This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Three California obesity researchers struck a nerve in Tennessee’s sweet tooth last month when they proposed regulating sugar in the same way government regulates tobacco and alcohol…Gov. Bill Haslam last week announced a task force to tackle obesity among Tennesseans, noting that 32 percent of adult Tennesseans are obese, and 30 percent of schoolchildren. The result of so many obese children here and nationwide will be a “tsunami of chronic disease and mortality as this generation ages,” wrote Vanderbilt University pediatrician Dr. Andrew Bremer and Dr. Robert Lustig, the University of California-San Francisco pediatrician who also co-wrote the controversial Nature article.
More than 100 volunteer advocates from across the state gathered at the State Capitol as part of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force’s annual Day on the Hill Wednesday, to support measures designed to give better access to healthy foods and programs helping children get more exercise and physical checkups in schools…. The task force is supporting Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s inclusion of Coordinated School Health in the budget as recurring funds, and bills which would address the issue of food deserts (areas where residents do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables), the construction of community gardens, and the Safe Pathways to School bill, which would increase penalties for speeding in school zones, and use those funds to support measures that encourage walking, such as construction of sidewalks in neighborhoods.
One of the state’s most successful political operatives will have a one-on-one, public conversation with a certain high-profile client at Lipscomb University on Tuesday. Tom Ingram, who most recently worked on former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, will talk to Gov. Bill Haslam at Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre at 6 p.m. The event is free. Ingram was a consultant to Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010. He also has advised the state’s two U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
Bradley County Schools will have three representatives at the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education’s roundtable discussion of the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model evaluation system. Secondary technology coach Tim Childers, Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel and Hopewell Principal Tim Riggs have accepted invitations to be a part of the Southeast Tennessee Field Service Office area discussion Monday in the Berry Auditorium at Chattanooga State Community College at 4:30 p.m. .. Governor Bill Haslam asked SCORE to hold discussions and gather data on educators response to the evaluation system implemented earlier this school year. SCORE will give its report to the department on June 1, according to the SCORE website.
Hamilton County had more tornadoes in the last 10 months than in the previous 60 years. And during a tornado, you are 15 times more likely to die in a mobile home than in a permanent structure. The numbers are frightening, but a few simple steps can improve your chances of surviving when the next devil wind comes. “There is absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to work, but there are certainly things you can put in place that greatly enhance your survivability,” said Greg Carbin, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Sperm hadn’t yet met egg when Marcelle Guilbeau began seeking child care. She visited facilities across the city, putting the yet-to-be-determined name of her yet-to-be-conceived child on an admission waitlist for a downtown care center two years before he was born. With day care in Davidson County in high demand, Guilbeau didn’t want to risk her child not getting into the highest-quality facility. “There is no harder and more important job in this world than being a mommy,” Guilbeau says. “You have to think of (day care providers) as members of your team and an extension of you as a mother. If you think of it that way, you know it’s going to be hard to find.”
TennCare is preparing to implement new guidelines that would put upper and lower limits on payments to hospitals. The idea is to limit the disparity between what two different hospitals are paid for the same treatment. The disparity exists because TennCare contracts with insurance companies that negotiate rates with hospitals and clinics. “Yes, disparities exist and they should exist. If not, there’s something wrong with the process,” Chris McLean, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s chief financial officer, told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/ynisaU ). “Because negotiated rates are what it’s all about and that’s between (managed care organizations) and the hospital, and it’s not and should not be shared information due to antitrust (regulations).” Tennessee Hospital Association President Craig Becker said the new guidelines were needed to placate hospitals that get paid at the lower end of the scale.
A 30-minute, bone-jarring drive up Chilhowee Mountain brought us to a clearing where a deer carcass was staked to the ground. Mounted on a tree eight feet away was a motion-activated camera, it’s memory card filled with photos of animals that had come to the bait over the previous two weeks. Sterling Daniels, wildlife surveys manager for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, fired up his laptop and scrolled through the images. Turkey vultures, crows, and red-tailed hawks were the most common daytime visitors, while at night the camera captured gray fox, coyotes and bobcats. We were in the Foothills Wildlife Management Area, an 11,000-plus acre tract located near the western boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in south Blount County.
On any given Tuesday, legislative committees in the state House are chock-full of bills, with members working until late in the day or early evening. But last week, most panels were out by noon. The reason? Any number of eager lawmakers were scrambling to finish so they could attend one of the session’s premiere diversions. That would be the annual “legislative orientation” at the Tullahoma-based Tennessee Army National Guard rifle ranges as well as the federal Arnold Engineering Development Center. At the Guard gun ranges, the invitation reads, lawmakers could test fire weapons, use military simulators and go to the “newest indoor training and urban warfare range.” That might come in pretty handy this year.
Caught in a lobbying crossfire between Second Amendment activists and Tennessee’s biggest businesses, state legislators are searching for a compromise on legislation to protect gun owners from “discrimination” by their employers. Three interrelated bills are scheduled for votes in House and Senate committees in the coming week after hours of conflicting testimony from both sides and an onslaught of emails and telephone calls to legislators. Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, who is sponsor of two bills drafted by the National Rifle Association, at one point declared the legislation could collectively be called “the full lobbyist employment acts of 2012.” One of the two NRA-drafted bills (SB3002) declares that employers must permit employees to bring guns to work, provided they are left in a locked private vehicle in the employer’s parking lot during work hours.
Harold Love announced Wednesday that he is running for the District 58 House seat held by Rep. Mary Pruitt. Love, who has worked as the pastor at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal in Nashville for the past decade, joins Steven Turner as announced candidates for the Democratic primary in District 58, which stretches from Bordeaux to North Nashville and down into parts of South Nashville. Love’s father served for 24 years in the state legislature, using the well-remembered slogan “Keep Love in the House.” Pruitt, who is 78, has not announced if she will seek re-election. “My father’s 24 years of service as a distinguished state representative was based on a strong belief that politics wasn’t something you did as a career nor a money-making endeavor, but an opportunity to be a positive impact on people’s lives,” Love said in a news release.
In the first statewide election since the new voter identification law went into effect, 285 Tennessee voters had to cast provisional ballots on Tuesday because they did not have the proper photo ID. Voters had two days to come back with an ID in order to make their votes count. State Election Coordinator Mark Goins told WPLN-FM (http://bit.ly/wZW9Vq) it’s not yet clear how many voters did return but at least some didn’t. Goins speculated that people voting for a winning candidate might not bother to return. It also is possible that some of those attempting to vote did not return because they were attempting to impersonate legitimate voters. Goins said the 285 provisional ballots were just a tiny portion of the more than 62,000 ballots cast in the presidential primaries.
Hoping to stop the Republican Party’s local momentum, the Rutherford County Democratic Party packed the County Courthouse on Saturday with 88 delegates committed to holding and winning seats in 2012. “I’m encouraged to see so many people here,” said party Chairwoman Judy Whitehill, noting that they could have been somewhere else on this sunny day instead of attending the Rutherford County Democratic Party Convention. “This shows their commitment to the Democratic Party and to our philosophy.” Many of the revved-up Democrats were ready to take home campaign signs for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn told MSNBC on Tuesday that she wouldn’t be surprised if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Tennessee that day. “I think the vetting process that people go through in Tennessee is, who is going to be the one who can win in November?” said Blackburn, a Republican from Brentwood. Blackburn didn’t get a chance to be “not surprised,” as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum beat Romney by about 9 percentage points. However, exit polling did show Tennessee voters felt Romney would have the best chance of defeating President Barack Obama in November. Many political analysts say a drawn-out primary contest can end up hurting the eventual nominee because it allows too much time for primary candidates to sling mud at each other.
Congressional support letters reveal that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., may have asked the Department of Energy to speed up loan guarantees to projects in his district, despite his denial of the claim to Energy Secretary Steven Chu last week. Obtained by USA Today, the letter, which was sent last May to the Office of Management and Budget, stated “any delays put the project at risk.” The letter was signed by 15 members, including DesJarlais, and also said it was “imperative” that a $2 billion loan guarantee to USEC Inc. be “advanced expeditiously.” The loan guarantee would finance the American Centrifuge project, a uranium enrichment program that could create 370 jobs in Oak Ridge and an additional 1,094 indirect jobs in Tennessee, according to The Tennessean.
TN voters think he has best shot at Obama, despite Santorum win Former Sen. Rick Santorum won Tuesday’s GOP primary by wide margins among almost every group of Tennesseans, but not with the oldest and richest voters. That was true despite more voters saying Mitt Romney had the best chance to defeat President Barack Obama in the general election, according to CNN exit polling conducted Tuesday. And those who said Romney was not conservative enough rarely voted for him, a tantalizing tidbit to Mark Byrnes, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University, who has examined whether Tennessee is moving to the right.
Republicans from Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, North Chattanooga, Signal Mountain and Walden gave Mitt Romney decisive precinct victories in Hamilton County on Tuesday, and a correspondingly prosperous group supported the former Massachusetts governor statewide. But powerful constituencies don’t always collect: Romney won just three Tennessee counties. Rick Santorum? Hamilton County and 90 others. Romney performed best in Tennessee’s wealthiest pockets, leading experts to believe the presumed GOP front-runner won’t charm the Harrisons, Hixsons and Soddy-Daisys of other Bible Belt states that have upcoming primaries. “Any Southern state for Romney is going to be an uphill battle,” said David E. Lewis, a Vanderbilt University political science professor who studies the presidency.
The campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called a news conference Monday afternoon to announce its latest endorsement — state Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet — but the news was overshadowed by the loss of another backer on the eve of the Tennessee primary. State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, announced on his blog the previous weekend that he was switching his allegiance from Gingrich to Rick Santorum, arguing that the former Pennsylvania senator had become the best alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Campfield’s change of heart probably wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans outside his district except that he carried the title of state co-chairman of the Gingrich campaign.
You can get just about anything a farmer needs at Jackson Farm Supply near the Bledsoe-Rhea county line on Walden’s Ridge. Feed, seed, fuel, hay, fencing, gates, fertilizer, rental equipment, it’s all there. Johnny Jackson, who owns the family farm and store with his brother, mother and sister and farms 25 crops on about 1,000 acres in Bledsoe, said that’s the same feeling he gets with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency office in Pikeville. Vivian Tollet, who works in the office, helps Jackson and fellow farmers with federal program applications, funding and record keeping and implementation of program services, officials said. But there might not be a hometown office much longer, because the Pikeville location is targeted for consolidation with its sister office in Dayton, Tenn.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is still removing trees along easements it owns in order to protect its transmission lines. The utility began the massive initiative in 2007 and doesn’t expect to finish for another four or five years, TVA service manager Jason Regg told the Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/wwWG7A). Recently, crews were in Jonesborough, Tenn., cutting back vegetation. All trees with a mature height of at least 15 feet are being removed under the initiative. The regulations were implemented by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and TVA has been working to clear more than 2,500 miles surrounding transmission lines over seven states.
Memphis chemical company executive Steve Dean says he can see the numbers: Orders rise overseas for his company when the dollar slides in value. “The weak dollar is good for our sales,” said Dean, chief financial officer of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a cellulose processor that counted on customers abroad last year for about two-thirds of its $905 million in revenue. Now, policymakers in Beijing are contemplating a pivotal action that could boost exports by Buckeye and rejuvenate industrial jobs throughout Memphis and the nation. “If they stop the talking and take action, that could have a profound impact on our economy and theirs. It’ll stimulate our manufacturing, especially exporting,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Inc., a research firm based in Englewood, Colo.
More than 300 of 500 initial employees already hired Clarksville’s industrial achievements are many, but none bigger than history will record in 2012. Construction on the $1.2 billion Hemlock Semiconductor LLC plant is now about 87 percent complete, officials said. Late this year, the plant is expected to launch production of polycrystalline silicon in support of the futuristic solar energy industry. It’s a company in northeast Montgomery County that is poised to change Clarksville forever. HSC comes with, by far, the biggest industrial investment Clarksville has seen. It is also one of the leading industrial investments statewide. This comes despite a tough U.S. economy over the past few years that has hit all industries hard, including the emerging alternative energy movement.
Rutherford County Commissioner Jeff Jordan is calling for a new look at more efficient use of county high schools to delay construction of another multimillion-dollar building in five years. Jordan, who represents District 13 in Murfreesboro, believes county leaders must consider the possible expense of the next high school, likely to open by 2017, at $170 million over 20 years. He said that money should be steered instead into teacher training, remedial courses and other educational programs. The retired educator estimates the total cost of Stewarts Creek High School, which is to open in August, at a conservative amount of $142 million paid over 20 years, including $50 million for land and construction, $20 million for 20-year interest payments and $3.5 million in annual operation costs.
Dissenting parents now have a little company in their opposition to a rezoning proposal that stands to change which schools students attend in East Hamilton County. Noting that they have received dozens of calls and emails from families, Hamilton County commissioners brought up the rezoning proposal at a meeting last week and pointed out their problems with the plan. Some commissioners proposed alternatives to rezoning, such as a new middle school or the temporary use of portable classrooms. Commissioner Fred Skillern noted that the rezoning process is out of the commission’s purview. The commission funds the school system, but the school board oversees school policies and operations.
When threatening weather became imminent March 2, children in many Hamilton and Bradley county schools filed into interior hallways and knelt with heads low and hands over the backs of their necks, just as they learned in drills. When the National Weather Service switched from “tornado watch” to “tornado warning,” Cleveland and Bradley County schools went into lockdown and children were not allowed to leave. Parents coming to Cleveland and Bradley County schools during the tornado warning period were invited inside for shelter, but were told their children could not be released until the warning was lifted. That rule prompted some parents to call and complain to school board members, but board members said they support the decision.
Tennessee lawmakers should not back down from their plan to tighten up rules for lottery-funded scholarships. It has been shown clearly that the existing rules are squandering vast amounts of money. They also do not provide enough incentive for high school students to work hard in order to earn the scholarships, which sets students up for failure in college. Those are excellent reasons to revamp the rules. The Times Free Press reported recently that about half of the freshmen who get lottery scholarships to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lose the scholarships by the end of their first year. Why? Because they do not keep up their grades once they are at UTC. The loss of the scholarships puts many students on a path to leaving college altogether.
Going into Super Tuesday, it seemed possible that the Tennessee Republican primary tradition of conservatives splitting their votes to assure plurality victory for a moderate would hold true. Coming out of Super Tuesday, just maybe a new normal has been achieved wherein the conservative wing of the Republican party can believe in better. Back in the old normal, or maybe the ancient normal, Tennessee Republicans were pretty much a united bunch because they were the state’s minority party. Moderation ruled with guys like Howard Baker, Winfield Dunn and Lamar Alexander, and the cultural warrior wing went along against the dominant Democrats, who were often split into factions. Indeed, there was a time when the traditional mountain Republicans had power in our fair state by deciding which Democratic faction to align with in a given political situation.
When Jimmy Naifeh came on the scene in the state legislature, men were still wearing leisure suits and long sideburns. Lawmakers would routinely call out to the sergeant-at-arms “Quack! Quack!” signaling they needed a refill of Donald Duck-brand orange juice to mix with their vodka. The speed limit on interstates was 55, seat belts were optional, and no one had ever heard of the Tennessee Titans. Naifeh changed all of that, except for the fashions. That was about the only thing he didn’t have his hands on. The longest-serving speaker of the House has seen his star fall since Republicans took control of the Hill. Naifeh, 72, announced his retirement last week. The man is an enigma.
The forecast for this week is sunshine. All day. Every day. Sunshine Week, which begins today, celebrates open government and freedom of information. These concerns are vital to our endeavors as a news organization, but everyone enjoys the benefits of open government. Just as we all pay the price for secrecy in conducting the public’s business. The Tennessee Open Meetings Act and the Tennessee Public Records Act are the twin pillars of open government and freedom of information law in the state. Nationally, the Freedom of Information Act enables citizens to obtain documents from federal agencies. The News Sentinel is committed to expanding the public’s access to government activities.
Don’t you feel sorry for Millington? The jockeying to create suburban municipal school districts is turning into an after-school special, and in this scene, the socially awkward kid can’t seem to break into the cool kids clique. The popular kids are five of the county’s six suburban cities, which are marching briskly toward starting districts to avoid the merger of the Memphis City and Shelby County schools. Millington is the odd teen out. She’s clumsy, her parents can’t afford the latest fashions, and on Thursday, she learned she can’t hang with the kids with swag. The news from the consultant hired to figure out if the suburban cities can start their own school districts has been mostly sunny: Raise taxes a smidge, count on getting the school buildings for free, add students and optimism and voila! You’ve got your own school district.
I’m not a fan of goodbye columns. But like many of you, I’m captivated by history and trends. So, my last official act as business editor will be light on farewells and heavy on the past, present and future, with a nod to some rock icons. Ch-Ch-Changes really are inevitable and possibly cathartic. It’s all in how you deal with it. As I’ve said before, the news industry continues to change and I’m changing with it. Turn and face the strain. In fact, the news business has been evolving since I entered it in 1986, and it will continue to grow. And despite the wishes of some, good journalism isn’t dying. Demand for stories and watchdog organizations to keep a close eye on our institutions remains high. And their impact is as important as ever. It goes beyond the vital stories of backroom political dealing, judicial misconduct, public waste or natural and man-made disasters. It’s also about telling people’s stories. And there are good stories. Journalists helped shape this business long before I entered, and more talented journalists continue to enter the profession. It continues to be tough to break into this business, but talented ones do and many stay.