This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Local officials are hoping for an infusion of federal disaster aid after initial estimates show that Friday’s tornadoes inflicted at least $19 million worth of damage in the area. “We won’t know for a few days whether we get a federal declaration, but I’ve looked at every house myself — and we suffered some brutal damage,” said Hamilton County chief of emergency management Bill Tittle. “FEMA inspectors will probably be down here Wednesday, so we’ll be showing them the area.” Hamilton County officials announced Monday that their preliminary assessments show more than $16 million worth of damages to residential areas in Harrison and Ooltewah — at least $10 million of that from 77 homes deemed “completely destroyed,” according to Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell.
Friday’s severe storms wreaked at least $16.5 million worth of damage, Hamilton County officials have gauged according to preliminary estimates. At least $10.4 million of residential property in the Harrison and Ooltewah areas were completely destroyed, while $1.7 million suffered major damage and $1.8 million experienced minor damage, according to Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell. At least $2.5 worth of damage was wreaked on houses that were deemed “affected” by the storms.
Hamilton County Emergency Services has released an updated tally of damages from Friday’s tornado. A total of 346 homes in Hamilton County were affected by the storm, with 77 of them being destroyed. At least 23 homes experienced major damages, and 64 homes experienced moderate damages. The report clarifies information that was lacking regarding damages in Hamilton County released by TEMA earlier this week. Emergency services also released preliminary damage estimates for residential properties affected, totaling $16,530,755. More than $10 million of the damages are from destroyed homes.
School officials from across East Tennessee gathered at the University of Tennessee to share what they believe to be the successes and challenges of the state’s new teacher evaluation model. On Monday, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education held its third of nine regional meetings to collect feedback on the state’s new system, which requires that every teacher be evaluated every year on a scale of 1 to 5. Half of that score is based on classroom observations. The remaining 50 percent is made up of value-added data, information that gauges how much a student has learned from one year to the next and a variety of student achievement data chosen by educators and their supervisors.
Under Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, teacher ratings will be public record, meaning parents can find out just how their child’s teacher stacks up. Teachers will be rated from one through five, with a one rating meaning “significantly below expectations” and five meaning “significantly exceeds expectations.” Half of a teacher’s score is based on the principal’s evaluation. “When you have a human evaluating a human there’s always going to be a little subjectivity,” Principal of Watauga Elementary Kelley Armstrong said. She said what she considers a three rating, another principal might consider higher or lower.
Some were surprised to learn in January that fewer than half of graduates from an Austin Peay program were being hired by the solar company whose name is on the building. But the university now says it never expected all or even most students to work for Hemlock Semiconductor, which is building a billion dollar plant nearby. Hemlock was in need of specialized chemical engineers with associates degrees for its soon-to-open polysilicon plant in Clarksville. The company donated $2 million worth of equipment to Austin Peay in order to get the classes running. Dr. Chester Little is the director and says students themselves infer that a degree equals a job, even though he tells them that’s not the case.
Lawsuit comes amid move to strip civil service protections A longtime state employee who has been diagnosed with cancer has filed suit charging that top officials in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration illegally terminated him in violation of some of the same civil service laws and rules the governor is seeking to abolish. William B. Wood, 54, of Nashville has charged that he was terminated without cause or notice just six months before he would have become eligible for retirement health insurance. His suit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, states that Wood currently is unable to get coverage or treatment for his cancer.
Twenty-two acres of Radnor Lake State Natural Area in Nashville will be burned today — on purpose — if weather conditions permit. The prescribed burn, a first for the natural area, will take place 10 a.m.-4 p.m. around the Hall Farm, which is near the Education Center just off the main road beside the lake, officials said. The adjacent areas will be closed to the public. Nearby residents will likely see some smoke from at least one acre on the east side, according to Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper and four others suffered minor injuries in a collision Monday afternoon north of McEwen, in Humphreys County. THP spokesperson Dalya Qualls said a THP patrol unit tried to stop a motorcyclist who was popping wheelies on Highway 70. Qualls said the rider continued onto Old Nashville Highway and topped a hill where two vehicles were located. The rider went in between the vehicles and drove on. The trooper was unable to stop in time and sideswiped one of the vehicles. Another vehicle traveling southbound on Old Nashville Highway then struck the trooper’s vehicle, causing the patrol unit to spin into a ditch.
At least five people were injured in a wreck Monday afternoon in Humphreys County. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, a motorcycle was traveling down Highway 70, north of McEwen, popping wheelies. When a state trooper tried to stop the rider, he lost control of the bike and sideswiped two cars. The trooper also lost control of the patrol car and spun into a ditch. Four people have been taken to a Dickson hospital for treatment of their injuries. The trooper was not transported to the hospital, and the motorcycle rider has not been arrested, THP said.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer was injured in a crash Monday afternoon, while attempting to pull over a dangerous motorcycle rider. A spokesperson with THP said the crash happened just before 3 p.m. on Old Nashville Highway, north of McEwen. A State Trooper attempted to make a traffic stop of a motorcycle rider who was popping wheelies while riding down Hwy 70. The rider refused to stop and upon topping a hill on Old Nashville Highway, went in between two cars. The following trooper came up the hill, and attempting to stop to miss the cars ending up sideswiping one of the vehicles.
A mother claims a Tennessee Department of Transportation worker leaving the scene of her car caused her family to have an accident, but TDOT disagrees. On her way to work Saturday afternoon driving on Briley Parkway, Marcia Kline had some car trouble with her left front tire “flew off” of her car. She said she called for help and a Metro Police Officer and a TDOT highway incident truck arrived to help. Marcia said the officer went looking the missing tire and shortly after that a tow truck arrive “The tow truck guy was there for about three minutes and then the highway incident guy, without saying ‘Hey I’m leaving,’ just drives off,” said Marcia. The mother of three said she was shocked the worker left and called her husband and to leave a message.
When you plant a tree in someone’s honor, you expect that tribute will last a lifetime. At least, that’s what a group of East Nashville volunteers had hoped. Now, they want answers about why TDOT crews chose to destroy their roadside memorial. “There were about 60 trees, I believe, in each quadrant, and there were a variety of trees,” said Carol Norton, with the neighborhood group Rediscover East Nashville. “Both hardwoods and evergreens, and some redbuds for color.” Norton says the group raised $10,000 for the trees back in 2009, and got permission from TDOT to plant them on Woodland Street, near the on-ramp to I-24 and I-65. She was shocked to learn that last week, the trees were cut down, one by one.
A state appeals court has put the brakes — for now — on new trials ordered up in the wake of a scandal involving a disgraced former Knox County judge. The Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of new trials ordered up for three of the four defendants in the January 2007 torture slayings of a Knox County couple and an unrelated attempted murder case. The reprieve, however, is temporary, designed to allow the respective defense teams time to respond to the state Attorney General’s Office request for permission to appeal orders granting the new trials. It will then be up to the appellate court whether to grant an appeal and actually stop retrials pending that appeal.
In Mike Jameson’s lone TV spot boasting his credentials for judge, the ex-Metro councilman’s two sons flip through posters that highlight big-name supporters: former Mayor Bill Purcell, Councilwoman Megan Barry and Councilman Jerry Maynard are reeled off first. The list of local politicos keeps going: council members Ronnie Steine, Charlie Tygard and Tim Garrett, school board chair Gracie Porter, state Reps. Mike Stewart and Mike Turner, state Sen. Joe Hayes, and so on. Indeed, when a General Sessions judgeship opened following the death of Judge Leon Ruben, a few of these folks and other council friends pulled through to catapult him to the bench.
The Tennessee Legislature won’t pass much in the way of tax cuts beyond what Gov. Bill Haslam is requesting for 2012, says House Speaker Beth Harwell. That means a reduction in the Hall tax on income from stocks and dividends — a tax Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey wants to see slashed this session — isn’t likely in the cards, she said. “I do not think so this year,” Harwell said Thursday when asked if the Hall tax will make it to a floor vote. “We did, of course, take a bite out of that last year. But I think our focus now is going to be on the reduction of the death tax, elimination of the gift tax and a reduction of the food tax.”
Democratic leaders are calling on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to stop a legislative effort to cut some students’ lottery scholarships in half. They told reporters during a news conference on Monday that the proposal would make more than 5,000 students ineligible for a full scholarship, also called the HOPE scholarship. The Republican-backed measure would reduce by 50 percent the scholarship for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements. Right now, students can get a scholarship worth $4,000 annually for four years if they either earn a 3.0 grade point average in high school or score a 21 on their ACT college entrance exam.
Top House and Senate Democrats on Monday called on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to block GOP legislative efforts they say would slash more than 5,000 lottery-funded college scholarships in the future. “This legislation is short-sighted, unnecessary and harmful to our students and our economy,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said. “The governor has stated that college isn’t for everyone, but that it needs to be for a lot more Tennesseans.” Kyle said that under the bill, which toughens qualifications for students receiving HOPE scholarships, “college will be something else for thousands of Tennesseans. It will be out of reach.”
A Republican plan to alter the lottery-funded Hope Scholarship program would make it easier for home-schooled students to qualify for the $4,000-per-year grant than students in traditional public and private schools. As originally filed, a controversial bill sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, would toughen eligibility standards for both traditional and home-schooled students, but a Gresham amendment under consideration by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would relax the bill’s original provisions for home-schoolers.
Business is good for the Tennessee Lottery. It’s posting record sales and has over 360 million in a reserve fund. Despite that, some legislators are pressing ahead with a plan that make it harder for students to get Hope Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery.Capitol reporter Joe White talks about the politics of the lottery with WPLN’s Bradley George.
There is a fight over the future of the HOPE scholarship in Tennessee. The scholarship makes the difference for thousands of students and their families, but some Democratic lawmakers are worried a change in requirements might leave students without options, and our state without a well-educated workforce. One number was front and center at a news conference hosted Monday by state Democrats. More than 5,200 students they said would be left behind without options when it comes to a college education if Senate Bill 2514 becomes law.
The state House last week passed what they called the “Small Business Incentive Act.” But at least one state lawmaker says it’s not much more than a name. The House passed it 95 to nothing. Only one member got up to point out that all the bill does is tell the Department of Economic and Community Development to set up a web page. It’s meant to be a one-stop information “portal” to help business owners interact with the state. But a similar state-run site already exists. Representative Jon Lundberg, a Republican from Bristol, questions whether any web page merits a new law with such a lofty name.
Jaime Bujanda wants his record cleared. He has a full-time job now, but if an old criminal charge — dismissed or not — pops up on a future employer’s background check, he knows he’ll likely be passed over. To that end, he’s asking the state to expunge a 2008 traffic case that was dropped. “It’s hard enough just to get a job, but with things on your record,” he said, “they don’t even read through it and see what happened. They just judge you by what’s on paper.” More Tennesseans than ever are filing to have dismissed and deferred criminal charges wiped from their records as jobs become scarcer and employers are able to be pickier. Tennessee has reported a 71 percent jump since 2007 in the number of people filing to have charges expunged.
The National Rifle Association is headed for a showdown with the state’s Republican lawmakers over proposed limitations to a measure that seeks to force employers to permit workers to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots. The NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, demanded in a letter to state lawmakers that the original bill be adopted without any changes, despite vocal opposition from business groups and the state’s police chiefs on the basis that it would infringe on property rights and raise safety concerns. The bill, scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, would apply to any legally owned firearm regardless of whether the owner had a state-issued handgun carry permit.
The National Rifle Association is taking aim at efforts by Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and other House leaders to push a compromise alternative to the controversial “parking lot” gun bill. The NRA’s Institute of Legislative Action said Monday in an email alert that McCormick and other House GOP leaders are “insistent on weakening the NRA-drafted” legislation. It urges NRA members to contact lawmakers. The original NRA bill, which has about 30 House sponsors, would allow all employees with a gun to store their weapons in their locked vehicles on private or government-owned parking lots. McCormick’s alternative bill is modeled on a Georgia law dealing with the issue.
A bill that has passed the state Senate gives teachers and other school personnel more authority to act against students who pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Senate Bill 3116 is set for review in the House Education Committee today, according to The Commercial Appeal. The measure requires local school boards to adopt policies authorizing teachers and others to temporarily relocate a student with “reasonable or justifiable force,” with less fear of being sued by a student. School officials also could make the student remain in place until law enforcement or school resource officers arrive. Sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, the bill also requires school principals to fully support teachers who take appropriate action.
School safety is at the top of concerns within the Tennessee State Senate this week. A proposed bill would give teachers and other school administrators more authority to act against a student posing a safety threat. The proposed bill states teachers would be allowed to temporarily relocate a student with “reasonable or justifiable force.” The new piece of this bill that shows promise for Washington County Tennessee’s School Board is the idea of having less fear of liability. “We currently have a student conduct policy that covers essentially the same thing that this bill does,” said Ron Dykes, Washington County Tennessee Director of Schools.
State Rep. Eddie Bass, a Democrat who had considered running for re-election as a Republican, is retiring from the General Assembly. Bass, a former Giles County sheriff, told WKSR-AM on Monday that he is leaving the Legislature to attend to his growing private businesses. He is the eighth Democratic lawmaker to announce his retirement this year. Bass’ flirtation with a party switch may have been thwarted when he angered Republican leaders by sponsoring a gun rights bill that they wanted to push off until next year. The bill supported by the National Rifle Association would force businesses to allow employees to be allowed to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots. Bass is serving his third term in the state House after first being elected in 2006.
Rep. Eddie Bass, a Democrat who had considered running for re-election as a Republican, is retiring from the General Assembly. Bass, a former Giles County sheriff, told WKSR-AM on Monday that he is leaving the Legislature to attend to his growing private businesses. He is the eighth Democratic lawmaker to announce his retirement this year. Bass’ flirtation with a party switch may have been thwarted when he angered Republican leaders by sponsoring a gun rights bill that they wanted to push off until next year. The bill supported by the National Rifle Association would force businesses to allow employees to be allowed to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots. Bass is serving his third term in the state House after first being elected in 2006.
The state of Tennessee finally has a dollar figure for workers comp and unemployment premiums going unpaid in the construction industry. Companies that play by the rules say they’re being put at a disadvantage by firms that misclassify employees. Crunching numbers on the most recent data available showed between $52 and $92 million in workers comp and $8 million in unemployment went unpaid in Tennessee. The figures are from 2006, compiled by MTSU professor William Canak. He compares the results to a leaky faucet that will do more than add a few bucks to a water bill. “If you told me that the leak is going to undermine my foundation and my house may slide down the hill here where I live, I might pay much more attention to it.”
Cigarette smokers hoping to get their fix outside a Nashville hospital could soon be out of luck. A proposed Metro Council ordinance would ban smoking on all hospital property and public right-of-ways — including city sidewalks — within 50 feet of a hospital entrance in Davidson County. As outlined in the bill, some hospitals have provided Metro written requests to extend the ban to prohibit smoking within 200 feet of entrances. They are: Vanderbilt University Medical Center (including Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital); St. Thomas Hospital; and Baptist Hospital. “It’s not necessarily great for a patient to walk into a hospital and have to go past a crowd of folks who are standing on the sidewalk smoking,” Councilwoman Burkley Allen, the bill’s lead sponsor, told The City Paper.
U.S. Rep. John Duncan of Knoxville says a new honor for Bearden High School burnishes East Tennessee’s long history of excellence in science. The Knoxville school has won the Tennessee High School Science Bowl over 48 other teams from across the state. Bearden will now compete in the national finals in Washington, D.C., in late April. Duncan noted that Oak Ridge National Lab has helped create a rich heritage of science work in East Tennessee. The competition was part of the 22nd annual U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl.
Voting across 10 states marks the busiest day of the Republican race for president and is expected to determine whether Mitt Romney solidifies his status as party front-runner or faces further threats from his challengers. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are locked in a tight battle for Ohio. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hopes a big win in Georgia, which he helped represent in Congress for two decades, will give new life to his struggling campaign. With 419 delegates at stake, Super Tuesday states offer a sizable slice of the 1,144 required to clinch the GOP nomination.
The sudden flurry of presidential campaign activity in Tennessee comes to a close Tuesday when voters cast their ballots in the Republican primary. After a fairly sleepy campaign season — early voting was down 37 percent compared with 2008 — activity suddenly ramped up in the last week as the front-runners each held rallies around the state with hopes of landing a key victory in the South. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made his first public appearance in the state at a rally in Knoxville on Sunday, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made his latest campaign stops at Memphis-area churches earlier in the day. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich headed for Kingsport, Knoxville and Chattanooga on Monday.
On the eve of their Super Tuesday showdown, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum strained for an edge in Ohio on Monday and braced for the 10 primaries and caucuses likely to redefine the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Newt Gingrich, though winless for more than a month, campaigned in Tennessee and signalled that he intended to stay in the race. In a race marked by unpredictability, Romney’s superior organization and the support of an especially deep-pocketed super PAC allowed him to compete all across the Super Tuesday landscape and potentially pick up more than half of the 419 delegates at stake. Santorum cast the race in biblical terms, his David vs. Romney’s Goliath. Even that “is probably a little bit of an understatement,” he added.
Three of the four major Republican presidential candidates are on track to claim at least one win in today’s 10-state voting. But one candidate, Mitt Romney, has the potential to emerge from the Super Tuesday balloting having transformed from a front-runner into the presumptive leader. The potential for Mr. Romney to enlarge his lead is throwing the spotlight on Ohio and Tennessee. If he takes both, he will have won the nation’s two biggest presidential swing states—Florida and Ohio—and shored up his standing in the South, where the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows him drawing new support from a region of the country where his support had been particularly weak.
Tennessee voters will finally get a chance to put their stamp on the Republican presidential nominating process today, joining 10 other states in a “Super Tuesday” electoral bonanza that will have more impact than usual on the GOP’s choice to face President Barack Obama in November. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. in Nashville. Voters will choose between former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who held a big lead in early polls; former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who appeared to be closing the gap over the weekend; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress and was doing much better in two new polls, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. At stake are Tennessee’s 58 delegates to the Republican National Convention.
As Hamilton County voters head to the polls today, at least two candidates will make their final rounds in a heated local Republican primary for the County Commission District 3 seat. Interim County Commissioner Mitch McClure, pastor at Middle Valley Church of God, faces Republican Marty Haynes, a lifelong Hixson resident who works in sales for Porter Warner. The candidates have raised about $15,000 apiece — enough to rent billboards and post dueling signs along one of the district’s main arteries, Hixson Pike. While the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries are on the ballot, “District 3 is really all that matters,” McClure said.
With less than 24 hours to go until voters cast ballots across Tennessee, a trio of polls indicate the state and its 58 delegates are up for grabs between presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, with one of them showing Newt Gingrich in the mix as well The surveys come less than one week after a Vanderbilt University poll showed Romney trailing by a double-digit margin in Tennessee. Released Sunday, the new polls show the former Massachusetts governor surging among state voters, closing the gap with Santorum and in one instance having taken the lead A Rasmussen poll conducted two days before the state’s Super Tuesday primary showed Santorum holding a 4-point edge over Romney in Tennessee, with a 34 percent to 30 percent lead.
Voters head to the polls this morning to cast primary ballots for the Republican presidential nomination and for several Shelby County primary races. Relatively few people participated in early voting: about 21,000, according to the Shelby County Election Commission, or 3.5 percent of registered voters. Election administrator Richard Holden says the number of people who vote on election day is typically about the same as the number who take part in early voting — that would suggest another 21,000 would come out today, bringing total participation to about 7 percent of eligible voters. However, in the 2008 presidential primary, turnout on election day was much higher than in early voting.
Election Commission purchases 75 laptops to serve as poll books Presidential primary voters heading to 29 of Rutherford County’s 48 precincts today should be able to cast ballots quicker thanks to electronic poll books. “The advantage is you can search someone’s name a lot faster,” local Election Administrator Nicole Lester said while setting up four electronic poll books at Kingwood Heights Church of Christ off Memorial Boulevard in Murfreesboro. “You don’t have to search for someone’s name in the signature book.” The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the primary to pick party nominees for president and two county offices: property assessor, which earns an annual salary of $93,690 to oversee property appraisals of about 110,000 parcels for annual tax billing; and road superintendent, which earns an annual salary of $113,365 to oversee maintenance of the county’s roads and ditches in the rural areas.
The first thing parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church noticed before noon Mass, Sunday, March 4, was a line of black SUVs in the parking lot of the Cordova church. A back row at the church was filled with men wearing the same color suits. And during the Mass offertory, a family the parishioners hadn’t seen before walked from the back of the church to the altar with the gifts of bread and wine. That’s when some knew Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum was attending Mass. The appearance came just days before the Tennessee presidential primary, one of 10 “Super Tuesday” races nationwide Tuesday, March 6. Shelby County polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The sudden flurry of presidential campaign activity in Tennessee comes to a close Tuesday amidst several polls that show a three-way tussle among Republican candidates. WLAC radio host Steve Gill, whose show has been a must stop for the candidates, echoed an old country saying that the race in the Volunteer State is “tighter than a tick.” Gill cited the Sunday’s We Ask America poll showing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with 30% of the vote and U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich tied with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum at 29% followed by Texas congressman Ron Paul at 12%. The figures contrast with several polls conducted in mid-February that showed Santorum up by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over Romney and Gingrich and Paul trailing even further behind.
With just one day to go until Super Tuesday, the race in Tennessee that once seemed decided is becoming much closer, according to new poll numbers. Tennessee is viewed as a critical state for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and each of the three front runners has visited the state within the past 24 hours as the latest polls show the vote could be a dead heat. Romney appeared Sunday night in Knoxville with Gov. Bill Haslam, while Santorum hit a Memphis barbecue joint. And Monday, Gingrich spent the day campaigning in East Tennessee. Previous poll numbers showed a comfortable lead for Rick Santorum, but the gap appears to be getting narrower. A Rasmussen poll showed Santorum still held a 34 percent edge, but Romney was close behind at 31 percent.
Even as the Republican presidential race tightens in Tennessee, new research from MTSU finds the state’s regular church-goers favor Rick Santorum six-to-one over Mitt Romney Santorum supporters seem to appreciate his unwavering stances, particularly on social issues like abortion. Robert Kilmarx of Springfield runs an organization that promotes religious freedom and attended a rally for Santorum last week. “We don’t need people that test the waters, and when something brings too much heat, they start backtracking. I admire that in a man.” MTSU pollsters say it’s clear that Santorum’s base can be “found in pews on Sunday morning.” They did not ask voters if Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is a factor in their choice.
After Mitt Romney, still the presumed frontrunner in the ongoing Republican presidential race, committed the much-noted folly of having a middling-sized crowd in Detroit’s cavernous Ford Stadium two weeks ago, it was probably smart — optics-wise, anyhow — for Rick Santorum, Romney’s chief remaining opponent for the GOP nomination, to try to wedge a small gathering into an even smaller space. That’s what Santorum did on a surprise Sunday morning visit to Memphis, one which included a visit to Bellevue Baptist Church and a Catholic mass later on.
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, campaigning in East Tennessee on the eve of the state’s Super Tuesday primary, touted his plan to reduce gas prices as the type of fundamental change that must be made in Washington. Speaking to some 400 shouting and whistling supporters at the Hilton adjacent to McGhee Tyson Airport on Monday, the former U.S. House speaker said his plan to have American energy independence by using federal land and offshore drilling would produce enough oil to get the price of gas down to $2.50 and probably lower.
Three Republican legislators weighed in today on the presidential primary, declaring Newt Gingrich should be the winner in Tennessee. Mt. Juliet Senator Mae Beavers, along with Representatives Joe Carr of Murfreesboro and Terry Lynn Weaver of Smith County cited weekend polls, saying Gingrich is gaining in the now tight race in Tennessee. Carr then dismissed what he called the managerial strengths of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. “We’re at the point right now where we don’t need a two-degree course correction to the right through some administration or managerial principles. We need somebody with the vision that understands the problems that we’re in, to get their foot on the brake so they can turn this country around.”
On the Monday before Super Tuesday, Republican presidential challenger Newt Gingrich pitched his plan to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon while blasting incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama on several political fronts. “Everybody on Facebook, when you get to your home page, say ‘Newt equals $2.50 a gallon gasoline,’ ” the former U.S. House speaker told a luncheon gathering of about 150 Republican women and other supporters at the Food City on Eastman Road. At Food City and at a downtown Kingsport rally, Gingrich insisted approving the Keystone oil pipeline, and drilling for oil off the Gulf of Mexico and in federal lands off Alaska, would generate more than 2 million barrels per day.
An Oak Ridge small business involved in a joint venture has been awarded a $31.5 million Department of Energy contract, Frank Munger writes in the Atomic City Underground blog. DOE announced that BEI-JES Oak Ridge LLC (BJOR), a joint venture of Brandan Enterprises Inc. of Knoxville and JES Tech of Houston, received the five-year, $31.5 million contract for business and administrative support services.
Thomas Deakins plans to visit the proposed location of Knoxville’s first charter school today. On Monday, he was one of several Knox County school board members who expressed concerns about the location for the Knoxville Charter Academy, which is slated to open this fall. The school has chosen the West Knoxville site of the former Bridgewater Church, 205 Bridgewater Road, to house it’s school. Its target population is economically disadvantaged and at-risk students. When it opens, the charger school will eventually house kindergarten through eighth grade and have an emphasis on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Hamilton County Commission is preparing to launch its process for replacing District 3 school board member Everett Fairchild. And it appears commissioners will follow a private interview process similar to the one used during the recent appointment of attorney David Norton as a General Sessions judge. Fairchild has announced he will step down March 15 because of health problems. Commissioners then have 120 days to appoint someone to serve the rest of his term until 2014. Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the panel will lay out the appointment process for his replacement at its Wednesday meeting.
The director of operations at the Davidson County Sheriff Department’s Hill Detention Center was arrested over the weekend in Murfreesboro on a DUI charge after being found passed out in a vehicle, police said. Kevin Jerome Cox, 45, of Murfreesboro, is charged with DUI, violating the implied consent law and possession of a weapon while intoxicated after his arrest just before 4 a.m. Sunday at 1870 S. Church St. in Murfreesboro, according to a police report. Cox has been with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department since 1995, spokeswoman Karla Weikal said.
We appreciate the efforts and enthusiasm of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to improve the state’s public education system. At a recent meeting with state education journalists in Nashville, Huffman passed along his vision to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation. Our concern, however, is about the huge gap between his vision for the future and the realty of today. Bridging that gap will take local school board and school system creativity, buy-in from teachers and administrators, parent and community support, and money. Huffman heralded the state receiving a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements. This gives Tennessee an opportunity to innovate.
I grew up hearing that only three things were certain: rent, taxes and death. As an adult I observed that no person is safe and nothing is sacred when the state Legislature is in session. That observation seems even truer today when I learned of some of our new laws and proposals. It appears that any man, woman or child could be subjected to whimsical laws. Their property could be affected by the laws of eminent domain or their business could be hampered by more regulations. Animals of the woods may be hunted for food or sport, according to the laws of that body. Anything and everybody may enjoy or suffer from the ideology of those in control. In Tennessee it took 71 years before black men permanently got the right to vote.
The powerful, tornado-laden storms that swept through the region late last week were hardly a surprise. Local and national forecasters had warned for days that vicious weather was likely here and that significant damage was almost a certainty wherever the twisters touched down. They were correct on all counts. Severe storms did ravage a widespread area and tornadoes did touch down in many locations. Resultant damage was extensive. Fortunately, no lives were lost here. Some injuries, most relatively minor, were reported. The toll could have been worse, but residents, the memory of last April’s far more deadly string of twisters still fresh, heeded warnings and sought shelter as storms approached. That’s a hard-earned lesson that will bring benefits time and time again in the future.
So far, “Super Tuesday” hasn’t been so super. Turnout for early voting in today’s Republican presidential preference primary has been lower in many Tennessee counties than it was in 2008. For example, in Davidson County, only 4,200 cast ballots, fewer than half the number four years ago. And while a few Middle Tennessee counties, including Sumner, Rutherford and Williamson, had higher turnout than four years ago, statewide voting was off 10 percent when both party primaries are combined. Depending on whom you ultimately want to win in November, you could probably put a positive spin on the results after today’s polling. But the fact is that too few Tennesseans of any party are exercising their right to have a say in how their local, state and federal governments are run.
Tennesseans across the state will head to the polls today to vote for the candidate they want to represent the Republican Party in the November presidential election. In other races, voters will decide who will become judges, county clerks and district attorneys. While the decision for whom to vote is personal and political, the act of voting itself is a fundamental right of all American citizens. Yet, state legislatures across the country are erecting barriers to the ballot box, preventing the exercise of this fundamental right. In a well-funded, well-documented, coordinated national campaign last year, state legislatures passed laws that eliminated same-day registration, shortened early voting periods, and restricted absentee voting and volunteer registration initiatives.
Like few other issues, education impacts various different sectors of public policy. From crime to jobs to social issues, no other policy touches so many others. I’m proud of what we have done for education in Tennessee. Freed from the undue influence of public-sector unions under our new Republican majority, education innovators are now given a fair hearing in Tennessee government. Thanks to the leadership of our governor and others, we passed much needed tenure reform last session and we are looking forward to more reform in the future. We still have much to do. But as we move forward, innovate and break free of those practices that no longer work, it is important that we note those programs that do.
Parents’ strong turnout and keen personal interest in recent school board meetings over school zoning changes — at Normal Park, East Hamilton Middle/High and Ooltewah High School and their feeder schools — will likely be demonstrated again at either the Mar. 15 or Apr. 19 school board meetings on the subject. That’s just one example of how deep public interest is in school board affairs. It is also why County Commission members finally should agree at their meeting Wednesday to hold public interviews of candidates interested in filling the seat of retiring school board member Everett Fairchild — and any other appointments of public officials in the future. What’s at stake is simply the public interest, and the commission’s commitment — if there is any — to public transparency in how and why county commissioners make their decisions on the public’s business.
As I attend the regular meetings of the Transition Planning Commission, I am continually struck by how often our work comes back to the specific voices we heard on the commission’s listening tour. The listening tour, which ended Feb. 27 with a stop at Hamilton High School in Southwest Memphis, brought about 2,900 Memphis and Shelby County residents out to tell the TPC what they most want in a new unified school system. In January and February the commission hosted 13 public sessions, from Westwood High School to Arlington High School, from Collierville United Methodist Church to Colonial Middle School.
The stadium needs a major upgrade, but the city shouldn’t bear the full responsibility to fix it. Supporters of University of Memphis athletics for decades wanted the university in a major college sports conference. They finally got their wish when it was announced early last month that the U of M had been invited to join the Big East Conference. But playing with the big boys and girls doesn’t come cheap. It means the university and its supporters will have to step up their fundraising game to keep up with other schools in the Big East. That stepping up includes renovations and improvements to the 47-year-old Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, where the university plays its home football games.