Stockard on the Stump: True colors coming out against anti-slavery amendment

October 28, 2022 6:03 am
A man displays a shirt celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people during the Juneteenth celebration on June 19. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

A man displays a shirt celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people during the Juneteenth celebration on June 19. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

The Yes on 3 campaign to remove all vestiges of slavery from the state Constitution has bipartisan support from across the state but is running into an odd hurdle, one that some call “psychotic ramblings.”

The opposition is popping up from a familiar foe, state Rep. Susan Lynn, who is telling constituents she can’t vote for the constitutional amendment because it might put the state in legal danger, maybe even break the bank, even though we’ll have $1.8 billion in the rainy day fund by the end of next July.

In a recent letter, the Mt. Juliet Republican wrote that she was asked to explain how she would vote on the four constitution questions on this year’s ballot.

State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) (Official photo, Tennessee General Assembly)
State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) (Official photo, Tennessee General Assembly)

Her letter points out that the provision states, “Nothing shall keep a prisoner from working …” and she notes that under current guidelines having a job in prison is based on a merit system in which inmates are paid less than minimum wage. Some pay is held back so they can spend a little money at the PX and have some cash once released. So far, so good.

She adds, however, “We do not have enough jobs for all inmates, nor the money to pay all inmates. I am very concerned that we will be sued by inmates demanding a job and demanding at least minimum wage. We provide every inmate with free room, board, and medical care … imagine if we are literally paying them a wage to be in jail.”

Pardon me, but I don’t think the Legislature put those words in the amendment to force the state to give jobs to inmates. But so what if it did. Working and earning some money is better than idle hands, which are the devil’s workshop, they tell me.

As for the threat of lawsuits, if they could find a judge to rule in their favor, good luck. Besides, the Legislature rigged the system so those liberal do-gooder judges in Nashville, where most lawsuits are filed, have to share decisions on constitutional challenges with rural judges who tend to make rather odd rulings.

In regard to “free room, board and medical care,” everybody needs a safe place to stay. I’ve heard they commit heinous acts just so they can get three hots and a cot. 

But Lynn acts as if they’re checking into a Hilton, where they get a nice continental breakfast, pool parties and room service – with the caveat that they can’t leave, of course.

State Rep. Joe Towns, a Memphis Democrat who sponsored the amendment, was not shocked to hear about Lynn’s opposition. She and Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, balked at the amendment and voted against it.

“That’s a psychotic kind of way or a backdoor approach to say she supports … slavery in some form or fashion. That’s rambling. That’s nonsense,” Towns says.

He dealt with that in committees.

“If you support slavery in some form or fashion, you should just come out and say it and stop beating around the bush, as old folks say,” he adds.

Towns was “taken aback” on the House floor when Lynn spoke against his resolution. 

Nevertheless, it passed overwhelmingly, after being amended to say “nothing” can stop an inmate from working. Since then it has gained support from numerous Republicans, including Gov. Bill Lee, former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Comptroller Jason Mumpower, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, former House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison and many more.

That’s a psychotic kind of way or a backdoor approach to say she supports … slavery in some form or fashion. That’s rambling. That’s nonsense.

– Rep.Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Towns calls slavery a blemish on the nation’s history and contends it should be abolished in all forms. Tennessee would have been the first state to pass such a measure if he could have garnered enough support six years ago.

“How are you going to have a democratic society in a country that still has the vestiges of the most evil thing that befell this country over hundreds of years? And trying to, in any kind of weird, wacky way, justify tainting that, that’s a revelation of her character as it relates to that issue,” he says.

Towns notes that people should take a stand against slavery just as they would against the battery of women and molestation of children.  

In Lynn’s defense, we’ll credit her for being fiscally conservative. After all, she did serve a stint as chairman of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on the tether of former House Speaker Glen Casada, who held the seat’s shortest tenure in state history at about seven months. She was unceremoniously ousted by House Speaker Cameron Sexton when he took the post.

But what could we expect? Lynn has a history of saying weird things, and this just adds another log to the fire. As Towns said, however, she should dispense with the BS and say what she really means.

She still had some fire

Rep. Barbara Cooper, who died this week at age 93, wasn’t as mobile or vocal in her last few years in the Legislature as she once was.

But the Memphis Democrat still commanded respect. And if you didn’t get out of her way, she’d run over you with her scooter.

Just three years ago, Cooper participated in talks by the Black Caucus with former House Speaker Glen Casada when he was caught up in a racist texting scandal. She also spoke out on the House floor against the “trigger” law that wound up banning most abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

What I remember most, though, was the little run-in she had with Sen. London Lamar after the ouster of Katrina Robinson from the upper chamber.

Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, photographed at the Tennessee Capitol in 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Fare thee well: Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, photographed at the Tennessee Capitol in 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Because of redistricting, Lamar and Rep. Torrey Harris were pitted against each other in the same House district and were figuring out their next move.

That’s when Cooper said in late January that Lamar came to her office and told her she should resign. Cooper said she simply disagreed.

“There were no harsh (words), other than to me it was just disrespectful,” Cooper said at the time.

Rep. Towns, who got caught in the middle of the tussle, made no bones about where he stood, saying Cooper “has more wisdom in her little finger than most of them have in their whole body.”

For her part, Lamar said she only asked if Cooper or any other members were “considering retiring.”

For the sake of her remembrance, we’ll leave it at that and say we’re going to miss the fiery Mrs. Cooper.

Incidentally, Cooper’s name remains on the ballot because early voting is already under way. If she defeats independent Michael Porter, which is highly likely, the governor will have to call a special election to fill the seat. In the meantime, the Shelby County Commission could appoint a temporary replacement, if it chooses.

If Porter were to win, he would take the seat.

In the news for the wrong reason

Six years after being ousted from the General Assembly, though he’d already suspended his re-election campaign and lost the race, Jeremy Durham was arrested last Saturday night and charged with DUI.

Durham was involved in a wreck at Broadway and First Avenue in downtown Nashville, and reportedly tried to pull away from police when they cuffed him. 

The poor guy can’t seem to buy a break. Not only was he expelled after an attorney general’s investigation reported allegations of sexual misconduct with 22 women, he got into a scrape with the Registry of Election Finance and has been battling it since then.

Former representative Jeremy Durham, in a photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Former representative Jeremy Durham, in a photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department.

Finally running under the radar and enjoying life with his wife and son, Durham hit the news again, this time for the arrest in which police found a marijuana grinder in his car. He refused to take a sobriety test, according to reports.

In some cities, they might have put him under the jail, but in Nashville, they tell me, people walk down Lower Broad smoking marijuana cigarettes. Lord help us.

One of these days, maybe Durham will pull it together.

He’s an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against state Sen. Brian Kelsey, who is set to plead guilty in a five-count indictment on federal campaign finance violations. His attorneys filed a request Thursday for a hearing to change his not guilty plea.

Kelsey allegedly funneled money from his state account through The Standard Club PAC and Citizens 4 Ethics in Government PAC to the American Conservative Union, which bought radio/digital in support of his failed 2016 congressional campaign. 

Durham was set to testify for the feds in a January trial. But it looks like he’ll finally stay out of the news, at least in that case.

Sometimes trouble just seems to follow a man.

A major milestone

Democratic candidate Odessa Kelly, a candidate in the 7th Congressional District race, announced this week she passed the $1 million fundraising mark.

Running in a red district drawn by Republicans to guarantee a win and take back the U.S. House, Kelly isn’t expected to beat Republican Rep. Mark Green. But she’s hammering him at every opportunity.

Green isn’t exactly sitting at home, either. He did agree to an interview with the Tennessee Lookout and went to an event Wednesday for 5th Congressional District candidate Andy Ogles and Sen. Ted Cruz and gave the opening prayer. According to reports, Ogles, who refused to be interviewed by the Lookout, and Cruz then made crude remarks about everyone they could think of and then some. 

This type of professionalism deserves a just reward.

In pandemic mode

Paving the way for someone to steal elections again, people can use COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee in this fall’s election.

(What, you mean the 2020 election wasn’t stolen?)

The Associated Press reports people who are susceptible to the sickness, caregivers and their housemates can use the eligibility for this year’s election, two years after it was granted in a lengthy court battle.

It remains an excuse for absentee voting on the Secretary of State’s website, and the office confirmed it is an option for the election Nov. 8, according to AP. Applications to vote by mail have to be done by Nov. 1.

That’s funny, I see an alert on the website’s first page for reporting voter fraud but nothing about COVID-19 and absentee balloting. You have to find the absentee voting guide to check the rules.

What the heck, COVID-19 was a hoax anyway. Just ask the more than 1 million Americans who died from it.

“Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath/ Keep me in your heart for a while.”


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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.