This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s victory margin Tuesday in terms of percentage points set a record in the 44 years since Republicans started seriously contesting gubernatorial elections in Tennessee. Final non-certified returns at the Tennessee secretary of state’s office show Haslam racked up 951,215 votes, or 70.3 percent, followed by Democrat Charlie Brown’s 308,803 votes, or 22.8 percent. Haslam carried all 95 counties in his re-election to a second term. Haslam, 56, is the 49th governor of Tennessee. A state constitutional amendment in 1978 allowed Tennessee governors to serve consecutive four-year terms. Former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist tallied 669,973 votes to defeat John Jay Hooker for a second term in 1998 by a margin of 68.6 to 29.5.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Deanna Bell Johnson of Franklin as circuit court judge for the 21st Judicial District, filling the vacancy created when Judge Timothy Lee Easter was appointed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. The 21st Judicial District includes Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. Johnson’s appointment is effective immediately. “We are fortunate to have someone with this depth of experience to serve on the bench,” Haslam said. “I know Deanna will serve the citizens of the 21st District well.” Johnson, 49, has conducted a solo practice in Franklin, working primarily in Middle Tennessee, since 2002.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Richard G. Rhoda, the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) and the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC), will retire at the end of the year. THEC oversees development of the state’s master plan for higher education, makes recommendations for capital appropriations in the governor’s budget, recommends tuition levels, approves new academic programs, and evaluates the state’s education lottery scholarship program. THEC coordinates functions of the Tennessee’s public higher education systems, which consists of nine universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers.
The head of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission plans to retire. Executive Director Richard Rhoda, who also leads the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, plans to step down at the end of the year, according to a news release Wednesday. “It has been a tremendous pleasure serving THEC and TSAC, and I am proud of the progress we’re making in higher education in Tennessee,” Rhoda said in the news release. Rhoda served in various higher education positions throughout the state since 1973. With the higher education commission he helped oversee the state’s public education system, which includes nine universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers.
The executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will retire at the end of the year, state officials announced Wednesday. Richard Rhoda, who is also the head of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, will leave on Dec. 31. Rhoda, 64, began his career with the Tennessee Board of Regents as a member of the research staff in 1973. He has served as interim president at Austin Peay State University and Nashville State Community College, vice chancellor and acting chancellor of TBR and served on the faculty at Vanderbilt University. The THEC oversees development of the state’s master plan for higher education, makes recommendations for capital appropriations in the governor’s budget, recommends tuition levels, approves new academic programs and evaluates the state’s education lottery scholarship program.
The Tennessee legislature needs to make funding higher education a priority, state Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said Wednesday while visiting Northeast State Community College. “Gov. Haslam’s goals are right on target,” he said referring to the Drive to 55 Alliance and the Tennessee Promise program. The Drive to 55 Alliance seeks to have 55 percent of Tennesseans receive a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. Beginning with the class of 2015, Tennessee students can apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarship, which provides two years of free tuition at a community college or technical school in the state. “I think that it [Tennessee Promise] is a game changer … because it changes the conversation in Tennessee,” Morgan said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s first four years in office included a struggle to exert authority over fellow Republicans in the Legislature on issues ranging from Common Core education standards to Medicaid expansion. But looking back on his first term after his landslide re-election on Tuesday, the Republican governor said there was no instance where he would have acted differently. “There’s nothing that I look back and say, ‘Oh, we really took the wrong approach to that,'” Haslam said. “There’s things where you always say we could do better and we will focus on doing it better.” Haslam defeated Democrat Charlie Brown – who didn’t have any organized campaign structure and raised no money – by a margin of 70 percent to 23 percent, becoming the first candidate to win all 95 counties in Tennessee since then-Gov. Phil Bredesen’s re-election in 2006.
In between watching his Democrats take a beating nationwide Tuesday night, President Barack Obama found the time to call Gov. Bill Haslam and congratulate the Republican on his successful re-election bid. Haslam was one of 25 officials Obama called to congratulate Tuesday evening, according to a list released by the White House. “The president called the governor last night around 11:45 p.m. to congratulate him,” said Laura Herzog, a spokeswoman for the governor. “The governor appreciated the call. It was well after midnight for the president on a busy night.” Haslam sailed to re-election as expected, defeating his politically unknown Democratic opponent Charlie Brown by nearly 50 percentage points.
A former Williamson County school teacher is set to become the new executive director for the Tennessee Board of Education. The board announced Friday that Sara Heyburn would be the new leader, taking over for the retiring Gary Nixon. Heyburn is currently the assistant commissioner for teachers and leaders at the Tennessee Department of Education, a position she’s held since 2011, according to a news release from the board. “The board was impressed with Dr. Heyburn’s leadership in key areas over the past years. We also have been impressed with her ability to build consensus among different education groups and her willingness to meet with and listen to all stakeholders,” board Chairman Fielding Rolston said in the release.
Tajhiee Cockerham has a small frame, big brown eyes and a baby face. Clad in the standard-issue orange jumpsuit, the 18-year-old joined me in a tiny, bare room where inmates usually conference with attorneys. I wrote letters to Cockerham and the other eight teens who escaped from Woodland Hills in September and have since been placed in Nashville’s Criminal Justice Center, an adult jail. Though most of the them ignored my request, Cockerham agreed to sit down for a conversation. Jail officials gave us 20 minutes. Last week, police captured the final escapee from the headline-grabbing episode. While on the loose, he allegedly robbed and shot a Tennessee State University student.
The State of Tennessee recently certified Pellissippi State Community College as a “VETS Campus,” in recognition of the college’s efforts to ensure veterans experience a successful transition from military service to college enrollment. Pellissippi State opened the Ben Atchley Veterans Success Center one year ago this Veterans Day to provide space for veterans to gather, study, and relax, as well as to have access to advising and mentoring services. The college also provides pre-enrollment services — such as test preparation and help with benefits — through a partnership with the Veterans Upward Bound Program at the University of Tennessee.
In a ruling Tuesday, the state appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Haslam over a state law that quashed a Metro nondiscrimination ordinance in 2011. The ordinance sought to extend workplace protections based on city workers’ sexual orientation or gender identity. It required protections for city contractors’ employees as well. Soon afterward, the state legislature passed a law overruling the Metro ordinance. Plaintiffs in the suit argued that the state law sidelined protections against discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity. Among the plaintiffs is Lisa Howe, the former Belmont University soccer coach who parted ways with the university, which was a city contractor, after officials there learned she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.
Republicans picked up a few more seats in the state legislature. Knoxville teacher and Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson fell to challenger Eddie Smith, who got big help from the state’s Republican Party. Democrat John Tidwell of New Johnsonville was defeated by his Republican opponent – Jay Reedy, a farmer and veteran. The district includes Houston, Humphreys and part of Montgomery County. “I just couldn’t overcome Montgomery County. It’s a straight ‘R’ county and probably getting more so,” Tidwell told the Leaf Chronicle newspaper. Tidwell spent 18 years in the legislature. In the state Senate, two retiring Democrats will be replaced by Republicans. Ed Jackson cruised to victory in the city of Jackson after Democrat Lowe Finney retired to run for mayor.
A day after Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1, a measure giving lawmakers more power to restrict abortions, a clear picture emerged of three new abortion measures that are likely to pass in its wake — while abortion rights supporters warned that an “avalanche” of draconian proposals will soon follow. Republican Beth Harwell, speaker of the Tennessee House, said Wednesday she is backing a trio of abortion bills that include: • A mandatory waiting period before a woman seeking an abortion can obtain one. • Inspection requirements for all facilities where abortions are performed. • Mandatory counseling — or “informed consent” — be provided to a woman before an abortion.
Proponents of Tennessee’s just-passed abortion amendment say they hope to keep state lawmakers focused on passing just a handful of new laws next year and avoid breaking new legal ground that could land the state in federal court. “I really think you’ll see the Legislature stick to the issues that were really the subject of this campaign,” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. “I hope the Legislature will model their legislation after laws we are confident are not subject to being challenged.” A former state senator from Signal Mountain, Fowler said Wednesday that boils down to issues like an “abortion-specific informed consent law,” a waiting period “giving women an opportunity to reflect” unless there is a life-threatening emergency and also ensuring abortions are performed at “licensed and regulated facilities.”
Anti-abortion activists said Wednesday that with the legal path cleared by voter ratification of Amendment 1, they expect the 2015 Tennessee legislature to enact new restrictions, including waiting periods and more regulations on clinics. There will also be attempts to require second-trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals rather than abortion clinics and to prohibit abortions in doctors’ offices, which currently occurs in only two offices in Nashville and Bristol. Bobbie Patray, president of the conservative Tennessee Eagle Forum who lobbied for 14 years to get Amendment 1 on the ballot and then ratified by voters, said she expects legislators to file scores of bills to restrict abortion when they convene in January.
Voting figures show that the approval of Amendment 1 this week in Tennessee relied on broad support from rural and suburban areas. The amendment, passed by voters Tuesday, will remove state constitutional protection for abortion in the state and give lawmakers greater authority to regulate pregnancy termination. Only seven of the state’s 95 counties voted against the controversial amendment, including Knox County. Majority opposition to the measure also came from Tennessee’s four largest cities. “Your urban areas tend to be more liberal and more Democratic and more minority,” Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, told the News Sentinel Wednesday.
For some supermarkets eager to begin selling wine in Tennessee, bottles might not hit shelves for two and a half more years without the blessing of nearby liquor stores. In a referendum vote Tuesday, voters in 78 Tennessee municipalities permitted grocery stores and big box retailers to sell wine beginning in July 2016. To give liquor stores more time to adjust to grocery store competition, the General Assembly determined that retailers within 500 feet of existing wine stores will not be allowed to sell wine until July 2017, unless they are able to reach an agreement with the nearby wine shop. “Anecdotally, liquor stores have tended to locate near food stores because wine and food go together, which is the whole reason behind this whole thing,” said Rob Ikard, Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association president.
Voters approved wine sales in food stores in all 78 Tennessee towns, cities and counties where it was on the ballot Tuesday — a sweep so big it may prompt state legislators to consider allowing wine in food stores sooner than the 2016 date written into law. The wine law approved earlier this year that cleared the way for Tuesday’s referendums delays wine sales in food stores to July 1, 2016 — a key provision in a compromise with liquor retailers that led to the law’s passage after seven consecutive years of efforts in the Legislature. In return, liquor stores were allowed to start selling beer, tobacco, party foods and accessories starting July 1 of this year. But the unanimous results, and the large victory margins in most of the referendums, will likely prompt lawmakers to consider moving up the effective date, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said last month.
Shelby County citizens voted 2-to-1 Tuesday, Nov. 4, against a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that gives the Tennessee Legislature the power to regulate abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. But the amendment was approved statewide with enough votes to exceed 50 percent of the votes cast in the general election race for Tennessee governor, the requirement for passage of a state constitutional amendment. Unofficial final results for Amendment 1 in Shelby County showed 62.9 percent voted against the measure. Unofficial statewide results as of Wednesday morning, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, showed 53 percent statewide voted yes on the abortion amendment.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney is running for a fourth term. Devaney in a Wednesday letter to the State Executive Committee members who elect the chairman cited his role in establishing GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and electoral successes in governor’s and congressional races. Devaney was first elected to complete the unexpired term of predecessor Robin Smith after she left to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2009. Devaney was elected to his first full term as chairman the following year. Devaney was U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s state director before becoming chairman of the party.
Tennessee is about to gain new clout in the U.S. Senate following national gains by Republicans in Tuesday’s election. Republicans succeeded in picking up at least seven seats, one more than they needed to take over control of the Senate. That means Sen. Lamar Alexander, who resoundingly defeated Democrat Gordon Ball on Tuesday, is now poised to head the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, while Sen. Bob Corker is set to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Alexander, a former governor and two-time presidential candidate, had said the prospect of becoming a committee chairman had motivated him to run for a third term.
The implications of Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate are perhaps best embodied in the powerful positions awaiting Tennessee’s two GOP senators. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are poised to take committee chairmanships, elevating their national profile while increasing their sway in the Senate. Corker is set to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, described by Nashville political analyst Pat Nolan as “one of the most if not the most prestigious committees in the Senate.” Alexander is in line to chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, committee and lead an appropriations subcommittee related to energy and water development.
The Republicans’ strong showing in Tuesday night’s elections will not only give the party control of both chambers in the new Congress that convenes next year, it also will give Tennessee more influence in Washington. Tennessee’s two U.S. senators — Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — are expected to become chairmen of two high-profile committees that will put them at the center of some of the most important and contentious issues and policy discussions in Washington. Alexander, elected to a third term Tuesday in a 30-point rout over Democratic challenger Gordon Ball, will take the reins of the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over health care, education and pensions.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., urged Walker Valley High School students on Wednesday to embrace bold vision and give something back to their community. “I love the position I’m in, but I will say to each of you that I have not done anything more meaningful in my life than to serve at the local level and touch people in a real way,” Corker said in an address given in the school’s auditorium. He praised the ideals and community service efforts of the high school’s Key Club, sponsored by Kiwanis International. Corker asked his audience to “master something” as a way to shape their lives, citing his own experiences in the construction industry. And he recommended that the students “create a bold vision” for whatever they do, stretching themselves instead of settling for small goals.
Business suits mingled with hiking boots Wednesday under a white tent on the edge of the city’s newest addition to the Urban Wilderness in South Knoxville. Local outdoor stores displayed paddle boards and kayaks while attendees tried out their mountain-biking skills on “pump track” on a chilly, drizzly morning. “We’re celebrating our accomplishments of the last year and letting people get inspired about what Knoxville could be,” said Carol Evans, executive director for the Legacy Parks Foundation. The annual fundraising luncheon drew some 700 people, including retired University of Tennessee women’s athletic director Joan Cronan, Pilot founder Jim Haslam, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
Tennessee Republicans had a field day in state elections Tuesday, which allowed the GOP to maintain its super majorities in the state House and Senate. Beyond that, we think Gov. Bill Haslam’s overwhelming victory Tuesday over a group of little-known and, frankly, unqualified challengers, puts the focus on what kind of governor Haslam is going to be during his second term. We hope his waltz to re-election will spark a recognition on his part that he has the cachet to be more assertive with the legislature on issues important to the state, including better funding for K-12 and higher education, keeping the state on target with implementing Common Core education standards and making a concrete effort to expand TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor.
Congratulations to all the courageous men and women who stepped forward in candidacy to help our community, our state, and our nation — those who won, and those who lost. Running for elective office, particularly at the local level, is largely a thankless job. You must survive often contentious campaigns and then work countless hours for little to no pay. This is a true form of public service — one that is critical to tenets of our great country. For those who won in Tuesday’s election, know that your real work has only just begun. We know the challenge to live up to campaign promises must be greater than many of us could even imagine. For those who lost, we appreciate your desire to serve and encourage you to look for further opportunities.
The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate should result in more power and influence for both of Tennessee’s GOP senators in the next Congress. The GOP also tightened its grip on power in Tennessee in Tuesday’s election, and two amendments backed by party leaders were approved, enshrining a portion of the Republican agenda into the state constitution. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, who did not have to run for re-election this year, and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who easily brushed aside a Democratic challenger, are in line to take on greater responsibilities with the new GOP majority. Corker is poised to become the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a pivotal position in the country’s response to the Islamic State, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other vital national security concerns.