This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Governor Bill Haslam has received an award for his work to address domestic violence in the state. The Community Coalition on Family Violence presented the governor with the 16th annual Anita Gregg Memorial Award at a luncheon Friday afternoon. The award is given out in honor of Anita Gregg and her 12-year-old son, Dwayne Kesterson, who were shot to death in a domestic violence dispute back in 1996. Haslam received the recognition for his efforts to make domestic violence issues a priority in the legislature.
Law-enforcement officers, court system officials, survivors of domestic violence and advocates gathered Friday for the 16th Anita Gregg Memorial Luncheon in memory of Gregg and her son, Dwayne Kesterson, who lost their lives Nov. 7, 1996, to domestic violence. “This event is a good networking opportunity for all of us to get together to reflect on progress made and ask, ‘What can we do better?'” said David Kitts, the Knoxville Police Department’s family crimes unit program manager.
Gov. Bill Haslam returned to Knox County on Friday to early-vote at the City County Building. “It is always fun to be home, particularly back here where I had the pleasure to work for seven years,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor. “It’s always a privilege to get to vote. One of the reasons I try to vote early is to remind everybody how important it is to vote.” While waiting in line, Haslam spoke with a voter who was participating in her first election. “I have always jokingly said that first votes should count twice just to encourage people to vote,” Haslam said.
Knox County’s early voting total now tops 57,000, and Friday, Governor Bill Haslam added him name to the list. He cast his ballot at the City County Building. The governor says he thinks the Presidential race will be close until the end, and feels the candidates are tied right now. He said it was good to be back in Knoxville, and that it’s a privilege to vote early. “One of the reasons I try to vote early is to remind everybody of how important it is to vote. Obviously, I have a preference that people vote for Republicans but that being said, the main critical thing is for people to vote. It’s a huge privilege we have,” said Governor Haslam.
Installing a laundromat in a school. Hosting theme parties for parents and students with educational components. Sending teachers and staff into the community to knock on doors and tell families what’s going on at their children’s school. These are some of the ideas for involving parents in education highlighted in a report released today by First Lady Crissy Haslam’s office summarizing her work with 10 elementary and intermediate schools around the state during the 2011-12 school year.
Nashville parent Marcy Melvin considers herself very involved in her son’s school, but sometimes believes the message to her is “leave your kid and go,” she said during a break in an all-day Metro schools seminar on building parent involvement. Melvin was one of 320 parents, educators, community leaders, counselors and faith leaders who attended the 2012 Family Engagement Summit sponsored by Metro Nashville Public Schools and featuring Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University. Educators from Memphis and Knoxville also attended the workshop.
Davidson County had a jobless rate of 6.6 percent in September, down from 7.4 percent in August, while Williamson County recorded the state’s lowest rate at 5.2 percent, accordign to Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development statistics released Thursday. County non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for September show the rate decreased in 94 counties and increased in one. Knox County had the state’s lowest rate for a major metropolitan area at 5.9 percent, down from the August rate of 6.7 percent.
Another person has died in Tennessee from a fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroid injections for back pain. On Friday, the State Department of Health said a total of 74 people who received the injections in Tennessee have been sickened and 10 of them have died. State health officials said earlier this week that the great majority of risk for stroke or death associated with the outbreak is gone by 42 days after the injection. By Nov. 8, all 1,009 people in Tennessee who got the contaminated steroids will have passed the 42-day mark.
Visitors flock to Fall Creek Falls State Park to see waterfalls, including the park’s namesake which, at 256 feet, is one of the tallest cascades east of the Rocky Mountains. While the general public may not know it — and the official park brochure doesn’t mention a word about it — the park’s 25,000 acres are riddled with caves that lure spelunkers from far and wide. “Fall Creek Falls has more caves than any park in the eastern U.S. — except for Mammoth Cave [National Park],” said Stuart Carroll, a naturalist and interpretive specialist at the state park’s nature center.
A company set up by former Gov. Phil Bredesen and two senior members of his administration has asked for tax breaks for several projects, tapping a law they helped push through just weeks before the company was founded. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has certified eight projects from Silicon Ranch Corp. — a startup founded in 2010 by Bredesen, former tax chief Reagan Farr and former economic development chief Matt Kisber — for incentives that could slash their local and state tax bills.
With 11 days before the election, state officials are asking the Supreme Court to hear their appeal to Thursday’s court ruling that Memphis library cards can be used to vote with. The Attorney General’s office argues the Court of Appeals erred when it ordered the state to work with the local election commission to accept library photo IDs, decided the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the voter ID law, and concluded that the city of Memphis and its library system are “entities of this state” and qualify for offering so-called state-issued IDs.
Tennessee state government Friday, Oct. 26, filed an appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court of Thursday’s Tennessee Appeals Court ruling that orders the Shelby County Election Commission to allow voters to use photo library cards as a valid form of voter identification. The appeal filed Friday afternoon also seeks a stay of the court order which has effectively been put on hold by instructions state elections officials have given the local Election Commission. The appeal is not automatic. It must be granted by the Supreme Court.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. gave a lawyer’s answer when asked what would happen if the Tennessee Legislature might amend the state law requiring a photo voter ID in light of the Thursday, Oct. 25, Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling on the matter. The court upheld the law but also ruled that the city of Memphis photo library cards are a valid form of ID under that law. Wharton was specifically asked what the city’s reaction would be if legislators return to Nashville in January and amend the law to specifically prohibit photo library cards.
Early voting in Tennessee is headed toward a record. More than 24,000 people already have voted in Sullivan County, a 7 percent increase over the last presidential election, and more than 816,000 people have voted statewide. “Early voting continues to outpace every election,” Sullivan County Administrator of Election Jason Booher said. Early voting also has become more common across the country in recent years. On Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first president to cast a ballot in person prior to Election Day.
Democrat Eric Stewart raised more than twice as much as incumbent Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the most recent campaign fundraising period, Federal Election Commission records show. Stewart took in $63,707 from Oct. 1-17, compared with $30,216 for DesJarlais. Since Oct. 20, Stewart has received an additional $17,500 in large donations, making his total October haul at least $81,207. The two are competing for the 4th Congressional District seat, the most competitive congressional race in Middle Tennessee.
While Republicans believe U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais will be re-elected next month, they expect he’ll face at least one challenger from his own party in 2014 following revelations he once encouraged a woman he dated to get an abortion. Political operatives and GOP legislators say state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has met with donors about a bid and could decide on a 4th Congressional District run after the Nov. 6 election. DesJarlais now faces Democrat Eric Stewart, a state senator from Winchester.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen paid $42,027 in federal income taxes on an adjusted gross income of $191,607, while taking itemized deductions totaling $8,274, according to 27-page return released to news organizations. Cohen’s opponent, Republican George Flinn, declined to provide his tax return through his campaign manager Kristi Stanley on Thursday. She said he has filed with the Federal Election Commission and the House Clerk’s office all the required financial disclosure information required. That includes a $1 million loan to his campaign committee.
Calling an attack ad by his opponent “despicable,” 9th District Democratic congressman Steve Cohen called a press conference at his Midtown home Thursday to denounce charges by Republican nominee George Flinn that he had missed vital votes and indulged himself in too many trips at taxpayer expense. Flinn had charged in a TV ad that Cohen had missed 130 votes during his tenure and laid the blame for much of this to what he suggested was the congressman’s excessive junketeering.
It’s been an election year in Shelby County dominated by something other than candidates in a local political arena where personality and name recognition usually go far. There have been significant problems with the accuracy of the vote count, presidential campaigns only momentarily interested in the local Republican and Democratic bases and the politics of tax increases and municipal school districts. But in the last full week of the campaign, the 9th Congressional District race between Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen and Republican challenger George Flinn has emerged as the most contentious race on the ballot.
Military service had a huge impact on U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, the Republican from Johnson City who is now serving his third two-year term representing Northeast Tennessee in Congress. While serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Roe saw the impact service had on individuals both mentally and physically. Since defeating former Congressman David Davis in a Republican primary in 2008, Roe has sought to increase funding for veterans and provide better access to services. He founded the Invisible Wounded Caucus, which seeks to improve the government’s efforts against traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.
For some students, loans are a necessary evil Kourtnee Brooks, a 21-year-old Middle Tennessee State University student, welcomes the help that federal student loans provide, but she also fears them. “Without the loans, I wouldn’t be able to attend school,” said the nursing student. But then she added, “I know I am borrowing too much.” Brooks, a junior from Jackson, has been borrowing about $5,000 a year, which she combines with federal grants, some scholarship funds and money she earns working as a waitress three times a week, to make ends meet.
Who are these people who still can’t make up their minds? They’re undecided voters like Kelly Cox, who spends his days repairing the big rigs that haul central California’s walnuts, grapes, milk and more across America. He doesn’t put much faith in either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. But he figures he’s got plenty of time — a little more than a week — to settle on one of them before Nov. 6. And he definitely does plan to vote. “I’ll do some online research,” said Cox, co-owner of a Delhi, Calif., truck repair shop.
Construction on the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor is on schedule to be complete in December 2015, and the work still is targeted to cost about $4.2 billion, according to Mike Skaggs, TVA senior vice president for nuclear construction. The Tennessee Valley Authority chose Friday to release a quarterly update on construction of what will be the utility’s seventh nuclear reactor and led media representatives around the plant. “We’ve also worked 17 million manhours without an [injuring] accident,” Skaggs said.
TVA has done its first quarterly assessment of construction work on the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear reactor since a schedule change was approved, and the agency said the project is on track for completion by December 2015 and within a cost range of $4 billion to $4.5 billion. Those figures are within a revised estimate the TVA board approved in April. The federal utility realized then that it would take longer and cost more to complete the reactor than thought. Initially, the estimated cost was $2.49 billion with completion in 2012.
The Tennessee Valley Authority says an over-budget nuclear reactor is back on track, at least on its new track. TVA committed to giving an update on Watts Bar Unit 2 every quarter until the reactor comes online. The new report came with a companion video. “Work has tracked consistently near or above its goal for staying on schedule. And, it’s within budget.” That’s a new schedule, and a new budget though. The reactor – which should power 650,000 homes – will still be three years late. And the budget is on pace to exceed original projections by $2 billion.
Capital is finally being set free in the Memphis industrial market, with opportunities on both the buy and sale side of investment deals. Nearly $200 million has been spent since June, as public and private institutional buyers alike make large plays. “The institutional capital in this market really likes our industrial – the 32-foot clears, they like the SFR sprinkler systems, they like our tenant basis,” said Johnny Lamberson, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis Memphis. “We’ve got good developers, we’ve got good market fundamentals with the rail service, the water, the air and FedEx obviously being here.”
It will now be at least December before the Nashville Predators face off at Bridgestone Arena. The National Hockey League started cancelling games today. And the longer the NHL lockout drags on, the more local businesses expect to feel its absence. The Village Pub in Nashville’s Inglewood neighborhood isn’t a sports bar, but it often fills up when the Predators play. Owner Jesse Hamilton is a fan. “My wife and I are season ticket holders. She’s also my co-owner and business partner.” While the lockout may well put a dent in Hamilton’s business, he says the pub doesn’t have it as bad as some places.
A hacker broke into the state’s computer system, exposing 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers, state officials said Friday. Gov. Nikki R. Haley said a hacker in another country had staged several cyberattacks on the State Department of Revenue since August. The authorities are urging anyone who has filed a South Carolina tax return since 1998 to contact state law enforcement officials to try to prevent identity theft. Ms. Haley said the authorities were working to find the hacker.
Democrat Gloria Johnson appears to be giving the boys a run for their money in the state House District 13 race, and that’s impressive considering Republican Gary Loe has funding from big-dollar sources. Johnson, a special education teacher with Knox County Schools, got active in politics with the 2008 presidential campaign and later became chair of the Knox County Democratic Party. Johnson ran a haphazard campaign for state Senate to fill the seat vacated when Jamie Woodson resigned in 2009. Now she’s running for a seat that was held by fellow Democrat Harry Tindell for 22 years. Tindell decided against seeking re-election after this year’s reapportionment, which left the district looking much different than it had previously.
As mayor of our great city and chairman of the Shelby County unified school board responsible for the education of all students in Shelby County, we write today to advocate on behalf of our most precious assets: our children. Chairman Orgel and I believe that to best support every student in Shelby County, to make the city and county schools merger work, keep property taxes down and to provide more students with important programs like prekindergarten we must work together to pass the half-cent county sales tax referendum, now. Regarding the city’s commitment to education, my administration will use the revenue that the county sales tax increase generates to strengthen our communities, which in turn supports our children.