This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Heather Mounce has seen a number of shifts in curriculum standards in her 10 years of teaching. So when she heard that standards would be changing again under a new system called Common Core she thought it would be much of the same. “I didn’t realize there would be such an instructional shift. But I think that’s the most exciting part of it; we can teach differently,” said the Bearden Middle School math teacher. “Kids are so different now and think so much differently than we did.
Damage assessment teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have gotten firsthand looks at flooded areas in three East Tennessee counties. It’s part of the process to determine if the area is eligible for federal disaster aid. The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/NfQ6XI ) reports there’s an $8.5 million threshold for the area to qualify for federal dollars to help residents rebuild what floodwaters swept away or destroyed last Sunday night. There was enough damage documented by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to lead Gov. Bill Haslam to seek the federal assessment.
A controversial new state commission created to oversee the Tennessee State Fair will hold its first meeting later this month, two weeks before the next edition of the annual fair. The Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Commission will meet Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. at the UT Extension Central Region Office at Ellington Agricultural Center, the state Department of Agriculture announced. The commission will select a nonprofit to run this year’s fair — a formality, given that an operator was picked by Metro’s fair board months ago.
Around East Tennessee, pills are still a preferred narcotic, but heroin, always hanging around at the far edges of the drug culture, is becoming just a little more visible in some areas. Some East Tennessee law enforcement agencies report they have seen a few more heroin-related cases lately. In some jurisdictions, heroin-related arrests fluctuate. In others, authorities report no noticeable increase. Jeff Vittatoe, deputy director for the 9th Judicial District Drug Task Force, said he has encountered two cases involving heroin this year — but they are the first heroin cases he has personally seen in 18 years.
Heroin has become the deadly crest of a wave of addictive drug use in communities around the country. With addicts desperate for a cheaper high than prescription drugs or seeking a more powerful fix, experts are seeing heroin addiction treatment admissions, overdoses and fatalities rising in nearly every region, including areas where the drug has seldom been seen before. In Ohio, state officials say drug overdoses from heroin increased 25 percent between 2008 and 2009, and are continuing to rise.
Current Tennessee quarterback and former boater Tyler Bray’s misadventures on Tellico Lake have been met with derision and scorn … directed at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer who wrote him a ticket. DeWayne Williams was the wildlife officer who wrote the ticket after he witnessed Bray “hotdogging” on a personal watercraft. Williams was then accused of “picking on Bray”, it was said the TWRA “never” writes those kinds of tickets, and Williams was compared to Barney Fife.
Shelby County court officials say they will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the office in charge of defending adults. Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will be in charge of the attorneys handling cases ranging from vandalism and minor theft to aggravated assault and murder, said Bill Powell, the county’s criminal justice coordinator. The public defender’s office in Memphis hasn’t held that role in 35 years, Bush said. “Stephen Bush is working to get technical assistance,” said Powell, who is organizing changes already under way by Juvenile Court.
Candidate travels an unlikely road Not even four years separate Courtney Rogers, the stay-at-home mom, from Courtney Rogers, political candidate. The path connecting the two runs through the election of a Democratic president, performances as a Revolutionary War soldier and a lecture series on the origins of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Somehow, this unlikely road has made Rogers one of the year’s most-watched political newcomers. Soft-spoken, Rogers does not come across as a right-leaning firebrand.
Two boys — twins, in matching orange shirts — work with an instructor at a pair of computers to log into a learning game. At a nearby table, four other children press clay into shapes using plastic rolling pins, pizza cutters and cookie molds, while a fifth masters the art of safety scissors. In the center of the room, another girl presses colored pins into a grid to form the image of a duck, while a knot of children wrestles with plastic pipes. “Their work is their play, that’s my philosophy,” explains Beth Younker, the teacher in this chaotic scene, who has just finished showing a handful of children a collection of bugs encased in plastic.
Tiffany Carpenter is excited that Knox County Schools is moving to full-day kindergarten, but won’t really know what to expect until the 4- and 5-year-olds take their seats in her classroom at Norwood Elementary School. “As far as scheduling goes, I’m just thinking about what I really need to be doing in that extra part of the afternoon,” said Carpenter, who is entering her fifth year teaching at the school. “It’s more time to read and write; that’s what we need to focus on the most I feel like. I feel like the time component is going to be marvelous because you’re just going to have so much more with each kid.”
Such is the political world we live in today that U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn issued a statement Wednesday calling on President Barack Obama to ask Priorities USA to stop airing an ad that links Mitt Romney to the death of a Kansas City steelworker’s wife from cancer. Blackburn — the Romney surrogate du jour, it seems — called the ad “disrespectful of the deceased” and “far over the line.” The ad in question features an interview with Joe Soptic, a steelworker who says he lost his health care coverage when the mill he worked for was closed by Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney led.
State Sen. Eric Stewart, the Democratic nominee in the 4th Congressional District, has challenged Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais to three debates either this month or next (“since Congress just voted for a five week recess,” he wrote with tongue presumably planted firmly in cheek). In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Stewart said he couldn’t imagine why DesJarlais wouldn’t accept. “I do think folks will be disappointed if they’re not able to see us both out together talking about the issues,” he said.
When they voted for their nominee, six out of 10 Republicans in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District chose someone other than U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. Worse yet, the incumbent lost Hamilton County to a 25-year-old and surrendered half the district’s other 10 counties to East Tennessee’s most popular milk and ice cream man. Nevertheless, Fleischmann won the nomination. But his victory was a little more predictable than it may seem. A 61 percent anti-incumbent vote doesn’t mean as much when “two big names” — as Fleischmann described Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp on election night — split almost all of it.
Attorney Michael Rowan, who lost an election for a General Sessions Court judgeship on Aug. 2, has had a hand in representing two U.S. Senate candidates since then — and they don’t exactly have the same legal interests.Rowan wrote a letter to Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Monday on behalf of Larry Crim, who finished fourth in the Democratic Senate primary last week. He also accompanied Crim that day to a meeting with Mark Goins, the state elections coordinator.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, as running mate Saturday pleased Tennessee politicians of both parties. Republicans welcomed the choice, which they said would lead to a serious policy debate, while Democrats seemed equally gleeful, as they contend the choice sends a clear message that confirms President Barack Obama’s argument that Romney wants to take away Social Security and Medicare for the middle class while cutting taxes for the rich.
Of all the people Mitt Romney could have picked to be his running mate for vice president, the one who excited Susan Richardson Williams the most was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. “What I like about him is he has really been a leader in the House — he has put forth ideas and not just rhetoric,” said Williams, a Knoxville resident who will be an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention later this month in Tampa. “I think the country is really hungry for ideas and someone who has solutions,” Williams said.
“This is Gov. Romney’s first major decision as a presidential nominee, and it is a strong one. A Romney-Ryan ticket offers bold leadership that recognizes that our country is one budget agreement away from getting our economy moving again.” — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “Paul Ryan is a bold, outstanding pick. He’s a true leader with a great family who has shown with courage and commitment that he understands the depth of our country’s fiscal problems and what it’s going to take to address them.
Government’s role in American life becomes question Mitt Romney’s pick of Rep. Paul Ryan for the Republican presidential ticket brings clarity to the stark election-year choice for voters — the competing Democratic and GOP visions about the size and role of the federal government in Americans’ lives. Ryan is synonymous with his revolutionary budget that slashes spending for safety-net programs for the poor, remakes Medicare and cuts personal and corporate taxes while pushing the deficit down to a manageable level.
The new health care law is known as the Affordable Care Act. But Democrats in Congress and advocates for low-income people say coverage may be unaffordable for millions of Americans because of a cramped reading of the law by the administration and by the Internal Revenue Service in particular. Under rules proposed by the service, some working-class families would be unable to afford family coverage offered by their employers, and yet they would not qualify for subsidies provided by the law.
When Eagleville farm-equipment dealer Ronnie Hill began getting orders for his used tractors from buyers in South America, Africa and Asia, he decided this whole online thing might actually be for real. Unlike the 70 percent of Tennessee small-business owners who still have no websites, Hill began advertising his Farm Sales & Service Co.’s inventory online about eight years ago and now attributes four-fifths of his sales to his websites, including the international orders that were unheard of before.
Mars Chocolate North America is planning a $67 million expansion of its Cleveland plant to make pretzel M&Ms. The Cleveland City Council is scheduled Monday to consider a plan to exempt from property taxes half of the new investment planned by Mars over the next seven years. According to the resolution, the company plans to purchase and install equipment to manufacture pretzel M&Ms at its plant and add 38 jobs. Mars currently employs 493 workers at the M&M production facility. Terms of the agreement, known as a payment in lieu of taxes, include an annual payment of 50 percent of the property taxes otherwise due until Dec. 31, 2018.
Thinking about the job ahead might be keeping more than a few members of the unified school board and district staff awake at night. The process of merging the Memphis and Shelby County school districts by next fall will start with a series of public meetings beginning Monday at East High at 6:30 p.m. Board members and staff will collect comments on the consolidation plan developed by the Transition Planning Commission, which is available on the commission’s website, ourvoiceourschools.org.
The cost of school lunches will increase in public school systems throughout the region as districts work to incorporate healthier — and more costly — federal meal guidelines. The price of breakfast and lunch will go up by 25 cents in Hamilton County schools, putting the cost of regular breakfast at $1.50 and regular lunch at $2.75. That could mean an extra $42.50 for students who eat all 170 or so lunches in a school year — or $85 more a year for a student who eats school breakfast and lunch each day.
When the bells ring in schools across Hamilton County on Monday morning, thousands of students who should be at their desks likely won’t even be in school. If recent attendance patterns hold, about 3,000 of the county’s 42,000 public school students won’t be counted when teachers take roll on the first day of classes. Most of those missing on Day 1 will be enrolled and in school within a week, yet hundreds more will not show up until they have lost as much as three weeks of instruction. Their absence puts them far behind classmates with little hope of ever catching up and makes it more difficult for their schools and the district to meet testing goals.
There are three things you should know about Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Clayton, the stealth winner who was immediately “disavowed” by the party. First, he is never, ever going to win. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican, will beat the pants off Clayton. Corker is well-liked by voters in both parties, he and his campaign are rich, and his is a household name. Second, Clayton’s out-there beliefs (“Orwellian super state, anyone?”) put him in the same category as people who call newspaper columnists after they’ve decided to treat midmorning as the new happy hour. Despite thing one and thing two, there is a third: Clayton won the primary fair and square.
How long does it take to turn a state political party from an empire that controls every facet of government into an irrelevant laughingstock? Apparently about six years when you have ineffective buffoons like Chip Forrester and Gray Sasser at the helm. Since 2006, the Tennessee Democratic Party has gone from a dominant juggernaut that controlled every aspect of state government in Tennessee to having so few members in the state legislature that, after the November elections, Republicans will likely have a supermajority allowing them to pass whatever they want, whether any Democrats show up or not.
Economic inequities exceed benefits of choice programs Metro Nashville Public Schools turned a corner on July 27, when U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp ruled in favor of the district’s 2008 rezoning plan, which plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, say has resegregated Nashville schools. But with this corner turned — at least for now, as plaintiffs have said they will appeal — it is even more important that our community face the real problems. We must address the inequities between Metro’s schools that all recognize are preventing progress in educational achievement. This is not just a problem for Metro Nashville. In several major cities throughout the U.S., public schools in the past 10 years have become more racially segregated.
The Knox County Charter Review Committee spent a good deal of time Wednesday trying to decide if residents should vote on whether the county’s independent offices should be “charter offices” or “constitutional offices.” They came to the wrong conclusion and could have saved themselves a lot of time because the state Supreme Court already has made that determination. The committee’s decision dealt with the register of deeds, trustee, property assessor, sheriff, county clerk and trustee. By opting to refer to the positions as “constitutional offices, the committee members either ignored or misread the Supreme Court’s decision in Jordan v. Knox County, which offers the most comprehensive review of the powers and responsibilities of counties such as Knox that operate under charters in Tennessee.
At what point should members of the Shelby County Election Commission resign? How badly must they bungle elections before the head honchos leave voluntarily? Even though voter confidence is understandably rattled after the hot raggedy mess that was the Aug. 2 election, the commission’s leadership doesn’t think that threshold has been met. The body met Thursday, but not until its Aug. 20 meeting will the commission try to figure out what went so wrong. To suggest that anyone should lose a job requires proof of a severe offense and irreparable harm. This last election qualifies.
The first priority of a county election commissioner is ensuring fair elections, and one of the best ways to do that is to avoid showing favoritism to any candidate. That is exceedingly difficult if election commissioners give money to political candidates, even if during primary voting. Two of the Rutherford County Election Commission members gave funds to the candidates during the latest reporting cycle: Chairman Ransom Jones donated $2,500 to Congressman Scott DesJarlais, and Commissioner Jimmy Evans gave $500 to state Rep. Mike Sparks. All of them are Republicans, but the same type of favoritism could be shown by Democrats, as well.
Sometimes the lessons of childhood stay with us forever. When I was a boy of 10-12, what started out as an innocent game of baseball ended with a lesson in responsibility for my actions — even those unintended ones. One early summer evening, as dusk was approaching, we were playing ball on our church playground. I caught a ball in centerfield and threw home to catch a runner at the plate. But I overthrew the catcher and hit an elderly lady walking on the sidewalk behind. All I could see in the lengthening shadows was the sight of this lady as she crumpled to the ground. Immediately, a crowd gathering for a meeting came over to help her. They looked at us and shouted some angry words as we approached. Timidly, I uttered an apology, as I picked up our ball and bat and began to slink away until I was safe enough to take off running for home.
By now, we know about all of the encouraging signs from the Aug. 2 election in Shelby County. About how voters countywide rewarded the good work put in so far by incumbents Amy Weirich as district attorney general, Ed Stanton Jr. as General Sessions Court clerk and Cheyenne Johnson as property assessor. We’re familiar with how Memphis voters concluded that since we’re merging city schools with Shelby County Schools next year, we may as well have some fresh blood setting policy for the unified system. Two holdovers from the old city school board — Freda Williams and Kenneth Whalum Jr. — were defeated. But a much more subtle — yet highly significant — development also sprang from the election. And it resulted in the near-complete demise of white, moderate-to-liberal Democrats from Memphis in the Tennessee legislature.