This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Bill Haslam, Phil Bredesen show Amendment 2 support (Tennessean/Nicosia)
As early voting began throughout the state Wednesday, the Republican governor and his Democratic predecessor appeared together at Lipscomb University to push for passage of Amendment 2, the ballot proposal that would solidify in the constitution the governor’s ability to appoint the state’s top judges. Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen took questions from a group of university students and supporters at a breakfast event billed as a bi-partisan effort to get out the vote for Amendment 2. “This works,” said Haslam, the state’s Republican governor.
Haslam, Bredesen: Picking judges about ‘level playing field’ (N. Biz Journal)
Two Tennessee governors — past and present, Democrat and Republican — have put their stamp of approval on constitutional Amendment 2. Gov. Bill Haslam and his Democratic predecessor Phil Bredesen spoke at an event Wednesday morning on their reasons for supporting the change to the state’s judicial selection process, and its importance to business. As we’ll detail in Friday’s print edition of the Nashville Business Journal, the amendment seeks to replace an expired statute – where a nominating commission put forward names for the governor to pick – with a judicial selection process where the governor appoints and the General Assembly approves Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges.
Officials worry about low voter turnout in general election (C. Appeal/Locker)
Nov. 4 general election and particularly the impact of a low turnout on the four proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, whose office oversees elections statewide, and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said turnout on Wednesday, the first day of early voting, was light across most of the state. Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday they’re concerned about the effect a low turnout will have on the amendments. The two conducted a forum at Lipscomb University in support of Amendment 2, which will control how state appellate court judges are appointed.
MTSU celebrates state-of-the-art science building (Gannett)
Local philanthropist Liz Rhea said it was her Eagleville School principal who encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine when she was eight years old. “He told me I needed to be a doctor. The bank gave us some money, and I came to MTSU,” she recalled, while sitting inside the atrium of Middle Tennessee State University’s new the $147 million science building. The university formally cut the ribbon on the building Wednesday morning. The atrium bears the name of Rhea, a retired radiologist, and that of her deceased husband, Dr. Creighton Rhea. As a student in the early 1950s, Rhea worked as a secretary for J. Eldred Wiser, then chairman of the science department.
Haslam speaks at MTSU science building ceremony (Murfreesboro Post)
MTSU and its new $147 million science building are “critical” to Tennessee’s Drive to 55, the initiative to equip 55 percent of the state’s residents with a college degree or certificate by 2025, Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday. “We didn’t decide to fund it because it was its time. We decided to fund this building because it’s the right thing for Tennessee,” the governor said as he led state, local and university officials in an official ribbon-cutting for the research and teaching facility that was completed about five months early and under budget after 15 to 20 years in the legislative and state funding pipeline.
Grand opening held for new $147M science building at MTSU (WKRN-TV Nashville)
On Wednesday morning, Middle Tennessee State University officials hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the school’s new $147 million science building. The building, which opened at the start of the fall semester, spans 257,000 square feet and includes laboratories, classrooms and faculty offices. State officials including Governor Bill Haslam and State Senator Bill Ketron spoke at the ceremony. MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee said, “It’s both an historic and exciting day for MTSU and the state of Tennessee.” On Monday, Nobel laureate Harry Kroto will give the first public lecture in the building. He won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1996.
MTSU dedicates new $147 million science building (WMOT-Radio)
Gov. Bill Haslam presided Wednesday over the opening of a new $147 million science building at Middle Tennessee State University. The 257,000-square-foot facility includes 37 class laboratories, 13 research labs and about 1,500 student stations. During remarks at the dedication ceremony, Haslam said that, “Graduates with STEM degrees are important to our state’s ability to thrive, and the additional space to train these students — provided by this building — will help us compete in today’s global economy.” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee echo the governor’s comments, saying the new science building “is critical to our continuing efforts to provide Tennessee with workers equipped for the challenges of the 21st century workforce.”
Gov. Bill Haslam, President McPhee Open New Science Building (Sidelines)
On Wednesday morning, more than three hundred people gathered in the atrium of the new Science Building for the ribbon-cutting ceremony during the building’s grand opening. Among those present were MTSU President Sidney McPhee, Governor Bill Haslam and keynote speaker, senior general sciences major, Kenneth Ball. After more than a decade in-the-works, the $147 million building is home to new research and practical labs, as well as classrooms which will replace the Davis and Wiser-Patton Science Buildings. “Today, ladies and gentlemen, we made history,” McPhee said at the opening on Wednesday. “We will build history for the state and for the future.”
MTSU shifts focus to doctoral research (Daily News Journal)
MTSU is transitioning from a primarily undergraduate institution to a doctoral research university with significant research activity, according to a release from the university. The following, according to the release, is a representative list of researchers whose work will now either be housed in the new science building or benefit from the additional space and flexibility. Traditional Approach MTSU’s collaboration with a Chinese botanical garden bodes well for the health of a nascent Tennessee industry, according to the release. MTSU already has some promising new centers of research. One example is the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, headed by Elliot Altman, who also directs the Ph.D. program in molecular biosciences, and China native and MTSU research assistant professor Iris Gao.
Amazon hiring several thousand in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Pare)
Amazon is firing up its hiring for the holidays, with its Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., distribution centers slated to land their share of several thousand seasonal jobs the online retailer is creating in the Volunteer State. Nationally, Amazon plans 80,000 seasonal slots at its 50 fulfillment centers and 15 sortation sites. That’s up from 70,000 last year and 50,000 in 2012. Amazon wouldn’t specify how many of the temporary jobs the two Southeast Tennessee centers will gain, but Bradley County officials said in September that employment in Charleston could double to about 1,000 workers for the Christmas season.
TDOT commissioner outlines big projects (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Jacobs)
Gusting wind ripped display boards from tripods Wednesday and driven rain forced state transportation officials to run for cover during a news conference, yet construction workers continued a few yards away to gouge earth with track hoes and lay steaming hot asphalt for the future U.S. Highway 411. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer stood 124 feet above the existing U.S. 411 on the construction site where the new road will be situated and discussed the largest projects underway in East Tennessee. About two dozen TDOT officials, project managers and operations supervisors joined him to explain the nuances of projects in Jefferson, Cocke and Sevier counties.
Road work ahead: TDOT gives NE Tenn officials update on large projects (JCP)
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Tuesday that he is in favor of doing something to increase revenue for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Ramsey noted that the state’s gasoline tax has not been increased since the late 1980s, and said funding concerns for TDOT have left the state’s approach to roads as one primarily of maintenance, not improvement. Ramsey made the comments as Tennessee Commissioner of Highways John Schroer and other TDOT officials made a stop during a bus tour of state road projects in Northeast Tennessee. At the Bluff City stop — originally scheduled to be outdoors at the ongoing $17 million upgrade of the 19-E/11-E interchange, but moved indoors to City Hall due to inclement weather — Schroer and the others met with local officials and news reporters and presented status updates on three large projects.
Killer of country comic ‘Stringbean’ gets parole (Associated Press/Loller)
The killer of Grand Ole Opry and “Hee Haw” comic David “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife Estelle was granted parole Wednesday after 40 years in prison. John A. Brown, 64, was originally sentenced to 198 years, and the board has denied several previous parole requests. His latest request came in April. Brown told the board then that he was truly sorry for what he had done. “I can’t undo anything to change my past. I’ve committed the last 40 years to changing my life,” he said. On the evening of Nov. 11, 1973, Brown and his cousin, Doug Marvin Brown, ransacked the Akemans’ cabin on their farm near Nashville, looking for the cash Akeman was rumored to keep there.
Stars lament parole of Stringbean Akeman’s killer (Tennessean/Tamburin)
It’s still hard for Country Music Hall of Famer Jean Shepard to think back on that night in 1973 when her close friends “Opry” star David “Stringbean” Akeman and his wife were shot dead by robbers at their Ridgetop cabin. Forty-one years have done little to ease her grief or soften her anger toward John A. Brown, one of two men convicted in their murders. She bristled on Wednesday when she learned that Brown would soon be released from prison. “Why should they turn him loose?” Shepard asked. “He cold-bloodedly killed two friends of ours.” Brown, 64, appeared Wednesday morning before five of the seven members of the Tennessee Board of Parole.
Gary Human named new regional director for ECD (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Gary Human has been named the new East Tennessee regional director of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Human will be responsible for leading the state’s economic development efforts in the area that serves Knox and 15 surrounding counties. He will serve as the primary point of contact for existing industry expansions and will help attract new businesses, align workforce development strategies and support other regional economic and rural development initiatives, the department said in a news release.
Wildfire season begins; don’t forget burn permits (Tennessean)
Wednesday was the official start of wildfire information in Tennessee, and state officials are cautioning homeowners to follow simple safety steps to prevent blazes. Burn permits are required for all vegetative or other material burning. If you are burning a small leaf or brush pile smaller than 8 feet by 8 feet in size, log in to www.burnsafetn.org for approval. Anything larger needs a free permit issued by your local Division of Foresty; the number for your area is listed on the burnsafetn.org website. Burning without a permit is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $50.
Burn permits become mandatory throughout state (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Tennessee residents are required to obtain burn permits from now until May 15, as wildfire season has officially begun. Permits are free of charge from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division. District Forester Darren Bailey said it is not permissible to burn any unnatural material. Residents are allowed to burn leaves, branches, twigs and other natural debris. He said anyone found burning any synthetic material, rubber tires, building matter or material hauled from other sites may be subject to fines from their local municipality. “It’s to allow us to know where burning is going on in the area,” said Bailey.
Hamblen County man, woman charged with TennCare fraud (WKRN-TV Nashville)
A man and a woman from Morristown have been charged with selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare. Candice Wilson, 30, is accused of selling Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction. Donnie Elmer Lovell, 57, is charged with selling Oxycodone. Both used TennCare to obtain the narcotics and then sold portions of the drugs to undercover informants. “We dedicate much of our time and resources tracking tips and participating in undercover operations to stop people who are using TennCare to finance prescription drug trafficking, at the expense of taxpayers,” Inspector General Manny Tyndall said.
In Putnam County, Amendment 1 Is Bringing Voters To The Polls (WPLN-Radio)
The proposed changes to Tennessee’s Constitution are driving people to the polls, as early voting in the midterm elections started Wednesday across the state. At a voting precinct in Putnam County, nearly every voter cited Amendment 1 when asked what issue drew them out. Amendment 1 is the abortion amendment that supporters say will make the procedure more safe by letting lawmakers pass more regulations. Critics say that it will effectively restrict access to abortions. Several in Putnam County echoed voter Dwight Henry, who said his religion and conversations he’s had at church were motivating.
Tennessee localities will vote Nov. 4 on wine sales in retail food stores (T-N)
Food City President and CEO Steve Smith promises the message will be straight to the point and in the form of a question. “What we’re going to do is say ‘Where’s the wine?’ ” Smith said of signs in his stores directing voters to cast a ballot in favor of wine being sold in Tennessee’s retail food stores. On Nov. 4, nearly 80 localities will vote on the so-called “wine in grocery stores” referendum, including all three Tri-Cities and a number of smaller Northeast Tennessee towns like Church Hill and Rogersville. Smith recently met with members of the Times-News Editorial Board to pitch the referendums being passed. Advocacy group Red White and Food, working on behalf of Food City and other grocery retailers, collected more than 260,000 signatures on petitions statewide to get the measure on local ballots.
Tennessee senators call for Ebola travel restrictions (Tennessean)
Both U.S. Senators from Tennessee are calling for travel restrictions to and from nations in West Africa hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also called on President Obama to put a single cabinet member in charge of coordinating a more urgent response. “This crisis needs stronger leadership and a greater sense of urgency from the president,” Alexander said. He said travel to the U.S. from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone should be restricted and 21-day quarantine procedures should be developed for anyone arriving here. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., called for restricting tourism and non-essential travel.
Blackburn to confront health officials on Ebola (Leaf Chronicle)
One Tennessean at odds with the general “everything is under control” official tone on the Ebola problem is Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN, 7th District), who will participate on Thursday in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the U.S. public health response to the Ebola outbreak. Blackburn has had an ongoing difference of opinion with CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden on whether the U.S. should institute a travel ban from West Africa similar to what other nations, including several African nations, have imposed. Speaking by phone with The Leaf-Chronicle on Wednesday afternoon, Blackburn said, “If the administration doesn’t want to end the flights, then we should at least quarantine people for the 21 day period it takes for the virus to manifest itself. That would be a first step.”
Look fast: U.S. Senate candidates’ only joint appearance is Thursday (CA/Locker)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and his Democratic challenger, Knoxville lawyer Gordon Ball, meet for their first and only joint appearance of the election Thursday morning in Cookeville. But unless you’re a leader in the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, don’t expect to watch the event firsthand. The hour-long forum starts at 7:30 a.m., in a Tennessee Tech University agriculture pavilion, with no live television broadcast, and the public is not invited. Farm Bureau spokesman Lee Maddox says the organization will try to stream the event on its website, video.tnfarmbureau.org/live-video/. It’s the only joint appearance that Alexander, R-Tenn., agreed to hold with his opponent.
Tennesseans urged to fight ‘voter suppression’ (Associated Press/Johnson)
Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper on Wednesday urged Tennesseans to vote this election cycle following a recent report that shows states that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not. The press conference organized by Cooper in Nashville was held on the first day of early voting. The general election is Nov. 4. The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency, said that as of June, 33 states have enacted laws obligating voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Republicans who have pushed for the legislation say the requirement will reduce fraud, but Democrats insist the laws are a GOP effort to reduce Democratic turnout on Election Day.
Advocates tout report linking Voter ID law to turnout drop (N-S/Nicosa)
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and other voting rights advocates on Wednesday touted a new report that finds Tennessee’s controversial, 3-year-old voter ID law has deterred voter turnout, especially among young people, African-Americans and newly registered voters. Cooper and his supporters said Wednesday that the report confirms what they’ve always said: The state’s voter ID law unfairly suppresses Tennessee residents’ voting rights. Women, students, seniors, minorities and poor voters have been disenfranchised more often than others, advocates say.
Cooper: Study proves voter ID law depresses turnout (Times Free-Press/Walton)
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Wednesday a nonpartisan congressional study demonstrates Tennessee Republican legislators were more interested in voter “suppression” than ballot security when enacting a law requiring state residents to present a government-issued photo ID before casting ballots. “Many of us suspected this back in 2012. Now we have proof,” the Nashville congressman said at a news conference where other critics of the 2011 law spoke. “Tennessee has lowered voting turnout by 2.2 to 3.2 percent, an estimated 88,000 voters.”
Rep. Cooper on new federal courthouse: Still no telling when it will happen (NBJ)
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper knows Nashville isn’t any closer to landing money for a new federal courthouse. What matters to him right now is that the city just dodged a major setback. The federal judiciary reaffirmed this month that Nashville remains first in line for a courthouse — 22 years after government officials first cited security concerns with the existing building at 801 Broadway. A recent government analysis concludes that Nashville’s need for a new courthouse today is much less urgent than cities such as Charlotte, Toledo, Ohio; and Des Moines, Iowa. Still, the judiciary is keeping Nashville as its top priority, contending that too much taxpayer money (about $25 million) has been spent to change course now.
Campaign spending gap widens in 3rd Congressional District (TFP/Brogdon)
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has out-spent and out-raised his Democratic opponent, Mary Headrick. But Headrick says money isn’t everything, and she hopes people can change more minds than campaign dollars in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Campaigns for federal candidates filed October quarterly reports Wednesday ahead of the Nov. 4 general election to show how much money they had raised and spent between July 1 and Sept. 30. Neither Fleischmann’s nor Headrick’s campaigns had filed with the Federal Election Commission by press time Wednesday, but the campaigns provided numbers to the Times Free Press. The filing deadline was 11:59 p.m.
ASD will take over 9 more schools in Memphis (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
Nine more schools in Memphis will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District next fall, including Wooddale Middle, Raleigh-Egypt High and South Side Middle, which have already been assigned to charter schools. Nine others — Florida-Kansas Elementary, Denver Elementary, Airways Middle, Brookmeade Elementary, American Way Middle, Hawkins Mills Elementary, LaRose Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle and A.B. Hill Elementary — are eligible for takeover, although only six of those will be under new management. The six to be taken over will be determined in part by a community vetting process that suggests which charter operators are best-suited to each school’s needs. The ASD will announce the final matches in December.
Editorial: JSCC fills critical void with co-op program (Jackson Sun)
In the wake of the Great Recession — Washington, at least, says it’s over — and at a time when graduating seniors can take advantage of the governor’s Tennessee Promise to pay for two full years of college, it’s encouraging to know Jackson State Community College offers a work-study program in the field of manufacturing. Jackson State is giving students the opportunity to attend class a couple days a week while actually working in their field of study, giving them the instant gratification of applying what they’ve learned, and hands-on training unmatched by textbooks. Toyota Bodine is one of more than a dozen manufacturing facilities in Jackson that participate in this creative program that combines classroom instruction with on-site manufacturing experience, allowing students to work while obtaining a degree.