Commentary

Stockard on the Stump: As the whistle blows, felonies could follow

January 21, 2022 6:30 am
Rep. Brandon Ogles, R-Brentwood: Bill to deter referee assault not spurred by pantsing. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Brandon Ogles, R-Brentwood. (Photo: John Partipilo)

To the untrained eye, it might appear that Rep. Brandon Ogles is sponsoring legislation making it a felony to assault a referee in reaction to the “pantsing” of an East Tennessee ref by enraged Rep. Jeremy Faison.

You would be wrong, according to Ogles.

Ogles, a Franklin Republican, claims he planned to sponsor the bill long before Faison, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, pulled at the pants of a referee after getting into the middle of a melee at a ballgame in which his son was playing.

Faison was apoplectic. (For new readers, that’s the third time I’ve used that word this week. There’s a lot of outrage floating around Capitol Hill.)

Anyway, Ogles says he simply picked up the bill from the late Rep. Charles Sargent, who filed it in 2004. Former Sen. Jim Tracy, a high school and college referee for years, also sponsored a similar bill.

Ogles says a constituent sent it to him in January, encouraging him to carry the measure.

“It preceded the events that took place that hit the press,” Ogles says of the Faison kerfuffle. “That was simply coincidental or bad timing. I don’t know how you’d call that. But I’m definitely not gonna file a piece of good legislation because somebody’s done something stupid.”

Ogles says he hasn’t called for Faison to step down as caucus chair, noting he doesn’t get involved in “power plays” within legislative leadership.

Word had it he was going to make such a move, and some social media stuff showed state Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, was going to demand Faison leave his leadership post. The caucus chairman is largely responsible for helping Republicans raise money and run for election, and they’ve done well at that.

Cepicky declined to address the matter when approached by reporters at the start of the legislative session, saying it was “caucus business.”

But considering Cepicky has about as much influence as a gnat, it probably wouldn’t have gone far. House Speaker Cameron Sexton hasn’t made any moves to discipline Faison, that we know of, and Faison won’t answer questions about the incident.

Brentwood GOP Rep. Brandon Ogles said his bill to make assault of a referee a felony was not spurred by fellow Republican House Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison’s recent attempt at fisticuffs and de-pantsing of a ref at a high school basketball game. “We grew up seeing that, but it’s no longer acceptable. And it just keeps amplifying, it keeps getting worse,” said Ogles. 

A couple of weeks ago, this column broached the idea that a support group be started for victims of “pantsing,” a term unknown to this reporter until Faison’s ill-advised tantrum. After all, I was victimized in high school, and others have told me in the last couple of weeks they were hazed in this manner too.

Fortunately, we all seem to have gotten over it, even if it did cause years of trauma. More than likely, the referee who encountered Faison is past it too.

But as silly as Faison looked in video tugging at the guy’s pants, does he deserve a felony conviction? Probably not. We already have laws on the books in Tennessee making assault a felony. The bill has no Senate sponsor yet.

In discussing his motives, Ogles says when two hockey players square off and start punching, it’s “clearly assault.” Meanwhile, fans roar their approval.

“It’s clearly illegal per the law. Because you’re in an arena and members of the coliseum, we decide when the law’s applicable and not at sporting events.”

But he notes, “Those officials who get caught in the crossfire, they didn’t sign up for that.”

It’s also a terrible example for children to see parents enter the field of play and cuss out referees and umpires, he adds. 

“We grew up seeing that, but it’s no longer acceptable. And it just keeps amplifying, it keeps getting worse.”

This type of assault would occur if someone intentionally injures a ref, causes them to fear imminent bodily injury or causes “extremely offensive or provocative” contact.

Granted, Faison’s contact was provocative, though the referee didn’t seem to get too excited.

But a felony? You’re talking about taking away someone’s voting rights for getting belligerent.

Come on, man. In the words of my old baseball coach, “Head up, tailgate down, Doc Stock. Get in the game.”

Where’s the love?

Senate Republicans displayed their deep affection Thursday for Nashville and all of its residents, splitting Davidson County into three congressional districts as part of the 2022 redistricting plan to give them more representation than anyone in the state. 

The task is taken up every 10 years to reapportion legislative and congressional districts based on the latest federal census to make sure everyone’s vote counts.

While Republicans have spent the last several years taking shots at Davidson County and Nashville, this time they’re showing the love. Just ask Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson.

He contends the plan is “fair, legal and constitutional,” especially since each district will have the exact same number of residents, except the 4th District, which will have one more.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, describes redistricting during a Tuesday hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, describes redistricting during a Tuesday hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Despite vocal opposition from Democratic senators, Johnson argued that the plan, which also puts half of rural Tipton County into the new 9th District with urban Memphis, is a “regional” approach that will benefit all of Middle Tennessee. 

The Franklin Republican pointed out that residents in his Williamson County called and complained that their county is being split in half without good reason. Part of Williamson is in the new 5th District represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper for years, and the other is in the 7th District represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green. Meanwhile, Davidson is split between Districts 5, 6 and 7.

Maybe he should have listened to those Williamson residents, because the county wouldn’t have needed splitting if the plan had kept Davidson whole. 

Nevertheless, Johnson told Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, “You may want to put Davidson County on an island,” but the new plan will give Davidson County three members in Congress and a fourth in nearby Rutherford County.

An inquiring reporter pointed out afterward that people are concerned those four representatives might not live in Davidson County.

But Johnson said in response, “There are nine congressmen and 95 counties, so it’s going to be very difficult to get a congressman from every single county. You could end up with a congressman living in Davidson County, and we’ll see. We’ve got an election coming up this November.”

In fact, some political scientists say this move could wind up haunting Republicans because strong Democratic candidates from Davidson could win elections in those three districts in a few years, turning what might be an 8-1 Republican advantage into only a 5-4 advantage in the congressional delegation.

Again, Johnson replied with a straight face, “There’s very little consideration given to outcomes in this thing.”

Funny thing is not one person came forward in all the legislative hearings and begged the House and Senate redistricting committees to split Davidson three ways. Maybe if Democrats had said split us four ways, they would have done it.

But Republicans forged ahead with their plan, even though Sen. Brenda Gilmore suggested the plan “dilutes the biggest block of minority votes in Middle Tennessee.” It splits up Black residents in Davidson, who make up 27% of the population, and puts them in three districts.

“I am hurt personally by the map presented by my colleagues,” Gilmore, a Nashville Democrat, said.

And it combines rural counties such as Lewis with Davidson and so on and so forth.  

Davidson County Democrat, Sen. Heidi Campbell, also trashed the plan, saying it further threatens what is already considered worldwide a “backsliding democracy.”

“This will ensure there will never be an opportunity for fair representation in our state,” she said. Campbell added “deep in our souls,” senators know what they are doing.

Yet when Yarbro asked Johnson if the plan is set up to give the Republican Party an 8-1 edge in congressional delegation bh knocking out a Democrat, Johnson looked at him and said, “No.”

With a straight face, he should have said, “No love.”

Kinder and gentler

Sen. Shane Reeves and Rep. Ryan Williams are sponsoring legislation this session to set up a three-year pilot program called the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Respite Care Program, which would offer services to families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It will be called the Colonel Thomas G. Bowden Memorial Act.

Thousands of people my age, in their 50s, know what it’s like to take care of a parent who is no longer capable of living by themselves. Dementia is often the cause.

To put it mildly, it’s tough.

Kudos to Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro and Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, for sponsoring legislation to offer respite care to families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Our parents become our children. After a few years, we have to stop and make ourselves remember how strong and active they were when we were kids. Knowing they once took care of us keeps us going.

So kudos to Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, and Williams, R-Cookeville. Keep up the good fight.

On the edge of our seats

Gov. Bill Lee is set to give his fourth State of the State address Jan. 31 in the House chamber of the State Capitol.

“I look forward to sharing my vision for Tennessee, including my budget and legislative priorities for the year,” Lee said in a statement. “Tennessee shows the rest of the country that America hasn’t lost her way, and with the support of the General Assembly, we’ll continue to ensure Tennessee is a national leader for opportunity and freedom.”

We won’t discuss those code words for now. Suffice it to say, nobody in the press corps will be able to sleep for a week because of the anticipation.

Hiding disappointment

Republican state Sens. Joey Hensley and Mark Pody haven’t been drawn into other senators’ districts with the new redistricting plan the Senate adopted Thursday. 

But they’re being given a tough row to hoe. 

Hensley, who represents a largely rural area stretching from Perry and Wayne to Maury and Giles in southwest Middle Tennessee, is losing a couple of counties and picking up the Spring Hill section of Williamson County.

Hensley, who has been criticized for having an affair with a cousin and prescribing her drugs while she worked in his medical office, makes no bones about being bothered.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, says he's not happy about his new district. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, says he’s not happy about his new district. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“I’m not too happy about it, not so much being in Williamson County but losing some of my other counties,” Hensley says.

He notes he isn’t the only one upset by the new map.

Pody, though, won’t let on that he’s pissed about picking up Democrat-laden Antioch, which could make it harder for him to win re-election.

“I’ll be very disappointed in any of the counties I lose. I’ve got good friends in all the counties, and I’ll be excited to represent people wherever God puts me. I know it’s going to be a fair process, however it goes through. I’m going to continue to fight, though, for my rural counties as long as I can,” Pody says.

One thing about Pody. He might fund a busload of rabble rousers to the D.C. insurrection, but at least he’ll own up to it.

And Hensley? He will vote against something if it sticks in his craw. For instance, this week he opposed a voucher bill for school districts that go to virtual learning because of COVID-19. But more about that later.

Right now, they’ll have to join Democrats in griping about the redistricting plans.

Speaking of fights

They won’t say it, but things could get tense this year in a looming re-election battle between Republican Rep. Rick Eldridge of Morristown and Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station.

They’re the only two Republicans drawn into the same district by a House redistricting plan that pits several Democrats against each other in 2022. In two other similar cases, Republicans are stepping away from the Legislature and won’t face each other.

Eldridge has been in the Legislature for only four years, while Sexton, the leading force for making the Holy Bible Tennessee’s state book, has been at it for eight years.

There were questions about whether Sexton would be back for this session or run again this year because he missed fall special sessions, apparently ill.

But he and Eldridge both confirmed they will be running for re-election, even facing off against each other.

“I hate it for him and me both,” Sexton says. “We’re friends.”

Sexton says he didn’t get on anybody’s bad side, and he doesn’t plan to dig up any dirt on Eldridge. 

Nor does Eldridge.

“We’ll just do the best we can for people up there in Hamblen and Grainger counties,” Eldridge says.

What, no trash talking, no back-stabbing? No pairing each other with Joe Biden? That’s not very Republican, and it’s no fun either.

“Won’t you tell me / Where have all the good times gone?”

Quote of the Week:  “They’re a lot more humble after they’re wearing orange and have to answer for that.” — Hank Fincher, Tennessee Registry of Election Finance member on a subpoena for former Casada aide Cade Cothren.

Shifting sights and sites

Rep. Glen Casada, who holds the distinction of having the shortest House Speaker tenure in state history, has picked up papers to run for the Williamson County Clerk job this year. 

Casada is under an FBI investigation and was subpoenaed this week by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance in connection with a probe of a shady political action committee apparently run secretly by Cade Cothren, his former chief of staff.

The former speaker has told the Tennessee Lookout he has no idea why the FBI is investigating, and he said this week he has no connection to the Faith Family Freedom Fund PAC. The young woman who registered the PAC said she was in love with Cothren at the time she did the paperwork and he persuaded her to sign up the PAC and then turn it over to him to run.

Registry board members believe Cothren is the next one “up the chain,” though they’ll probably have to call the sheriff to haul him in to testify.

Thus, the quote of the week, and maybe the month, from Registry member Hank Fincher, who thinks Cothren will go underground, “They’re a lot more humble after they’re wearing orange and have to answer for that.”

 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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