At least two State Representatives, Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) and Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) wrote formal letters to Governor Bill Lee, urging him to reopen Tennessee immediately.
Representative Daniel, who will have served three terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives, announced last month that he will not seek reelection in 2020. Representative Griffey is currently serving his first term.
The Representatives wrote their letters based on the input of their constituents and in response to last week’s extension of Governor Lee’s stay-at-home order through April 30.
While the content of the letters are reflective of the personal styles of their authors, both had common themes.
Both Representatives were responding to feedback from their constituents.
Representative Daniel told Governor Lee, “My West Knoxville constituents are suffering tremendously economically and are requesting a change going forward.”
Representative Griffey cited his poll of 9,000 people, which resulted in 55 percent favoring the lifting of restrictions imposed by Executive Order No. 27.
Both Representatives addressed the financial impact to small business owners, in particular, both in the immediate and long term.
Additionally, Representatives Daniel and Griffey pointed to the low number of COVID-19 cases in the districts they represent.
That is an interesting point, given that Representative Daniel’s home county of Knox is the fourth largest in the state with an estimated 2020 population of 465,289, while Representative Griffey’s three counties of Henry, Benton and Stewart combined total about one-eighth of that at just around 62,000, according to World Population Review.
Representative Daniel cites that Knox County has approximately 30 active cases of COVID-19 and four deaths attributable to the virus.
In Representative Griffey’s home county of Henry, he cites that there are two hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with only one being on a ventilator. Benton County has had four total cases and Stewart County six total cases, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.
Also mentioned were the models and projections on which the stay-at-home orders were issued. While Representative Daniel said they have been “substantially reviewed downward,” Representative Griffey was more hard-hitting.
“Alleged ‘expert’ epidemiologists have engaged in speculative forecasting that has been all over the place, varying from predictions of as many as 2.5 million anticipated deaths to predictions as low as tens of thousands nationally. No model has appeared to be accurate,” wrote Representative Griffey.
Representative Griffey further reviewed the estimated COVID-19 death rate, hospitalizations and infection rate including the impact of population density on those topics.
Both also mentioned constitutional issues.
Representative Daniel pointed to the various legal questions surrounding the governor’s orders, such as the application and supremacy of the Bill of Rights found in the U.S. Constitution and the corresponding rights found in the Tennessee Constitution. He also questioned whether a governor has the authority to issue such orders pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 58-2-107(e) and “whether the legislature even has authority to grant such powers to a governor.”
“As a constitutional, conservative Republican,” Representative Griffey told Governor Lee, “I believe in and ran on a platform of advocating for reduced regulations and small, limited government that works for, serves and answers to its citizens, not restricts or infringes upon their rights or overrides their opinion.”
Representative Daniel acknowledged the difficult position Governor Lee is in, “We understand that any decisions you make will be challenged by some and bring forth a new set of issues to face.”
He went on to commit to stay in the fight and with the governor and said “We are praying daily for you, and all of our leaders to have wisdom and discernment.”
Representative Daniel told The Tennessee Star that the supporters he shared his letter with were appreciate of the effort.
As of Monday, Representative Daniel had not received a response to his letter, which was dated Wednesday, April 16.
Representative Griffey’s letter was dated Sunday, April 19.
On Monday, Governor Lee announced during his daily COVID-19 briefing that his order for Tennesseans to remain at home, which is set to expire on April 30, will not be renewed and a phased reopening will begin the week of April 27.
Read Rep. Bruce Griffey’s letter:
Read Rep. Martin Daniel’s letter:
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.