This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he expects to increase spending on the state’s Department of Correction next year in light of problems that probation and parole workers were monitoring dead ex-convicts. The agency is also likely to see additional taxpayer money to account for more people serving time in county jails than the state had planned for, he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Corrections is in an area that you see the budget take a jump up,” Haslam told reporters after a wreath laying ceremony honoring President James K. Polk’s birthday outside the state Capitol building Friday.
Election Day also marks the start of this year’s budget season in state government. The Haslam Administration is asking departments to at least prepare for cuts of five percent. Some parts of state government may get trimmed under Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal, even as tax collections continue to improve. He says the rise in revenue still leaves some holes. “We’re going to have some additional costs from health care. We all know we need to invest some more in certain areas in departments where we’ve under-funded. I think higher ed – as we’ve said – both the post secondary all along the way needs some more investment.”
Governor Bill Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, former Governor Don Sundquist, and former Governor Winfield Dunn in Williamson County today to mark the opening of the final section of State Route 840. The new 14 mile section, from US 31 (Columbia Pike) in Franklin, TN to SR 46 (Pinewood Road) near Leiper’s Fork, is the final piece of the 78 mile route.
The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, John Schroer, on Friday ribbed his colleagues in state government over how long it took to complete State Route 840, the 78-mile, four-lane highway that runs south of Nashville from Dickson to Rutherford counties. During the 26 years of construction, joked Schroer, a second generation of TDOT employees joined the work crew. “I know this may surprise you, but some people spent their entire careers on 840,” Schroer said.
The resumes of 15 local attorneys who’ve applied for a General Sessions Court Judge vacancy show diverse legal experience and backgrounds. Gov. Bill Haslam has the power to appoint a replacement for Judge Ronald Durby, who stepped down on Oct. 2 for health problems. Durby was appointed judge in 1996. In his letter to Haslam he said he hoped his absence would be temporary. Three of the current applicants — Yolanda Echols Mitchell, Joe DeGaetano and Ron Powers — ran in the August special election held to fill the seat of the late Judge Bob Moon, who died in January.
Governor Bill Haslam is keeping his distance from fellow Republican Scott DesJarlais. The congressman representing Murfreesboro and Columbia has been battling revelations that he urged a mistress to have an abortion 12 years ago. A few weeks ago, Governor Haslam said he didn’t want to weigh in until he spoke to DesJarlais. Haslam still hasn’t talked to the freshman congressman, blaming a busy schedule. But he also says voters know all they need to know and aren’t waiting to hear his two cents.
The state will open the driver’s licensing station at 3200 East Shelby Drive in Memphis from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday to issue photo identifications for voting. No other services will be offered. The Memphis location is one of eight across Tennessee the Department of Safety & Homeland Security will open Saturday to issue photo IDs for voting. Other West Tennessee stations open are in Jackson at 100 Benchmark Circle and in Dresden at 8598 State Route 22. State law requires voters to present federal or state issued photo ID to vote. It 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 ID.
The Tennessee Department of Health has announced a 12th death among patients sickened by tainted medicine linked to an outbreak of fungal meningitis. Health officials also reported Friday the total number of Tennessee cases has increased by three to 78. The people became ill after receiving steroid shots in their backs or a major joint. Besides meningitis, the illnesses associated with the medicine prepared by New England Compounding Center are posterior strokes and epidural abscesses.
TN meningitis toll rises to 12 people Twelve of the 78 people sickened with fungal meningitis in Tennessee have died — a 15 percent mortality rate, but one that state epidemiologist Dr. Tim F. Jones says is deceiving. Patients who are diagnosed early and who receive prompt treatment with antifungal medications have much better survival prospects. Thirty-five of these patients have been discharged from hospitals — 15 of them on Friday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Tennessee’s 12th death also was reported Friday, along with three new cases of illness.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued an opinion Thursday calling into question whether the state’s new tax breaks for the solar industry are constitutional. Under a law passed in 2010 during the administration of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, Tennessee now taxes solar installations at salvage value, or virtually nothing. Cooper’s opinion said those tax breaks were “of doubtful constitutionality.” In March, Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson said such treatment of solar installations is unconstitutional, citing a 1986 attorney general opinion, as he sought legislative support to tax solar installations at one third of overall value.
A tax break for Tennessee’s solar industry violates the state constitution because it favors certain taxpayers, state Attorney General Robert Cooper said Friday, jeopardizing the future viability of the credit.An exemption created in 2010 for solar and other green energy installations is prohibited by a provision of the state constitution that says the legislature cannot pass laws that let certain taxpayers out of paying property taxes, Cooper said.The break was one of three that former Gov. Phil Bredesen pushed through the legislature in the waning days of his administration.
A once-famed Knox County judge who spent 19 years sending criminals to prison now faces his own stint behind bars. A 10-woman, two-man jury in U.S. District Court on Friday deemed already disgraced former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner guilty of five of six federal charges of lying to cover up his pill-supplying mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy. The convictions immediately cost Baumgartner his state pension. He faces a March 27 sentencing hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum three-year sentence he faces on each count, although U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said Friday it is unlikely U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer would stack each of the five sentences onto the other.
A Tennessee Republican party TV commercial likens Democratic state House candidate Gloria Johnson to departed University of Tennessee football Coach Lane Kiffin. The 30-second spot uses a News Sentinel video of Johnson — without the audio — as a backdrop while a narrator declares “political activist Gloria Johnson” is running for the state House with help from “her liberal special interest friends” who “support higher taxes and bigger government.” The reference is to unions that have contributed to Johnson’s campaign, according to Adam Nickas, executive director of the state party, although the ad itself doesn’t mention unions.
The House Republican Caucus has reported spending more than $75,000 on a television ad that supports Rep. John Ragan while criticizing his Democratic opponent — apparently the largest TV buy of the campaign season in a Tennessee state House race. Financial reports for the period Oct. 1-27 indicate Ragan benefited from about $150,000 in Republican PAC spending, including the TV buy, while former Rep. Jim Hackworth, got about half that amount from the state Democratic Party.
The state House District 82 race is a rematch of a close 2010 race. State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, defeated Republican challenger Johnny Edwards, of Ripley, by 284 votes in the November 2010 election. “As an absolute newcomer to the political arena, to have challenged an incumbent of 16 years at the time and come that close to beating him on a very tiny budget, of course that gave me encouragement to run again,” Edwards said. “And during the two years between elections, many of my supporters, friends and people I didn’t know said, ‘Johnny, you need to run again.’”
In the state House District 71 race, Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, advocates continuing the current path, while independent John Crandall, of Hohenwald, looks for change. District 71 is made up of the counties of Hardin, Wayne, Lewis and a part of Lawrence County. Dennis, an attorney, was first elected to the office in 2008. Among his recent accomplishments in office, Dennis, 36, cites the phasing out of the Tennessee inheritance tax and the elimination of the gift tax. With the inheritance tax going away, he said a gift tax did not make sense.
Republican political action committees spent three times as much as their Democratic counterparts last month supporting legislative races in Tennessee, Knoxville News Sentinel reports. According to the News Sentinel, GOP committees in the historically “red” Tennessee spent about $1.75 million helping their candidates between Oct. 1 and 27 What does all that money buy? For one example, Republican committees were able to fund 120 direct mail pieces, compared to 60 funded by Democratic committees.
Tennessee may not be a battleground state in this year’s presidential race, but donations from Tennesseans are still pouring into the campaigns. With just a few days to go, Republican Mitt Romney has a 2-to-1 lead over President Barack Obama in terms of campaign contributions from East Tennessee. Both Romney’s and Obama’s haul is fueled in large part by a surge of donations after each party’s national political conventions. Romney has raised $1.2 million in campaign donations from East Tennesseans, while Obama has collected $595,006, according to the latest reports on file with the Federal Election Commission.
With Tennessee’s early voting period ending Thursday, state and local vote totals have fallen below those from the 2008 presidential election. Statewide, 1,456,804 people cast their ballots early, as 156,814 voted early in Davidson County. While that makes this year’s early voting turnout the second highest ever, both totals represent a drop in early voting compared to 2008, when 1,516,031 voted early statewide and 191,420 did so in Davidson County. Early voting totals this year are significantly higher than those in 2004, the last year in which an incumbent president was at the top of the ballot.
Despite new precinct outlines and a mandate for photo ID at the polls, elections officials said early voting went smoothly in Hamilton County and the state. Early ballots cast in Hamilton County topped the number in the 2008 presidential election — 69,047 compared to 68,000, said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, county elections administrator. Despite that, only two provisional ballots were cast and there were no hassles over the new photo ID law, Morgan said.
The final day of the early voting period proved to be the highest single-day turnout of the year across the state of Tennessee with more than 134,000 individuals casting their ballots Thursday. The turnout of 1,456,824 voters ranks as the second-highest for early voting in state history, falling 59,207 ballots short of 2008’s presidential election total of 1,516,031 and exceeding 2004’s by more than a quarter million votes. “I am extremely pleased with the success of early voting for this important election,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett in a statement.
Nearly 40 percent of Shelby County’s 598,803 voters cast ballots during the early voting period that ended Thursday, Nov. 1. But the 232,690 early voters – which accounts for 38.9 percent of the total number of registered voters – is fewer than four years ago when 254,362 early votes were cast. But the Shelby County early voting turnout is the highest of any county in the state. The last day of early voting also saw the first complaints from voters that they were getting the wrong races on their ballots.
U.S. Justice Department officials will monitor the polls in Nashville during Tuesday’s election, the department announced Friday. Davidson and Shelby counties are two of 51 jurisdictions in 23 states where the nation’s top law-enforcement agency plans to station more than 780 federal observers and department personnel. A Justice Department news release didn’t say specifically why Nashville was chosen. Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche said it was related to the training poll workers received last month — first reported by The Tennessean — on how to challenge the voting rights of people they believe may not be U.S. citizens.
The chairman of the Shelby County Commission said a potential economic incentives package for International Paper could “embarrass” the company — along with city and county leaders — because the incentives are too extreme and could lead to a public backlash. Commissioner Mike Ritz said in an email sent to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and obtained by The Commercial Appeal that the proposed incentives to ensure IP’s corporate headquarters and more than 2,000 jobs stay in Memphis would be a “public relations disaster.”
Next week’s election can’t come soon enough for Scott DesJarlais, the freshman Republican congressman whose campaign has been rocked by revelations he dated patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion. The congressman has been largely absent from the campaign trail since news reports surfaced about a recorded phone conversation between DesJarlais and a woman with whom he said he had a relationship as his first marriage neared its end in 2001. The DesJarlais camp will have to endure more attention on his personal life at 9 a.m. EST Monday, when a judge in Chattanooga will take up a motion filed by the state Democratic Party to open all the records in his divorce.
What many thought would be an easy glide to re-election for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais has turned into a white-knuckled ride for the freshman Republican congressman. Revelations that the Marion County physician dated two patients and once pressed one to seek an abortion rocked the campaign in the last three weeks. His Democratic opponent in the 4th Congressional District race, Eric Stewart, who has repeatedly attacked DesJarlais as a “hypocrite” over the abortion discussion, contends he has closed much of the gap in the contest.
With U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann heavily favored in Tennessee’s 3rd District congressional race, some prominent politicos already are pondering the freshman Republican’s second term. To his eight-term predecessor, Fleischmann’s re-election is “obvious,” but former Rep. Zach Wamp also says his fellow Republican’s next two years hinge on solving the district’s biggest infrastructure puzzle — the Chickamauga lock. In an interview, Wamp praised Fleischmann for making the 72-year-old lock “an important priority,” but said he hopes his successor “exerts more leadership” in maintaining the old lock and finishing a partially completed replacement.
Both presidential campaigns have their distinct soundtracks. And on the Republican side, it’s still got a twang. In a black and white western shirt with 6-inch fringe on the sleeves, Lee Greenwood has been belting his time-tested hit “Proud to Be and American” in Ohio, Colorado and Virginia. It’s a patriotic song that Greenwood first performed for President Reagan, then for President Bush – both of them. “I toured with John McCain, Bob Dole, Sarah Palin,” Greenwood says in an interview between campaign appearances.
Lee Greenwood has sung his hit “Proud to be an American” for many presidential candidates — all of them Republican. “I’m a conservative Christian, and I feel it would be out of context if I were on the other side of the aisle,” Greenwood told WPLN 90.3 FM. WPLN took a look at the decidedly country flavor of the campaign songs for Republican candidates, contrasted with a lack of country stars who are vocal Democrats. “(The Dixie Chicks’) sudden disappearance from radio after all this tremendous success I think really threw not just a bucket but a barrel of cold water on other country artists who might have been vocal about supporting Democratic or independent candidates,” John Rumble, a historian with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, told WPLN.
As businesses strive to clean up their balance sheets, so too are consumers — and they’re making progress. A range of resources show that consumers have improved their financial situations since the depths of the recession, despite prolonged unemployment of around 8 percent. That’s been a boon for businesses, though caution remains. Banks, for example, are seeing their retail business pick up. “They’re really beginning to spend,” said Don Abel, chairman, president and CEO of Tennessee for Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank.
The scandal-ridden campaign of Tennessee’s 4th District physician-congressman Scott DesJarlais took another downhill tumble this week when a second former lover — and, like the first, another former patient of the doctor — recounted to this paper’s Chris Carroll how she and DesJarlais were engaged in a sexual affair for six months in 2000 and jointly used illicit drugs. He also prescribed pain medication for her when they were on dates, she said. “His biggest thing that’s completely unethical is him just picking up women while he’s a doctor,” she said of DesJarlais. “I mean, seriously, that’s his big no-no … He’s just a hound.” DesJarlais’ subsequent attempt to pass her off as “a noncredible anonymous source who is lying” bombed when she stepped up later in the week up to reaffirm the accuracy of her account. Her name was also listed in the court record of DesJarlais’ divorce proceeding as another of the four women with whom he was accused of having affairs.
After more than a year of campaigning, endless political advertisements, two conventions and four debates, the presidential election is almost over. The big decision of 2012 will soon be in the hands of the voters. The choice Americans make will shape great things, historic things, and those will determine the most important and intimate aspects of every American life and every American family. All presidential elections matter. This one matters a great deal. It matters to the senior who needs medical care but, thanks to ObamaCare, can’t find a doctor who is taking new Medicare patients. It matters to the men and women who once had good-paying jobs with benefits but now work part-time with no benefits just to put food on the table.
For the past few days, we’ve all been properly focused on one of the worst storms of our lifetimes. We mourn those who were lost. And we pledge to stand with those whose lives have been turned upside down for as long as it takes to recover and rebuild—better than before. Because when hardship hits, America is at its best. The petty differences that consume us in normal times fade away. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm—only fellow Americans. That is how we get through the most trying times: together. In 2008, we were mired in two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Together, we’ve battled our way back. Our businesses have created over five million new jobs in the past two and a half years. Home values are on the rise. Manufacturing is growing at the fastest pace in 15 years.