This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Editorial: Hankook embraces our military traditions (Leaf Chronicle)
Leaders of South Korean-owned Hankook Tire struck a patriotic, military-tinged note Thursday as they gathered with state and local leaders for an official groundbreaking ceremony at the Clarksville-Montgomery County site of the company’s new $800 million tire plant. Seung Hwa Suh, vice chairman and CEO of Hankook, personally commended two local Korean War veterans on the front row, and thanked them for their service to both the United States and to South Korea. “I’m thankful to these veterans who served in the Korean War,” he said. “Without you Hankook nor I would not be here today.” The company and state Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty also noted that Fort Campbell, with its positive impact on our area’s labor force, was a big factor in attracting Hankook to Clarksville.
Study shows growth in Tennessee tourism (Associated Press)
Tennessee needs to continue supporting taxpayer advertising and marketing campaigns to continue the momentum in the state’s growing tourism industry, Gov. Bill Haslam and other officials said. A new U.S. Travel study shows tourism spending in Tennessee last year grew at twice the overall inflation rate, helping to support about one of every 20 jobs in the state, according to media reports. Haslam said Friday that the state’s tourism industry grew by 3.3 percent in 2013 to more than $27 billion. The industry employs 236,200 workers in Tennessee. To sustain and grow that number, the state needs to continue to support the taxpayer advertising and marketing campaigns, Haslam told the Governor’s Conference on Hospitality & Tourism.
Life, economy and employment strong in Middle Tennessee (Tennessean)
Over the last year, the nation has caught on to what we already know: life is good in Middle Tennessee. In 2013, the Nashville region joined a growing list of international cities using the Vital Signs framework to identify regional issues and solutions. This second report examines four key drivers of success—regional effectiveness, economic vitality, quality of place and life and human capital—to identify what’s working and forecast emerging issues and challenges. The health of the entire region is dependent on the shared success of the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Clarksville MSA. This joint region is one of a small number of adjacent metro regions, and is one of the most dynamic and growing areas in the country. Our team was excited to examine these two MSAs and the synergies that exist between them.
Farragut, Clinton and Heritage high schools show top growth (N-S/Coleman)
The top three social studies programs in the state for academic growth are at high schools in the Knoxville area — Farragut High School, Clinton High School and Heritage High School, according to Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores. According to the Tennessee Department of Education website, TVAAS measures the effect schools and teachers have on their students’ academic progress, on student growth, not whether the student is proficient on the state assessment. TVAAS helps educators identify best practices and put in place programs that best meet the needs of their students, as well as make informed decisions about where to focus resources to ensure growth opportunities for all students Kevin Rowland, assistant social studies department chairman at Heritage High School, said in social studies the main consideration for the state judging teachers is the U.S. History end-of-course test.
GOP likely to keep supermajorities but spirited races under way (CA/Locker)
Strategists in both state political parties say Republicans are likely to retain their two-thirds supermajorities in the Tennessee legislature in the Nov. 4 general election but several races could somewhat alter the party lineups in both legislative chambers. Republicans currently hold a 26-7 majority over Democrats in the Senate and 70-28 advantage in the House. (The one House independent, Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, isn’t seeking re-election.) With such big numbers, the GOP could lose up to four seats in both chambers and still have the two-thirds votes in each to change legislative rules and propose state constitutional amendments — not to mention pass new laws, which require only simple majorities. But analysts say such net losses are not likely, especially in the Senate, and that either party could pick up a few seats depending on turnout. It’s not a presidential election, which drives heavier turnout, and Gov. Bill Haslam has no credible challenger for re-election. But there are four state constitutional amendments on the ballot, on hot-button issues of abortion, an income tax, judicial selection and charitable gambling. The anti-abortion Amendment 1 will likely drive a heavy turnout among voters across the political spectrum.
Educators wade into politics against incumbents (Tennessean/Humbles)
Two first-time candidates with backgrounds in education are challenging established incumbents in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon races for the state House of Representatives. Reps. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, and Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, both have multiple terms under their belts as they launch re-election bids. Jesse McLevain, 79, is a retired schoolteacher challenging Lynn in District 57, while current Wilson County teacher Candace Reed is running against Pody in District 46. Lynn was elected to four straight terms to the House and served from 2003 to 2010, before she tried a run at the Senate and narrowly lost in the primary. Lynn successfully ran again for a House seat in 2012.
7th District candidates have striking differences (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Witt)
Candidates wanting the seat 7th District state Sen. Stacey Campfield lost in the Republican primary have striking differences on job creation and wages. And it appears they won’t be holding a publicly moderated forum on issues, either. Democrat Cheri Siler and Republican Richard Briggs both want the L-shaped district that covers North Knoxville, West Knoxville, Downtown, the University of Tennessee and Farragut. Siler said Briggs politically is no different from Campfield — just without Campfield’s antics that “The Daily Show” and other comedy outlets spoofed. “We need to be headed in a different direction,”she said. Briggs said Siler’s push for a higher minimum wage is bad for job growth and she will undermine Tennessee’s right-to-work rules. “All of those are job killers,” Briggs said. The two differ along typical party lines.
Wine-in-grocery-stores backers call on voters (Tennessean/Wilson)
Organizers who want to bring wine to Tennessee grocery aisles plan to make one last push to voters when early voting starts Wednesday. Campaign officials said they will start an advertising and broader campaign push to remind potential voters of the issue that led to a flurry of petition signatures during the summer but may be crowded away from the center by other issues during the November general election. While organizers confirmed the campaign, they were hesitant to provide additional details about how it would be organized. Melissa Eads, a spokeswoman for the Kroger stores that have supported the “Red, White and Food” campaign for years, said the effort will be a final step for a campaign that has taken years to come to fruition.
Area liquor retailers stock beer, brace for wine sales in grocery stores (TFP/Green)
The question among local liquor store owners is whether new state laws loosening regulations on beer and wine sales will actually help them, or do the opposite. Opinions are split. Some liquor store owners say this is the most exciting thing that’s happened for the industry in Tennessee since prohibition was lifted. Others see beer sales as a strange, new world, and one which they don’t know. Starting July 1, the state’s liquor stores have been able to sell normal-gravity beer, liquor, wine and some party and food items under the same roof for the first time as a sort of check and balance against the sale of wine in grocery stores, which will go into effect in many communities in 2016.
Knox area voters to weigh wine in grocery stores (News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Voters in 60 Tennessee communities, including Knoxville, Knox County and Farragut, will get to vote Nov. 4 on whether to allow wine sales in local grocery stores. Enough signatures were collected in all these communities to place the issue on the ballot in the form of a referendum. Now, wine may only be sold in liquor stores, but the state Legislature passed a law this year that will allow wine to be sold in food stores starting July 1, 2016, if a community votes to do so. “Wine continues to be one of the most requested items in our stores,” said Melissa Eads, a spokeswoman for Kroger and for the Red, White and Food campaign, a coalition of grocery stores that led the petition campaign to get the issue on the ballot.
Vote No on 1 campaign starts push to election day (Tennessean/DuBois)
On Saturday, the Vote No on 1 campaign kicked off a “get out the vote” event in Nashville by inviting speakers and training volunteers to reach out to campaign supporters. Amendment 1, which will be on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election, would alter the Tennessee constitution by adding language specific to abortion. The amendment says the constitution would not protect a woman’s right to have an abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and Planned Parenthood have come together to support the Vote No on 1 campaign. “Part of what motivated Planned Parenthood to go all in is that a year and a half ago, a Vanderbilt poll found the majority of Tennesseans do not want politicians making these decisions for families,” said Tracey George, a law and political science professor at Vanderbilt University who also serves on Planned Parenthood’s board.
No on 1 side outraises abortion amendment proponents (Times Free-Press/Sher)
The battle over a proposed Tennessee constitutional amendment aimed at giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions has drawn big contributions for both sides in a fight that has drawn national attention. But abortion rights supporters had the decided edge during the third quarter, raising more than twice as much as proponents of Amendment 1 did. The “Vote No on 1 Tennessee” reported raising nearly $1.6 million and spending $335,821 between July 1 and Sept. 30. The group had $1,587,790 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to spokesman Stephen Hershkowitz. Amendment supporters, organized as “Tennesseans for Yes On 1,” raised $631,576, Tennessee Right To Life President Brian Harris told The Tennessean newspaper.
Infrastructure needs pile up across Middle Tennessee (Tennessean/Cass)
A 15-county Middle Tennessee area needs to spend some $11 billion to shore up its infrastructure so it can accommodate the region’s growth and stay competitive, according to a new study by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Citing data compiled by another organization in 2013, the chamber’s Vital Signs report says the region’s infrastructure needs — from roads and stormwater systems to school renovations and fire protection — amount to nearly one-third of the $37 billion total for the state’s 95 counties. Transportation projects make up about half of the region’s needs.
Blackburn, Cramer differ on taxes, Internet policy (Tennessean/Troyan)
Distaste for the $17 trillion federal debt and a desire to protect Fort Campbell from draconian cuts are about the only things U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and her Democratic challenger, Dan Cramer, have in common. Otherwise, voters in Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District have a distinct choice between a conservative, veteran incumbent with a lot of campaign cash and a left-leaning upstart in his first run for public office. Libertarian Lenny Ladner, a truck driver from Hohenwald, also is on the ballot. Blackburn, 62, is running for a seventh term on a platform of spending cuts and smaller government. She’s a well-known former state lawmaker from Brentwood who still touts her role in defeating Tennessee’s state income tax and, on the federal level, has voted to extend tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush Her sixth term was a controversial one for House Republicans as they were often divided on how and when to negotiate with Democrats.
Congressional races evoke déjà vu (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
Tennessee voters may feel like they’re watching a political rerun when they go to make their picks for the state’s congressional delegation on Nov. 4. U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., a Knoxville Republican, will face Democratic challenger Bob Scott, whom Duncan crushed in 2008. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican, will go up against Democrat Mary Headrick, whom he easily beat just two years ago. And U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg Republican, will compete against Democrat Lenda Sherrell in a race fueled about questions concerning his personal life. If the names, faces and issues on the ballot evoke a sense of déjà vu, the feeling is likely to last well past Election Day: All of the state’s Congress members are heavily favored to win another term. “Most of them are Republicans, and the fundamentals in this state certainly favor Republicans,” said Anthony Nownes, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee. “As for the Democrats, they are very safe incumbents. So in the end, I expect no change in the Tennessee congressional delegation.”
Long odds for challenger, but Bergmann’s resilience draws admirers (CA/Burch)
Ask Republican candidate Charlotte Bergmann about the daunting odds she faces in the 9th Congressional District, which has sent only Democrats to Washington for the past 40 years, and she leaps from her seat and heads to a district map on the wall of her Cordova campaign headquarters. Her hand floats south to hover over Whitehaven, where, she says, the people who voted for Ricky Wilkins Aug. 7 in his losing bid for the Democratic nomination are likely to vote for her on in the Nov. 4 general election. Then she touches north Shelby County: “There are over 20,000 people who can vote in the Millington area, a patriotic area; I’d say about three-fourths of them share my values.” Finally her hand drifts east, where she says “about half of the people in the Cordova area share my values.” Do shared values equal votes? Her campaign to defeat U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who’s held the 9th District seat since 2007, is based on the hope that they will.
TVA rate hike to increase electric bills (Tennessean/Wilson)
Rutherford County residents may have to plan for slightly higher electric bills than last year after the Tennessee Valley Authority started charging slightly higher rates for electricity Oct. 1. The TVA raised its monthly rates by 1.5 percent in August, which the utility’s president and CEO Bill Johnson said at the time was “necessary for new power capacity and environmental enhancements to meet the current and future needs of the valley.” The increase was approved even as TVA leaders cut $500 million from their budget. Because local utilities distribute the electricity TVA produces, the regional utlity can raise the rates those utilities pay for the energy.
Guest columnist: Common Core: a path to success (Tennessean)
In Tennessee, the growing and unfortunate disconnect between workers and job readiness is causing some of the state’s biggest employers — Volkswagen, Nissan and Bridgestone, to name a few — to set up and pay for their own education programs to help employees get the basic skills they need to work. According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, by 2021 Nashville is estimated to have more than 35,000 job openings that will be hard to fill — even though there are more than 220,000 Tennesseans unemployed today. And why? you might ask. Simply put, there won’t be enough skilled or credentialed workers in the area to fill them. The problem of not educating enough skilled and career-ready workers isn’t Tennessee’s alone. Across the nation, far too many high school graduates are not adequately prepared for college or the workforce.
Editorial: VA dismissals add questions about reforms (Commercial Appeal)
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs is beginning the processing of making personnel changes because of long delays in veterans receiving medical care and questions about the quality of that care, even the process of making these changes is raising questions. Already the VA has announced plans to fire three directors of health-care systems and a procurement officer in Washington, District of Columbia. The latter firing involves issues other than appropriate medical care for veterans. Those who are losing their jobs include directors for health-care care systems in Pittsburgh; Dublin, Georgia; and central Alabama. Included in the reasons for the dismissals are health care quality, failure to act on long lists of veterans needing medical appointments and failure to have schedulers adequately trained to deal with the number of veterans needing medical services. Circumstances of the firings, however, have brought criticism from U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Miller noted that one of the fired directors previously had announced his retirement.