Live from Memphis on the newsmakers line Monday morning, New American Populist founder Jeff Webb joined The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.– to discuss his concerns about government overreach amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leahy: We are talking with our very good friend Jeff Webb who is the Memphis entrepreneur and founder of Varsity Brands and Varsity Spirit. He kind of invented the cheerleading industry and has gone on to set up the New American Populist. And Jeff called me over the weekend and said what is Governor Bill Lee doing releasing COVID-19 positive testing information to law enforcement? What do you make of this policy Jeff?
Webb: Good morning Mike. I think this is another overreach. It’s kind of unfortunately somewhat of a pattern with Governor Lee which is very concerning. It’s certainly not something that I think his constituents felt like we would see when he was elected.
But I think it’s definitely an overreach. It’s a little bit scary. When you start getting into people’s privacy and their rights to privacy and I think it’s just very worrisome. I think also this was something that seems like Governor Lee just did. And there’s really not that good of communication about it or explanations to the people.
I don’t know how much consultation there was with our other elected representatives. I just think it’s a really bad idea when we start seeding power to the government and especially potentially to law enforcement that could potentially affect the privacy of everyday citizens.
Leahy: Yes. I think you nailed it when you said this is something Governor Lee just did and didn’t even explain. This came out by the Associated Press who found out about this memorandum of understanding that the Tennessee Department of Health signed with 30 some odd law enforcement agencies and counties around the state.
Now when he was caught on this, I don’t know if caught is the right word because he just failed to communicate the policy. Late Friday he basically tried to blame the federal government for it. He said yes and he said, all I did was say yes to the implementation to these federal guidelines that came from the Department of Health and Human Services.
I don’t know about you Jeff but releasing private health information seems to me whether or not the Department of Health and Human Services says it’s a good idea in guidelines, it seems to me to be a violation if not the letter but certainly the spirit of the HIPPA privacy laws. What do you think about that?
Webb: Absolutely. Listen, think about every time you go to a new doctor, and all the forms you fill out about privacy and how much emphasis we put in our country on maintaining an individual’s privacy in regards to your health. I understand we’re in very different times and people are trying to do extraordinary things about this crisis with the virus. But these are the sorts of things that need to be thought through very very well.
And as far as communicating or even adopting this principal from the federal government. That’s why we have federalism. That’s why we have a state government to protect us from these sorts of things. I just think it’s very disappointing that apparently our state government just rolled over on this one without there being a serious conversation with the citizens of Tennessee.
Leahy: I think again you nailed it on that. You mention it, Jeff. This is a pattern on behalf of Governor Lee. It seems to me this is the same kind of thing when he did when he was given the option of saying no more refugees and without consulting anyone he said yes, bring them on in and we Tennessee taxpayers even though the Tennessee General Assembly is suing the federal government to stop it, he wants to bring them all in. Again, it seems very tone-deaf to what the people of Tennessee want.
Webb: It almost seems cavalier. Governor Lee was not elected to make these kinds of decisions on his own. I think again not only the legislature but especially not even communicating or getting the support of the communities where the resettlements would take place is just again tone-deaf, cavalier, I’m not sure. But I think it’s wrong.
Leahy: Now the Tennessee black legislative caucus is called the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators I guess, they said this is a bad idea. They actually didn’t focus on the issue of HIPPA they said, which I think makes sense is this is going to make people not want to be tested for COVID-19. Again I’ve rarely agreed with them because they are mostly left-wing but in this particular instance I think they make a good point.
Webb: I think that’s right. We’ve seen time and time again in our country whether its the government or frankly the big technology companies another discussion we should have Mike. Once your information is given away and people have the power to act on it good things do not come from that eventually.
Leahy: I wonder what happened in the mind of the Governor and the administration because a month and a half ago they refused to release even the aggregate number of deaths by county for COVID-19 because they thought that might give away too much private information.
Webb: Well and then you see they’re going to be giving away the private information of individuals to law enforcement. It’s pretty inconsistent. I think there is a communication issue here. I think that since Governor Lee made had made some addresses about the status of things but there doesn’t seem to be that robust give and take communication like here’s what we’re doing.
Here’s why we’re trying to do. If you have better ideas we want to hear it. Or reaching out to the legislature and our representatives there and creating more of a feeling that we’re all in this together. That doesn’t mean just staying at home together. What it also means that we’re all going to try to solve this together and the major decisions affecting our citizens in the midst of this crisis.
And our citizens have been unbelievable by cooperating and being supportive and helping each other that this should not be taken advantage of. I’m not saying there is any ill intent on behalf of the Governor here, I just think it was a bad decision that was not thought through or communicated properly.
Leahy: Speaking of communication, and I know this will shock you but Brandon Gibson is apparently his legal advisor on this. She crafted the memorandum of understanding. A former state judge in Jackson, Tennessee. So we’ve actually contacted Brandon Gibson in the governor’s office and asked her to come on and explain this. They don’t want to come on. (Laughs) We’re not mean. We want to just give them a fair chance to explain.
Webb: Even if you stated your opinion and the difference with theirs they should feel a responsibility to take a platform like yours which communicates with so many people across our state and at least explain what they have done. Even if people disagree. Again, we have a democracy here.
The people deserve to hear and hear both sides. They deserve to have our elected politicians or those people appointed like our bureaucrats and appointees they deserve to be heard. And they deserve to put those people in a position where they should be defending what they’ve decided to do because it affects all of us. We deserve that.
Leahy: I don’t know about you but it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Let’s say if you were somebody who tested positive for COVID-19 and you live in a county and your county Sheriff has received this information about you. Even if you are asymptomatic for instance, what are they going to do with that information? Are they going to be watching you and seeing if you are quarantining in your house?
Webb: They need to explain. You’re exactly right. And again when give up personal rights like this especially in a time where there is a crisis and it may seem innocuous but there are ramifications that we need to consider before we give up any of our rights. You’re seeing the same thing across the country with regard to sheltering in place.
There is a real question about whether sheltering in place is even legal. So many of these left-wing governors and even mayors are assuming that people decided to stay home, social distance, stay home or cut back because they told them to. That is not the case. Because they told them to. That is not the case. People have done that because they thought that we were having this huge plague if you will and everybody was going to get sick and die.
Leahy: And it didn’t quite pan out.
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