The Democrat Lobbyist & the Democrat Bureaucrat behind the InsureGate Hit Job: Classic liberal hypocrites?
On Tuesday, RTP revealed some of the background of Laurie Lee, the person the Haslam administration selected to roll out personal health care finance information in an attempt to embarrass state legislators who opposed the Insure Tennessee Medicaid/Obamacare expansion scheme. In the last 48 hours, the Rocky Top Tipline (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been inundated with people complaining that Laurie Lee is not just some faceless bureaucrat, but an unrepentant liberal who spews her ideology to anyone who will listen. And she apparently does so with the belief that she and her husband are untouchable and “beyond the reach” of the Legislature because the two of them have some sort of “special relationship” with the governor.
More than one tipster has told Rocky Top that Mrs. Lee is openly derisive of the Republican controlled legislature (where her husband makes his living) and that “only the governor can fire her” and is confident that will never happen.
But one informant has told Rocky Top that Laurie Lee herself is on the state health insurance program and that it is believed her husband, Democrat operative and lobbyist Tom Lee, is also on the program through his wife. If that is true, look for the Lee’s troubles to increase exponentially. Yeah, there’s nothing like a self-righteous liberal Democrat lobbyist waltzing into your legislative office to tell you what a mean-spirited S.O.B. you are for not voting to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to expand socialized medical coverage to the masses.
Funny, with all the liberal Democrat holdovers and others on the state payroll screeching and screaming about the legislature not wanting to expand socialized medicine at taxpayer expense, we have yet to see just one of them give up their state health insurance, even as a symbolic show of “solidarity” with the people.
The worst are the Democrat legislators themselves. Almost to a person they are on the state health program. Once they became aware of all those people they claim need taxpayer-subsidized health insurance were not going to get it, moral logic would seem to dictate that their liberal angst would require they give up their own “subsidized” health insurance, if for no other reason than as a matter of principle.
[We will pause here to allow our readers to stop laughing and compose themselves.]
Yet amidst the faux outrage from smarmy pontificators like Jeff “Pajama Boy” Yarbro, not one of these classic liberal hypocrites has given up even one day of their health coverage. So much for the moral high ground.
We’ll believe it’s a problem when the people telling us it’s a problem start ACTING like it’s a problem. Until then, we should tell these dishonest, disingenuous hypocritical liberals and their allies in the news media where to stick it. Of course, if they actually do that, they might need to see a proctologist. But don’t worry, they’re covered.
They’ve got state health insurance.
After the InsureGate and the Haslam administration’s release of personal financial information on legislator health insurance policies, one would think the governor would take a breather from sticking another middle finger into the eye of Republicans in the legislature. But as he demonstrated yesterday, no insult is too small for Bill Haslam to use to disparage fellow Republicans. The governor appears oblivious (intentionally or not) to it all, even when making board appointments.
By now you are probably asking yourself: “What the heck is RTP talking about?”
Answer: Remember Brian Kaegi?
Brian is the Tom Ingram protégé who headed the attack on incumbent Republican members of the legislature, at the direction of the governor and his soon-to-be-former chief of staff, Mark Cate. Kaegi ran the media operation for the infamous Advance Tennessee PAC, which spent a wad of money trying to defeat legislators in last year’s GOP primaries. The PAC, which was funded by FOBs (Friends of Bill) spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars and walked away with exactly one defeated Republican House member. At the same time Kaegi and his crack team of political operatives were doing their magic, conservative candidates knocked off two of the governor’s allies, meaning Kaigi and Krew spent over $200,000 to wind up with less Haslam allies in the House than they started with. Oh sure, they also knocked off Sen. Stacy Campfield, but that was more like shooting the wounded.
Here is the story from the RTP Archives:
So after these humiliating experiences, how does the governor try to mend fences with the legislative Republicans? He appoints Kaegi to a paying job on the ABC Board.
[Side Note to Jeremy Harrell: ABC stands for the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Jeremy. It is not related to schools and education, so there is no need for you to swing into action with stuff like the weird, out-of-context mailers you did for Ferrell Haile recently. Everyone’s still trying to figure out what that’s about. Your joke of a grassroots organization is apparently well-funded if it wastes resources on things like tables at the Statesmans Dinner. A friendly tip from your friends at RTP: Using your funders’ money to buy tables at the Statesmen’s Dinner does not make you politically connected or a statesman.]
Advance Tennessee is not the only time that Brian has been in the news. To our knowledge, Kaegi still has not registered as a lobbyist, even though he clearly lobbied the administration on behalf of corporate clients on several occasions:
Legislators are wondering who will defend them from these repeated attacks by the governor, his liberal allies, the media and lackeys on his payroll. How about the legislative leadership? Come to think of it, we haven’t heard a public word from Speaker Harwell defending her caucus on any of this. Has anyone checked the bathroom lately?
When RTP posted a letter written by Legislative benefits administrator Connie Ridley in which she named two individuals at the center of the InsureGate debacle, we had no idea it would lead to this.
Okay, readers. Time to make the popcorn, pull up a seat and brace yourselves. Thanks to Ms. Ridley, we have a name: “Laurie Lee” — the Haslam Administration’s executive director of benefits who gave the final official okay to release personal financial information about legislators’ health insurance plans. Just another faceless bureaucrat doing the bidding of a petty governor trying to ding recalcitrant legislators who refused to go along with his watered down version of socialized medicine, right?
Wrong. The RTP crew has done some checking on Miss Laurie in what we found should send shock waves through the lounge lizards at Legislative Plaza as well as the Republican caucus.
It seems Ms. Lee is a Democrat. But not just any Democrat. Lee is a Democrat who spent her early career in the employ of the very hospitals and medical community that so enthusiastically spent millions promoting InsureTN (the same big medical providers who would draw down millions in taxpayer dollars had it been approved). Lee was appointed to her job by former medical executive and Democrat Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was also a supporter of InsureTN.
Bad enough so far. But the bigger news is the person with whom Laurie Lee shares her bed each night (that person would be her husband. For all you perverts out there who were thinking something else, shame on you.).
It seems Laurie Lee is married to Democrat lobbyist Tom Lee. Who is Tom Lee, you ask? Tom Lee is the lobbyist for big-time InsureTN supporters like Anthem (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) and for other medical businesses. That’s right, a Democrat who makes his living lobbying Republican legislators on things like InsureTN is married to a Democrat who the Haslam Administration selected as their point person to screw those same Republican legislators over InsureTN.
An amazing coincidence, you say? Nope. While Ms. Lee has spent her career in the employ of the some of the same medical companies who were pushing so hard for InsureTN, while hubby Tom Lee has been conducting his politics as a Democrat with a capital “D.” He was the campaign manager for Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. when he ran against Sen. Bob Corker (whose campaign manager was none other than Tom Ingram — Oh, the irony). Lee also ran the Nashville mayor’s race for the very liberal Karl Dean – who is widely rumored to be the candidate of choice among Democrats to run for Governor in 2018.
But wait, it keeps getting better (or worse, depending on your perspective). When the GOP took over a couple of years ago, Democrat lobbyists who had spent entire careers trying to make sure the Republicans never controlled the legislature found themselves dangerously exposed. Some of them desperately sought out a Republican – any Republican – who would put their name on the letterhead and serve as a beard for those trying to make legislators forget the Democrat lobbyists’ past transgressions. But by the time Democrat Tom Lee went trolling for Republicans, the talent pool was already shallow and Tom had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for his token Republican. But Tom finally found someone. Boy, did he ever.
Meet Debra Maggart.
Yeah, that Debra Maggart — the former House Republican Caucus Chairman who was humiliated when a newcomer defeated her by double digits in the Republican primary. Since then, Maggart has been seen roaming the halls of LP, trolling for Tom Lee and his pro-InsureTN clients, among others. After her abrasive manner and a massive shakedown of other legislators for “contributions” to try and save her seat in 2012, Maggart is about as welcome as a hangover down at LP.
As for Tom Lee’s clients, his biggest is the entertainment giant, Live Nation. If they keep Lee as their lobbyist after this, the “Live Nation” may be “Dead Duck Nation” during the next session. Having Tom Lee waltz into their office like nothing happened is going to be tough for a lot of GOP legislators to swallow.
And that is what you reap when Democrat hacks play “too cute by half” with a Republican super majority.
Choke on it.
As part of RTP’s continuing analysis of the recently completed legislative session we focus today on four Freshman legislators who decided to go against the grain of traditional advice that new legislators should be seen and not heard. These four decided to make a name for themselves in ways that usually lead to the new title of “former” legislator.
Rep. David Byrd (TEA- Waynesboro) – Although he ran as a Republican, Byrd immediately became a dependable ally and consistent vote for the TEA, the teachers’ union that has spent decades doing everything they can to defeat Republicans. They rewarded him by highlighting him as a hero in their statewide newsletter. As a legislator he was not nearly as successful, introducing 16 bills of which only two passed, and one of those was a tax increase. He also introduced and failed on three bills to inflate graduation rates so that principals, like him, could claim credit for bogus “graduates.”
If he keeps this up, the former basketball coach may find himself bounced in his next primary.
Rep. Kevin Dunlap (D – Rock Island) – Though he ran as a “different” kind of Democrat in a district that elected Romney over Obama by double digits, he has quickly shown himself to be a lockstep Democrat. Like Byrd his first move as a freshman legislator was to align himself with the far-left TEA, a chapter of the NEA which happily takes credit for passing Obamacare, yet he continues to hide on the issue of expanding Obamacare in Tennessee as herefuses to say whether he supports or opposes Insure Tennessee.
Meet the New Democrat – same as the Old Democrat.
Sen. Ed Jackson (H – Jackson) – Voters in Madison Co. probably thought they were electing a conservative who would speak his mind. What they got was a sycophant for anything Bill Haslam wanted him to do. Jackson has “distinguished” himself as a solid Haslam vote who jumps whenever the administration tells him to jump — even on issues that have already been decided.
As the votes were cast on Haslam’s disastrous Haslam Insure Tennessee gambit during the Special Session, Jackson cast a controversial “yes” vote after it was clear that the measure was dead. Going into the committee vote it appeared the votes were split 5-5 with Sen. Janice Bowling being the swing vote. When Bowling voted “no”, early in the roll call, Chairman Rusty “The Rock” Crowe (who had been supporting Insure Tennessee yet knew the result was already clear) and, as is his habit, went with the winning side and voted “no” as well. Jackson ignored the previous votes and cast an irrelevant “yes” vote (sort of like confessing to a crime that no one had accused you of committing). By so doing, Jackson put a huge primary target on his back.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D – Yarbro). There has perhaps never been a more smug, condescending, self-righteous Freshman to enter Legislative Plaza than Yarbro. He believes himself to be a superstar by virtue of being elected Democratic Caucus Chair as a mere Freshman. Since there are only 5 Democrat senators, there was a slot for every Democrat senator. Way to go, Jeff –– everyone gets a trophy! More reviled than revered by his fellow legislators, his theatrics and games are not playing as well as he thinks. But in JeffWorld, what HE thinks is all that matters.
Wilting under the continuing unfair and unrelenting pressure from Rocky Top Politics, the Governor has fired his chief of staff, Mark “Haters Gonna Hate” Cate.
Did Rocky Top really cause Mark Cate to leave? Of course not. But humor us with the little conceit that in some small way we may have helped set the stage for incompetence and arrogance inside the governor’s office to finally destroy itself. Cate was always going to self-destruct. RTP just gave him a little extra push.
No, the responsibility for this debacle lays squarely at the feet of the governor, and Mark Cate was just an obnoxious manifestation of what happens when the guy at the top is ideologically out of sync with the legislature and his red-state electorate and who also surrounds himself with toadies who lack the experience to govern and the courage to tell the boss when he has his head up his butt.
Was Cate fired? Probably. But we will likely never know, nor should we care. What we do know is that Cate leaves the governor’s office while the smoldering ruins of his/their latest debacle are still burning (curious timing for a departure, eh?). The question is. What now?
“Calling Dr. Ingram, Calling Dr. Ingram.”
WANTED: Someone to fill the recently-opened position of Chief of Staff to a high-ranking, stupid rich governmental chief executive. QUALIFICATIONS: Must be blindly loyal, politically inexperienced, arrogant to a fault, and enjoy attempting to bully those who disagree with you. Excellent retirement package provided by your employer.
So what’s next? First, look to the professional gubernatorial suck-ups like Harwell and McCormick to go into overdrive trying to protect Haslam’s golden niblets from further abuse. Which is precisely what they did ruing the caucus conference call last Friday when InsureGate hit). After all, Haslam still has over a billion reason$ why they will continue to do his bidding whenever possible.
But the same conditions that got Haslam in this mess (left of center agendas, political tone-deafness, astonishingly bad staff choices, etc.) still exist. Unless Haslam does an ideological 180 (not likely), the next Cate v2 edition is likely to end with the same result.
Will Ingram step in to take charge of the kiddie corps? Will Randy Boyd move over from ECD just weeks into his tenure there? Will Haslam hire an ideological soulmate with Democrat-tendencies? Or will someone in the Haslamist community buy a clue and hire a Jim Henry type who can at least paper-over some of the problems with the legislature?
Who knows? Anything can happen. Just know that Rocky Top Politics is on the job and will bring you any and all news we can find out or make up.
Hasta la vista, El Cato.
Previously RTP published a letter sent last Wednesday to GOP Caucus members from Connie Ridley of the Office of Legislative Administration. Now RTP has laid our hands on another letter sent from Ms. Ridley the next day to underscore the perfidy being practiced by the administration. As you can see below, Ms. Ridley was pretty hot under the collar – and for good reason.
Ms. Ridley was particularly incensed that what the governor and his lackeys were doing was “a blatant violation of member privacy.”
Ridley also pegged two people at the very heart of the controversy. She laid the blame squarely at the feet of Benefits Administrator Laurie Lee (who of course, could not and did not make this decision without consulting with the governor’s office). She also mentioned F&A general counsel Martha Nichols. RTP is researching these individuals and will tell our readers if we find additional information.
More from Ridley:
“The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) precludes releasing names or “any other personally identifying information” as such information is protected health information. It is the opinion of this office that release of personally identifiable enrollment information would be in violation of federal HIPPA privacy protections.”
Why is this so significant? Well, a former legislator took the trouble to email Rocky Top and point out something most have missed during this whole affair:
“The Governor is treading dangerously close to impeachment. If they released HIPPA protected information, or violated contractual confidentiality, charges can be brought.
While impeachment is a little far-fetched, others have pointed out that if the Feds are so inclined they can not only bring charges, but can fine the crap out of the individuals responsible for the HIPPA violations,
How about that? We may have our very own Richard M. Haslam in the making. Remember that old saying, Governor: “the cover up is always worse than the crime” – especially when it comes to the Feds.
If you don’t believe us, just ask the fuel sales department at Pilot/Flying J.
Letter from Connie Ridley to members of the General Assembly
May 7, 2015
I write to inform you that the Office of Benefits Administration, a division of the Department of Finance and Administration, is releasing further detailed information to the media regarding member health insurance benefits.
This is once again a dramatic and unprecedented departure from policy. As you may remember, I wrote to you in February to inform you that Benefits Administration was departing from their policy to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state health plan. Today, Benefits Administration is going further. They are releasing, both to the Tennessean and the Associated Press, not only the names of legislators on the plan but what type of plan they have, as well as the full cost.
The Office of Legislative Administration views this as a blatant violation of member privacy. It is the long standing policy of the Office of Legislative Administration to release only the number of legislators and staff on the state insurance plan. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) precludes releasing names or “any other personally identifying information” as such information is protected health information. It is the opinion of this office that release of personally identifiable enrollment information would be in violation of federal HIPPA privacy protections.
I would like to emphasize that decision was made in the executive branch at the direction of Benefits Administration Executive Director Laurie Lee. The Office of Legislative Administration did not approve of this release nor did we authorize it. Our policy of releasing only the number of legislators and staff goes back decades. This policy was also the policy of Benefits Administration until the concluding moments of this February’s special session on Insure Tennessee. The policy change was made in consultation with Finance & Administration General Counsel Martha Nichols. The General Assembly’s Office of Legal Services was not consulted.
You will likely see media coverage regarding the release of this information over the coming days. I wanted you to be fully aware of what information was being released and from where the information was coming. Following my signature you will find a detailed list of what information will be provided to the media by Benefits Administration.
If you have any questions regarding this subject or any other please do not hesitate to call my office.
He said. She said. And then Rocky Top says…
One of our loyal readers wrote a 400-word missive defending Casada during last week’s “emergency” conference call. Since RTP did not eavesdrop on the phone call (hell, even anonymous, snarky, muckraking political hacks like ourselves have some scruples), we will leave it to others to debate the nuances. This tipster signed their email “Kool Aid.” Make of that what you will.
But in a one-time exception on this site, we will publicize “Kool Aid’s” opinion. Now don’t everybody else get all excited. This blog is not a debating society so don’t start sending us a bunch of commentary. There’s a reason we disabled the “Comments” section, you know. You are entitled to your own opinion, but we don’t have to care what it is or amplify it with our thousands — yeah, that’s right – thousands of regular readers. Get your own blog if you don’t like the rules.
Do we think Kool Aid’s comments exonerate Casada’s tap-dancing? No we do not. Multiple legislative sources gave us the same story – that Glen had significantly cooled down his opposition from the day before and spent most of his comments parsing who was at fault and what the response should be. He says it was up to the governor to “meet in the middle” and for the governor to offer an “olive branch.” RTP heard that olive branches and middle meetings were indeed discussed, but in the context of Casada offering them up as a disingenuous “way out” for the governor instead of going to war with him (which of course, raises the question of just why was it the responsibility of the aggrieved party – the caucus in this case — to ask for, suggest or accept an olive branch? It’s this sort of lack of backbone that keeps conservatives on the back bench. But we digress…).
But “Kool Aid,” in the best spirit of the Rocky Top Tip Line (email@example.com), saw fit to add some more juicy (alleged) insights to the conference call that we were not aware of and we applaud him/her for doing so and have decided to award him/her a forum (slightly edited, of course, to make us look smarter):
“Once it was Glen’s turn to talk, he once again echoed his distaste, arguing against the Speaker that both the Bredesen and Haslam administrations have been denying these exact same requests from the media for over a decade before they suddenly changed their minds this year. At that point, he did say it’s up to the Governor to meet the legislature in the middle on this issue and try to offer an “olive branch” if they’d like, but that it’s not the responsibility of the caucus to defend him on this.
“The Speaker insisted, in direct response to Glen’s comments, that instead of the caucus directing their anger at the Governor, they should be aiming it at the Tennessean instead for having requested the documents in the first place.
“The Speaker of the House literally insisted that members shouldn’t be mad at the Governor for actually authorizing the release, but should instead be upset with a liberal newspaper outlet because they are doing their job.”
Way to go, Kool Aid. Now that’s what we call good leaking. So if we have you straight, Harwell tried to shift the blame to the press and away from the governor. Classic. And here we thought the 2018 betting on the Haslam backing had already shifted to Randy Boyd. Harwell doesn’t appear ready to give up kissing gubernatorial behind just yet.
Of course, RTP does not have any independent confirmation that “Kool Aid” is a legislator, a member of the public, a prison inmate or even Glen Casada himself. But we thought it was interesting enough to share with all of you.
Now let’s get out there and start developing some more tips for the crew here at ol’ Rocky Top.
Just don’t drink too much of that Kool Aid….
The white-hot fury that erupted late last week with “InsureGate” is starting to settle down, but the resentment it left behind is very real and will likely last for a long time.
Typically, the news media missed the real story. They think the whole thing was about petulant legislators upset with the press and trying to keep their personal insurance policy information a secret. While there was undoubtedly some discomfort at being singled out for a benefit that nearly 300,000 other state employees have received for years with recrimination, the news hounds totally missed or totally ignored what the real anger was about.
Rocky Top’s tipline (firstname.lastname@example.org) lit up like a frat boy’s nose on a Saturday night with numerous comments from legislators and staff. But the anger wasn’t at the press, who they viewed as merely a side player in the controversy. No, their fury was directed almost exclusively towards the Haslam administration, who they viewed as the real culprit. To a person they see the governor and his staff as intentionally trying to embarrass the legislature in retribution for not only InsureTN, but a host of other administration defeats, slights and embarrassments the last several months, such as the recent Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial (see: “More Mush from the Wimp”).
To say that among the GOP caucus there is a seething hatred for the administration this morning is a gross understatement.
There is also deep anger with the leadership, particularly in the House, for allowing these attacks on members to continue while they (the leadership) seem more concerned about covering the butt of a governor who is seen as the source of the attacks. In particular, the rank-and-fill are livid that the governor’s office continues to “step in it” then runs to the leadership to get their help scraping it off their shoes.
The “emergency” caucus conference call that hurriedly took place on Friday just made matters worse. The call led off with Harwell making the pitch, McCormick trying to explain his statement from the day before and Casada going from warlord to wimp in less than 24 hours. It was obvious to anyone listening that leadership had huddled with the governor just before the call to plot their strategy, proven by the fact they had Haslam’s “legislators deserve the subsidy” statement in hand and ready to go by the time the call started.
Harwell trotted out the lame excuse that state law said the administration had to give up the info. Never mind that federal HIPPA regulations seemed to contradict that position. There was also suspicion that the governor had quickly gone to his hand-picked Attorney General for some sort of “interim advisory opinion” claiming that the administration’s hands were tied. Some members called bullsh*t on that one, pointing out the administration line of defense did not address the fact that, if true, the administration had purposely left the legislators in the dark for at least three months as to the media’s requests and the administration deliberations on how/if to provide them the info.
For his part, McCormick dissembled into a vague walk back about how he mistakenly “put quote marks” around Cate’s “stepped in it” comment that McCormick had made in an email to caucus members just the day before. McCormick said he was just relaying the impression he got from his conversation with Cate. Whatever, Gerald.
But the award for fastest and most dramatic 180-degree turn went to Casada, who was all fire and brimstone in the Friday morning newspaper:
“Whoever authorized the release of this information showed a clear lack of judgment and, at the very least, should be reprimanded immediately,” Casada said in a statement. “If this is the executive branch’s way of negotiating with the legislative branch about Insure Tennessee, I would encourage them to strongly and swiftly rethink their strategy.”
Just hours later there was Casada encouraging the caucus to take the governor’s “olive branch” and “move on.” Casada engaged in situational posturing while playing both sides against the middle? Wow, what a shock. Not a good “confidence builder” for your colleagues and not a good way to launch your campaign for Speaker.
Son of Advance Tennessee?
The “olive branch” statement trotted out by the governor was seen as so self-serving that it was considered something of a joke and an astonishingly weak attempt to paper over the administration’s latest screw-up. For one thing, if the administration wasn’t behind the hit-job on the legislators, then why did the governor feel compelled to rush out a statement of support? Guilty dog is the one who barks, and all that….
Legislators were of the opinion the administration has been intentionally trying to undermine the legislature for months and that they got caught doing the same thing they got caught doing last August when Haslam and Cate created Advance Tennessee PAC to go after incumbent Republican legislators who didn’t toe their line. That effort blew up in the governor’s face as well.
While leadership probably spent the weekend congratulating themselves on tamping down the crisis, the real damage has already been done and is likely permanent. Among most legislators, Haslam is seen as a “lame duck” only five months into his term. And because of their actions, leadership is increasingly viewed with skepticism from caucus members as well. They may not be lame ducks yet, but many have noticed a pronounced and collective limp.