August was a busy month in the primary season in Tennessee and with the special legislative session called by Governor Lee. In a U.S. Senate primary race, Bill Hagerty scored a surprisingly resounding victory over challenger Manny Sethi, in the race for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Senator Lamar Alexander. While the U.S. Senate primary garnered much of the national attention, the race to fill the seat vacated by the retiring Congressman Phil Roe also drew its share of the spotlight. Out of a crowded field that included prominent state legislators such as Sen. Rusty Crowe (R- Johnson City), and Reps. Timothy Hill (R- Blountville) and David Hawk (R- Greeneville), as well as several mayors, Kingsport pharmacist and political newcomer Diana Harshbarger prevailed with 19% of the vote, edging out Hill by just over two points and Crowe by three.
Despite having all of the state House seats and half of the Senate seats up for reelection, most incumbents enjoyed an uneventful evening, having gone unchallenged in their August primaries. As is always the case however, there were a few notable exceptions. Heading into the evening, House GOP leadership was focused primarily on five races: those of incumbents Matthew Hill (R- Jonesborough), Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta), Rick Tillis (R- Lewisburg), and Micah Van Huss (R- Jonesborough), as well as the race in Knoxville to fill the seat vacated by Martin Daniel (R- Knoxville), who chose not to seek re-election. Out of the four aforementioned incumbents, only Sherrell prevailed in his race, earning 48% of the vote in a three-way field. Tillis lost to Todd Warner by an 8-point margin, Van Huss suffered a 15-point loss to Hicks, and Hill — a former Deputy Speaker and 16 year veteran of the General Assembly — lost to Rebecca Alexander in a 27 point landslide. Meanwhile, in the Knoxville race, Eddie Mannis edged Gina Oster by 99 votes, which amounted to just over one percentage point. In the race to fill the District 3 seat vacated when Timothy Hill decided to run for Congress, Scotty Campbell prevailed over Neal Kerney by a 73-26 margin. Rick Staples (D- Knoxville) was the only incumbent Democrat to lose, he took third in the primary with Sam McKenzie winning 39.5% of the votes.
On the Senate side, two races drew most of the attention: a Republican race in West Tennessee to fill the vacated seat in District 26, and the Democratic race in suburban Nashville’s District 20. The West Tennessee race pitted former state Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton against former state representative and current Bolivar Vice Mayor Page Walley. While Templeton received an endorsement from the seat’s previous occupant, Dolores Gresham (R- Somerville), Walley won the race, prevailing 53 to 47. In the Nashville race, Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell prevailed over Kimi Abernathy 51 to 49. Campbell now looks to take on the incumbent, Steve Dickerson (R- Nashville) in November.
In August, the 111th Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up a three-day special session, passing the legislation that Governor Lee called them to pass relative to COVID liability, telemedicine, and increasing penalties for violations of state law relating to destruction of public property and camping on Capitol grounds. Overall, the brief and businesslike session lacked the fireworks between the House and Senate that punctuated the end of the regular session; however, it was not completely devoid of drama, especially relative to the activities of the protesters that have remained at the Capitol all summer.
The COVID-19 liability legislation applies to claims filed against businesses, schools and other nonprofits, and raises the legal bar for a claimant alleging loss, damage, injury or death from the coronavirus, requiring the claimant to demonstrate “gross negligence or willful misconduct” to recover damages in a COVID-19 related lawsuit. The bill only applies to lawsuits filed on or after August 3rd, 2020, the day that Governor Lee called the special session, meaning that lawsuits filed before this date will not be subject to the higher legal standard. The new law will remain in effect until July of 2022. Attached please find the final version of this legislation for your review.
Lawmakers also passed legislation making telehealth services more readily available to Tennesseans and more financially viable for medical professionals in the state. Finally, lawmakers also saw a need this week to address the acts of public vandalism and camping that have accompanied some of the protests this summer. The General Assembly approved measures to increase criminal penalties for vandalizing state property, camping on state property, and assaulting law enforcement officers, while also adding mandatory minimum sentencing for rioting.
Now that the legislature has finally adjourned for the year, lawmakers will return to their districts to continue fundraising, which they are prohibited from doing during the special session. While half of the Senators and all of the Representatives are up for reelection this year, in many cases the November general elections are anticlimactic given the deep red or deep blue composition of many legislative districts, with a few notable exceptions. That dynamic also virtually assures that the legislative balance of power will remain heavily weighted in favor of the GOP. As always, it is a pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly.
Adams and Reese LLP, along with the Tennessee Trucking Association, will sponsor two major fundraising events in September, a dinner for House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) on September 14th and another dinner for House Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant (R- Rossville) on September 29th. The reception for both events will take place at 6 p.m. CDT, with a 6:30 p.m. dinner to follow at Giovanni West in Belle Meade. Thank you for your support of TruckPAC, without which, neither event could take place.