Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star Senior Reporter Laura Baigert to the newsmakers line to discuss following the money in regards to legislation that conspicuously supports the inadvertent taxpayer-funded Randy Boyd development in Knoxville.
Leahy: Joining us on the newsmaker line our lead reporter on Capitol Hill for The Tennessee Star Laura Baigert. Good morning, Laura.
Baigert: Good morning, Michael. How are you?
Leahy: I’m great. As always you’re breaking news left and right. You had this very interesting article the other day that talked about five sponsors of a bill enabling Randy Boyd’s taxpayer-funded baseball stadium in Knoxville. They received more than 90,000 campaign funds from individuals with ties to the project. What on earth is going on here Laura?
Baigert: That’s a good question. And you know for the folks who think that only swamp lies in Washington, I think that they could see that it’s going on here too. I mean one of the first things we always ask is or say is to follow the money. And it’s hard to just ignore how much money came from the same individuals repeatedly to the same people. It can’t be a coincidence that the same group is giving to all of these people who just end up as sponsors on the bill.
Leahy: So let me lay this framework out here and it’s in your story. I’ll read it and then kind of get your reaction to it. So, Randy Boyd is the owner of the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team was currently playing at Smokies Park in Sevier County. You can see it I think as you’re driving up to Sevierville on Highway 40. The team previously known as The Knocks was owned by the Haslam family until 2013. I think it’s a Class A minor league baseball team.
They’ve moved from Knoxville in 2000. Randy Boyd’s contract with Smokies Park expires at the end of 2024. Boyd is currently the executive chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, the company founded that includes Pet Safe and Invisible Friends Brands. And he sold the company in 2020. It has annual sales of well over $300 million. You made a boatload on that and congratulations to him for that. He served as commissioner of Economic and Community Development and ran for governor in 2018 and lost. A very brutal and negative campaign.
Baigert: That he spent $19 million on.
Leahy: He spent a lot of money on it and lost but it was you know, the famous Randy Boyd attack. It’s Diane Black attacks Randy Boyd and Bill Lee slips in and wins the governorship. Boyd is currently the president of the University of Tennessee. Now they own property in Knoxville. What does this bill do and how does Randy Boyd benefit from this bill?
Baigert: Well, the first step of this activity of moving the team over to Knoxville out of Sevier County was to form a sports authority. And that had to be approved by both Knox County and the City of Knoxville. That passed by both legislative bodies in late December 2020. So the next step now is how do we fund it.
And this is a mixed-use development with residential apartments and probably restaurants and things like that and to emulate what happens in Chicago near Wrigley Field. So you have these rooftop viewing areas if you will and can visualize it. It’s a very nice development. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s mixed-use.
Randy Boyd is going to get the funding for the $142 million estimated to build the residential commercial property. But then the 65 million, that’s just the entry fee plus a contingency plus all the interest that’s going to be paid. You are probably talking $100 million by the time it’s all said and done. And it would be the taxpayer paying for the stadium and his team.
Leahy: Let me see if I understand the mechanism. So this bill would then give all of the state sales tax and local sales tax within a quarter-mile of the proposed stadium. All of those revenues would then go back to fund the stadium. Is that how it works?
Baigert: That’s correct. Thanks for connecting those dots. So right now there’s no sales tax revenue there.
Leahy: Nothing’s going on.
Baigert: Right. Nothing’s going on here. But what happens when the sales tax does not meet the requirements? There are $4 million a year in interest estimated in bond payments if this were to go through. And in fact, these estimates are only that these sales taxes will only accommodate a payback of 30 percent of that four million dollars. Where’s the rest of the money going to come from?
Leahy: Well, the other issue that I have with the sports story authorities and I just don’t think it’s on principle even if there would be an increase in sales tax because of the development, I don’t think on principle taking state funds and giving it to private entities for whatever purpose is a good policy no matter whether it’s coming from sales tax increases or what. I don’t think that’s just good public policy. It looks to me like insider dealing. that’s my view. What are your thoughts on that?
Baigert: Oh, agreed. Insider dealing one. If it were so profitable how come Randy Boyd can raise 142 million dollars for the mixed-use part, but not for the stadium?
Leahy: We need to get them in here and talk about that.
Baigert: That would be great. The other thing is where in the constitution does it say that we should be funding things like this in the first place? We’ve seen in Nashville what a disaster it’s been when you get a sports authority that there they are set up as a private entity. You can’t look at their books. They do whatever they want with the money.
If you remember when we had the NFL draft in Nashville, there was so much money spent on extra police. And the sports authority can decide whether they want to or not pay for the police. And yet they reap all the profits but they don’t have to have the expenses. They never set up these sports authorities to carry their own weight.
Leahy: Yeah, exactly.
Baigert: Zero accountability. It’s like another story that you’ve been covering in The Tennessee Star with the oversight board where these unelected people have no responsibility and no accountability to the people.
Leahy: So my question on this is and this is what we want to ask Randy Boyd. It’s a little bit of conflict of interest here in the sense that he’s the president of the University of Tennessee and he’s going to benefit from taxpayer money. Now granted it increases sales taxes around the proposed stadium, but he’s going to benefit fit from it. And I just think that’s fundamentally morally wrong. That’s my view on it.
Baigert: And this isn’t the first time. Two years ago we had a bill sponsored by then State Rep. Eddie Smith that would have put money to set up a transit improvement district so that passenger trains could come from the Alcoa-Maryville area up to this old city area right where all of Randy Boyd’s property is for people to come into the UT game supposedly.
And so that would have been set up as a district that would have had a special tax rate to charge people for how they wanted that district to look. And there would have been very strict rules about what lamppost you could have and what kind of flowers could be hanging outside. And setting up all this all of this district just to benefit his area.
Leahy: Yeah exactly. So here’s what is interesting to me. I really want to talk to Randy Boyd about this. And then my question to him is why don’t you just fund this privately. Why do the taxpayers have to fund it? I think that’s a legitimate question. Don’t you?
Baigert: Yes. Absolutely legitimate question. It also raises a question like every time we venture into another one of these it backpedals into something else. So over there in Knoxville, they want a soccer team to be able to play in that and they’re all excited about it. We want to have a Knoxville soccer team and somebody already is looking at expansion and all of that. And those are some of the people who contributed to the five legislators sponsoring the bill. Yet in Nashville, we have to have a separate stadium.
Leahy: It’s crazy. Laura Baigert, will you keep us updated on what happens with this bill? I hope it doesn’t make it out of committee but we’ll see.
Baigert: And the way it’s scheduled for committee is very very interesting there too because it’s going directly in the House to a finance subcommittee. Why it’s not being considered in the local government and state government or something along those lines is very interesting.
Leahy: Well, I’m on the record Laura saying, this is a bad bill, and we shouldn’t pass it. But we’ll see. Get some of the folks that are sponsoring it on here to talk about it Laura Baigert. Thanks so much for joining us today. Keep up the great investigative work.
Baigert: Have a great day.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed retired attorney and blog creator of Misrule of Law Mark Pulliam to the studio to discuss the inconsistencies between Tennessee universities and their conservative legislators.
Leahy: And that’s governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem. A rising star in the Republican firmament. And she’s talking about Joe Biden’s reckless decision to cancel this Keystone pipeline. We are talking with Mark Pulliam in studio who is a blogger and a refugee from California. And then later a refugee from the People’s Republic of Austin Texas who’s come to East Tennessee and is sending out warning signs about the complacency of conservatives which needs to be addressed here.
But we’re talking a little bit about how the country will survive the next two years of the Biden administration between now and the midterm elections. One of my theories Mark is that we need in those 35 states where freedom is still possible, by the way, California is not on the list of those 35 States. You’re shaking your head. you agree with that.
But in those 35 states, we need to return to federalism. We need those states, the state legislators, and the governor’s states to be strong proponents of state sovereignty and push back against the usurpations of the national federal government. Kristi Noem in South Dakota I think it’s done a very good job of that. She didn’t do any lockdowns.
And is a great rising star. At CPAC I think she was in the top four-five of potential presidential candidates. My question to you you’ve lived in California recently. You’ve lived in, Texas and now you live in Tennessee. How would you rate the governors of those states in terms of their exercise of authority pushing back against the usurpations of the national federal government?
Pulliam: Well federalism is important. And in Washington, we have gridlock. We’ve got Chuck Schumer. We got Nancy Pelosi. We got a lot of complicated problems and it’s hard to get things done there. But in states like Tennessee where you have an overwhelmingly Republican electorate, where you have a Republican super-majority in the legislature, and where you have statewide elected officials who are all Republicans, we should be able to chart a different direction to run things differently.
And just because the federal government is in bad shape doesn’t mean that we cannot enact good policies at the state level. But we have to have the will and the resolve to do so. And what is disappointing and this was disappointing in Texas and I’m beginning to feel becoming disappointed about in Tennessee is that even though you have this Republican establishment that is in charge at the state level they don’t govern like Republicans should be governing.
Leahy: So when we talk about that, I think one of the areas that we’re talking about of air during the break has to do with how higher education here in Tennessee is being subjected to the kind of left-wing, critical race theory indoctrination that you are seeing in California, New York, and these other states. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Pulliam: Well, the legislature has plenary power over the state universities because they fund them. And the governor has a great deal of authority over state universities because he points to most of the members of the boards of trustees that oversee them. Nevertheless notwithstanding the fact that we’re paying for it, and we’re overseeing it across Tennessee at the flagship campus and at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but at the other campuses, we see critical race theory.
We see the whole diversity agenda. LGBTQ. All of the elements of wokeness being woven into the curriculum. And our children are being indoctrinated right here in Nashville. At Tennessee State, Al Sharpton this semester is being paid $48,000 to be a lecturer and an adjunct professor in social justice. . . Why are the taxpayers and Tennessee paying him $48,000? He’s a despicable character and by bringing him in we are legitimizing him. But it’s not just Tennessee State. Its athletes taking a knee and being praised by University administrators.
Leahy: This is East Tennessee?
Pulliam: Well, not just East Tennessee the women basketball players at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. And at the men’s basketball players. In fact, all of the athletes at the University of Tennessee marched during the George Floyd protest, and this was during a COVID shutdown at the time. And the university administrators applauded it.
Leahy: That was back in the summer. But the one in the news now is the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team took a knee recently to protest the national anthem.
Pulliam: And the coaches are defending them. And when the GOP legislators senators wrote a letter criticizing it the university administrators are pushing back and saying oh you’re violating these athletes’ First Amendment rights even though most of them are on taxpayer-paid scholarships. They’re wearing taxpayer-provided uniforms. They are representing the state of Tennessee.
Leahy: So is it a first amendment right? You are an attorney.
Pulliam: No. I think that what student-athletes do on their own time. That’s a First Amendment Right. What you do on the court while you are literally representing the state is rules can be set.
Leahy: So let me just stop. I think that’s a very good point. So the First Amendment basically gives freedom of speech but doesn’t require that people have an opportunity to hear you necessarily and you can go on a soapbox and say whatever you want. But if you’re working for an employer or if you’re representing an employer or an institution there are rules and regulations that bind your conduct at that time. Is that right?
Pulliam: Yes. And for all intents and purposes, they are employees performing a job when they are athletes playing basketball. And so what they do in their capacity as basketball players is subject to management and regulation by the state. and making people stand respectfully during the national anthem I think is part of that. The NFL is making people do that. If you want to take a knee stay in the locker room etc. There’s no reason why the University of Tennessee can’t do it or others.
Leahy: So let’s talk about that a little bit. And this is kind of one of the things that I find interesting. So in theory, it’s the state legislature that sets the law in the state?
Leahy: Signed by the governor.
Pulliam: And appropriates all the money.
Leahy: So here’s what I find. So the state . . . when we talk to the state legislators, it’s about two-thirds Republican in the House. It’s more than that in the Senate like I think 27 Republicans and six Democrats in the state senate. But if you talk to them they all are very conservative and very supportive of the Constitution. As an example, there’s a law that says the Constitution will be part of the curriculum.
But if you go in and you try and find that curriculum and find teachers telling teaching it, you don’t really find it in the way that the state legislature intended. We know this because as you know, we’ve done this Constitution Bee for four years now going on five written a book about it. Complimentary text Guide to the Constitution the Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students.
We are not getting a lot of teachers in public schools that really care to use that content, even though it hits all of the elements that the state legislature says should be hit in teaching the Constitution. So we see a lot of times the state legislature will say this is what should be done. But the implementation of it doesn’t seem to happen that much.
Pulliam: Well speaking of how a conservative legislature should manage taxpayer-funded universities. So five years ago there was a controversy at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville regarding gender-neutral pronouns and sex week activities.
Leahy: The sex week, we did a lot of stories on it. But they were really kind of bizarre.
Pulliam: Well it’s no more bizarre than a lot of other stuff that’s part of this curriculum. Well, so it got controversial the legislature defunded the diversity office. It got a lot of attention $400,000 taken out of the budget. What people didn’t realize it was only for one year. So after one year that the vice-chancellor of diversity is back.
All of the money is back. And in fact, it’s gotten a lot worse. Now, they have diversity officers in every academic department. Every department has to have a diversity plan. Critical race theory is being promoted throughout the school. And so they sort of pushed away a lot of this controversy by taking some action, but it was illusory action.
Leahy: We’ll have more with Mark Pulliam blogger at the Misrule of Law and Refugee from California here on The Tennessee Star Report.
Listen to the full first hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Mark Pulliam” by Mark Pulliam.