This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
MURFREESBORO — Amazon’s plan to open its Murfreesboro fulfillment center in the next month gives hope this Labor Day to Scottie Pendergrast, and another 1,100 workers like him. The college student was one of the lucky locals to snag a job and, with it, secure his immediate future. He’s been searching for work for months, he said. “I’m looking forward to starting in mid-September,” Pendergrast said recently.
Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t mince words in July when he testified before Congress about the revenue Tennessee was losing from consumers who didn’t pay taxes for online purchases. “That money could fund critical programs that vulnerable citizens rely on,” Haslam said. “It could help cover federal mandates that states face, or it could go back to the taxpayers in the form of further tax relief.” To demonstrate just how widespread unpaid Internet sales taxes are, the governor could have used his own gubernatorial campaign as an example.
NASHVILLE — State legislators seem pleased on a bipartisan basis with the way Tennessee’s campaign finance watchdog agency performs, but one concerned citizen, Mike Hart, wonders if that’s not the equivalent of foxes being pleased with oversight of the hen house. That agency, the Registry of Election Finance, on Wednesday will be dealing with a complaint from News Sentinel contributing columnist Pam Strickland over “irregularities” in financial disclosures of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
In an attempt to sway voters away from Republicans, the Tennessee Democratic Party appears to be using Medicare much like President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. A recent TDP news release headlined “Rep. Tony Shipley Embraces Plan To End Medicare” noted Shipley co-sponsored “Health Care Compact” legislation that would have allowed state government to take over Medicare administration and benefits in the state.
When asked to describe a particular presidential nominee, Tennessee Democratic congressional candidates say he’s “very unpopular,” “a flip-flopper” and someone who “doesn’t poll very well.” They’re not talking about Mitt Romney. Attitudes toward President Barack Obama are favorable among the Volunteer State’s pair of Democratic incumbents in the U.S. House, longtime congressmen who represent the state’s urban centers of Memphis and Nashville.
WASHINGTON — Cathey Dayton always considered herself an informed voter. But when Barack Obama ran for president four years ago, she became a politically active voter. Dayton, a bank teller from Sevierville, made phone calls on Obama’s behalf and told anyone who would listen that he was the kind of leader who could turn the country around. It’s something she believes to this day. “I think the direction he wants to take the country is the right direction for the middle class and the poor,” she said.
The Tennessee Democratic Party is sending what it considers the most diverse delegation in Tennessee history to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. “Earlier this year our Executive Committee made a commitment to sending a delegation to Charlotte that is wholly representative of who we are as Tennessee Democrats as well as the future of our state party,” said Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
Twelve years after he came oh so achingly close to becoming the world’s most powerful man, Al Gore has settled into a quieter but still active life: a campaign-free third act of traveling, activism, money-making and political punditry. Based in Nashville, the former vice president continues to press the case for the threat posed by climate change — an issue that the politicians who came behind him have done little to address, even as Gore’s warnings won him a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.
Principals of local “Reward” schools are celebrating state recognition for top performance and or progress on state tests, but they remain focused on continuing the positive trend. “My teachers and staff really worked hard,” Beech Bluff Elementary Principal Pam Betler said last week. “They are willing to go the extra mile. We’re going to take a moment and celebrate our students’ accomplishments. But we’re not going to let up. Our emphasis is on achievement. Parents and students know we’ve set high expectations.”
There’s a rule in Stacy Hill’s math classroom: Students can’t ask the teacher questions before they have first tried asking another student. “The goal is for them to learn from each other as much as possible,” she said. “It’s easy to turn around and ask me a question and for me to give them the answer.” Hill teaches geometry and algebra at Hamilton County’s science, technology, engineering and math school, or STEM, which opened about three weeks ago with an inaugural class of 75 ninth-graders.
The restructuring of Metro Nashville high schools into what naysayers once called vocational programs is starting to pay off for students and garner national recognition for Nashville schools. Test scores have improved, the graduation rate is up and absences and discipline referrals are down since the full implementation of the Academies of Nashville in 2009, said Jay Steele, associate superintendent for high schools.
The unified Shelby County school board’s superintendent search committee is working steadily toward a recommended selection process for the board’s approval, setting aside for the time being the argument among some board members that the issue could be settled quickly and efficiently by naming Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken to the post. Aitken is under contract until February 1, 2015, the argument goes, so why not just give him the job?
Midway through the July hearing over whether a federal judge should stop municipal school district referendums, Shelby County Election Commission attorney John Ryder offered what he considered a powerful precedent. As he described to U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays why a 1947 “liquor” case called O’Neill vs. Jones provided compelling guidance, Mays interjected. “So you like the liquor case, Counselor? I like the liquor case occasionally myself,” Mays said, generating loud laughter from a nearly-packed courtroom audience. “But I’m a Methodist — don’t tell that to my preacher.”
Kendahl Phillips is taking 12 hours of classes this semester, while also holding down a job as a cook at Three Rivers Market. So what was the Walters State Community College student doing on Tuesday morning? Attending a job fair for Tupelo Honey Cafe, an Asheville, N.C.-based restaurant that plans to open a location on Market Square. Phillips said financial aid helps her pay for school but working allows her to cover the cost of items like rent, food and gas. At the same time, she’s hoping the work experience will help her line up a job when she graduates from the culinary arts program at Walters State.
Figures released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau show one out of every six people under the age of 65 in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia lacks health care coverage. The data, co-authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reflecting the year 2010, have all 20 counties in the two regions measuring in the thousands of people who do not have health insurance, the highest being Hamblen County, Tenn., with nearly 20 percent of the population not covered.
The federally mandated overhaul of Shelby County Juvenile Court is expected to cost millions — even if the county can avoid a federal lawsuit. That’s because the proposed changes would create new positions, including full-time juvenile public defenders and a court-based Disproportionate Minority Contact coordinator who would work to reduce the number of black youths brought to court, held in jail and transferred to adult court.
As thousands of fans witnessed the pageantry of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry’s biggest night, a mixture of tension and relief played out behind the scenes Saturday. A war of words between the industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States marked the 11-day Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville. That continued even as the event prepared to issue its world championship prizes and close.
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — The granddaddy of Tennessee walking horse shows drew to a rocky close Saturday, but the winners and losers of a two-week mud-slinging contest over the state’s high-stepping icon are far from decided. With the widely publicized crackdown on horse abuse in the months leading up to the event, this 74th Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration promised to be a powder keg. It was.
Fresh off an easy primary win in the newly drawn 4th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais went to Tampa, Fla., this past week with confidence in Mitt Romney’s presidential run while trying to reclaim another two-year term himself. As he faces Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart in the Nov. 6 election, DesJarlais is delivering blows against President Barack Obama’s economic policies and contends Stewart is linked to trial lawyers and big labor.
FRANKLIN — With his brother administering the oath, and his wife and daughters beside him, Mike Binkley is now Judge Binkley. A swearing-in ceremony Friday in Franklin’s historic downtown courthouse saw Binkley lauded for his work ethic and his energy as he prepares to serve as the next Circuit Court judge in the 21st Judicial District. Binkley, a lawyer with more than 30 years experience, was sworn in by his brother, Judge Joe Binkley Jr. of the 5th Circuit Court of the 20th Judicial District.
HUNTSVILLE — In 1971, Paul Phillips was fresh out of Berea College and mulling what to do next. He even thought about seminary. “You mean, like to become a pastor?” asked an older brother. Yep, the younger one said. “I know you better than anyone and you are not a good enough person to be a pastor,” the older brother said. “I think you ought to go to law school.” So he followed his older brother’s path to Vanderbilt Law School. Thus began a career journey that ended this week, when he retired after 33 years as the Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District.
The first thing John Mehr plans to do in retirement is spend a few months looking after the hundred or so cows on his family’s farm in Crockett County. Mehr, special agent in charge for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in Jackson, retired on Friday after more than 37 years of investigations, news conferences, meetings, phone calls and mounds of paperwork. Those who know Mehr say they will miss his leadership, his fairness and his passion to serve the community.
Here are the discrepancies in Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign disclosure statements documented by the News Sentinel and presented by freelance writer Pam Strickland to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
OAK RIDGE — For decades, protesters have gathered at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant on the Aug. 6 anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, to call for a halt to production of nuclear weapons at the Oak Ridge plant. A few days before this year’s event, they got their wish. At least temporarily. On Aug. 1, the National Nuclear Security Administration and its Y-12 contractor announced that all nuclear operations at the Oak Ridge plant, which enriched the uranium for the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II and has since played a role in the manufacture of every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, were being shut down.
NEWPORT — Cocke County authorities arrested 23 people Friday as part of five-month drug investigation, Sheriff Armando Fontes said. “We have a few more that need to be serve but we had a pretty successful day,” he said. “We were able to locate and arrest 23 of 33 (people connected to) drug-sealed presentments from the operations. … We’ve made some arrests already prior to this,” he said. “We initially arrested 10 individuals and have already charged them.” Fontes said 14 of the arrests were oxycontin-related and the rest were cocaine- or marijuana-related cases.
Let’s start with the good news. Memphis City Schools, as a district, had more high-performing schools in the last school year than any other district in Tennessee. Read that again: Memphis City Schools. More high-performing schools than any other district in the state. More than Nashville. Knoxville. Fayette County. Tipton County. Or Shelby County Schools.
Ten Knox County schools made the state’s list of “reward schools” as being among the 169 highest-performing schools in Tennessee. Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of news that Knox County’s average ACT scores rose to an average of 20.6 last year and that students improved in all subjects in the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program.
With Election Day only 65 days away, can we as Tennessee voters make a pledge, to ourselves and to each other? Here’s the pledge: “We Tennesseans believe in our state and care about its future. We will no longer vote for candidates based only on campaign ads or whether the candidate makes a nice photograph. “We will make a serious effort to learn about whether the candidates understand important issues, who may be sponsoring them, and whether they have any character flaws that suggest they are unfit to be public servants.
We are encouraged by what we learned from Thursday’s “From Cradle to Career” event sponsored by the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce. That American manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence has been little talked about. To see more than 80 representatives from business, higher education and government come together to address the workforce needs of modern U.S. manufacturers is reassuring. The prospect of adding high-paying manufacturing jobs to Tennessee’s economy is welcome. And, once again, we see that workforce development is the key.
If you do not know history, you are bound to repeat it. The problem is that you don’t know what you are repeating. When you repeat history, the law of unintended consequences generally comes into play. We have a dilemma with the move to abolish the system of merit selection of Tennessee appellate judges — judges on the Supreme Court (five), Court of Criminal Appeals (12) and Court of Appeals (12). Something must happen in the Legislature, or the system as it applies to appeals court judges will drop off a cliff. Merit selection is in wind-down. If it is not revived or something else takes its place, there will not be a mechanism for election or selection of judges when their current terms expire on Aug. 31, 2014.
Talk about weird … Less than 24 hours before the Labor Day weekend began, 44-plus years of my own labor vanished. This occurred at 9:28 a.m. Friday when a truck from the University of Tennessee library rolled down my driveway, laden with dozens of boxes crammed with newspaper tearsheets, magazine articles, book manuscripts, notes, photos, audio tapes, negatives, slides, award certificates and letters — both of the “atta-boy” and “#$&%*” variety. I trust the vehicle had an adequate suspension system. Proving how deeply the standards of this institution have fallen, UT began seeking my “papers” several years ago. I’ve always told friends it actually was a quest for toilet tissue. But this summer I finally hopped to the task. On one hand, it’s a stroke to the ego to think your alma mater values the vocational detritus from one of its least-promising graduates. On the other, it’s like ripping organs out of your body.