This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam says he plans to name new commissioners for economic development and education by the first of the year. The Republican governor, who was recently re-elected to a second term, spoke at a Nashville Rotary Club luncheon on Monday. Haslam announced last month that Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman are leaving for the private sector. The governor is likely to name replacements before the Legislature convenes Jan. 13. Particularly with the education position, Haslam reiterated Monday that a Tennessee candidate would have a built-in advantage by already being familiar with the state’s education picture.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he plans to fill two vacant cabinet seats in the next month. Following a speech to the Rotary Club of Nashville, Haslam told reporters he would like to have replacements for Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty by the beginning of 2015. Both Huffman and Hagerty stepped down in November. While not naming any candidates, Haslam said he has identified several possible replacements. He added his office has not yet conducted any interviews for the positions. He said the timetable isn’t as important as “getting them both right.” On the education front, Haslam said, “It’s a critical time for us. The worse thing we could do is go back; the second worse thing would be to say we’re satisfied [with where the state is].”
As Gov. Bill Haslam continues to search for the successor to polarizing Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the governor acknowledges knowledge of the education climate in the state is a plus. He isn’t committing to a commissioner from Tennessee though, or one with a defined amount of classroom or school administration experience. “I’m not going to draw a line there and say I’m only going to get somebody who’s from Tennessee, because I want to get the very best person. But I do think it’s a plus,” Haslam said Monday after speaking at the Rotary Club of Nashville meeting. “We’re halfway through an eight-year run. It would help if somebody … is familiar with the players.” The governor’s office announced in mid-November that Huffman would not return to his role during Haslam’s second tenure.
NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam has a message for those who want to repeal Tennessee’s tax on stock dividends and certain interest income: Show him how to replace the millions it generates. “I’d love to see us do away with it. Right now, with the revenue situation I see us in in the next year or two, I don’t see that happening. But there will be legislators who will bring that up and want to repeal it. My question is, that’s fine; show me the $280 to $300 million,” the governor told the Nashville Rotary Club Monday. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has filed a bill to phase out the Hall income tax over a three-year period starting with tax year 2016, by reducing the tax rate from its current 6 percent to 4 percent. It would drop to 2 percent the following year, then zero starting in tax year 2018.
With legislators already filing legislation to do away with the state’s tax on income from dividends and interest on investments, Gov. Bill Haslam challenged them to prove that the state can afford the $280 million that would go along with it. “I’d love to see us do away with it. Right now, the revenue situation that I think we’re going to be in for the next year or two, I don’t see that happening,” Haslam told the Rotary Club of Nashville at a luncheon Monday. “There will be legislators who bring that up and want to do it. My question is: That’s fine. Show me the $280 to $300 million,” Haslam said. Phasing out or eliminating the tax, known as the Hall tax, has become a key issue for conservative groups like the Tennessee Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, which last year gathered signatures from 90 legislators saying they would back the tax repeal.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Office of Criminal Justice Programs has awarded the City of Johnson City a three year $240,000 grant to establish a Family Justice Center for Johnson City and Washington County, Tennessee. Administered by the Johnson City Police Department, the grant will be used to help reach the goals of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Public Safety Action Plan to reduce the number of domestic violence incidents locally. The Family Justice Center model allows a multidisciplinary team of professionals to work together to provide coordinated services to victims of family violence. The team includes police officers, prosecutors, civil legal service providers, and community-based advocates.
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited Arizona State University as a school that is “raising the bar” on teacher education, as he unveiled a plan Tuesday aimed at strengthening training and better preparing teachers for the classroom. In a conference call with state and local officials, Duncan announced that the department will change reporting requirements for teacher colleges to focus on outcomes as it works to reach the goal of “putting a great teacher in every classroom.” “If we truly value education, we owe it first to our children to give them the best-prepared teachers possible, and we owe it to our teachers to give them the best preparation possible so that they enter the classroom with skills and knowledge they need to be successful,” Duncan said.
KINGSPORT — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Monday the biggest issue Republican “super duper” majorities have to deal with in the 2015 General Assembly is what to do about Common Core and “how do we keep our high education standards.” “I do believe Common Core has some major, major problems,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, told a Greater Kingsport Republican Women’s luncheon. “But I also believe that there are some things out there that’s a fallacy about Common Core. Everything happening in education that is bad, they try to pin it on that. We need to cut through the bull and get to what’s real.” Lawmakers voted last year to delay further Common Core implementation, and a number of GOP lawmakers remain eager to continue a legislative rollback in 2015.
The Tennessee Firearms Association is endorsing a Tea Party-aligned candidate’s bid to oust Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. In a statement, association Executive Director John Harris said the “core legislative principles” of Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, show he is a better choice for speaker than Harwell. Harris says: Rep. Womick’s decision to challenge Rep. Harwell for that leadership position, just as Rep. Judd Matheny’s decision to do so two years ago, evidences that there is a clear and significant lack of unanimous support within the Republican caucus for Rep. Harwell’s desire for a third term as Speaker of the House of Representatives Harwell has served as speaker since 2011, and Womick’s bid is considered a long-shot.
NASHVILLE — State Reps. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and Mike Stewart of Nashville will lead Democrats in the state House of Representatives during the next two years. The House Democratic Caucus elected Fitzhugh to a third term as minority leader without opposition on Monday, and elected Stewart, a Nashville lawyer who’s been in the legislature for six years, as caucus chairman to replace Mike Turner, who didn’t run for re-election to the House this year. Democrats are outnumbered in the House, 26 to the Republicans’ 73, but were upbeat at their first caucus since last month’s elections, in which they lost two House seats. “We may be few in numbers but I’m reminded of the Upper Room, where only a few gathered (Christ’s disciples at the Last Supper) and helped the spread of Christianity,” said Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – House Democrats have re-elected Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley as minority leader and named Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville as caucus chairman. Stewart replaces former Rep. Mike Turner, who retired this year, in the party’s No. 2 leadership position. Both Fitzhugh and Stewart were elected without opposition. Democrats hold 26 of 99 seats in the House, and several members expressed hope that this will be the smallest caucus they ever serve in. Democrats lost their majority in the House in the 2008 elections and have suffered steady losses ever since. House Democrats welcomed three new members to the caucus: Reps. Bill Beck and John Ray Clemmons of Nashville and Kevin Dunlap of McMinnville. The numbers are even starker for Senate Democrats, who hold just five of 33 seats.
While her presence has been spotty on campus in recent weeks, Chattanooga State Chief Innovations Officer Lisa Haynes was on hand Monday as Jim Catanzaro made his retirement announcement. Catanzaro’s decision to give in in the face of mounting criticism was anti-climactic — the polar opposite of his 24-year tenure as a larger-than-life college president. In front of a weekly meeting of about 60 administrators, directors and department heads, the 77-year-old Catanzaro briefly read off some of his accomplishments before announcing he would retire on Dec. 31. “I love this college and our community,” his statement read. “We’ve made extraordinary strides over the past 24 years so that Chattanooga State stands out as one of the very best community colleges in the nation.”
CLINTON — TVA is keeping secret what incentives the agency awarded a South Korean auto parts firm that is expanding in a Clinton industrial park. The News Sentinel had requested the information after SL Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam and other officials announced this summer the company’s nearly $81 million addition. “We just never have disclosed specific incentives to a specific company,” said Denise Smith, TVA’s Freedom of Information Act officer. TVA can offer power cost discounts and other, unspecified agreements as incentives, she said in a letter Wednesday, denying the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request. TVA at first based its refusal on SL Tennessee’s initial objection to the release of that information.
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a child’s video-recorded statement against a Clarksville teacher accused of rape can be used at trial, overturning a ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Judge John Gasaway. The case also sets a precedent that may impact cases across Tennessee. In 2012, Gasaway had ruled prior to Barry D. McCoy’s trial on seven counts of rape of a child that prosecutors could not admit the video statement into evidence, saying such testimony would be hearsay and would violate the defendant’s right to confront witnesses. Gasaway also said the state had overstepped its constitutional bounds by enacting a law that intruded on a court’s ability decide the admissibility of evidence.
WASHINGTON — A top aide to 8th District Congressman Stephen Fincher resigned after touching off a firestorm over disparaging comments she made about President Barack Obama’s daughters in a post on Facebook. Elizabeth Lauten, who had served as communications director for the Republican from Frog Jump, Tennessee, submitted her resignation on Monday, said the congressman’s chief of staff, Jessica Carter. Carter did not say if Lauten was asked to step down. Lauten’s comments about the president’s daughters’ appearance last week at their father’s traditional pardoning of two Thanksgiving turkeys was quickly picked up on social media and brought a barrage of bipartisan criticism in political circles.
WASHINGTON — An aide to a Republican congressman resigned Monday after her Facebook post criticizing President Barack Obama’s daughters touched off a backlash. Elizabeth Lauten, communications director to Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, said 16-year-old Malia Obama and her sister Sasha, 13, should have shown more “class” at a turkey-pardoning ceremony last week at the White House. Addressing her comments directly to the Obama girls, Lauten wrote that they should “respect the part you play,” and added: “Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.” Lauten also urged the Obama girls to “dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.”
The city of Memphis’ pursuit to receive state approval of tourist development zone designation for a $233 million redevelopment of the old Mid-South Fairgrounds may continue into 2015. City official Robert Lipscomb, who is spearheading the project, said in recent weeks that he hoped the TDZ application would be heard at the Dec. 11 meeting of the State Building Commission. But Lola Potter, director of communications for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said this in an email Monday when asked about its status: “The state is still reviewing the application. It is not expected to be on the December 11 agenda.”
The speculation may be whether he was pushed or made the decision himself, but Jim Catanzaro’s decision to retire as president of Chattanooga State Community College will allow the school a fresh start in its effort to better educate its students. That’s not to say students weren’t uppermost in the current president’s mind, but his leadership decisions and actions in recent months had become a distraction to all the good going on at the school. Catanzaro, 77, received no-confidence votes from the faculty Senate and from the full-time faculty in October and November, respectively, and was facing the results of investigations by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
Happy sailing, Jim Catanzaro. And congratulations for making your retirement announcement on the heels of a closed-door meeting last week among the Tennessee Board of Regents while they discussed the audit of Chattanooga State Community College and your questionable hiring practices — dubbed “abusive” by members of your faculty in two recent no-confidence votes. Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan on Monday tried to give Catanzaro — president of Chatt State for 25 years — a soft landing by lauding the doctor’s accomplishments, including years of growth and “development of unique workforce programs to serve the Chattanooga community.” Then Morgan added: “I appreciate his recognition that now is the appropriate time for new leadership to step in and allow the college to continue moving forward.”