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 have a discussion questioning the governor’s power to rubber-stamp an attorney general for the state of Tennessee and who sources are claiming to be a certainty for AG pick.
Leahy: In-studio, the official guest host of The Tennessee Star Report, our lead reporter, Aaron Gulbransen. Aaron, we have a story that will be breaking tonight about Governor Lee … sources tell us who he wants to nominate as attorney general. And I think the big concern here is the process and the lack of transparency, and the fact that, at least in modern history, the attorney general of Tennessee has – in essence, the governor’s pick has been rubber-stamped by the members of the Tennessee State Supreme Court, even though in the Constitution there is no role for the governor in this process.
And you can criticize it however you want, but this is the way it works right now. It is the duty of the five members of the Tennessee Supreme Court to select the attorney general. And I guess the question is, why is it that this has been, in essence, a perfunctory rubber-stamp of the governor’s pick? And what would that mean in the future? Tell us your thoughts.
Gulbransen: And I like to say this a lot – past is prologue. The Attorney General Slatery was very close with then-Governor Bill Haslam. So, the news that we’re talking about here is sources with knowledge of Governor Lee and his team’s thinking are believing that this is a done deal.
The application process has not even been announced by the supreme court. Dates of hearings, that sort of thing, have not even been announced.
And sources are telling The Tennessee Star that Brandon Gibson, Governor Lee’s chief operating officer for the state of Tennessee, is a done deal.
Leahy: Yes. And talk about lack of transparency. There are a couple of issues to look at. First, there are problems with Brandon Gibson, who has been described as sort of the non-conservative member of the Lee administration and, basically, who is probably the most influential person there.
Any conservatives that are there working with Governor Lee, if they have a conservative proposal, she stops it. This is what we’re hearing. And as attorney general right now, if you had to grade the job Herb Slatery has done as attorney general – I think he’s a fine attorney – but the question is, does he aggressively defend the rights of the state of Tennessee and the citizens of Tennessee against the usurpation of the federal government? And I think the answer is a resounding no.
He’s been very timid and hasn’t done a lot of things. Certainly didn’t defend the resolution the Tennessee General Assembly put in, saying, back in 2015, that he didn’t want to have any refugees sent in here that Tennessee taxpayers had to pay for.
He wouldn’t defend that. And as a result, that case was thrown out of federal court for lack of standing. That’s one example, for instance.
And so the concern is that Brandon Gibson is more motivated by personal ambition than she is in accomplishing and defending the rights of Tennesseans. This is the complaint.
Gulbransen: Right. Sources have talked to me. They’ve described her as kind of a garden-variety, bureaucratic, state government opportunist, and they tend to be very bureaucratic in nature.
And I’ve talked to a lot of conservative leaders in the state, and what they would like to see out of an attorney general is just, as you said – somebody who will aggressively, to coin a phrase, put Tennessee First, when it comes to the role of attorney general.
Leahy: That’s very good. Tennessee First. The … entire concept of our Constitution is based on states having certain clear authority. All those powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people.
Gulbransen: I do want to emphasize this is very curious, that sources close to the governor and familiar with their thinking, believe that this is a done deal. And I want to emphasize the source is also saying that this is not even a question in their mind.
Leahy: My question is, Aaron, for you on this – I mean, the Constitution of the state of Tennessee is clear. And by the way, we’ve had three constitutions, one in 1796, one in 1835, and one in 1870.
I think the current method of selecting the attorney general was in that second constitution and the third constitution, that’s why it’s called the attorney general, he or she is called the attorney general and reporter for the supreme court.
If you go back to the 1830s, you can see, okay, when there weren’t a lot of attorneys around and somebody had to do double duty, I kind of get that. But now, we’re not going to change this in Tennessee, for whatever reason, even though 44 states, I think it is, elect the attorney general.
Five have the attorney general selected by the governor, and confirmed by the state legislature. I think those are the right numbers.
But here the constitutional duty is in a bizarre kind of violation of the principles of separation of powers. The judiciary is performing the executive role of selecting the attorney general.
Okay, so those five members of the state supreme court, by the way, who I think as a body, their rulings have been, I think, pretty good, from a constitutional perspective, but they’re the ones who have the responsibility for selecting this.
It’s not the governor. The governor actually doesn’t have any formal role. And I think the question is, will the state supreme court justices exercise their authority in listening to the people and in identifying an attorney general who will aggressively promote the interests of the state of Tennessee?
Gulbransen: That also begs the question of appropriateness. Since there is no formal role, is it appropriate for the governor to attempt to exert influence on the supreme court selection … of the AG?
Listen to the interview:
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