This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Volkswagen Group of America is holding a news conference Thursday to announce the groundbreaking for a new facility in Roane County, Tenn. They are expected to announce the building a parts warehouse to supply Passat dealers acorss the country. The facility will be built in Roane Regional Business and Technology Park, at intersection of Blackburn Lane and Buttermilk Road (Exit 362 off Industrial Park Drive on I-40). Several dignitaries are scheduled to attend Thursday’s announcement including Ron Woody, Roane County Executive, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R, TN-3), Claude Ramsey, Tennessee Deputy Governor, Rawdon Glover, executive vice president of Group After Sales, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. and Whitfield Hamilton, partner, Panattoni Development Company.
Michele Dial has taught school for 23 years. But last month, for the first time in her career, she spent an entire hour teaching first-graders at Lakeland Elementary to add and subtract by tens. “This is a great big, huge skill, and we have never done it before,” Dial told the children. “I want you to remember the commutative and inverse properties,” she said as students pondered 92 – 10 = 82 and 82 + 10 = 92. “OK, let’s put it in a sentence,” Dial continued, writing 82 < 92 on the board while the children followed along. “Great. Kiss your brain,” Dial said as hands across the room arced triumphantly between puckered lips and foreheads. The lesson and time spent teaching “deeply,” as Dial describes it, are among the most tangible signs of Tennessee’s progress in adopting Common Core Standards.
Efforts to revamp public education are increasingly focused on evaluating teachers using student test scores, but school districts nationwide are only beginning to deal with the practical challenges of implementing those changes. Only an estimated 30% of classroom teachers in the U.S. work in grades or subjects covered by state standardized tests. Currently, most states test students only in math and reading in third through eighth grades and once in high school, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Few states test students in other core subjects, such as science and social studies, and for many other subjects there is no testing at all.
The job review scores of thousands of Tennessee teachers will be made available to the public, starting this summer. The data, a 1-5 ranking based on student test scores and principal evaluations, has not been released in the past. The move puts Tennessee in a league with places like New York City, where an appellate court last month ruled that teacher-effectiveness data on 18,000 teachers must be released to the public. “If you put my information on the World Wide Web saying I am ineffective, that means the teachers and professors who taught me are also ineffective,” said Martha Hearne, a librarian at Kirby High School in Memphis. “Where will their names go?”
The slump in the economy, coupled with the acrimonious discourse over how much weight test results and seniority should be given in determining a teacher’s worth, have conspired to bring morale among the nation’s teachers to its lowest point in more than 20 years, according to a survey of teachers, parents and students released on Wednesday. More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989, the survey found. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four.
One northbound lane of Alcoa Highway is expected to remain closed for the next several weeks until crews can stabilize the hillside where a rock slide occurred early this morning, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The right-hand lane remains blocked off by concrete barriers near Woodson Drive while TDOT engineers design a permanent fix for the shaky rock face, said TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi. That design work should be complete by March 23. An emergency construction contract will be let after that for the repair work, he said. Engineers do not believe there is any imminent threat of another rockfall, however.
One lane of northbound Alcoa Highway remains closed as the Tennessee Department of Transportation works to stabilize a rockslide area in South Knoxville. Several rocks fell onto the pavement near the U.S. Marine Reserve Center at 2201 Alcoa Highway. An inspection of the area by a geologist for TDOT raises concerns about the stability of others rocks at the side of the road. Highway officials were alerted to the slide after a box truck crashed into a fallen boulder. The driver was taken to UT Medical Center for treatment. Southbound traffic is not affected by the slide, but one northbound lane will likely be closed for several weeks.
A portion of the proposed Alcoa Parkway is a step closer to reality. Alcoa city officials on Monday learned the Tennessee Department of Transportation has accepted a new redesign for the plans they originally accepted for reworking the Hunt Road/Alcoa Highway interchange. The redesign would call for replacing the current Hunt Road bridge with one a bit further south. “The main thing is it provides for a more free flow of existing traffic on Hunt Road,” City Manager Mark Johnson said. Johnson said a new bridge is needed because the stretch of Alcoa Highway between Hall Road and the bypass interchange will be expanded to three lanes each way and six lanes can’t fit under the current bridge.
The Tennessee Department of Health has suspended new admissions at East Tennessee Health Care Center in Madisonville. The suspension became effective on Monday for the 81-bed licensed nursing home at 465 Isbell Road. The state imposed a one-time civil penalty of $4,000. A federal civil penalty has been imposed at $3,050 a day until the violations are corrected. The state issued the order based on conditions found during an annual survey conducted February 6 – February 21. During the inspection, surveyors found violations including: administration, performance improvement, physician services and resident rights. A special monitor was appointed to review operations at the facility.
Call it too close for comfort. A 10-year-old boy was nearly hit by a speeding police car, and now his mother and others are asking if the high-speed chase through a school zone was necessary. A young man was seen speeding on a motorcycle Monday through downtown McEwen, so a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper wanted to issue a traffic ticket. But soon, it became a high-speed chase through a school zone, and several bus stops right as school was dismissing. Marcus Crews had just gotten off the bus around 3:10 p.m. and did what always does. He went to the curb to grab the mail for his mom. But then Marcus was looking at a trooper flying down the road, coming toward him at high speed.
The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus is gearing up for years of construction along Cumberland Avenue. The school plans to complete a $130 million gothic-style University Center in several phases by 2016. Just across the street, a project to rebuild Strong Hall is slated for $94 million in state funds under Governor Bill Haslam’s current budget proposal. Ghost stories have floated around since the now-vacant women’s dormitory was constructed 87 years ago. In recent years the facilities at the Knoxville campus have been haunted by $61 million in budget cuts from the state. This year marks the first time in four years the budget proposal has included money for major capital investments at the state’s higher education institutions.
The Association of Public Land-grant Universities, a leading national higher education organization, has named Jimmy Cheek, chancellor at the University of Tennessee, to its 26-member board. Cheek, who has spent more than 35 years as a faculty member and administrator at public land grant universities, was also appointed chairman of the organization’s commission on food, environment and renewable resources. He is also a member of APLU’s Energy Forum. His term on the board runs through November 2013. The appointment should continue to increase UT’s visibility nationally, a key objective in the school’s push to become a top 25 public research university, said Cheek in a statement. “It gives me the opportunity to interact with some of the key players in higher education around the country,” he said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today arrested an Erin dentist, Dr. John S. Paffrath, after he was indicted by the Houston County Grand Jury on March 5 for illegally prescribing controlled substances. Paffrath, 56, who gave a 71 East Market St. address, was charged in the indictments with four counts of unlawful dispensing of prescriptions, according to a news release from Kristin Helm, public information officer for TBI. The TBI opened a case on Paffrath in June of 2011 after being requested by the 23rd Judicial District Attorney General’s Office to investigate allegations against him.
After attorney Rachel Bell started running for Davidson County General Sessions judge last fall, she printed 15,000 business cards and committed herself, her staff and her volunteers to passing them out wherever they got the chance. “I went to some meetings with only two people there,” Bell recalled Wednesday during an interview at her law office and campaign headquarters. “You never know how many people they know. I did everything I could to be everywhere I could every day. Bell’s visibility paid off Tuesday, when she pulled off one of the most shocking political upsets around here in recent memory. She defeated the incumbent judge and former two-term councilman, Mike Jameson, in the Democratic primary for the General Sessions position.
Three white Nashville police officers sought promotions in 2007 at a time when the department openly sought to diversify its ranks, and then-Chief Ronal Serpas passed over the men and selected minority candidates. Now, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is wading into the thorny issue of what makes racial and gender discrimination and whether to reinstate a lawsuit brought by the three men. The court on Wednesday quizzed attorneys over how the Metro Nashville Police Department’s system works and appeared skeptical that anything improper happened when Serpas bypassed William Johnson and Julian Moore for promotions to lieutenant and Keith Holley for promotion to sergeant.
The Tennessee Supreme Court’s temporary suspension of former Rogersville prosecutor Doug Godbee’s law license has been lifted by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility. Godbee’s license was temporarily suspended in January for failure to comply with the conditions of a Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program monitoring agreement related to a mandatory mental health/substance abuse program. Godbee was assistant attorney general in Rogersville for more than three decades before his resignation in 2010 amid allegation he offered women leniency in criminal drug cases in exchange for sex.
Two Senate committees delayed action Tuesday afternoon on legislation aimed at allowing employees to store legally owned firearms in their cars on company parking lots. After hearing testimony from proponents of the idea two weeks ago, the Senate’s Commerce and Judiciary committees hosted its opponents on Tuesday. In the Commerce and Agriculture Committee, legislators are considering SB2992, which would prohibit “employment discrimination” based on a person’s “ownership, storage, transportation or possession of a firearm.” Its companion in the Judiciary Committee, SB3002, would prevent companies from banning the storage of guns in employees’ cars on their lots.
Democratic leaders say a revised proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues is unnecessary because the measure wouldn’t be effective for at least another three years. The Republican-backed measure passed the Senate Education Committee 7-2 on Wednesday. A vote on the companion bill was delayed in the House Education Subcommittee later in the day to give lawmakers a chance to review the amendment that was approved in the Senate. The original legislation sought to reduce by 50 percent the award — called the HOPE scholarship — for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements. A special panel of lawmakers recommended the proposal in November.
Senate majority Republicans performed major surgery on their bill that toughens lottery scholarship eligibility requirements Wednesday, inserting a provision that eliminates the 2015 change should current Tennessee Lottery growth hold steady. The move could prevent 50 percent cuts for an estimated 5,000 students using lottery scholarships to attend four-year colleges or universities. It remains on open question, however, whether the House Republican proponent of the bill, Rep. Harry Brooks, of Knoxville, will go along with the change. Proponents have said the bill is necessary given that the lottery-funded Hope scholarship has been operating at a $17 million to $20 million deficit over the past few years.
Lawmakers gave mixed signals Wednesday on whether they’ll pursue tighter eligibility standards for Tennessee’s Hope Scholarships. The Senate Education Committee approved a bill that, as amended, would repeal the proposed tougher standards before they would go into affect in three years if lottery proceeds continue flowing at today’s record levels. That’s considered likely. But hours later, the House Education Subcommittee delayed the bill for a week after discussing but not approving the Senate’s amendment. Without the amendment, the bill would require freshmen entering college in fall of 2015 and thereafter to achieve at least a 3.0 high school grade-point average plus a 21 ACT score or above to qualify for a full $4,000 per year Hope Scholarship.
The state legislature is moving ahead to make it harder to qualify for a lottery-financed scholarship. But the proposal got a rare self-destruct mechanism written into it today. Under a bill from Senator Dolores Gresham, students must score both a 21 on the ACT and have a 3.0 grade point average to earn the full $4,000 a year HOPE scholarship. Hit only one of those benchmarks, and the scholarship would drop by half. Those against the change argue lottery income is up, ten million dollars for this year alone. So Gresham added an amendment that says if the lottery income stays high, her new law would automatically go away, in legislative language, “sunset,” prior to ever even taking effect in 2015.
Senate Democratic leaders say a revised proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues is unnecessary because the measure wouldn’t be effective for at least another three years, but their Democratic counterparts in the House may go along with it. The Republican-backed measure passed the Senate Education Committee 7-2 on Wednesday. The companion bill was postponed for at least a week in a House Education Sub-Committee. The original legislation sought to reduce by 50 percent the award – called the HOPE scholarship – for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements. A special panel of lawmakers recommended the proposal in November.
After a Sumner County bus driver was arrested for assaulting a student, only to be cleared of all the charges, Portland Representative Mike McDonald decided to draft legislation giving school bus drivers more rights, especially when the intention is to keep students safe. Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee considered a similar proposal. “When you lose control of your bus you’ve lost everything,” bus driver Susan Howard said. Fights are already dangerous, but when it happens on a school bus it puts everyone including the driver at risk. “I had one stop and this big girl and this big guy got into it and I thought they were really going to kill one another,” Howard recalled about an incident.
Two candidates announced runs for local seats in the General Assembly on Wednesday. Jason Powell will run for House District 53 in South Nashville, soon to be vacated by Rep. Janis Sontany, who announced her retirement last month. Powell, a real estate broker and former teacher, announced his candidacy via Twitter and Facebook. In a release posted on his Facebook page, he said, “If elected, I hope to continue in the tradition of strong leadership demonstrated by Representative Janis Sontany.” Harold M. Love Jr., pastor of St. Paul A.M.E., also announced his run for state House District 58, presently held by Rep. Mary Pruitt, in the Aug. 2 election.
Friends of Democratic House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh say they expect the 72-year-old lawmaker from Covington to announce today he won’t seek re-election to the House seat he first won in 1974.Naifeh served as speaker from 1991 to 2009 — becoming the longest-serving House speaker in Tennessee history. In 2008 elections, Republicans gained their first 50-49 majority since Reconstruction. GOP lawmakers planned to elected Republican Jason Mumpower speaker. But unable to secure a single GOP vote for himself, Naifeh and fellow Democrats turned the tables with all 49 Democrats joining together to elect a new speaker of their choice, Rep. Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, who voted for himself. The GOP later threw Williams out of the party and he is now an independent. Republicans in 2010 elections, however, won a 64-member majority in 2010.
Ex-House speaker state’s longest-serving at age 72 State Rep. Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, who served as House speaker for 18 years and longer than anyone in Tennessee history, is expected to announce today he won’t run for re-election this year after 38 years in the General Assembly. Naifeh, 72, a Democrat, was elected in 1974 and re-elected 18 times. The House elected him its speaker, the chamber’s powerful presiding officer, for nine terms from 1991 until 2009, when Republicans won the majority. He’s remained an outspoken member, leading the opposition to cuts in lottery-funded scholarships this week. He would not comment as word of his expected announcement this morning on the House floor spread through the Capitol Wednesday night, but legislative sources confirmed that the announcement is planned.
More than 100 people concerned about childhood obesity were on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning asking legislators to support policies to give families better access to healthier foods and programs to get kids exercising. Members of Tennessee Obesity Task Force tried to get their message across with free food and training sessions. They gave legislators boxed lunches with low-fat, fresh food. A personal trainer with the YMCA conducted an exercise session. The group has a wish list. “We’re supporting the coordinated school health funding,” said Mark Brown, a spokesman for the task force. “The Haslam administration has put $15 million in recurring funds into the budget for coordinated school health so we’re asking members of the General Assembly to support that.”
Campus workers held a small rally outside the state capitol Wednesday. University employees are pushing for new protections, even as lawmakers have diminished the power of unions in the state. This so-called “bill of rights” promotes a living wage and prevents the kind of outsourcing that recently occurred to Tennessee Tech’s cleaning staff. Custodian Terri Stidham says state schools shouldn’t have the option to privatize functions just to save money. “I’m not saying they won’t do it again, but they know they’ll have a fight on their hands.” The state’s higher education union, United Campus Workers, has proposed nine demands. They also take aim at an over-reliance on adjunct faculty.
As education experts dig through piles of feedback from teachers and administrators on the state’s teacher evaluation system, the public is split on whether it is good for education, according to a recent survey. Roughly half of Tennesseans surveyed said they don’t know whether the new evaluations are helping or hurting education, according to a poll Middle Tennessee State University released last week. “The number one factor of a student’s success is effective teaching in the classroom,” said Jamie Woodson, CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education and one of the original drivers behind mandatory teacher evaluations. “The impact won’t be seen overnight.”
Former Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis and his wife were turned away from their polling place thanks to a registration mix-up. Davis, who hasn’t missed an election since 1964, said when he was told he couldn’t vote, “I felt sick to my stomach.” The situation was perplexing to Davis given his prominent status in the area. He not only served in Congress, but also represented the region in the state Senate and House of Representatives. He knows the poll workers and said the administrator of elections has a family farm that adjoins Davis’ own family farm. “I see him out there feeding the cows,” Davis said. Fentress County Elections Administrator Joey Williams said that in purging Davis and his wife, elections officials acted on a notice received from the state that the couple had re-registered in neighboring Pickett County, where Davis once served as mayor in the county seat of Byrdstown.
State election officials have apologized to former Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis, blaming a “clerical error” for his being turned away from a voting station in his home county of Fentress during Tuesday’s primary. “We apologized to Lincoln,” State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a Republican, told reporters today. “The fact is he treats Fentress County as his main residence. I’ve instructed the Fentress County [election] administrator to go ahead and reinstate him as a voter. Pickett County admitted we had an error.” Davis, who lost his 4th Congressional District seat in 2010, complained to the Knoxville News Sentinel on Tuesday that he was denied the right to vote in his native Fentress County.
The Hamilton County Election Commission is going back to court. But not all of the commissioners are happy about it. During a special-called meeting Tuesday night, the election commission voted 3-2 to join an appeal of Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth’s decision to stop a special election to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield. Commissioner Jerry Summers, a Democrat who voted against the measure, said Wednesday the election commission should let Littlefield and Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, one of the groups trying to oust the mayor, duke it out in court. “We should not be involved in any appeal of the decision,” he said. “Let them fight it out.” James Anderson, another Democrat, also voted against the measure.
It’s been one week since a deadly EF-2 tornado touched down in the Rinnie community of Cumberland County, killing two women. The tornado killed Lisa Evans and Carolyn Jones. Their funerals were held Saturday and Tuesday. Clean up has continued all week. Paul Vickers, whose home was destroyed, was on his property Wednesday trying to find anything he could save. “Really it seems we’ve gone nowhere,” he said. “We are just picking up pieces. (It seems the) more we pick up, the more it seems like we got.” A company donated portable storage containers for families to keep their belongings in for the next three months. Much of the area still looks as if a tornado just touched down.
One week after a deadly EF-2 tornado ripped through the Rinnie community of Cumberland County, the cleanup and recovery process there is still in its early stages. “All of it’s unbelievable,” said Renee Pyle, who lost her mother in the storm. “You don’t think it’ll happen to you, but then it does.” The shock had not yet worn off for Pyle, who spent Wednesday sifting through the rubble of her mother’s home. A week earlier, Melissa Evans, took cover from the storm in the bathroom, along with Ricky Beaty, and Pyle’s daughter, brother, and niece. “I was just thankful that my mom, she was the hero. She jumped on top of all of them to save them,” Pyle said.
Tornadoes ravaged areas across Tennessee last week, and crews from Murfreesboro churches have been assisting in clean-up efforts from Kingston Springs in Cheatham County to Hamilton County in Southeast Tennessee. “It’s the most rewarding feeling you’ll ever have when an 80-year-old woman hugs you when she can get back in her house,” said Paul Givens with the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church disaster relief team, which spent the weekend in Kingston Springs helping storm victims. Members of Northside Baptist Church are staying at Greenwood Baptist Church in Ooltewah, helping to clean up one of hardest hit areas of Hamilton County, near where an EF-3 tornado packing winds of 165 miles per hour did major damage before heading toward Bradley County.
The Obama administration has endorsed U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher’s bill to exempt companies with $700 million in publicly traded shares from the external auditing requirement of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The Republican freshman from Crockett County, Tenn., spoke on the House floor during a debate on the bill Wednesday, saying “it is imperative we reduce regulations to help these small companies create private jobs for Americans.” He was joined by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who said Fincher’s bill “makes it easier for these entrepreneurs and small-business owners to get off the ground, grow and create jobs.” Critics of the approach have suggested now is not the time to increase the risk to investors through more lax oversight.
The Great Smoky Mountains Park has received approval from the National Park Service to proceed with a controversial proposal to charge a fee for backcountry camping beginning in 2013. Unlike most national parks, the Smokies has never charged for backcountry camping, and it’s the only major national park to not charge an entrance fee. The new fee — $4 per person per night — would place all of the park’s 80-plus backcountry campsites and 15 trail shelters on an online reservation system, as well as provide a 24-hour call center. Revenue from the fee also would pay for two backcountry rangers to patrol campsites and shelters.
Conservative causes could get a boost in Tennessee, after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s resounding win in the state Republican primary. Santorum swept 91 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, using a string of last-minute appearances to appeal to values voters and overcome heavy spending in the state by his two main Republican rivals. Following on the heels of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s win in 2008, the victory by Santorum once again demonstrated the strength of social conservatives across the state. Despite finishing second, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney struggled in much of the state and fell behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in some places.
If not for Tennessee, the slugfest for the GOP presidential nomination might already be over. Rick Santorum’s solid victory over Mitt Romney in Tennessee in the Super Tuesday presidential primary enables the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania to stay in the race and all but guarantees that the bloody battle for the GOP nomination will drag on for weeks. “That’s the most important take-away here: The race will continue, and Tennessee had something to do with that — for better or worse,” said Anthony Nownes, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee. Romney walked away with the most wins in the Super Tuesday elections. The former Massachusetts governor won six of the 10 states that held nominating contests on Tuesday, while Santorum took three and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won one.
This time around, leaders of the Tennessee Republican Party were convinced their choice in the Republican presidential contest would be a match with voters in the state’s presidential primary. Four years ago, when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee carried Shelby County and took the state, the party argued convincingly that the state’s second choice for the nomination – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – was a victim of the move of the Super Tuesday primaries to February. “Florida was the weekend before Super Tuesday,” said Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty, who worked on Romney’s national campaign committee in 2008 and again this campaign season.
GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum won nearly every county in Tennessee on Super Tuesday. However Davidson and Williamson counties narrowly went to Mitt Romney. Some of Romney’s biggest supporters in the state are business executives, such as Governor Bill Haslam who ran Pilot Travel Centers. Raymond Hunter of Nashville’s Oak Hill community retired from Genesco. “We need someone who has run something, been responsible for the bottom line. The current regime hasn’t.” Hunter says he can get behind whoever the GOP nominee is, but he was hoping that Romney would have a more decisive night.
Rick Santorum isn’t the only candidate tallying fresh delegates from Tennessee after yesterday’s Republican primary. Rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich also grabbed a handful of delegates around the state. Of the 55 delegates in play, about half are apportioned to leading candidates based on statewide totals. The results aren’t official yet, but Santorum looks to have nabbed about a dozen, maybe leaving nine delegates for Romney and seven for Gingrich. Then there are Congressional districts, where Santorum dominated. Each can award a delegate to the runner-up, and Romney garnered a few with second-place finishes in a number of districts. Gingrich looks to have picked up at least one that way as well, but those numbers aren’t official yet.
Three days before Tuesday’s election, state Rep. Stacey Campfield threw his presidential candidate under the bus. Despite being the state co-chair of the Newt Gingrich campaign, Campfield endorsed Rick Santorum. Campfield said it was important to elect a conservative and although he really, really likes Newt he felt it was his duty to support Santorum because he was the conservative who could win. Some Campfield critics say there was more to it. When Gingrich came to Nashville last week, it was state Rep. Tony Shipley, his other co-chair, who made introductions and remarks. Campfield was snubbed by Gingrich and kept at arm’s length. A lobbyist suggested that some of Campfield’s colleagues told Gingrich that Campfield was “radioactive” due to his recent comments about gays, AIDS, and monkey sex.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, who resigned as co-chairman of Newt Gingrich’s Tennessee campaign last week, was nonetheless elected a Gingrich delegate in voting Tuesday. On the other hand, state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who remained alone as head of the Gingrich Tennessee campaign after Campfield’s resignation, failed to win a delegate seat in the voting based on unofficial returns. Twenty-eight “at large” delegates are allocated on the basis of Tuesday’s vote statewide, and Adam Nickas, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the unofficial results will translate into 12 statewide delegates for Rick Santorum, nine for Mitt Romney and seven for Gingrich.
Endorsements and campaign work from well-known Tennessee Republican politicians did not yield results for GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on Super Tuesday. State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, chaired Gingrich’s Tennessee campaign and accompanied Gingrich during his campaign swing through Kingsport on Monday. Still, Gingrich finished third in Tennessee on Super Tuesday, with primary winner Rick Santorum taking all of Northeast Tennessee’s counties without campaigning in the region. More than 20 GOP state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam endorsed Romney, as did Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who represents the Republican-laden 1st Congressional District.
Twelve years ago, Congress passed a bill aimed at bolstering the capacity of state and local crime labs. It was known as the “DNA Backlog Elimination Act.” The ensuing effort now bears the more modest title of “DNA Backlog Reduction Program.” But even with the new name, it is an ambitious venture. Since 2006, Congress has poured $785 million into helping to fix the logjam in DNA evidence collection at the state and local level through this and other programs. There’s no question that a serious problem exists. Recent advances in science and technology have made DNA a more useful tool for convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent, but major backlogs persist, despite broad acknowledgement that delays in processing DNA evidence are keeping criminals on the streets.
The group drafting the blueprint for the structure of a new consolidated countywide school system will discuss Thursday, March 8, a new plan that is a mix of two other options it had been considering. Meanwhile, voters in four of the six suburban towns and cities in the county will vote on two questions over two election cycles on forming their own school systems. The staggered ballot questions now official for Bartlett and Collierville mean the schools consolidation planning commission will have at least until August to roll out its plan before those suburban voters take the final step to separating themselves from the merged school system to come. The new plan the commission considers Thursday amounts to combining the options of a centralized school system and “a path to autonomy” for charter and other break the mold schools that could include suburban schools.
Several dozen parents met in the middle of the cul de sac on Sgt. Daly Drive on Wednesday night to consolidate efforts to oppose proposed school redistricting plans in eastern Hamilton County. “Too many people feel victimized,” said event organizer Ryan Ledford. He and other parents said that they felt blindsided with the proposed district changes that would send their children to different schools in the fall. The school board’s plan seems “hastily conceived,” said Chris DeLong, a parent and engineer with a background in planned community development. “[Parents] haven’t had the opportunity to provide input and have hat input considered,” he continued.
If officials with the Knoxville Charter Academy are unable to find another location for their proposed school by April 1, they may find themselves starting from scratch. At its Wednesday meeting, the Knox County school board denied the charter school’s location at 205 Bridgewater Road, a vacant church property in West Knoxville. “I just have a lot of reservations about putting another school in West Knoxville” said board member Kim Sepesi, who represents the 7th District. “I don’t think that’s where we need to have this location.” Sepesi said she would like to see some other choices for the locations.
Sheriff’s officers didn’t have to look far to find a meth lab last week. It was brought directly to their offices. A Shelbyville man told investigators he found a cooler alongside Sims Road last week. The finder took the cooler to the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department after discovering a bag inside containing a tubing-wrapped bottle. Name found Receipts in another bag containing “meth trash” inside the cooler led to the arrest of Lauren Pegg of Shelbyville on meth charges, Detective Scott Jones said. Jones and Detective Sgt. David Sakich said the cooler’s contents also included two one-pot meth labs along with tubing, gas generators, a cold pack, lithium batteries and coffee filters. “Through the receipts we were able to locate Lauren Pegg,” Jones said.
A judge has temporarily blocked the state’s new voter identification law, weeks before the state’s April 3 presidential primary. The law, passed last year by a Republican-controlled Legislature, requires voters to present photo identification at polling places. Judge David Flanagan of Dane County issued an injunction on Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the N.A.A.C.P., which argued the law disenfranchises voters, many of them minorities, who do not have acceptable identification. Thirty states require voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Remember the near-hysterical claims that Tennessee lawmakers were trying to disenfranchise minorities and the elderly when they enacted a law requiring voters to present photo identification at polling places? Well, so far it seems the panic didn’t pan out. State officials said that not even 50 of the 201,000 people who voted early in Tennessee’s primary lacked appropriate ID. And in our area, “Neither the local NAACP nor local political parties reported any major run-ins over the new photo ID requirement” Tuesday, the Times Free Press reported. The story appeared to be the same around the state. And the few people who didn’t have proper ID had the option to cast a provisional ballot and present ID later to have the ballot counted.
Tennessee’s far-right legislators in cahoots with the National Rifle Association are wrongly pushing for the latest piece of the NRA’s guns-everywhere agenda — a new state law that would require both public and private employers to allow their workers to keep their locked and loaded guns in cars in their employer-provided parking lots. Employers, mindful of this nation’s tragic history of armed and angry employees who charge into the workplace to shoot, kill and wound fellow employees, reasonably oppose the law. The state’s saner GOP leaders in the Legislature and the governor’s office are locked in a stalemate, and in search of a compromise. Here’s the problem: The NRA and its lackey legislators don’t want a compromise.
Whatever the results of this week’s Super Tuesday primary elections in 10 states, the one certainty is that Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, will still be running, and his three Republican opponents — former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Texas congressman Ron Paul — will still be trying to flag him down. As this week began, what had been a two-to-one Santorum lead over Romney in polls of likely Tennessee voters was melting — partly due to Romney’s consecutive victories in Michigan, Arizona, and Washington state and partly due to an inexplicable series of campaign boners on Santorum’s part.
Knoxville and Knox County have precious few months to address their growing pension obligations, but at least both local governments are making moves toward resolving the funding shortfalls. Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said Tuesday she will push to have a pension revision on the ballot in November. County officials, too, are aiming at placing a question to change the Knox County Sheriff’s Office pension on the November ballot. The two entities will take different paths, but both need to arrive at the same destination — revisions to the pension plans that employees can stomach and that taxpayers can afford.
It is good news that Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and Regional Hospital of Jackson have forged an agreement to allow both hospitals to freely negotiate insurance carrier contracts. This brings to an end a long, and sometimes bitter, debate between the two organizations that consumed time and money that could better have been spent on providing services to patients and the community. The agreement, signed by both parties in Nashville on Tuesday, accomplishes several things that will benefit both hospitals, increase patient choice and better serve our West Tennessee communities. Both hospitals will be free to negotiate contracts with health insurance companies of their choice.