This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam will wrap up budget hearings Tuesday in Nashville. TennCare, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Economic and Community Development will present their budget proposals for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he “probably” leans toward Tennessee creating its own insurance exchange under the federal health care law, but he acknowledges that GOP lawmakers would resist any such move. Friday is the deadline for Tennessee, Georgia and other states to tell federal officials whether they will set up online markets offering affordable, federally subsidized insurance to low- and moderate-income families and small businesses. In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has said he probably won’t seek to create a state exchange.
Gov. Bill Haslam describes it as a good problem to have. Asked frequently in recent weeks whether the Republican Party’s expected landslide in the general election would create new challenges for him, Haslam invoked former GOP Govs. Winfield Dunn and Lamar Alexander, both of whom faced cantankerous legislatures led by Democrats. “It’s a lot better than the alternative,” Haslam said. “I’d way rather have a supermajority in my party, and I’d rather have it than have a one- or two-vote majority. There’s difficulties in every situation.”
The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting that an earthquake centered in Kentucky also rattled at least eight other states. The USGS website says the epicenter of the 4.3 magnitude earthquake on Saturday afternoon was about 10 miles west of Whitesburg, near the Virginia line. Residents in both states, as well as West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Georgia, also reported feeling the temblor. National Weather Service spokesman Jeff Carico said employees at the office in Jackson, which is about 60 miles northwest of Whitesburg, felt the ground shake for about 15 seconds.
The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting an earthquake measuring a preliminary magnitude of 4.3 on the Richter scale, and centered near Whitesburg, Ky., was felt in Knoxville shortly after noon today as the Vols prepared for their kickoff with Missouri. The quake, which was also felt in Virginia and West Virginia, was reported on the U.S. Geological Survey site. Jessica Winton at the U.S. National Weather Service in Morristown said the office has received calls from throughout Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Eastern Kentucky about experiencing the quake.
A 4.3 earthquake centered near Whitesburg, Ky. was felt all over the TriCities this afternoon. The quake hit at 12:08 p.m. Saturday. The center of the quake was 46 miles north/northwest of Kingsport and 57 miles northwest of Bristol, the U.S. Geological Survey says. The earthquake was also felt in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, according to USGS reports. Look for more coverage in Sunday’s Bristol Herald Courier.
Many people in Northeast Tennessee felt the earth move early Saturday afternoon due to a 4.3 magnitude earthquake centered in Blackey, Ky., about 10 miles west of Whitesburg, Ky. According to the Associated Press, residents in West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Georgia reported feeling the earthquake shortly after noon. The earthquake, lasting just a few seconds in surrounding states, was reported to have lasted approximately 15 seconds at the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Ky., located about 60 miles northwest of Whitesburg.
Long before a Massachusetts pharmacy distributed tainted drugs that led to a national meningitis outbreak, the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy had clear warning signs about the dangers of pharmaceutical compounding as it considered complaints related to contaminated and expired drugs, pharmacists operating as unlicensed manufacturers and prescriptions being wrongly filled. Despite those complaints, the board apparently did not crack down on the compounding industry and often responded gently against the accused pharmacists, according to its meeting minutes.
Sociology classes and work in the Office of Veteran Affairs consume Doug Oeser’s days. Spaghetti dinners, Jenga and bedtime stories take up his evenings. And at night, when it’s quiet, he studies. It’s hectic and sometimes it’s hard, Oeser said. But when he found himself the single father of a toddler during his second tour in Afghanistan, this was the life he decided he wanted. “Going to college, getting a degree, pursuing a life outside the military just seemed like the best thing to do,” said Oeser, who earned that diploma last spring at the University of Tennessee and is now maximizing his veteran benefits by earning a master’s degree in criminology and political science.
After lengthy delays spent dealing with federally required paperwork, state officials say they’re almost ready to begin buying right-of-way and drafting detailed plans for what Memphis-area officials describe as their top-priority transportation project. The renovation of the Interstate 40-240 interchange in East Memphis, however, will be neither cheap nor easy. It’ll cost around $100 million and impose years of disruption at one of the region’s heaviest-trafficked areas.
Facing superminority status for the first time in their long history, leaders of the party of Andrew Jackson were forced to concede last week that they could be in for rough treatment when Republicans return to Nashville with 70 seats in the House and 26 in the state Senate. But they pledged to not lie down as the Republicans run them over. “A grizzly bear can take a porcupine out anytime he wants to, but usually he goes around it,” said Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, the House Democratic Caucus chairman.
Northeast Tennessee Republicans said they will not run roughshod over the minority party after winning a supermajority in the state legislature last week. Republicans control 24 seats in the state Senate and 67 seats in the House. The last time either party won a supermajority in both chambers was 1976, when the Democrats took control of the Senate 23-9 and the House 66-32. This year, GOP legislative candidates reached a high-water mark not seen in 147 years. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican from Blountville, said the new supermajority does give Republicans some advantage procedurally — but not a lot.
Two Knoxville country clubs will appeal the state comptroller’s order to eliminate the greenbelt tax break they have received, according to Knox County property assessor Phil Ballard. He has already met with attorneys from Holston Hills and Cherokee country clubs on their plans to file individual appeals. “We think it will be in the next 30 to 60 days,” Ballard said Wednesday on when the appeals are expected to hit his desk. Greenbelt assessments are tax breaks based on 1976 General Assembly legislation.
Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, announced Thursday that he’ll run for a second full term. In a letter to the GOP’s state executive committee, Devaney touted Mitt Romney’s 20-point win in Tennessee, the party’s 7-2 majority in the U.S. House delegation and its supermajorities in the Tennessee General Assembly as evidence of the party’s success. “These wins were due to the fact that Republicans have a superior message, great volunteers and donors, good candidates and a Republican Party that works well with our elected leadership,” he said.
In a generation, Tennessee Democrats have gone from controlling state government to denouncing their own U.S. Senate nominee, a man The Washington Post described as “America’s worst candidate.” Before last week, Tennessee Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature, the governor’s mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and the House delegation. They maintained all that and gained on Election Day. Statehouse Republicans will begin January’s session with what Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called “super duper” majorities in the state House and Senate.
Projects include book, speeches, policy efforts Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has stayed busy with several projects since leaving office almost two years ago. Bredesen told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he is writing a book, serving on two national panels that promote bipartisanship, encouraging the study of humanities, giving speeches, keeping track of investments and pondering what to do next. He says his new book, to be published next year, will focus on the national debt and its relationship to reforms in health care. He’s not sure yet what else the future holds.
As a former U.S. Senate majority leader, a doctor and health care investor, Dr. Bill Frist is well aware of challenges the nation faces with financing and delivery of health care. A new initiative being launched by the Nashville Health Care Council with Frist as co-director aims to engage senior and emerging industry leaders to explore strategies to address cost, access and quality issues and other challenges facing the health care system. Along the way, organizers hope the Nashville Health Care Council Fellows initiative advances the city’s reputation as a health care capital and hotbed for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Before Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election, the major-party candidates expressed a great deal of confidence — though in much different ways — about the outcome. Mark Clayton, who was disavowed by the Tennessee Democratic Party soon after voters nominated him in the August primary, was all but packing his bags for Washington. “I’m expecting victory because we have reached four million Tennessee voters, and most Tennesseans know that Bob Corker betrayed them,” Clayton wrote in an email to reporters on Nov. 3.
This Veterans Day, I want to thank all of the men and women who have bravely served our country. After a career in U.S. Army Intelligence, I understand the hard work and sacrifices needed to do the job. I have worked tirelessly with members of the bipartisan Veterans Legislative Caucus to do things in Tennessee in the best interest of our men and women in uniform, and we must always make sure that we hold our national leaders to the same standard. With the elections over, Congress must roll up its sleeves and get to work. They face a range of issues including mandated cuts to both domestic and Pentagon spending (“sequestration”). Some members of Congress have proposed exempting the Pentagon from any spending reductions. They are quick to bring up our troops and veterans to scare us into thinking the inflated Pentagon budget is untouchable and should be continued to allow to rise, as it has for more than a decade. As a veteran, I think otherwise.
Today is certainly a special day for those of us in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (VA TVHS). We are dedicated to serving the needs of the more than 22 million men and women living today who have served in this nation’s armed forces. For us, every day is Veterans Day. We trace our very existence to President Abraham Lincoln’s devotion to veterans and his steadfast belief that their service must be justly recognized by a grateful nation. At the end of each day, our true measure of success will be the timeliness, the quality, and the consistency of the services and support we provide. We will be measured by our accomplishments, not our promises. Our veterans deserve nothing less.
Things should be pretty interesting next spring when the Memphis City Council, Shelby County Commission and the unified school board begin putting their budgets together for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The one connecting story line in all the budget deliberations is next year’s countywide property reappraisal. As a result of the recession and related housing crisis, it likely will result in a significant decrease in property values, a development that could negatively impact the general funds of local governments. The issue is particularly sticky for Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell’s administration and the County Commission, which approves the county budget and is also responsible for funding the merged city and county school system that is to begin operations in August. The schools are looking at an estimated $60 million-plus revenue gap.
Would you support a candidate who says the TSA intentionally allows gay agents to fondle children? Or one who suspects China made Google rig its search results so people couldn’t find him online? Of course you wouldn’t. But that’s exactly what more than 704,708 Tennesseans did Tuesday when they chose Mark Clayton, the Democratic nominee beaten soundly by the GOP incumbent, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Clayton may be, according to The Washington Post, “2012’s worst candidate.” He’s also a cautionary tale for party loyalists and an embarrassment to the Tennessee Democratic Party, which shirked its duty to remind voters that Clayton is a quack. Party leadership knew Clayton, a part-time flooring installer from Whites Creek, is a conspiracy theorist and virulently opposed to gay marriage. But he won the August party primary, thanks to a name first on the alphabetic ballot.
Twenty-seven states in America force their teachers to join unions before employment. These organizations are nationally-linked and politically charged, often directing money gained from membership dues towards political campaigns that do not represent the views or interests of their members. Thankfully, Tennessee is not one of those states. Still, because of liability insurance coverage offered by the Tennessee Educators Association, many Volunteer State teachers join the state’s teachers union, even if they don’t want to. Fortunately, they have another option. The TEA is part of a national network led by a single organization, the National Education Association. Operating in a top-down fashion, the head of the NEA makes the financial decisions for its smaller state affiliates — often pouring millions of dollars backing controversial politicians and political schemes.
As we deplaned after our flight from an incredibly homogenous part of the world, we were surrounded by women wrapped in saris and hijabs and men wearing everything from Rasta caps to kufis with a few Borsalino hats for the Orthodox Jews. Skin tones ranged from Appalachian white to African dark. We had left exotic Istanbul hours earlier. We landed at JFK Airport. New York City. America. This menagerie of humanity is normal in New York. It is not “normal” in Turkey. Or Europe, where we stopped on our outbound journey. It certainly isn’t “normal” in East Tennessee. But the diverse throng queuing at customs held the hue of America now and the hue of the America that is to come. President Barack Obama recognizes this. Republicans do not. They fabulously, famously do not, and their myopia cost them the presidency. It didn’t have to be this way.