We've spent some of our day checking into why Sens. Doug Jackson and Jim Tracy would tag-team legislation to benefit a single dude--Murfreesboro firearms manufacturer Ronnie Barrett--and we now can officially report that it's a very touchy subject.
As we wrote this morning, Tracy's amendment to Jackson's bill, which whizzed out of the Senate Transportation Committee on a 9-0 vote, commands the Transportation Department to drop its opposition to extending a county road in front of Barrett's ammo factory so he can expand his business. These senators wouldn't do this just because Barrett--the boyfriend of GOP Rep. Donna Rowland--is a big political contributor, would they?
Tracy won't return our call, and Jackson hung up on us when we caught him on his cell phone and asked him to explain himself. "If you've got a question, send me an email and I'll respond by email. Thank you. Have a good day," Jackson said before the line went dead. We sent a few questions, but the senator hasn't replied.
Barrett hung up on us too, but not before claiming the whole deal is just one big coincidence. It's true the road runs in front of his factory and that he's been embroiled in this big dispute with the Transportation Department over it and that he's even filed a lawsuit. But he says, "I tell you what, that bill's for Rutherford County. That's for a Rutherford County road that would be running in front of my place."
Q: It's not for you?
Barrett: No, the county roads belong to the county.
Q: So you're saying these legislators aren't showing favoritism to you by doing this for you as a political friend and contributor?
Barrett: No, there's no favoritism in any of this stuff at all. This is a thing between the county and the state.
The Barrett bill's House sponsor, Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, also is feigning surprise that any of this is worthy of media attention. In an interview with Pith here at Legislative Plaza this afternoon, he seemed amenable to the Jackson/Tracy amendment.
"Ronnie Barrett's not a political friend of mine. I've never received a penny from him that I know of. I'm looking at it as economic development. Just like what we did for Volkswagen. Did we do what we did for Volkswagen to help somebody's political friend?"
At least one legislator, Rep. Kent Coleman, D-Murfreesboro, thinks it all stinks and he's actually willing to say so. "I'm shocked that we would pass a bill to help one person. I can't imagine why somebody would do something like this," Coleman tells Pith.
Tomorrow, with plenty of unfinished people's business still on their plates, many of our lovable legislators are rolling out of Nashville to go to a firing range to shoot machine guns and stuff. Barrett's paying for the bullets.