Stockard on the Stump: Former Democratic Caucus chair claims House Speaker pushed him out
Outgoing Democratic House Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie says House Speaker Cameron Sexton interfered in his recent defeat.(Photo: John Partipilo)
Two weeks after narrowly losing a bid for re-election as House Democratic Caucus chairman, Rep. Vincent Dixie says House Speaker Cameron Sexton leaned on colleagues to stop his re-election.
As a result, Dixie, a Nashville Democrat, holds no leadership position. He was defeated by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, in the 24-member caucus race by one vote.
Dixie called the deal a “bunch of cowardice” on the part of Sexton and his Democratic colleagues, contending that never in history has one party interfered in another party’s caucus elections.
“(Sexton) made threats that there would not be certain things that would take place if I was the chairman,” Dixie told the Tennessee Lookout this week after a legislative hearing. “They had a choice to say yes or no. They chose to cave, so … they might as well be in the Republican Party.”
Asked if he threatened Democrats, Sexton didn’t exactly deny getting involved, making this statement: “Rep. Dixie will blame anyone and everyone but himself which isn’t a surprise. Neither I nor any Republican had a vote in their caucus meeting; it was up to Rep. Dixie to get a simple majority of the superminority he created which apparently he was unable to achieve. I am looking forward to working with Leader (Karen) Camper, Chairman Clemmons and their leadership team.”
Who woulda thunk it?
Sexton met Clemmons for lunch at a Nashville restaurant late this fall when, he says, the discussion was about policy matters such as criminal justice reform, housing and working across the aisle. Considering Clemmons has been a thorn in Republicans’ sides for the past few years, a lunch gathering between the two is a bit of a head-scratcher.
But the running tiff between Dixie and Sexton is no shocker. They’ve been at each other for a long time, with Dixie calling Sexton a racist this fall and Sexton calling Dixie a liar and ineffective leader in an interview with the Tennessee Lookout.
The caucus vote could be fallout from that tempest.
Some Democrats said they’d heard rumors that Sexton leaned on their caucus members to defeat Dixie. Others denied being targeted by the House Speaker.
Rep. Johnny Shaw declined to comment about whether Sexton tried to lean on him.
“Nobody can put pressure on me when I get ready to take a vote,” Shaw notes.
The Bolivar Democrat says he promised Dixie he would vote for him and delivered on it. But he says someone told Dixie they would vote for him, then flipped to Clemmons.
“There was some planning around everybody, talking about different things, but that did not bother me at all one way or the other,” Shaw says.
Part of the caucus chairman’s job is to raise money and help Democrats win races. They lost two seats in the November election, one of which came when longtime Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle became an independent and lost to a Republican challenger after his district was redrawn to bring in part of Anderson County.
But Democrats also boasted a win by the dratted Rep. Gloria Johnson in Knoxville after Republicans redrew her into the same district with Democratic Rep. Sam McKenzie. She moved to a new apartment and won anyway.
Newcomer Democratic Rep. Ronnie Glynn of Clarksville also captured a seat that Republicans coveted after Jason Hodges stepped away, disenchanted with the Legislature’s shenanigans.
Republicans maintain solid control, holding a supermajority with 75 seats. So regardless of who sits in the Democratic chairman’s chamber seat, it’s going to be a tough row to hoe.
The question is whether Speaker Sexton, who is believed to be running for governor in 2026, is getting involved in every facet of legislative life.
Former Republican state Rep. Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, the first openly gay House member, recently told KnoxTNToday that Sexton called him to his office after he tried to get fellow Republicans to stop pushing bills aimed at the LGBTQ community.
“His objective was to make me shut up. At the age of 62, I was being accused of being ‘disrespectful.’ I left that room thinking it’s been a long time since I’ve felt bullied. It’s all about power and control and I’ve had enough. I had some really good colleagues there. But there are too many people there who are just mean and vindictive – winning at all costs is what matters, and that’s just not my thing,” Mannis said of his conversation with the Speaker.
Though Sexton wouldn’t acknowledge pressuring Democrats before the vote, in a September interview, Sexton suggested the Democratic Caucus figure out whether it needed Dixie in the chairmanship because he represented their entire caucus when he spoke. He made that statement right after accusing Dixie of lying about Republicans in a fundraising email.
But bumping off Dixie might not be such a victory.
Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, points out that Sexton could be less enchanted with Clemmons as chairman than he was with Dixie. We’ll see how long the honeymoon lasts.
Diplomatic immunity revoked
The Tennessee Right to Life Political Action Committee started its scorched-earth tactics this week, announcing revocation of its endorsement for state Sen. Richard Briggs after he changed part of his stance in support of the Human Life Protection Act.
“Sen. Briggs pledged to us in writing that he would protect unborn children by protecting the Human Life Protection Act from hostile amendments. Despite making similar pledges to our legislative liaison after the Dobbs decision was issued, Sen. Briggs now claims that he does not support the HLPA because he never believed it would be enacted because he never believed Roe v. Wade would be overturned,” says former state Rep. Roger Kane, president of the Tennessee Right to Life PAC.
Briggs, a Knoxville Republican and physician, has told the Tennessee Lookout the law needs to be revisited to make exceptions for the life of the mother in dangerous situations such as ectopic pregnancies. He is also leery of forcing women and girls to give birth in cases of rape and incest and says exceptions are needed for those.
Legislation from other Republican senators is pending.
According to a ProPublica article, Briggs admits he didn’t think Roe v. Wade would be overturned when he voted for the bill triggering abortion restrictions in 2019. He also told the Tennessee Lookout he didn’t understand the “affirmative defense” part of the legislation, which would require physicians to defend themselves in court if they performed an abortion to save a woman’s life.
Tennessee Right to Life PAC contends Briggs has gone on a campaign since the election to change the abortion law. But he told the Tennessee Lookout in October that he had misgivings about the abortion ban because it puts doctors in a quandary and says he spoke about the matter openly while campaigning.
“Do you commit a felony or do you lose your license to practice medicine? We have to fix it, period,” Briggs told the Lookout in October, just days after Republican Congressman Mark Green, also a doctor, said the state needs to “clarify” the law to stop confusion among physicians.
Briggs, who says he may be the only state legislator to get blistered by Tennessee Right to Life and Planned Parenthood, has made no secret about the need to clarify the law in situations when the mother and baby could die.
“There’s not too many things you can do that’ll kill two people with one shot,” Brigg says, “but it could.”
The second thing is that doctors who have to perform emergency surgeries to save a woman’s life should not be committing a crime, he adds.
Briggs contends there are very few bills, including those he sponsors, in which he supports every part.
“I never once said that I thought a doctor should be committing a crime when he has to terminate a pregnancy to save a woman’s life. I just never believed that, never, ever, ever,” Briggs says.
The six-member Senate Democratic Caucus changed leadership this week with Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis being voted in as caucus leader, Sen. London Lamar of Memphis as chairwoman and new Sen. Charlane Oliver of Nashville as vice chair.
It marks the first time Black women have led the caucus completely.
Unlike House Democrats’ vote, no rancor is involved. Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville stepped away as leader and nominated Akbari for the post.
“Today and every day, I stand on the shoulders of legislative trailblazers like Lois DeBerry, Barbara Cooper and personal heroes like my mom Lisa Akbari and sister Raumina Akbari,” she said in a statement. “I am grateful for the opportunity to lead our caucus and move us forward united by our calling to deliver better results to everyday Tennesseans.”
Lamar, who won election after shifting to the Senate from the House, said the caucus “remains committed to fighting for working families, the middle class, young people and seniors, or those who feel left behind or targeted by politics as usual. We will not waver in our fight for the people.”
Speaker Sexton named Kevin Johnson as his new chief of staff and promoted Rosie Anderson to director of operations.
Johnson, a Christian Brothers University graduate, has been general counsel and senior advisor to Sexton since 2019. He worked previously for Congressman David Kustoff after earning a degree at Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in Memphis.
Rockin’ and rollin’
State revenue collections for November totaled $1.5 billion, 6.6% more than the same month last year and $156.8 million more than projected.
Sales and use taxes from October were strong, but franchise and excise taxes were weak, while motor vehicle registrations were off, too, in part because the state suspended its portion of registrations to give people a break, according to Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson.
Despite those lamentations, the state’s first four months of the fiscal year saw revenues pile up at $742.7 million more than the budget estimate.
At that rate, the state could have a $2 billion surplus by next July, which means Gov. Bill Lee will have plenty of money to play with when he presents his budget to lawmakers in January then his supplemental spending in the spring.
No doubt, everyone is overjoyed to know the state is stockpiling money it won’t spend until a crisis hits – for instance kids sleeping in state offices.
Come on and tell me who are you?
Tennessee Lookout senior reporter Anita Wadhwani reported in early August 2021 about children in state custody sleeping on floors in the Davy Crockett Tower.
Some lawmakers continued to harp on this over the last year and a half.
Finally, the Legislature’s Government Operations Committee got a little huffy this week with new Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Margie Quin this week, expressing a tad of exasperation about slow movement within state government.
Quin, who was appointed to the post in late summer, contends she has taken steps already to deal with the problem and is asking for more money in next year’s budget to fill 488 vacant social worker positions. It is quite an accomplishment to reach such a staff emergency. Maybe the state should come up with a new award that honors the agency for frugality.
The question is: Why did it take a scathing Comptroller’s report and griping legislators to make something happen in the last month? Gov. Lee has known about this for a year and a half. And it was probably going on well before then.
In a state that prides itself on making government work like a private enterprise, the wheels apparently ground to a halt when it came to taking care of kids.
We’re left wondering if anyone really gives a damn.
Quin talks a good game, but this week’s hearing echoed the grinding and gnashing of teeth three years ago after audits for the Department of Correction found serious shortcomings within state prisons, mainly those run by privately-held CoreCivic.
Will we be hearing the same complaints a year from now?
“Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss.”
And one more thing
For those disappointed this piece isn’t ending with song lyrics, which has become a Stump tradition – dreaded or not – the finale instead is being dedicated to the launch of Donald Trump superhero trading cards.
For the low, low price of $99, the former president announced this week, you can obtain the collectibles that are certain to adorn the mantles of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former VP Mike Pence for years to come.
They tell me the IRS isn’t even requiring Mr. Trump to pay taxes on his bubble gum trading cards. The feds figure he needs the money to pay his legal bills in his fight against who else – the IRS.
As the comedian formerly known as Eddie Murphy said, “What a bargain!”
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