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Ramsey Quiet on New GOP Candidate-of-Choice

With his first choice now on the sidelines, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has picked another horse in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he’s just not saying which one.

While Republican leadership in the state has largely endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Ramsey wouldn’t say Thursday which lever he pulled when he voted early for Tennessee’s March 6 primary. He had come out as a particularly vocal supporter of Rick Perry even before the Texas governor announced he was running. When Perry dropped out of the race, after a string of poor debate performances, Ramsey grieved the loss and has not endorsed another candidate since.

“I still believe that Rick Perry, if you look at everything, was the right man for the job,” he told reporters Thursday, explaining why he hasn’t endorsed another candidate. “Now don’t get me wrong, he flat out blew it in the first two or three debates. But I think if you had a chance to start over today and draw a clean slate, he would still come out on top.”

When it comes to the remaining candidates, Ramsey said it was “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” for him. Asked if that revealed a lack of enthusiasm for the current Republican field, he said his difficulty in choosing between them was due to his belief that “they’re all equally good, not equally bad.”

A poll released Wednesday by Middle Tennessee State University showed a 21 point lead for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum over Romney among Republican respondents.


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Ramsey In ‘Grieving Period’ Following Perry Announcement

 Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey expressed disappointment following news that Texas Gov. Rick Perry will not continue his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

“Obviously the Gingrich people have called me, and the Romney people have called me,” said Ramsey, who was state chairman for Perry. “But I told both of them, there’s kind of a grieving period you have to go through, and get back with me the first of the week, and we’ll figure out where we are, but I don’t know if I want to endorse anybody.”

Ramsey said his enthusiasm for Perry’s candidacy stemmed from the Texas governor’s vocal support for the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which supports the concept of state sovereignty, as well as his record of economic growth in the Lone Star State throughout the recession.

“I think he’s done a fantastic job as governor of the state of Texas,” Ramsey said. “That state has created more jobs than the rest of the country put together in the last few years.”

Ramsey had defended Perry’s steadily declining poll numbers and shaky debate performances, including the much-talked-about “Oops” moment when Perry couldn’t name the third of three federal agencies he would eliminate if elected to the White House.

Nevertheless, Ramsey ultimately attributed Perry’s failed primary campaign to his inability to shine onstage in candidate forums.

“I think in every other aspect he did a fantastic job, whether it’s just retail politics or meeting people who would be impressed by him,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said that he thinks even Perry would admit “that he was poorly prepared for those first debates,” even though his recent performances have been much better.

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Ramsey Takes Up For Perry Following ‘Oops’ Moment at Debate

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has a very good memory of what it’s like on the campaign trail.

It’s easy to goof, the way Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ramsey’s preference in the Republican presidential primary, did Wednesday night.

Perry got caught up in what is being called a “gaffe,” a “brain freeze” and “the worst stumble in the 51-year history of televised presidential debates.”

Perry’s description for it: “Oops.”

Perry tried to name the three departments of the federal government he would like to get rid of as president, but he could only go 2-for-3, naming Commerce and Education and failing until it was way too late to state Energy as the third department he would like to dump.

Ramsey, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010 — calling for the elimination of some state departments, by the way — said Thursday it’s easy to make a misstep the way his guy did Wednesday. Ramsey, state campaign chairman for Perry, took up for his man.

“All of us, at times, have one, two and three things and forget the third thing. His just happened to be on national television,” Ramsey said. “I do think obviously it’s embarrassing. No doubt about that. But I do think that we’re still a long way from having this race over, and people are looking for an alternative to (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt) Romney.

“I think that’s the reason you see Michele Bachmann go up and then fall back down, you see (former Minnesota Gov. Tim) Pawlenty go up and then fall back down. Rick Perry did the same thing, and now it happens to be Herman Cain. Once again, this is still a process that will be working its way out over the next several months.”

Ramsey raised the subject of Perry’s campaign chest.

“I think Rick Perry has the money — I don’t think, I know — Rick Perry has the money to stay in this through the long haul, and stumblings like this are embarrassing, yet at the same time I think he will recover from this,” Ramsey said.

The Perry campaign this week announced the endorsements of six other Tennessee Republican legislators, including Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson, House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, Rep. Don Miller of Morristown and Rep. Mark White of Memphis.

Ramsey said he did not have to twist any arms to get those legislators on the Perry team.

“Just the opposite,” Ramsey said. “I didn’t even try. These are people that have come to me and said, ‘We would like to be on board.’”

Ramsey is the highest ranking elected official in the state who has publicly joined a Republican presidential campaign. Gov. Bill Haslam has refused thus far to state a preference, even as people close to Haslam have joined the Romney finance team.

The governor’s father, Jim Haslam, joins Nashvillian Ted Welch as state finance chairs for Romney. The governor’s brother, Jimmy Haslam, is a co-chairman, as is Brad Martin, a longtime friend of the governor. The finance team also includes Chrissy Hagerty, wife of Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty.

The governor was asked this week, given that so many people close to him were joining the Romney team, why he was holding back.

“No specific reason,” Haslam said. “Given the timing of Tennessee’s primary (March 6), I don’t know that there’s any urgency to it. I think there are some other things that can and will play out. At some point in time, I will endorse. I’m just not there yet.”

Press Releases

Perry Campaign Announces Endorsements from Six GOP State Lawmakers

Press release from the Rick Perry for President Campaign, Nov. 7, 2011:

State leaders praise Perry’s economic record and commitment to Constitution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry today announced the endorsement of six Republican Tennessee lawmakers, including Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, State Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, State Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson, House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, State Rep. Don Miller of Morristown and State Rep. Mark White of Memphis.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who endorsed Gov. Perry even before he announced his candidacy, praised his fellow legislators for their support.

“I’ve known Gov. Perry for a long time,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “I was impressed when I first met him and my esteem has only grown as he has proven his leadership in Texas. The time for rhetoric is over. We need a man of action. We need a president who understands how to promote economic growth. We need a president who understands that the role of the federal government must be limited. Rick Perry has heeded the call to national leadership at the exact right moment for our country.”

“Rick Perry is the candidate who will get America working again,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron. “Under his leadership, Texas has experienced an economic miracle creating more than one million net new jobs. Gov. Perry’s record is solid, proven and conservative.”

“Rick Perry doesn’t just spout conservative rhetoric — he implements tangible conservative reform,” said State Rep. Mark White. “Gov. Perry is a principled constitutional conservative who has cut taxes, reduced spending and stood up to the job-killing regulations from Washington bureaucrats.”

“I am humbled to have the support of so many Republican lawmakers in Tennessee,” said Gov. Perry. “They share my vision for a stronger America with more jobs, more freedom and less government intrusion in the lives of our citizens. With the help of these legislators, we will run a spirited campaign in Tennessee, and in 2012 we’ll get America working again.”

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Kleinheider Infraction ‘Handled Internally’

The spokesman for Tennessee’s lieutenant governor committed what may have been an illegal act last month when he blasted off an official government press release touting his boss’s GOP presidential primary favorite.

Even though his admitted lapse in judgment was reported in the media, the staffer didn’t get in much, if any trouble for it, at least according to records obtained by TNReport Tuesday.

Adam Kleinheider, who serves as communications director for Tennessee’s most powerful state senator, Speaker Ron Ramsey, is the only legislative employee in recent memory to be publicly identified for doing political work with state resources, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration. She said the matter was “handled internally” by Ramsey’s office.

Kleinheider’s government personnel file, kept by the Office of Legislative Administration, does not include any reference to disciplinary action taken against him. Requests through Ramsey’s office for records, emails and correspondence pertaining to Kleinheider’s punishment or reprimand came up empty, although internal legislative office correspondence is not subject to the same Tennessee open-records standards as executive-branch communications.

The Aug. 10 press release featured the lieutenant governor issuing “a strong statement of support” for Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was then on the cusp of announcing his bid to seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2012. The release, sent from Kleinheider’s state government email address, named Kleinheider himself as the point man for questions, with his state office phone number provided as a contact.

“I believe Gov. Perry to be the man best suited to lead this fight,” Ramsey was quoted as saying in the press release. “If (Perry) sees fit to make the decision many expect him to, I let him know today that I’ll be there to support him in any way I can.”

Kleinheider, once a popular blogger and highly regarded news-aggregation website operator, took a job in the Senate speaker’s office this past February.

He told the Knoxville News Sentinel that sending out the pro-Perry news release from a government account “was a disregard of policy on my part and unintentional. … I’m still semi-new at this.”

He added he was on break when he wrote the release. Kleinheider’s time sheet for Aug. 10 indicates he clocked out at 2 p.m. The press release was emailed at 3:10 pm.

Kleinheider refused requests for additional comment and declined to detail any disciplinary action taken against him and instead referred to his statement in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Other legislative staffers privately tell TNReport they’re constantly faced with decisions about whether the messages the government is paying them to send on behalf of their elected bosses are too political to be sent through state email accounts or written while on the clock or using government equipment or facilities.

“We try to make that very clear — that this is not something they should be doing on state time,” said Ridley, who did not release details of any punishment or reprimand Kleinheider may have received. “This is the only one (instance) that I’ve been aware of as it relates to political activity.”

Most lawmakers with whom TNReport has inquired about the matter say Kleinheider’s decision to send an apparent campaign endorsement as an official state news release is pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things — not something for which he probably ought to be fined, fired or incarcerated.

“When we’ve done it, they’ve criticized us tremendously for it. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry up here,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the minority caucus chairman in the House. “We’ve got people out of work. We’ve got things happening, and I’m not going to be petty and get on them about that.”

A former House Democratic spokesman did the same thing when he sent out a campaign email from his work account several years ago, Turner said, although the employee was never disciplined.

Nevertheless, sending those emails is still against the law, and there ought to be enough consequences to discourage it, said Dick Williams, chairman for Common Cause Tennessee.

“It just adds to the public cynicism that public officials can misuse their office,” said Williams, a longtime lobbyist at the Capitol. “Obviously, it doesn’t rise to the stature of a bribe or conflict of interest or anything, but it’s not a totally meaningless offense.”

Using state resources for political purposes falls under the “Little Hatch Act,” a Tennessee law passed in 1972, shortly after Winfield Dunn became Tennessee’s first Republican governor in 50 years. The motivation wasn’t to stop workers from doing political work on the job, but to prevent the GOP from replacing Democratic Party loyalists in state jobs with Republicans, said Larry Daughtrey, a retired Tennessean reporter who was stationed on Capitol Hill at the time.

State code 2-19-207 says: “It is unlawful for any person employed by the state to… perform political duties or functions of any kind not directly a part of such person’s employment, during those hours of the day when such person is required by law or administrative regulation to be conducting the business of the state.”

Those hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Ridley said. Nowhere in Kleinheider’s job description does it say he has to pen and ship out election-related emails.

Violating the statute is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with as much as a 30-day jail sentence, up to a $50 fine, or both, according to Ridley.

The department doesn’t have to sit on its heels waiting for complaints and can investigate suspicions of abuse independently of a formal query. Officials just haven’t had reason to, she said.

“There’s no trigger. It’s the policy,” said Ridley. “If we find out about it, we go after it.”

In 1939, Congress passed the original “Hatch Act” banning federal government employees from using their offices to bolster political campaigns. At the time, officials in Tennessee and other states had been known to pressure federal workers to assist in Democrats’ election campaigns.

Almost any communication coming out of lawmakers’ offices tends to come off looking “political,” whether they’re taking credit for a bill or bashing a rival’s policy stance.

Tax-supported self-congratulations, back-patting or backbiting in news releases or legislative mail pieces are mostly tolerated, provided they include obvious Tennessee state-government connections.

In fact, taxpayers spent more than $180,000 sending direct mail to voters in lawmakers’ districts between October 2009 and the 2010 primary election, according to the Tennessean.

About $77,000 of that was spent on mailers shipped out just after the end of the 2010 legislative session, many times by lawmakers facing re-election bids later that year. This spring, Republicans killed a measure looking to curb that practice, saying it was “just another Democratic initiative.”

“It’s a difficult line because we’re involved not only in policy but also politics,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican. “We clearly want to be public servants, and we understand the difference between elections and the political process and then service and what we do here in the governing level.”

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Haslam ‘Not Close’ to Picking GOP Presidential Favorite

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he has not decided whom to support in the Republican field for president and isn’t inclined to tell his family or members of his administration whom to support either.

Haslam said roughly half the GOP candidates have called him to say they would like his help.

“I’m honestly not close to making a decision about who I’ll support,” he said.

Haslam said he met with a group of business representatives Thursday night and so did not see a televised debate among the GOP candidates in Ames, Iowa.

“I’m like most people. I’m interested in the political process, probably a little more than most,” Haslam said. “I’m obviously interested in the Republican primary, so I’ll be watching that.”

The governor downplayed the significance of a widely anticipated Iowa straw poll scheduled in Iowa on Saturday.

“I’m not an expert on Iowa presidential politics, but I’m not sure the straw vote is the final word on where Iowa goes, or where the country goes,” he said.

Haslam said his family and administration are free to go their own ways in deciding whom to support.

“They’re grown-ups who get to make their own decision,” Haslam said. “Really, on this one, I haven’t said, ‘Please don’t get involved.’

“Other members of my family are trying to decide who they’re going to support and help. They’re probably at the listen-and-learn stage as well.”

Haslam’s commissioner of economic development, Bill Hagerty, was a national finance chairman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008. But Haslam said his only directive to his administration is not to do any presidential politicking on the state’s nickel.

“What I’ve said is, ‘Anything you do, you need to do on your own time and not take away from state resources and state time,'” Haslam said. “After that, I think they’re adults who should be able to support who they want.”

While Haslam hasn’t committed, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey this week said he will be supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Republican candidates who debated in Iowa on Thursday were Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!


Perry’s Prayer Event Won’t Have Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam has gotten attention for not having plans to attend an Aug. 6 prayer rally in Houston hosted by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the American Family Association — an event that has drawn criticism for AFA’s anti-gay activism.

Haslam and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were also noted in a report in the Washington Independent for their decision to skip the event at Reliant Stadium. The American Family Association is known for advocating Christian values but has become controversial in part because of its strong stand against homosexuals.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal are the only governors scheduled to attend with Perry thus far. The event — titled, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” — is billed as a day of prayer and fasting. Perry has invited all of the nation’s governors to the event.

The Independent report referred to a Haslam staffer saying the governor has a prior commitment, which was unidentified. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also been noted for having no plans to attend, as have Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Perry is a source of speculation about a potential run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He is chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Haslam was criticized by GLBT advocates in May for signing a bill from the Tennessee General Assembly that prohibits local governments from imposing anti-discrimination practices in ways that go beyond state law. Nashville’s Metro Council had approved an ordinance that required city contractors to follow rules against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Haslam headed a group of state leaders at an annual prayer breakfast in Nashville in April. That event was held at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena.

Perry’s invitation to The Response says, “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”