September 22, 2023 12:00pm

Tennessee lawmakers earn a "A" and "F" for their special session inaction

Power Poll survey reveals lackluster rating for GOP Gov. Bill Lee and dim prospects for gun safety progress next year

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

Power Poll Chattanooga members were less than enthused about the recently ended special legislative session on public safety called by Republican Gov. Bill Lee last month.

And more than a third of this month’s Power Poll survey gave the governor poor marks for his leadership during the contentious session, marred by a stalemate between Senate and House members, House rules and other theatrics.

If only “Coach Prime” had been there (more on him later)!

After legislators hustled to end their regular session last spring without taking up gun safety in the wake of the March mass shooting that killed nine people at a private Christian school in Nashville (including three children), the governors called members into a special session to deal with public safety and mental health. Almost immediately, GOP lawmakers warned nothing substantial (read: anything to do with guns) would likely pass.

Lawmakers did pass three bills: One to codify Lee’s executive order streamlining the state’s background checks; another providing for free gun locks to residents upon request; and lastly, one requiring the TBI to create a report on human trafficking. Legislators also allocated more money for school safety initiatives and mental health.

Power Poll members were asked to grade the General Assembly’s special session.

Respondents were nearly evenly split with their evaluations: 19% gave lawmakers an “A” for not passing any meaningful legislation, and another 22% gave the group an “F” for not passing any such bills. So 40% are satisfied with inaction for completely opposite reasons.

Rounding out the report card, some 22% gave the General Assembly a “B” for approving some bills and agreeing to allocate millions in state money for safety and school security programs.

Another 23% gave lawmakers a “C” for the special session (“The General Assembly performed just as I thought it would”), which suggests that the “A” and “F” grades are on target.

Finally, 15% of Power Pollers said the session was a waste of time (and not an insignificant amount of taxpayer money).

Jaime Kerns, co-founder of Culture Chatt, said the issue of gun violence is not complicated.

“There’s too much of it,” Kerns wrote.

“We have a right to bear arms, and that should never be infringed. However, not requiring similar education/practice measures for new gun owners/users as we do using a car doesn’t make sense. Cars are not inherently evil, nor are guns.

“Penalizing people (and their right to access their guns) should be the same as cars. We remove driver’s rights for not paying speeding tickets, parking tickets, driving while intoxicated … We should do the same for gun owners/users. If you display an aberrant behavior socially (violence or self-harm), then temporary removal of rights should be a consequence.”

But Steve Errico, co-owner of RiverWorks Marketing Group, noted that divided opinions complicate efforts to craft reforms acceptable to gun owners and gun safety advocates.

“There is not a consensus opinion on what should be done,” he wrote. “This makes it very difficult for elected officials to act on what they see as a mandate or yield to public opinion. Balancing gun rights, which seem more important than ever, with safety precautions for gun violence, which also needs to be addressed, will take serious, nuanced discussions without partisan pandering.”

Costa Media Advisors President and CEO Mike Costa was more direct:

“Unfortunately our elected representatives in the state legislature are not responsive to the voters. If they were, meaningful gun safety legislation would have been passed.

“Instead, they are beholden to the special interests that fund their campaigns. Thus, nothing of substance for real gun safety saw the light of day.”

Costa may have been speaking for all Power Poll respondents, who aren’t optimistic about prospects for gun safety legislation next year.

In answer to “How likely is meaningful gun safety legislation to get serious consideration in the next General Assembly, which reconvenes in January 2024,” no one said “very likely.”

But 52% said “not very likely” and 41% said “Unlikely.” (7% said “Likely”)

Lawmakers will return to Nashville in January, and if tradition holds, they will try to accelerate their work so they can get back home to campaign and raise money for August primaries. Explosive issues such as gun safety likely will not be on many “to-do” lists.

Errico seemed to agree, for several reasons.

“I don’t think it is possible in today’s climate where the media and institutions want to keep us divided and fighting one another, not calmly and rationally addressing our problems,” he wrote. “There are workable compromises to be had with all these divisive issues such as gun control, abortion, welfare, etc., but I don’t think that is the goal of the power structures in this country. Meaningful dialogue is not what they want; it is too scary for them to consider.”

Those who are looking to the governor to champion any such legislation next year might think twice, given the Power Poll’s evaluation of Lee’s leadership in this recent session.

Power Pollers were asked: “How would you rate Gov. Bill Lee’s leadership on the issue of gun and public safety?” The ratings were nothing to brag about: 70% gave him a “fair” (32%) or “poor” (38%) mark. Ouch. A quarter said Lee’s leadership was “good” and 4% said it was “excellent.”

While Power Poll respondents were lukewarm at best on Lee and the General Assembly, they were high on the hottest personality in the sports world today: Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, coach of the Colorado Buffaloes.

Nearly three quarters of respondents — 72% — said Coach Prime will “boom for sure” in answer to the question: “Do you think Coach Prime will boom or bust this season, his first at the helm of the University of Colorado-Boulder football team?”

Just 13% said “Bust this year.” And 16% wondered who the heck Coach Prime is.

“Deion, boom or bust? BOOM! Prime Time sucks all the oxygen out of the room. You hardly even hear about Nick Saban anymore,” Hamilton County Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler wrote.

“He may not have a winning season this year in the W/L stats, but the amount of media attention Deion has garnered since his hire is phenomenal! All free advertising. If he chooses to stay at Colorado, I believe he can rebuild that program into a powerhouse.”

Errico credits Sanders’ success to his passion and energy — and belief.

“‘Prime Time’ understands the power of belief and leverages it on a continuous basis,” he wrote. “What you believe, you can achieve! Of course, there are all kinds of related theatrics, but I believe, at his core, Sanders wants his players to believe they are invincible.”

Sounds like leadership lessons for all, doesn’t it?

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at or

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

More on This Poll

More Polls

More on This Poll