This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has proclaimed October 14th-20th Earth Science Week in Tennessee, promoting the important role that geology and other earth sciences play in Tennessee’s safety, health, welfare and economy. As part of Earth Science Week, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Geology, in partnership with the American Geosciences Institute, has a limited number of Earth Science Week toolkits to distribute to science teachers across the state.
Gov. Bill Haslam last week received a D for his fiscal policies from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. Despite abolishing Tennessee’s estate tax and slightly reducing the tax on food, Haslam was given a 43, the lowest score of all of the nation’s Republican governors. Cato, probably the most hawkishly small-government of the big Washington think tanks, faulted Haslam for extending the state’s temporary hospital tax, leading the fight to collect sales tax on online commerce and increasing spending.
Metro school officials are hoping the Tennessee Department of Education abandons plans to withhold $3.4 million from the district after its rejection of Great Hearts Academies’ charter proposal last month, but the state seems undeterred for now. Metro school board chairwoman Cheryl Mayes earlier this week asked state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for a meeting before an approaching Oct. 15 deadline to revisit the financial punishment. According to a state education official, the two talked by phone instead.
John Horrell knew he might get fungal meningitis. He’d received a steroid epidural for back pain at Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Center. A doctor administered his single dose in the potentially deadly time frame. He’d seen the news reports. So Horrell wasn’t surprised when on Oct. 5, four days after the state health department’s announcement about the outbreak, he opened a letter from Saint Thomas saying he might be at risk. The next envelope he opened: a bill for $422.88 for the injection that might kill him.
Needy families accustomed to getting supplemental food benefits from the government may face delays in getting help this month because the state is shifting to a new distribution model. The state is staggering distribution of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) across the first 20 days of the month, rather than the first 10 days. Many agree that the shift could ultimately be helpful as it levels out the demand for popular foods, but this transitional month is leaving a large chunk of recipients waiting as long as 10 extra days for much-needed October assistance.
While some parole officials were “supervising” dead offenders, violent sex offender Adrian Henry was flunking drug tests, missing parole officer visits and skipping out on payments to the state for his supervision with few consequences. Then on Aug. 12, 2010, he beat and strangled Saret Vit, a 22-year-old Middle Tennessee State University graduate he briefly dated. He set fire to her corpse on the side of Brick Church Lane in North Nashville. Today Henry, 28, is serving 40 years in prison for her murder.
How much patients in Tennessee can recover for their pain and suffering could be significantly affected in the coming months if the state’s Supreme Court hears a challenge of a new law that limits medical malpractice awards. The issue has taken on urgency as fungal meningitis victims start to craft medical malpractice lawsuits and attorneys weigh whether the suits will be filed in Tennessee or in Massachusetts, where injured patients can sue medical facilities for unlimited amounts of money for pain and suffering. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 into law last July.
Republicans touted a more than two-to-one fundraising lead over their Democratic opponents in the nine contested state Senate races. They also had more than twice as much cash on hand as their Democratic opponents, according to the latest filings. Republicans raised $926,130 from late July to the end of September, according to reports filed Wednesday with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Democrats brought in $373,126 during the same span. Republican Senate candidates entered the homestretch with $1,261,982 left in the bank. Democrats had $574,880.
Once more, the Democrats are looking to a school teacher as their candidate to capture the State Senate 6th District seat. It’s just not the same teacher who tried the last time, when the seat was open. This time around, GOP incumbent Becky Duncan Massey is being challenged by Evelyn Gill, 45, who teaches special education at Carter High School. Massey, 57, has the backing of the politically popular Duncan family, and the district lines are drawn to favor the GOP. The District stretches from the Bluegrass community to Corryton, surrounds much of Knoxville and includes rural, urban and suburban sections.
State Rep. Harry Tindell says state House District 13, which he has represented for 22 years, may be seen as a microcosm of the national presidential race when it comes to voters choosing his successor on Nov. 6. Voters’ partisan options in the district are Democrat Gloria Johnson, a politically active school teacher, and Republican Gary Loe, a former television reporter who now runs a video production operation. Nick Cazana, a retired businessman, is on the ballot as an independent candidate.
While Timothy Hill runs for a Tennessee House seat, his business is making thousands of dollars off political campaigns, according to quarterly campaign finance disclosures filed with the state. Hill’s Blountville-based Right Way marketing firm has been paid to do polling for his GOP 3rd House District campaign as well as the campaigns of his brother, Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill, and House District 6 GOP nominee Micah Van Huss. Timothy Hill gave his company $7,869 out of his campaign account for political research, according to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance (TREF).
Tennessee farmland protection law shelters taxes for rich and famous Farm protection law shelters taxes for rich and famous Real estate investor Michael Lightman hopes to cash in on a lush woods located in the midst of top-dollar real estate development in east Shelby County, and taxpayers are subsidizing his gambit. Lightman bought the 27-acre stand of long-needle pine, oak and maple in 1998 as FedEx opened its colossal technology campus, the FedEx World Tech Center, just across Bailey Station Road in Collierville. He’s attempting to sell the property for $7 million and more than double his investment.
It’s difficult to compete when one of the neighbors is a health care billionaire with the last name Frist. But Phil Bredesen holds his own here on what arguably might be Nashville’s most exclusive street. Tennessee’s former two-term governor, thought to be worth at least $100 million, lives in a rambling 12,000-square-foot home along Chickering Road, a narrow, winding country lane lined with elegant homes, tennis courts and swimming pools amid Nashville’s real titans. Captains of industry, Powerhouse lawyers. Old money. This is hardly farm country.
How much would you pay for a formula to rescue some of the county’s poorest children? The remedy could follow the kids into adulthood, where they’re less likely to be arrested, on welfare or a single parent. It could also make them more likely to finish high school, enter college, keep a job and own a home. The solution isn’t cheap and has no money-back guarantee. But if it works, the community saves $7 for every $1 spent. Should we invest in a super-intensive pre-K education for every poor child? That’s the essence of Resolution No. 18A on the November ballot, although you wouldn’t know it by the wording.
Illustrating his emerging role among Senate Republicans, Tennessee’s Bob Corker seemed anxious last week to take on the Democratic presidential ticket himself in a foreign policy debate. Before the dust had settled from Thursday night’s nationally televised skirmish between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Corker pounced on Biden’s remarks about the recent slaying of four American diplomatic personnel in Libya. Not true, Corker charged about Biden’s statement that the Obama administration didn’t know almost instantly that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi suffered a planned terrorist attack on Sept. 11, rather than a spontaneous Arab protest sparked by a YouTube video ridiculing Muslims.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said al-Qaida remains a “serious threat” to the United States as he wrapped up a short tour of the Middle East on Tuesday. “I am convinced more than ever that al-Qaida, its affiliates and other violent extremist organizations continue to be a serious threat to America and other countries around the world who share our free democratic values,” he said. “Unless we acknowledge this reality and appropriately posture ourselves toward that threat, we will be caught off guard again in the future.”
Staunchly Republican and socially conservative, Rebecca Miller of Cleveland, Tenn., is troubled by the revelation that Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais pressured a woman with whom he’d been sexually involved to get an abortion. “It’s extremely hypocritical,” the 23-year-old said. “You can’t argue with that at all.” Miller is finding it difficult to take the apparently abortion rights phone call made by the Jasper physician to the unnamed woman and square it with his staunchly anti-abortion stance in speeches and his voting record in Congress.
Voters in Rutherford County, and in fact the rest of the country, have gotten an earful of scandal this past week in the race for the 4th District congressional seat between incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Eric Stewart. Republican DesJarlais’ prior marital woes, relationship with a female patient and allegations that he encouraged her to get an abortion, when he is supposed to be a pro-life candidate, were quickly pounced upon by Stewart and his Democratic base.
From Turtletown, Tenn., to Hollywood, Ala., the U.S. Postal Service is poised to chop operating hours at about 60 rural post offices around the region. When the USPS is done, patrons and postmasters will have as little as two hours a day to do business at the hardest-hit post offices. The cutbacks in service are part of a massive, nationwide effort by the postal service to reduce hours at more than 13,000 rural post offices over the next two years in hopes of saving $500 million annually. Post offices on the 260-page cutback list could see their work weeks reduced from around 40 hours to 30, 20 or even 10 hours.
This time last year, Bob Hill was cleaning koi ponds and doing any other odd jobs his friends could dig up to supplement his sporadic career as a television stagehand. Four months ago, though, he traded the carp for heavy equipment and took to work as a full-time best boy rigging grip. “The last time we had steady work like this was probably the late ’80s or early ’90s,” Hill said. “This is the job we’ve all been waiting for.” That job is compliments of “Nashville,” the soapy ABC drama that has been filming here since summer.
Tennessee is making important strides in improving public education, but often we don’t recognize what is happening inside classrooms, schools and school districts to realize success. Fortunately, there are important proof points for what works. These best practices were evident in the schools and districts represented at the 2012 SCORE Prize event, which took place this past week in front of teachers, principals, parents and students at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Gov. Bill Haslam, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and award-winning singer-songwriter Phil Vassar helped recognize schools and school districts in Tennessee that have most dramatically improved student achievement. From strong leadership and effective teaching to interventions and student tracking, the success can be seen in the data.
This nation runs on trust. And when people and institutions violate that trust, it is essential they do everything possible to regain our confidence and belief. Where in this national outbreak of fungal meningitis, in which Tennessee is ground zero, do we see that urgency? Patients have lost confidence in esteemed medical institutions. Federal and state governments have failed at their responsibility to provide regulatory oversight. It has an insidious uncertainty, this disease. While the number of patients confirmed sick is near 200 nationally, about 14,000 people received injections of the contaminated drug. Many of them may develop meningitis; many may not.
In case you haven’t noticed — and that would be impossible, given the size of the thing — Nashville’s skyline has a new addition. The $585 million Music City Center, a signature project that’s drawn its share of controversy, is six months from completion. It’s a sprawling building covering 16 acres south of Broadway with a distinctive, wavy roof line. But what is it like inside? Holly McCall, communications manager, was kind enough to take my editor and me on a tour. The verdict? It’s going to be stunning. The architects were inspired by the shape of a guitar. A really, really big guitar, with curving lines inside and out.
Let’s be honest. We’d all take this tax break if we could. The fact that some of the wealthiest, best-known people in Tennessee are saying their big estates qualify as farms under a loophole in a 36-year-old state law doesn’t reflect badly on the people — only the law. That’s an important distinction to remember as you read the series that begins today in The Commercial Appeal about the loose interpretation and lax enforcement of the state’s Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Land Act, often called the greenbelt law.
I wish I could get all exercised about the price tag for that spanking new portrait of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton that’s now hanging in the Vasco A. Smith Jr. County Administration Building. I wish I could muster the indignation to argue that the $13,000 spent on the portrait was a poor use of taxpayer money at a time when Wharton and other political leaders are lobbying residents to impose a half-cent countywide sales tax increase on themselves. And I wish I could tell myself that Wharton — or someone with the appropriate political clout — should have had the foresight to say that in this tough economic environment, it’s unwise to burden taxpayers with the cost of a painting when we cut the salaries of police officers.