This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The visit may be historic. He may be the leader of the free world and the first black president. Chattanooga may be a blue dot in one of the most Republican states in the country. But the deeply conservative are rallying to give President Barack Obama a red welcome when he comes to outline his economic plans Tuesday at the Amazon distribution center here. “Obama has left the bubble of Washington and come to mingle with the common folks,” said Mark West, who runs the Chattanooga Tea Party and is organizing a rally close to the distribution center to protest Obama’s visit. “This is his opportunity to come out and hear from everyday American citizens and hear their grievances.” And the grievances are many. Taxes. Spending. Gun control. Health care. The list goes on.
The White House is billing President Obama’s talk in Chattanooga on Tuesday as one in a series of policy speeches on his “better bargain for the middle class.” The address to Amazon employees, which is expected around 1:30 p.m. at the company’s 1 million-square-foot distribution center on Discovery Drive, will focus on manufacturing and high-wage jobs for durable economic growth, according to White House officials. Last week, Obama told students in Illinois and workers in Florida that helping promote the economy for middle-class jobs is his highest priority.
Tennessee has the dubious distinction of being the only state that has had a coup to replace a governor. It happened in 1979, just two days after then-Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton pardoned or commuted sentences for 52 convicted criminals. The U.S. attorney general for Middle Tennessee — a Democrat — had information that more pardons were coming, and there were suspicions that the Blanton administration was selling clemencies. So, the leaders of the state Senate and House — Democrats Ned McWherter and John Wilder — conspired with Republican Gov.-elect (and current U.S. Sen.) Lamar Alexander to swear Alexander in early to stop any more pardons.
Even free money couldn’t get more students to spend their summers in classrooms at the University of Tennessee. Two years ago, the university announced plans to ramp up enrollment in summer courses as a means of getting students to stay in school and graduate on time — two measures UT likely needs to boost if it’s to become a top-25 public school. University officials offered special one-time scholarships to students taking lower division courses. They successfully lobbied the governor and Legislature to make lottery scholarship money available in the summer. They devised a marketing campaign to recruit students. None of it worked.
Teachers walked out of Carnes Elementary School Saturday morning, looked both ways and crossed the street. They left the school to go out into the surrounding North Memphis community for Carnes Walk, a school project to tell parents and students about the requirements for Tuesday’s registration. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell joined the teachers, who also tried to prepare students and parents for coming changes wrought by the consolidation of the former Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools.
After losing millions of dollars in the police and firefighters retirement fund from the 2008 stock market collapse, former Mayor Ron Littlefield created a task force to address how to put the pension plan on more secure footing. The group studied and debated the problem for six months, but ultimately agreed only to add a couple of outside members to the Chattanooga Police and Fire Pension Board, revamp the terms of a deferred retirement option for some members and smooth out the city’s payments into the underfunded plan over an entire decade.
Alabama and Tennessee are getting 73 cents per person to help residents understand the Affordable Care Act and decide if they want coverage through a health insurance exchange. Georgia is receiving even less. Organizations in all states are receiving federal funds to help explain the new system to the uninsured and get them signed up. Federal funding figures show that the amount is lower in the tri-state area than many other states because they decided not to create state-run health insurance exchanges and are leaving it to the federal government to create them by Oct. 1.
Sen. Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, will join Sen. Lamar Alexander at a Nashville charter school Monday, offering a colleague forced to defend his conservative bona fides a coveted visual with a tea party favorite. Paul, however, stopped short of giving his fellow Republican an outright endorsement in the Tennessee senator’s bid for re-election next year. Paul, a Kentucky Republican whose libertarian streak has catapulted him to national prominence, said it’s education policy — not politics — that has drawn him to Tennessee’s capital city.
The day the guns stopped, Bob Burgin and his buddies wondered how long the peace would last — if it ever got there. The enemy didn’t seem to have gotten the message. “They told us they had signed the papers about 10 a.m. that day,” he recalled last week. “The terms were that they could exchange fire up until that night. Well, we ceased fire right then when we got word. The North Koreans kept on firing, and we really didn’t think they were going to quit. It went on up until 10 that night, and everything finally quit.” Burgin and his friends decided to snap a picture.
The music industry, from the megastars you know to the mostly anonymous people writing their songs, tuning their guitars and driving their buses, has a $9.65 billion annual economic impact on the Nashville region, according to a study to be released Monday. The study, conducted by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and expected to be released by Mayor Karl Dean’s office, found there are 4.19 times as many music industry jobs in Nashville, relative to its size, as there are in the nation as a whole — more than the combined rates of Los Angeles (1.61), New York (1.13) and Austin, Texas (1.39).
It had been more than four decades since Rodney Powell helped loosen segregation’s hold on Nashville. Back then, he had been a shy student splitting time between classes at Meharry Medical College and the nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins that would change the course of history. By 2000, he was an accomplished physician and father living in Hawaii, once again hoping to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Civil rights were being denied. A minority group maligned. Powell planned to draw attention to the ills with a protest in Ohio.
OAK RIDGE — For decades, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant relished its nickname, the Fort Knox of Uranium. The self-applied moniker helped define the type of work that takes place here and underscored the government facility’s top-security image. Overnight, however, Fort Knox became a laughingstock. On July 28, 2012, three intruders cut through fences, avoided detection and managed to reach the plant’s Protected Area, where nuclear warhead parts are manufactured and where the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored.
The Achievement School District, created by the state of Tennessee to turn around its worst public schools in five years, recently got its first-year grades. Those grades provide insight into what can be accomplished when the traditional way of operating public schools is refashioned. But those grades also illustrate the tough job ahead for the ASD and the new Shelby County Schools district to make major gains in student achievement. After the ASD’s first year of operation, its students showed overall modest gains in test scores, including increases in science and math. But the number of children testing proficient in reading dropped from 18.1 percent to 13.6 percent.
If attending college is a long-term goal of yours and you are on a budget, you may want to put yourself on a faster track to higher education. That’s because after the 2015-16 academic year, borrowing for college is going to get a lot more expensive. Unless for some unforeseen reason interest rates drop amid an improving economy. One of the few compromise pieces of legislation to come out of Congress (or one of the few pieces of legislation, period) recently, this proposal nevertheless is not one of lawmakers’ finer moments.
When President Barack Obama speaks here Tuesday, it’s almost a sure bet he’ll talk about jobs and the U.S. economy and our children’s future. In fact he began that conversation in Galesburg, Ill., last week when he talked about the disconnect between Congress and his vision — our vision — for the country and our children. House Republicans gutted a farm bill and eliminated food stamps that America’s most vulnerable children depend on; and Congress continues to push what he calls the “the meat cleaver” sequester that is suppressing an economy that had been on the mend for more than three years.
For several decades now, Democrats have been the political party of choice for the overwhelming majority of black Americans. But why? The progressive policies pushed by Democratic leaders have failed dreadfully at helping black people, stifling their economic mobility, restricting educational options, limiting job opportunities and drastically harming prospects for success. Minimum wage and living wage laws, for example, purport to help black workers, but they actually do little more than reduce the number of available jobs — especially for young, low skill and minority workers.
Sixty years and one day ago, representatives of the United Nations, North Korea and China signed an armistice agreement in the tiny village of Panmunjom, ending hostilities in the Korean War. Nearly 5 million people had perished during the previous three years, almost 40,000 of them Americans. The first military action of the Cold War, however, still shadows life on the Korean Peninsula, and its geopolitical ramifications are still felt today. In the United States, the conflict often is referred to as “The Forgotten War.” Sandwiched between World War II, which united the nation more than any other event in our history, and the Vietnam War, the most divisive event since the Civil War, the Korean conflict can be overlooked.
A year out from the next statewide Tennessee election, it is already clear that those of us who prefer voting for losers will have options — perhaps many — while those who favor winners will not. To anyone who envisions a competitive race between two or more competent candidates, maybe with honest differences of opinion on some issues, forget it. You’re dreaming. That’s not going to happen in Tennessee politics at the statewide level. Oh, yes, there will be a few local races that are truly competitive. And those who care for contests can be envious of voters who live somewhere a vote really matters, where you actually have to think about who is the best qualified to serve. In most situations, outcomes are a foregone conclusion and the winner/loser choice is clear.
In the Old Testament, farmers were instructed to not to harvest their entire fields, but to leave the corners for the poor to “glean,” or pick for themselves. These ancient laws “testify to the great sacrifices Israelite society was to make in order to ensure that people could earn their own living,” wrote Michael Rhodes last week on the blog of Advance Memphis, a faith-based nonprofit that works with low-income Memphians to become economically self-sufficient. The story, Rhodes told me Friday, shows that “people of God are responsible for creating communities where people can provide for themselves.”
In the days since Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy, more than a few economists and pundits have tried to assess what went wrong in Motown and what it means for other big cities, Memphis included. Some of those assessments have been on target, while others are merely steeped in partisan politics and social one-upmanship. As a former resident of Detroit — not in its suburbs, but smack in the heart of the inner city — I can honestly say that I’m not surprised by its precipitous fall into bankruptcy. As others, including Michigan’s governor, have said, Detroit’s problems are more than five decades in the making.
As a crime victim advocate, I’ve seen firsthand how important wise judges are. A good judge is a treasure — a bad judge is a nightmare. Tennessee’s constitution states all judges shall be elected by the voters. However, in the 1970s, the legislature provided a method whereby a judicial nominating commission (JNC) could assist the governor in selecting the best candidate for appellate vacancies (including the Supreme Court) and interim vacancies on trial courts due to retirement or death. After Tennessee’s JNC was revamped, I applied for and was appointed as one of the non-lawyers on the commission in 2009.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement until the politicians stuck their noses in the middle of it. The company wants quality. The workers want respect. The workers want to produce quality. The company wants to give the workers respect. Both parties want to produce a profit. That profit produces wages, health care and retirement benefits for the workers, return on investment and dividends for the stockholders, and higher wages and benefits for the management team. Everyone is motivated and working together. The company is poised to be the dominant force in the global market. So why are our governor and our senator throwing a wrench in the works?
The late economist Herbert Stein famously said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” He might have well been talking about the president’s health care law. Since its passage, the badly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — has creaked and strained under its own weight. Individual parts of the law have begun to fall away, beginning with the untenable CLASS Act and then the onerous 1099 provision. Other pieces have barely hung on, as exemplified in the delay of the health care marketplace where small businesses can purchase insurance products.
Last week I was proud to stand with community leaders from all across Nashville to talk about an issue that is all too often forgotten or ignored by both the media and elected officials in our city and state. The Pilgrimage for Jobs, Equity and Fairness traveled 22 miles of Nashville’s streets and sidewalks to shine a light on the problem of poverty, which is often hidden in the shadows of high-rises and luxury developments. Throughout the pilgrimage we were able to speak with neighborhood leaders and residents to find out what they felt was needed to improve the quality of life within their community.
A friend who also works as the chief financial officer for a publicly held company in Memphis recently suggested that I should use my vote as a member of the Economic Development Growth Engine board “to stop giving away taxpayers’ money” through the city’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program. In his opinion, as well as that of some other residents and civic leaders in Memphis and Shelby County, PILOTs are tantamount to a corporate giveaway program. Nothing could be further from the truth.