This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Editorial: Haslam moving state in right direction (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Voters in this fall’s general election should mark their gubernatorial ballots for incumbent Republican Bill Haslam, and not just because he only faces token opposition. Haslam has taken a pragmatic, businesslike approach to the office; instituted K-12 education reform; launched an ambitious effort to raise the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees and certifications; and adeptly managed a state budget through a sluggish economic recovery that has stagnated revenues. The former mayor of Knoxville, Haslam faces Democrat Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, a retiree from Oakdale whose primary victory many have credited to the fact that his name appeared first on the ballot.
Larry Martin: TennCare leadership works for enrollees, taxpayers (Tennessean)
The current TennCare team led by Darin Gordon has a proven track record of turning around what had been called a “beleaguered program.” Program costs were growing at over 10 percent per year; Darin and his team have maintained an average growth rate of less than 3 percent over the past 10 years, half the national average. Under Darin’s leadership, TennCare has shown improvement in 81 percent of its quality measures and has maintained the highest enrollee satisfaction levels in 20 years (reaching over 95 percent twice in the past four years.) They’ve taken a program with 39 audit findings per year, many of which were repeat findings, to one that has averaged less than five annually over the past 10 years.
Haslam campaigns in Memphis for Amendment 2 (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)
If state constitutional Amendment 2 passes on Tennessee’s November ballot, it will chisel the governor’s power to select appellate court judges into stone. That, Gov. Bill Haslam said in Memphis on Monday, is actually a pro-voter move: Voters elect the governor, they elect the General Assembly who would confirm appointments and they vote whether to retain the judges. “Voters would have a chance, really, to weigh in three times,” Haslam said following an event at the Kroc Center, where he was joined by retired Supreme Court Justice George Brown in a largely scripted panel discussion to advocate for passage of the amendment. Hal Rounds of Fayette County was among the 100 or so in attendance. He clutched a package of black-and-white brochures in his hands that featured a photo of Darth Vader and asked this question: “Who Will Choose Tennessee’s Top Judges? Tennessee Voters? Or Lawyers, Politicians And Special Interests?”
How Amendment 2 would affect judicial selection (WREG-TV Memphis)
Gov. Bill Haslam and Judge George Brown spoke Monday at the Salvation Army Kroc Center about Amendment 2. Amendment 2 would give the governor the power to appoint judges to the state Supreme Court or other state appellate courts, but would require an additional step. Haslam said he believes this change would make a confusing selection process more constitutional and defined. “After a governor names a nominee to an appellate level, the legislature can approve or disapprove that. They have 60 days to do that. So that’s the one step that’s being added,” he said. Under Amendment 2, an appointed judge would serve an eight-year term and could serve another via retention election by voters.
Haslam Favors Abortion Amendment (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday, Oct. 6, he intends to vote for all four of the proposed amendments to the state Constitution on the Nov. 4 ballot. Haslam commented during a stop in Memphis to campaign for the amendment that would require approval from the Tennessee Legislature of appellate court judges nominated by the governor. It would leave in place judicial retention elections. Haslam, asked specifically about his stand on Amendment 1, which gives the Tennessee Legislature the ability to enact, amend or repeal statutes on abortion including abortion in the event of rape or incest, said he favored it.
Haslam questions high jobless rate in Tennessee (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is questioning why Tennessee’s unemployment rate remains well above the national level. The most recent national unemployment rate released Friday was 5.9 percent – the lowest level since July 2008, in the middle of the Great Recession. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s jobless rate was 7.4 percent in August. Haslam says Tennessee is among the top states adding new jobs and that the state is not adding a large number of new claims for unemployment benefits. That’s why the governor says “it’s a little hard to understand” why Tennessee has been unable to whittle away at the unemployment rate. Haslam says he has asked some economists to look into the statistics to see if they can find an explanation for Tennessee’s high unemployment rate.
TDOT seeks input on Chattanooga’s I-75/I-24 split (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)
State highway officials are calling on residents for input as they go through an environmental assessment of changes to Tennessee’s interstate gateway. But construction on the proposed $89 million retooling of the Interstate 75/I-24 interchange is not likely to start this year. A public information meeting is planned for the project Oct. 16 in East Ridge. Tennessee Department of Transportation Project Manager Chester Sutherland said he hopes residents will come out to hear about the status of the project — and to share their ideas. Sutherland said TDOT officials will have some information displays and have a question-and-answer session with residents. Officials will go over the initial 2012 request for changes to the interstate, explain current environmental rules and findings from a noise study.
Tennessee hospitals make Ebola preparations (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tennessee medical officials are pushing protocols, hospitals are holding drills and emergency room staffs are being trained to avoid the missteps that occurred at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, which failed to diagnose and quarantine a man with Ebola. The preparations began weeks before the nation’s first imported case from the epidemic in West Africa was confirmed Tuesday. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Health conducted a community outreach meeting with people of West African origin living in Nashville and have held strategy sessions with hospital administrators. Vanderbilt University Medical Center held a drill last month. “We’ve sent out a lot of stuff to our members, particularly working with emergency room doctors,” said Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association. “That’s obviously where it would probably come through.”
Tennesseans stand out among the most generous givers (AP, Tenn/Crary, Bliss)
As the wealthiest Americans give less to charity, poor and middle-income Americans have dug deeper into their wallets — and Tennesseans stand out as some of the most generous. Those living in the Volunteer State donate $44.50 to charity for every $1,000 they earn, according to an extensive analysis of IRS data conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That made Tennessee the nation’s fourth-most-generous state behind Utah, Mississippi and Alabama. Equally notable is the breakdown of top five most generous cities, which features Memphis (No. 2) and Nashville (No. 5). Memphis residents give away 5.1 percent of their incomes, while those in Music City disperse 3.9 percent of what they make to charity. Such benevolence is not surprising to those here connected with the nonprofit community.
Chattanoogans give 50 percent more to charity than U.S. average (TFP/Flessner)
The average Chattanoogan gives away at least 50 percent more of his or her disposable income to charities and religious groups than does the typical American. A new study of tax filings released Monday showed that Chattanoogans, on average, donated $4,797 to churches or charities in 2012, swelling total giving in metro Chattanooga that year to a record high of nearly $360 million. “Chattanooga is a generous town and continues with a culture of giving from people of all income levels,” said Pete Cooper, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, one of a half-dozen major multimillion-dollar foundations in Chattanooga.
Alexander Again Defending Stance On Common Core (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Senator Lamar Alexander is again having to defend his ambiguous position on Common Core, an issue that has morphed into a political landmine and a symbol of federal overreach, despite how the reading and math standards were developed by a bipartisan coalition of governors. During the Republican primary, Tea Party candidate Joe Carr continually blasted Alexander for not coming out against Common Core. Flipping the script, Alexander’s campaign tried to used the Common Core issue against Carr in mailers sent out days before the election. Moving into general election campaigning, Alexander has yet to move out of the shadow of Common Core.
Sen. Alexander weighs in on ISIS, Ebola (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, weighed in Monday on some of the biggest issues facing America today. With news of ISIS growing stronger and the Ebola virus now in the U.S., many citizens are concerned about what the government plans to do about the two issues. Alexander said he believes the U.S. is in for the long haul with the Islamic State. He said before the country heads to war, President Barack Obama needs to approach Congress with a clear military plan. “I think we should be in Washington right now debating the plan the president proposes if we’re going to get involved in the Middle East again,” Alexander said. Alexander also said he wants everyone who comes to the U.S. from Ebola-infected countries to be screened for the virus.
Alexander, Ball launch TV ads in Tenn. Senate race (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Democrat Gordon Ball and Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander are launching television ads criticizing each other in the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee. In his first ad of the general election campaign, a stern Alexander insists that a vote for his opponent would be “one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda.” Ball’s ad features old footage of Alexander playing a piano, but the audio is an off-key version of the “Tennessee Waltz.” The ad suggests that voters are “tired of the same old song and dance.” Alexander, who is seeking a third Senate term was dismissive of the Ball ad in a statement released Monday afternoon. “He’s butchering the Tennessee Waltz,” Alexander said.
Gordon Ball TV ad says Lamar Alexander not in tune with voters (TFP/Sher)
Democrat Gordon Ball’s first TV ad in the general election charges U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is “out of tune” with Tennesseans, and it features a piano-playing Alexander serenely pounding out a mangled version of the “Tennessee Waltz.” The campaign digitally altered a digital clip of Alexander’s piano playing to make it sound as if the two-term senator is striking sour notes to better illustrate its point. As Alexander, who often plays the piano in political settings, plays on, a voiceover slams the two-term incumbent on various votes he’s taken as jangled chords fly. “More than ever Lamar Alexander is out of tune with the voters of Tennessee,” the narrator says in the ad, which began airing statewide on Monday.
Ball launches his first TV ad of his general election campaign (C. Appeal/Locker)
Democrat Gordon Ball is airing his first television ad of his general election campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Lamar Alexander, who announced his first TV ad on Friday. The Ball ad airing statewide opens with Alexander playing “The Tennessee Waltz” on piano but with the music made off key by the ad makers to underscore the voiceover that says: “More than ever, Lamar Alexander is out of tune with the voters of Tennessee.” The voiceover continues: “He voted for Wall Street bailouts. He’s opposed term limits. And while everyday families are struggling, he gives tax breaks to corporations that ship our jobs overseas. Tired of the same old song and dance?”
Cohen urges votes for Hooker in governor’s race (Times Free-Press/Sher)
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., is urging fellow Democrats to vote for independent John Jay Hooker in governor’s race over Democrats’ little-known nominee, Charlie Brown, on Nov. 4. Cohen said Monday he fears that otherwise few Democrats will be motivated to vote in the governor’s race, featuring long-shot Brown’s quixotic quest to take on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. And that’s important, the Memphis congressman said, warning that if there’s a low turn-out in the governor’s race, it will make it easier for pro-life proponents to win passage of Amendment 1 because of the requirements on amending the Tennessee Constitution. “My main interest … is a hope this Amendment 1 will fail,” Cohen said after his urging of Memphis Democrats to back Hooker was first reported by the Memphis Flyer, an alternative newspaper.
Future uncertain for Tennessee’s same-sex marriage ban (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court refusing to hear same-sex marriage challenges will eventually lead to 30 states where gays and lesbians can legally wed, but it’s unknown whether Tennessee will join them. Three couples in Tennessee have challenged the state’s ban on gay marriage. All three couples legally married in other states before moving to Tennessee and sued to have their marriages recognized here. A Nashville federal court ruled in their favor, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals put that ruling on hold. In August the 6th Circuit heard the Tennessee case, as well as challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. But it has not issued a ruling. The 6th Circuit is not bound by the Supreme Court decision because it applies to cases in other jurisdictions, but an attorney for the three Tennessee couples said the move has sent a “strong message” to all federal appeals courts weighing gay marriage bans.
Tennessee couples still awaiting 6th Circuit decision (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
Questions mounted and anticipation swelled Monday surrounding exactly what will happen when the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issues a ruling in six same-sex marriage cases from four states, including Tennessee. A decision is expected any day. “I thought our case was just going to be, well, one of many,” said Val Tanco, a local veterinarian and the named plaintiff in Tennessee’s same-sex marriage case — Tanco v. Haslam. “I never anticipated that we would stand out,” she said. “Everybody has these cases now in pretty much every state, so I just thought, well, OK, we’ll be one more in the tide.” That tide turned Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court left in place lower court decisions validating unions in five other states across three circuits.
Supreme Court Announcement On Gay Marriage Won’t Change Much (WPLN)
In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it wouldn’t weigh in on cases looking at same-sex marriage bans from three federal appeals courts. That means that the lower courts’ ruling, which struck down gay marriage bans, stands: Gay marriage is effectively legal in five more states, with more expected to follow in the near future. Tennessee law, however, isn’t affected because the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals hasn’t yet made a decision on gay marriage bans. The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t give a reason for passing on the gay marriage cases, but analysts say it’s likely because all circuit courts so far have come to the same conclusion: that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Marriage ruling will impact 2016, not 2014, campaigns (USA Today)
Don’t expect political fallout from the Supreme Court’s action, or inaction, on same-sex marriage — at least not before next year when presidential campaigns get fully into gear. In this fall’s midterm elections, the issue isn’t likely to surge to prominence as a result of the court allowing to stand lower court rulings upholding gay marriage — even in the closely contested Senate and governor’s races in states immediately affected by court’s actions. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, who had backed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage struck down by the federal court, said little about the issue Monday. “For us, It’s over in Wisconsin,” he said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As for a possible constitutional amendment on the issue, Walker said only, “Others will have to talk about the federal level.”
States Search for Ways to Cut Traffic Deaths (Stateline)
Back in 2008, South Carolina transportation officials were itching to do something innovative to curtail the number of serious traffic crashes in their state. The federal government already had designated South Carolina as one of the states with the highest proportion of traffic fatalities at intersections. So state highway safety officials began working with their counterparts at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to come up with a new, system-wide approach to tackling the problem. They ended up launching a project, with FHWA’s help, that used complex data analysis to identify the most dangerous intersections statewide. Then they hired a private company to install simple, low-cost fixes, such as larger signs and new pavement markings, at nearly 2,000 locations – the largest such deployment any state had made.
TVA refuels oldest reactor (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)
The Tennessee Valley Authority is refueling its oldest reactor this week. The Unit 1 reactor at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama was shut down late Friday for a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage. An additional 850 TVA and contract workers are supplementing the site’s regular staff of almost 1,400 employees during the outage. The project will involve more than 163,000 work-hours until the outage is completed later this month. “The outage is a routine and carefully planned activity so fuel can be replaced and maintenance can be safely performed on key equipment and systems,” said Keith Polson, Browns Ferry Plant site vice president. Unit 1 operated continuously for 254 days during its most recent fuel cycle. Nuclear reactors typically must be refueled every 18 months.
California: San Jose Election Tests Political Risk of Cutting Pensions (Governing)
Local government isn’t what it once was in San Jose. In 2001, California’s third-largest city employed almost 7,500 full-time workers. After 10 consecutive years of spending cuts caused by budget deficits, the number is closer to 5,400. The public library system has lost more than a quarter of its staff, forcing branches to cut operations back from six days a week to four. The parks department has closed all but 11 of its 54 community centers. Public safety has taken a hit, too. The city has 300 fewer police officers and 200 fewer firefighters than a decade ago. The obvious culprit is the Great Recession, which took its toll on city revenues. But in San Jose, the recession isn’t the biggest fiscal problem. Pensions are.
Pennsylvania: Health Costs Imposed on Teachers (Associated Press)
Philadelphia teachers vowed to fight a sudden move by the district Monday that cancels their union contract and requires them to start paying health premiums of $55 to $140 a month. District leaders said there was nothing else to cut after years of funding woes that have prompted nearly $1 billion in cuts that include the loss of 5,000 positions and the closing of 30 schools. Both Superintendent William R. Hite and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president, Jerry Jordan, along with Mayor Michael Nutter, agreed that the problem lies in the state funding formula for education. But Mr. Hite nonetheless backed Monday’s decision, saying the money would yield more than $50 million a year.
Editorial: Better training for future nurses (Jackson Sun)
Perhaps the Great Recession is truly ending. Our nation’s unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent for the first time in six years, and Jackson State Community College is realizing a dream nearly 20 years in the making. Construction is under way for the college’s new nursing building — a $12 million project expected to improve the school’s nursing program and bring greater enrollment at a time when Tennessee is encouraging more students to attend community colleges. The lion’s share of funding for the project, $9 million, comes through state and federal funding that Jackson State applied for 17 years ago. West Tennessee Healthcare has given more than $1.5 million toward the project, with the remaining funds still being raised. A smart and generous move by West Tennessee Healthcare, an investment of sorts.
Guest columnists: Yes vote on amendment 3 ensures no state income tax (TFP)
On Nov. 4, Tennesseans have the opportunity to cast their ballots in favor of a strong economic future. The passage of Amendment 3 would ensure that the state legislature cannot, at any time, authorize or allow any state or local tax on earned personal income. The importance of Amendment 3 cannot be overstated. Tennessee’s economic growth owes much to its status as a no-income-tax state. While growth in high-tax states stagnates, Tennessee continues to attract businesses large and small. Many Tennesseans may take the state’s friendly economic climate for granted, but they should not: With some careful word-smithing, income-tax advocates could craft legislation that would impose this harmful and anti-growth tax on all working individuals. To borrow a phrase from West Tennesse state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who has advocated tirelessly for Amendment 3, passage of this initiative allows Tennesseans to say, “Not only do we not have an income tax, but we’ll never have an income tax.”