This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam are visiting Tokyo, Japan this week, exploring new business opportunities for Shelby County as well as the entire state of Tennessee. The governor and mayor were joined by members of the Greater Memphis Chamber and 60 other state and local business officials. “It’s been an exciting week,” said Mayor Luttrell. “We’ve met with the CEOs of Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi Chemical, Brother Industries, Sharp and other businesses. Our goal is to establish new relationships and encourage more companies to locate in our community,” he added.
Since his heart failure last August, since the insertion of a defibrillator and pacemaker to monitor each beat of his heart, doctors tell Dann Osborn to avoid stress. Stress can trigger another episode, setting off the defibrillator to try to keep him alive. But at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dann punches a number — 1-866-358-3230 — into his wife’s cellphone. He gets a busy signal. He calls again, this time reaching only silence. Dann, 57, gets up from a black metal chair and paces the small patio in his backyard. He tries the number again. Another busy signal from the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Another chance lost to get a coveted application to apply for TennCare’s standard spend-down program, which would cover his monthly medication and hospital bills.
A scholarship program unveiled last year has placed 175 Bradley County students into classes this fall at Cleveland State Community College. The nonprofit program, called bradleyAchieves, was launched in August 2011 by Allan Jones, CEO and founder of Check Into Cash Inc., in cooperation with the college. It is part of the statewide tnAchieves program, which seeks to improve students’ higher education opportunities through scholarships, mentorships with local professionals and pairing participants for community service.
District 44 House Democratic candidate Steve Glaser, his wife and law practice owe nearly $88,000 to the Internal Revenue Service in delinquent taxes, penalties and interest, according to IRS claims and liens. Federal and state tax collectors have filed at least 15 liens against Glaser for unpaid personal income, unemployment and business taxes as far back as 1988 and as recently as Aug. 14. The debts total more than $158,000, according to records on file with the Sumner County Register of Deeds. Glaser, an attorney and former Portland city judge, conceded he owes the IRS back taxes but said he could not recall how much.
A state law defining a marriage as one man and one woman wasn’t enough to reassure Tennesseans that same-sex marriage wouldn’t happen here. A decade later, in 2006, voters deluged the polls to ban it by constitutional amendment. But laws don’t stop love, so every year, gay Tennessee couples travel to states that will marry them, returning with certificates that mean everything to them but nothing to local government. They’re heartened by the role their marriages are taking on a national stage.
Tennessee Waltz may not have been ex-lawmaker’s last turn on the floor Convicted felon and disgraced former state Sen. Ward Crutchfield will neither confirm nor deny rumors of an attempted comeback five years after he was swept up in the Tennessee Waltz public corruption sting. Finished with a sentence of six months’ home detention and two years’ probation that ended in 2010, the once-powerful Chattanooga Democrat won’t answer one of the juiciest political questions in town. Will he run for City Council in March?
Scientific research — the practice, if not always the results — sometimes comes under scrutiny from federal lawmakers. Now U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is telling his colleagues, “Lay off!” A few months ago Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, announced the establishment of the Golden Goose Awards, which celebrate “researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant impact on society.” The first awards — including one to a physicist whose work led to the development of lasers — were handed out at a ceremony on Thursday in Washington, a few days after Cooper and a scientific journal publisher wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post.
The Koch brothers, the Kansas billionaire industrialists known for financing the tea party movement and countless conservative groups, extend their generosity to the Tennessee congressional delegation as well. So far for the 2012 elections, the Koch Industries political action committee, Koch PAC, has spread $42,500 among five Republican members of the delegation. Getting the most has been Rep. Marsha Blackburn ($17,500), followed by Reps. Diane Black of Gallatin ($10,000); Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump ($7,500); Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah ($5,000); and Scott DesJarlais of Jasper ($2,500).
Gray Democrat Alan Woodruff is running against history in Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District. No Democrat has been elected to represent the district in either the 20th or the 21st century. Still, Woodruff was quick to be lighthearted about politics when asked about his campaign plan. “You need to understand I suffer from a serious case of (Vice President) Joe Biden disease,” Woodruff said with a smile. “If you ask a question, I’m likely to give you an answer. But, as an example of partisanship, I also adopt the (GOP presidential challenger) Mitt Romney philosophy that I may forget what I’ve said, but I’m sure I stand by it.”
Its nickname is “Project Titan.” The biggest solar park in Tennessee will be located in Chattanooga when the $30 million project comes on line next to the Volkswagen plant later this year. While the 65-acre VW facility will be big, it’s just one of an array of solar projects which are or will be producing power in the Chattanooga area. Together, the projects make Hamilton County one of the largest, if not the biggest, generator of the energy statewide. When VW’s 9.58 megawatts of solar come on line and Chattanooga Airport adds another 1.1 megawatts to other installations already operating, the city alone will produce about 13.15 megawatts, or more than 20 percent of the 62.3 megawatts in TVA’s seven-state service area.
Whenever he enters the courtroom to preside over arguments about the constitutionality of laws enabling municipal school districts in Shelby County, U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays usually sees 20 attorneys around and behind the plaintiff and defendant tables. A few more attorneys are typically relegated to the courtroom audience. When arguments resume Thursday, the majority of those two dozen or so attorneys will spend most of their time just observing. But they — and their law firms — will get paid.
Gov. Bill Haslam, may we suggest a new priority for your administration? Replace the commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services with the best-qualified professional you can find. Make a national search, if necessary, as you did for the education commissioner. And then do not rest until that new commissioner has made DCS accountable for every child in its custody. It’s a tall order. But until drastic action is taken, Tennesseans can expect further mistreatment, neglect and deaths of children because the adults charged with protecting them are not doing their jobs. Our state has been living with this problem for at least three decades now.
It is strange on its face that another challenge against Tennessee’s judicial retention system — the seventh by implacable Nashville attorney John J. Hooker — is again due an appeal hearing by a specially appointed state Supreme Court panel. One would think Hooker would have given up by now. It’s even stranger that Gov. Bill Haslam would get criticized on the notion that he favors the system, and that he allegedly tried to stack the special court that would hear Hooker’s appeal, just because the retention statute allows the governor to fill vacant appellate judicial seats. The criticism of Haslam in this instance is as absurd as Hooker’s recycled claim that the judicial retention system violates the state’s Constitution.
This is the story of how two different administrators of the Knox County Election Commission handled a situation of a mother and daughter who wanted to vote together in the same precinct. Mae Moody lives at 1611 Murray Dr. Her daughter, Terry M. McGill, lives at 1617 Murray Dr. The property belongs to Moody, who said she moved there in 1978. The addresses share a driveway. But they don’t share the same census tract — and therein is the reason why they are not assigned today to vote in the same precinct, Cliff Rodgers, elections administrator, said. The census block shows other residents and businesses in the tract where McGill’s residence is. Rodgers cited a state law that gives election commissions authority to establish, consolidate or change boundaries of precincts but states that any altered boundary “shall coincide with a census block.”
Having read a fair amount of Blake Fontenay’s nonfiction writing — or at least what passes for the factual making of statements in state government circles — I was curious upon learning of his first published attempt at pure fiction. It’s a novel titled “The Politics of Barbeque.” Fontenay is the public relations guy for Tennessee’s three constitutional officers — the secretary of state, the state comptroller and the state treasurer. This is three times as many bosses than the typical state government employee assigned to deal with media and leaves him with the taxpayer-funded duty to write news releases on multiple fascinating topics.
The Metro Council is about to vote on whether to give themselves and Mayor Karl Dean an extra year in office. It’s a bad idea, albeit one with good intentions. The motivation is saving taxpayer dollars by moving the city elections to coincide with federal and presidential elections. Right now, the mayor and council are elected in odd years. But the cost would be great: Along with giving the incumbents an extra year without any say-so by voters, it would turn what’s been a terrific, nonpartisan process into a divisive one. Tying it to partisan, presidential ballots is one of the main reasons the Metro Charter Commission voted down this proposal, said Dewey Branstetter, a local attorney who is chairman of the commission.
It’s hard to believe that the election is just 51 days away. Labor Day has come and gone and there is still very little political activity in Rutherford County. The political doldrums come as no surprise in the presidential campaign. President Obama didn’t campaign in Tennessee as a candidate in 2008. Considering that he lost here by 15 percentage points, it is no surprise that Obama hasn’t spent any time or money campaigning in our state this year either. By the same token, Mitt Romney also hasn’t felt the need to visit the Volunteer State in search of votes. Romney is a lock to win the state and his only visits to the state have been as part of fundraising trips. The only real suspense is whether Obama will garner even 40 percent of the votes in a state that has grown increasingly red in the past decade.
When will the city of Memphis add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy? God willing, on Tuesday. The Memphis City Council could choose then to leap into the 21st century, right next to public opinion and the policies of America’s most successful corporations. At its next meeting, the council will vote on a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance that should include lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) citizens. City policy already bans employment discrimination based on the usual categories — race, age, religion, among others — but leaves gay people vulnerable and without recourse if they encountered a biased boss or co-worker.
Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash has come to a realization. He told Commercial Appeal education reporter Jane Roberts Wednesday that his heart and mind tell him it is time to “close this chapter. I can’t keep leaving it open for a whole host of reasons.” That chapter is Cash’s more than four-year tenure as city schools superintendent. On the public education front, a lot has happened since he came on board July 1, 2008, including one of the more significant developments in this community’s history — the decision to merge the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, which is scheduled to take place next August. The fact that it is becoming more unlikely that the Shelby County unified school board will choose Cash to lead the merged school district probably had a lot to do with Cash’s candid revelation to Roberts.
News that Jackson-Madison County School System Superintendent Buddy White will retire at the end of the school year took many people by surprise. While his choice to be superintendent involved some controversy, White has held a steady hand on managing the school system and moving it forward. He has had a successful 33-year career in public education as a teacher, administrator and superintendent, and he has served our community and our school system well. His decision to retire turns the page to a new chapter for our school system. White’s decision coincides with major change on the Jackson-Madison County Board of Education following the August elections, when four new people were elected to the nine-member board.