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Stockard on the Stump: Secretary of State guarantees Trump will be on Tennessee ballot

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Stockard on the Stump: Secretary of State guarantees Trump will be on Tennessee ballot

Jun 07, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Sam Stockard
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Stockard on the Stump: Secretary of State guarantees Trump will be on Tennessee ballot
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This convicted felon is coming to a ballot near you in November: state Republicans lean on federal law to back former President Donald Trump. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett isn’t waiting for a legal opinion from the attorney general on whether former President Donald Trump can be on the presidential ballot this year despite felony convictions in his New York “hush money” trial.

In response to questions from the Tennessee Lookout this week, Secretary of State spokesman Doug Kufner said, “Former President Trump is eligible to run for President. Ultimately, Tennessee voters will make their decision in the upcoming election.”

The office commented after Democratic state Rep. Vincent Dixie, never one to stir the pot, requested an opinion from Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti on Trump’s eligibility.

In his letter to the AG’s Office, Dixie noted that under Tennessee law, “A person who has been convicted in this state of an infamous crime … or convicted under the laws of the United States or another state of an offense that would constitute an infamous crime if committed in this state, shall be disqualified from qualifying for, seeking election to or holding a public office in this state, unless and until that person’s citizenship rights have been restored by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Dixie, a Nashville Democrat, considers his interrogative a “valid question.”

“If you have someone who is convicted of a felony they can’t vote, and they can’t run for elected office. Why should he appear on the ballot in Tennessee if we are strong on states’ rights,” Dixie said. “If we believe in states’ rights for abortion and everything else, why are we not gonna follow it on this?”

Likewise, if the state refuses to consider felony convictions on people from other states for the right to vote and carry a gun, Dixie argues the Legislature needs to revamp the criminal code.

Dixie, former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, expects Skrmetti to come up with a “witty way” to say Trump can run.

If you have someone who is convicted of a felony they can’t vote, and they can’t run for elected office. Why should he appear on the ballot in Tennessee if we are strong on states’ rights.

– Rep. Vincent Dixie, Nashville Democrat

Most likely he’ll determine the business laws used to charge Trump don’t apply here.

Interestingly enough, it’s easier to run for the presidency in Tennessee than to hold a state Senate seat.

Based on Hargett’s stance, an out-of-state felon can make the ballot, yet the Republican-controlled Senate bounced Democrat Katrina Robinson of Memphis from the upper chamber after a court found she used a federal grant to pay for personal items, not just her nursing school. That’s not much different from using your campaign account or political action committee to pay for fancy meals and new cars, but, of course, none of our fine lawmakers would do that.

In Trump’s case, the jury convicted him on 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels designed to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter in the run-up to the 2016 election. Trump, who called the Daniels deal a commonplace “non-disclosure agreement,” claims the statute of limitations ran out at five years and plans to appeal.

The New York judge that heard the case, though, ruled against Trump’s statute of limitations argument early in the trial, in part citing COVID-19 rules enacted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Trump’s time in the White House also placed him outside New York for four years, which could have delayed the start of the statute.

Adding to that muddiness, misdemeanors for falsifying business records were elevated to felonies, under New York law because they were committed to conceal the payoff.

Some commentators have called the verdict and court proceedings “convoluted,” even though the jury was unanimous in finding Trump broke New York’s statutes, which likely are much different than Tennessee’s. It is the center of the business world or they wouldn’t have enacted laws against deception from the outset.

And that gives Trump backers an easy out.

"Highly partisan prosecutors in New York contorted the law," said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally as to why convicted felon Donald Trump can appear on the Tennessee presidential ballot. (Photo: John Partipilo)
“Highly partisan prosecutors in New York contorted the law,” said Lt. Gov. Randy McNally as to why convicted felon Donald Trump can appear on the Tennessee presidential ballot. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, for instance, contends the “unprecedented and explicitly political prosecution” of Trump doesn’t fall under the Tennessee law cited by Dixie. Requirements for the presidency don’t address felony convictions.

“Qualifications for federal office are determined by federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Highly partisan prosecutors in New York contorted the law to charge him in a way no one had ever been charged before in that state and in a way he wouldn’t have been prosecuted in Tennessee. I also fully expect the conviction to be eventually overturned. Donald Trump should and will remain on the ballot in Tennessee,” McNally said in a statement.

Suddenly, we’re abiding by federal laws.

As we wait for Skrmetti to squirm out from this one, if he can pull himself away from a constant fight against federal policies, we won’t miss much sleep. The only interesting part will be to see how he distances Tennessee from New York, a place everybody loves to hate, at least until they have to travel there for a bond rating trip on Wall Street. 

The old mixed bag

State lawmakers from Memphis are hailing plans by Elon Musk to build the world’s biggest supercomputer at a new xAI plant in Shelby County.

(This begs the question: Can we not revert to natural intelligence instead of letting computers do the thinking? Or are we giving up on people?)

The Memphis Flyer reports that xAI raised $134.7 million in December and brought in another $6 billion in May from investors, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those meshed with the Phoenix Investment Group of Milwaukee (not to be confused with the sham campaign vendor, Phoenix Solutions) buying 800 acres in Memphis for what is expected to become the xAI plant.

“It’s really impossible to overstate the economic and technological impact of developing the largest supercomputer in the world – right here in Memphis. Grind City is on the verge of adding a new nickname: the Supercomputer City,” Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said in a statement.

Said House Minority Leader Karen Camper of Memphis, “This investment by xAI further affirms my belief in the power of the Memphis area and what it can become.”

Contrasting talking points: Democratic lawmakers from Memphis praise news that Elon Musk will build the world’s largest supercomputer in Shelby County, but environmental groups question the potential for pollution: it’s not for nothing the facility will be located near TVA’s coal ash ponds.

In contrast, environmental groups such as Protect Our Aquifer, Memphis Community Against Pollution and Young Gifted & Green tossed a little cold water on the project, claiming plans are needed to decide how to handle xAI’s heavy energy burden and the potential for pollution. It’s expected to need up to 150 megawatts of electricity to run the plant, enough to serve 100,000 homes, which could be a problem as TVA and Memphis Light, Gas & Water struggle with weather-related disasters and rolling blackouts. They say give the power to the people, not the supercomputer.

The facility will be located near TVA’s old coal plant and coal ash ponds, which have proven dangerous in East Tennessee, the TVA Combined Cycle Gas Plant and Memphis’ Maxson Wastewater Treatment Plant. It’s the same area the Byhalia crude oil pipeline was supposed to bisect before activists defeated the plan.

The groups also want the company to invest in a wastewater reuse system to cut its impact on the water supply. xAI could need about 1 million gallons of water daily for cooling towers in southwest Memphis.

They also want local and state departments to study the plant’s effect on air quality to make sure the public won’t suffer from excessive carbon dioxide emissions.

Further, the activists want xAI to bring the community into the equation for jobs, apprenticeships and neighborhood revitalization.

(No doubt, the company will be bringing in students from Tennessee State University’s AI program to fill key jobs.)

The question is: How much will the company receive from state and local governments to start?

Turnaround was quick for xAI, and the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Department said it wasn’t involved in the project. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority, though, said it worked with the company and Memphis Light, Gas and Water to go over the proposal and electricity demand.

“These discussions include maximizing electricity demand response, supporting load reduction to provide system flexibility when peak demand gets high,” TVA said in a statement.

A spokesperson did not respond when asked if the company would be getting a price reduction for power.

Billion-dollar investments already benefit from sales tax exemptions in Tennessee. And xAI won’t have to pay franchise taxes for any property it owns, thanks to Gov. Lee’s huge break this year for corporate America. 

Without all these benefits for businesses, it’s a wonder Tennessee survived for 200-plus years.

Free Scottie (I mean Eli)

It took a 25-page report from Nashville law firm Neal and Harwell to tell us that Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka didn’t get arrested by Vanderbilt Police for doing his job. 

Instead, he was arrested for doing his job too well, which in this case meant trying to enter Kirkland Hall to cover a student protest. Granted, the building was closed at the time because of construction, but considering students were already inside Kirkland, where should he have gone: over to Memorial Gym?

While Vanderbilt continues to blame Motycka for the arrest and keeps the media off campus without permission, this is yet more proof that some officers just don’t get it. 

According to the detailed report, an officer arrested him and took him downtown for booking even though higher-ups told them not to cuff anyone.

It’s not like he paid off a porn star to win an election: First, the cops came for Nashville Scene reporter Eli Motycka for the incredible deed of doing his job.

Should we be surprised? Louisville Police did the same thing in May to Scottie Scheffler when he tried to drive into Valhalla Golf Club for the second round of the PGA Tournament. The arresting officer was so torn up about Scheffler’s trying to make a tee time that he grabbed the courtesy vehicle and held on for dear life. 

Heaven forbid a golfer drive into a golf tournament. Thus, Scheffler had to start his warmup and stretching routine in a jail cell. 

The officer — who was disciplined for not activating his body camera — said he’d been injured, or at least that his pants were ripped or something stupid like that, as the golfing world looked on in shock.

Wisely, officials dropped the felony charges, much as Nashville DA Glenn Funk said he wouldn’t prosecute “Mr. Reporter” for doing his job. That’s how the report referred to Motycka because they had to redact all names for fear of letting people know the infamous Scene reporter’s true identity.  

In a time when people are torn up over defunding and overfunding the police, most people, nevertheless, want officers to arrest people for stealing, robbing and killing. They’re not quite as concerned about protecting Dean Wormer at Vanderbilt or keeping golfers from teeing off on time.

It’s not as if Sheffler and Motycka tried to pay a porn star, either, to keep her mouth shut about a sexual tryst so they could win an election. Who does that? No, they were doing boring stuff like covering a student protest and playing golf. That might not win any popularity contests, but it is growing increasingly clear that bribery will.

I remember feeling this way / You can lose it without knowing / You wake up and you don’t notice which way the wind is blowing.*

“*Don’t Fade on Me,” Tom Petty.

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