This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The path before us in Tennessee is becoming simpler out of necessity. No longer can the people of this state choose to settle for a “little” high school, or a high school diploma or GED, and expect that their future or their family’s future will turn out all right. The stakes have become too high, and the Haslam administration and top educators and business leaders have recognized this. This message was made clear during an event last week at Nashville’s Music City Center, where Gov. Bill Haslam and 300 stakeholders met on the “Drive to 55” initiative, which seeks to have 55 percent of Tennessee adults attain a college degree or technical school certificate by 2025.
During a visit with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Randy Boyd, his special adviser for higher education, made a point that cannot be emphasized enough. It is not realistic for parents to think their children will enter the same kind of workplace the parents entered when they joined the job market. Good-paying jobs that require only a basic high school education are disappearing. High school graduates who expect to compete for current and future jobs will need either a two-year associate or four-year college degree, or a technical training certificate.
Randy Boyd’s daddy didn’t want him to go to college. That’s ironic, because now the Knoxville businessman is volunteering, without pay, to lead Gov. Bill Haslam’s aggressive campaign to raise the number of Tennesseans who get a postsecondary degree to 55 percent by the year 2025. Right now, 32 percent of Tennesseans have some sort of degree or certificate. And that’s not enough to fill the jobs coming to the state, the governor says. There are two big obstacles to Haslam’s “Drive to 55” program. One is that very culture Boyd’s father illustrated: In Tennessee, there’s a traditional pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, we-don’t-need-no-education attitude that will be difficult to overcome. The second is cost. College is expensive.
While industry recruiters in other states spend a lot of time and energy courting big name prospects, Tennessee appears to be winning the economic development game by rounding up the usual suspects. A majority of Tennessee’s economic development announcements this year — and it seems a big one is happening every week — has come from existing businesses. The foundation for that strategy to grow in-state businesses was laid in 2011 when the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) unveiled its “Jobs4TN” plan.
Offering health benefits to same-sex partners of public employees has been approved by Collegedale commissioners, and Chattanooga and Knoxville officials are considering doing the same. But at the state level, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is showing little interest in taking up the issue to apply it to state employees. “First of all, I don’t sense a huge demand from most Tennesseans,” the governor told Times Free Press editors and reporters last week during a wide-ranging discussion of issues. “If you went across Tennessee and looked at it, to me, it’s just, A: not something where there’s a lot of demand [for], or B: in terms of folks who would favor that,” he said.
Following the loss of a powerful voice, Tennessee’s black lawmakers are searching for leadership that will help them be effective despite their small number and a Republican-controlled Legislature. Rep. Lois DeBerry’s death of pancreatic cancer in July left just 15 black lawmakers — three in the Senate and 12 in the House — out of Tennessee’s 132 legislators. All 15 are Democrats. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus say those low numbers and the fact that their party isn’t in power make it challenging to effectively represent their districts.
A hair stylist for 20 years, Ivy Windorff said she’s had health insurance coverage only once, briefly, when she worked for a Fantastic Sam’s hair salon in her native state of Wisconsin. As one of roughly 145,000 uninsured residents in Shelby County, Windorff for a decade has turned to the Church Health Center, a Memphis faith-based nonprofit organization, for medical care. Beginning on Oct. 1, a “health insurance marketplace” created by the Affordable Care Act of 2010 will open to help uninsured people like Windorff follow the government’s mandate to join the ranks of the insured by purchasing a policy, or paying the penalty.
In the auditorium of the downtown Chattanooga Public Library on Saturday, state and local officials were on the last push to educate Tennessee and Chattanooga-area residents about the Oct. 1 start of sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act. “I would not say that anyone is well-prepared right now,” said Dr. Mary Headrick, an internal medicine practitioner and Affordable Care Act volunteer. “We’re all working hard and fast and passionately to get there.”
As individuals, the school board members Rick Masson met with one-on-one after he began to monitor the schools merger lawsuit were impressive. As the 23-member Shelby County Board of Education, they had issues. “In my experience in working with boards and organizations over the years,” Masson said in an interview last week, “individuals have specific intentions, but once they get to act as a board those intentions can be directed in other ways When they actually start to vote on certain things, they can be diverted from their original intent.”
Few places offer a more daunting challenge for preventing sexual assault than college campuses. But they also offer enormous opportunity, according to those on the front lines. “What better place to begin taking on the challenge?” said Jeff Bucholtz, co-founder of We End Violence. “You’re talking about environments that are rich for sexual assault to thrive, but also environments to take strides to prevent it.” Bucholtz, whose California-based firm consults with universities, companies and the military on sexual violence prevention, said two tendencies are hard for young people to shake: blaming victims for their decisions, and accepting sexual violence as long as an individual isn’t directly affected.
Vanderbilt is hardly alone in facing the horror of sexual violence on campus. In the past decade, Tennessee colleges and universities reported 188 rapes and almost 200 other forcible sex crimes to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. That’s likely a small fraction of all incidents of sexual violence in what experts consider a nationwide “epidemic” on campuses. Some smaller campuses, such as Lipscomb and Fisk universities, have not reported any rapes in that time. But the state’s largest college, Middle Tennessee State University, reported 21, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville reported nine.
A nuclear safety board is pushing the National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractors to incorporate better safety features into the design of the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility. The UPF is the new production center being planned at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. It would replace several old uranium facilities at the Oak Ridge plant — some of them dating to the World War II Manhattan Project. In an Aug. 26 letter and accompanying report, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board identified a number of weaknesses in the safety designs for UPF and raised concerns about the safety controls for some worst-case accident scenarios, such as an airplane crashing into the UPF building and its ancillary facilities or fires involving stored nuclear warhead components.
If the Nashville Sounds build a new ballpark north of downtown, taxpayers almost certainly will play a role in financing the facility, just as they have in other cities around the country. But Mayor Karl Dean and his top aides say they’re working to limit public participation as much as they can. “The mayor has made it really clear: A baseball stadium would be a nice thing to do, but it’s not a must,” Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said Friday. “To do that, we’ve got to put together a financing plan that shows that it has minimal impact on the taxpayers of Davidson County.
The Chattanooga area has added 7,700 jobs since the Great Recession ended in 2010, but the region’s job growth has still trailed the U.S. as a whole since 2010. For all its success in recruiting Volkswagen, Amazon and Alstom Power to build new factories and distribution centers to Chattanooga during the recession, employment in the Chattanooga area has grown a modest 3 percent since the downturn ended three years ago, trailing the 4 percent national growth pace in the same period.
The two firms behind a proposed landfill in Maury County remain silent on the issue, but local citizens are voicing their opposition against the idea. Colorado-based RLF Duck River LLC and RLF Green Duck LLC are seeking a special exception use to establish a Class I Sanitary Landfill. The land would need to be rezoned to M-3 zoning, or a special industrial district. The property is currently zoned M-2, or heavy industrial district. The property is located on Monsanto Road, northwest of Columbia’s city limits in Maury County, according to a letter submitted to the Maury County Board of Zoning Appeals from the two companies.
The head of Tennessee’s Democratic Party, Roy Herron, says he’s ready to rumble with the state’s majority Republicans, but right now Herron has a fight closer to home. Rebellious Democratic State Executive Committee critics on Saturday pummeled the former state senator with complaints, questions and criticisms over his executive style and some decisions during their first meeting since his contested election as chairman in January. During the meeting, the Finance Committee chairman, Jerry Maynard, of Nashville, and vice chairwoman, Mary Patterson, of Mount Juliet, resigned, citing disagreements with Herron.
Leaders of the Tennessee Democratic Party sought to rally their base and build hope for a comeback in dark political times Saturday night at their annual Jackson Day Dinner in downtown Nashville. Led by the mayors of Tennessee’s four biggest cities, Democrats described themselves as pragmatic managers who can still appeal to voters, despite holding no statewide offices and being deep in the minority in the state legislature. With U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond, Va., providing the keynote address, they argued that Democrats can turn their fortunes around quickly.
The panel that oversees Tennessee’s retirement system for state employees and educators has ample justification to review statutes that allow 14 nonprofit, quasi-governmental entities to “piggy-back” on the state’s pension plan. House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, say they believe the General Assembly needs to revisit the laws, some of which have been on the books since the 1960s. Sargent and McNally are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Council on Pensions and Insurance, which oversees the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
Continuing problems with state test scores for the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online school operated by a private company, and recent launching of the Western Governor University in Tennessee require some attention to the appropriate role of online classes in education at all levels. Online classes can offer some advantages.
Mike McWherter says he will not make a repeat run for governor next year, though he thinks the man who beat him in 2010 has brought a “culture of corruption” to state government. The son of the late former Gov. Ned McWherter, currently a member of the TVA Board of Directors appointed by President Barack Obama, declared his non-interest in a rematch with Gov. Bill Haslam and spoke of his corruption concerns in a Labor Day weekend speech to Roane County Democrats. In an interview, he also disavowed any notion of running against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, though he publicly flirted with seeking the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent Republican senator six years ago.
Dorsey Hopson was out of town during the last weekend of July, and was not due to return to Memphis until Sunday night, July 28. I had spoken to him weeks earlier about coming to the annual Teen Appeal journalism camp at the University of Memphis to discuss his role as interim superintendent of the unified Shelby County Schools, but I had neglected to follow up with the exact day and time. The weeklong camp is for new and returning staff members of The Teen Appeal, a monthly newspaper produced by and for students in all city high schools. And Hopson was down to address the staff the morning of July 29.