No. 19: Where's Lee? (Aug. 19 - 25)

Now with bonus FLOTN content! (But does her husband know what she's doing?)

Did women even suffrage enough if the governor’s wife doesn’t do something to kick off next year’s centennial? You know, the woman married to a man who wouldn’t hire women for senior leadership positions in his company and who belongs to a church that won’t given women any leadership positions?

This writer sincerely hopes that Monday’s kick-off will be FLOTN Maria Lee’s announcement that she is done with all the evangelical subservience crap. Because if you don’t think women can lead, you really should not be pushing a faux yearlong “celebration” of (white) women’s right to vote being formally recognized.


GOVERNOR LEE’S MEDIA SCHEDULE FOR AUGUST 19, 2019 – AUGUST 25, 2019

Monday, August 19

No public events

Tuesday, August 20

No public events

Wednesday, August 21

Bradley Co. TN State Veterans Home Groundbreaking

1960 Westland Drive, SW

Cleveland, TN 37311

10:30 a.m. EDT 
MEDIA – Open, Availability

School Tour & Visit

Benton Elementary School

215 School House Hill

Benton, TN 37307

12:00 p.m. EDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Thursday, August 22

Wilson County Fair Farmers Appreciation Breakfast

Wilson County Expo Center

945 E. Baddour Parkway

Lebanon, TN 37087

7:45 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Bill Signing Ceremony for HB 999, designating the bluetick coonhound as the official state dog.

Tennessee State Capitol

600 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd

Nashville, TN 37243

2:30 p.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Friday, August 23

No public events

Saturday, August 24

No public events

Sunday, August 25

No public events


FIRST LADY LEE’S MEDIA SCHEDULE FOR AUGUST 19, 2019 - AUGUST 23, 2019

Monday, August 19

Kick-off to Tennessee Woman Suffrage Centennial

War Memorial Auditorium

301 6th Avenue North

Nashville, Tennessee

12:00 p.m. CDT

MEDIA – Photo only

Tuesday, August 20

Clay County Senior Citizens Center

145 Cordell Hull Drive

Celina, Tennessee

10:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Wednesday, August 21

Senior Day at the Fentress County Fair

Fentress County Fairgrounds

641 Fairground Road

Jamestown, Tennessee

10:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Thursday, August 22

No public events

Friday, August 23

Bolivar Municipal Center

211 North Washington Street

Bolivar, Tennessee

10:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability


Housekeeping: The really nice people at Substack are trying to work with me (!) to turn this into a functional news outlet, so I am pushing off paid subscriptions for a month or two at their recommendation. In the meantime, I’m on Venmo @cgervin if you want to help fund my reporting. If you want to send me tips, I’m on Signal, Confide, Twitter and Facebook. You can also reply to this email. Bonus: Now you can actually mail me documents at the P.O. Box listed below!

Please, if you were forwarded this, sign up for the newsletter. No one else in this state is covering Tennessee politics from such an uncompromising stance.

No. 18: Things I Like Right Now

Half hours on earth, what are they worth? I don't know.

Moments can be monuments to you
If your life is interesting and true
It's just the same for a man or a girl
The meaning of the world lies outside the world

I think it was the summer of 2003. I have the story script saved on a disk somewhere, not that I’ll ever be able to access it again. I know I saved the tape of that entire interview, because it was so amazing, but the last time I looked for it, I couldn’t find it. But, once, David Berman came to Athens to teach a week-long poetry workshop and I talked the public radio station into letting me do a story about it, and he sat in a classroom and talked to me and then insisted I mail him a tape of the story. Which I did. And I saved his address in my Palm Pilot and felt guilty for doing so, because he was such a private person, but also David Berman had given me his address! Like, was I just supposed to throw that knowledge out with the trash?

People love people and they understand
If you want to renovate your background mind
A federal woman needs a municipal man
People gotta synchronize to animal time

I deleted his address a long time ago, probably when I switched out the Palm Pilot for an iPhone in 2007. And I never sent him anything besides that one cassette tape — this is when public radio was still using razor blades and tape and reel-to-reel to edit — and I honestly have no clue where Berman even lived in Nashville. I never saw him during all the time I spent there, even back when I was still living in Athens and dating someone in Nashville and there were like three bars people ever went to.

You can't change the feeling but you can change your feeling about the feelings in a second or two
People always come around

I never saw Berman perform with Silver Jews or in his rare pop-in performances with Pavement, because he rarely performed. But this weekend I was going to go see him, finally, 20 years after Silver Jews entered my life. Except now David Berman is dead.

I'm studying the ceiling on a little afternoon and when I paint my dining room
People gonna come around

I know that this is a newsletter about Tennessee politics, but Berman both lived in Nashville long before it was cool and is the son of Rick Berman, the D.C. lobbyist who has been paid handsomely to fight union organization efforts at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant. Some of my former Nashville Scene colleagues were/are friends with David Berman and his ex-wife Cassie and have posted lovely tributes on social media, as have some of my friends from Athens days. In some ways, I wish I had kept that address and sent Berman a follow-up letter, because he sent so many sweet letters and emails to so many people I know. I can’t share my friends’ private remembrances, but Rob Sheffield’s tribute will give you a hint.

I love to see a rainbow from a garden hose
Lit up like the blood of a centerfold
I love the city and the city rain
Suburban kids with Biblical names

I don’t think that “People” — off Berman’s 1998 Silver Jews album American Water — is his best song. It might not even be my favorite song, depending on the day and season and mood. But say it’s year 2000. The turn of a new century. Which you rang in with your best friend (who’s dead now too) and a magnum of Veuve, because this won’t ever happen again, and a sequined tube top from your mom’s disco days (well, country club-pretend disco days) and a moss-green silk taffeta ballgown skirt from Ann Taylor (because for a year or three that was briefly a glorious thing you could buy) and you fell in love that night with a guy who looked kind of like David Berman, although he didn’t kiss you until two months later, sitting in your car parked on the street outside Lamar’s, which was still open then and run by Lamar, and you had closed it down, playing all the best songs, and then you sat in the car listening to Yo La Tengo and Big Star and he kissed you. But he never called you back.

People ask people to watch their scotch
People send people up to the moon
When they return, well, there isn't much
People be careful not to crest too soon

And then you went off to visit grad schools and you met a hot British grad student at the best bar in Athens and after a whiskey sour he also kissed you and then he mailed you a mix tape that had two Silver Jews songs on it. One of which was “People.” And it was an unseasonably warm February that year and it was sunny and 75 on that day you visited Athens and met him and how could you not go to grad school there when you were in Ann Arbor weeks later on your late March birthday and the daffodils had only just then bloomed, a fact which several people proudly pointed out during your visit? (Also, there was the whole thing that the professor who you wanted to be your dissertation adviser wouldn’t pronounce your name correctly, even after you very politely corrected her three times. Michigan. I swear.)

The drums march along at the clip of an IV drip
Like sparks from a muffler dragged down the strip
I really hope you'll come around

And if you hadn’t moved to Athens because it was so exactly the opposite of where you went to college — it was warm in February! People were friendly! You would have never started working in college radio and then public radio and probably never sat in a room with David Berman telling you about his addiction to crack and his poetry and how he hated to be on stage. You might have never become a journalist and moved back to Chattanooga in 2005 and have fallen in love all over again with the guy who looked like Berman, not that it worked out that time either. If it weren’t for a mixtape with this one particular song, who knows where you’d be today.

It's sunny and 75, it feels so good to be alive,
Come on, baby, don't stay inside
Everybody's coming out tonight

David Berman killed himself last week, and it is devastatingly sad. I know my sadness does not compare to that of anyone who was actually close to him. But his songs and words have meant so much to me over the years during my dark places because in his lyrics, like in “People,” Berman was able to flip his dark sarcasm and rage into eventual joy, giving me hope that maybe I could do the same. (Sarah Larson says it better than I can in the New Yorker; this Atlantic piece is also good.)

In one of his most famous poems, “Self-Portrait at 28,” Berman writes about about depression and aging and society, and it’s so dark but it’s also so funny. “If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes/I hope you won't be insulted/if I say you're trying too hard,” he writes, which does makes me laugh out loud ever time. And this past week, that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on — not the fact of Berman’s death, not the worries that maybe he did crest too soon, but that he made it to 52 and released a final, if heartbreaking, album earlier this year. That laughing in the face of utter agony is sometimes the only thing you can do.

So my recommendation for you this week is to read David Berman, listen to David Berman, and then go out and with your friends who are still alive and tell them you love them (even if it might be closer to 95 degrees than 75). Because you might not get to do that tomorrow.


Housekeeping: The really nice people at Substack are trying to work with me (!) to turn this into a functional news outlet, so I am pushing off paid subscriptions for a month or two at their recommendation. In the meantime, I’m on Venmo @cgervin if you want to help fund my reporting. If you want to send me tips, I’m on Signal, Confide, Twitter and Facebook. You can also reply to this email. Bonus: Now you can actually mail me documents at the P.O. Box listed below!

Please, if you were forwarded this, sign up for the newsletter. No one else in this state is covering Tennessee politics from such an uncompromising stance.

No. 17: Where's Lee? (Aug. 12 - 18)

Promoting "rural opportunity"

Wonder if both state Sen. Joey Hensley and the Hohenwald vice-mayor will be in attendance on Tuesday? Could get awkward


GOVERNOR LEE’S MEDIA SCHEDULE FOR AUGUST 12, 2019 – AUGUST 18, 2019

Monday, August 12

TN Government Executive Institute Annual Lunch

Labor and Workforce, Pearl Room

220 French Landing

Nashville, Tennessee 37219

11:30 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability 

Tuesday, August 13

School Tour & Visit

East Hickman High School

7700 TN-7

Lyles, TN 37098

8:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Governor’s Rural Opportunity Summit

Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center
1225 Baptist Camp Road

Linden, TN 37096

11: 00 a.m. CDT

*Contact Laine Arnold for credentials

Lewis County Teacher Roundtable

Lewis County Schools Central Office Board Room

206 S. Court Street

Hohenwald, TN 38462

3:30 p.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Wednesday, August 14

No public events

Thursday, August 15

No public events

Friday, August 16

Nashville Business Journal Breakfast

Lipscomb University, Allen Arena

4021 Granny White Pike

Nashville, TN 37204

7:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Photo Only

Saturday, August 17

No public events

Sunday, August 18

No public events

Housekeeping: The really nice people at Substack are trying to work with me (!) to turn this into a functional news outlet, so I am pushing off paid subscriptions for a month or two at their recommendation. In the meantime, I’m on Venmo @cgervin if you want to help fund my reporting. If you want to send me tips, I’m on Signal, Confide, Twitter and Facebook. You can also reply to this email. Bonus: Now you can actually mail me documents at the P.O. Box listed below!

Please, if you were forwarded this, sign up for the newsletter. 

No. 16: "The enemy of the State"

Why I'm so very sure I have the facts right about Rep. "Bedroom Bill" Sanderson

On Tuesday, while talking to someone about this story, I was asked why I was still writing it.

“He resigned before you even published your story. Why can’t you just let it go? What are you trying to accomplish here?” Mike Smith asked me. 

Mike Smith is the general manager of the Dyersburg State Gazette, probably the most prominent local paper in Kenton Republican state Rep. Bill Sanderson’s West Tennessee district. Smith, a former sports writer, is also the managing editor of the Dyersburg State Gazette; he writes both columns and hard news for the paper.

I called up Smith — who was generally quite pleasant during our conversation — because he wrote a column about Sanderson on July 28, a few days after my reporting resulted in the legislator’s resignation. (Oddly, Sanderson told me his resignation was effective immediately, but per the State Gazette, it’s effective Sept. 5, resulting in an extra month of pay.) I got my start at a local weekly newspaper in Eatonton, Ga., so I know personally how hard so many small town newspaper staff members work to cover news that otherwise would never be reported. This is why I was amazed to read Smith’s column, “Sanderson forced to defend reputation following resignation,” in which he runs an unedited statement from the legislator, filled with inaccuracies, that calls the media “the enemy of the State.”

As I mentioned in my last post, Sanderson has hired a Milan, Tenn., attorney named Frederick H. Agee to send out cease and desist letters to other news outlets writing about Sanderson’s history of trying to pick up much younger men on Grindr. Agee, a former clerk in the legislature, seems to be barely competent at his job, as the letters he has sent are also filled with inaccuracies. But his personal attacks on me have resulted in at least two stories getting killed, at NBC Out and at Memphis’s Local 24 station. A third outlet, Raw Story, deleted their piece after getting Agee’s email, although you can find it archived here. And Agee’s threats have meant few news outlets in Tennessee amended their original reporting on Sanderson’s resignation to note why he was actually resigning — because he was a family values Republican who had been caught cheating on his wife with men almost three decades younger. 

Sanderson’s son-in-law does indeed have cancer, which is terrible. (And I told him that.) But if Sanderson had really been planning for months to resign for business reasons, as he told me two weeks ago, would he have started making monthly payments of $924.22 to WellsFargo in April 2019 from his campaign account listed as an “auto expense”? Because Sanderson did confirm to me that he had purchased a new car with his account (which, inexplicably, continues to somehow be legal for legislators to do).

In short: A politician has resigned over a sex scandal, and his low-powered attorney (who does not have either a website or a LinkedIn page) has succeded in bullying large news outlets into not posting about his client’s scandal with an inaccurate email while the client calls the media “the enemy of the State.” Meanwhile, I, the author of the original story, have not gotten a cease and desist letter, and for good reason — everything I wrote is true, and both Sanderson and Agee know it.


Here’s the C&D email that Agee sent to Raw Story that resulted in the story being pulled:

We are respectfully requesting removal of the story published today by you on the Raw Story website regarding Bill Sanderson. This is an unsubstantiated claim against Mr. Sanderson by a blogger who solicits financial support on social media sites.

It is our understanding the blogger that made this allegation which dates back to almost a decade ago may not be a credentialed member of the media and is using unverified anonymous sources. We are also respectfully requesting that you cease and desist from publishing any future stories.

Lastly, my client has received a number of threats from the LGBTQ community from all over the Country that he and his family don't deserve. The threats have been so voluminous that he has had to temporarily shut down his social media sites for his White Squirrel Winery which is going to affect wine sales.

Thank you for the consideration.

And here’s the statement Sanderson gave to Smith (all sic):

As you must have heard, a Nashville freelance Democrat blogger has posted a story about me. Several years ago this person had lost her legislative press credentials and is not allowed press privileges in our legislative building. Also, her last 2 publishers fired her. She is unemployed, and via-twitter is asking for donations to repair her phone. She is trying to sell a story.

She is using an un-named source, using unverified information, has faceless pictures and a string of fake texts to smear my character. Because this is a blogger and not a legitimate reporter this is OK and protected by our 1st amendment as “freedom of speech”.

I absolutely deny what she is saying and consider it ridiculous, made up lies.

In the process of spreading her “fake news”, she has inflamed the LGBTQ community. This community is sending emails, phone calls and threats to my business and to my wife. Most of our social media accounts are now taken down.

It is a sad day when an unemployed democrat blogger using unverified, un-corroborated information can take out a hit piece on an elected official and the public considers it real news because it is in print. This is why, just tonight President Trump called the liberal media, “The enemy of the State”. I now see this very clear and I share his opinion and I hope you do as well.

I sincerely ask for your prayers.

And here are the facts: Sanderson took down his personal and campaign Facebook pages two days before my story ran, and I have him on tape saying that he did so. A week after the story ran, his personal Facebook page was back up. His personal Instagram is up and still public; so is that of his wife’s candle company. His son, who I did not name but whose Instagram account was linked to by other websites, also never made his account private. Sanderson did delete his Twitter account the day my story ran, but he rarely posted on it. And Sanderson’s winery Facebook page is back up now too. It also seems to only post about once a week, so it’s unclear how its disappearance could have possibly hurt Sanderson’s business. Oh, and you can still book the Sandersons’ “romantic winery loft suite” on Airbnb.

More facts: I am absolutely allowed “press privileges” in the Capitol and Cordell Hull, as is every member of the media. (They are public buildings, for one.) I don’t currently have a hard pass, which includes a cubicle and a parking spot, because I don’t live in Nashville (and there aren’t even any open cubicles to have if I wanted). You know who else doesn’t have a cubicle in the press room? Every single television reporter in Nashville.

Also: I was not fired from my past two jobs. As most of you know — and as I told Sanderson, and have on tape — the alt-weekly Metro Pulse in Knoxville was shut down in October 2014, and the entire staff was laid off. That happened in advance of Scripps selling the Knoxville News Sentinel to Journal Communication, which then sold its assets to Gannett, which is now selling all of its many news outlets to GateHouse. And that statewide news desert is a good part of why I started this newsletter. (Which is a newsletter, not a blog.) Also, I’m not unemployed, I’m a freelance journalist, and about a hundred of you have found my work worthy of your financial support, for which I’m eternally grateful. Lawyers don’t usually work for free, and neither should journalists. 

I asked Agee why he hadn’t sent me a cease and desist, and he replied, “Because there’s no reason to send one to you.” Agee said that because I was living with my mother and “unemployed and waiting tables” — literally the definition of being employed — and did not have “a Tennessee Association of the Press badge” — not a thing that even exists — it wasn’t worth his while to email me, unlike emailing other news outlets. (Never mind that my tiny little newsletter about Sanderson’s behavior has had almost 34,000 views as of this morning.) Despite the similarities in the C&D and the statement submitted to Smith, Agee said he did not write the latter. He refused to address the false claims in either statement — defamatory, because they are not true — and hung up on me. Twice. 

Finally: The Grindr messages and texts of which I have copies are not fake, and they are not from a decade ago. I have ones from 2013, and I have ones from 2016. But according to several people from West Tennessee, there’s been gossip about Sanderson sleeping with college-age men since the 1980s. I don’t have verification that he did cheat on his then-wife in the 1980s or 1990s, but longtime residents of the counties in his district have told me that his “Bedroom Bill” radio ads for his C.W. Sanderson furniture story were often derisively joked about.

Of course, joking about someone being closeted is not the same thing as that person actually attempting to hook up with men. But in December 2013, Sanderson was definitely trying his hardest to meet a 23-year-old man in the Dyersburg area. I reported on some of these Grindr and text messages in my first story, but since my credibility is under question, here’s more proof that these messages are not fake, and that’s there’s not someone who’s been pretending to be Sanderson catfishing young men in West Tennessee and Nashville for years.

A couple of days after Christmas 2013, two men went to a local Pizza Hut in Sanderson’s district. The representative was there, dining with his wife Marji. One of the men pointed him out to his friend, commenting that he was a legislator. Just over an hour later, shortly after the men, who were roommates, returned home, one had received a message on Grindr from “Brian.”

“Did I just see you at Pizza Hut?” asks “Brian.”

Through subsequent messages and pictures, all shared with his roommate at the time, the man realized that “Brian” was in fact state Rep. Bill Sanderson. Over the next several weeks, Sanderson attempted to meet up with this man. He said he wanted to “make out and cuddle” with him. He talked about being horny because he refuses to masturbate. He said the last time he was with a guy was in Nashville “three weeks earlier” with a “hard body 19 year old” student at Trevecca Nazarene University.

“He was hot as hell, great ass and wonderful dick. But it was all about him,” Sanderson wrote in a text message sent from his cell phone number. He then said he once picked up a guy at Tribe, the gay dance club in Nashville, who was “hot” but “a little too fem for me.” 

Sanderson also went into detail about the winery he was then planning to open. He talked about construction details. He talked about speaking at a Dyersburg Rotary Club meeting. And he very explicitly told the man what he wanted to do to him, over and over.

As the man slowly stopped texting back, Sanderson texted about going to the man’s workplace. 

“You are cute. I walked by u while u were talking to a lady,” Sanderson wrote. “You never looked my way. I like your hair. I think we would make good friends. … I’m not a stalker. … It’s cool I cane[sic] by, isn’t it?”

Although the man continued to text and talk to Sanderson over the next couple of weeks, he told his roommate that Sanderson’s intensity was bothering him, and he eventually stopped responding to the texts. But he’s not the only person Sanderson has met on Grindr who has had the legislator unexpectedly show up at his workplace in West Tennessee — I’ve talked to a second man who says this happened to him. But he says Sanderson has threatened his livelihood and isn’t ready to talk more about what happened — yet.

So why am I writing this? Because I don’t like being called a liar. Bill Sanderson used Grindr to get off, and I’ve seen the proof.


Housekeeping: The really nice people at Substack are trying to work with me (!) to turn this into a functional news outlet, so I am pushing off paid subscriptions for a month or two at their recommendation. In the meantime, I’m on Venmo @cgervin if you want to help fund my reporting. If you want to send me tips, I’m on Signal, Confide, Twitter and Facebook. You can also reply to this email. Bonus: Now you can actually mail me documents at the P.O. Box listed below!

Please, if you were forwarded this, sign up for the newsletter.

No one else in this state is covering Tennessee politics from such an uncompromising stance. While it will likely take several months for the full ramifications of the Gannett/GateHouse mega-merger to be felt in Tennessee, you can count on reporting before, during and after. I can break the stories other people can’t, or won’t. If you want that news in this state, support me by signing up.

No. 15: Where's Lee? (Aug. 5 - 11)

Actually in Nashville, mostly

Have been traveling and hanging out with family and stuck on two tiny planes in rows where I could not recline my seat but the person in front of me could and did, making it impossible to for me to open my laptop, and seriously, do not recline your seat on a tiny plane. (Unless it’s like a private plane where it does not matter.) So apologies, this is belated, and includes last week’s schedule too. More actual news tomorrow …


GOVERNOR LEE’S MEDIA SCHEDULE FOR AUGUST 5, 2019 – AUGUST 11, 2019

Monday, August 5

NGA Learning Collaborative

Sheraton Grand, Platinum Ballroom 4

623 Union Street

Nashville, Tennessee 37219

8:20 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Photo only

National Conference of State Legislators

Music City Center

201 5th Ave S

Nashville, TN 37203

1:30 p.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Tuesday, August 6

Economic Impact Announcement

Country Music Hall of Fame, Ford Theatre
222 5th Ave S

Nashville, TN 37203

10:50 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Wednesday, August 7

No public events

Thursday, August 8

Tennessee Farm Bureau Presidents Conference

Cool Springs Marriott

700 Cool Springs Blvd

Franklin, TN 37067

11:00 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, photo only

Friday, August 9

No public events

Saturday, August 10

No public events

Sunday, August 11

No public events


Last week’s schedule, which ended up in my spam folder and I didn’t notice until I was in D.C. …


GOVERNOR LEE’S MEDIA SCHEDULE FOR JULY 29, 2019 – AUGUST 4, 2019

Monday, July 29 – Wednesday, July 31

West Coast Economic Development Trip to California and Washington

Thursday, August 1

Tennessee Sheriff’s Association Annual Summer Conference

Wilderness at the Smokies/Sevierville Convention Center   

202 Gists Creek Road

Sevierville, TN 37876

10:00 a.m. EDT

MEDIA – Open, Photo only

Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards Luncheon

Franklin Marriott Cool Springs, Salon 5

700 Cool Springs Blvd

Franklin, TN 37067

12:00 p.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Friday, August 2

FedEx Announcement

Signature Aviation

2488 Winchester Road

Memphis, TN 38116

10:30 a.m. CDT

MEDIA – Open, Availability

Saturday, August 3

No public events

Sunday, August 4

No public events 


Housekeeping: The really nice people at Substack are trying to work with me to turn this into a functional news outlet, so I am pushing off paid subscriptions for a month or two. In the meantime, I’m on Venmo @cgervin if you want to help fund my reporting. If you want to send me tips, I’m on Signal, Confide, Twitter and Facebook. You can also reply to this email. And now you can actually mail me documents at the P.O. Box listed below!

Please, if you were forwarded this, sign up for the newsletter. No one else in this state is covering Tennessee politics from such an uncompromising stance. If that matters to you, support me.

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