MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — The inaugural Conservative Caucus, a free event attended by a few hundred people, was held across several ballrooms at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro Saturday.
The event was organized for those who intend to honor the nation’s forefathers with the Constitutional rights they laid out with a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” rather than one that is “over the people,” according to the website.
It was originally scheduled to be held at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, but due to the large gathering size and the face mask order, Mayor John Cooper would not have allowed the event to proceed.
Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) took the lead in developing the concept, scheduling and organizing the event along with Representatives Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski) and Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) as well as Senators Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) and Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro).
Emcee State Sen. Mark Pody, after a prayer by Pastor Alan Jackson and the Pledge of Allegiance lead by State Sen. Shane Reeves, introduced the other legislators who organized the event as well as Rep. Chris Todd and Terri Lynn Weaver.
Irlene Mandrell, the youngest of the famed Mandrell sisters, sang the National Anthem and the title track from her recently released patriotic album, “Thanks To You,” which commemorates members of the military and emergency responders.
Sen. Pody, in introducing Rep. Griffey, said he enjoys carrying bills with the freshman legislator, “He’s a fighter.” Sen. Pody said Rep. Griffey would get legislation passed in the House, but he couldn’t get it passed in the Senate.
Rep. Griffey referred to the event as “the first annual Conservative Caucus” that had its genesis in his frustration with the current state of politics in Tennessee and the nation because conservatives, as the majority, don’t seem to have as big a voice.
“Our voices matter, and we need to be heard,” said Rep. Griffey. “We need to bring conservatives together and we need to talk about issues that matter to us and elect people who fill fight for us up on Capitol Hill.”
Other legislators, who were standing on the stage, took turns saying a few words in a casual and conversational way with the attendees.
When the straightforward Sen. Hensley spoke, he alluded to his testimony to the State Capitol Commission Thursday against moving the bust of General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the second floor of the State Capitol.
In light of all of the maneuvers Governor Lee made recently to ensure the Commission voted to move the bust, a position he had not previously held, Sen. Hensley couldn’t help but conclude, “It looks like our Governor has changed his mind about that.”
Sen. Hensley also made note of the difference in the two chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, “The House seems to be more conservative than the Senate,” adding that the other voices are heard too much when conservatives are the majority.
Sen. Reeves said that if he had said in January that by July there would be a global pandemic and an economic shutdown, murder hornets and race riots, “You would have said, I better get my Bible. It sounds like Jesus is coming.”
He then contrasted that, in his travels, he has also seen a lot of goodness during these times.
Rep. Doggett said he was there, “like you and as one of you, fed up at times with not having our voices heard.”
He then reflected on the local tea party that he and his father started about 10 years ago and how those labors are now bearing fruit.
Echoing Sen. Hensley’s comments, Rep. Doggett said that during this legislative session some of the most conservative legislation was left lying on the table, “because leadership would not take it up.”
“When we get back in 2021,” Rep. Doggett said optimistically, “we will hit the ground running.” He also encouraged support for good strong conservatives.
Sen. Pody made the point that the legislators listed as supporters contributed $1,000 to get the hotel, and Rep. Griffey recognized both auto group CEO Lee Beaman and renowned eye surgeon Dr. Ming Wang for their contributions.
“So many conservative and charitable causes would not be funded without them.”
One of those causes is the 917 Society, a non-profit organization founded to celebrate the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. To guarantee future generations will embrace the Constitution, the 917 Society mission is to provide very 8th grader with their own pocket Constitution.
The 917 Society’s Executive Director Joni Bryan and Community Advisory Board Chair Joni Hargrove were called to the stage.
Bryan said that their goal was to raise $35,000 by the end of July to print and distribute 200,000 pocket Constitutions in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Dakota.
With a goal of reaching five million 8th graders, Bryan said it could make patriotism “our new normal.”
Through what she called “truly a project of We the people,” Bryan said, “Imagine America in a few short years if our youth are grounded in our founding principles.”
Bryan and Hargrove then invited Nashville Fraternal Order of Police President James Smallwood to the stage to present him with an award.
Offering a bit of law enforcement’s perspective, Smallwood said, “Never has there been a more difficult time to be in law enforcement, with citizens standing up and destroying the very values we hold dear.”
“They’re not looking to get at law enforcement, they’re mad because we’re in the way.”
Smallwood also made reference to a small but vocal minority, versus the conservative silent majority.
“Make sure the candidates that support law and order are in office, so we can do away with this nonsense,” Smallwood concluded to applause.
Beaman came to the stage, making the very brief observation, “See how they are trying to help us, let’s all help them.”
To that end, Bryan lead the attendees in a standing cheer, “We love our men and women in blue,” that was video recorded so that it could be sent to all police precincts. In addition, details will be forthcoming on a special breakfast to honor Metro police that will be held in August or September.
With early voting for the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Caucus attendees were provided a chance to learn more about those on the ballot. Candidates Dr. Manny Sethi, Byron Bush, George Flinn and Jon Henry were asked to come to the stage for a Q&A session.
Dr. Manny had not yet arrived, Flinn was not in attendance, and the audience was informed that Bill Hagerty had a scheduling conflict.
Organizers had previously told The Tennessee Star that a private plane had been offered to Hagerty to get him from an East Tennessee event Friday evening and back again for a Saturday event, but he declined.
A few anonymous signs were placed in strategic areas outside the event room asking simply, “WHERE’S HAGERTY?”
After two-minute opening remarks and a few questions had been answered by Bush and Henry, Dr. Manny and Roy Dale Cope arrived and participated in the session that lasted for about an hour and was moderated by Matthew Nowlin, founder of Conservative Christians of Tennessee and Pastor Steven Solomon.
John Schneider, probably best known as “Bo” Duke of The Dukes of Hazzard, and Keith Burns a songwriter and formerly of country music group Trick Pony, followed up “America The Beautiful” by performing their single, “Trump Card.”
Even the $10 cash charge for a box lunch for the otherwise free event ended up being waived, due to generous donations that covered the cost.
After lunch, Dr. Ming Wang delivered an inspiring talk, touching on his life, his vision for finding common ground in a polarized world and the upcoming film inspired by his autobiography From Darkness to Sight.
The remainder of the afternoon was filled with Nashville attorney and Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris speaking on the 2nd Amendment, Tennessee Titans team physician Dr. Damon Petty examining COVID-19, Greeneville-based Constitutional attorney Jeff Cobble addressing government overreach, OB/GYN Dr. Brent Boles revealing the truth about the state’s pro-life legislation and fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies Don Barnett detailing the costs of immigration.
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver gave the background on her resolution that began the lawsuit requesting clarity and definition concerning the relationship between the Federal government and Tennessee when it comes to appropriations to pay for the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program.
The very full and informative day came to a fitting conclusion with Rep. Weaver singing the not well known but her signature fourth verse of The Star Spangled Banner.
The Tennessee Star will feature additional stories with details of the issues covered during the Conservative Caucus.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.
About the Headline Photo: Legislative sponsors and organizers of the Conservative Caucus look on as Pastor Alan Jackson opened the event with a prayer.