NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill) dropped a bombshell in the middle of session Thursday morning when he released a statement calling on Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to resign.
In the statement, Warner accuses McNally of being a predator and of sexually grooming Franklyn McClure, who, at the time of becoming Facebook friends with the lieutenant governor, was 17.
“It’s time for him to resign. He’s had a week,” Warner said. “I was hoping he’d step down on his own. He’s chosen not to do so, and it’s time to resign.”
When asked why, Warner said, “You can tell.”
When asked if he had proof of his accusations, Warner said, “Watch the videos, look back at the post.”
The move marks the first time a Republican in the State Capitol has publicly called on McNally to resign. Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) indicated it may be the only time and House leadership wasn’t expecting the statement.
“I don’t think he’s ever sat down and spoken to Lieutenant Governor in his tenure here. So I find it interesting that you would make a speculation without knowing the person,” Sexton said. “That’s his opinion. As you can see, he signed it himself. No one else signed onto the letter.”
McNally did release a statement reading, in part, “I serve at the pleasure of the members of the Senate and my caucus. As long as I have their confidence, I am committed to the important work of this state.”
WKRN has spoken to McClure before, and he did confirm he was 17 when the first friend request from McNally came through. “He wasn’t aware of my age, so I wouldn’t slag him on that,” he said. “But I was 17 at the time.”
Democrats didn’t necessarily condemn Warner’s statement, but they did point out its hypocritical nature, given Warner’s ties with the FBI investigation of former Speaker of the House Glen Casada and Cade Cothren.
“I think you need to take a close look at the individual who issued that statement and I would urge caution on his part,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “Something along the lines of throwing rocks at glass houses.”
In the last few weeks, the Tennessee Journal reported Warner was dining with Casada and Casada’s girlfriend when House Republican leadership ran into them and Cothren hurled an expletive or two.
Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) pointed out Warner was silent when then-Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) was accused by three women of sexually assaulting them while they were in high school and he was a coach.
Abortion exception advances
It’s a slim, slim exception, but it is expected to pass the House on Monday. It passed a House Health Committee earlier this week.
An amendment in the bill would change the ‘affirmative defense clause’ to allow medical providers to perform abortions if the mother’s life was at risk if those providers’ ‘reasonable medical judgment’ called on them to do so.
Republicans said this language is what they want to move forward on.
“With Section Two removing the affirmative defense, I believe it gives doctors the ability to take care of these pregnant mothers when their life is in danger,” Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes (R-East Ridge) said during the committee hearing.
A previous iteration of the bill had arguably more exceptions, but a new amendment published Tuesday night drew many of those back.
“The language was worked out with the AG and the Governor’s office, as well as with the Senate,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said. “What we’ve always said is if you define the life of the mother, and saving the life of the mother, correctly, you won’t have to have lethal fetal anomalies in there because that will be taken care of.”
Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) sponsored the bill in the Senate and said he wasn’t aware of the recent amendment. “I haven’t amended my bill at all,” Briggs said. “I think my bill is a very, very good bill. It’s very clear.”
Democrats said, though they are in favor of exceptions, this one “moves just a termite’s length’ in the right direction.”
“In theory, I want to support it because I don’t want to give no exceptions and keep it as is,” Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis) said. “But it’s such a terrible amendment, a part of me feels like it does more harm than good.”
The concern revolves around the potential that physicians will still be facing a choice when it comes to whether to save a mother’s life.
“A physician, under this law, is posed with a situation where they are going to wait until the very last moment, where a woman is bleeding out or stroking before they can substantively provide that evidence in court if they’re charged,” Clemmons said.
Another abortion bill is technically scheduled for discussion in the House Population Health Subcommittee Tuesday afternoon. But the subcommittee chairwoman, Rep. Michele Carringer (R-Knoxville), closed the committee at the end of its previous hearing. So, it likely will not happen.
Dissolving the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth?
In a story first reported by the Tennessee Lookout, Gov. Bill Lee is pushing for the Tennessee General Assembly to pass a bill that would dissolve an independent state agency that found problems with the state’s foster care system.
“What I support is investing in our children across the state and finding new and innovative ways to do that,” Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said.
But the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) said it was a big surprise.
“Across the board, everyone on our staff was just completely blindsided by this,” TCCY Policy Specialist Kylie Graves said.
The agency publishes a “State of the Child” report every single year. This year, amid serious problems at the Dept. of Children’s Services (DCS), the report detailed how Tennessee has the worst foster care instability rate in the country (even worse than Puerto Rico).
But House Republican leadership said the report has nothing to do with the bill.
“It’s not because there’s one report that’s come out that has, somehow or another, highlighted something that wasn’t already obvious to most of us about what was going on with DCS,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) said.
Though Sexton said he planned on talking with Lee about the issue, he didn’t seem to think the commission needed to be dissolved at this point.
“I think they were doing fine operating as a quasi-type of committee or agency,” he said. “I’m fine with them operating like that.”
He went on to say, “Maybe there’s something there that we don’t know of that would make them more efficient and better.”