This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Time magazine asked eight experts on education how they would improve higher education, and Time’s pick was our very own Gov. Bill Haslam. Haslam’s response — tie education fundingto graduation rates — appears alongside mini-essays from the head of the Association of American Universities, the chancellor of UCLA and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The Department of Children’s Services has seen a sharp spike in violence involving children and youths housed in its juvenile detention system in just the past three months, according to data obtained by The Tennessean. Over July, August and September, there were 102 youth-on-youth or youth-on-staff assaults that involved teachers, staff and guards at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, a facility that holds 125 boys and young men ages 13 to 19.
A ringing telephone at Premier Radiology used to be a sure signal that someone wanted to schedule an appointment, but since the fungal meningitis outbreak, it’s often the sound of a cancellation. The clinic at 28 White Bridge Road in Nashville finds itself in the fallout zone even though it didn’t use products from New England Compounding Center, whose moldy medicine is being blamed for the outbreak that has sickened 344 people and killed 25, including 10 in Tennessee. Sufferers of chronic back pain, who once viewed steroid epidurals as a safe alternative to risky surgeries and addictive narcotics, aren’t so sure any more.
Says he’d give changes consideration As an auctioneer and a cattleman, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is familiar with Tennessee’s Greenbelt Law and believes the property tax break is working as it should in the “overwhelming majority” of cases — he suspects at least 90 percent. At the same time, he said, “I’m sure there are incidences across the state where there are unintended consequences.” Although many legislators see no problem with the law, even praise it, Ramsey, as presiding officer of the state Senate, is willing to consider “tweaking” it to prevent abuses.
The public is well acquainted with Mark Norris the lawyer and powerhouse state senator, but there’s another, lesser known, side of the 57-year-old Republican: He’s also a farmer. “Nobody’s ever believed that I farm,” said Norris, who raises hay, horses and cattle at his 126-acre, $1.1 million farm in Collierville. The arrangement saves him $7,100 a year in Shelby County property taxes under the so-called ‘Greenbelt Law,’ a state statute passed in 1976 that grants tax discounts for protecting farms, forests and rural, open space from urban sprawl.
Fortified with huge campaign war chests, new legislative districts and Tennessee voters’ opposition to President Barack Obama, state Republicans see a good chance of seizing a “supermajority” in the General Assembly on Nov. 6. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said the GOP has an “excellent shot” at picking up as many as six seats, knocking minority Democrats from 13 to just seven in the 33-member chamber. “Things are going well,” said Ramsey, the lieutenant governor. “I feel very comfortable we’ll have a supermajority.”
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.
Tennessee voters continued to show up in strong numbers as early voting continued Thursday. More than 107,000 voters across the state cast their ballots that day, bringing the statewide total to 816,645 voters through the first eight days of the early voting period. Statewide turnout continues to exceed comparable early voting numbers for the 2008 November election. “Voters across the state are making their voices heard at the polls,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Saturday was the final Saturday for early voting, though voters can still go to the polls early Monday through Thursday.
If Tennessee voters had concerns about electing a Mormon to the White House for the first time in American history, they’ve apparently gotten over it in the past few months. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama in Tennessee by a margin of 59 percent to 34 percent, according to a poll released Saturday by Middle Tennessee State University. The poll found that 74 percent of white evangelical Christians surveyed support Romney. “The once-strained relationship between Gov. Romney and religious Tennesseans seems to have improved markedly since the spring’s primary election,” said Ken Blake, director of the MTSU Poll.
On the heels of a sex scandal involving a female patient, another woman has acknowledged having a sexual relationship with physician and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais while she was under his medical care. The second woman described DesJarlais as “the nicest guy” and said he cooked dinner for her at their first get-together in 2000. But she also said they smoked marijuana during their relationship and remembered DesJarlais prescribing her pain medication on dates at his home.
With a third term easily within his reach, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe believes his future in Congress depends more on the November presidential and congressional elections. On Thursday, the 1st Congressional District Republican campaigned for the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan GOP presidential ticket in Bristol, Va. Next weekend, Roe plans to stump for Romney and Ryan in Ohio. “I’ll go anywhere the campaign wants us to come,” Roe, R-Tenn., said at Ryan’s Thursday campaign event at Universal Fibers.
Both hope and hype are in plentiful supply during any election cycle. But in just more than one week, the rhetoric will level off and fade. Lines at courthouses, schools and other polling places packed with people exercising their constitutional right will dissipate and reveal empty space. The sign wars will end. The “I approved this message” cacophony will give way to congratulatory and “new direction” speak. The only thing that remains are the winners.
Besides the two major-party candidates, Tennessee’s 1st congressional district has three third-party candidates. They are a diverse group of individuals but all are generally unhappy with the structure of the two-party system. They believe voters should have more options at the ballot box. An independent candidate Michael D. Salyer is a long-haul truck driver and father of three. He wants to see more local control of issues such as education and infrastructure and believes the federal government has become too intrusive.
Donald Orr’s company has worked on LP Field, the Pinnacle office tower and countless other buildings around Middle Tennessee. Still, the president of Nashville Machine Co., a privately owned firm that installs and services elevators and escalators, said the company’s latest work on the Music City Center left him awed. “It is enormous. It’s breathtaking how big it is,” Orr said. “You walk in and — those high ceilings. You’re like ‘wow.’ I think it’s pretty safe to say that, even given what we do every day, that’s a pretty large facility.”
When we first heard about the issues at the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole that were uncovered in a state comptroller audit released early this month, it appeared that problems, though serious, could be solved with better oversight. Among the problems uncovered: Parole officers were monitoring 82 people on probation or parole who were dead; one had been dead for 19 years, but was still being “monitored.” As state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, observed, “With that many dead people supposedly being supervised, it makes you wonder how many live people were also not being supervised.” A Tennessean story this week answered his question. The story had examples showing that parole officers were not keeping track of even the worst offenders in the system.
Would you want a job where all you hear are reports of the most horrendous child abuse imaginable, for $27,000 a year? And where you have the responsibility of deciding what to do about it? How about a career chasing down elusive sex offenders who are still hanging around kids for a measly $26,000 a year? Welcome to employment with the state of Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam and the state legislature have to make a choice: Do they keep Tennesseans safe or allow children to die and be sexually assaulted because of stubborn determination to keep government from growing? Two key state departments that are charged with keeping children safe share the same problem: They aren’t getting the job done.
The limitations on contributions to political candidates in our fair state have become so meaningless that maybe it’s time to just get rid of them. The thought is inspired by last week’s Registry of Election Finance decision to dismiss contentions that two political action committees violated the limits law. The facts were similar, but the case involving Truth Matters PAC perhaps is the best illustration. Andrew Miller Jr., a politically astute Nashvillian of substantial wealth, started talking up establishment of a PAC with friends sharing his views a year or so ago. The views, it seems, are more conservative than those of many Republicans, and Miller has become known as “a RINO hunter.” Or, perhaps more properly, as a supplier of ammunition to RINO-hunting candidates. RINO, of course, stands for “Republican in name only.”
This column is brought to you by the letter K. K for karma. More than a year after the GOP-dominated legislature manipulated the system to screw Memphis on school consolidation, the city gets to return the favor — at the polls. On Thursday, a state appeals court ruled that registered voters can use Memphis Public Library photo ID cards to vote. This means that in this politically blue city, people who might have struggled to get to a driver’s license center for a photo ID can now visit one of the city’s 16 library branches. It’s only a glancing blow at the right’s shameless yet wildly successful attempt to disenfranchise those most unlikely to have a photo ID (the young, poor and people of color, all of whom lean left).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bungled its release of the list of facilities linked to tainted injections that have caused hundreds of cases of fungal meningitis in at least 18 states, unnecessarily adding to the anxiety surrounding the outbreak. On Monday the FDA released a list of customers who were shipped products on or after May 21 from the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Injectable steroids from the company are believed to be responsible for the outbreak, which has killed two dozen, including nine in Tennessee, and sickened more than 300. Not all of the more than 1,200 facilities on the list, including some in East Tennessee, had received the suspect medications from NECC, which led to worried patients swamping the facilities with questions. The FDA released a revised list Thursday, but the damage was done.