This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was all smiles as he came bounding off the campaign bus Friday, surrounded by a bevy of GOP stars getting ready to rumble with Democrats over a very tight race on Tuesday’s ballot. Only this cavalcade, in the waning hours of Election 2014, wasn’t in Tennessee. Not even close. Try Kansas, where Haslam and fellow Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey had flocked to help GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in his tight race with Democrat Paul Davis. That says everything about this year’s governor’s race in Tennessee, where Haslam faces a little-known retiree, Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, who’s spent just $50 on his entire campaign. In fact, it says a lot about many contests on Tuesday’s ballot. Tennessee Democrats have been largely unable to get up from the mat where they were firmly pinned by the GOP when Democrat Barack Obama was first elected president six years ago.
Both sides of Tennessee’s Amendment 1 issue were out in force Saturday in Nashville with different approaches to try and reach voters who will go to the polls on Tuesday. Actress Connie Britton of “Nashville” and film star Ashley Judd headlined an afternoon rally for opponents of the amendment at 429 Event Space on Chestnut Street that drew about 100. Meanwhile, supporters of Amendment 1 did a more grassroots campaign as many held signs and provided information throughout the day on Nolensville Pike and Harding Place. “If people understand this amendment we will win,” Yes on Amendment 1 supporter Elizabeth Fields said. If Amendment 1 passes, it would give state lawmakers more authority over abortion regulations.
The campaign on a proposed Tennessee constitutional prohibition on taxing of personal income has been a low-budget affair on both sides, financial disclosures show, although the measure could have long-term consequences in shaping state budgets of the future. Campaign committees set up by proponents and opponents of Amendment 3 have collectively spent a little more than $50,000 in actual listed expenditures, according to disclosure statements covering the period from their launch through Oct. 25. There are some quirks of indirect spending and obligations that would raise the totals somewhat. That compares to a combined $5.5 million in spending on both sides of the higher-profile Amendment 1, which, if approved by voters, would assure the Legislature can enact stricter abortion laws.
Proponents of wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores spent $1.16 million in October to persuade voters in 78 towns and cities to vote yes in Tuesday’s election. Organizers of the Red, White and Food campaign reported spending $630,000 on television from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25, according to campaign finance disclosures provided by the group to the Times Free Press on Friday. Another $230,000 went for radio ads, $150,000 was spent on direct mail and $29,000 on phone banking. Six local municipalities will see the wine referendum on their ballots, as will voters in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and dozens of other communities.
When voters decide a set of ballot initiatives and statewide races Tuesday, Scott Smith hopes they keep him in mind when they arrive at one of the final items — the wine-in-food-stores referendum. Smith owns the Wine Market on Spottswood in East Memphis. Noting the adverse effects he thinks legalized wine sales in food stores could have on his business, he makes a quick shift to those who will profit — namely, big grocery businesses based out of state, he said. “Meaning that, when people spend money in my store, I spend that money back in Memphis — probably somewhere they work,” he said. It’s the argument that some local store owners are making on the verge of a vote that could dramatically alter the course of their business: Buying local is great, but voting local is better.
Voters in 78 Tennessee municipalities on Tuesday, including Bristol, will decide whether to permit the sale of wine in retail food stores. The referendum, the last item on Bristol’s ballot, has been advocated by Red, White and Food, an organization comprised of six grocery retailer chains which operate stores in Tennessee, including Food City. “We’re not bringing wine to any towns that don’t already have it,” said Steve Smith, president and CEO of K-VA-T Foods, which operates 53 Food City stores in Tennessee. Smith and the Red, White and Food organization have campaigned for the referendum for eight years. Smith said he believes consumer interest and the idea of having a referendum helped push the proposal in the state legislature.
Despite a ballot featuring closely watched state constitutional amendments and a referendum to allow wine sales in grocery stores, Williamson County voters’ interest is lower in this general election compared to their interest four years ago, based on early voting results. Early voting results show a 3.5 percent drop in voter turnout in this year’s general election compared to 2010’s early voting totals. Through the early voting period that ended Oct. 30, about 18.9 percent of the county’s registered voters turned out, casting 26,402 ballots. That’s lower than 2010 when 22.3 percent of the county’s voters cast 27,843 ballots in early voting. Chad Gray, deputy administrator of Williamson County Elections, said the lower interest can be traced to low-key races for governor, U.S. Senate, and Congress this year than four years ago while the state Senate and House races all favor incumbents.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the process for a public review of the state’s K-12 academic standards in English language arts and math. The process is in partnership with the State Board of Education and will include input from educators and citizens from across the state. Cumberland County teacher Kim Herring has been appointed to serve on the review team for high school mathematics. Academic standards are typically reviewed in Tennessee every six years. With these standards now in their fourth year, and with the discussion happening in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core state standards, Haslam believes this is the appropriate time to take a fresh look. “One thing we’ve all agreed on is the importance of high standards in Tennessee,” Haslam continued.
A man who got married right out of Red Bank High School struggled for eight years to support his three kids and stay-at-home-wife on a $10-an-hour auto parts store job — until he scored a $30-an-hour computer-related job at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen assembly plant. Hamilton County school board member Steve Highlander, who taught at Red Bank, knows the man and used him as an example at the board’s retreat Saturday morning of why the school district needs to offer more vocational training for students who aren’t college-bound. “Vocational, for sure, we need,” said Highlander, whose district includes Central and Ooltewah high schools. Board members spent four hours Saturday going over such matters as the school district’s goals, its strengths and weaknesses.
Raleigh-Egypt High School, in many ways, is the new ground zero in the fight over what the Achievement School District stands for and how it manages its work. The school, in state Rep. Antonio Parkinson’s legislative district, is fueling his drive to get some answers, starting with the State Department of Education. “The community has worked hard to create a level of synergy between all three of the (Egypt) schools. The principals are working together. Students from the high school are tutoring kids in the middle schools and the elementary school. We’ve got some corporate support now and more parents are involved,” said Parkinson, D-Memphis. Parkinson’s comments represent the tensions that can develop when ASD processes aren’t clear.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent announcement that Common Core standards will receive a complete review seems little more than a political ploy. With the next session of the General Assembly looming in January, Haslam may be engaging in a pre-emptive strike. Completion of Haslam’s Common Core standards review is not to come until after the end of the 2015 legislative session. State Rep. Rick Womick, a Common Core opponent who represents a portion of Rutherford County, already has indicated that he expects repeal of the state ‘s participation in Common Core in the next legislative session. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is indicating that legislative action on standardized tests for the state’s schools is not done, although the state Department of Education is ready to award a contract for development of new standardized tests.
Last week’s sudden shutdown of the Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga could harm Knoxville-area businesses and should demonstrate the importance of maintaining infrastructure across the country. A hairline fracture in the anchorage of the 74-year-old lock prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the facility, which already is imperiled and scheduled to be replaced. The closure, expected to last three weeks, means that businesses upstream from Chattanooga that rely on barge traffic will have to delay shipments or find alternative transportation. The shutdown also represents the failure of Congress to adequately fund infrastructure needs vital to the nation’s economy. In this instance, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund has been unable to keep pace with construction and maintenance needs for the country’s rivers and lakes. The barge industry has been begging Congress to increase the tax its members pay on fuel to replenish the trust fund, but so far lawmakers have not been brave enough to approve the increase. They need to find their courage.
Pages from a Tennessee political notebook on election eve (almost), 2014: Going by participation in early voting, it seems that Tennessee turnout has tumbled more dramatically this year than in a more modest 2012 decline that has drawn some recent national attention. A federal General Accounting Office study found voter turnout generally declined nationwide in 2012, but the dropoff was greater in Tennessee and Kansas, two states holding their first elections since enacting laws requiring a photo ID for voting. In Tennessee, the 2012 drop was about 4.5 percent when compared to 2008, the last presidential election year. This year the early voting decline, when compared to the last non-presidential election year of 2010, is approaching 20 percent.