This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam — former Knoxville mayor and son of one of the University of Tennessee’s most prominent booster families — is all for the decision to fire football coach Derek Dooley. “Ultimately college football at a school as big as Tennessee, it is about results,” Haslam said. “I like Derek a lot. I think he in a lot of ways brought a lot of things to the program … but for Tennessee to have the football program they need, they need to have a better won-lost record than they’ve had for the last three years.”
Fifteen years after closing its state-run export office to save money, Gov. Bill Haslam decided to bring back an office of international trade to put Tennessee businesses back on the world stage. But Haslam’s appointment this spring to head the revived office initially drew some unwanted domestic attention from within his own party. Republican Party leaders in Stewart and Williamson counties blasted Haslam’s naming of Samar Ali, an international attorney and former White House fellow, to head the international trade office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam will light the State Capitol’s Christmas tree at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The tree will be placed at War Memorial Plaza.
Another day, another development in the rapidly evolving world of massive open online courses, otherwise known as MOOCs. Over the past several months, dozens of universities, including the University of Texas System, Brown and Wesleyan, have joined the bandwagon, working with MOOC providers to offer free online courses to anyone with an Internet connection.
Two small earthquakes within hours of each other rumbled the ground in East Tennessee on Saturday morning. The first, a 3.0 magnitude, hit about four miles northeast of Sevierville, Tenn., about 6 a.m. It was soon followed by a smaller 2.5 magnitude quake about five miles away from the town, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. The website’s ‘Did you feel it?’ feature indicates the earthquakes were felt as far away as Vonore, Tenn., and Black Mountain, N.C., as reported by people who live in those areas.
Plans could reduce crashes on Broadway Most people agree something has to be done with the crash-prone interchange of Broadway and Interstate 640, but exactly what is the question. Folks who want to add their two cents to the discussion are invited to attend a public meeting 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Smithwood Baptist Church, 4914 Jacksboro Pike, on changes proposed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. “I first heard about it 10 years ago and they were predicting then they might take us,” said Gordon Treece, owner of Treece Auto Repair, 4651 Old Broadway.
Fire danger conditions in East Tennessee continue to deteriorate, according to a news release Friday from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division. Because of fire weather danger and multiple fires across East Tennessee, a number of counties — including Sullivan, Hawkins, Washington, Greene, Hancock and Unicoi — will not be issuing burn permits through the weekend. The Forestry Division said these restrictions include its online system available at burnsafetn.org, as well as call-in requests to Division of Forestry county offices.
The disconnect between two visions of the Tennessee Republican Party became clear earlier this year when a bill allowing teachers to question the scientific merit of evolution was presented to Gov. Bill Haslam, and he declined to sign it into law. There was no public rancor from either side, and the bill became law under a procedure that makes ratification automatic after 10 days of executive inaction. But it cast light on what some consider a harsh social conservative agenda that the country-club elements of a more staid Republican conservatism apparently can’t abide.
After being treated with drugs from New England Compounding Center, 52-year-old Bret Moody was told he has fungal meningitis. He’s infected with Aspergillus, the first contaminant found in a national outbreak of illness tied to tainted medication. But when health officials count the nearly 500 people sickened by the moldy drugs, they don’t include Moody and others like him who fail to match the profile of most victims. Moody, who also has been diagnosed with leukemia, is one of many patients nationwide who question whether health officials are undercounting the victims of the crisis.
County-level Republican Party leaders across the 4th Congressional District are split over supporting U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais if he seeks a third term in 2014. On one hand, they take pride in proclaiming “the election is over” and praise their congressman for supporting conservative policies in Washington. On the other, they have a difficult time squaring DesJarlais’ anti-abortion, family-values platform with new details from his pre-political life. Both attitudes have emerged since the Chattanooga Times Free Press published court records showing DesJarlais supported his ex-wife’s two abortions and had sexual relationships with two patients, three co-workers and a pharmaceutical saleswoman when he was a physician and medical chief of staff at a Jasper hospital.
Weston Wamp, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, might run against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in 2014. Wamp told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday that “it’s incredibly early … but I won’t rule anything out” when asked whether he will take on DesJarlais in the next Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District. Wamp spoke to the paper days after he called DesJarlais “kind of a creepy guy” on Chattanooga television in response to the latest disclosures from DesJarlais’ 2001 divorce.
Their states are still recovering from the recession, and now the nation’s governors are bracing, again, for cuts in federal aid. They have been down this road before — Congress has already missed several self-imposed deadlines to cut the deficit — but many say they fear that this time, the talks in Washington to avert the so-called fiscal cliff will actually lead to deep cuts. So they want a say in the negotiations. “The main message is that it’s important to remember that, on a lot of areas of governance, we’re partners — and that these issues can’t be solved simply by cost-shifting to the states, because the states aren’t really in a position to do all that,” said Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, chairman of the National Governors Association.
Since the day Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, white Christians have considered themselves the home team in American politics. As the dominant social group, they’ve shaped the country’s moral and political culture for nearly 400 years. But the recent presidential election is a sign that those days may be over, a prospect that’s encouraging or terrifying, depending on which side people are on. For some, the change leads to fear that America is no longer a Christian nation. For others, it’s an opportunity to separate faith from the quest for political power.
Fifteen students eagerly raised their hands when fifth-grade teacher Jimmie Ruth Douglass asked her class to review the constellations they’ve learned. “The big dipper,” one student offered. “The little dipper,” another student said. Douglass is preparing her students to excel on state tests in the spring. She knows exactly where each child needs help, and her goal is to get all of her students “in the green.” The term “in the green” means students meet all of the state’s standards in a particular subject area.
Changes for the better are coming in American health care. It would be a shame if the state of Tennessee fails to embrace the progress that it so swiftly took advantage of in education reform. The matter of pressing importance is a decision: Will Tennessee operate its own health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act or leave it to the federal government? Though it has been known for more than two years that exchanges were coming, and that states had to decide by late 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam and a few other Republican governors seem to be balking. The feds have extended the deadline until Dec. 14, but in the additional time given them so far, Haslam and the group of governors have seen fit to send a list of questions to the White House that could have been asked more than a year ago.
It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one. The Metro School Board voted to close Smithson-Craighead Middle School after three consecutive years of lousy test scores. They weren’t picking on the school: All Nashville charter schools are given three years — and no more — to bring student test scores up to snuff or they’ll be shut down. Parents, the principal and staff are livid. A meeting where they were supposed to learn what choices they’ll have for their children at the end of this school year turned into an angry rally to save the school. That’s not going to happen, and it shouldn’t. Because this is not about the principal’s pride or the parents’ convenience. It’s about what children are learning.
The November election shows that the once-dominant Tennessee political species known as the “yellow dog Democrat” is not extinct, though confined to isolated areas, while the now-dominant species — let’s call it “yellow cat Republican,” though the phrase is not christened by tradition — is thriving in much broader geographic regions. Exhibit No. 1 on the Yellow Dog Democrat (YDD) survival front: Mark Clayton, widely condemned and officially disavowed by the remnant state Democratic establishment for “extremist views” contrary to Democratic values. He nonetheless collected more than 30 percent of the vote statewide against Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. He got 704,708 votes and, if you counted only the votes in the Democrat-dominated habitats of Davidson and Shelby counties, would have defeated Corker.
The national political pundits predicting that Rep. Scott DesJarlais is a lame duck congressman facing certain defeat in 2014 really should stick to areas of their expertise — like predicting Mitt Romney’s chances at a second term. Anyone who tells you that DesJarlais is destined to be defeated in 2014 in a Republican primary hasn’t been paying attention to the what’s happening with the Rutherford County electorate. Rutherford County and the rest of the 4th District, and most of Tennessee for that matter, have become more and more red in reaction to a growing sense that the Democratic Party on a national level has moved further and further to the left. Local voters see Democrats in Washington like liberal icon Nancy Pelosi and immediately start looking for someone as far to the right as possible to oppose her.
If you’re not good at making adjustments in the middle of the contest, the game plan better be perfect. The Rutherford County Election Commission appears to be moving in that direction after an “embarrassing” election night count forced them to pledge last week creation of a “lesson learned document.” Commission Chairman Ransom Jones pointed out that they “don’t want to make the same mistakes twice,” and there were several factors Nov. 6 that kept the commission from finishing the vote totals until 1:45 a.m. the next day. While we always hope for 100 percent voter turnout, it’s probably a good thing only 63 percent of our voters cast ballots, about 99,250, in the presidential election. Otherwise, it could have been 3 a.m.