This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Lamar Alexander is looking to put to rest any speculation that the 72-year-old may be leaning toward retirement rather than seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate. The former two-term governor on Saturday announced that his campaign will be headed by U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. and include Gov. Bill Haslam, fellow Sen. Bob Corker, the speakers of the state House and Senate and five of the remaining six members of the state’s Republicans delegation in Congress. “I hope what this shows is that I’m running, I’m running hard and I have the support of significant leaders in the Republican Party,” Alexander said.
Sometimes it isn’t what you say, it is what you don’t say. Case in point, Tennessee’s senior U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Saturday, the Alexander team announced that Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Knoxville will chair his re-election bid to the U.S. Senate and that the “Honorary Co-chairs” are Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell and Congressmen Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann. Notice anyone missing? Yes, that would be embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais.
With nearly two years to go before the next general election, two-term U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has kicked off his 2014 re-election campaign with the support of nearly every major Republican official in the state. The muscle-flexing by the former governor and secretary of education was made in an attempt to ward off potential conservative challengers months after several GOP senators lost their seats to other Republican challengers. “I’m one to know that you don’t take any election for granted,” Alexander said after speaking to the state GOP’s executive committee Saturday morning.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Saturday squelched any speculation that he might not run for a third term in 2014. Alexander appeared before the Republican State Executive Committee in Nashville with his campaign chairman, U.S. Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan, and said Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will be on his leadership team. The move appears as a show of strength to discourage would-be serious GOP primary challengers to the 72-year-old former Tennessee governor, U.S. Education secretary and two-time presidential candidate.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced a campaign team Saturday for his 2014 re-election bid that includes all of Tennessee’s top Republican elected officials — an early move designed as a show of strength to ward off potential challengers. The announcement, at a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee, confirmed the senator and former governor will run for a third term. Alexander, who will be 74 at the time of the election, has consistently said he will run again but Saturday’s move was the first public step.
There is little known about the 31 Tennessee children who died in the first six months of this year after the Department of Children’s Services got involved in their cases. The dead included 23 babies, four toddlers, one 5-year-old and three teenagers. They died after suffering broken bones, drug exposure, asphyxia and drowning. One 2-year-old boy died in a Lincoln County home fire. A Lauderdale County newborn was drowned in a toilet. Some deaths remain unexplained.
The Tennessee State Fair Association was selected Wednesday to run the 2013 Tennessee State Fair after another bidder said it wasn’t ready to make a formal presentation. The Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Commission, a state agency, picked the association to operate the fair in September. A spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture said the commission hopes eventually to start designating a fair operator for multiple years rather than a year at a time. The Tennessee State Fair Association also ran the 2011 and 2012 fairs.
The Tennessee Department of Health said last week it has opened a “complaint file” on U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais following the request for an investigation by a Washington-based group. Health Department officials have set no timetable for the investigation, though a member of the Board of Medical Examiners told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that reviews often take a year or two. Results of the investigation become public only if evidence of wrongdoing is found. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked for an investigation into allegations that DesJarlais slept with patients, a potential violation of state medical ethics.
The University of Tennessee plans to drill for natural gas in its research forest in Morgan and Scott counties, a proposal that would allow UT to lease its land to an oil and gas company and then study the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing — often called fracking. The contract, which will go through a bidding process early next year, would let a company lease the land from the school and send royalties from any gas or oil produced from the well back to the university. That money, said UT officials, would finance the research into how fracking affects surrounding wildlife, geology and air and water quality.
Steve Glaser, a Portland judge and Democrat who lost his bid for the state legislature, has hit state Democratic leaders for not supporting local candidates in the general election. Glaser said in a critique that circulated last week that the Tennessee Democratic Party diverted resources from state candidates to North Carolina, where the presidential race was much closer, and offered little help to candidates such as he who were thought to have little chance of winning. “Just because the national party wrote off Tennessee, there is no reason for our own state party to take our local resources away from us,” Glaser wrote.
A recent joke has been that the state Senate’s Democratic Caucus is small enough now that it could carpool to the state Capitol. But even with reduced numbers, it’s clear they don’t travel in one accord. That truth was apparent Wednesday when state Sen. Jim Kyle was re-elected Democratic leader by just a single vote, 4-3, surviving a challenge from fellow Memphis Sen. Reginald Tate. Kyle said he was unsure why Tate ran against him, though he conceded his bid for re-election against fellow Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero might have sown ill will within the caucus.
Sales tax revenues from a local option sales tax increase approved by suburban voters in Shelby County this summer should begin arriving in their cities’ coffers next month, but there apparently is no requirement that a portion of that money be earmarked for education. The suburban governments worded the August referendums on the half-cent increase in such a way that funding a new school system was implied but not mandatory with the resulting funds. Suburban leaders don’t believe that a ruling by U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays last week affects their collection of the sales tax increase approved by suburban voters Aug. 2.
Political action committees connected to the health industry gave a combined $71,000 to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ successful re-election effort. But at least six PACs that gave to DesJarlais’ 2012 campaign, including local insurance giants BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Unum, said they won’t give again in 2014. “Anytime you support someone, you have an association with them,” BlueCross spokesman Roy Vaughn said. “That becomes difficult if their behavior is something that doesn’t reflect well on your organization.”
In the end, the money that towns across America gave General Motors did not matter. When the automaker released a list of factories it was closing during bankruptcy three years ago, communities that had considered themselves G.M.’s business partners were among the targets. For years, mayors and governors anxious about local jobs had agreed to G.M.’s demands for cash rewards, free buildings, worker training and lucrative tax breaks. As late as 2007, the company was telling local officials that these sorts of incentives would “further G.M.’s strong relationship” with them and be a “win/win situation,” according to town council notes from one Michigan community.
The Sierra Club wants the Tennessee Valley Authority to release more documentation about planned upgrades to a coal-fired power plant in Gallatin and give the public more time to comment on the project. The environmental nonprofit last month filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against TVA seeking the documents and launched an online ad campaign calling the power plant obsolete. In its lawsuit, the Sierra Club seeks a preliminary injunction that would require TVA to provide the documents and reopen the public comment period that began in mid-October and was scheduled to end Nov. 16.
Hamilton County Schools officials hope to put iPads in the hands of all 42,000 of its students over the next few years. Administrators are exploring funding options for a massive technology buy to help bring the district up to speed by 2014, when all Tennessee school districts will have to complete state assessments online. That means schools will have to upgrade computers, tablets and their technological infrastructure by then to support online tests. And depending on just how out of date schools are, the cost could amount to hundreds of millions statewide.
Sullivan County schools early next year may have the first approved memorandum of understanding in Tennessee from the new collaborative conferencing process. The subject of the MOU was grievance procedures for employees and saw no major changes except a final appeal to a neutral third party. However, it drew some spirited discussions and also could be seen as a warm-up of the collaboration process for addressing pay and insurance issues early next year. Tennessee Education Association UniServ coordinator Harry Farthing said the Sullivan County MOU would likely be the first to be approved statewide.
Eighteen people have been arrested and a methamphetamine lab seized after the Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics Unit conducted a pseudoephedrine diversion operation on Thursday and Friday. The Metro Narcotics Unit conducted the operation with assistance from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Drug Investigation Division, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office Drug Unit and the West Tennessee Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, according to a news release.
The globalization of trade increases pressure on middle-class incomes in western nations that a generation ago seemed immune to such pressure. As the jobs of American workers in both factories and white-collar businesses become more exportable, the downward pressure on America’s middle-class wages can only become more onerous, further squeezing family incomes and driving bereft workers to lower-wage jobs. It’s not just wage differentials and tax advantages that are driving the off-shoring of jobs, however. The technology base and manufacturing skills in many industrializing nations have risen exponentially, which is why Apple assembles most of its products in China, and why Thailand assembles most of our computers. There’s also the widening educational gap in the workforce that puts American students, with their relatively low number of school days and curriculum barriers, further and further behind the nation’s chief economic competitors.
Nashville: The ball is in our court. By “our court” we mean the State of Tennessee, and the ball is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which has been volleyed at the federal level between Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential election. Now Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly will decide on two critical questions that will shape health care for our state. First, should Tennessee develop its own insurance exchange, and second, should Tennessee expand the Medicaid program with federal funding. This week, we will address the question of exchanges. A ‘one-stop’ shop A few days ago a friend, Willy, who has a modest income and underlying heart disease called for some advice. “How do I choose which health insurance plan to get?” The answer is hard.
After months of discussion, Gov. Bill Haslam’s special panel to study school vouchers has issued its report. Unfortunately, the question of whether vouchers would work as a statewide education choice is just as unsettled as it was before the panel first met. Commend the governor and the nine-member panel for at least having the discussion. As our state and others continue to struggle with educational attainment for its children, workable means of school choice should be explored. But vouchers, which have had limited acceptance and mixed results in school districts nationwide, seem far from becoming a viable part of Tennessee’s educational reform portfolio. There has yet to be seen a proven way for government to take public dollars, attach them to individual students wherever they may choose to get an education, and still ensure that the opportunity is administered fairly and the funding adequate.
Millington Mayor Linda Carter said it best: “The judge has made his decision. We can kick and scream or we can become adults and admit to the fact that in (August) 2013, we’re going to be in this together. So, let’s work out the differences.” Carter was referring to the ruling by U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays last week, blocking the immediate move by Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington to form their own school systems. A new Shelby County School unified school district, composed of city and county schools, is set to begin operation in August. Suburban leaders and most of their constituents have made it clear that they want no part of the merged system.
The University of Tennessee’s new initiative to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from deep underground could provide valuable information on the practice, but there are perils to the environment and to UT’s academic integrity. UT officials are well aware of the potential pitfalls and say they will put protections in place to prevent the worst from happening. UT’s Institute of Agriculture is seeking an oil and gas exploration company to be a partner in research to be conducted at a university-owned forestry center in Morgan and Scott counties. Under the proposal, the company would lease drilling sites and drill the wells, while UT researchers would study the effects on air and water and plants and animals.
While national attention is riveted on Washington’s walk toward a fiscal cliff and the various steps backward, forward and sideways along the path, the matter is receiving some Tennessee attention because of the potential ramifications for the state and local governments. On the spending-cut side of the fiscal cliff, projections are that Tennessee’s immediate loss of direct federal funding would be fairly modest by governmental standards, about $100 million by most estimates. The tax increase side of the cliff could have a more substantial, though less immediate, impact. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers calculates, for example, that the increased payment of federal income taxes would translate into about $4 billion less in retail spending by Tennesseans in a year.