This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The barrage of television ads and campaigning in Tennessee is heading into its last full day before Tuesday’s vote. With the last remaining hours ticking away, candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and the state Legislature are making their final pitches, as are the supporters and opponents of four proposed constitutional amendments going before the voters. In the Senate race, incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander faces Democrat Gordon Ball in what has been a largely negative campaign on both sides. That race stands in contrast to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bid for a second term, which has seen little in the way of organized campaigning by Democratic challenger Charlie Brown. Voters will also decide on constitutional amendments concerning abortion, judicial selection, the state income tax and charitable gaming for veterans groups.
Gov. Bill Haslam devoted one of his last days of 2014 campaigning to promoting Republican candidates in Arkansas and Kansas rather than Tennessee, another indication that the GOP is not too worried about the outcome in most of Tuesday’s partisan elections in his home state. But there is uncertainty about the outcome in four officially nonpartisan votes on the statewide ballot — proposed amendments to the state constitution that have drawn varying amounts of attention. The most controversial, Amendment 1, would clear the way for the Legislature’s Republican supermajority to enact more regulations on abortion. Unlike the other three, it does have partisan linkage with the state’s Republican Executive Committee supporting passage while its Democratic counterpart is opposed. And the outcome of all four amendments is tied to voting in the governor’s race.
You’ve heard it in the television ads and the robo calls in support of Tennessee’s proposed constitutional Amendment 2: “Yes on Two protects our right to vote for judges.” That line used by the Yes on 2 campaign has prompted criticism by opponents — and even some supporters — of the amendment, who say it’s “political spin” or “deceptive” at best, or, at worst, “an absolute fabrication,” in the words of one opponent. The amendment, which voters will decide Tuesday, deletes from the constitution these words: “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” and replaces them with these: “Judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor; shall be confirmed by the Legislature; and thereafter, shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state….” Does Amendment 2 “protect our right to vote for judges” when the amendment removes a 160-year-old requirement that top judges “shall be elected by the qualified voters” and replaces it with a system of appointment and confirmation of judges — followed by retention votes by the public up to eight years later?
Voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide, among other things, the fate of four state constitutional amendments — and in several local cities, whether wine can be sold in retail food stores. The Nov. 4 ballot also includes various state and federal offices. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Sullivan County. “Voters only need their photo ID in order to vote,” Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher said Friday. “A voter registration card is not required. Often voters have misplaced or lost their registration card and they should know that it is not required to vote, nor should they be concerned with searching for it.”
Residents in Milan may be able to buy liquor by the drink soon. Voters will decide whether or not to pass the referendum on the ballot in Tuesday’s election. It’s something Milan Mayor Chris Crider hopes to see pass because he said it will bring more businesses into the city. “I’ve been contacted by representatives of O’Charley’s, Bennigan’s and Chili’s,” he said in an email to The Jackson Sun. “I’m hopeful one will come, but none will come if this does not pass. I’m ready to tear into a big steak in Milan, not Jackson. I’m ready to see Milanites eat here, not there, where the food and drink sales tax dollars educate their kids and pave their streets.”
Assured re-election to a second term, Gov. Bill Haslam faced questions this fall about why he did not tie his campaigning to controversial issues that he will likely confront in the next four years. The governor’s response, as recently reported by The Associated Press: “I’m not quite sure I understand the argument … After four years, is there any secret where I stand on things?” Well, of course gubernatorial secrets exist regarding specifics regarding his position on matters such as Medicaid expansion, restructuring the state’s gas tax, overhauling the business tax system, expanding pre-kindergarten classes statewide, revising the state funding formula for K-12 schools and other issues. Task forces and study committees are working on all these things, and the governor is on record as kind of, sort of supporting many governmental overhauls if specifics and funding can be figured out sometime, maybe. But the governor has dropped some hints during the campaign season on what might be afoot.
Citing sluggish and “piecemeal” funding from Congress, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer announced last week that 33 projects — including two major improvement jobs in Shelby County — will be delayed by one year, to fiscal 2016. The projects, worth a total of $394 million, include 12 that were ready for construction and 21 for which TDOT was about to begin right of way acquisition. The local projects to be delayed are the $32.4 million renovation of the Interstate 55-Crump interchange and the $34 million worth of improvements planned for Lamar Avenue between Shelby Drive and the Mississippi line. Both are designed to improve traffic flow on routes plagued by chronic congestion. In a letter to state lawmakers, Schroer cited the sagging balances of the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highway and mass-transit projects. Gas-tax revenues haven’t kept pace with the cost of transportation improvements authorized by Congress, resulting in general fund transfers to prevent a shutdown of construction projects.
The Tennessee State Board of Education has announced that Sara Heyburn will succeed Gary Nixon as executive director of the policymaking panel.cNixon is retiring at the end of the year. Heyburn has been an assistant commissioner in the state Education Department since 2011, where she has led efforts to improve effectiveness of teachers and administrators. She previously worked as an education policy adviser for the state and as an analyst at Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives. The State Board of Education often takes a central role in controversial issues like charter school authorization and disputes over textbook content.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. hasn’t figured out a way to stop operatives from getting inside information from the federal government and selling it to Wall Street investors. But if he can’t stop the practice, he at least wants to regulate it. “I don’t see how anyone could argue that political intelligence activity should be allowed to continue behind closed doors to the benefit of only a very few elites,” the Knoxville Republican said. Duncan and two Democrats — U.S. Reps. Louise Slaughter of New York and Tim Walz of Minnesota — are pushing legislation that would for the first time shed light on the political-intelligence industry, a $400-million-a-year business that trades in Washington’s greatest commodity: Insider information. Here’s how it works: High-placed professionals leave their jobs at the White House, Congress or some government agency after a few years and move into the private sector. They then go back to their friends in the government — often at the very same agency where they used to work — gather information about upcoming regulations or announcements that aren’t yet public and sell the materials to Wall Street, where they’re used to influence investment decisions.
Two tweets from Gordon Ball’s campaign Twitter account Sunday contained unattributed parts of a Commercial Appeal article last week on Ball’s opponent in this week’s U.S. Senate election, incumbent Lamar Alexander: A Republican majority in the U.S. Senate won in next week’s election would grease the wheels of that body and produce results for GOP. Ball said the recipe for change wasn’t in changing leadership, but in changing Tennessee’s senator. #VoteGodon4TN #TNStrong The campaign tweeted a link to the story later Sunday after The Commercial Appeal brought the tweets to its attention. Referring to the campaign’s social media coordinator, campaign spokeswoman Trace Sharp said: “Alright, she put the story out and quoted your article as we all thought it was good on Twitter. “In the future, what is the protocol for how we tweet quotes from stories from Scripps? Should we link you or the Commercial? Seriously asking.”
A town hall meeting is set for veterans and their families in November. The Memphis VA Medical Center Executive Leadership Team is hosting the meeting set for Nov. 17 from 1:00-2:30 p.m. in the conference center at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis Veterans and their families, congressional office representatives, representatives from Veteran Service Organizations, and community partners are invited to attend. Information regarding VA health care access and benefits will be provided. VA officials will use this meeting and future sessions as an opportunity to hear from Veterans. Representatives from the Nashville VA Regional Office will be in attendance to provide information on benefits and offer claims assistance.