This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed three people to the new State Fair and Exhibition Board, putting flesh on the bones of a controversial body that will oversee the Tennessee State Fair three years after Metro government decided to stop running the annual event. The governor’s appointees are Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, Dr. Tim Cross of Knoxville and Nashville public relations executive Bo Roberts.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Assistant District Attorney Robert Carter to succeed District Attorney Chuck Crawford who’s resigning effective July 31. Carter, 31, of Fayetteville, is to serve the unexpired portion of Crawford’s term as district attorney until results of the August 2014 election take effect. He can run for a full eight-year term. Carter has been an assistant district attorney since 2010, most recently prosecuting DUI cases and previously working in the child support division.
Two dozen Republican governors fought all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to reject President Barack Obama’s expansion of Medicaid under the health care law. However, just a few weeks after the Supreme Court sided with them, some of these governors are leaving themselves an opening to expand Medicaid anyway — but on their own terms…. At the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Va., on Friday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead all said their opposition to expanding Medicaid wasn’t absolute.
How well the new health care law succeeds in covering millions of the poorest Americans will depend largely on undecided governors of both parties, who gathered here this weekend and spoke of the challenges of weighing the law’s costs and benefits in a highly charged political atmosphere and a time of fiscal uncertainty. The Supreme Court’s ruling last month that the states should have the choice of whether to expand their Medicaid programs has set the stage for a frenzied year and a half in which governors will have to analyze their options, devise plans, negotiate with the federal government and successfully navigate the thorny statehouse politics that often accompany any big change.
Republican governors gathered here this weekend gently nudged Mitt Romney to wage a more aggressive campaign, urging the GOP standard bearer to share more about his background and draw a sharper contrast between his vision and that of President Barack Obama. In a series of interviews, the chief executives said they’d like to hear their presidential nominee rebut Obama’s criticism about Bain Capital, the company Romney formerly led, by explaining what the venture-capital firm did while offering a more forward-leaning recitation of what he’d do in the White House.
A 5-year-old Memphis boy found and swallowed his mother’s cocaine, causing violent seizures and leaving him permanently brain damaged. National child advocates say the boy, known as Charles C., never should have been left in the care of his mother, a longtime crack addict. Charles, born with cocaine in his system, had been immediately placed in state custody after he was born. But case workers with the state Department of Children’s Services returned him to his mother five years later,even though she had not received adequate services to overcome her addiction and learn parenting skills, according to the child’s attorney.
For decades, residents of Pikeville, Tenn., have climbed the winding road up the Cumberland Plateau to the Taft Youth Development Center. Some found work. Others volunteered as a tutor, a mentor or a coach. Still others seized the chance to take a troubled boy to church on a Sunday. The town is so small that the hills of the Sequatchie Valley appear to dead-end the downtown’s neat streets in every direction. Being home of the state’s oldest reform school has been a point of pride for the city and its 1,700 people.
The Bean Station marina where two boys died after they were apparently electrocuted while swimming near houseboats on July 4 has multiple issues with its electrical system and has 30 days to submit a corrective plan after State Fire Marshal’s personnel inspected the site on July 10. Noah Winstead, 10, of Morristown was pronounced dead on July 4 and his 11-year-old friend, Nate Lyman, was removed from life support the next day. Authorities said both boys were electrocuted while swimming near houseboats at the marina.
Tennessee will now provide translation services to non-English speaking crime victims during court proceedings.The move comes after a federal mandate ordering states to provide free translation services to plaintiffs and defendants during court or risk losing federal aid. While considering how to go about providing services, the Tennessee Supreme Court asked for input and heard from a group that the federal government hasn’t mentioned: victims.
The chairman of the Davidson County Election Commission has contributed money to the campaign of state Rep. Jim Gotto, upsetting Gotto’s opponent in the fall election. But there’s nothing illegal about the donation. Lynn Greer has given $750 to Gotto’s campaign, including $250 in the most recent fund-raising period, which covered April through June. Both Greer and Gotto are Republicans, and they’ve known each other for many years, Greer said.
The money is flowing in the 20th Senate District, with Steve Dickerson and Phillip North both bringing in more than $100,000 in the second quarter. Dickerson, who is locked in a three-way Republican primary for the Davidson County district, raised $100,040 between April 1 and June 30, supplementing the $106,964 that he collected during the first quarter. Dickerson has also loaned his campaign $100,000. North, meanwhile, brought in $100,885 in the second quarter. North likewise has loaned his campaign $100,000.
Tommie Brown reminds people that when Moses went up the mountain, he was older than 80. Brown, a Democrat who’s been serving House District 28 in the Tennessee General Assembly for 20 years, is 78. Her Aug. 2 Democratic primary opponent, JoAnne Favors, is 69. She served for eight years in House District 29 before the Republican-dominated Legislature this year drew both women into the 28th District.Brown is a trailblazer for minority rights in Chattanooga battling what she sees as a public perception that she’s too old to represent the city effectively.
Incumbent state lawmakers in Southeast Tennessee hold a big money advantage over challengers in both primary and November general election contests, state filings show. As of June 30, six House Republicans in and around Hamilton County had about a 3-to-1 money advantage over challengers in the second quarter, and a huge 20-to-1 leg up over primary or general election opponents, according to candidates’ reports to the state Registry of Election Finance.
While U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is the fundraising champion of Tennessee politics this summer, his fellow incumbent Republicans at the state Legislature level aren’t doing too bad in financial readiness for challenges in the Aug. 2 primary elections, a review of reports shows. Corker’s campaign reports collecting about $840,000 in the past three months, ending June 30, while spending $1.46 million. The senator still had $7.4 million in the bank. New disclosures from the four Republicans opposing him in the primary were not available Saturday, but based on earlier reports Corker will likely maintain his funding advantage of $20 to $1 or so.
Tennesseans will make their partisan picks for federal and state legislative seats on Aug. 2 and, in a growing number of cases, that will decide the general election as well.At the federal level, all nine Tennessee-based U.S. House seats and the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Bob Corker are up for re-election. Corker has four opponents in the Republican primary. Two of them, Brenda Lenard of Sweetwater and Zach Poskevich of Hendersonville, have actively campaigned, both criticizing Corker as short on conservative credentials.
Clarksville City Councilman and state representative candidate Nick Steward on Saturday explained the conditions of his discharge from the U.S. Army. In a statement released to the Leaf-Chroncle, Steward said that in 2008, while deployed in Afghanistan, he ordered computer hard drives for his personal use. When the chain of command discovered his actions, he was processed for a discharge. “My rank was taken from E-4 to E-1,” he said. “I finished my deployment and returned to Fort Campbell to be separated from the Army. I received a general under honorable conditions discharge.”
8 amendments clarify duties and responsibilities This go-around, voters will have a chance to make changes to the Knox County Charter — also known as its governing documents — in eight places. Most of the proposed changes, though, do little more than clean up the charter’s current language. The proposals were approved earlier this year by a 27-member charter review committee, which is still meeting and should have another batch of proposals ready in the upcoming months for the November election.
City officials recently discovered that one local company hadn’t been paying its required franchise fees, but so far they haven’t gotten a response concerning the matter. Trinity Communications in Jasper, Tenn., which offers local cable, phone and Internet service in Marion County, has only paid the city once since July 2008, officials said in June. A payment of $498.53 was received in April 2011, but officials said no paperwork accompanied the payment, so there was no way to know how Trinity calculated what was owed.
While some residents of South Cordova complain they had little warning about their annexation by Memphis, another group of suburban residents got eight years to plan for a city takeover. On June 29, the city of Memphis acknowledged — about 48 hours before the change became official — that roughly 1,700 households in South Cordova would be annexed effective July 1. The residents of Southwind and Windyke, on the other hand, made an agreement with the city in 2005 that delayed their annexation until 2013.
Even after losing 27,000 residents and hundreds of businesses since the economy crashed in 2008, Memphis has kept its 4,200 police and firefighters on duty. But the financial juggling that let city government spending rise 24 percent in five years despite the long fall in Memphis household income is about to reach an end. Property values will reset next year for the first time since the crash. They’re widely expected to drop, forcing the Memphis City Council into a financial reckoning: Lift tax rates in two years or cut spending.
Already poised to modify the local vehicle emissions-inspection program, Memphis City Council members this week will hear a proposal to abandon it altogether. During an executive session Tuesday, the council is slated to discuss a resolution calling for the city to quit funding the inspection program and transfer it to Shelby County after this fiscal year ends. The inspection effort is costing Memphis taxpayers nearly $2.7 million a year.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais released his first television ad of the 2012 campaign season this week. The spot borrows video clips from his 2010 ads — including the one about pronouncing his name — but for the most part, it’s your standard, 30-second campaign spot: He speaks to farmers. He looks at things being made. He reads to a child. DesJarlais’ Democratic opponent nonetheless found something to make fun of in the ads. State Sen. Eric Stewart’s campaign posted a minute-long web ad that, using a hick voiceover, offers its shot-by-shot rebuttal of DesJarlais’ spot.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais believes the federal government spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. It’s the reason he first ran for Congress. It’s the reason he’s running again. “All families have to live within a budget. All businesses have to live within a budget,” the Jasper Republican said. “But the federal government continues to borrow money we don’t have.” DesJarlais, a first-term congressman who was elected in the GOP tidal wave of 2010, said he’s approaching his re-election campaign much the same way he approached his first race two years ago.
Vanguard, CHS, LifePoint face scrutiny Two major Tennessee-based hospital chains are facing probes of their billing practices, while a third settled some charges by paying nearly $1 million but still faces an ongoing inquiry. The three area companies — Vanguard Health Systems, Community Health Systems and LifePoint Hospitals — are facing inquiries for facilities they operate outside of the Nashville area. Medicare advocates including the Medicare Rights Center say the efforts by two federal agencies — the U.S. Justice Department and the inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services — are a good thing in that they save money and help root out fraud and waste, and because of a new law they probably will become more common.
Bi-Lo expects to spend more than $6 million this year in the Chattanooga area and add more than 100 new workers as it updates five area stores. Officials said they plan even more store renovations in the region in 2013. “We’re reinvesting in the total market,” said Fred Shropshier, Bi-Lo’s regional vice president, as he and others marked the refurbishing of its Rivermont store off Hixson Pike last week. Shropshier said Bi-Lo’s blockbuster merger with the Winn-Dixie grocery chain that closed this spring has already helped the combined company streamline its buying operations.
After all the criticism and complaints about the state’s new teacher evaluation system, local educators appear to have excelled at the process. Known as the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, the system calls for professional teachers with more than five years of experience to be evaluated three times annually or and apprentice teachers — those with less than five years — to be evaluated five times. Previously, teachers with less than three years of experience were formally evaluated once a year.
The corn crop is history, and the early soybean plantings might be too far gone to save. But Brandon Whitt was still smiling and sighing with relief after last week’s rains, which could save his later soybean crop from the Middle Tennessee drought and allow his family farm to move forward on firmer footing for the rest of the summer. “The cooler temperatures on top of the rainfall have definitely changed our attitude,” said Whitt, 32, who works with his father-in-law on a farm in Rutherford County’s Blackman community that dates to 1807.
The rains came down and the floods went up, but not enough to bring Chattanooga’s rainfall back to normal levels. Chattanooga was drenched by record-breaking rainfall last week, but the official rain deficit for the year is still 5.2 inches, Channel 3 Meteorologist Nick Austin said. An unusual 2.6 inches of rain fell Thursday, the highest-ever rainfall recorded on July 12. “The average rainfall for a mid-July day is 0.16,” Austin said, “and Thursday they got 2.6 inches at the airport.” The city has seen 3.35 inches of rain this month — 1.3 inches above the monthly average.
Farmers throughout the Southeast and Midwest, including those in the Clarksville area, are paying dearly for yet another summer of intense drought and heat. Later on, consumers could pay at the grocery store for the damage done to farms by the severe lack of timely rainfall. When drought negatively affects the agricultual economy, everyone pays, despite the best efforts of farmers like Montgomery Countians Steve Joiner and Paul Cooper to ride it out and help maintain the domestic food supply.
The federal government has granted Florida election officials access to a database of noncitizen residents for use in Republican-backed efforts to remove people who are not American citizens from voter registration rolls. The decision by the Department of Homeland Security, which came after efforts by the Obama administration to block access, was issued in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and made public on Saturday. Mr. Scott, along with the state’s Republicans, had been pushing for months to gain access to the database, which is maintained by the department, arguing that it would allow for a more accurate review of voter lists.
Republicans can thank President Barack Obama for the party’s solid control of the Tennessee Legislature, starting with his appearance at the top of the national Democratic ticket in 2008 — after losing the state’s presidential primary even among Democratic voters — and continuing in more dramatic fashion in 2010. The GOP has used advertising that linked many Democratic state legislators, even some who were staunch fiscal and social conservatives, to the evil national Democrats.
U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays’ decision Thursday allows referendums on municipal school districts to proceed, but there won’t be any clear winners until he rules on the constitutionality of the state law that allowed them to be placed on the ballot at this time. Early voting began Friday leading up to the Aug. 2 general election. The residents of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington are voting on whether they want their cities to form their own school districts to avoid being part of the merged Memphis and Shelby County unified school district, which is set to begin operation at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.
Newspaper endorsements date back to the days when papers were political organs. But it has been decades since newspapers aligned themselves with parties. So why would we compromise our neutrality by taking such overtly political positions? Asked a similar question by the American Journalism Review a few years ago, editorial writers cited the vital role of fostering community dialogue. “The primary purpose of editorials is to stimulate discussion in the community,” said the editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register.
Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission members appear to be inching toward reconsideration of a site plan for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Several in the 11-member body said recently they’d be willing to take another vote. If so, they’d be doing the right thing. After all, the mosque congregation followed all rules as set forth by the county, including paying $300 to apply for site plan review in May 2010. The county also followed the steps it had been taking the previous three to four years, but in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of county residents, Chancellor Robert Corlew ruled that the county failed to provide adequate notice of the planning commission meeting.