NRA Lobbyist Attends House GOP Caucus

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The National Rifle Association is so almighty in Tennessee politics that its lobbyist was allowed to speak at the House Republican caucus meeting yesterday before the big vote on the new guns-in-bars bill.

There’s no way a member of the general public or the media could have made it through that door. House GOP caucus chairman Glen Casada now claims the meeting was open but, if so, it was one of the first in this General Assembly. Reporters have been barred from so many caucuses that we've given up trying to go. NRA lobbyist Heidi Keesling was invited inside like an old friend. She attended for what Casada calls “informational purposes only.”

What information did Keesling provide? Well, for one thing, she told Republicans in so many words that if they voted against guns in bars, they should watch their backs in November’s elections.

“She didn't threaten at all,” Casada insists to Pith. “There were two or maybe three questions directed to Heidi and she answered the questions. But it was informational purposes only.”

Asked essentially whether the NRA would punish lawmakers who voted against guns in bars, Keesling replied “it is a weighted vote, meaning it's something that will be a factor in determining endorsements,” Casada says.

He admits “it's not normal” to allow a lobbyist into a caucus meeting. “But there was information we needed that I felt like only Heidi knew how to give.”

Was anyone else invited to give information? How about the state’s police chiefs, whose association has been vigorously opposed to guns in bars? We asked Casada that, and he laughed like it was a silly idea.

“If we had five police chiefs, two would have been for it and three would have been against it,” he said.

At least one Republican objected to what the NRA lobbyist had to say. It prompted a remarkably candid speech on the House floor by Rep. Joe McCord, who admitted he wouldn't speak so boldly if he weren't quitting the House this year. We like this quote so much we can't stop using it.

“Essentially, the NRA is saying to us if you don’t support carrying guns in bars we will not endorse you but will, in fact, oppose you. ... I’m not running again. You can tell because I’m sitting here criticizing the NRA. … [But] it makes me wonder, what line will we not cross for the NRA? I’m just curious. At what point do we say this is too much?”

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