Conservative Chattanooga website slaps ‘RINO’ label on two local lawmakers, other top Republicans

NASHVILLE — A Chattanooga-based conservative news site criticizes a number of senior Republican officials in Tennessee, including House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain and Senate Speaker Randy McNally of Oak Ridge.

The site called these two and others “Republicans in name only,” slapping “RINO Lawmakers of the Year” designations on Hazlewood and McNally for legislation and policies the lawmakers supported or opposed with which website disagrees.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee was not spared Tennessee’s conservative publisher Brandon Lewis and his team. The governor, along with his commissioner of education, Penny Schwinn, were considered “RINOs of the executive branch”.

At least two dozen other GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, have also come under fire for their votes on individual bills in areas ranging from illegal immigration to school choice to abortion gun rights, medical “freedom”, the Second Amendment and more in the two-year legislative session.

“Many Republicans talk about a good game on the campaign trail, but vote with left-leaning businesses and Democrats on the committee,” Lewis said in a statement. “The RINOs depend on uninformed primary voters to get them re-elected. The RINO Report offers the kind of detailed coverage from a conservative perspective that Republicans can’t get from liberal corporate media.”

McNally’s spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, fired back in a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“Anyone who thinks Randy McNally isn’t a conservative has little to no understanding of Tennessee politics or history. Randy McNally was a Republican and a conservative before that was cool,” Kleinheider said. “Before the author of this report could identify Tennessee on a map, Randy McNally was running and winning as a Republican.

“Every Conservative victory since the majority, whether historic tax cuts or the end of legal abortion in Tennessee, has its roots in the leadership and sacrifice of Randy McNally,” Kleinheider said. “Modern Tennessee conservatives literally stand on the shoulders of their life’s work. Anyone who doesn’t recognize this is either misinformed or subverting the truth to fit their imaginary political narrative. Either way, the report and its contents are ridiculously inaccurate, misleading and wrong.

FILE – In this Jan. 10, 2017, file photo, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, presides over the opening session of the Senate after succeeding Ron Ramsey as Senate Speaker in Nashville, Tennessee ( AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

“Not only did he turn conservative ideas into action in the majority, but he also fought the Democratic machine for many years in the minority,” Kleinheider added. “During Operation Rocky Top, at risk to his political future and personal safety, he preyed on the corrupt Democratic power structure and sent corrupt Democratic politicians and lobbyists to jail.”

In a statement to The Times Free Press, Hazlewood said Monday that Americans “celebrated our freedom as a country – a country where you can speak your mind freely and pursue your dreams! We all have opinions.

“However, she added, “the opinions that matter most to me are those of the people in my neighborhood. I’m representing them and their interests, not the interests of some guy asking for money by pontificating about his personal definition of conservatism.”

She said everyone can see how well Tennessee is doing compared to other states.

“Our budget is truly balanced, we’ve cut billions in taxes, dramatically increased our rainy day fund, cut red tape, and made it easier for businesses to thrive and survive in our state and communities!” Hazlewood said. “Ronald Reagan would be proud of how Tennessee leads because we make it easy to achieve the American dream. I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents and be a strong voice for them in Nashville.”

Lee’s spokeswoman, Laine Arnold, did not respond to an email from The Times Free Press requesting a response. The governor was in Chattanooga later Tuesday afternoon for a scheduled appearance with Republican Hamilton County mayoral candidate Weston Wamp. The governor and a staff member did not respond to a Times Free Press reporter’s request for comment as they left the event.

Gardenhire, however, wasn’t so shy.

“It’s such a small group and so far to the right that they’re trying to have some relevance,” Gardenhire told The Times Free Press in a Tuesday morning phone interview about Lewis’ group. “And the only way for them to do that is to attack people and then try to raise money through their efforts.

“I wouldn’t begin to tell someone who is conservative and who isn’t – and I don’t know who gave them the right or the powers to do that except for their own selfish motives,” he said. Gardenhire.

Lewis previously served on the Hamilton County Elections Commission as a representative of local GOP lawmakers. He quit in 2010 after Chattanooga police found him “asleep on the sidewalk, straddling a stop sign, nearly stuck in the pavement,” according to a police report cited by the Times Free Press at the ‘era. He was charged with public intoxication.

Hazlewood drew criticism from Lewis over several bills, including his support for Lee’s proposed $500 million in bonds to help fund a new Tennessee Titans stadium. It also allows Nashville to increase its hotel-motel tax by 1%, which should funnel an additional $10 million per year to the stadium. It passed by wide margins under the state’s $52.8 billion budget.

Hazlewood, Gardenhire and the Governor have also been called “RINO for Corporate Welfare” for the new minor league ballpark sought after by the mayors of Chattanooga Lookouts and Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

Hazlewood, Gardenhire and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson R-Hixson opposed the original version of the bill, which among other things sought $20.8 million from the state, including $7, $3 million for environmental cleanup, plus the use of state and local sales. property tax revenues for decades.

It didn’t happen that way. There was no state subsidy – Gardenhire, Hazlewood and Watson noted that the state was already spending $35 million on a new interchange at the site. And mayors and lookouts also didn’t get what they wanted on the sales tax portion, Gardenhire said.

“I – and Bo followed me – defined such a strict definition that only in-stadium sales tax could be used,” Gardenhire said on Tuesday. “And it is a shortfall” which is not currently perceived, he added.

Gardenhire said it also requires 2% of the 7% state sales tax collected inside the stadium to continue K-12 classes. “And I insisted that after 30 years, this (sales tax) is over and done with.”

There is also no public funding for environmental cleanup, Gardenhire said.

Watson was largely spared by Lewis. But Watson was named among five “RINOs” who did not support a state-proposed constitutional amendment declaring an individual’s right to refuse medical treatment.

Lewis’ report also chastised Hazlewood for voting in 2021 against Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station for years and failed efforts to make “The Holy Bible” the official state book of Tennessee. The Bible Bill never made it to the Senate.

She was also listed once again as a RINO for failing to support legislation to lower the age from 21 to 18 to qualify for a concealed handgun license in Tennessee.

Another bill that did not pass was what Tennessee conservatives called a bill to end ‘censorship’ of social media platforms by designating them as regulated common carriers. of the Tennessee Public Utilities Commission. House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville and McNally, along with others, have been criticized for preventing the bill from passing.

Among the bills hailed as victories, the report cites legislation sponsored by Sexton and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. It prohibits public institutions of higher education from requiring students or employees to adopt “divisive teachings” such as critical race theory as a stipulation for any degree, diploma, job opportunity or term of office.

But the news site slammed Bell and Gardenhire, among others, for not agreeing to its preferred version of a school library policing bill over material deemed ‘obscene’ by parents or others people. Legislative Republicans passed a compromise. This allows parent objections to go before the politically appointed state school board, which could decide to ban the book or material in a decision that would affect not just an individual school or public system, but all systems in the Tennessee.

Sexton, McNally and other Republicans have also come under fire for successfully passing the new ethics and campaign finance law.

Meanwhile, six House Republicans have been listed as a ‘RINO’ for failing to support a failed bill that sought to give local law enforcement powers to compel the feds to shut down “illegal aliens” in Tennessee and sending them to cities or towns in a list of states that includes mostly Democratic areas. Gardenhire also did not support the measure.

Among them were Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Palo Alto in California.

Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, where President Joe Biden has a home, was also listed.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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