Lieutenant governor captures vote of confidence amid Instagram scandal

McNally prevails in Senate Republican Caucus with 19-7 vote

By: and - March 20, 2023 7:35 pm
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, photographed in February 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, photographed in February 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Barely two weeks after revelations that he posted comments next to risque photos on young gay men’s Instagram sites, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally won a vote of confidence from his peers.

The Senate Republican Caucus, in a vote that took hours to cast Monday, supported the veteran lawmaker instead of handing him a vote of no confidence in his darkest hour. 

The caucus voted 19-7 in support of McNally in a tally announced after Monday’s Senate session.

“I have always been honored, humbled and grateful for the support of my caucus. I remain so today. We have a lot of important work left to do as we complete the legislative session, including the budget. I look forward to getting to it,” McNally said in a Monday night statement.

No meeting was held as votes were cast individually in Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile’s office.

“He’s served 40-plus years for the state, done an excellent job, no questions. He made a mistake. Let’s offer some grace and mercy and forgiveness and move on. We’ve got business to take care of,” Haile, R-Gallatin, said Monday before the Senate session.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire relayed a similar sentiment after voting to back McNally, saying he had “absolute faith” in the lieutenant governor.

“He told the truth. He owned up to it. He didn’t make fun of the guy. He didn’t criticize his lifestyle. What more do you want?” Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said before the session.

Sens. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, and Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, also said they cast a vote of confidence in McNally.

“We can’t let a little vocal minority run us off,” Niceley said. 

Reeves would say only that he voted for McNally. 

But Sens. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, would not say how they voted or planned to vote.

McNally, the Republican-appointed speaker of the Senate from Oak Ridge, stemmed most criticism by saying he made posts of “encouragement” on the young men’s photos, contending he “enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds and orientations.”

Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, however, call Tennessee one of the worst states in the nation for LGBTQ rights because of a series of laws passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. McNally voted this year in favor of legislation restricting drag shows and prohibiting transgender therapy for minors. But he pointed out his views toward the LGBTQ community have been evolving.

Republican leaders have been loath to take a jab at McNally, a member of the General Assembly since 1979. Only state Rep. Todd Warner, R-Lewisburg, has called on McNally to resign, putting out a statement last week seeking a TBI investigation into the matter. Warner’s home and office were raided by the FBI two years ago, but he was never charged with a crime.

Political insiders say senators have been jockeying for position in case McNally stepped aside. For instance, the Tennessee Firearms Association over the weekend endorsed Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, for the lieutenant governor’s post. 

The Tennessee Star, a conservative news site, and Tennessee Stands, an advocacy group headed by Gary Humble, have called for McNally’s resignation because of the Instagram posts and health problems. McNally had a pacemaker inserted in February.

Asked Monday if he’s bucking for the lieutenant governor’s job or other leadership posts, Bailey said before the session, “All those positions are filled at this point in time.”

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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 and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.

Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.