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Best & Worst
of the

109th General Assembly


he Tennessee Forum has been the vehicle for political activism for two
Middle Tennessee women since 2000. When we started we were stay-athome moms who had been involved in the fight against a state income tax
and were distressed by the shenanigans at the state capitol. Today, our
children are older and starting to fly the nest, but we still hold a passion for
politics and activism. Since our beginning The Forum has been strictly a
volunteer outlet—we receive no paychecks, no special favors and we don’t
hang out with the cool political kids. It provides us a unique perspective that
we are happy to share.

Best & Worst

The Best & Worst is the Tennessee Forum’s effort to use our first hand
knowledge of the workings of the Tennessee state legislature and our inside
sources to review lawmakers’ actions and publish those findings and our
opinions back to their districts. We’ve identified 10 cases which we believe to
represent political integrity, both its abundance and absence. Our survey is
focused on only Republicans because with such a significant majority they
control the direction of the state, but we don’t view the results as particularly
partisan. Many sides of many issues are represented here in both the best
and worst categories.. Political integrity is not about the particular position
an elected official takes, but rather reflects a consistency, honesty and
transparency about those positions despite the circumstances.
We believe in our fellow Tennesseans and know that if our elected
representatives came to Nashville and held the desire of their constituents
sacrosanct over and above the desires of special interests then we would be
proud of the government that results. The Tennessee Forum has always
stood against the special interests and self-aggrandizing state agencies who
take power from the people for their own purposes. Whether those groups
are unions, bar associations, unelected bureaucrats or the horde of lobbyists
who take their compensation from taxpayer funds, the Tennessee Forum has
been ready to call them out.
We started as an organization that exposed chameleons of the legislature:
Members who behaved and legislated one way in Nashville, but returned
home at election time and claimed to be someone completely different. While
some of that has been ameliorated with the state’s award winning website
that tracks legislation and with ethics legislation that the Forum supported,
we are disappointed with the fair number of legislators who continue to keep
their constituents in the dark. Conversely, there are an even greater number
of dedicated public servants who spend each day on the Hill trying to carry
out their campaign promises.
All of the projects we have found ourselves involved in over the last decade
and a half seem to come back to transparency, accountability and ethics—
this survey is no different. Taking advantage of our experience in Tennessee
politics we have compiled a list of who is, in our humble opinion, the best and
the worst our legislature had to offer in the 109th General Assembly. We
hope you enjoy it!

The Freshmen

hen Jay Reedy defeated longtime incumbent Democrat John Tidwell, the
first reaction among many in legislative plaza was “who?”

Jay Reedy
Rookie of the Year

But Reedy had no problem bringing his principles and campaign promises to
Nashville. He quickly showed who he was and what he was made of when he
defied the caucus pecking order and filed his own bills to cut the Hall Tax,
increase benefits for veterans, and curb asset forfeiture abuse. In doing so, he
earned the praises of taxpayers, the respect of his colleagues and the ire of
more than a few lobbyists.
A lot of Reedy’s bills ran into trouble when politically calculating legislators
refused to back him, but the citizens of Tennessee would be better served if
more freshman members fought for their values instead of focusing on reelection


n 2014 Eddie Smith campaigned as
a principled conservative dedicated
to the precepts of the conservative
cause.1 It now seems as if those
“principles” have taken a back seat
to his almost manic focus on reelection.
Consider Smith’s actions on two
conservative hot button bills this
year: a bill that would have
prevented males from using girls’
showers and locker rooms in public
schools (HB2414)2 and a bill that would have stopped the taxpayer subsidy of
the government collection of union dues (HB2229).3

Eddie Smith

Smith voted to pass HB2414 in Education Subcommittee.4 Then, when the
ACLU and several left-leaning education officials raised their ire, he voted to
kill the bill in the full Education Committee.5 When conservatives complained
and fought for a re-hearing, Smith again changed and voted for the bill.6
Smith played the same game with HB2229, voting for the bill in Education
Subcommittee7 and then, under pressure from government unions voting to
kill the same bill in the full Education Committee despite telling the sponsors
of HB2229 he supported the bill. 8
Observers on both bills noted that Smith’s primary consideration during both
debates seemed to be how to maximize votes in his re-election. So much for
being a principled conservative!

The Senators

ne could argue that Dolores
Gresham’s passion is helping
children and, more specifically,
children in difficult situations.
While many people share that
passion, few have had the
impact Senate Education
Committee Chairman Gresham
has had as the legislative “tip of
the spear” in Tennessee’s very
successful education reform
movement. A retired Marine
Lieutenant Colonel, the
hallmark of the important
Senate Education Committee
under her leadership is that it
is always pressing forward.

The Colonel

Reforms focused on entrenched
bureaucracies are often
politically risky. The special
interests benefiting from said
bureaucracies frequently come
out in force to block the
reforms and attack those
leading the reform effort, but
Senator Gresham has never
flinched in the face of such
opposition, even challenging
politically active taxpayer
funded bureaucracies such as
the Tennessee School Board Association. The results have been impressive. In
2014, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Scores showed
Tennessee was among the fastest improving K-12 school system in the nation,
and for the first time in NAEP history, Tennessee 4th grade math scores were in
the top half of the nation.9
Gresham isn’t slowing down. In the 109th General Assembly alone, Gresham
introduced and carried over fifty education bills including politically risky
legislation such as providing state scholarships for children with special needs,
eliminating a taxpayer subsidy of the government’s collection of unions’ dues10
and de-funding the higher education project known as the University of
Tennessee’s “Office of Diversity.”11
Dolores Gresham; Semper fi-always faithful.

Paul Bailey
The Puppet

reshman Senator Paul Bailey represents the very conservative Upper
Cumberland area and campaigned as a social conservative. Imagine the shock
to legislative insiders when Bailey told The Tennessee Journal that he “aligned
on more issues than not” with one of the nation’s most radical, left winged
government unions; a group that openly supports abortion, gay marriage and
gun control. But read further in the article and Bailey explains his affinity for
the union. He “welcomed an endorsement-along with the phone banking, door
knocking, and direct mail that came with it.”12 Bailey could have also added
the $14,800 given to Bailey’s campaign by the union and over $20,000 paid by
Bailey to a known union ally for “Professional Services” and “Advertising.” 13
The government union’s
investment in Bailey paid
off. Bailey voted against a
bill that, as amended,
would have ended a a
unique taxpayer benefit to
the union worth several
hundred thousand dollars
a year.14
Such “commitment to
conservative values” has
not escaped the notice of
fellow Senators. In the
just completed session,
Bailey suffered the
unusual embarrassment
of having one of his bills
voted down 0-9 in
committee.15 Such a
defeat is rare because one
or two fellow Senators will
often cast a vote for a
colleague’s bill just to
prevent the humiliation of
complete, bi-partisan
repudiation. Perhaps the
Senate makes an
exception in the case of a
bill being carried by
someone the Forum
considers a puppet.

The Chairmen

John Forgety
TOP Sargent

his was a hard decision as the House of Representatives is blessed with
several good chairmen. Charles Sargent, Jimmy Matlock, Steve McManus, Harry
Brooks, Bill Dunn, and Jeremy Faison all come to mind. But this year we chose
John Forgety; former school superintendent, principal, coach and 1st “Top”
Sargent. Thought to be the oldest Tennessean to serve in combat in the Iraq
war, Chairman Forgety’s no-nonsense attitude toward legislation and debate has
been a breath of fresh air in a chamber that has recently been known more for
its dysfunction.
John is equally transparent with his constituents in district. If anyone wants to
know Forgety’s stance on an issue, all you need to do is ask him.
Philosophically, John sometimes finds himself at odds with his Republican
colleagues on issues regarding public administration. However, few would
challenge his commitment to fairness and integrity. His Education Instruction &
Program Committee publicly reviews and processes hundreds of bills with
complex and often
controversial subject
matter, all addressed
in a businesslike
fashion. Through the
intense sausage
making of the
legislative process,
John has remained one
of the most liked and
appreciated men on
Capitol Hill. For
service, character and
forthrightness the
Tennessee Forum has
selected Rep. John
Forgety as Best
Chairman of the 109th
General Assembly.


ome disclosure might be helpful here. The
Tennessee Forum supported Jimmy Eldridge when he
first ran for the State House because we thought he
would make a good legislator. We were wrong.
Republicans on Capitol Hill generally fall into two
categories: conservative or moderate. Jimmy is
different. He can be conservative, moderate or liberal
depending on who he is talking to. Jimmy’s
shallowness has not escaped detection by his
colleagues. Consider the following comments:
“Jimmy’s highest political ambitions are being seen by
his constituents and garnering free lobbyist-supplied
liquor. It is unfortunate, but he epitomizes nearly every
character flaw that people hate about perpetual and
nearly parasitic politicians.” —Senior Republican
House member
“Jimmy is untrustworthy. How he says he is going to
vote and how he actually votes are quite often two
different things.” —Executive of a leading pro-business
Jimmy’s actions on two important reform bills
illustrate what many have come to accept as standard
Eldridge behavior.

The Jester

In 2011, HB130 sought to completely restructure the relationship between teachers
and employers. The bill had passed in House Education Committee but ran into
opposition from government unions in House Budget. Supporting the union
position, Jimmy made the motion to send the legislation back to the then closed
House Education Committee effectively killing the bill.16 When Jimmy’s move
created a significant backlash, he made the incredulous claim that he
misunderstood his own motion and had meant to support the bill. Of course, the
video tells a different story. The Speaker took the unusual action of reopening the
House Education Committee.17 The bill passed and is now law. Jimmy voted for it
the second time.18
In the last week of the 2016 session, the House considered an amendment to a bill
that would have phased out the Hall Income Tax. Jimmy voted against the amendment which was expected to fail.19 He guessed wrong. The amendment passed in a
close vote. Seeing that the amended bill was almost certain to pass, Jimmy voted
for it.20
After 100+ years of one party rule, many important pieces of reform legislation are
under consideration by thoughtful, well intentioned House Members. The Forum
believes Jimmy Eldridge is not one of them and deserves to be classified as the
legislature’s WORST chairman.

1st Runners-Up

erald McCormick does not fit
in a politically correct world.
The Forum suspects Hans
Christian Andersen’s child
character, who announced the
Emperor had no clothes, was
patterned after a young Gerald
who would indeed have called
the Emperor naked. The
hallmark of McCormick’s
leadership has been his fearless
challenge to entrenched
bureaucracies and powerful
fiefdoms created by decades of
single party rule. The following
is a sample of those challenges.

Mr. Couragerous

In 2014 McCormick was the
only member of House
leadership willing to confront
the insular, opaque and
politically powerful fiefdom of
the Judicial Performance
Evaluation Commission.
(“JEPC”) In an open letter
McCormick said, "The JPEC
literally determines which
judges we citizens have the
opportunity to vote for by
weeding out the bad judges and
keeping the good judges." McCormick said, "The only problem is that the
JPEC, in its entire history, has never found a bad judge. After the June
24th hearing, chaired by Sen. Mike Bell, we know why. The system is rigged so
that no judge ever loses his or her job."21
McCormick was quick to call out the local Chamber of Commerce for their
mixed up priorities as they pandered to the “social justice” movement. The
Chamber protested a bill prohibiting male students from using female locker
rooms and showers in public schools but ignored children who were literally
dying from violence in the streets of Chattanooga.22
For his fearless challenges to bloated, elite and pompous fiefdoms, the
Tennessee Forum recognizes Gerald McCormick for his courage in leadership
and proclaims him one of the best legislators of the 109th General Assembly.


im Coley is a lifelong government union stalwart trying to represent a
conservative district. Almost by definition, his political survival is dependent on
his ability to camouflage his voting record from his constituents.

Jim Coley

For example, consider two 2nd Amendment votes by Coley in March 2015. In
both instances, archived footage of the hearings shows the subcommittee’s
chairman, Coley, voting “no.” But later, Coley changed the official records from
“no” to “abstain.”23 When challenged on the sleight of hand by Coley, he told
TNReport he changed how his votes were recorded because he didn’t want his
constituents to draw the conclusion that he’s “not in favor of firearms.”
Similarly, in March of 2016, Coley voted to kill a bill whose purpose was to
prevent males from using girls’ dressing rooms and showers in public schools.
After religious organizations exposed his vote in district, Coley agreed to change
his vote and support a difficult “reconsideration” procedure to resurrect the
bill.24 He literally voted against the bill before he voted for it.
Jim Coley is known as a reliable government union vote, but his constituents
would need to pay close attention to see through his smokescreen. For that
reason, the Forum considers Representative Coley one of the “Worst” legislators
of the 109th General Assembly.

Overall Awards

Mike Carter
The Judge

n its 15+ year life, the Tennessee Forum has found few bureaucracies more
hostile to the beliefs of the state’s citizens than the Tennessee Municipal League
(“TML”). From its ardent support of a state income tax25 to the Soviet modeled
forced annexation program, for decades the TML has shamelessly used taxpayer
money to support policies that abrogate Tennesseans’ most basic rights. That is,
until Mike Carter showed up on Capitol Hill.
Carter campaigned on overturning forced annexation, an abusive policy that
allowed cities to annex a citizen’s property without permission from the property
owner. Annexation often resulted in increased taxes, increased regulation and
the mandatory purchase of unwanted municipal services. No one took Carter’s
campaign promise seriously because the TML had blocked annexation reform for
decades. Their taxpayer funded war chest had proven more than sufficient to
dispense with pesky reformers the voters had sent to challenge them in the past.
Enter the JUDGE! Carter was
disciplined, thorough and
relentless. In a brutal
Legislative battle, Carter
exposed the abuses of forced
annexation, showed fellow
legislators that they no longer
had to cower to the TML and
succeeded in giving taxpayers a
say over their own property.
After passage of annexation
reform, Carter introduced
legislation to give redress to
some of the worst abuses of the
TML’s former tactics.
The JUDGE followed through on
his campaign promises, took on
one of the state’s most powerful,
abusive, taxpayer funded
bureaucracies and won! For
that, the Tennessee Forum has
named the JUDGE its #1
legislator of 109th General


ne could argue that Curry Todd’s core
political strategy is “what happens in
Nashville stays in Nashville.” Limited space
prohibits an in-depth analysis of Todd’s many
paradoxes so we will try to hit a few high
•The man who represents one of the largest
religious communities in the nation is
considered the “go-to-guy” for the liquor
industry. In the last three legislative sessions,
Todd has carried 16 pro-liquor bills for his
most significant political benefactor, the liquor
•Less than a year after sponsoring “guns in
bars” legislation, Todd was jailed for DUI and
possession of a handgun while driving under
the influence.27
•In 2011 Todd lived rent-free for an
undisclosed period of time in lobbyist Chuck
Welch’s Nashville luxury home while voting on
bills Welch was paid to get passed. While
collecting $29,000 in mileage reimbursement
and state per diem meant to cover his
expenses in Nashville he lived in a lobbyist’s

Curry Todd
Armed and Loaded

• Todd has amassed a $190,000 war chest to scare away would-be
challengers. Of more than 150 contributors, the majority came from PACs
and only nine came from his home district totaling less than $9,000 from
• Though reportedly in poor health, Todd got into "a scuffle” with another
legislator on the House floor during the most recent session and had to be
physically separated.30
• As of this writing, there appears to be no 2016 legislation sponsored and
passed by Todd that is focused on the needs of the communities in his
It appears to the Tennessee Forum that since 2011, Representative Todd has
spent most of his political capital going to bat for controversial industries,
spawning unflattering headlines, fighting ethics allegations and building a war
chest. Further, it seems that he believes $190,000 of campaign funds can
paper over his real persona in Nashville. To us, the selection of WORST
Tennessee legislator of 109th General Assembly was easy: Curry Todd.



HB2414, 109th General Assembly


HB 2229, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning subcommittee, Feb 16, 2016


HB 2414, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning Subcommittee vote, March 15, 2016


HB 2414, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning Committee vote, March 22, 2016


HB 2414, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning Committee vote, April 6, 2016


HB 2229, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning subcommittee, Feb 16, 2016


HB 2229, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning, March 22, 2016; Jim Wrye Letter to Teachers, “Dear
TEA member in House District 13,” (April 15, 2016)


Press Release, Office of Governor Bill Haslam, “Tennessee Students
Still the Fastest Improving in the U.S. Since 2011,” (Oct 28, 2015)


SB 1707, 109th General Assembly


Knox News Sentinel (March 2, 2016), “Senate Panel Votes to Strip UT
Diversity Office of All State Funding,”


The Tennessee Journal, Vol 41, No 34 (Aug 28, 2015), “Tennessee’s
new, Republican-friendly teachers union”


Payments to Mike Alder, appearing in: TN Reg of Election Finance
Filings for Paul Bailey, Early Mid-Year Supplemental 2013, Early YearEnd Supplemental 2013, 1st Qtr 2014, 2nd Qtr2014, Pre-Primary 2014,
3rd Qtr 2014, Pre-Gen 2014, 4th Qtr 2014, Early Mid-Year
Supplemental 2015, Early Year-End Supplemental 2015


109th Gen Assembly, SB 151, Senate Amendment 492, Senate Vote
(January 25, 2016)


109th Gen Assembly, SB 1452, State and Local Government
Committee Vote (Mar 1, 2016)


House Video, Eldridge Comments beginning at 1:45:00, HB 130,
Finance Ways and Means Committee Debate, May 3, 2011; The
Tennessean (May 4, 2011) “Teacher Union Bill Stalls,” available at


The Tennessean, “TN Teachers Union Bill Stays Alive,” (March 5,
2011) available at


House Finance Ways and Means Committee Votes, 107th General
Assembly, HB 130, (May 11, 2011)


Vote on House Amendment 3 (HA1241) to SB 47, (April 20, 2016)


109th Gen Assembly, SB 47, House Floor Vote (April 21, 2016) The
Tennessean, “House Republicans blast judicial elections” (July 11,


Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 19, 2016), “McCormick
Denounces Chattanooga Chamber’s opposition to bathroom bill,
silence on ‘full-fledged gang warfare’”


TNReport, “Don’t Believe Your Hearing, ‘Voice Votes’ May Be Dummy
Rounds,” (March 20, 2015) (“Then, in declaring the outcome of the
votes on both measures Coley says, “The ‘noes’ have it, the bill fails.”
However, according to the General Assembly’s website, Coley is listed
on both bills, along with fellow committee member Jon Lundberg, as
having abstained from the votes. That would seem to mean the “noes”
didn’t really “have it.” The votes on the two gun bills were deadlocked
2-2-2… Coley told TNReport he changed how his vote was recorded
because he didn’t want his constituents to draw the conclusion that
he’s “not in favor of firearms.”)


HB 2414, 109th General Assembly, House Education Administration
and Planning Committee vote, (April 6, 2016)


The Chattanoogan (Nov 20, 2001), “City Council May Take Position on
State Income Tax” (“Jim Boney, city finance director, said the
Tennessee Municipal League recently voted to support tax reform,
including a broad-based income tax”) available at http:// ; The Kingsport Times (June 24, 2002), “TN
TAX BATTLE: Legislature enters final week in a quandary (INCOME
TAX VOTES EXPECTED),” (“Instead of one budget crisis, you’ll have
349 city crises and 95 county crises,” said Ross Loder, deputy director
of the Tennessee Municipal League), republished at http://


109th Gen. Assembly: HB 465, HB 2586, HB 211, HB 349, HB 1123,
HB 1254; 108th Gen. Assembly: HB 52, HB 227, HB 985, HB 986, HB
987, HB 988, HB 989, HB 1748, HB 3011, HB 3012 (for greater detail,
see Appendix A – Curry Todd Alcohol Legislation)


Nashville Scene (Oct 12, 2011), “Guns-in-Bars Sponsor, Rep. Curry
Todd, Caught Drunk with Loaded Gun, Police Say,” available at http://


NewsChannel 3, WREG Memphis (March 3, 2013), “State Lawmaker
from Collierville Admits to Living Rent-Free in Lobbyist’s Nashville
Home,” (“The lawmaker admits to living rent free in an upsca,e
Nashville home in 2011 when it was owned by lobbyist Chuck Welch…
Todd collected over $29,000 of taxpayer money for his travel and
housing even though he was living rent-free in the Nashville home.”)
available at


Tennessee Registry of Election Finance Filings, Curry Todd,


Nashville Scene, “Ready to Rumble in the State House: Two
Lawmakers Open Whupass Can,” (Feb 18, 2016)

Appendix A
Curry Todd Alcohol - Legislation and Status: 109th General Assembly:
(1) HB465 (“authorizing sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises
consumption at a facility that has at least 100 acres with 20 rooms for
overnight accommodations that serves at least two meals a day and has
certain equestrian facilities.”)-failed
(2) HB2586 (allows wholesalers to solicit orders from retail food stores and
deliver wine prior to July 1, 2016; limits retail package store licenses to two
per owner) – passed 108th General Assembly
(3) HB 211 (“As enacted, removes beer from calculation of gross revenue in
regard to limited service restaurants.”) – passed
(4) HB 349 (“As enacted, authorizes the OZ facility in Davidson County to
serve and sell alcoholic beverages for on premises consumption”) – passed
(5) HB 1123 (“As introduced, authorizes the Caryonah Hunting Lodge
located in Cumberland County to be licenses as a premier type tourist
resort” [to sell alcohol])
(6) HB 1254 (“As enacted, expands definition of "urban park center" for
purposes of on-premises consumption; increases the privilege tax levied on
the urban park centers established by this act.”) 107th General Assembly
(7) HB 52 (“As enacted, allows any establishment that has a permit to sell
liquor or wine on premises to sell beer at any time such establishment can
serve liquor or wine; changes hours for sale of beer in Tennessee River
resort district to be not less than the hours for liquor by the drink.”) – passed
(8) HB 227 (“As introduced, defines a restaurant located in a jurisdiction
that has elected Tennessee River resort district status as having inside
capacity of at least 40 and outside seating capacity of at least 75.”)
(9) HB 985 (“As enacted, makes several additions to present law
concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages; expands the definition of
"Tennessee River resort district" to include a limited service restaurant
located within a jurisdiction that has elected Tennessee River resort district
status.”) - passed
(10) HB 986 (“As enacted, provides for the manufacturing and retail sale of
high alcohol content beer; revises various provisions of law regarding
alcoholic beverages.”) - passed
(11) HB 987 (“As introduced, authorizes a licensed wholesaler holding a
basic permit under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act as an importer to
import alcoholic beverages and wine under certain circumstances; permits a
licensed wholesaler to deliver alcoholic beverages and wine by common
carrier to a retailer only in certain quantities.”)
(12) HB 988 (“As introduced, authorizes a manufacturer of intoxicating
liquors or drinks in certain localities to be issued a license by the alcoholic
beverage commission for on-premises consumption of the liquors or drinks
produced at the licensed facility.”)
(13) HB 989 (“As introduced, requires commission to implement new
licensing structure for restaurants and limited service restaurants based on
liability insurance codes.”)
(14) HB 1748 (“As enacted, includes East Fork Stables in the definition of
premier type tourist resort for purposes of the sale of alcoholic beverages for
on-premises consumption; designates certain other facility as premier type
tourist resort for purposes of sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises
consumption”) – passed
(15) HB3011 (“As enacted, allows commission to issue wholesale license to
corporation that has acquired assets of a partnership or limited liability
company operating in this state for 10 years if corporation has majority of its
assets in Tennessee and officers actively present at licensed premises.”) passed
(16) HB3012 (“- As introduced, permits a person possessing a nonresident
seller's permit for wines and alcoholic beverages that are not registered
under certain circumstances or not available from a manufacturer, winery or
distiller to purchase alcoholic beverages from a Tennessee licensed
wholesaler for resale outside the state.”)

Tennessee Forum’s
Best & Worst
of the
109th General Assembly
Best Freshman
Jay Reedy, Erin
Best Senator
Dolores Gresham, Somerville
Best Chairman
John Forgety, Athens
1st Runner Up
Gerald McCormick, Chattanooga
Best Overall
Mike Carter, Ooltewah
Worst Freshman
Eddie Smith, Knoxville
Worst Senator
Paul Bailey, Sparta
Worst Chairman
Jimmy Eldridge, Jackson
1st Runner Up
Jim Coley, Bartlett
Overall Worst
Curry Todd, Collierville

P.O. Box 150384, Nashville TN 37215
Paid for by the Tennessee Forum, a Political Action Committee