VOL. 42 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 29, 2018
McCormick: No scandal, at least no evidence of any
Mercurial Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick went from kicking ass to kicking back. Only three days after saying his now-former Democratic opponent, David Jones, would realize how little he has in common with District 26 in Chattanooga “when he gets his ass beat in November,” McCormick abruptly announced he would not seek re-election this year and would be leaving the House effective Oct. 1.
No more having to listen to whining Democrats and Republican Caucus members. No more nearly shattering the gavel to deal with unruly Republicans as chairman of the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee.
The former three-term House Majority Caucus leader made the statement after Jones said he would raise McCormick’s purchase of a Nashville home and question whether he was staying in touch with Chattanooga residents.
McCormick fairly scoffed at the notion of wrongdoing while acknowledging he bought a house in Nashville almost a year ago because his wife, Kim, works for the Tennessee Board of Regents. He had been renting in Nashville for 13 years but continued to maintain a 3,500-square-foot home in District 26.
A potential candidate for the House speaker’s post being vacated by Beth Harwell, McCormick said he’d been exonerated by the Hamilton County Election Commission after a complaint was filed about his residency. He said he was still considering a leadership run as late as June 15.
“It’s a silly political attack, and it’s not gonna work, and this guy’s gonna get beat this November,” McCormick insisted.
It’ll be up to someone else, though, to do the butt-kicking in Chattanooga this fall. Former Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Robin Smith appears to be the candidate, according to various reports.
By the time she runs, McCormick will be ensconced in domestic tranquility, living with his wife in Nashville instead of racing up and down I-24, and enjoying grandfatherhood, since his children also live in Nashville. He was expecting a grandchild to arrive a week ago.
McCormick, a commercial real estate broker, was either worn out with the Legislature or Democrats called his hand. Or, as he says, someone made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He took a job with Asa Engineering, which recently opened a Nashville office and needed someone with strong Middle Tennessee contacts to generate business. McCormick had been working part time already for Asa’s office in Chattanooga and was still negotiating a job when interviewed June 15.
“We were moving real fast toward it at that point, but I didn’t want to let on in case it didn’t work out. But it did. It all came together, and it will require my relocation, which is OK,” he explains. The money was too significant to turn down.
McCormick adds nobody had any evidence of wrongdoing on him.
“That doesn’t mean there’s not any dirt on me, it’s just that nobody had any on me, although I’d say the dirt goes back to the ’80s, if anything. I’m just glad they didn’t have cell phones then, taking pictures of everything,” he adds. “There’s no scandal brewing. There’s nothing embarrassing or anything like that. This is all positive.”
Filling the vacancy
Hamilton County Administrator of Elections Kerry Steelman says he was contacted by Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins early the week of June 9-15 notifying him the commission received a call the previous week questioning McCormick’s residency. The person remained anonymous other than reports it was a UT-Chattanooga student.
“Based on the evidence provided and information independently gathered by his office, Goins concluded in a June 12 letter to Steelman, “Rep. McCormick has evidence that he meets a sufficient number of factors under the Tennessee law to support the determination that he meets the residency requirements to appear on the ballot as a candidate for state representative.”
In fact, Goins’ letter says the complaint about McCormick’s residency, made three months after he filed his petition to seek re-election, “was not timely since the election commission has approved the candidates and military ballots must be sent out by June 18.”
But since only qualified candidates are to be placed on the ballot, Goins adds, he checked anyway to see if McCormick met residency requirements.
As part of the investigation, he called McCormick, who confirmed he owns homes in Davidson and Hamilton counties and provided records showing his residency for voting and candidacy purposes was in Hamilton, including his driver’s license, receipts, utility and bank statements and IRS tax filings with an address on Fairview Road in Hixson.
Goins’ office also verified McCormick remained licensed at a real estate agency using a Chattanooga address, and that he and his wife still own and pay property taxes on the Fairview Road home.
“A person may have multiple homes, but only one residence for voting and candidate qualifying purposes,” Goins’ letter states. Those include possession of property, job location, licensing or registration of personal property, payment of taxes and location of driver’s license registration.
McCormick was officially a Hixson resident for ballot purposes – except when he was staying with his wife in Nashville. And, seriously, in summer when most legislators are at home, who’s checking? And even when they’re in session, for that matter?
Democratic candidate Jones lost his primary competition when Jean-Marie Lawrence dropped out of the race. Lawrence says she had to move out of the 26th District when the building where she lived in was sold. She says she was unable to find another place in the district that met her disability needs.
Jones expected competition from Republicans, and it popped up quickly, with several Chattanoogans considering a run but only Robin Smith picking up papers. Qualifying was to end June 28.
The initial qualifying deadline was April 4 for the August primary, but state law reopens the process with a 10-day window from the date of the former candidate’s announcement if the candidate in a primary election or nonpartisan general election dies, withdraws because of military call-up, leaves because of a physical or mental disability, is declared ineligible or disqualified by a court or the political party executive committee or withdraws because he/she is forced to change residence by the candidate’s employer for job-related reasons.
We might as well add some others such as: busted for living outside the district or no longer able to find an apartment with handicap access. It only seems fair.
Setting the stage
Nobody in the General Assembly accuses McCormick of bending the truth or holding back. He was more likely to wear his emotions on his sleeve, including the time he called out the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce for writing a letter about the so-called bathroom bill dealing with transgender use of restrooms.
McCormick didn’t shy away from carrying Insure Tennessee for Gov. Bill Haslam, part of his task as House Majority leader, even if he didn’t exactly bend Republican arms to bring it to a vote.
Of course, he never volunteered information during the recent session about buying a Nashville home, either. And not until someone complained about the Nashville residency question did he up and leave the race.
Some would say this is typical McCormick, hard to predict and quicker to act.
In saying farewell, McCormick does something rather unusual, admitting to gerrymandering District 26 while in the Legislature. Because of the way it’s shaped – and voting 68 percent for President Donald Trump in 2016 – he doesn’t think Jones has a chance regardless of who fills the Republican slot on the ballot.
“No, I drew this seat in redistricting. The Republican nominee will win the election and win it big,” he points out. “If you’ve got Robin in there, too, she’s so experienced and knows everyone already. I think she would be very effective right out of the gate.
“We’ll lose 14 years of seniority and a chairmanship of the budget committee, but the cemetery is full of indispensable men, and I suspect they’ll survive just fine without me.”
McCormick’s exit leaves an opening for House Majority Leader Glen Casada to vault into the House speaker’s slot, making him one of the most powerful politicians in Tennessee. Other candidates are likely to be Rep. David Hawk, a Greeneville Republican, and Rep. Curtis Johnson, speaker pro tem from Clarksville.
Casada, who is pouring $200,000 into House Republican races, says is he saddened by McCormick’s departure. And, in typical Casada fashion, he will speak no ill of a fellow Republican.
By all definitions, McCormick owned a home and lived in Chattanooga, he adds of the now-moot situation.
“So, no, that was just typical fake news right there,” says Casada, who also contends he is more concerned with electing “pro-business” Republicans than positioning for a House speaker run later this fall.
With 16 open seats and 23 Republican primaries, he offers he’s got plenty of work ahead to maintain the GOP’s hold on the House.
Granted, Tennessee legislators spend a lot of time running between their home districts and Nashville. For about five months, they stay in Nashville four to five days a week. Some come to town more often so they can grab a little per diem cash.
McCormick isn’t the first one, either, whose residency was questioned. Others in powerful positions have kept dual residences.
But when your wife and kids live in Nashville and you’ve got a grandchild on the way, along with 14 years in the House behind you, clearly the handwriting is on the wall. It’s time to let it go, which McCormick did.
Now that he’s gone, though, one wonders whether Democrats would be happier with McCormick or Casada – the two favorites – as House speaker. If the minority caucus thought Harwell gave them the cold shoulder – refusing to recognize them for debate on the House floor – they’re likely to be begging for a kinder and gentler speaker.
Heck, they might wind up wishing nobody had challenged McCormick’s residency, instead letting him keep kicking ass and taking names.
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Nashville Ledger, Memphis Daily News, Knoxville Ledger and Hamilton County Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.