This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam believes the safety of Tennessee citizens is key to achieving our goal of being No. 1 in the Southeast for high-quality jobs. Both existing and potential employers want to know that Tennessee is a safe place in which to live, work and raise families. That is why the governor created a Public Safety Subcabinet — comprised of 11 departments and agencies within the executive branch that impact public safety — to identify and address our state’s toughest safety challenges through a public safety action plan.
For some Chattanooga area people looking for work in the soft economy, Christmas has come in October, and they hope it will last long after New Year’s Day. A steady stream of people walked out of Amazon’s job staffing agency in Chattanooga last week with a seasonal post at the nation’s No. 1 online retailer. Some of them said they see working through the holidays at the company’s Chattanooga distribution center as a stepping stone to catch on permanently with Amazon. “If they were to have it, I’d like to get full-time,” said Gladys Loubier of LaFayette, Ga.
April Khoury wants credit for the miles she puts in, walking around Belmont University campus. “I get mad at myself if I forget my pedometer, especially on the days when I’m really active and I’m like, ‘Man, I should be logging my steps.’ ” Khoury, 34, is a risk management and compliance administrator for Belmont. She also actively participates in the university’s wellness program, where she can gain points for completing a certain number of steps. She tracks her steps on a pedometer, then logs them online.
When a Department of Children’s Services caseworker first placed Jonathan in Janie Cunningham’s arms, he was just 2 weeks old — a tiny thing, born three months premature — with a swirl of thick brown hair that seemed to swallow up his face. The Cunninghams, who were foster parents, signed the adoption papers 16 months later. Jonathan was their fifth son, in a tight-knit and often boisterous family in Tullahoma. But within months of his second birthday, Jonathan began to act strangely, staying up all night, kicking violently, crying inconsolably. He didn’t learn to talk until he was 3. By age 4, he had become violent.
A state House committee chairman is proposing that Tennessee’s U.S. Senators and representatives be summoned to Nashville for a meeting with the state House and Senate — the latest example of state-level lawmakers seeking more influence over federal-level lawmakers. Asked for comment on the proposal from House Government Operations Committee Chairman Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, for a “bilateral session of Congress,” the members of the Tennessee congressional delegation contacted by the News Sentinel replied uniformly by declaring their appreciation of the General Assembly, now controlled by a Republican supermajority.
If you said, “Who?” when you heard that the young lady with the unusual name won the Democratic primary for Tennessee House District 91, Raumesh Akbari has no hard feelings. The 29-year-old lawyer for her family business has never run for office before. She never met State Rep. Lois DeBerry, the 40-year political veteran whose death in July created the vacancy. In a district so blue that the Republicans didn’t bother to field a candidate, it’s assumed Akbari will easily best independent James L. Tomasik in the Nov. 21 general election.
For a decade, Tennessee has been ranked among the nation’s 10 most violent states. Now it tops the list. And even though the city is safer than it was a decade ago based on the rate of violent crime, experts and city officials say the numbers in Tennessee and Chattanooga should be a wake-up call to residents. Recently released FBI data show Tennessee had the highest per capita violent crime rate in the nation in 2012. Statistically, 643.6 out of every 100,000 residents were victims of murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault. Five of the largest cities in Tennessee — those with populations of 50,000 or more — were over that state average, and Chattanooga was fourth on the list.
Tennessee lawmakers used to be a fairly independent lot and for good reason. With most House members representing swing districts where support from both Democrats and Republicans was needed to win, it wasn’t uncommon to see lawmakers crossing party lines on Capitol Hill. Moderate Democrats voted with the GOP about a third of the time 15 years ago, while Republicans sided with Democrats on about 10 percent of votes. Not anymore. Only one of the state’s nine congressmen — Democrat Jim Cooper of Nashville — represents a district that’s remotely up for grabs on Election Day, evidence that lawmakers’ incentive to behave independently has withered, analysts say. It’s a trend in evidence from coast to coast. And it’s contributing to the Washington gridlock that’s led to a partial government shutdown and could result in a first-ever default on the nation’s debts.
Tourists, local residents and small-business owners all joined Saturday morning in protesting the temporary closure of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of the government shutdown, now in its 13th day. About 80-100 protesters gathered at a roadside pull-off near the Sugarlands Visitors Center to demonstrate their displeasure — in a nonpartisan fashion — over the park’s closure. They displayed signs and shouted at passing motorists to honk their car horns in support of their protest.
For some military department employees in Tennessee, the wait for the end of the federal government shutdown will continue away from their job. Furloughs began Friday for 103 employees. Their jobs are varied, including cooks in the training centers and maintenance workers. Sixty-seven of the furloughed employees are in the Knoxville area. Maj. Randy Harris, director of joint public affairs for the Tennessee National Guard, said with the jobs being furloughed the guard will have to make do.
The federal government shutdown that has idled hundreds of thousands of workers is starting to ripple through states, which are now laying off employees and warning of thousands of additional furloughs if the budget stalemate is not resolved soon. The trickle-down effects highlight the extent to which states are dependent on the federal government. In many states, federal money comprises about a third of all revenues. As federal dollars dry up, so do state programs. Across the nation, about a dozen states already have furloughed hundreds of employees whose paychecks depend on federal money.
In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them. Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized. For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.
Tennessee has been ranked No. 1 among states for the highest rate of violent crime, according to a news-organization analysis of FBI statistics — but that number is not the one we should be worried about. Here is a number that matters: 644 per 100,000 people. That’s how many violent crimes were reported to law enforcement in this state in 2012. Just those that were reported. In a state with more than 6 million residents, that means about 39,000 violent criminal acts occurred last year. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration cautions against such state-to-state or jurisdictional comparisons as were drawn by USA Today and 24/7 Wall Street, and that’s understandable. The demographics and policies can vary widely.
The headlines screamed from websites and the pages of newspapers last week: “FBI: Tennessee most dangerous US state.” “TN has nation’s highest violent crime rate.” “The most dangerous U.S. state is … Tennessee?” Those were all real headlines, based on an FBI study that found that Tennessee has the highest per capita violent crime rate of the nation’s 50 states. (Washington, D.C.’s was higher). That means 643 people out of every 100,000 in Tennessee have been victims of violent crime, which includes murder, aggravated assault, forced rape and robbery.
Scribblings in a Tennessee political reporter’s notebook: The way things are shaping up, Republicans may well gain seats in both the House and Senate next year, taking the Legislature’s present GOP supermajority to a super-duper-looper majority. Or something like that. This is partly because of the Republican-engineered redistricting and the announced retirement of remnant conservative, rural Democrats — folks like Sen. Charlotte Burks of Monterey and Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta. They survived their last elections because of personal appeal outweighing the electorate’s partisan preferences.
The partial reopening of the Henley Bridge this week will be a time of rejoicing among South Knoxville residents and business owners who have endured the closure of the span for nearly three years. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced last week that two lanes, one in each direction, will be open to traffic at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Bicycle lanes will not be open and pedestrians will not be allowed on the bridge. The bridge has been closed since Jan. 3, 2011, when a massive reconstruction began. Since that time, businesses along the north end of Chapman Highway, already coping with the aftermath of the recession, have struggled because of reduced traffic.