phil Bredesen

Marsha Blackburn

In the U.S. Senate race, Republicans are expected to nominate U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn to face Democratic former Governor Phil Bredensen in what’s likely to become one of the fall’s hottest Senate contests.

Parties are also picking nominees for U.S. House seats given up by Black and Blackburn and the 2nd District seat that opened with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan.

In West Tennessee’s 8th District, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff is facing a strong primary challenge from George Flinn, a self-funding former Shelby County commissioner making his fifth try for federal office.

Tennessee is one of only two states that do not hold their primary elections on a Tuesday, a schedule dating back to its admission as a state in 1796; Louisiana holds its primaries for state and local offices on Saturdays.

Polls open in most of Tennessee at 7 a.m., although times may vary by county. Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and 7 p.m. in the Central time zone.

Bill Lee

Randy Boyd

Diane Black

The governor’s race features six Republican candidates, including Black, 67, from Gallatin, who has spent the last eight years in Congress representing the 6th District, which includes the northern Nashville suburbs and north-central Tennessee; Boyd, 58, from Knoxville, who made his fortune with a company that makes electronic fences for dogs and was an adviser to Haslam on education policy and economic development; and Lee, 58, owner of a heating and air company making his first run for political office.

Also running on the Republican side is State House Speaker Beth Harwell, 60, from Nashville, although polls showed her slightly behind the three candidates at the front of the pack. She has been in the legislature for 20 years, culminating in her selection as the first woman speaker in state history.

While President Donald Trump has waded into Republican governor primaries in Georgia and Tennessee, he did not offer an endorsement in Tennessee, something of a blow to Black, who, as chairwoman of the House Budget Committee, helped shepherd the Republicans’ tax cut bill through the House.

However, Black has been using video of Trump praising her in one of her TV ads, and she did get the endorsement of Vice President Mike Pence.

Haslam is term-limited and hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race. However, Boyd — who, like Haslam, is from Knoxville — has served in his administration, and the New York Times has reported that the Republican Governors Association, which Haslam chairs, has been lobbying Trump not to endorse Black. (The governor’s office has refused to confirm that report.)

Karl Dean

The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is the favorite the three-way Democratic primary.

The fall race for governor will be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.

In U.S. House races, Republicans will be settling contested primaries in four GOP-held districts in which the Republican winner will be favored in the fall.

In Duncan’s 2nd District seat, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, the GOP race features Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett; State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City; Jason Emert, a Bount County lawyer and former chairman of the Young Republicans National Federation; and Ashley Nickloes from Rockford, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard.

On the Democratic side, Renee Hoyos from Knoxville, former director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, is facing Joshua Williams, a Knoxville psychologist.

In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican race includes John Rose from Cookeville, who served as state agriculture commissioner; Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet; and State Rep. Judd Matheny from Tullahoma.

Democrats running include Merrilie Winegar, a Methodist minister from Hendersonville; Pete Heffernan, a management consultant from Gallatin; and Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston.

In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City was the only Republican to file.

In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).

Democrats in the 7th District race include Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race, and Matt Reel from Primm Springs, a congressional aide who serves in the Tennessee National Guard.

In the 8th District, which includes part of Memphis city, its eastern suburbs and the Mississippi Delta, Kustoff, a former federal prosecutor from Germantown, who was elected in 2016, is facing a challenge from Flinn, a physician who also owns a string of 40 radio and television stations.

Flinn, who lost to Kustoff in the GOP primary in 2016, is making his fifth run for Congress, having run twice in the U.S. House in the 8th District, once in the Memphis-based 9th District and for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He has poured more than $3 million of his own money into the campaign, giving him a signficant fundraising advantage over Kustoff.

However, Kustoff is likely to benefit from a last-minute endorsement by Trump, whom he called “a champion for the Trump Agenda.”

The Democratic race in the 8th District is between John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County, and Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues.

Federal judges strike down North Carolina’s U.S. House map over gerrymandering

Ruling could have an impact on other Southern states with partisan maps

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RALEIGH (CFP) – In an unprecedented decision, a panel of three federal judges has struck down North Carolina’s U.S. House map, ruling that Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats by gerrymandering the map for political reasons.

The panel’s majority opinion said partisan gerrymandering – a common political practice in many U.S. states – violates a “core principle of republican government” that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The January 9 ruling gives state lawmakers just 20 days to redraw the map; if they don’t, a new map will be redrawn by a special master appointed by the court. However, GOP legislative leaders are vowing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could leave the current map in place until the appeal can be heard.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a stay, significant chaos will be injected into the Tar Heel State’s 2018 election, with qualifying for candidates supposed to begin Feb. 28 for a May 8 primary.

The ruling marked the first time that a federal court has stuck down a congressional map for being gerrymandered for political, rather than racial, reasons. However, U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering similar cases involving state legislative districts in Wisconsin and Maryland that could set a precedent.

The judicial panel in the North Carolina case found unanimously that the map violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and ruled 2-1 that it also violated the free speech rights of Democrats.

Should the ruling in North Carolina be upheld on appeal, it could have significant effects in other Southern states where Republican state legislative majorities have gerrymandered maps to their advantage, particularly Florida, Virginia and Texas.

Democrats cheered the ruling, which could help them make a dent in the GOP’s 10-to-3 advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. But Republicans accused the judges of “waging a personal, partisan war” against the state GOP.

Ironically, what may have sunk the North Carolina map was the explicit admission by GOP lawmakers back in 2016 that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats – an admission made to overcome objections to a previous map struck down for improperly using racial considerations.

After the map was redrawn in 2016, several incumbent lawmakers were forced to run in new territory and one, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn’t survive after she was forced to run against another incumbent in a Republican primary. However, the new map did not change the overall party composition in the state’s House delegation.

The 2016 map has allowed Republicans to hold on 77 percent of the state’s congressional seats, even though election results have been closely divided between the parties in recent statewide and presidential elections.

Donald Trump carried North Carolina by just 4 points in 2016, as Democrat Roy Cooper squeaked into the governorship by a margin of less than 1 percent.

The redistricting case was heard by James Wynn, a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; W. Earl Britt, a senior U.S. District Court judge in Raleigh; and William Osteen Jr., a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro.

Wynn and Britt were appointed by Democratic presidents; Osteen, who dissented from part of the ruling while concurring in striking down the map, is a Republican appointee.

House Ethics Committee expands probe into Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold

Committee looking into whether Farenthold lied, used government resources in his political campaigns

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The House Ethics Committee is investigating whether U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas used government resources in his congressional campaigns and lied to the committee during an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment claims by a former staffer.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that a former staffer has told House investigators that she was pressured to perform campaign-related tasks during regular work hours in Farenthold’s congressional office, activity that is not allowed under House rules.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

The latest charges are likely to increase pressure on Farenthold, who has already announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2018 after revelations that he used $84,000 of government money to settle a lawsuit by a former staffer who alleged that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer.

In a December 21 news release, the chair and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee — U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida — announced that their probe of Farenthold had expanded from the original sexual harassment allegations to include allegations that staff resources may have been used on his campaigns, that he or “any person acting on his behalf” may have required staff members to work on his campaigns, and that he “may have made false statements or omissions in testimony to the committee.”

The statement did not give any details to indicate why the probe had expanded.

In response to the Ethics Committee’s statement, Farenthold’s office released a statement to Texas and national media noting that he had previously been cleared of sexual harassment charges by the Office of Congressional Ethics and pledging his full cooperation with the committee’s expanded probe.

CNN reported that former Farenthold staffer Elizabeth Peace told Ethics Committee lawyers that she was pressured to work on Farenthold’s 2016 campaign during regular office hours in her Capitol office, using House-issued computers and her work e-mail account. The network cited a source familiar with Peace’s conversation with the lawyers; she refused comment to CNN, although she did acknowledge talking to committee staff.

Under House rules, congressional staffers are only allowed to work on campaigns on their own time, and they are not allowed to use House resources, such as office space, computers, or email accounts,, to do political work.

In  2014, Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, sued for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

The revelation that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay Greene’s settlement in early December led Farenthold to abandon his 2018 re-election campaign in Texas’s 27th District, which sprawls across the Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston.

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by Greene were false, but he conceded that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t run in 2018 after questions about harassment settlement with employee

Farenthold denies wrongdoing but blames political inexperience for allowing “unprofessional” work environment

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his use of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former employee, which he said has become a “political distraction.”

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, are false, but he conceded that his lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

In  2014, Greene, sued Farenthold for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

Farenthold’s decision not to seek re-election came two weeks after after Politico reported that the $84,000 paid to settle that case came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers. The congressman then announced that he would take out a personal loan to reimburse the government for the settlement.

In his Facebook video, Farenthold said he planned to make “meaningful changes” in the operation of his congressional office.

“I owe that to everyone — my constituents, my family, and this institution,” he said.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. He was already facing a 2018 primary challenge from Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun resigned from his post as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to enter the GOP race.

Farenthold is the eighth member of Texas’s 36-member congressional delegation to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Joe Barton, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Former Florida U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison for corruption

Sentence brings ignoble end to Brown’s 34-year political odyssey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida was sentenced to five years in prison on tax and fraud charges related to a scheme to loot $800,000 from a bogus scholarship charity and spend it on personal expenses.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. D-Florida

Brown, 71, a Democrat who represented metro Jacksonville in Congress for 24 years, was sentenced December 4 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who called her behavior “brazen” and “born out of entitlement and greed,” according to coverage of the court proceedings by the Florida Times-Union.

Brown, who was ordered to surrender in January to begin serving her sentence, left the courthouse in downtown Jacksonville without comment. Speaking to reporters afterward, her attorney, James Smith, said she would appeal.

“The congresswoman wants to let her supporters know that she’s still strong and resolute, and she appreciates their prayers and their support,” Smith said. “She asks that they not give up hope because she hasn’t given up hope.”

Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, received a four-year sentence; the head of the charity, Carla Wiley, received 21 months.

Prosecutors alleged that Brown used her contacts and clout as a member of Congress to solicit funds for the charity, which claimed to provide scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. At trial, prosecutors produced evidence that the money was then diverted by Brown, Simmons and Wiley for their own personal use.

Brown took the stand to blame the scheme on Simmons and insist she did not know what he had been doing. But in May, she was convicted on 18 of the 22 counts against her, including including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing false tax returns.

When she was elected on Congress in 1992 after a decade in the Florida legislature, Brown became the first African-American to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Emphasizing her dedication to constituent service with the phrase “Corrine Delivers,” she would win 11 more times and become a political institution in Jacksonville. She even helped secure the funds to build the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse, the building where she was tried, convicted and sentenced.

However, in 2016, facing corruption charges and a new district radically redrawn by the Florida Supreme Court, she lost the Democratic primary to now U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

 

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promises to repay taxpayer money used to settle sexual harassment suit

Report: Former spokeswoman who accused Farenthold of creating a hostile work environment received $84,000

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas says he will take out a personal loan to repay $84,000 in taxpayer dollars used to settle a claim with a former staffer who sued him for sexual harassment, even though he continues to deny the underlying allegations and insists he only used tax dollars because he was required to do so.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” Farenthold told Corpus Christi TV station KRIS.

In  2014, Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, sued him for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer.

The Office of Congressional Ethics cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015. He was re-elected in 2016 after the charges and the settlement had been publicly disclosed.

However, the settlement came under renewed scrutiny after Politico reported on December 1 that the money paid to Greene came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers.

Farenthold had initially issued a statement saying he couldn’t comment on the settlement because of a confidentiality agreement, but he later told KRIS that he believed he was required to pay Greene with Office of Compliance money, although he now says he will “hand a check” to House Speaker Paul Ryan to reimburse the government.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. OpenSecrets.org, which tracks the financial assets of members of Congress based on their financial disclosure reports, estimated Farenthold’s net worth at $6 million in 2016.

The revelations about Farenthold have been an unwelcome distraction for House Republicans, who have been pressing for the resignation of Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan for settling a sexual harassment lawsuit with money taken out of his House office budget.

Even before the details surrounding the details of Farenthold’s settlement came to light, he was already being challenged in the GOP primary by Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, told the Texas Tribune that he was also considering challenging Farenthold and that “it is a sad day when an elected official uses taxpayer money to settle a claim of sexual harassment.”

Texas’s unusually early March primary means that the filing deadline for party primaries is December 11. In addition, the 27th is one of three Texas U.S. House districts struck down in March by a panel of federal judges for improper gerrymandering of Latino voters, which could result in changes being made to the district before next year’s congressional elections.

South Carolina U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy picked to head powerful oversight panel

Gowdy will head House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who gained national prominence for his dogged investigation of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, has been selected to be the new chair of the House committee charged with investigating the executive branch.

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina

Gowdy was selected June 8 by the Republican Steering Committee to chair the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, replacing U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who is resigning from Congress.

“Oversight is constitutionally authorized and important to ensure branch integrity and equilibrium,” Gowdy said in a statement after his selection. “I look forward to working alongside the other committee members, as well as any member of Congress, as we discharge the jurisdiction assigned to us.”

Gowdy, 52, a former federal and state prosecutor in South Carolina, is in his fourth term representing the state’s 4th District, which includes the Greenville-Spartanburg metro area.

After four Americans died in a terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012, Gowdy was appointed by House GOP leaders to head a special committee to investigate the attack.

The primary target of that probe was Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack. Gowdy’s investigation eventually led to the disclosure that Clinton had used a private email server, which prompted an FBI investigation and dogged her throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

After Donald Trump defeated Clinton, House Republicans shut down the Benghazi committee.

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