This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republicans at both the state and national level are poised for a what appears to be a collaborative effort to give their party control of Tennessee’s judicial branch of government, just as it controls the executive and legislative branches. “Tennessee is definitely on our radar,” said Jill Bader, communications director for the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which last week announced a nationwide “Judicial Fairness Initiative” to put more conservative judges on state Supeme Courts. In Tennessee, that would mean a campaign urging voters to vote no in Aug. 7 balloting on whether three state Supreme Court justices originally appointed by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen should get new terms.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett told hundreds of graduates at the University of Tennessee at Martin on Saturday that they each have the responsibility of sharing their talents with the world around them in an effort to pay forward that which has been shared. Hargett delivered the spring commencement address at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center, according to a news release from the university. “The challenge for each of us now is looking for ways that we can demonstrate the type of servant leadership that is so sorely needed but too often lacking in our culture,” Hargett said.
A tax enforcement agent in the state Department of Revenue’s Knoxville office has been fired for filing sales tax returns without permission from the taxpayers, and an investigation is underway to determine whether the practice was more widespread, a department spokeswoman said Friday. The fired employee was identified as Eugene Johnson, whose job was to contact businesses and seek payment for deliquent sales taxes. He had been a department employee since 2004, officials said. Apparently, Johnson is alleged to have filed bogus sale tax returns — in at least some cases closing inactive accounts with some amount of tax due — with the goal of clearing cases assigned to him and thus enhancing his performance rating for employee evaluations.
Sen. Bob Corker’s ideas for remaking the housing finance system have upset some usual political alliances. For starters, a coalition of tea party groups, hedge fund investors and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a trio not normally known for working together, fiercely opposes some of his housing proposals, which are now before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. And the debate has laid bare, through emails, differences between Corker and a prominent Middle Tennessee Republican who also happens to be one of the senator’s past political donors as well as a past bundler of campaign contributions — Tim Pagliara.
Nearly nine months after launching his campaign to try to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, on Friday belatedly filed the personal financial disclosure forms required of all Senate candidates after the Times Free Press asked Carr about the filing. Carr’s campaign manager, Donald Rickard, said the lack of filing “was an oversight on our part and as soon as it was brought to our attention we worked on fixing the error.” By not filing the financial disclosure within 30 days of his entry into the Senate campaign last August, Carr could be fined $200 by the secretary of the Senate.
The Jackson Sun editorial board recently met with state Rep. Johnny Show, D-Bolivar. While we discussed a number of topics that came before the recently concluded Tennessee General Assembly, two items noted by Shaw were of special concern: the state of Gov. Bill Haslam’s leadership and the jobs scene in West Tennessee. On the jobs issue, Shaw discussed the loss of a West Tennessee company and an estimated 150 jobs to Mississippi. Shelby County-based Aluma-Form sought to move its operation to Bolivar and bring an estimated 150 much-needed jobs to Hardeman County.
Gov. Bill Haslam heard the opposition. He hardly could have missed it, as a nationwide campaign exploded in the 10 days leading up to one of his most crucial decisions this legislative session. Would he sign a law allowing women to be criminally charged for drug use during pregnancy? With the proposal on the Republican governor’s desk, thousands of petitioners, national medical associations, reproductive rights advocates and editorial writers bombarded him with demands for a veto. But as noisy as it was — and as much as the doctors and nurses who treat babies born to drug-addicted mothers seemed united in the view that the law was a terrible idea — the outrage came too late.
Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly passed several laws that affect open meetings laws (the so-called sunshine laws) and open records laws. Some of them spread more sunshine and make open records a little more open. Some don’t. Here’s my assessment of some of the legislation that passed. Recipients of FastTrack grants or loans — used for infrastructure when a private business agrees to locate or expand in Tennessee and create or retain jobs — must report annually to the Department of Economic and Community Development the number of new jobs produced and the cumulative amount of new jobs created during the grant period. The department has to post the data online within 90 days of receiving it.
More superlative performances from the 2014 session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly: -Supermajority Legislator of the Year — Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, whose finger was in many a legislative pie during a session notable for expanding the General Assembly’s authority. Bell annoyed Gov. Bill Haslam by leading efforts to reduce gubernatorial appointive powers on boards and commissions, not to mention moves to undermine administration efforts on teacher licensure and state employee layoffs. He annoyed University of Tennessee administrators by prodding them, via resolution and rhetoric, on UT Sex Week. He successfully sponsored a bill to legalize switchblades and long knives, having last year stripped local governments of knife control.
That some local government officials are seeking higher office is no surprise, but the possibility of them trying to serve on both local and state legislative bodies raises several questions. Murfreesboro City Council member Toby Gilley is running for General Sessions judge, but if he succeeds, he will have to vacate his council seat to serve on the bench. His council colleague, Eddie Smotherman, is running for the Republican nomination for the 37th District House seat, and County Commissioner Robert Stevens is seeking the Republican nomination for the 49th District House seat. Both Smotherman and Stevens are challenging incumbents in the Legislature for their seats.