Commentary

Stockard on the Stump: Gov. calls Jan. 6 “lawlessness” but congressional committee missing mark

June 24, 2022 7:00 am
Gov. Bill Lee speaking after the legislature voted to approve an incentive package for Ford Motor Co. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Gov. Bill Lee speaking after the legislature voted to approve an incentive package for Ford Motor Co. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Gov. Bill Lee stopped short of calling the Jan. 6, 2021 riot on the U.S. Capitol an insurrection but said it was “lawlessness” and that the perpetrators should be punished.

On the other hand, Lee said the congressional committee showing evidence that former President Trump tried to use bogus electors to change the election’s outcome – potentially illegal action – is a “big distraction” for the nation considering other national problems. Apparently, he’s talking about inflation and high gas prices.

“I think we should be a little more focused, as I am, about what’s happening today in America. And, frankly, from my perspective, there’s a lot of national politics surrounding what happens in D.C. I’m focused on what’s happening here in Tennessee,” Lee told reporters this week.

Asked if the Jan. 6 incident designed to stop then-Vice President Mike Pence from delivering the Electoral College votes to the Senate for approval and a transition of power to President Joe Biden from Trump, Lee declined to frame the storming of the Capitol as an “insurrection,” instead saying “lawlessness occurred there and it should be dealt with that way and has been.” He pointed out hundreds of people have been investigated and arrested.

But similarly to Trump and other Republican leaders, he refused to call it an insurrection, even though video shows people breaking into the Capitol to kill Pence and stop Biden from taking office.

I think we should be a little more focused, as I am, about what’s happening today in America. And, frankly, from my perspective, there’s a lot of national politics surrounding what happens in D.C.

– Gov. Bill Lee

“In my view, it’s simply breaking the law and should be treated as such. People recognize it as such,” he said.

Lee made his comments just days after Trump visited Nashville for the Faith & Freedom Road to Majority event at Opryland Hotel where he called the congressional inquiry a “hoax” and belittled the House members, including Democrats and Republicans, serving on the panel.

Trump dismissed the insurrection as “a simple protest that got out of hand” and at one pointed claimed the turnout to hear him speak was larger than the one for Martin Luther King’s Washington, D.C. “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

The former president also continued to argue that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats and said “they cheat like hell” to win. In addition, he said he has tons of documentation to show he won several battleground states such as Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, none of which he has produced. 

The evidence continues to pile up, nevertheless, that Trump didn’t win, even though thousands of people believe his claims. 

Pence refused to overturn the outcome by substituting phony electors from tightly contested states, as outlined by testimony in the congressional inquiry. Trump called him a “conveyor belt” and said he didn’t have the “courage” to do it.

Former President Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority event on June 17. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Former President Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority event on June 17. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The former president also pressured state officials in Georgia, Arizona and other states to overturn the election by finding more votes for him, according to information uncovered by the panel.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican, told the committee this week that U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona called him early Jan. 6 and asked him to sign a letter asking Congress to decertify the state’s electors.

Bowers also said Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called him after the election with claims of election fraud, without proof, and asked him to hold hearings to investigate fraud. He declined.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also felt considerable pressure from Trump, who called him and asked him to find 12,000 votes to swing the election his way there. Trump wanted him to change the numbers and refer to it as a “recalculation,” according to reports.

Raffensperger said his office made 300 investigations into the 2020 election and couldn’t find fraud.

The evidence against former President Trump goes on and on, as do his denials of wrongdoing. 

It’s pretty clear, however, that even though Democrats are conducting the investigation into the Jan. 6 events, Republicans are the ones providing the damning evidence.

And while it may be political, they’re also building a strong case that could prevent Trump from winning a 2024 election, even if he avoids indictment.

As for whether it was an “insurrection,” did anyone watch TV that day? It looked like a little bit more than your average hockey fight. People usually don’t die from fist fights on the ice.

Stop those blasted vaccines

The battle over the COVID-19 vaccine continues as Tennessee House Republican leaders are seeking to stop the state from promoting, distributing or recommending the shots to children under 5.

State Rep. Jason Zachary, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison signed a letter to Gov. Lee this week requesting him to block the Tennessee Department of Health from pushing the vaccine until more clinical evidence is available. 

The move came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for kids as young as 6 months, expanding eligibility for Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to nearly 20 million more children.

Zachary, a Knoxville Republican who has been vocally opposed to vaccine mandates, says he isn’t trying to keep parents from having their children vaccinated by a private provider. He just doesn’t want the state involved.

He contends children aren’t at “serious risk” of dying or being hospitalized from COVID-19.

Kids 4 and younger made up 3.3% of all reported cases in the nation by mid-May, with 202 COVID-19-related deaths among children 6 months to 4 years, the FDA reported, according to a House Republican Caucus release.

Tennessee has seen about 2 million COVID-19 cases and 26,529 deaths, with children 10 and younger accounting for 14, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Metro Nashville Health Department is already preparing to give the vaccines, which could put Metro at odds with the Republican-controlled Legislature again. 

Zachary, who is likely to have something to say about Metro, says an FDA briefing document on emergency use authorization seems to show an increase in the risk of illness and hospitalization for vaccinated children.

“Many questions beyond what have been listed within this letter remain unanswered,” Zachary said in his letter to the governor.

The governor’s office was reviewing the letter Wednesday and did not respond to questions. Gov. Lee, however, said multiple times during the pandemic the best way to battle COVID-19 was through vaccination.

That didn’t translate to children because when lawmakers questioned the Department of Health’s vaccine outreach to teens and threatened to dissolve the department, then-Director Lisa Piercey fired Dr. Shelley Fiscus, the state’s immunization director, making her the scapegoat for a program the governor’s office approved.

Blackburn devolves on contraception

Despite her stance against abortion and concerns about contraception, U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn led the Associated Women Students chapter at Mississippi State in the early 1970s, a group that promoted birth control, according to reports.

Blackburn, a Williamson County Republican, recently spoke against legalized contraception, calling an old Supreme Court ruling “constitutionally unsound,” according to the report. Blackburn is a prominent abortion opponent, as well, saying recently she hopes the high court will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn speaking at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority event June 17 in Nashville, (Photo: John Partipilo)

The report by Corky Siemaszko points out the Associated Women Students chapter “sponsored” a “birth control program” on campus in December 1972, providing information to students.

The woman who led the group before Blackburn said the programs were “more informational than anything” to make women aware of the issues being debated.

In addition, the chapter sponsored programs in which abortion and Planned Parenthood were debated, according to the article.

An aide to Blackburn, whose maiden name was Wedgeworth when she attended Mississippi State, told the writer, “Senator Blackburn has always been a freedom-loving conservative and fought to protect the unborn.”

Yet the organization also held programs on venereal disease, Big Sister-Little Sister, fire safety and Zero Population Growth, which backed contraception and abortion as methods for stopping over-population.

An eye on bids

A member of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, Rep. Zachary exploded Wednesday on a request by the Department of Health to extend a contract with Brush Art Corp. at a cost of $1.6 million to print breastfeeding pamphlets as part of the Women and Infants and Children program.

The Knoxville Republican couldn’t believe the state had been “pigeon-holed” into a sole-source contract for printing educational material and said he wanted to know who drafted the request for proposals (RFP) and whether the vendor was involved in drafting the document.

Staff responded that the Health Department asked the Department of General Services to take on the job but was rejected. A request for information was also sent out to vendors, staff said, but Brush Art was the only company that could do the job within the “price scope.”

Unsatisfied, Zachary, who is principal and vice president of Americomm in Knoxville, said he is well acquainted with the bidding process, whether it’s with large entities or county governments.

“I know how an RFP is drafted because those entities and those who would like to take advantage of that RFP contribute to the language to make sure it’s drafted in a way where the scope of the RFP fits a particular product or service. I do it. I know it’s done. Many times, government is taken advantage of, and I see it more in Knox County government because sometimes I’m involved in that and more intimate detail with the language that comes in,” Zachary said.

Ultimately, the committee postponed the Brush Art contract request until August. 

But afterward, inquiring minds wondered whether Zachary had been gaming the very system he just criticized. At least, that’s the way it sounded.

I know how an RFP is drafted because those entities and those who would like to take advantage of that RFP contribute to the language to make sure it’s drafted in a way where the scope of the RFP fits a particular product or service. I do it. I know it’s done.

– Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville

In response to questions, Zachary said he hadn’t been manipulating RFPs for government contracts. Yet he acknowledged drafting RFPs specific to his business so they would be chosen by companies that want his service.

“Public and private sector are very different,” he said.

If that’s the case, what good are bids?

Rolling with BlueOval City

The State Building Commission approved capital grants this week totaling $500 million for construction of a Ford electric truck plant and a battery manufacturing plant at the state-owned Memphis Regional Megasite. It’s a little more than half of nearly $1 billion the General Assembly promised in late 2021.

At the request of outgoing Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe, the commission also granted leeway for Ford and battery manufacturer SK to swap some job numbers around, as long as they get close to 5,760. Otherwise, the state’s “clawback” stipulations will kick in.

“We’re just dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s to make sure it’s fully documented and also to make sure the state is fully protected against any kind of eventual defaults and/or any under-performance of the number of jobs at Ford and SK,” Rolfe told Tennessee Lookout.

Catty commish: Will new Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Stuart McWhorter done the Clemson Tiger suit to lure in business? (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Catty commish: Will new Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Stuart McWhorter done the Clemson Tiger suit to lure in business? (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Ford and SK are supposed to hit that 5,760 job number. If Ford hires more people, those extra jobs can count against the battery plant joint venture, giving them some “extra cushion,” according to Rolfe. But they still have to reach 90% of the total.

Rolfe is on the way out, being replaced by former Finance & Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter. Maybe he’ll wear his old Clemson Tiger mascot suit when Ford rolls job 1 off the assembly line. Or not.

What will be more interesting is to see whether the Legislature tries to put anti-COVID-19 mandates on Ford when it does come to town. A prohibition on mask requirements didn’t work so well during a 2021 special session. Ford wasn’t enthused and lawmakers spent a good deal of time backtracking to make sure they didn’t kill the biggest job driver in the state’s history.

“Somebody get me a doctor/ Ooh/ Somebody give me a shot.”



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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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