This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is asking state departments to prepare plans to cut spending by 5 percent next year as he opens hearings this week on Tennessee’s next budget. Haslam told reporters Friday that he does not anticipate deep cuts to Tennessee’s $31 billion budget during 2013-14, but he has asked department heads to identify potential cuts so the state can increase spending in other areas and prepare for rising health care costs. “It is a helpful exercise to go through,” he said.
Buoyed by overflowing campaign accounts, redrawn legislative districts and an unpopular Democratic president at the top of the ticket, Tennessee Republicans are expecting to add to their already considerable advantage in the state House on Tuesday. While seven Republican incumbents were defeated in the August primaries, there is little reason to expect any spillover into the general election. Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday predicted “a good night for Republicans,” with the GOP picking up supermajorities in both chambers.
A GOP supermajority in the state house may not be all its cracked up to be. Republican Governor Bill Haslam sees two sides in controlling so much of the General Assembly. This walkout-proof majority would allow GOP lawmakers to pass legislation even if the minority party tries to be difficult and not show up for work. Two seats in the Senate and another pair in the House would have to flip from Democrat to Republican tomorrow. Haslam predicts it will happen, but more GOP manpower won’t necessarily make life easier for his office.
When Gov. Bill Haslam declared open the final stretch of state Route 840 last week, he brought to a close a tumultuous 26-year highway project. The plan to divert eastbound and westbound traffic around Nashville both to the north and the south looked good on paper, or so then-Gov. Lamar Alexander thought in 1986 when he gave it his approval. Planners conceptualized the bypass as an interstate in the 1970s. But state officials later opted to decline federal funds — and with it cumbersome environmental regulatory strings — thus relegating the roadway to a state route.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and other officials will cut the ribbon on a new veterans service office in Knox County. The ribbon-cutting event will be held Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Knox Central Building. Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Donald Smith will also be at the event along with members from the Rolling Thunder Tennessee Chapter 3. The veterans service office assists veterans and their families in filing for benefits such as service-connected disability compensation, burial benefits, GI Bill applications, VA insurance programs and others.
It was just an email about a single case of illness, but a gut instinct developed through years of disease detective work made Dr. Marion Kainer sense a bigger danger. Kainer, the director of health care associated infections for the Tennessee Department of Health, started investigating the day she got that email and hasn’t stopped since. She camped out in her office for three weeks, leading a team of state workers as they traced the source of what would become a national outbreak of fungal meningitis.
Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell have quietly channeled at least $91,800 to 24 Republican legislative candidates without disclosing who gave them the money to distribute. The money maneuver, coordinated with the Tennessee Republican Party, is by all accounts legal. GOP officials checked with Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Registry of Election Finance, to make sure before setting up a separate, special bank account for money raised by Haslam and Harwell. But Dick Williams, president of Common Cause Tennessee, said the arrangement “dilutes the whole concept of disclosure.”
Outside forces have much at stake in state Senate District 22 While the national election for president is drawing the bulk of the public’s attention, there’s much more at stake for Clarksville on Tuesday, including two key elections to the Tennessee General Assembly. The hottest state office races have also been the ugliest, and they’ve drawn their ammo from forces outside Montgomery County. In state Senate District 22, incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes has drawn a strong challenger in Republican Dr. Mark Green, an Iraq War veteran who has garnered considerable support from the GOP establishment in Nashville.
Just days before the Nov. 6 election, a contest within the Tennessee Democratic Party appeared to begin in earnest. And it’s one that could be just as crucial to the party’s future in the state. Given the slide the state’s once-ruling party has been on in recent years, chatter about a change at the top has persisted for some time. After current party chairman Chip Forrester revealed just over a week ago that he would not be seeking re-election to the post, the names of Democrats with an eye on the job have begun to emerge.
Nearly a decade ago, Kierre Kinamore hung out with the wrong friend at the wrong time and got caught up in a robbery. Kinamore, then 19, pleaded guilty and was placed on probation. He also gave up a lot of rights he hadn’t yet used, including the right to vote. When he finished his probation without problems, officials gave him the paperwork to start reclaiming his voting rights, but work was more of a priority. “There was no election at the time; it was something put in the back of my mind,” Kinamore said.
Ballot item would save (a little) money It’s a quirky law that deals with one of Knox County’s most controversial matters — term limits — yet it appears to be pretty much toothless. And now voters have the chance to get rid of it, save taxpayers a couple of bucks and spare the Knox County clerk a few minutes of his time each year. Or not. At issue is proposed amendment change No. 7 that appears on Tuesday’s ballot. It asks voters whether the county should no longer require the clerk each year to write to a number of top-ranking elected officials, stating “the people’s support of term limits at both the state and federal levels.”
Even Demeko Duckworth’s own attorney acknowledged that he was “a man who did not have much regard for human life.” Those words by Nashville Assistant Public Defender Melissa Harrison described Duckworth as he was sentenced to 108 years in prison in March for the murder of his girlfriend, Asia Wade, and Wade’s cousin, Clarence Goins. And her words captured the brutality of Wade’s demise. He stabbed her 49 times, strangled her and then left her to die in her Nashville home. Her four children — the oldest was 9 — were home when she was killed.
A Chattanooga judge is holding a hearing to hear a request by state Democrats to unseal records related to the divorce of freshman Republican congressman Scott DesJarlais, whose campaign has been rocked by revelations he dated patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion. A hearing is scheduled in Hamilton County on Monday morning in Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton’s courtroom. An attorney for the Tennessee Democratic Party filed a motion last month to unseal records from his divorce with his wife, Susan, which was finalized in 2001.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has tapped the former head of one of the South’s biggest electric utilities to be the federal power provider’s next chief executive. William D. “Bill” Johnson, the former CEO of Progress Energy in North Carolina who was ousted two months ago when Progress merged with Duke Energy, has been chosen to succeed Tom Kilgore, sources said Sunday. Kilgore, also a former Progress Energy executive who has run TVA for six years, plans to retire at the end of the year. TVA board members reportedly have chosen Johnson after considering more than 70 candidates.
A. L. Lotts, Cedar Bluff and Hardin Valley elementaries and Farragut Primary and Intermediate could be the most affected schools under a proposed rezoning in Southwest Knox County. On Tuesday, Knox County school board members will discuss the proposed plan for the first time. The board will vote on the plan at its December meeting, after the school system holds four community meetings in the coming weeks. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the district is doing a rezoning for elementary schools.
Consultants retained by the state have made numerous recommendations for overhauling workers’ compensation in Tennessee with a declared goal of providing “fundamental improvements to the system that will avoid having to ‘reform’ it again every few years.” It’s a pretty sure bet that something significant will be done this legislative session. Less certain is whether that action will meet the consultants’ goal. Gov. Bill Haslam asked during the 2012 legislative session that major changes in workers’ comp be delayed until 2013. The administration has been doing its homework since. In addition to contracting for the study from consultants widely viewed as experts, administration officials have been pouring over options and getting an earful from business lobbies.
Nashville’s star continues to rise, and as the city becomes more cosmopolitan, outlying communities are contributing even more to the regional character that makes our part of the world so attractive. Anyone who has driven Interstate 40 west is familiar with the city of Dickson, where the recent completion of State Route 840 has provided a critical link to Interstate 65 south and Interstate 24 east. What most don’t know is that the Dickson County Industrial Park is a production and supply hub for industries that drive our local and national economies. Take the auto industry as an example. From Dickson come seat frame assemblies for GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Volkswagen; aluminum cylinder heads for Ford and Hyundai; and spring wire for Lexus and Volvo.
Fungal meningitis doesn’t care whether its victims are Democrats or Republicans. That’s why Tennessee’s congressional delegation should join together, party with party, and sign on to a proposed new law that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clear guidelines to enforce safety at compounding pharmacies. U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat, represents the Framingham, Mass., community where the meningitis culprit, New England Compounding Center, is located. His proposed bill recognizes a giant hole in regulation of pharmacies that compound their own drugs: No one has taken ownership of enforcing the laws they ignored. The truth is the FDA had the tools all along to stop this. But it wasn’t vigilant, dumping responsibility on state pharmacy boards.
A multi-site national park that would tell the story of the top-secret, history-defining Manhattan Project would seem like an easy sell in Congress. But in Washington, nothing is ever easy. Thus, the plans were knocked surprisingly off course in late September when a bill establishing the Manhattan Project National Historical Park failed on its first vote on the floor of the U.S. House. Supporters insist the setback is temporary and that they intend to push for another vote before the end of the year. “There is going to be a concerted effort to get this and other important pieces of legislation to the floor,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, a centerpiece of the Manhattan Project.
Given the real possibility of Mitt Romney winning the popular vote, but losing the Electoral College, discussion about the role — and the value — of the Electoral College is a common topic this election season. The debate over the merits of the Electoral College compared to a direct popular vote is as old as the America itself. There are some who consider our current electoral system to be obsolete. The reasons America’s founders favored and, ultimately, implemented the Electoral College remain as valid today as they were two centuries ago. Our founding fathers intended to create an electoral system that both accommodated the needs of the day and ensured future stability.
WSI-Oak Ridge, longtime security contractor for the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge, lost its protective force contract at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant following the July 28 security breach. Initially, WSI’s role was shifted to becoming a subcontractor to Babcock & Wilcox Y-12, the managing contractor at Y-12, and later its contract was terminated altogether by the National Nuclear Security Administration — a sub-unit of DOE that oversees the nuclear weapons work — and B&W. Despite that turn of events, WSI is still very much a presence in Oak Ridge. WSI provides security services to DOE’s Oak Ridge field office under a separate contract, which includes security guards at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the East Tennessee Technology Park, and the Joe L. Evins Federal Building.