After Renata Soto, founder and director of Nashville-based Conexion Americas became a leader in the National Council of La Raza, both GOP gubernatorial candidates Beth Harwell and Randy Boyd, helped elevate her influence in political circles.
The Tennessee Judicial Council first appointed Soto to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) in 2009 so she could help decide which appellate judges should be “retained” or “replaced.” Soto was among the five JPEC members appointed by the Judicial Council and was appointed to a six-year term. The new law also authorized the Speakers of the House and the Senate to make the remaining appointments.
Harwell became Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives in January 2011.
An article written in 2015 by Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade, now retired, noted that in 2013, “bills were introduced to discharge all members of the Commission—primarily designed to remove Kent Williams’ appointee and that of the Judicial Council. While passing in the Senate, the bills failed to pass in the House. Ultimately, the JPEC ‘sunsetted’ in 2014.”
Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey were sued by John Jay Hooker alleging that their 2014 JPEC appointments violated the race and gender apportionments required by Tennessee law, and the court agreed.
The ruling meant that any election based on the “retain” or “replace” recommendations of an invalidly constituted JPEC would likewise invalidate the subsequent election results or at the very least make them suspect.
At that point Harwell had the option of reconstituting a validly apportioned race and gender JPEC in accordance with the court’s ruling by vacating the existing members’ terms, reappointing Soto and Grant and working with Ramsey to balance the remaining appointments. Alternatively, accepting the court’s ruling, she could have joined with Ramsey in appointing an entirely new nine member commission–choosing not to include Soto in that group–but did not take that action.
This could have possibly avoided the grand jury inquiry that ultimately followed.
When the state legislature’s Government Operations Chairman Rep. Judd Matheny scheduled his committee to address the JPEC problem, Harwell used her prerogative as Speaker to cancel the committee’s hearing.
Matheny, noted as a leading conservative state legislator is running for Diane Black’s seat in Con-gress.
Four months after Harwell blocked the state legislative committee from moving forward, a Davidson County grand jury recommended that charges be brought against Harwell and Ramsey for flouting the state’s law in making their appointments to the JPEC. The grand jury did not, however, issue an indictment.
Soto being well-known to Harwell and Boyd and working with both GOP candidates suggests access to the governor’s office and sensitivity to the issues she promotes, if either are elected.
One month after Boyd announced his campaign for governor, The Tennessee Star reported about his on-going professional relationship with Renata Soto that began in 2013, when they were both enrolled in the 2013 inaugural class of Leadership Tennessee, a 10-month leadership education program founded and funded in part by The Haslam Foundation and the Haslam family’s Flying Pilot J, designed to network business, nonprofit, education, and government leaders.
The following year, Harwell networked with Soto’s finance director through the Tennessee Leadership program.
In 2016, Boyd, gave Soto’s Nashville organization the largest donation since its founding, placed her on his non-profit education board and began supporting her platform of “education equity” for illegal alien students.
Soto was already in a leadership role with the La Raza board when she and her organization became known to both Harwell and Boyd. Soto served as the vice-president of La Raza’s board for three years prior to assuming leadership as board president in 2015, a position she still retains.
Soto being well-known to Harwell and Boyd suggests access to the governor’s office and sensitivity to the issues she promotes, if either are elected.
A year after Soto was elected as chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Boyd and his wife made the $250,000 donation to her Nashville organization, Conexion Americas, which serves legal immigrants and illegal aliens. The same month Boyd was gifting money to Soto’s organization, he founded his education non-profit Complete Tennessee, including Soto as one of his board members.
Three months after Boyd gave Soto the big money, she became an “Indivisible” organizer as part of the campaign intended and designed to obstruct President Trump’s agenda for the nation including enforcing U.S. immigration laws.
Soto is opposed to the new anti-sanctuary city legislation and has put out a call to ask Governor Haslam to veto the bill.
Unlike the other GOP gubernatorial candidates, the Boyd campaign has avoided stating any opinion or preference as to whether Haslam should sign the bill. A carefully worded statement from Boyd’s spokesman issued a week after the other candidates, sounds more like a way to avoid conflict with his $250,000 beneficiary Conexion Americas and his Complete Tennessee board member.