This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Congratulations are in order in regard to the decision of M-TEK to locate its North American headquarters in Murfreesboro. M-TEK, which produces automobile parts, already has a facility in Smyrna, and we congratulate it on the decision to locate its headquarters for North America a few miles south. We congratulate Murfreesboro officials on a couple of counts. A priority for the city has been to locate corporate headquarters in the city, and M-TEK in the Gateway area will provide another such operation. City officials also have been working to bring more high-paying jobs to the community, and this addition appears to be achieving that goal. With corporate leadership and engineering and research and development operations at the new headquarters, higher-paying jobs will be available.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Thursday evening hosted the 12th annual “Tennessee Season to Remember” ceremony at First Baptist Church in Nashville to honor victims of homicide. Haslam was joined by several state and local public safety officials. During the ceremony, families from across Tennessee placed ornaments on memorial wreaths in honor of their loved ones. “We want these families who have suffered unimaginable loss to know that Tennesseans support them, and we hope the simple act of hanging an ornament in the name of a loved one can provide some comfort this holiday season,” Haslam said. The memorial wreaths will be displayed in the Tennessee State Capitol throughout the holiday season.
Law enforcement officials fear Tennessee is about to experience a flood of cheap, supercharged heroin as Mexican drug cartels rush to capitalize on residents’ widespread addiction to prescription pain pills. “We are seeing an influx of imported meth, but what I’m more concerned about … is this proliferation of heroin we’re seeing,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn told Gov. Bill Haslam last week. “Heroin will be our next meth.” It’s already showing up in Tennessee and could become a big problem over the next three to four years, he predicted. That includes Chattanooga, said Capt. Nathan Vaughn, of the Chattanooga police special investigations unit. “We have seen somewhat of an increase,” Vaughn said. But, he added, “currently [heroin] is not presenting itself as any more of an issue than other drugs. Certainly that could change, as overdose issues associated with heroin are considerable when compared to drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines.”
Tennessee is facing a new drug problem, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said. At Wednesday’s budget hearing with Gov. Bill Haslam, Gwyn told the governor he believes drug cartels are bringing heroin laced with Fentanyl into the state. When Haslam asked Gwyn to talk about the influx of imported meth in Tennesse, Gwyn acknowledged that more meth is being imported and less meth is being manufactured in Tennessee than in the past, but that the new, deadly form of heroin is a growing concern. “What I’m more concerned about is the proliferation of heroin we’re seeing,” Gwyn said. “Heroin will be our next meth.” Gwyn said cartels from Colombia and Mexico are importing heroin laced with the pain killer Fentanyl into the United States, and he said the drug is violently potent.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney on Saturday turned back a tea party-styled challenge to win a fourth term in charge of the state GOP. Devaney defeated former state Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro in a 47-17 vote by the party’s executive committee meeting on the floor of the state House. “We’re not always going to agree on every tactical issue,” Devaney told the panel after the vote. “But I think we can agree on a lot of the core principles of the Republican Party, which are traditional values, personal responsibility, free markets, individual liberty.” Carr, who came up 9 percentage points short in his primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in August, had said he was challenging Devaney because of “division within our party.”
Tennessee Republicans want Chris Devaney to remain the leader of their party, opting to re-elect the chairman instead of supporting a Tea Party challenge from ex-Rep. Joe Carr. Members of the Republican Party State Executive Committee overwhelmingly favored Devaney, electing him by a 47 to 17 margin during a Saturday morning event at the State Capitol. Devaney thanked the SEC, and noted they need to continue to fight to maintain the GOP’s success in local, state and national elections. “We cannot have that battle with a divided army,” Devaney said. “Look, we’re not always going to agree on every tactical issue or whatever but I think we can agree on a lot of core principals of the Republican Party.”
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney on Saturday easily fended off a spirited challenge from former state Rep. Joe Carr, winning election to a fourth term as party chairman. Republican State Executive Committee members voted 47-17 for Devaney. It was Carr’s second defeat in four months — the first was his unsuccessful tea party-fueled challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the August primary. In seeking the chairmanship, Carr said he had been encouraged to run in order to “bridge growing and unsettling divisions” between the party’s establishment and tea party wings. Devaney, of Lookout Mountain, cited the party’s progress during his tenure. Following the vote, Devaney told executive committee members he looks forward to working with them as a “unified group” and stressed the themes that unite Republicans.
Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist and state Sen.-Elect Ed Jackson come from different political backgrounds and have different public service roles, but they are in agreement on this: The city of Jackson and Madison County have not received their fair share of attention from state economic developers. Ed Jackson’s main campaign message for the 27th District this fall was that West Tennessee has been left behind in the economic development success enjoyed by the rest of the state. Gist says it seems that local leaders have to attract businesses without help from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. Research by The Jackson Sun into one of the state’s largest economic development programs, called FastTrack, indicates that Gist and Jackson are correct.
Reliability not required Electric utilities don’t have to track or report outages in Tennessee There are no national requirements that local utilities provide reliable electric service. And although half of all states have set reliability standards and even more require at least reliability tracking, Tennessee does neither. The national Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has developed a system of benchmarks for reliability widely used in the industry. Among the most commonly tracked are the average length of time a customer of the utility is without power in a year, and how often the average customer loses power. Lin Fangxing, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee, said more than 20 states require utilities to meet a minimum standard for the length and frequency of power outages.
Six years ago, Nashvillians appeared on the brink of passing a divisive measure to make English the only language used in official Metro government business. Instead voters — surprising many at the time — went to the polls and decisively rejected what had become known as the “English-only” referendum. Now, after avoiding a potential black-eye in immigrant relations, Nashville is set to host President Barack Obama on Tuesday for a speech on his executive actions to provide temporary legal status and work permits to more than 5 million immigrants who are in this country illegally. The president’s pick of Nashville for remarks on a polarizing issue that could define his second term is recognition of the city boasting one of the country’s fastest-growing immigrant populations — a place that while still known foremost for its country music and honky-tonks, has increasingly gained international flavor.
The Memphis-based 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National guard does exactly what one would expect of an airborne National Guard unit operating out of the world’s second largest cargo airport. It moves supplies and equipment around the globe, much like a certain behemoth overnight delivery company that anchors the northeast corner of Memphis International Airport. The base also pumps money into the Greater Memphis economy, by providing jobs and payroll, local purchasing and capital improvements like a $1.2 million flight simulator and training facility that was unveiled last week. As part of a U.S. Department of Defense budgeting process, base officials recently calculated the unit’s direct and indirect economic impact on the Memphis area at $73 million a year. The 164th Airlift Wing has 870 employees, including about 400 full-timers, and annual payroll of about $43 million, commanding officer Col. Mark Devine said. Pilots and loadmasters make up about 150 of the total, and maintenance technicians total another 250.
Falling gas prices have may have added another option to Gov. Bill Haslam’s possibilities for short-term expenditure of the political capital he has presumably banked with a 70 percent approval rating, according to both a Vanderbilt poll released last week and last month’s election results. Haslam has been talking about the need to restructure the state’s fuel tax system since he launched his campaign for governor in 2010, but did nothing in his first term. The state gas tax is now 21.4 cents per gallon, unchanged since 1989. In budget hearings last week, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer, who has previously deemed the present taxing system “archaic,” said things are reaching the point where Tennessee no longer has the money to build new roads and instead can only maintain the roads it has. Haslam pretty much agreed.
We have long felt that our part of West Tennessee has been overlooked by the state in its economic development efforts. Now we have some evidence to prove it. The story on today’s front page shows that the Southwest Tennessee Development District, which includes Madison County, has been virtually ignored by the state Department of Economic and Community Development Office (ECD) of late. In fact, the Southwest Tennessee Development District ranked last among the state’s nine development districts in several major categories when The Jackson Sun analyzed the state’s FastTrack program, which is designed to promote economic development and job growth. For 2013 and the first three quarters of 2014, the district ranked last for dollars committed through FastTrack; last for jobs created through FastTrack incentives; and last for per-capita dollars committed through FastTrack. And it wasn’t even close.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term bill on Wednesday that would preserve the sales-tax deduction for Tennesseans and residents of other states without a full-blown income tax. The White House has signaled that President Barack Obama would sign the bipartisan measure, paving the way for Senate passage. Unfortunately, the president also has signaled he would veto a long-term extension of the sale-tax deduction and other tax breaks for individuals and businesses. Senate Democrats and House Republicans had been negotiating a long-term deal until the veto warning was issued. The bill allows Tennesseans who itemize on their income tax returns to count state and local sales taxes among their deductions for 2014, but there is no guarantee that will continue. We have always thought it was unfair for the federal tax code to allow people in 41 states to deduct their state income taxes, while not extending a similar privilege to people in the few states with no income tax.