This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Deputy Shelby County District Attorney General John Campbell as Division 6 Shelby County Criminal Court judge. Campbell, whose appointment was announced Thursday, Nov. 1, fills the vacancy created when John Fowlkes became a federal court judge. Campbell has been with the District Attorney General’s office since 1985 and he was an assistant Shelby County public defender prior to that. For the last 10 years, he has also served as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Deputy Dist. Atty. Gen. John Campbell as judge of Shelby County Criminal Court’s Division VI on Thursday. Campbell, 54, replaces Judge John Fowlkes, who resigned in July when he was appointed a U.S. District Court judge in Memphis. Campbell has worked in the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office since 1985. Before that, he was an assistant public defender. “John has spent his professional career working in Memphis and Shelby County,” the governor said.
US Nitrogen officials hosted Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Tuesday, showing off the beginnings of their massive facility and grounds under construction off Pottertown Road. Following a brief tour, Haslam and Alexander seemed impressed with what they had seen of the 490-acre site that is starting to take shape. “This plant fits into our strategic mission in economic development,” the governor told a small group of local officials and US Nitrogen representatives.
Tennessee has the eighth best business climate in the country, according to Site Selection magazine’s 2012 rankings of the most business-friendly states. That’s unchanged from a year ago. In 2010, Tennessee ranked second on the magazine’s rating. North Carolina captured the top spot on this year’s rankings, which were released today. The annual Top Business Climate rankings are based on tax burden criteria, new and expanded business activity and a survey of corporate site selectors.
Of the state’s five most successful teacher training programs, three are alternative certification programs and only one is based in Nashville. A new study released by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Thursday highlights that teachers who hail from the Teach for America alternative certification program are generally better at moving the needle on student performance than their traditional education school counterparts. “We’re doing some things right, but obviously, they’re a step ahead of us on other things.
Tennessee’s high school graduation rate is up and assessment tests taken by elementary and middle school students improved last year, according to data released Thursday by the Education Department. The figures show the graduation rate for the class of 2012 increased from 85.5 percent to 87.2 percent, and that elementary and middle school students grew in 23 out of 24 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program measures. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he’s pleased with the improvements, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Dr. Mike Golias, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis, has been studying GPS data from trucks in the Memphis and Nashville areas to learn more about routes and the other critical issue the trucking industry faces – how long it takes to get from one place to another. The GPS data examined by Golias, a researcher with the university’s Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute, includes enough information to track average speeds on a particular route.
The Department of Safety will open eight driver service centers Saturday to help voters who need photo identification cards before the Tuesday general election. Centers will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Chattanooga, Cookeville, Dresden, Jackson, Johnson City, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. Services that day will be limited to issuing free photo IDs to registered voters and converting non-photo driver’s licenses to a version with a picture. A release from the Safety Department said the centers were chosen based on population and response to Saturday openings before the August primary election.
Tennessee’s Washington County Driver Service Center will be open Saturday to give citizens an opportunity to obtain free photo identification before Election Day, according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. A state law that took effect this year requires citizens to present a federal or state-issued photo ID to vote at the polls. That law also requires the state to issue photo IDs for voting purposes at no charge to registered voters who have no other acceptable form of photo identification.
The University of Tennessee will dedicate a plaque commemorating the signing of the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 on the 150th anniversary of the act that established many of America’s public colleges and universities. UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, UT System President Joe DiPietro and UT Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington will be at the Ellington Plant Sciences building to dedicate the plaque on Saturday. The law provided federal funds to establish universities to teach agriculture and the mechanical arts to the public.
Hundreds of citizen-soldiers from across the country are in Nashville for the 28th annual General Conference of the State Guard Association of the United States. State guards are established under the authority of Title 32, Section 109 of the United States Code and are typically called state defense forces, state guards or state military reserves. Twenty-six states have active State Guards or Defense Forces, and representatives from at least 17 states are registered to come to the annual meeting running Friday through Sunday.
Jackie Rains, manager of the Zane Whitson Welcome Center, said she wanted to keep the news that the center had been named Tennessee’s Welcome Center of the Year a secret from the facility’s staff, hoping to surprise them with the award upon her return from receiving it. But she admitted her excitement got the best of her. “I couldn’t,” she said. “I had to tell them.” The center was named the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s 2012 Tennessee Welcome Center of the Year at the Tennessee Governor’s Conference, which was held in Sevierville in late September.
The Tennessee Department of Correction’s efforts to protect children culminated with more than 1,300 visits to the homes of high-risk sex offenders on Halloween night, according to a news release. “Operation Blackout” was designed to increase the safety of trick-or-treaters by requiring sex offenders under TDOC supervision to follow additional restrictions. More than 240 probation and parole officers, joined by local law enforcement and the U.S. Marshals, made random home visits to enforce the strict rules for high-risk sex offenders and those who offended against minors.
With less than a week before the Nov. 6 election, the state’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal from the state challenging a lower court’s ruling on Tennessee’s voter ID law. The court also ordered the state to require election officials in Shelby County give regular ballots to voters using library IDs to prove their identity to vote, saying “the right to vote has profound constitutional significance.” The state was previously requiring voters there to cast votes with provisional ballots which may or may not be counted.
Ruling applies only to voters in Memphis area, officials say The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that photo ID cards issued by the Memphis Public Library qualify as a valid form of identification in Tuesday’s election. In a statement, state election officials said Memphis residents will be allowed to use library-issued IDs in next week’s election. The ruling applies only to voters within Shelby County. “For 94 out of 95 Tennessee counties, today’s order from the court will have no impact,” State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said in a statement.
The Tennessee Supreme Court Thursday ordered state and local election officials to accept Memphis’ library photo identification cards for voting purposes in Tuesday’s general election provided the voter is properly registered. The Shelby County Election Commission instructed its staff to comply immediately on the last day of early voting Thursday, said commission chairman Robert Meyers. “The instructions are to accept as valid the Memphis photo library cards, which means those voters that present with a Memphis library photo ID would then be allowed to vote on the machines. And any voter who has cast a provisional paper ballot with a Memphis photo library ID would not need to do anything additional for their vote to be counted,” Meyers said.
Photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis are valid identification for voting and must be accepted by the Shelby County Election Commission. The Tennessee Supreme Court Thursday, Nov. 1, lifted a stay on an earlier Tennessee Appeals Court ruling and ordered state election officials to tell the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the library cards at the polls. The stay was ordered lifted on the last day of the early voting period and the action would also apply to the Nov. 6 Election Day.
The Tennessee Supreme Court says a Memphis library card will count as voter ID for this election. In an order released Thursday, the high court also said it would hear oral arguments in the politically charged case. The plaintiffs challenging the state’s voter ID law had hoped to overturn it before Election Day. That won’t happen now, says civil rights attorney George Barrett. “The Supreme Court did not expedite the case. They said it would be scheduled in the normal course of events.” Barrett says he still considers the order a victory.
When it comes to jury deliberations in the federal case against disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, in the words of the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Jurors began their 10th hour of deliberations Thursday morning with two questions. The first involved pills seized from a hospital room where Baumgartner’s pill-supplying mistress was staying in October 2009 — pills federal prosecutors David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho allege were intended for Baumgartner.
Don’t look for signs of sustained economic growth in Tennessee until maybe this time next year, say University of Tennessee economists. The subdued projection comes in the researchers’ just-released business and economic outlook, which primarily blames the state’s slowdown on the European Union’s failure to act quickly to resolve the sovereign debt crisis. That inaction slowed growth in Europe and lowered the continent’s demand for U.S.- and Tennessee-made products.
Early voting ended Thursday with Tennessee voters on pace to cast fewer ballots than the record high set four years ago. Polls closed across the state with more than 1.3 million ballots cast entering the final day of the two-week early voting period. The pace was about 4 percent slower than in 2008, but even before the last day, the state already had surpassed the 1.1 million early votes cast in 2004. A spokesman for the secretary of state says his department plans to release a final tally of early voting on Friday.
Statewide, officials hope to match 2008 While the state could still match its 2008 total of early votes cast, Knox County election officials are expecting not only a lower number of early votes cast in the county, but also a smaller overall turnout from four years ago. Knox County officials do not predict final local early-voting totals to surpass the 125,267 ballots cast in 2008, the last presidential election. As of late Thursday afternoon, 7,854 Knox County voters had balloted on the final day of the early-voting period for the Nov. 6 election.
Early voting has ended in Madison County and across the state of Tennessee. A total of 2,467 voters cast their ballots in the county on Thursday, bringing the cumulative total to 25,939. About 39.7 percent of the registered voters in Madison County have now voted. Election Day is Tuesday. The early voting site at 311 North Parkway is not a polling place on Election Day. You must vote at the location shown on your voter registration card. You may check your voter registration information and polling place by going online to madisonelections.com.
2,690 cast ballots on final day of early voting The Election Commission at Veterans Plaza buzzed with activity Thursday, with voters coming in and out of the building and candidates or volunteers holding signs hoping to sway a last-minute vote. Thursday was the final day to vote early, and no matter who people voted for, they came out of the building with their heads held high, proudly sporting an “I voted today” sticker. 2,690 people voted in Montgomery County on Thursday – the highest turnout day of this election – bringing this year’s early voting total to 31,365.
Cora Beach still doesn’t have a state-issued photo ID, but she voted on Thursday anyway after county election officials told her about a rarely used exemption in the state’s new voter ID law. One day after The Tennessean reported on Beach’s difficulty in obtaining photo identification to vote, the 56-year-old Beach, on the last day of early voting, signed an affidavit that she is “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without paying a fee.” In doing so, Beach was able to vote at the Davidson County Election Commission office by taking advantage of a clause in the state’s new voter identification law that gives photo ID exemptions to voters who claim religious objections to being photographed or to the indigent.
The voting snafus in the Lucy community during the August elections may have resurfaced during this round of early voting. A Millington voter says he voted on the countywide sales tax referendum that was limited to voters in Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County. Another voter in an unincorporated area says she didn’t get to vote on the sales tax issue even though she was entitled to. Donald Mitchell, a Millington resident since 1985, said he was given a ballot that had the Millington races as well as the sales tax vote.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office has released a text message sent by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais after details emerged about the congressman once urging a mistress to seek an abortion. Haslam said at the time that he didn’t want to opine on the subject until speaking with DesJarlais — a conversation that still hasn’t taken place three week later. DesJarlais in the text message dated Oct. 11 thanked the governor, a fellow Republican, for withholding judgment. He also offered to speak to Haslam at his convenience.
The day after news broke that pro-life Congressman Scott DesJarlais had urged a patient he had been seeing to get an abortion, he sent a text message to Gov. Bill Haslam. “Thanks for withholding judgment. I am happy to chat at your convenience,” read the text, according to state records the Haslam administration released to the Tennessee Democratic Party Wednesday. According to state records, the governor did not respond. On Oct. 22, the Tennessee Democratic Party requested copies of “correspondence between Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais dated anytime from Jan. 1, 2012, to the date this request is filed.”
At the same time U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ second wife is defending his character, fellow physicians are condemning him for having sexual relationships with patients in violation of medical ethics. Amy DesJarlais told the Knoxville News Sentinel this week that allegations he had romances outside his marriage and urged one girlfriend to get an abortion in 2000 don’t tell the story of their 10 years together. She described him as a good father and husband and said she hasn’t seen behavior his first wife described in divorce documents 12 years ago.
A 200-member choir from Lee University will perform at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 21 — no matter who wins the election. “We may not know who the next president will be, but we do know one thing: The Lee University Choir will be singing at the inauguration of the president,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., told a packed assembly of 1,800 students Thursday at the university’s Conn Center. Members of the performing choir, known as the Lee Festival Choir, will be selected from the university’s seven existing choirs, said Paul Conn, the university’s president.
No matter who’s elected President of the United States, one thing is known – a choir from Tennessee will sing at his inauguration. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander announced today that the Lee University chorus will perform immediately before the official swearing in on January 21. Senator Alexander arranged the invitation for the group from the liberal arts Christian school in Cleveland. In announcing the appearance, Alexander said the 200-voice combined choir from East Tennessee will “thrill the millions of people who will be watching….”
The Rev. Glenn Denton of the 2,500-member Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon doesn’t care what the tax man says. He’s not going to stop telling people who God wants them to vote for — and in his opinion, it’s not Barack Obama. “I would stand where I stood if I knew tomorrow that they were going to jerk our tax exemption,” he said. Internal Revenue Service rules ban leaders of churches and other charities from endorsing candidates or taking part in political campaigns. But investigations slowed three years ago, allowing some preachers and church groups to push the limits when it comes to politics in the pulpit.
U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips, who presided over the email invasion case involving then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin when she was the Republican vice presidential nominee, plans to retire and take inactive senior status on July 6, 2013, his 70th birthday. Members of the legal community have been discussing his upcoming retirement after the presidential election, and he confirmed it Wednesday. “I have to notify the president six months (beforehand). I will be notifying him in January,” he said.
Despite a faltering economy, many of America’s downtowns are in the midst of a revival, according to a September U.S. Census study, and Memphis is no exception. The study, “Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010,” shows that in many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, downtown populations grew at double-digit rates over the last decade, primarily due to the availability of new housing and services. And after previous decades of decline, the residential population in Downtown Memphis increased as well, growing by 7 percent to reach approximately 22,000 residents in 2010, according to the latest metrics compiled by the Downtown Memphis Commission.
The size of traditionally poor-performing subgroups in Metro Nashville schools creates a tougher hurdle than most systems face in closing the achievement gap between those students and their peers, a Metro official said Thursday. Jesse Register, director of Metro schools, says the achievement gap between ethnic, racial and economic groups will be difficult to change in Nashville because so many children are in those groups. Almost 73 percent of Metro’s 81,000 students fall into the economically disadvantaged group, qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.
The Metro Nashville school system launched a new website section Thursday that allows parents to compare schools side by side. The school options section is designed to help parents find information about the choices available to them in the Metro school system and to help make the application process easier for them. The options section is interactive and allows parents to search for schools in certain areas or by certain specialties that might be of interest to their children.
Improving public education is a top priority in many West Tennessee communities, but nowhere is it more intensely watched and pursued than in the Jackson-Madison County school system. In light of that, we are encouraged by the school system’s improved results on this year’s state report card. The improvements come after two years of increased effort to meet higher standards, adopt new strategies and improve teacher performance. This is the kind of hard work it takes, and it is our hope that a new trend is under way that will lead to long-term gains for JMC students and a school system parents want their children to go to and that the public can point to with pride. The latest state report card, released on Thursday, shows JMC schools no longer earn only Ds and Fs.
We Tennesseans have sent many principled politicians from both sides of the aisle to Washington; they have served with honor and integrity. We vote for our leaders for different reasons, but, universally, we expect our candidates to be who they say they are, to be truthful, and we share a bottom-line expectation they won’t be an embarrassment to our state or a national spectacle. Thus, we — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — collectively cringe as we read a new wave of lurid headlines from across the country about U.S. Rep. and Dr. Scott DesJarlais. “U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais persuades mistress to have abortion;” “Group files sexual misconduct complaint against DesJarlais;” “Another DesJarlais patient comes forward, alleging sex, prescription pill, and marijuana use.”
My friend Susan, who is in medical sales, not politics or journalism, gets an alert on her phone every time political prognosticator Nate Silver updates his blog. I told her the other night that we were going to have to put her on a virtual methadone program after the election because I didn’t think she would be able to handle going cold turkey. Susan is worried about what kind of America we’re going to have the next four years and beyond for her boys — one in college, the other in high school. Fortunately, she’s weaned herself off of some of the political writers she was reading because it was wearing her out. Nonetheless, I really wish that everyone would be as informed when they vote as is Susan.
By this time in the campaign season in 2006, GOP senatorial nominee Bob Corker had delivered his Chattanooga Roundhouse at a debate in Corker’s hometown, hitting then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. with the fact Ford’s father, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Sr., landed a lucrative lobbying gig with Fannie Mae mere months after Ford, Jr. took a seat on the House Financial Services Committee. Ford’s Memphis Meltdown had happened. With an aide or two in tow, Ford confronted Corker at a Memphis television station. Ford was aggressive, petulant even, and his ostensible defense of his family’s honor gave voters another insight into his immaturity. Corker won the U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee in a big Democratic year nationally and, according to the Washington Post, it’s been downhill for Tennessee Democrats ever since.