Thanks to Eric Holcombe for his excellent detailed research on the subject, something much of the media has failed to do. Representative Bob Ramsey and Senator Doug Overbey have their hands in this, with Ramsey presenting an amendment that cleverly excludes naming Pigeon Forge while forcing another vote, despite it’s recent defeat. So much for the will of the people.
By Eric Holcombe
Hunting down the illegal Pigeon Forge liquor-by-the-drink 2012 referendum legislation isn’t easy. That’s because no one wants to own up to it. You won’t find a bill with Pigeon Forge in the title, but that isn’t unusual for liquor bills. It is quite customary to describe localities by their census population in the bill language without ever naming the locality in these bills. It also isn’t unusual for another legislator outside the district to sponsor these bills, because the local boys want to sell you on “family values and Sunday school” and let someone else get the liquor bill passed while they can “vote against it”. Some bills are forthright in declaring their referendum intentions, like HB1086 allowing a referendum for Goodlettsville. Not so for the illegal Pigeon Forge 2012 referendum bill. It required deception, keeping the other legislators unaware that Pigeon Forge had already conducted two referendums – in 2009 and 2011 and that another referendum shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot before spring of 2013 at the earliest. It also required resurrecting a bill from the previous year and amending it to “rewrite the bill”. It required getting legislators outside the district to sponsor the bills in the House and Senate. We know that both Representative Richard Montgomery and Senator Doug Overbey have denied any connection to the bills. Even Jess Davis’ press release found in the Pigeon Forge City Commission minutes from February 13, 2012 warned us of the collusion of city leaders, legislators and wanna-be liquor sellers, including the recruitment of legislators outside the district to run the legislation, naming only Representative Ryan Haynes in the letter – who allegedly gave his word to Doug Sager “that it is dead, and he will not be introducing it again”. Richard Montgomery allegedly gave pastors and leaders “his word that he has stopped it in the House, and that he will not allow the voter’s voice to be overruled and that he will find a way to thwart any further attempts.” Remember that date, February 13, 2012. These promises would have been made before that date.
HB1171 is the tool that was used to force a new referendum on Pigeon Forge in November of 2012. The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes. The companion Senate bill (SB1038) was sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron. Didn’t know Pigeon Forge elected them did you? Now reading the description of the bill doesn’t indicate any connection to Pigeon Forge because it mentions only Robertson and Monroe Counties. You have to look at the amendments. In the House version, see Amendment #1. Who sponsored the amendment? Why Bob Ramsey in the House and Ken Yager in the Senate. What? You mean Pigeon Forge didn’t vote for them either? Even this amendment doesn’t mention Pigeon Forge. It was carefully crafted in that Pigeon Forge is the only municipality with a Tourism Development Zone that has not passed liquor by the drink. Jess Davis was incorrect in the assertion that a special zone was created for Belle Island (though that may have been the intent at the time). A special state law was created just for Pigeon Forge and an illegal liquor-by-the-drink referendum. Note the language: “…the county election commission shall place the question on the ballot of the November 2012 general election.”
That doesn’t sound voluntary. So, the state not only usurped its own law forbidding placing a referendum on the ballot within two years, but required the County to place it on the ballot. So much for the “will of the people”.
Well, now you know the players and you know the claims of having nothing to do with it, or promising to kill it, etc. Here’s the problem: the stories don’t add up. You can watch the archived video proceedings on both bills, and I would encourage you to do so. You can start with Ryan Haynes’ presentation before the State & Local Government Sub-Committee on February 22, 2012 (note the date). He misrepresents the bill as authorizing Pigeon Forge to hold a referendum “if they so choose”. I guess he forgot about Doug Sager pretty fast. Then it moves to the full committee of State and Local Government with no discussion on March 6, 2012. Next, Chairman Bill Dunn gives Haynes a jab at his numerous alcohol bills from outside his district in the Calendar and Rules committee on March 15, 2012. This happens after the bill following HB1171. This is the final committee to pass before a final House floor vote. Here is that House floor video and you can watch as Rep. Bob Ramsey reads the Amendments to the bill. You’ll see Haynes afterward state that this bill as amended “allows Pigeon Forge” to hold another referendum for liquor by the drink. Richard Montgomery made no objections here, and in fact voted for the bill. As the bill worked its way through the Senate, the House version was adopted, but a third amendment was added for Tellico West Conference Center to sell liquor by the drink and the House had to consider the bill again to include this third amendment and pass the same bill that the Senate had passed. Here is that video, and this time Haynes gets some flack from Representative Holt asking how long he has represented Monroe County. Again, not a peep from Montgomery and he voted for the bill again. Montgomery had said he supported referendums because the people could choose, but he also knows this referendum would be too early, contrary to state law.
On the Senate side, Sen. Bill Ketron begins in the State & Local Government committee on April 12, 2012 and states the bill “authorizes Pigeon Forge to conduct a referendum for liquor by the drink”. He gets some questions from Sen. Lowe Finney asking has Pigeon Forge communicated to him that is what they want to do. Sen. Ketron responds “that is correct”, and “they” wanted to put this item on the ballot for the November election. Finney counters with a clarification that Pigeon Forge already had held a referendum or cancelled it. Ketron admits they already defeated liquor by the drink and stumbles around pushing the idea that “everyone” could vote on it in November. Not “everyone” is able to vote in the spring I guess.
Some questions: who communicated this to Bill Ketron? Why would residents of Pigeon Forge contact Bill Ketron and Ryan Haynes instead of Doug Overbey or Richard Montgomery? They both voted in approval of the bills, so obviously there was no objection to the idea.
Remember, Overbey and Montgomery claimed to have no involvement with this bill – especially Doug Overbey in the Republican primary debate.
Next up is the Finance Ways & Means Committee on April 17, 2012. Sen. Ketron gets questioned by Sen. Jim Kyle on why he is representing Pigeon Forge outside his district and asks does this bill have the support of the local county commission and local legislators. Ketron claims to have a letter from the City Manager of Pigeon Forge and also Mayor David Wear stating such. Note that this bill vote gets carried over to the next day, but is approved with no objections. Note that Doug Overbey was present, voiced no objection and voted in approval of the bill.
Some questions: Why would the City Manager or Mayor David Wear write a letter to Senator Bill Ketron instead of their Senator Doug Overbey? Obviously Sen. Overbey voted in approval of the bill so he is not opposed to it. Did they also write a letter to Ryan Haynes? Richard Montgomery? Bob Ramsey, Ken Yager? Might be interesting to get a copy of that letter.
The Senate floor vote took place on April 25, 2012. The House bill substitution is made and Sen. Yager has to withdraw the Senate amendments #1 and #2 because they are already in the House bill. Amendment #3 for Tellico West Conference Center is read and adopted into the bill. The subject of the actual bill is never stated as having anything to do with Pigeon Forge. Once again, Doug Overbey was present, voiced no objection and voted in approval of the bill.
What do we know? We know there was an illegal state law created to force the County Election Commission to put a Pigeon Forge liquor-by-the-drink referendum on the November 2012 ballot. Jess Davis’ information was not correct (or a bunch of people are liars – you decide). Not only did Ryan Haynes continue to sponsor and carry a Pigeon Forge liquor bill all the way to the House floor, but both Sen. Overbey and Rep. Montgomery voted in approval. Neither Rep. Montgomery nor Sen. Overbey made efforts to object to the bills. Apparently Pigeon Forge City Manager and Mayor David Wear sent a letter to Sen. Bill Ketron asking for the illegal 2012 referendum legislation. For some reason this was deemed necessary even though (obviously by their votes) Sen. Overbey and Rep. Montgomery had no objection to the bills.
The Mountain Press printed a story on February 5, 2012 related to this story. They have shelved it, but you can still see a cached version here. Note that at that time Haynes’ bill was claimed as “off notice” but also couldn’t be located (a scoop on a mystery bill yet to be filed?). But if we look at HB1171 bill history, we see that this is an old bill from 2011 and the sponsor changed on January 11. This bill was off-notice at the time but on February 8th, Haynes reintroduced it after the article. Keep in mind Jess Davis’ release in February. Which bill did Haynes promise to drop? Which bill did Montgomery promise was dead? In this story the bill is also sold as being for all Tourism Development Zones statewide, and it just happens to include Pigeon Forge so Richard Montgomery was against it and told Haynes he could not support it. Richard is also quoted in that article as saying: “This was sort of aimed at Pigeon Forge, it’s my understanding,” Montgomery said. Ryan told me one of his constituents asked for it, but he didn’t give me a name.”
So is it one of Ryan’s constituents that asked, or was it a letter from the City Manager and Mayor Wear? Why did Richard change his mind and fully support the bill after it was explicitly changed to ONLY apply to Pigeon Forge? Is it because it was a referendum (though he knew it was too early and therefore illegal)?
Then there are the statements by the mayor:
“Mayor David Wear said he wasn’t aware of any action on the part of city leaders to ask for Haynes to introduce the bill .
“I actually had no idea a bill like that was introduced,” Wear said. “Of course, we had heard talk that something like that might happen, but no one informed me it had.
“The City Commission has nothing to do with that. I can guarantee none of the city officials or staff have been going down to Nashville to lobby for this, or against it, for that matter.”
Like I said, might be interesting to get that letter from Bill Ketron. When was it sent? What talk had Mayor Wear heard?
Then there are the statements from Ken Maples:
“Ken Maples, past president of the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association, said that group “did not sponsor and/or request any bill in Nashville with relation to liquor by the drink.”
Maybe that was true on February 5th and maybe true for PFHA only. But Ken Maples and the Forging Ahead liquor lobby sure seem interested now, because their advocate is Sen. Doug Overbey’s law firm partner John Owings seeking an audience with Telford Forgety to help him assess the situation of the obvious election fraud.
But I’m sure Doug would say he has nothing to do with it.
Correction: This story was edited to reflect the correct date of the Mountain Press article of February 5, 2012, rather than January 3, 2012.