This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The first time Jennifer Little set foot on the floor at the Republican National Convention, her emotions got the best of her. “When my foot hit that floor, I cried like a baby,” said Little, who lives in Bean Station. “I was so overwhelmed by the enormity. I was a part of something really huge. And I cried.” That was in Philadelphia, back in 2000. Little was an alternate delegate at that convention. Four years later, she was an alternate delegate at the GOP’s national gathering in New York City. This week, when Republicans come together in Tampa for their 40th national convention, Little will be there again.
Lance Frizzell, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, has been named a tally clerk to the Republican National Convention, part of a team of 10 people who will count ballots in Tampa, Fla., after the convention starts Monday. The RNC also announced that John Ryder, a Memphis attorney and national committeeman, will be an assistant parliamentarian. Frizzell is one of a handful of convention officers who do not hold state office or serve as a committeeman.
Winfield Dunn, the former Tennessee governor, remembers clearly the man sitting by himself in a VIP section at the 1968 Republican National Convention. The man’s face had been in every newspaper two decades earlier, when Dunn himself was just 21. Some of those newspapers had once reported with banner headline that the man had been elected president — so close had been his loss to President Harry S. Truman. Dunn walked over and introduced himself. “It was Thomas Dewey,” said Dunn, now 85.
Falls isn’t the highest waterfall in Tennessee — that distinction belongs to Fall Creek Falls — but it’s one of the most distinctive. The waterfall is fed by an underground stream that emerges from a cave near the lip of the falls. After plummeting 110 feet, the stream then disappears into a second cave beneath the rocks at the bottom of the sink. While other waterfalls on the Cumberland Plateau perform similar disappearing acts, few do so as dramatically as Virgin Falls. Located in White County about 20 miles southeast of Sparta, Virgin Falls was one of the first tracts to be designated a State Natural Area after Tennessee passed the Natural Areas Preservation Act in the early 1970s.
The state department that oversees the plaza where Occupy Nashville members camped out for months has filed new rules for the use of that space. The rules from the Department of General Services allow free public use of the War Memorial Plaza and Courtyard, next to the state Capitol, but prohibit camping there overnight. That prohibition has little practical impact since the General Assembly already passed a bill earlier this year prohibiting camping on state land not specifically designated for the purpose.
Jane Davis was not going to go quietly. The Tennessee State University English professor knew the school’s interim president, Portia Shields, wanted her out as the chairwoman of the faculty senate. So she started giving Shields a piece of her mind, not allowing the president to get a word in edgewise. “I know that if I let her open her mouth, that would be the end,” Davis said. Davis was right. Shields told Davis to leave the room. When Davis refused, a campus police officer arrested her and led her from the meeting in handcuffs.
Some local and state lawmakers say the state attorney general’s office needs to investigate allegations of misconduct, misuse of taxpayer money and property and civil rights violations in the 10th Judicial District. The issues were raised in a recent Chattanooga Times Free Press series. Area lawmakers including state Sen. Mike Bell and Reps. Eric Watson and Kevin Brooks all said constituents have been bombarding them with messages and questions since the series was published Aug. 12-17 and detailed allegations of multiple problems under District Attorney General Steve Bebb’s leadership.
Go to downtown Dickson these days, and you just might hear a reference or two to Mayberry, the idyllic small town from “The Andy Griffith Show.” Indeed, as City Administrator Rydell Wesson and Public Works Director Jeff Lewis walked down the street on a recent day, residents rolled their car windows down to say hello. Others stepped out of their shops to say a few words or ask about whether the two would be at Friday night’s football game. It’s the kind of vibe that city officials hope increases as Dickson works to revitalize its historic downtown.
As a former member of the Memphis City Council, Brent Taylor — now an interim Shelby County Commission member — used to hear the negative comparisons of the council to the commission. The seat of city government was referred to as “Silly Hall” and its legislators were called “City Clowncil,” while the commission was viewed as more deliberate and serious. “I think I heard it for 12 years,” Taylor said of his council service. “We were perceived as ‘the gang that couldn’t shoot straight,’ I think is a good way to describe it,” he said.
While Mayor Karl Dean and others are thinking about trying to bring a national political convention to Nashville, a longtime Democratic National Committee member says his party isn’t likely to come here anytime soon. Along with the obvious red-state concerns, DNC members have been frustrated by some of the market dynamics they’ve encountered in Charlotte, N.C., where Democrats will gather the week of Labor Day, said Will T. Cheek of Nashville, a Democratic superdelegate.
Tennessee’s relationship with its Muslim community was back in the news again Monday. The editorial staff of The New York Times opined on the opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, praising some community leaders for standing by the mosque while criticizing others for attempting to block it. The Times said constitutional protections for religion ultimately prevailed in the two-year battle — though the outcome was not a certainty. “With patience and dignity, the Islamic Americans of Murfreesboro learned the hard way the endless American lesson that constitutional rights don’t come guaranteed,” the editorial said.
When former state senator John Ford returned to Memphis last week after four years in federal prison, his TV news cameo raised the unlikely prospect of a political comeback. “You watch what I do,” Ford told reporters before disappearing into a halfway house where he’s banned from media contact. “I am not down. I am not out. I am way out in front.” Yet, the once-mighty Memphis Democrat who famously pocketed stacks of cash on undercover FBI tapes and bragged he was “the guy that made the deals” may have a difficult time springing back into public office.
Monday morning dawned on the nation, and, lo, there were two scandals involving Republican congressmen. Democrats issued statements that highlighted the connections to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, and DesJarlais responded. On Monday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an umbrella group for Democrats in Congressional races, noted that DesJarlais had been on the same tour of Israel on which Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder disrobed before plunging into the Sea of Galilee. But a spokesman for DesJarlais said he was not present for the dip.
Fourth Congressional District Democratic hopeful Eric Stewart was slapped with federal tax liens totaling $24,678.81 in 2002 and 2011 for not paying his federal personal and business taxes on time, records show. Stewart resolved a 2002 IRS lien of $9,541.09 on his 2000 and 2001 personal taxes on March 21, 2003, according to an IRS release filed with the Franklin County Register of Deeds. But the 2011 IRS lien remains on the books, records show. It involves $15,227.72 owed by Stewart and the insurance agency he owned on a matter involving payroll taxes for various quarters in tax years 2001-2003 and 2006.
Financial pain will stretch into 2013 We’re going to pay for Mother Nature’s fickleness. The financial impact of this summer’s heat and drought continues to spread throughout Middle Tennessee, from local farms to dining-room tables. Consumers are already seeing prices go up at the grocery store, and even steeper increases are coming as early as next month, starting with milk, pork and poultry and later expanding to cereals, corn flour and other packaged or processed foods. “We would have gotten a break if it wasn’t for the drought,” said Justin Gardner, a Middle Tennessee State University agribusiness professor. “Now, everything is going to be more expensive.”
Pre-trial briefs filed Monday and Friday ask the federal judge overseeing the fight over Shelby County’s public school structure to determine something even larger than the constitutionality of the 2012 laws allowing municipal schools referendums to occur before 2013. U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays should declare unconstitutional on state constitutional issues the 2011 statute that allows for the creation of municipal school districts, argue attorneys for the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council in filings submitted for the Sept. 4 trial.
“It’s for the kids.” That’s what then-Gov. Phil Bredesen told Tennesseans when he rolled out his pre-kindergarten program in 2005. Bredesen based Tennessee’s pre-k program on Georgia’s model for early childhood education — a model that studies proved time and time again fell victim to the “fade out” effect and produced no long-term benefits for students. In every large-scale government pre-k program, including Head Start, studies show that gains made by children in pre-k fade out by about the third grade. By the second grade, students attending the Georgia pre-k program performed no better on test scores or in the classroom than children of the same socioeconomic background who did not attend the program.
A federal judge affirmed Thursday what people living around the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston steam plant have believed in their hearts for nearly four years — that the federal utility is responsible for the massive coal ash spill that swamped the area around the plant on Dec. 22, 2008. U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan ruled that numerous decisions by TVA personnel, including the placement and design of the plant’s coal ash holding facility and the practice of stacking coal ash sludge higher and higher, led to the failure of the dike holding the sludge in place. The ruling confirms that TVA’s negligence both in decision-making and conduct led to the spill.
In the relatively short time since its invention, email seems to have done more to get people in trouble than any other communication medium. And the hits keep coming. In July, local attorney Mark Rassas filed a public records request for the email addresses on City Council members’ mass email distribution lists. He was looking into how the council communicated with the public on a recent controversy over the city charter. The city communications officer emailed that request – as an FYI – to the City Council members. Councilwoman Deanna McLaughlin last week forwarded that email – as an FYI – to her email distribution list.
For once, you have to feel sorry for those stodgy guys in the green jackets. There they were — chairman Billy Payne and company — all dressed up and ready to soak up the positive press for finally admitting the first two female members of Augusta National Golf Club, home to the acclaimed Masters tournament. But instead of dominating the national news cycle last Monday with images of gender equality and 21st century thinking, the announcement that Augusta is now accepting women was overshadowed by the reality that Republicans are still rejecting and belittling them. Actually, the inductions of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and onetime banking executive Darla Moore into Augusta couldn’t have come at a worse moment for the GOP.
46 million need aid Congress wants to cut One of the more sobering aspects of our nation’s crippling polarization is that issues on which Americans found consensus in the past have become fodder for political partisanship. Fodder, indeed — these well-stocked politicians are tampering with programs that keep poor families from going hungry. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is on the congressional chopping block, even though more people are in need of it than ever before. The Senate would cut $4.5 billion from the program over 10 years; the House, a staggering $16 billion. If you think food stamps are used by a needy few, you are relying on outdated information.