Voting Now Open in Beacon Center’s Annual ‘Lump of Coal’ Contest

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, December 14, 2015:

Beacon Announces 2015 Lump of Coal Nominees

Today, the Beacon Center announced the four finalists for the 2015 Lump of Coal award. The Lump of Coal is an annual “award” given by the Beacon Center for the government or private entity that has most abused taxpayer money. After the Beacon Center picks the four finalists, we leave it up to Tennesseans to decide who is most deserving of this infamous award. Tennesseans can vote at beacontn.org/lumpofcoal. The “winner” of the award will be announced on Monday, December 21st.

“There have been so many instances of government abuse at the expense of the taxpayer this year that it was hard to narrow it down to just four, but after much deliberation the Beacon Center staff has picked the finalists. Now we leave the final vote in the hands of Tennesseans,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen.

Beacon Communications Director Mark Cunningham noted, “With nominees from Memphis to Knoxville, it is pretty apparent that wasting and abusing taxpayer money is not a regional problem. While only one of these nominees will be selected as the Lump of Coal recipient, each of them should be absolutely ashamed to be included on this list.”

The finalists are:

Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE)

The mission of Memphis EDGE is essentially to redistribute money from the hardworking taxpayers of Memphis to big corporations. With disturbing levels of poverty and roads filled with potholes, it seems that the local government could be spending taxpayer money much more efficiently by improving the city rather than padding the pockets of Fat Cats at the expense of those taxpayers. To read more, click here.

The Hospital Lobby

In cartel-like fashion, some of the largest hospitals across the state teamed up to lobby for Insure TN- Gov. Haslam’s version of Medicaid expansion. Yet, despite claiming they were operating on “razor thin” margins and looking to use expansion as a bailout, several of these same hospitals were found to be overcharging the uninsured by as much as 10 times the actual cost of care. To read more, click here.

The University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion

The Office first made national news in August when it “encouraged” other students to use “gender neutral” pronouns like “ze” or” xe” lest one commit the grave offense of using “he” to refer to a man. Now the Office is “encouraging” students to take a few simple steps when celebrating the holidays so as to, “[e]nsure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” When UT uses your money for something that manifestly does not further higher learning, it lacks a legitimate basis for taking it in the first place. To read more, click here.

Rutherford County School Board Chair Wayne Blair

The incoming chairman of the Tennessee School Boards Association sure cut his political teeth early. Before the gavel even passed, Wayne Blair, who also serves as chairman of the Rutherford County School Board, got himself in hot water. Blair was recently chastised for possibly violating the law when he convened a meeting of local teachers to rail against what he refers to as “anti-public school legislation” such as opportunity scholarships and charter schools. One statewide watchdog has questioned whether Blair’s actions are illegal. Even if they aren’t, it’s in poor taste to make teachers think they must align with your political agenda as the school district’s highest ranking elected official. To read more, click here.

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The Beacon Center of Tennessee empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.

TFA Hails Kelsey’s Push for AG Opinion on Nashville Gun-Show Issue

Press Release from the Tennessee Firearms Association, Dec. 10, 2015:

Senator Brian Kelsey asks Tennessee Attorney General for Ruling on local regulation of Gun Shows

NASHVILLE, TN: The Tennessee Firearms Association’s Executive Director, John Harris, today expressed support for the move by Senator Brian Kelsey, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary, to obtain an official opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General on several specific questions regarding whether local governments, specifically Nashville, have the legal authority to regulate gun shows that have historically taken place on public fairgrounds and similar publicly owned properties.

“Nashville, under its liberal Mayor, has tried to stop the long-standing tradition of allowing gun shows at the centrally-located and publicly-owned Nashville Fairgrounds.” Harris continued, “because, apparently, the liberal Mayor and 3 members of the Fair Board thought that they could do it and get away with it. It is now clear that this move by Nashville, under Mayor Megan Barry’s leadership, has caused a significant objection from citizens and elected officials all over the state of Tennessee. Their actions are clearly an attack on the 2nd Amendment and also an attack on legal commerce that these small handful of public officials appear to personally prefer to stop.”

The Tennessee Legislature previously enacted legislation that prohibits local authorities from regulating any aspect of “the whole field” of firearms and ammunition in Tennessee and reserving that power solely to the legislature. But, local governments, such as Nashville, apparently feel that the beliefs of a handful of local government officials can be implemented even if prohibited by state law.

Harris says that even in Davidson county the citizens have been so fed up with local government officials trying to close the entire fairgrounds that they enacted a charter amendment severely restricting that type of action and protecting the continued use of the fairgrounds for any type of event that had occurred there on or before December 31, 2010. Nashville’s progressive leaders who are actually responsible for orchestrating this ban are clearly in violation of that local ordinance.”

Harris concluded, “TFA will be interested in seeing the Attorney General’s opinion and continuing to work with legislators as necessary to curtail the opportunities of local government officials from intentionally or otherwise violating state laws. We will stand up for the 2nd Amendment and gun owners in Tennessee against this intentional usurpation of our rights as citizens to engage in lawful conduct on public property.”

Judiciary Chairman Requests Attorney General Opinion on Metro Banning Fairground Gun Shows

Press release from Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Dec. 10, 2015:

(NASHVILLE) — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) requested an opinion today from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery regarding the legality of banning gun shows from publicly owned fairgrounds. The Nashville Metropolitan Fair Commissioners Board recently voted to ban gun shows at the city’s publicly owned fairgrounds. Kelsey said the action potentially runs afoul of local, state, and federal laws.

“Tennessee law is clear that local governments cannot regulate the sale of arms,” said Senator Kelsey. “The Metro Fair Board action is a thinly disguised effort to impose a liberal gun control agenda and deny citizens their Second Amendment rights.”

The Tennessee preemption statute prevents localities from enacting any new laws regulating the use, purchase, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, carrying, sale, acquisition, gift, devise, licensing, registration, storage, and transportation of firearms and ammunition. The statute also preempts any existing local law, ordinance, or regulation concerning firearms, ammunition or their components.

Kelsey said the action to prohibit gun shows at the fairgrounds also raises constitutional questions. Generally, if a local government opens a venue for rent by private parties, it cannot pick and choose which parties it allows to rent the space simply because it disagrees with the viewpoint of those parties.

“The decision by the board tramples on the free speech of those who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” added Kelsey.

Reports seem to indicate that the Fair Board’s members overwhelmingly made their decision based on their desire to implement gun control measures.

Finally, the board action also appears to violate Metro’s own charter. The 2011 amendment to the charter for Metro Nashville provides that existing fairgrounds activities, “including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, expo center events, flea markets, and auto racing, shall be continued on the same site.” Gun shows have been operating at the fairgrounds since the 1970s.

Metro Councilman Steve Glover, who filed a resolution last week asking the fairgrounds board to overturn their decision banning gun shows, reacted positively to Sen. Kelsey’s request: “I’m pleased that the state as well as Metro is looking at this. I look forward to receiving the legal opinions. I feel certain that what’s been done will be overturned.”

Nashville Republican Tapped to Chair Senate Finance Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee

Press release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee Senate, Dec. 7, 2015:

(NASHVILLE, TN), December 7, 2015 — State Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville) has been appointed Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. The appointment of the powerful subcommittee was made by Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) as the General Assembly prepares to convene the 2016 legislative session on January 12.

“This subcommittee was created to ensure that agencies of state government are accountable in reporting the appropriate financial information to our Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee,” said Chairman McNally. “This oversight is of tremendous importance in ensuring that we have all the information that we need in order to make the most effective budget decisions with the hard-earned dollars provided by taxpayers.”

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee has the responsibility of considering all measures dealing with the appropriation of state funds and has oversight regarding legislation pertaining to bonds, pensions, investments or indebtedness. Other members of the committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee include Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Senator Thelma Harper (D-Nashville) and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson).

“Senator Dickerson has a tremendous financial acumen that will help this subcommittee weed through the large amount of reports that we receive each year,” added Speaker Watson. “This will help ensure that state spending is both transparent and done in the most resourceful and highly effective manner.”

“All of the members of this committee bring much experience to the table,” added McNally. “We are looking forward to receiving the information they will provide to help us do the most critically important job that our Legislature is charged with – construction of a state budget that best serves the people of Tennessee.”

TNDP Calls on Republicans to ‘Reject Donald Trump’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party, Dec. 8, 2015:

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mancini calls on Tennessee Republicans to Reject Trump’s Dangerous Rhetoric and Plan

Trump Delegates and Republican Leadership Silent on Call to Ban Muslims

Nashville, Tenn. (December 8, 2015) – Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s pledged Tennessee delegates, including elected officials State Senators Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) have remained silent in light of Republican Presidential front runner Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. These delegates have pledged to support Trump’s campaign for the presidency but have yet to comment on Trump’s latest statements.

“These Tennessee Republicans have pledged to support Donald Trump and they must be held accountable for that support,” said Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini, “Their silence on Trump’s disgraceful, inhuman and unconstitutional policies speaks volumes about just how out of touch they are with hardworking Tennesseans. Where is their concern for our Muslim brothers and sisters who work hard everyday and live peacefully in Tennessee?”

In several statements Trump repeated his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Many of his opponents in the Republican Presidential primary as well as the Republican Party Chairs in several early primary states have expressed their opposition to his plan.

Mancini concluded, “It is beyond time for Trump’s Republican delegates in this state as well as Republican Party leaders like Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, and Speaker Harwell to publicly reject Donald Trump and his and dangerous plan.”

Ramsey: Moratorium Needed on Immigration from ‘Countries with Ties to Terrorism’

Statement from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, Dec. 8, 2015:

If the last few months have taught us anything, it is that America needs to get serious about border security — and quickly. While I would not favor an explicitly religious test, I do think it is time to place a moratorium on immigration from a long list of countries with ties to terrorism.

The United States has been the most welcoming nation in history by a large margin. But a nation without secure borders is no nation at all. We are at war with radical Islam and everyone outside of the Obama administration knows it.

It is time to seriously rethink our visa, refugee resettlement and immigration policies. It is time to press the pause button.

TNDP Chairwoman: GOP ‘Wasting Time’ with Criticism of UT Diversity Office

Press release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, Dec. 7, 2015:

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair to Tennessee Republican Lawmakers on Their Misplaced Priorities – Holiday Parties over Tennesseans Who Are Hurting?

Nashville, Tenn. (December 7, 2015) – Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement addressing Republicans and their misplace priorities:

“People in Tennessee are hurting. They are without healthcare and quality jobs and hope for a better future and this is what the Tennessee Republicans want to discuss? The decision by a college administrator about the kind of parties they have?

Ask any Tennessean without healthcare and without a job and they’ll tell you that they’re more concerned with making ends meet during this holiday season than they are with whether or not someone has a tree or a menorah at their office party. Maybe Tennessee Republicans like Congressman Scott DesJarlais, State Senator Dolores Gresham, State Rep. Mike Bell and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey have the luxury of wasting time on this but people who are trying to provide for their families during the holidays are more concerned with putting dinner on the table or being able to take a sick child to the doctor without bankrupting everything they have worked for.

Manufactured problems are a hallmark of Republican rule in Tennessee. It creates a smokescreen for their ineffectiveness and secrecy while they roadblock access to affordable health care, interfere with local control of public schools, and work to sell off pieces of the University of Tennessee to the highest bidder. Enough is enough.

Candidates Would Have to Disclose Credit Scores Under New Legislative Proposal

Press release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Dec. 7, 2015:

Representative Sexton, Senator Bailey File “The Voter Accountability and Transparency Act” Of 2015

(NASHVILLE) — State Representative Cameron Sexton (R–Crossville) and State Senator Paul Bailey (R–Sparta) filed first of its kind legislation this week to require all local and state candidates running for office to disclose their credit score when they file their Statement of Interest form with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

Representative Sexton commented the idea was brought forth by a constituent in Cumberland County who had concerns with individuals seeking office and not knowing if they could handle their personal finances, much less the finances of all taxpayers.

“It is a valid concern. Before an election, candidates constantly say how they are going to balance the budget and make sure government lives within its means. How do voters verify whether the candidate means what they say? The only accurate answer is to know the person’s credit score. They are used daily to determine financial responsibility,” said Representative Sexton.

“I pledged I would always be open to ideas from citizens. We hear the voices of the people asking for accountability at all levels of government,” responded Senator Paul Bailey.

The Statement of Interest form asks all candidates to disclose their sources of incomes, blind trusts, investments, professional services, certain types of loans and bankruptcies. The form is signed by the candidate and a witness as being accurate and complete.

Senator Bailey continued, “This legislation will go a long way to help provide transparency to the citizens of Tennessee on who they elect.”

The proposed legislation would require the candidate to check the range of their credit score on the Statement of Interest form. The various ranges would be 0, 700 and above, 699 to 650, 649 to 501 and 500 or below. The average credit score as reported by Farris Issac Corporation (FICO) in Tennessee is 624 as of November 2015.

“Tennessee would be the first state in America to require candidates running for office to disclose their credit score to the voters,” concluded Sexton.

The full text of House Bill 1433/Senate Bill 1452 can be found by visiting: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Bill/HB1433.pdf

Vanderbilt Poll Gauges Opinions on Immigration in Wake of Paris Attacks

Press release from Vanderbilt University, Dec. 4, 2015:

Interest in immigration issues increased in Tennessee following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, especially for members of the Tea Party.

The Paris attacks appear to have made immigration a much more important issue for Tea Party members.

“The Paris attacks appear to have made immigration a much more important issue for Tea Party members, underscoring a growing divide between them and more traditional Republicans,” said John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee.

New results from the latest Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee show the number of voters who consider immigration a top priority nearly doubled since May – from 7 percent to 13 percent. For registered voters in the state, immigration remains the fourth highest priority, behind the economy (31 percent), education (24 percent) and health care (17 percent). But that was not the case for Tea Party members; it was the second most important issue for them (26 percent) with the economy first (30 percent). Tea Party members exhibited other differences.

When asked if they felt angry at the government, 39 percent of Tea Party members said “Yes,” compared to 26 percent of Republicans. Overall, 23 percent of Tennesseans were angry. These data are in response to a new poll question about voters’ feelings toward the political system.

The Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee went into the field Nov. 11, just two days before the Paris attacks, and ended Nov. 23. Pollsters questioned 1,013 registered voters. The survey has a percentage of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

Religious Freedom

A large majority of Tennesseans (75 percent) believe Muslims who want to practice their religion peacefully should have the right to do so. “Tennesseans, like all Americans, strongly support religious freedom. Not even the Paris attacks changed this commitment,” Geer said.

At the same time, a sizeable majority also believe government workers should be required to enforce a law, even if it conflicts with religious or personal points of view, reflecting what the researchers call “the pragmatic side of Tennesseans.”

“We are a nation of laws,” Geer said. “Some politicians can applaud people like (Kentucky Court Clerk) Kim Davis, but citizens of this state want laws enforced.”

Presidential favorites

Asked to select their favorite Democratic candidate for president, poll respondents put Hillary Clinton ahead with 48 percent of the vote, trailed by Bernie Sanders at 28 percent. On the Republican side, Donald Trump led Ben Carson by 4 percentage points, (29 to 25 percent). Jeb Bush trailed Ted Cruz (14 percent) and Marco Rubio (12 percent) with 6 percent.

But the presidential nomination process on the Republican side remains quite fluid, according to the researchers.

Gas taxes

Voters were open to raising taxes on gasoline to fund road and bridge maintenance. A substantial majority of 66 percent said they would be willing to pay a 2-cent increase in gas tax, with only 33 percent unwilling. Even a 15-cent tax garnered 46 percent approval. The researchers suggested that this increase might be thought of as the “the gas tax threshold.”

“When you ask if they support an increase in sales tax on gasoline and don’t specify an amount, people are going to assume the increase will be high and they respond negatively,” said Josh Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelried Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee. “But if you give them a tangible amount, you could get quite a bit of support for an increase. We thought voters might respond negatively either way, so we were surprised by the results, which indicate policymakers could get quite a bit of support for even a 10-cent increase in the gas tax.”

Same sex marriage

Support for same-sex marriage has increased among Tennesseans over the last year from 23 percent to 32 percent.

Gun control

A majority of Tennessee voters said gun control laws should remain the same, while 40 percent wished it would become harder in the state to buy a gun. Just 5 percent wanted it to be easier to purchase a gun.

Right to Die

Tennesseans are open to the entreaties of right-to-die activists, with 59 percent agreeing that doctors should be allowed to help patients painlessly end their life if they have a disease that cannot be cured and are living in pain. Thirty-five percent are opposed to it.

Additional highlights

Tennesseans’ attitudes remained stable in some areas. For example, Gov. Bill Haslam continues to enjoy a high approval rating, and a majority of Tennesseans (64 percent) remain supportive of health care expansion in the state through Insure Tennessee.

Poll Information

The Vanderbilt Poll-Tennessee was launched by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University in 2011 to be a non-partisan and scientifically based reading of public opinion within Tennessee. Telephone interviews are conducted through both landlines and cell phones and statistical results are weighted to achieve an accurate demographic representation.

To help identify the most important issues and ensure questions avoid ideological and partisan bias, questions are formulated with the help of the Vanderbilt University Poll board. Current members of the board are:

Samar Ali, attorney at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC and co-founder of the Lodestone Advisory Group;

  • Charles W. Bone, attorney and chairman of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC;
  • José González, instructor of entrepreneurship and management, Belmont University;
  • Tom Ingram, political strategist with The Ingram Group;
  • Roy M. Neel, senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore;
  • Bill Phillips, government relations consultant and former Nashville deputy mayor;
  • Bill Purcell, former Nashville mayor and partner at Farmer Purcell White & Lassiter PLLC;
  • Lisa Quigley, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper;
  • Anne Russell, special counsel at Adams and Reese LLP;
  • Chip Saltsman, former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and political strategist;
  • Jamie Woodson, president and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

GOP State Senators Demand Resignation of UT Knoxville Chancellor Cheek

Press release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee State Senate, Dec. 3, 2015:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) today called for the resignation of University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. The lawmakers made the call after learning about UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s new guidance to staff on holiday parties, saying they have no confidence in his ability to lead the state’s flagship university.

The university’s guidance warns students and faculty to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” and to “not play games with religious and cultural themes” such as “Secret Santa.” It warned that parties should have “no emphasis on religion or culture.”

“The Office of Diversity is not welcoming to all and hostile to none as they claim,” said Senator Gresham. “They are very hostile to students and other Tennesseans with Christian and conservative values. By placing a virtual religious test regarding holiday events at this campus, every student who is a Christian is penalized.”

Gresham and Bell criticized the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in August for a post on the university’s website asking students and faculty to toss out “he” and “she” when addressing students for gender-neutral pronouns like” ze” and “zir”. They also expressed disapproval over the university’s “Sex Week” which includes such events as drag shows, lectures given by a porn actress, an aphrodisiac cooking class and condom scavenger hunts. Gresham and Bell objected to student activity fees being used to help fund such events.

“This is offensive to the vast majority of Tennesseans who help fund this university through their tax dollars,” added Senator Bell. “We have lost confidence in Chancellor Cheek’s ability to lead the state’s flagship university.”

In a meeting this fall, the Senate Higher Education Committee found that UTK far outspends other universities in the state on their diversity programs, which goes far beyond the regulations required by state and federal law.

“This is a public university, supported by taxpayer dollars, where the precious resources provided to them should be directed at what we are doing to give our students a world class education,” added Bell. “The people want us to ensure that their money is being spent wisely and we have lost confidence that this this is being done.”

“Chancellor Cheek made a commitment to our Higher Education Subcommittee to personally approve future posts by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I took him to be a man of his word and I am dismayed by these recent developments,” Gresham concluded.