Axios Nashville

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January 19, 2022

It's Wednesday and we're trying not to think about the wintry mix in the forecast.

  • Today's weather: A wintry mix is possible later tonight. Be careful.

Today's newsletter is 937 words — a 3.5-minute read

1 big thing: Redistricting could lead to new candidates

Illustration of scales of justice weighted down by an elephant
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Redistricting has put blood in the water for Tennessee's 5th congressional district.

  • Multiple Republicans have confirmed to Axios their interest in the seat, an emerging slate of viable candidates that sets the stage for a bruising primary battle between now and August.

Why it matters: The Republican primary for the 5th district has been a non-event for generations. But the redrawn map would create a much more favorable environment for conservatives to topple U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, the Democratic incumbent.

The latest: Robby Starbuck began running for the 5th district last year before the proposed lines were even announced. His campaign had about $100,000 on hand as of Sept. 30.

State of play: Former House Speaker Beth Harwell, one of the most recognizable potential Republican candidates, confirms to Axios she is leaning toward running.

  • Harwell says she is still "waiting on the final lines," which require approval from the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee.
  • Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, a former conservative activist with Americans for Prosperity, tells Axios he is interested in the job. Like Harwell, he is waiting for approval of the map and an anticipated legal challenge to play out before choosing to run.

Yes, but: The race figures to attract newcomers. One name to watch is Franklin attorney Kurt Winstead.

  • He retired from the Tennessee National Guard as a brigadier general and is married to influential state lobbyist Beth Winstead.
  • "The changing of the 5th is a unique opportunity for residents in the district to have a conservative voice in Congress at a crucial time when our country is at a crossroads," he says. "I have served our country before, and many friends, colleagues, and community leaders are urging me to run if redistricting is approved."
  • The newly drawn lines also create opportunities for Nashville candidates, such as retired Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain and Metro Councilmember Steve Glover.

On the other hand: Multiple sources tell Axios that Cooper is pondering retirement after Republicans unveiled a map that flips his district into one that favored then-President Trump by about 9 points in 2020.

  • "Jim is exploring every possible way to one, prevent the gerrymandering of Nashville, and two, in the event that we cannot stop gerrymandering, help Democrats (including himself) win in every one of the three districts in which Nashville is being fenced," Cooper spokesperson Christopher Jerrolds tells Axios.
  • Cooper has just over $1 million on hand and unparalleled name recognition.

2. Embezzlement scheme hit foundation, feds say

Exterior shot of the Estes Kefauver Federal Building in Nashville.
The Estes Kefauver Federal Building in Nashville. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

A former executive at the T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer Research is facing a federal wire fraud charge after investigators accused her of embezzling more than $3.7 million in foundation funds.

  • Investigators said Melissa Goodwin, 55, improperly used a foundation credit card to buy tickets to the Super Bowl and a Lady Gaga concert, among other expensive goods, as part of a "fraudulent scheme."
  • Goodwin served as executive vice president and general manager from 2018-2020. She is also accused of doctoring credit card bills and altering financial statements to hide her behavior from colleagues.

Why it matters: The federal investigation casts a pall over the foundation, a widely respected cancer research nonprofit powered by Nashville's music industry.

  • The foundation's board of trustees is a who's who among Music Row power brokers, including Big Machine Label Group's Scott Borchetta, Warner Music Nashville's John Esposito, Morris Higham Management's Clint Higham and Sandbox Entertainment's Jason Owen.
  • According to the most recent public tax documents, the nonprofit reported total annual revenue of $4.5 million.

Driving the news: Federal court documents did not explain all of the details, but prosecutors said they wanted to recoup the "proceeds of the scheme."

The other side: Goodwin's attorney, Worrick Robinson IV, released a statement saying she was cooperating with investigators and was "accepting responsibility for her role in this offense."

  • "There are additional facts that will come to light in the coming months that will provide more detail and clarity about this case," Robinson wrote.

Go deeper

3. BNA hits gun record

Data: TSA. Chart: Axios Visuals

Gun discoveries at Tennessee airports reached an all-time high in 2021, driven by a sharp uptick at Nashville International Airport.

  • TSA agents discovered 163 firearms during security checkpoint screenings just in Nashville — its highest total ever, and more than the statewide tally for all airports in 2020.

Why it matters: Guns in carry-ons are a growing issue that can slow down security lines and result in civil and criminal penalties.

  • BNA ranks fifth nationally among airports with the most gun discoveries, per the TSA.

Between the lines: State lawmakers have worked for years to expand access to firearms in Tennessee, but federal rules still bar them from carry-ons.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of the "Batman building" in Nashville with a bat-signal, with a note instead of a bat, shining on it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🦠 Metro Nashville Public Schools reported a record number of new COVID-19 infections. (The Tennessean)

⚖ The controversial juvenile court judge in Rutherford County will not seek reelection. (WPLN)

🏈 The Titans will continue to evaluate running back Derrick Henry's health this week. (A to Z Sports)

5. Curbside recycling coming back

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Curbside recycling returns Feb. 1, Mayor Cooper said yesterday.

Why it matters: The move will make recycling much more convenient. Residents for about a month had to haul their own recycling to a handful of local collection sites.

What they're saying: Cooper thanked city workers "for working long hours to cover for the failures of a private company."

What's next: The city's private trash service, Red River Waste Solutions, filed for bankruptcy in October and struggled to keep up with its schedule of weekly collections.

  • City lawyers will ask the bankruptcy court to allow Metro to hire another trash collector until a permanent solution is finalized.

🏈 Nate is ready to eat a hunk of sharp cheddar and run through a brick wall after watching this Packers hype video a few dozen times.

🧀 Adam doesn't need an excuse to eat some cheese with Nate.