Vaughn, Tennesee GOP tangle over grants

Hank Hayes • Dec 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) is taking state Rep. Nathan Vaughn to task for missing a deadline to file requests for state grant funds — a charge that Vaughn labels a smear tactic.

“No Sullivan County grantee is going to not get their grant,” said Vaughn, D-Kingsport. “I can assure them that every single grantee is going to receive their dollars. The Tennessee Republican Party knows that.

“This is a smear in terms of being able to use partisan politics in an effort to basically discredit me.”

Vaughn, who is in his third term representing the 2nd House District, is expected to face an election challenge next year from Colonial Heights Republican Tony Shipley.

A TRP press release said Vaughn “may have cost” valuable community programs in Sullivan County some $100,000 that they could have received under the state’s Community Enhancement Grants (CEG) program. Each House district was appropriated $100,000 to distribute to nonprofit and community organizations applying to the Secretary of State’s office for the grants.

TRP charged that Vaughn failed to file his requests by the deadline.

“Once the legislature made the decision to create this grants program, it was up to legislators to make sure their community got its fair share. But Rep. Vaughn dropped the ball and failed his constituents,” Bill Hobbs, TRP communications director, said in a prepared e-mailed release.

But Judy Bond-McKissack, an attorney in the Secretary of State’s office, said in an e-mail that the grant applications were required to be filed by the organizations seeking a grant by 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 15.

Vaughn said he tried to help all organizations seeking CEG grants.

“I tried to have them send information to me. ... I missed the (deadline) date by one day,” he said. “I was going to send them all at the same time, ... there were a few who went ahead and sent them in. Approximately 10 to 12 of these wouldn’t have been received anyway because they had incomplete information.”

Vaughn said he will support a “cleanup bill” in the next legislative session to take care of every eligible CEG grant application in his district.

“No one will not get their money,” he said.

Vaughn also accused the state Senate, led by Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville, of politicizing the grants by using the Secretary of State’s office to process grant applications. There were more than $175 million in requests for the $20 million allocated for the CEG program, according to the office.

“There are literally hundreds of these grants that have not been processed,” Vaughn said.

“The real question is the hypocrisy of my (Republican) colleagues in Sullivan County. Every single one of them voted against doing these grants,” Vaughn said. “And then every single one of them took the money and doled the money out and then railed against this being nothing but pork. Now they are being critical of me.”

In response, House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol said: “I understand that Nathan probably feels embarrassed and under pressure about the fact that he dropped the ball in terms of turning in the enhancement grant requests. We worked diligently to make sure this wasn’t just a pork-barrel, handout program. ... I invited him to join with (Republican state) Rep. (Jon) Lundberg (of Bristol), Ramsey and me in pooling our money to make a difference in Sullivan County and he refused. He wanted no part of the teamwork approach, ... there’s really no one to blame but himself. ... I do not anticipate any late applications being approved.”

Mumpower needs to pick up four House seats next year for the GOP to win a majority.

This is not the first time TRP and Vaughn have been at odds. Earlier this year, TRP attacked him for voting for a 42-cent cigarette tax increase to help finance education reform.

In 2004, TRP went after Vaughn for walking out of a House subcommittee meeting where proposed legislation banning same-sex civil unions failed by a close vote. Vaughn, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation, said he left the heated Domestic Relations Subcommittee meeting because he needed to tend to his legislation that was on the House Transportation Committee’s agenda at the same time.

Vaughn defeated Republican challenger Neal Kerney in 2004 and was unopposed in his 2006 re-election bid.

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