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Tenn. Sen. Brian Kelsey could lose key leadership position due to federal indictment

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:29 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Questions continue to surround Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey following his federal indictment.

The indictment alleges Kelsey conspired with others to violate multiple campaign finance laws during his unsuccessful 2016 run for Congress.

The indictment could cost Kelsey an influential role in the Tennessee Senate.

Kelsey is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, a powerful committee in the Tennessee legislature and one that routinely deals with controversial issues.

“Senator Kelsey has been a major figure and in West Tennessee. He’s been a major figure in the state Senate. As chair of the education committee, he’s involved with some of the most important issues that concern the state government,” said Action News 5 Political Analyst Mike Nelson.

The committee, considered one of the most powerful in the legislature, is responsible for legislation concerning public schools and colleges and routinely deals with issues like teacher pay and even classroom curriculum.

Of course, depending on one’s politics, the committee chairman’s actions could be seen as good or bad.

For instance, earlier this year, Kelsey helped push through a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory, which almost every Republican supported and every Democrat opposed.

“The question is, can he continue to serve in that role, given that he’s under indictment? He basically has to ask the state Senate for permission to continue in that role and see if they’ll give it to them,” Nelson said.

Under the Senate rules, if a sitting senator who serves as chairperson of a committee is indicted, they “may request a hearing by the Committee on Ethics to determine whether such Senator should be suspended from his or her position.”

The rules go on to say, “If such Senator fails to make such request by the end of the tenth calendar day after the indictment, then the suspension will take effect and will continue as long as the indictment is being actively pursued.”

Action News 5 reached out to Kelsey Tuesday to see if he planned on making a request to try to keep his chairmanship.

Kelsey did not respond to a message for comment.

There is just one Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, which Senator Raumesh Akbari of Memphis.

Akbari is also a member of the Senate ethics committee, which will determine if Kelsey will get to keep his chairmanship or whether he will be suspended.

A sitting senator can still serve in the assembly and continue to introduce and vote on bills as their case moves through the courts.

State Senator Katrina Robinson continued to serve after she was indicted by a federal grand jury last year.

Kelsey has until November 5 to surrender to U.S. Marshals.

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