Host Leahy and New Official Guest Host Aaron Gulbransen Discuss the Attorneys General Selection Process in Tennessee

Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on 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. – host Leahy welcomed new official guest host Aaron Gulbransen in-studio to review the process in which an attorney general is chosen in the state of Tennessee.

Leahy: So, new things on The Tennessee Star Report today, of course, our new official guest host, Aaron Gulbransen. Good morning, Aaron.

Gulbransen: Morning.

Leahy: And this is your first appearance on The Tennessee Star Report, but not your last. You’ll be here every Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. And then when I’m out of town, you will take over the duties here on the chairs.

And it’s not the golden microphone, but still nonetheless we’ll call it the iron microphone. And so you’ll be here on Wednesday, June 8th, Thursday, June 9th, and Friday, June 10th, as I go off to high school in upstate New York, Stockbridge Valley, to give out a scholarship in memory of my best friend, who passed away in August – and we went to high school together.

Another new thing is our Star News Network Fresh Forecast, brought to you by our chief meteorologist, Daphne DeLoren, and here it is.

DeLoren: It’ll be a toasty day ahead. Daytime high scorching into the upper 80s. It will be dry heat. Lots of sunshine. If you’re heading out on the town tonight, partly cloudy. It’ll be nice and pleasant, dry, 61 degrees for your overnight low.

Now as we roll into Wednesday, I’m eyeing the system. A chance for some strong to severe storms, especially north of I-40. It’ll be windy, gusting up to 25 miles per hour during the day, 90 for your daytime high. From The Star News Network, I’m chief meteorologist Daphne DeLoren, wishing you a wonderful day.

Leahy: That’s Daphne DeLoren. You can see her live on our website at 8:45 every morning. It’s a two-minute video forecast for Middle Tennessee that you can see at The Tennessee Star on the web at So, lots of new things going on here at The Tennessee Star Report.

But of course, in our final segment at 7:50 we’ll have News Potpourri. That will be back as well. Aaron, we have a very interesting political story that you’ve been writing about.

And that is this appointment for a new attorney general, here in Tennessee. You did a deep-dive on it. It’s a story up at The Tennessee Star, “Supreme Court Appointment of Attorney General Is Unique to Tennessee.” So it’s the five supreme court justices, three of whom were appointed by Bill Haslam, one appointed by Bill Lee, one appointed by Phil Bredesen. They will make the pick.

You’ve looked into this process. You’ve talked to the folks at the supreme court, and it’s very bizarre, in my view, where the country’s Constitution is based upon the separation of powers – separation of powers between the judicial branch, the executive branch, and the legislative branch – and every state constitution has that premise. But here in Tennessee, since 1870, embedded in our constitution is this conflict with that principle, and that is, the judicial branch performs an executive function to name the attorney general.

That is just odd, but that’s the way it is here in Tennessee. What was the process like in 2014? What will it be like in 2022? Herb Slatery, picked in 2014, has said last week he’s not going ask for the job again for another eight years. His term ends August 31st. What can you tell us about this process?

Gulbransen: So the 2014 process included a public solicitation for applications and it had a public hearing process prior to a vote by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Leahy: Let me just pause here for a moment on that. So if you’re an attorney, and I guess you would, if you’re going to be the Attorney General, you ought to be an attorney in Tennessee, it would seem to me.

Gulbransen: That would be better than being a chef. Yes.

Leahy: Yes. Yes, and so, but you can, if you’re an attorney in Tennessee, and you’d like to be the attorney general, you can apply, but I guess the supreme court has a process of narrowing that application down. Last time, how many candidates did they look at?

Gulbransen: There were eight finalists. They did not publicly reveal, as far as I’ve seen, the number of applications.

Leahy: Okay, so eight finalists. We don’t know …

Gulbransen: They could have had a thousand applications for all we know. But what they did was they put they basically did a job posting, like any other government job on their website, and they said, here are the dates, you can submit an application up until X deadline.

And then after they publicly announced the eight finalists about two weeks later, is when they had a version of public hearings. I say a version of it because it’s not a great length of time.

Leahy: When you say a version of public hearing, again, so they picked eight finalists. One of them was the attorney general at the time, Robert Cooper. No relation to John Cooper the mayor, or Jim Cooper the congressman.

He was the attorney general for eight years. He’d been appointed by Bredesen, I think. But his term was up. He applied to get the gig again, but he didn’t get it. There were eight candidates, one of whom, you know, was tapped by Governor Haslam.

I just got the impression that it was, it was perfunctory. I think if the governor tapped somebody in 2014, that was the person who’s going to get the gig?

Gulbransen: Obviously, I cover City Council meetings, and this process to me is very very similar. Candidates had 10 minutes to speak on their own behalf.

Leahy: And the public hearing is eight finalists. So you speak for 10 minutes at a public hearing. Well, okay. What can you learn about the candidate in 10 minutes?

Gulbransen: That’s like a campaign stump speech.

Leahy: So then what happens? Does the justice ask them questions?

Gulbransen: For 15 minutes each.

Leahy: Woah, you’re kidding me. Fifteen minutes?

Gulbransen: You basically have about 25 minutes of public vetting. You could have somebody else speak for you in your 10 minutes of time if you wanted to.

Leahy: So there was no real vetting of the judicial philosophy. Now, I would have said, the questions that I would have asked Herb Slatery, would have been, hey, are you going to defend the Tennessee General assembly’s interests?

And they didn’t. A year later the Tennessee General Assembly passed a resolution saying, according to the Tenth Amendment we don’t want to be forced to pay for refugees here in Tennessee. Governor Haslam wouldn’t sign on to that.

Nor would Attorney General Slatery, and then it went to federal court. It was kicked out for lack of standing, because Slatery and the governor wouldn’t back it up. That seems to me like a real problem with Attorney General Slatery.

Everybody says he’s a fine fellow and I think he is, and a good attorney, but he doesn’t seem to have, in my view, he’s not an aggressive, or has not been an aggressive defender of the interests of the state of Tennessee.

Listen to the interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.


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