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Maggart Releases Video; Critics Respond

Rep. Debra Maggart wants to set the record straight that she has a “100 percent” voting record on Second-Amendment rights legislation despite criticism that she worked behind the scenes to kill key guns bills.

Maggart, a high-ranking Republican leader who is in the middle of a heated election in Sumner County, took her message to the web in a video Monday saying the gun lobby has been trying to “bully” her and other lawmakers into passing bills that violate the property rights of business owners.

However, Maggart’s opponent in the GOP primary race, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers, as well as the Tennessee Second Amendment organization that’s been so critical of Maggart, quickly shot back.

The only reason the incumbent lawmaker can claim she’s never voted against gun-rights legislation, they said, is that she and other House and Senate Republican leaders maneuvered to thwart floor debate on the so-called “Safe Commute” guns-in-parking-lots bill. They did that so they could avoid publicly taking a stand on the question of where an employer’s rights end and a worker’s begin, Maggart’s critics contend.

“Everybody who spends anytime in the Legislature knows that nothing happens that leadership doesn’t sanction, so that bill didn’t get out of committee,” said Jeff Hartline, campaign manager to Rogers who is challenging the House Republican Caucus leader  in the Aug. 2 primary election.

Blame for the legislation’s demise — and for Tennessee voters not getting an opportunity to see where their elected representatives stand on the matter — “has to be laid at (Maggart’s) feet,” Hartline said.

In the ad from the Maggart campaign, the Hendersonville Republican defends her role in working against the gun rights bills. Second Amendment advocates poured at least $75,000 through the end of June into the campaign to unseat her from her Sumner County district. “This attack against me is based on false information in an effort to bully your elected officials and trample your other constitutional rights,” Maggart said during the nearly two-minute video.

Maggart described the House GOP’s political decision to terminate the possibility of floor discussion on the guns-in-lots legislation as an act of “thoughtful governing.”

“It is my aim to protect all of your rights, not just the one that the Second Amendment rights group is promoting,” said Maggart.

In the video, Maggart noted that lawmakers agreed to study the legislation over the summer. However, there’s been no effort on Capitol Hill to schedule any sort of committee to further examine the bill, according to House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office.

Maggart is plainly “misrepresenting to the public what ‘summer study’ means,” said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“Telling people ‘we’re studying this’ is just lying to them,” said Harris, a prominent critic of the legislative GOP leadership’s handling of the issue. “She killed it and has no intention on bringing it back up.”

Hartline concurred: “If that bill had come to the House floor, it would have passed overwhelmingly. Everybody knows it. So the game was, it can’t make it to the floor.”

For their part, the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus actually took credit for driving the final nail in the guns-in-lots legislation’s coffin for the year. During a press conference just after the Legislature adjourned, minority-party caucus chairman Mike Turner said Democratic leaders “interceded” with the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, and asked that he not try to bring the matter to the House floor, which was a possibility he’d left open right up until the very end of the session.

Press Releases

TFA: GOP Leadership Stalling on Guns-in-Lots Legislation

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; April 20, 2012:

Let us pause for a moment to consider where we are on the Employee Safe Commute bills as the General Assembly may be entering is last week of session.

There are sometimes at least 2 paths for citizens to collectively petition their government – working with legislators on an “access” model and working on an “accountability” model. Early on, TFA tried the access model with Democratic leadership in the House and learned long ago that access only worked as long as leadership felt they needed your help and assistance to make the right decisions. When leadership had no interest in listening to the citizens or were more interested in interest groups, such as unions or Big Business, the voices of citizens and constitutional standards became less compelling.

Speaker Naifeh got to a point where he and his immediate supporters did not want or need the support of firearms owners, including the TFA. During that time, Republicans were in a minority status and were supportive of the work of TFA to target Democratic leadership and those whom were at that time the “shadow operatives” of leadership who worked to kill bills without recorded floor votes. For example, Speaker Naifeh specifically created the “Constitutional Protections Subcommittee” in the House Judiciary and packed it with the specific purpose to bottle up and defeat firearms related bills without exposing his caucus to recorded votes. Republicans were giddy when TFA targeted legislators, such as Bobby Sands, and helped to defeat him with heavy pressure, reports of his votes and committee comments and even invested in phone banking.

When Republicans had a minority or close margin, TFA’s help and NRA’s help was desired by Republicans who routinely claimed that they were “100%”, “strong” or sometimes just “good” on the 2nd Amendment. For some it was an empty promise because they never understood what the 2nd Amendment really stood to protect. Nevertheless, in time firearms owners and grassroots organizations perhaps in blind hope helped to put Republicans into a majority. However, soon thereafter it was understood that there were serious problems.

For example, in December 2010, a sudden change of scheduling brought on a Republican House caucus vote that disappointingly put Beth Harwell by reportedly a 1 vote margin into the Speaker’s office. Many conservative Republicans knew better and specifically solicited TFA’s assistance to resist Harwell’s selection as Speaker. It is reported that Rep. Casada had the clear lead in votes for Speaker but that significant pressure from newly elected Bill Haslam changed enough minds to change the outcome. Thus, the House was led by a Speaker whose voting record on firearms was for all practical purposes worse that Speaker Naifeh’s “official” voting record (at least in the early years).

Then, 2011 saw the parking lot bill make it to the floor in a “permissive” context that was opposed by TFA and NRA. Firearms owners supported the “Bass” amendment which was offered on the floor and would have restored the bill to a mandate rather than merely a bill offering immunity from civil liability if an employer chose to allow employees to commute. When Bass offered his amendment, Rep. Evans (the sponsor) moved to kill it and got more than 30 House Republicans to go along. When that “tabling” motion failed, however, the bill was sent back to the committee to die for the year. Soon after that, TFA had meetings with House leaders (excluding Harwell). During one of those meetings, Rep. Debra Maggart, a member of House Republican leadership, told TFA that gun owners had no choice but to support the Republicans as the “best friends of gun owners”. When she said that she marginalized TFA’s work and its participation. She took TFA and its support for granted. She also assumed that supporting conservatives (which she apparently equated with incumbent Republicans) meant that TFA would support both leadership and incumbents. She was wrong. TFA will take an active role in purging incumbents in both parties who lack a clear history of consistently supporting 2nd Amendment legislative packages. TFA will do this in primaries and general elections. TFA is not partisan. TFA focuses first on constitutional rights and Republicans get no “presumption” that they are preferable in that regard. Every legislator will have to demonstrate through measurable acts and deeds that they are true conservatives and that they truly do put priority on the protection of constitutional rights or they deserve to be released from further service as soon as possible.

As for the bills at this time, TFA is pushing for votes. TFA is pushing for bringing the bills to the floor either through committee or by a procedural “recall” motion that lets all legislators vote to bring a bill directly to the floor even if it still stuck somewhere in the committee system. Right now, TFA and many of its members are working to document where legislators are on these issues. We are receiving lots of “canned” replies promising support but very little overt, public action from the rank and file members to demand that leadership bring these bills up so that they can be debated and considered on the respective floors.

TFA worked since 1996 to get restaurant carry passed. It did not happen for 14 years but it happened. Many legislators who were there in the beginning were not there in the end. TFA members can and will dedicate the time and money to get this current legislation passed even if it does not pass this year. It must pass because its a change that brings Tennessee closer to the standard that the constitution expects and protects.

At this point, it is clear that the bills have the support of enough individual members in the House and the Senate to become law this year. There is enough time. The bills are ready for floor votes. The only things standing in the way are apparently the promises made by leadership to Big Business or other interests such as have been revealed in the video taped and written statements made by Republican leaders such as Ron Ramsey, Beth Harwell and Gerald McCormick.

If the bills do not get floor votes, recorded votes, TFA has no choice but to place blame. Most of the blame will fall on Republican leadership based on their own statements. However, TFA will also work to educate the voters that the Republican leadership did not exist in a vacuum. Those leaders, just like other elected officials, are to some degree accountable to the rank and file members who select them. Consequently, if these bills do not come to a floor vote in both Houses this year, part of that blame must be considered to lie at the feet of the rank and file members of the Republican caucuses who could have demanded of their leadership that these bills be brought before them on the floor for debate and determination. Indeed, the evidence is that the Rules of procedure in both Houses allow the “recall” votes so that the members can in fact circumvent stalling antics by leadership in cases just such as this. The question is does the oath of office mean enough to a sufficient number of these caucus members to use their collective voices against their own leaders to demand that these issues be brought to the floor consideration. By next weekend, we should know the answer and by November, we should be prepared to reward or punish accordingly.


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Guns-in-Parking-Lots Compromise Could Win Haslam Support

Gov. Bill Haslam hinted this week he wouldn’t necessarily shoot down legislation that would  allow Tennessee gun owners to keep a firearm stored in their vehicle while they are at work — even over the objection of their employer.

Still, the proposal idling in the General Assembly seems “overly broad” to the governor. But during a meeting with the Capitol press corps Wednesday, Haslam suggested that if the House and Senate can pass a compromise, he’ll likely sign on.

Sen. Mike Faulk and Rep. Eddie Bass are sponsoring the legislation, which gained some traction last year but not enough to win over GOP leaders in the House.

Proponents are confident it would pass if Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, and Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, were to allow the bill to come to the chamber floor for a vote.

Harwell has said she’s sensitive to employers’ private property rights, and for that reason the legislation gives her pause.

“We certainly want a piece of legislation that is business-friendly. We are not in the business of doing anything to harm the businesses that we currently have in place in Tennessee,” said Harwell, who added she’s unsure exactly what will be included or deleted from the working proposal.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, strongly supports the parking-lot bill, saying he understands businesses want to maintain their private property rights, “but there are some almost public parking lots that people should be allowed to do that (travel with a firearm) if you’re a gun carry permit holder and if you keep it in your car.”

In its current draft, the bill prevents employers from preventing employees from keeping a firearm locked in their own vehicle while parked on company property during work hours.

“It is the intent of this section to reinforce and protect the right of each citizen to lawfully transport and store firearms within his or her private motor vehicle for lawful purposes in any place where the vehicle is otherwise permitted to be,” according to the bill. Bass says he’ll move the House version after it wins approval from the Senate.

“We’re neutral and will stay that way,” said Jim Brown, Tennessee director of the National Federation of Independent Business, one of the few business groups hugging the sidelines. “We have members who are on both sides of that issue between 1st and 2nd Amendment rights.”

The governor is concerned with the “scope of location” in the Faulk-Bass legislation, according to his spokesman, but Haslam says if a deal is doable he won’t block it.

“The current bill that’s out there is overly broad, and we’d like to see it addressed some more, which I think is in the process,” the governor said.

Backing the bill is the Tennessee Firearms Association, which has been breathing down the House Republican leadership’s collective neck for the last few months for refusing to extend the state’s gun rights laws ahead of the 2012 elections.

The TFA has been pressuring lawmakers, namely Harwell and her caucus’ “shadow operatives,” to take up pro-gun bills instead of “pandering to businesses” by ignoring the legislation.

Haslam said he’s used to hearing such fighting words.

“Five times a day I’ll have somebody say, if I don’t do this, ‘we’re going to unleash all the power of fill-in-the-blank on you,’” Haslam told reporters Wednesday.

He added, though, “I think most veteran lawmakers try to figure out how  to weigh all that in and don’t get overly swayed by that.”

Bass said the bill should face an up-or-down vote despite any worries it would distract the Legislature from focusing on issues like the budget and the economy.

“I think if it’s one bill, and if the people don’t like it, they’ll vote it down. That’s how the system works. We all have opinions,” he told TNReport.

A Democrat, Bass wouldn’t reveal his plans when asked Wednesday whether he’ll switch party affiliation and run in the August GOP primary.

Bass has won over John Harris, executive director of TFA, who describes Bass as a “consistent supporter of individual rights, particularly for firearms owners.”

For that matter, Harris told TNReport his organization isn’t prone to obsessing over party affiliation when assessing a lawmaker’s reliability as a right-to-keep-and-bear-arms defender. Rural Tennessee Democrats are oftentimes better friends to firearm-carry enthusiasts than urban Republicans, said Harris.

“Independent of whatever partisan label you put on him, Eddie Bass is about as strong a 2nd Amendment supporter as there is in the House,” Harris told TNReport last month when Republicans were thinking about drawing Savannah Republican Vance Dennis and Bass into the same district.

High-ranking House Democrat Mike Turner says he hasn’t recently polled his caucus on the guns in parking lots issue, but is keenly aware business interests are no fans of the idea.

“Traditionally Democrats have not supported the bill, but we’re going to actually talk about that when it comes up,” said Turner. “(Republicans) traditionally want us to bail them out in those types of situations, but we’ll see what happens with that.”

Another bill on the docket this year would ban employers from forcing employees or job applicants to disclose whether they use, own, possess or transport a firearm unless those duties are required for the job.

The Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees expect to hear from proponents of the gun rights bills Feb. 21. The committees will then hear from opponents March 6. Faulk said he hopes the committees will vote on the measures that day.

The Department of Safety has issued 339,000 handgun carry permits to Tennesseans since it took over responsibility for that function in October of 1996, according to the agency’s website. Prior to that handgun carry permits were issued by local sheriff’s offices.

Mark Engler contributed to this report.