This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Economic Development officials are headed to Lynchburg on Thursday morning to make a jobs announcement at the Jack Daniel Distillery. The 147-year-old distillery and its employees, along with Lynchburg, have been the focus of Jack Daniel’s folksy advertising for years. Bottles of the charcoal mellowed sippin’ whiskey list Lynchburg’s population as 361, but the town and county really have about 6,400 inhabitants. The distillery is tucked away on 1,700 hilly acres down the road from the quaint town square in Lynchburg, about 65 miles south of Nashville.
Tennessee officials – including Gov. Bill Haslam – and representatives with the Jack Daniel’s brand will be at the company’s Lynchburg distillery Thursday morning for a “major announcement,” officials said. There were no details available on the announcement, but officials with Brown-Forman Corp. – the parent company of the Jack Daniel’s brand – have expressed a desire to grow the business in the near future. At the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting last month, Brown Forman CEO Paul Varga talked about the company’s efforts to grow market share for Jack Daniel’s whiskey, which is the best-selling American whiskey brand worldwide.
More than 500 educators from across Tennessee and abroad have converged on the Music City. They are participating in a leadership conference hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE. The summit, which began Wednesday and ends Thursday, has brought together school and district leaders and education leaders to discuss best practices and strategies and collaborate on ideas. Some participants are from other parts of the country. This summit focuses on four aspects of effective leadership: cultivating strong district and school leaders, ensuring excellent teaching, embracing high standards, and using data and technology to improve learning.
Hundreds of Tennessee educators converged on Nashville Wednesday for a two-day summit on improvement ideas. SCORE, or the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, is hosting about 600 participants who will attend sessions on different topics ranging from teacher pay to using technology in the classroom. Speakers include administrators and others from individual school districts in Tennessee, staff from the Tennessee Department of Education and experts from other states. Among the topics discussed on the first day was placing effective teachers and principals in high-need schools.
Most of Montgomery County’s public schools showed an improvement over last year on the state’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests, but school district officials are warning it’s easy to read too far into aggregate data. The data, released by the Tennessee Department of Education this week, was a combination of achievement tests given to third through eighth graders and end of course exams given to high school students. B.J. Worthington, director of schools at the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, said the district combines the scores with other data to form a meaningful analysis of students, teachers and schools.
This year’s Tennessee high school graduates have fallen short of national results for ACT college readiness benchmarks. In English, reading, mathematics and science combined, 18 percent of Tennessee’s Class of 2013 achieved college readiness, compared with 26 percent nationally. The results were released Wednesday in the ACT’s yearly report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013.” The broadest difference was in math, where 29 percent of Tennessee graduates met college readiness marks, compared with 44 percent throughout the U.S.
The national ACT scores released Wednesday were no surprise for education officials who have watched Tennessee students hover near the bottom of the national list for several years. Tennessee is one of only nine states requiring all high school juniors to take the ACT college readiness test, but even among that group, only North Carolina students had a lower overall score on the ACT. When compared to all 50 states, Tennessee ranked above only North Carolina and Mississippi. Tennessee students who graduated this spring had an average composite score of 19.5.
Last Friday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that the state was the recipient of $1.69 million in federal funds to create and expand recreational trail programs in 12 locations across the state. “These grants assist local governments and organizations in improving community amenities such as trails, greenways, and recreational facilities, making the outdoors more accessible to Tennesseans,” Haslam said in the press release. “The health and wellness of our residents is a top priority and these amenities provide another step to make our state healthier.”
Property ready for development The 44-acre Cardiff Valley site in the center of the Roane County Industrial Park in Rockwood joins a select group of locations statewide that are deemed ready for prospects. The location has been certified under a lengthy and detailed process called SelectTN, officials with the Roane Alliance and Roane Industrial Development Board announced. “What this says to industrial prospects is that our site is truly shovel-ready and ready to go for their manufacturing projects,” said Leslie Henderson, president and CEO of the alliance.
In the 1990s, Robert Schmidt bought a 225-acre farm in Greenback, named it Maple Lane Farms, and set out to make a living farming the land. Tired of the noise in “Music City,” Velda Shore left Nashville in 2003 and bought a house in a subdivision near Schmidt’s farm, where she could “grow a little bit” and enjoy the peace and quiet of farm country. In 2006, Schmidt decided farming just wasn’t enough, so he ventured into a little “agritourism,” opening his farm and corn maze to the public for school field trips and, later, music festivals. Shore was fine with the field trips.
A bill sponsored by State Representative Curtis Johnson (R–Clarksville) and State Senator Mark Green (R–Clarksville) was officially signed into law this week by Governor Bill Haslam during a ceremony in Nashville’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. As signed, House Bill 25 waives the state’s commercial drivers license skills test requirement for honorably discharged service members if they have already passed the test while in service. Currently, an active duty soldier who drives a commercial weight truck in Tennessee is exempt from any additional license due to their specialized military training.
Some 1,500 refugees are resettled in Tennessee each year, and now state lawmakers want to know how much they cost. The program to relocate persecuted people or those from war-torn nations is federally-funded, but Republicans are concerned refugees end up on TennCare or in special English classes, which are partially paid for by the state. (See a state-by-state breakdown. Tennessee took 1,236 in 2012. Wyoming had 0.) A newly-created legislative committee met for the first time Wednesday to investigate the indirect fiscal impact of refugee resettlements. They were given an unsatisfying answer: no one is keeping track.
Republican lawmakers are raising concerns about the cost of letting foreign-born refugees resettle here, an exercise that has immigrant advocates questioning their motives. The Tennessee General Assembly’s newly created Joint Government Operations Legislative Advisory Committee agreed on Wednesday to begin a comprehensive fiscal study of the state’s participation in the federal Refugee Resettlement Program. The program, in which Tennessee and 48other states are partners, provides refugees new to the United States a range of placement, health and employment services.
Turner was given a light penalty despite a lengthy list of campaign violations. The Nashville lawmaker told the registry he was embarrassed by the mistakes, which he ascribed to a busy schedule running his own campaign and those of Democratic candidates across the state. “If I ever do anything like this again, I won’t run again,” Turner said. “I deserve to be fined. I’m OK with that.” The registry also agreed to add a complaint filed against Haslam by Chip Forrester, the former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, to the agenda of its next meeting in October.
Cookeville Mayor Matt Swallows said Tuesday that he will run for the General Assembly, setting up a possible race against state Sen. Charlotte Burks. Swallows, 38, a Republican who was elected mayor by the Cookeville City Council in 2010, says he plans to seek the GOP nomination to represent the 15th Senate District. He works for his family’s insurance agency. “There is a certain magic in this Upper Cumberland region that is waiting to explode and prosper,” Swallows said in a press release, “and I plan on utilizing my business experience and conservative, common-sense approach to government in making tough decisions.”
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s administration has presented state officials with plans to build an $80 million ballpark development for the Nashville Sounds on the old Sulphur Dell site, reigniting a push that once appeared dead. The preliminary goal is to have the $40 million ballpark plus a $10 million Metro-financed parking garage constructed in time for the Sounds’ 2015 opening day, according to a “Sulphur Dell Redevelopment” document obtained by The Tennessean. The project, which includes a residential development built with at least $30 million in private funds, would be on Jackson Street north of the Bicentennial Capitol Mall between Fifth and Third avenues.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is the featured speaker at a foreign policy discussion in Nashville on Thursday. The event is hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which last week named former Gov. Phil Bredesen and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as co-chairmen of its Tennessee State Advisory committee. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, is top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is expected to discuss America’s leadership role in the world and its effects on the state’s economy, where one in five jobs depends on exports.
Joe Carr, a three-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, has announced that he’s taking on U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the state’s 2014 Republican primary. Carr is dropping his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District slot. Carr, flanked by his family during a press conference in Murfreesboro Tuesday, told reporters he’s taking on the incumbent former Tennessee governor because “Sen. Alexander’s record, especially his voting record, has departed from that of the majority of Tennesseans.”
In the most blistering terms, national and local tea party officials called on Tennessee’s Republican senators Wednesday to join a legislative effort to defund “Obamacare,” the federal health care reform initiative championed by President Barack Obama. A procession of tea party leaders accused Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of “caving and surrendering,” called them “spineless, gutless cowards” and asked if they would have the “moral courage” to stand up to the Democratic “tyrant” in the White House.
Leaders of the Tea Party Express took shots at Tennessee’s senior senator today. During an appearance in Nashville, the group said it’s willing to help fund a primary challenger to Lamar Alexander. Tea Party Express is one of the heavyweights of the Tea Party movement. Last year, it gave more than $5.5 million to candidates like Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “We will be some spending time here in the state of Tennessee, leading up to the primary, said Tea Party Express director Amy Kremer. “And we look forward to that, because it’s time Tennessee had a true conservative to represent the people instead of a moderate RINO [Republican in Name Only] squish that has no spine.”
The Hill newspaper, which covers Capitol Hill events, released its 2012 list of the richest members in Congress. Two Tennessee politicians rank among the wealthiest of America’s 535 federal legislators. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who served as Chattanooga’s mayor from 2001-05, ranks as the 22nd-wealthiest member of Congress with $16.7 million in assets. Corker made his money in Chattanooga real estate and rental properties and construction. Corker is down nearly $3 million from last year due to a UBS Bank account losing its value, according to The Hill.
Barack Obama is testing an interesting proposition: Can the U.S. president cajole or shame a huge American industry into changing its ways? Mr. Obama embarks Thursday on a bus tour of schools in upstate New York and Pennsylvania to highlight what he calls “a personal mission to make higher education more affordable.” Higher ed is one of his preoccupations. He talked about it in the State of the Union address. He talked about it at Knox College when he set out his latest bolster-the-middle-class agenda.
TVA’s Inspector General has dismissed allegations that TVA Chairman Bill Sansom’s personal financial interests were a conflict of interest with his positon at the federal utility. Garry Morgan, a Scottsboro, Ala., critic of nuclear power, claimed at an April board meeting of TVA that Sansom’s board positions with Astec Industries and Martin Marietta Materials may have affected his position on the use of coal, which can be mined using earth moving and road building equipment made by such firms.
To see the future of Dollywood, you need to borrow the vision of its chief imaginer, Dolly Parton. In the near future, Parton sees a resort hotel lobby with a three-story window that frames Mount LeConte — one of the tallest peaks in the Smoky Mountains. Guests will be able to book a grand suite in the hotel that the entertainer uses when she stays in the Pigeon Forge theme park that bears her name. All of that is future tense, but not very far away. The park plans to open DreamMore Resort in 2015.
Country music legend and Sevier County native Dolly Parton told a packed auditorium at Dollywood Wednesday that she plans to invest more than $300 million in her community over the next 10 years as she expands her Dollywood properties. A 300-room resort and a new roller-coaster that launches cars forward and then backward are planned, but more additions to the theme parks are in the works, she said. “This is a very special day because my dreams are about to come true,” she told those who filled the Showstreet Palace.
Dolly Parton says that God works in mysterious ways. In this case, she implies that God took away her once-proposed Nashville snow and water park to give her more time to devote to an even more significant project — a 10-year, $300 million expansion to her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. Parton announced plans Wednesday for the expansion for Dollywood, which will include the addition of the FireChaser Express, a family-friendly roller coaster, to the park in 2014 and the opening of Parton’s 300-room, 100-acre Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort in the summer of 2015.
Dolly Parton is planning a $300 million expansion of her Pigeon Forge theme park over the next decade, she announced today on the Today show. The expansion will include a 300-room resort to open in 2015 and a new roller coaster to open in 2014, and the project will create thousands of jobs, according to the Today report. The Today show will feature more details at 10 a.m. CST, according to its website.
Dolly Parton’s $300 million expansion of her Pigeon Forge theme park doesn’t mean she is no longer looking to invest in a Nashville project, said Ted Miller, Dolly Parton Productions business manager . “We still believe the time will come, and there will be the right opportunity for Nashville,” Miller said. “She wants to look at Nashville. She knows it’s a grand opportunity, and the people there would love to have her do something. She is still working on what is the right opportunity.” Parton and her Dollywood Co. had planned to partner with Gaylord Entertainment Co. (now known as Ryman Hospitality Properties) on a water and snow park in the Opryland area, but plans collapsed last year when Gaylord sold off its hotel brand and management rights to Marriott International.
The Shelby County Election Commission learned on Wednesday that it will have to wait before any action can be taken toward another election for the Shelby County School Board District 4 seat. Chancery Court Judge Kenny W. Armstrong voided last year’s election, which was challenged by Dr. Kenneth Whalum, who lost to Kevin Woods by 106 votes. Armstrong ruled that there were enough irregularities to warrant another election. However, assistant county attorney John Ryder told the election commission that Armstrong did not include an order for the election commission in his memorandum, although one is expected to be issued within days.
It has largely gone unnoticed amid the other local-government news of the week (e.g., meters for this, meters for that), but U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays has nudged the litigants in the protracted and still ongoing school-merger case to submit briefs about the current status of the case. In an order of August 14, Mays reviews recent developments and cites precedents to the point that the passage of Act 256 in the 2013 session of the General Assembly had made moot a complaint by the Shelby County Commission concerning the unconstitutionality of a prior act enabling the establishment of new municipal school systems.
We are glad to see Gov. Bill Haslam in West Tennessee, where he visited Jones Plastics and Engineering in Camden to talk about economic development and jobs. Bringing more jobs to Tennessee — and especially to West Tennessee which lags behind the other grand divisions in job growth — is a must-do priority of Haslam. The governor visited the Jones operation as a follow up to the state awarding a grant to the company to add new equipment and create new jobs. Tennessee taxpayers should be glad to know their money was well spent, and that Jones now employs 170 people in good-paying manufacturing jobs.
The Tennessee Supreme Court should give us some new common law on public notice based on how people debated construction of a mosque in Rutherford County. I’m strictly talking public notice here when it comes to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM). I don’t agree with those bigots who think that all Muslims are terrorists who should be pulled off the property the ICM developed and told they’re not welcome here. That’s the same attitude that President Andrew Jackson of Tennessee displayed when he and others told the Cherokees and other tribes they had to give up their land and be hauled off on a Trail of Tears to west of the Mississippi River.
In remarks at the White House last month, President Obama claimed that if Republicans “had some better ideas” on health care, he was “happy to hear them. But I haven’t heard any so far.” The Democratic National Committee expanded the president’s charge, claiming in a press release last week that “the GOP is simply out of ideas” on health care. Liberal opinion writers are now echoing Mr. Obama. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes that “Republicans have no idea what is it is they’ll do” to replace the Affordable Care Act. The New York Times’s Paul Krugman chimes in that the GOP goal is to “deny essential health care and financial security to millions of their fellow Americans.”