On Monday’s Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am-Steve Gill spoke to State Representative Robin Smith about what she would as a freshman do to start fixing some of the ethical and cultural issues facing the Tennessee House both from the past and in the present.
Later on the segment, Smith commented upon how she’s seen members that have questionable pasts accusing others of misconduct of which she found fascinating.
Gill: Robin Smith is a State Representative from down in the Chattanooga area. She is former state party chairman for the Republican Party in Tennessee. She is a businesswoman. She is a former nurse. I guess you’re still technically a nurse. And she is trying to nurse the legislature into a common understanding of what ethics should entail. She’s a member of the state house ethics committee that will be among those gathered today to debate the future of House Speaker Glen Casada. On Friday, Robin announced a couple of legislative proposals to try to clean up some of the ethic issues that have not yet been cleaned up in the past by those that served on the ethics committee and she’s on out newsmakers line with us this morning. Robin good to have you with us.
Smith: Good morning. How are you all?
Gill: Good. Now this legislative agenda, what would you do to try and start to fix things. Again it’s not going to be an easy button fix. What would you do to start fixing some of the ethics issues that the ethics committee has failed to deal with in the past?
Smith: Well understand something. I’m not all seeing, all knowing and all powerful, but what I do understand and most people that know me that whether I was a nurse or a project manager or someone working with another team, I like to get things done. I was elected in November. I’ve been on the ethics committee for four months going on five months and I don’t plan to pontificate, offer story rhetoric. I’m trying to find at the best of my ability, solutions that will address some of the culture problems that may exist or some that are appearing to be reported in the media to a partisan gain that just absolutely don’t exist. And what I mean by that is a lot of the information that’s being pushed out by anonymous social media accounts by others are not sourced.
They are anonymous and are being proven one at a time either inaccurate or based on faulty at best information. The ethics package that not only I but after I began last week talking with legal services and am playing phone tag and trying to get a meeting with Drew Rawlings of the bureau of ethics and campaign finance. Is to begin looking at some things. Ok tell me what the most often reported infraction is. Tell me about some of the problems that you are seeing. So I began working last week on putting together something that’s a solution. Not just talking about things. So this is outside my role on the ethics committee. Because all of that is supposed to be confidential to the degree that we can because there are implications there. But I’m reading more and more about..
Gill: And you had one of your colleagues, Representative Mike Carter a former judge absolutely just come out and make claims about what the ethics committee was doing in violation of the confidentiality. And more importantly based upon what the chairman is saying just blatantly false.
Smith: Well here’s what I would say about that. My experience on the ethics committee going into last week was I knew it was going to be an individual meeting in the fifteen minute increment because we did not have the public notice requirement met. And so we were going to be in an informal setting shown confidential documents in advance so that should we have and if we had down the road a formally called ethics committee you’d be better prepared. I was presented with two documents. They’ve been clearly publicly discussed. One of which was a signed statement of what believed to fact by our now Speaker reflecting on text messages that were sent when he was, two elections ago as leadership and caucus chairman.
And then I was presented with a second document that was an analysis done by the two attorneys who were present. I was never asked to sign anything. I was never presented to that as that being the final document. Matter of fact I was even offered the opportunity to give edits which I understood that the member who had the fifteen minute appointment before me was prepared to offer a couple of edits. I don’t that person’s identity. Not going to disclose that persons identity. But they were prepared to offer two edits to the legal report. And again all this was a working a document that we would meet on and…
Gill: A working document that the members of the ethics committee were being asked to help craft not being asked to sign take it or leave it.
Smith: There were and don’t get me wrong, there were ten signature slots because it was formatted in the format that again a final report would be fine itself.
Smith: The only pens that were on the table when I was in this meeting of four people were held by the attorneys. And so there was never an implication, so what I would just say is, I can’t say that my experience on the ethics committee was that of Representative Carter. I can’t say what any others were. But I was a little disturbed to see pictures taken that had members of the ethics committee gathered together. Again…
Gill: Would that be a violation of the sunshine law if they were gathering?
Smith: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m a rookie. I’m a freshman. So to the degree that I can do something on Friday I announced two perspective bills. I was further contacted by other freshman in my freshman class of twenty on the GOP side. I’ve also heard from some Democrats that some of whom are poo pooing all of this. So we’ll make this a freshman Republican House caucus ethics package. But we’re going to move forward with and there are several bills now that are going to be added to mine. But the two that I can speak to is lobbyists can currently sponsor in state events for us. There is not limit on alcohol. Usually they’re open bars. I’m looking to address that.
The second is I know it’s a very frequent unfortunate practice that members of the General Assembly sometimes will employ their family members to do work that otherwise people would do on a voluntary basis. And that those members of their family are not marketing professionals. They’re not campaign professionals etc. And I think that we need to be better stewards of the money entrusted to us even in our campaign structure to spend. So there’s some things. And I’ve talked to legal about how this House of Representatives enroll in the direct free workplace so that random drug testing can occur.
How can we look at some things about other reporting. The House Republican caucus with the freshman has taken the posture that we’ve only been here a few months and but we’re going to lift the standard and we’re going committed to our constituents to have as much as an open process and open government as possible even in our campaigns.
Gill: How receptive do you think some of your fellow legislators will be towards potential drug testing. I mean it’s one thing to claim that those receiving welfare benefits should have to go through that process. How receptive do you think they’re going to be towards themselves and their staffers being subjected to that kind of scrutiny?
Smith: We’ll find out. I mean we will find out. It’s one of those things where it’s good to have, we busted DC for having the bifurcated laws. Those for thee and those for me. And I chose to be a state legislator who abides by the laws of this entire state.
Gill: Now the legislation you’re proposing will not come up until January when the legislature convenes again. So you’ll have time to gather co-sponsors and get others to support it and maybe expand the legislation a bit. Let’s turn a little closer to home. Today Republicans are going to gather in a caucus. It looks like about four may not be there but for the most part the overwhelming majority, more than the two thirds needed for a quorum are going to be present. Do you have any sense about what’s going to come up? What’s going to be asked? What’s going to be proposed today and what result might occur?
Smith: Well If you read in the press account they know everything (Gill laughs) and apparently in the front pocket of the Speaker and every other person. But in reality what I know is that we are having a caucus meeting at two thirty central. I am learning as a rookie like all the other freshman a little more about the process because you’ve got to remember, even though I’ve been around politics and I’ve helped get a lot of these members get elected. I know a lot of these members’ stories. And it’s fascinating to hear such high minded piety coming from some members and I just shake my head and I wonder, “How far back is the statute of limitations on the ethics committee?” But to that…
Gill: It’s amazing how folks are willing to chuck rocks in their glass house.
Smith: Well, it sure is. It’s not like a snow globe. (Gill chuckles) We’re throwing rocks in the snow globe. But to that end, as I understand the bylaws there are two specified functions. We can either expel someone from the caucus such that as Jeremy Durham was expelled.
Gill: That should take what take two thirds of the vote?
Smith: That’s right. As well as when I was the state party chairman they expelled Kent Williams and I through Kent Williams out of the party. You’ve got to remember, I’m not opposed to action. What I expect today will be a vote of expulsion or censure. There are talks about a vote of no confidence. What does that do? It’s very open ended. I don’t know the trigger points at which that can happen.
Gill: We’ll know more tomorrow.
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