During a press conference in Blountville, former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said that, “[w]hen I was in the legislature, let me assure you, actions had consequences,” as the reason why none of the new transportation funding is headed to Washington County. Ramsey summed it up this way:
“There was no doubt, in the end, that there was some punishment levied against some House members on funding. Not against the Senate members, but against the House members.”
For example, Ramsey said the Senate included funding for the Sullivan County Agriculture Center and East Tennessee State University, after which the House stripped away some of the funding.
Rep. Timothy Hill, whose district covers Johnson County and parts of Carter and Sullivan Counties, voted against the gas tax.
“Well, Timothy Hill’s district is the Ag Center. That’s one. I even made a phone call to say, ‘That this is kind of my pet project.’ It’s not up to the House members on that, but still they felt like it was time to ‘exact a pound of flesh’ was exactly the words that I heard”
No TDOT projects were included for Johnson County which Hill also represents. Similarly, there were no TDOT projects listed for Washington County. Reps. Mathew Hill and Micah Van Huss both represent parts of Washington County and both voted against Haslam’s
IMPROVE Act which House sponsor Rep. Boss Doss renamed the “Tax Cut Act of 2017.”
In March, prior to the House vote on the gas tax, the Washington County Commission passed a resolution against the gas tax which likely did not help to curry favor with the Haslam administration or TDOT once the bill was passed and decisions were made about road projects, but was in line with the position of their House representatives.
Greene County was also left out of the TDOT roads project report. Reps. David Hawk and Jeremy Faison who each represent part of Greene County voted against the gas tax increase. Hawk was the sponsor of the alternative “Hawk Plan” that would have funded road construction by reallocating sales taxes already being collected. The “Hawk Plan” was scuttled by Rep. Boss Doss using questionable procedural moves.
Shortly after leaving office, former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was hired by the pro-gas tax Transportation Coalition of Tennessee to assist in their efforts to get Haslam’s gas tax plan passed.
Ramsey’s hiring by the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee was first reported by The Tennessee Star.
“Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told The Tennessee Star on Thursday he is a paid consultant to the Tennessee Coalition on Transportation, an advocacy group that supports Gov. Haslam’s 7 cents per gallon gas tax increase and a 12 cents per gallon diesel tax increase,” The Star reported on February 6:
Ramsey’s revelation came during a break in the two hour broadcast of the WWTN Gas Tax Town Hall, moderated by Nashville Morning News host Ralph Bristol on the Dan Mandis Show. The event featured a studio audience, which was virtually unanimous in its opposition to the gas tax.
Ramsey advocated strenuously on behalf of the gas tax increase. He was one of eight panelists at the event. Other members of the panel included Andy Ogles, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the gas tax, David Smith appearing on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam, State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), State Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), State Rep. Barry Doss (R-Lawrence County), Rep. Brian Terry (R-Murfreesboro), and Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester).
“Ramsey noted that ethics laws allow him to serve as a consultant, though they prohibit him from lobbying his former colleagues in the General Assembly for a period of 12 months from his resignation as Lt. Governor,” The Star reported:
It is not clear whether that 12 month clock started in November, when Ramsey was replaced in the Senate, or in January, when State Sen. Randy McNally was named President of the Senate and became Lt. Governor.
But the state law that prohibits former legislators from lobbying their colleagues may prohibit Ramsey from engaging in a panel that included five of his former General Assembly colleagues–two in the Senate and three in the House.
3-6-301 of the Tennessee Code Annotated provides this definition of lobbying:
(16)(A) “Lobby” means to communicate, directly or indirectly, with any official in the legislative branch or executive branch for the purpose of influencing any legislative action or administrative action;
“At issue is whether Ramsey, as a paid consultant to the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, engaged in lobbying activities during his appearance at the WWTN Gas Tax Town Hall earlier this month,” The Star reported later in February:
There is no Tennessee statute or regulation that prohibits former Lt. Gov. Ramsey, who left his position in the State Senate in November and was replaced as Lt. Governor in January by Randy McNally, from providing consulting services to any entity operating legally in the state of Tennessee.
Typically, “consulting” is defined as providing private advice to a client. “Consulting” can also involve preparing reports for a client, which they in turn make public.
Former Lt. Gov. Ramsey, however, adheres to a broader definition of “consulting,” one which allows him to share a stage with former colleagues who are publicly engaged in a debate in which he is engaged advocating on behalf of his client.
“Ron Ramsey tells The Tennessee Star that his legal counsel, James Weaver, a partner with the prestigious Nashville law firm Waller Lansden Dorch & Davis, who has advised him that his appearance at a WWTN Gas Tax Town Hall to advocate in favor of Gov. Haslam’s gas tax increase, a position held by his client, the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, is “perfectly acceptable under all Tennessee laws” has done so verbally, but not in writing,” The Star reported at the time.
“James and I have had lots of discussions about what I can and cannot do in this first year,” Ramsey tells The Star in an emailed statement.
“James is an expert in this area. As my council, I have never felt the need to have anything in writing from him. I simply wanted his advice and council,” Ramsey adds in the statement.
At former Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s invitation, The Star has reached out to Mr. Weaver and anticipates providing more details on the Tennessee statutes as they relate to guidelines for consulting and lobbying as they apply to former members of the Tennessee General Assembly during their first 12 months out of office.
Mr. Weaver never responded to The Star’s inquiries.