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More Fallout from the Tennessee Legislature's Stunt

After the Tennessee House made a spectacle of itself by trying to expel three Democrats and succeeding in two cases, all of a sudden the national media showed up. Once reporters show up, they do what reporters do: look for news. Suddenly, the legislature was in the spotlight and, well, when you turn over rocks, you find worms. More specifically, before this stunt, almost nobody had ever heard of Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R). Now he is newsworthy and reporters have been checking him out. One thing they discovered is that Tennessee law requires state legislators to live in the district they represent. Now what does "live" actually mean? This is relevant when people have two houses (or, in the case of the late John McCain, so many houses that when asked "how many?" he needed a staffer to go add them up).

Here are the facts. On his website, Sexton lists his home address as 186 Homestead Drive, Crossville, TN. That address is in Tennessee HD-25, which he represents in the Tennessee House. That's fine—so far. Although it is a lovely four-bedroom, four bath house, the property was sold on Oct. 12, 2020 and the Sextons moved to a condo outside the district.

Now back to the question of where he lives. Tennessee law helps out here. Under Section 2-2-122(a)(5) of the Tennessee Code, "the place where a married person's spouse and family have their habitation is presumed to be the person's place of residence." Sexton's youngest child is enrolled at a private Christian school, The John Edwards Classical Academy, just outside of Nashville. Sexton and his wife have often been photographed at the school. However, the school is more than 2 hours' drive from Crossville. Does his wife really drive 2 hours each way five days a week to take the child to school? Inquiring minds want to know. Especially since neighbors near the house in Crossville say Sexton doesn't live there anymore. They would know because the House speaker is accompanied by security when he travels and it is obvious when he is present somewhere due to the security detail. Now that reporters are getting nosy and asking Sexton questions about where he lives, he refuses to answer.

So why didn't Sexton just run in HD-50, the district where the school is and where he lives? Answer: because HD-50 is a Democratic district he couldn't win. Better to pretend he is living in the house he sold 2½ years ago.

But wait, there is more. Members of the state legislature are entitled to a per diem to cover their expenses. Most legislators who live far from Nashville stay in town at a hotel during the week and go home on weekends. The per diem is $79 for legislators who live within 50 miles of Nashville and $313 for those who live farther away (to cover hotel bills). Sexton takes the larger per diem, claiming he lives in Crossville, 118 miles from Nashville. In 2022 he billed the taxpayers for $19,093 for his per diems when the legislature was in session (January to April). He also billed the taxpayers $16,276 for travel to Nashville when the legislature was not in session, which is legal if he had official business in Nashville. It is possible that he had official business in Nashville during the off season, but he is not allowed to bill for travel from a place where he does not live. That's a total of $35,369 for 2022. In contrast, the member who represents HD-50 and lives close to Sexton's family, Bo Mitchell (D), billed $4,977 for travel and expenses for the entire year of 2022. Needless to say, submitting false bills for reimbursement is fraud and violates Tennessee law. Tennessee AG Jonathan Skrmetti (R) is certainly not going to prosecute him. However, if Davidson County DA Glenn Funk (D) wants to make a name for himself, he could do it. (V)

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