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Forrester Calls for Investigation into Haslam, Ingram Dealings

Press release from the Office of Chip Forrester; August 15, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville political organizer Chip Forrester will call for ethics officials to investigate Gov. Bill Haslam’s hidden payments to campaign consultant and lobbyist Tom Ingram.

Forrester Press Conference Remarks

“Immediately following this press conference, I am submitting a complaint to the Tennessee Ethics Commission and asking for them to investigate Governor Haslam’s secret payments made to a lobbyist working on his political campaign.

“Tennesseans deserve honest leaders who say what they mean, especially when they’re claiming to be on our side.

“Governor Bill Haslam is hiding the truth from Tennesseans, just like he’s hiding his tax returns.

“Governor Haslam is hiding the full extent of his financial relationship with Tom Ingram, his chief campaign consultant and a controversial lobbyist.

“It’s one more stitch in what has become a disturbing pattern of rule-breaking and secrecy:

  • He refuses to release his tax returns like at least four governors before him;
  • Haslam Executive Order No. 1 erased transparency rules and further hide his income;
  • Haslam uses a “blind trust” loophole to hide more income than any other governor in Tennessee history;
  • He gave secret raises to his top deputies;
  • Haslam unlawfully hid from taxpayers a $5.5 million loan to a Knoxville developer;
  • He tried to authorize millions worth of cash grant payments to secret business owners; and
  • Haslam has an abysmal record on transparency and open records.

“The more people learn about Bill Haslam, the more questions they have about what he’s hiding.

“What is Bill hiding that he thinks is worse than voters believing he’s working for powerful lobbyists and special interests?

“But secrecy from an elected official isn’t the same as privacy for a private individual. Our democracy is built on trust and accountability, and Haslam’s refusal to come clean on his relationships with lobbyists and special interests is costing him this trust.

“This is about character. Ever since Nixon and Watergate, candidates running for public office have been expected to release many years of tax returns and disclose their political relationships — but Haslam thinks he should get to play by a different set of rules.

“This is about trust. Our democracy is built on accountability, and we cannot hold our leaders accountable when they refuse to come clean on even simple matters.

“This is about jobs. Haslam has always run on his corporate experience, so voters deserve to know about his business dealings with lobbyists and special interests and how exactly he made all that money, besides stealing from trucking companies and outsourcing state jobs to Virginia and Illinois.

“He is running for a second term as the leader of this state. But he’s asking us to just trust him on his secret relationships with high-powered lobbyists.

“No one is above the law. That’s why I’m here today.”

Statement of Facts

From the beginning of 2011 through July 1st, 2013, Governor Bill Haslam failed to disclose expenses related to his gubernatorial campaign efforts, specifically the monies paid for the services of political advisor Tom Ingram.

Haslam’s campaign finance reports show that advisor Tom Ingram first appeared on his payroll in 2009, during Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign, and remained on his campaign’s payroll through the end of 2010.

However, since Haslam began his term as governor in early 2011, Haslam paid Ingram from a private account, which hides an expenditure that state law requires to be reported publicly, according to a News Channel 5 report dated May 10, 2013.

The governor’s statements indicate that this relationship with and personal payment of Tom Ingram continued through the end of June 2013. In an interview with News Channel 5 on May 13, 2013, Governor Haslam said, “I am paying him (Ingram) personally” for his “political advice.” When the reporter asked Haslam how much he paid Ingram, Haslam declined to answer, saying, “That’s personal. Like I said, I am paying him personally.”

A Nashville City Paper article dated June 25, 2013, reported that Governor Haslam would begin to pay Tom Ingram through campaign funds rather than out of his own pocket. A News Channel 5 report states that Haslam campaign officials confirm that campaign payment of Tom Ingram began on July 1st, 2013.

During this period of Governor Haslam paying Tom Ingram from private accounts, not subject to disclosure rules that promote transparency and safeguard citizens, Tom Ingram played a role in managing the Governor’s campaign events. In an article entitled “Did Governor Haslam Break Campaign Finance Laws?” News Channel 5 reports that state emails “reveal Ingram participated in campaign-related planning events while he was on the governor’s private payroll.”

Though Governor Haslam had previously said that Ingram “wasn’t doing political work where it should be campaign [money to pay Tom Ingram]”, the e-mails show that Tom Ingram attended a campaign retreat for Governor Haslam’s 2014 reelection campaign.

In one particular e-mail, Governor Haslam’s chief of staff Mark Cate asks Tom Ingram to set aside time for the eight-hour campaign event. In another e-mail, Tom Ingram suggests that the campaign host the campaign retreat at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel because he preferred “to get away from government space.” In another e-mail conversation between Tom Ingram and Governor Haslam’s chief of staff in September 2012 with the subject line “planning session”, Ingram told Cate that they “also need[ed] to discuss super PAC,” an apparently campaign-related subject.

Sources

  1. “Early Year End Supplemental 2009.” [Tennessee Registry of Election FInance, 7/14/10].
  2. “Haslam Keeps Payments Private” [newschannel5.com, 5/10/13] Accessed July 11, 2013. <http://www.newschannel5.com/story/22221599/haslam-keeps-payments-private>
  3. “Haslam Defends Secret Payments to Lobbyist” [newschannel5, 5/13/13] Accessed July 11, 2013. <http://www.newschannel5.com/story/22240399/haslam-defends-secret-payments-to-lobbyist>
  4. “Haslam to put adviser Tom Ingram on campaign payroll.” [nashvillecitypaper.com, 6/25/13]. <http://www.nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/haslam-put-adviser-tom-ingram-campaign-payroll>
  5. “Did Governor Haslam Break Campaign Finance Laws?” [newschannel5.com, 7/11/13] Ben Hall. <http://www.newschannel5.com/story/22819524/did-haslam-break-campaign-finance-laws>

Forrester Touts Dems’ TN Victories

He concedes the Democratic party in Tennessee is in a superminority at the state legislature, but state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says he put in place a plan to march the legislature back to Democratic control.

Even so, Forrester, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party, says that won’t happen overnight.

“We’re very, very excited about the four victories we had in the House,” Forrester said. “To defend all of our incumbents, which we did … we’re very excited about those victories.”

Indeed, Forrester counts Democratic Reps. Charles CurtissMark WindleDavid ShepardSherry Jones and Craig Fitzhugh and others among key wins.

“These are the people that represent our future,” Forrester said. “Even though we’re in the minority, we’ve moved the ball down field.”

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He also pointed to the victory of Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, the Democrat running against GOP incumbent Jim Gotto in the Davidson County House District 60 race.

“We took Jim Gotto, a right-wing Tea Party nut job, out of office,” Forrester said.

Both the Senate and House Republicans hold supermajorities, which means Republicans can pass any law without a single Democratic voice.

Forrester will be stepping down from his post in January.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

 

Forrester: DesJarlais Should Step Down

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester on Monday called on embattled US Rep. Scott DesJarlais to resign, saying the Republican Congressman “ran his medical practice like a Craigslist cathouse.”

Forrester’s comments came in the wake of news reports this weekend from the Chattanooga Times Free Press that a second woman has come forward to say that DesJarlais, a physician, had a sexual relationship with her while she was under his medical care.

From the Times Free Press:

The second woman described DesJarlais as “the nicest guy” and said he cooked dinner for her at their first get-together in 2000.

But she also said they smoked marijuana during their relationship and remembered DesJarlais prescribing her pain medication on dates at his home.

Also speaking at the conference was Ronald Wilson, a Brentwood neurologist, who the Tennessee Democratic Party asked to attend.

“Anything that is less than providing good health care to our patients is regrettable,” Wilson said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Policing Parties’ Candidates Not Within ‘State’s Purview’: State Elections Official

The state’s elections coordinator says he doesn’t have the authority to scrap the results of the Aug. 2 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, in which a little-known candidate whose “hatred and bigotry” has prompted the party to disavow his candidacy won the nomination.

Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said there’s no time to hold a new primary, and no grounds to do so, in a letter to Larry Crim who came in a distant third to Mark E. Clayton. Clayton garnered 30 percent of the vote in the field of seven candidates.

Clayton followed all the legal requirements in qualifying to have his name on the ballot, and the state Democratic Party did not move to disqualify him in the seven-day window following the qualification deadline prescribed in state law, Goins says in the letter dated Aug. 7.

The grounds you and (your lawyer) stated to me were that Chip Forrester as chairman of the Democratic Party failed to properly carry out his duties charged to him under the Tennessee Democratic Party’s bylaws. Let me be clear that it is not within the state’s purview to determine whether Chip Forrester is adequately performing the duties assigned to him by the party.

In other words, like deciding who is a “bona fide” member of the party for primary voting purposes, this is an area governed by the parties.

The state Democratic Party has explained the outcome of the election by saying that Clayton’s last name, beginning with a ‘C’, appeared at the top of the list and was therefore the default choice for any voters confused by the array of choices.

His win is a mystery, seeing as how Clayton didn’t play the money game and at last check his website was down. His opponent in November, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, had a cool $6.3 million as of mid-July.

Forrester told the Nashville Scene that Clayton’s affiliation with Public Advocate of the United States, an anti-gay group based in Falls Church, Va., was cause for concern.

“This kind of hatred and bigotry is not a candidate that the Democratic Party can embrace,” Forrester said.

More than 48,000 members of the party’s primary voters cast their ballots for Clayton last week.

Republicans Predict Electoral Wins in Wake of Health Care Ruling

Majority-party lawmakers in the Tennessee Legislature are still trying to get a sense of what Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court federal health-care overhaul ruling means for the state going forward.

But while the particulars of the knotty legal reasoning and conflicting viewpoints are still being deconstructed, Republicans are pretty confident the decision isn’t at all what a majority of voters in Tennessee or the nation wanted to hear. And that, they maintain, bodes well for the GOP’s political fortunes this fall.

In a 5-4 decision, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush-appointee, joining the court’s liberals, the Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s most controversial and much-maligned provision — that the government can financially penalize Americans who choose not to purchase health insurance or enroll in a state-assisted health care plan.

In delivering the majority opinion in the case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, Roberts argued that despite claims to the contrary by supporters of the Affordable Care Act when Congress was debating the legislation in 2009 and 2010 — including President Obama himself — the so-called “individual mandate” must be viewed as a “tax” in order for the law to be constitutional.

“The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance,” wrote Roberts. The section of the Affordable Care Act penalizing individuals for not purchasing health insurance “would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command,” he continued. “The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.”

Noting that the Affordable Care Act appears to restrict the IRS from pursuing criminal penalties against individuals who choose neither to purchase insurance nor pay the “tax,” Roberts adds: “Those subject to the individual mandate may lawfully forgo health insurance and pay higher taxes, or buy health insurance and pay lower taxes. The only thing they may not lawfully do is not buy health insurance and not pay the resulting tax.”

High ranking Tennessee GOP lawmakers and political operatives quickly unloaded a rapid-fire succession of denunciations once the ruling was announced.

“It is intensely disappointing that this court failed to recognize what constitutionalists and conservatives know deep in their hearts: A federal government which can coerce its people to buy a product is a government unrestrained and out of control,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart: “This is disappointing on a number of fronts. All of us know that limited government is a uniquely-American principle. Today’s decision goes against that principle.”

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron: “It is a sad day. The cost of Obamacare is unsustainable.” He added, “State leaders will review this decision carefully and look at what our options are as a result of this ruling.”

But House Speaker Beth Harwell said that for purposes of political maneuvering and messaging this campaign season, the Roberts decision removes any doubt or argument to the contrary that the Affordable Care Act constitutes a “massive tax increase.”

And the Nashville Republican said she’s confident that will translate to electoral gains for the GOP in November, both in Tennessee and across the country.

“I think you’re going to see people say they’ve had enough of the Obama administration and what we have seen in our Congress, and we don’t want any more of it,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he hopes to advance plans to establish a health care compact, which would allow Tennessee to band together with other states in setting up health plans for their residents. Lawmakers debated that measure earlier this year but decided at the last minute not to call the bill for a vote by the full House.

Haslam administration officials say they don’t yet know what to make of another part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, which seems to suggest states cannot be forced to expand their Medicaid program for the poor as outlined in the law.

“This particular portion of the ruling is significant, but it’s a little premature to know the exact ramifications,” said the governor, who like other Republicans said he’s holding out hope that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will win election in November and find a way to repeal the law.

For their part, Tennessee Democrats, who’ve suffered tremendous losses at the polls in recent years, kept mostly mum. Neither of the Democratic Party leaders in the statehouse, Memphis Sen. Jim Kyle and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, offered statements or comments about the ruling on the social media outlets they often frequent to communicate their political observations.

TNReport’s requests for comment from state Sen. Eric Stewart, a Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, went unanswered. Stewart has of late been criticized by Republicans for voting against a 2011 state legislative declaration of opposition to the Affordable Care Act individual mandate called the “Tennessee Health Freedom Act.”

Notable exceptions to the Democrats’ silence on the ruling were U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Steve Cohen and Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester.

“Most American lawyers aren’t surprised by today’s Supreme Court decision, nor am I,” said Cooper, who supported the Affordable Care Act. “It turns out that Obamacare, Romneycare and Robertscare are the same thing – and constitutional.”

Forrester praised Obama for his leadership in getting the law passed and appealed to Republicans to admit defeat and begin laying whatever state legislative foundations are necessary to submit to the federal government’s policy directives.

“We should all come together and work in a bipartisan fashion, as did the Supreme Court, in order to ensure that all Tennesseans can take advantage of the provisions in the law that provide health and financial security,” he said in a press release.

“It is time for the Legislature to start focusing on results and not politics. Tennesseans want our elected officials to move past the partisan bickering over health reforms and get to work on creating jobs and growing our economy.”

TNDP Praises President Obama’s Leadership on Affordable Care Act

Press Release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, June 28, 2012:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act.

“The Supreme Court affirmed what a majority of Congress and the President already knew; that the Affordable Care Act is a constitutionally appropriate response to the health care crisis facing Tennessee families. Because of President Obama’s leadership, millions of working families, including a half a million Tennesseans, will have access to doctors and affordable health care.

“The Affordable Care Act is law, and will continue to be the law of the land. We should all come together and work in a bipartisan fashion, as did the Supreme Court, in order to ensure that all Tennesseans can take advantage of the provisions in the law that provide health and financial security, such as:

  • Millions of young adults will still be able to stay on their family’s plan until they’re 26.
  • Many seniors will continue to save $600 a year on their prescription drugs
  • Insurance companies no longer have unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women more than men.
  • Soon, no American will ever again be denied care or charged more due to a pre-existing condition, like cancer or even asthma.
  • By August, millions of Americans will receive a rebate because their insurance company spent too much of their premium on administrative costs or CEO bonuses.

“It is time for the legislature to start focusing on results and not politics. Tennesseans want our elected officials to move past the partisan bickering over health reforms and get to work on creating jobs and growing our economy.

Maggart Appreciates Dems Raising Voter ID Law Awareness

Tennessee Democrats are railing against the state’s new photo ID law every chance they get, and Rep. Debra Maggart, a Republican, says for that she’s grateful.

Maggart, the House GOP caucus chairwoman who sponsored the law, said Tuesday that partisan debate on the issue has helped encourage people without a photo ID to get one.

“Thankfully, even though the Democrats continue to complain, they’re actually helping us get the word out, and I appreciate that,” said Maggart, of Hendersonville. “I don’t think they mean to, but they are. That’s an unintended consequence with their unhappiness with this law.”

The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, kicked off a PR campaign Tuesday with meetings in all 95 counties about the new voting requirements. Democrats are launching their own campaign this week to tell voters of the new rules and try to drum up support to repeal them.

As of early last week, the state had handed out 2,385 photo IDs to people who need one to vote. Estimates of the number of people who are in need of identification before election day range from 126,000 to 675,000, depending on which party is talking and how those numbers are counted.

Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, on Monday chastised the state for an “under-organized” effort to get people IDs.

“It’s a woefully inadequate plan,” said Forrester.

About 20 Democratic voter registration drives are planned for this Saturday, he said.

“We’re launching this effort to make sure that voters do understand what they need and so when they do go to the polls, they won’t be disenfranchised,” Forrester said.

To cast a ballot, Tennessee voters must show as of Jan. 1 a form of government-issued photo ID, namely a current or expired in-state or out-of-state driver’s license or identification card, or a U.S. passport, state or federal government employee ID, U.S. military ID or a gun permit card.

The list of acceptable forms of identification is similar to those a new hire must show an employer in order to legally work in Tennessee or anywhere in the country. According to the Department of Labor and the Secretary of State’s office, the only documents employers are allowed to accept that the election overseers don’t are birth certificates, certificates of citizenship, certificates of naturalization and “lawful permanent resident” cards, otherwise known as “green cards” issued to immigrants authorized to live and work in the U.S.

While Democrats are looking to educate the public on the law this weekend, they’d prefer it be rescinded.

“Taking somebody’s right to vote away by statute and then offering some education program, that’s like stealing some body’s car and then dropping by their house and offering them a secondhand bicycle,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

Democrats and Republicans have bickered over the voter ID law since its passage last spring. Maggart and House Democratic Caucus Leader Craig Fitzhugh have been especially combative, periodically exchanging Twitter fusillades over everything from underlying political motivations for the law to the number of people who actually lack ID necessary now to vote.

Although the GOP-dominated Legislature voted solidly in favor of the law, Democrats are holding out hope that they can get more than a dozen Republicans to change their mind and back their push for a repeal come next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.

Republicans Confident Public Backs Photo ID Law

Lawmakers who spearheaded a new law requiring voters to bring a photo ID with them to the polls told reporters Tuesday that public outcry over the requirement is being blown out of proportion.

“It’s just a few being louder than others,” Senate Caucus chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said.

Critics of the law have said the new requirement disenfranchises the poor, elderly and those without the means to travel to the DMV to get photo identification.

GOP lawmakers pointed to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law, which found that requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls presents “only a limited burden on voters’ rights.”

“The Supreme Court did say that what is important is that people are able to obtain a free ID so they could vote. That’s what the issue is, and we took care of that,” said Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who sponsored the bill in the House.

The legislature this spring OK’ed a law that requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID when they cast their ballots. The law, opposed by Democrats, kicks in Jan. 1 and will first be used in the March primaries.

Last summer, 92 percent of 400 Tennesseans surveyed in a state Republican Party poll indicated they were in favor of a photo ID law, according to party officials. Leading Republicans also point to a 2009 poll commissioned by Fox News that indicates 92 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of independents agree that “requiring voters to show photo identification at their polling places before being allowed to vote is a good idea because it helps avoid fraud.” (Question 45, 46) The poll was conducted by Opinion Dynamics.

The new Tennessee law’s opponents maintain that discontent is high and widespread.

“You can write a poll that shows anything to you,” said Chip Forrester, Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, who is pushing for a repeal of the law. “If our conversations with voters are any indication of concern, there is tremendous push-back against this photo ID.”

In a teleconference Tuesday, election officials said 126,000 people have driver’s licenses that lack a photo, and many have other forms of ID that will pass on election day, such as expired driver’s licenses, passports and military IDs. Forrester argues the number of voting age Tennesseans in need of a photo ID to vote is much higher, in the ballpark of 675,000 people.

Voters may obtain a free photo ID at any local DMV. The Department of Safety has opened up a window at the DMV just for ID seekers, opened some offices on Saturdays and authorized some county clerks’ offices to issue the identification.

Critics complain that the lines at the DMVs are still too long and that people in rural areas sometimes need to travel out of their county simply to pick up a photo ID.

TNDP: Todd Should Resign

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester; Oct. 12, 2011: 

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued the following statement pressing House Speaker Beth Harwell to publicly address the charges against Rep. Curry Todd:

“Based on news reports, Rep. Curry Todd’s actions are embarrassing to himself and the state of Tennessee. House Speaker Beth Harwell would do the entire a state a great service by asking Todd to resign or explain why she condones this unacceptable behavior from Republican leadership.

“It’s discouraging to hear Republican Leader Gerald McCormick quickly dismiss Rep. Todd’s poor judgement, saying he hopes Rep. Todd will retain his committee chairmanship.

“It’s now up to Speaker Harwell. Either she believes Republican leaders deserve special treatment or she believes these actions demand consequences. Rep. Todd’s judgement is no longer question, Speaker Harwell’s, however, is.”

BACKGROUND:

Curry Todd said any gun permit violators should have permits revoked for life. From the March 10, 2010 Judiciary Committee meeting:

Rep. Barrett Rich: “OK, that’s just a pressing question I had and just wanted to make sure that is clear. If you get caught doing something with a handgun permit that you shouldn’t be doing, it’s my personal feeling you shouldn’t have a permit anymore.

Rep. Todd: “It’s my personal feeling that you shouldn’t have it forever, you should just be disbanded from carrying forever if your doing it.”

Rep. Rich: “Yes, sir, I agree.”

Rep. Todd: “I have always said that.”

[House Judiciary Committee, 3/10/10, Clip after 29 minute mark]

Dems’ Forrester: Voter ID Law Means ‘Less Democracy,’ Needs Repeal

Press Release from the Tennessee Democratic Party, Oct. 4 2011:

NASHVILLE — State Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued the following statement in support of the grassroots efforts to repeal the new voter ID law in Tennessee:

“This voter ID law is designed to keep hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans from being voters, and it should be repealed without hesitation,” Forrester said. “We have never solved anything in America with less democracy, and we won’t now.

“Not only do these laws take away our right to vote, but they’ll cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Forrester said. “When so many teachers and health care workers are facing layoffs and pay cuts, it makes no sense to waste our money on things we don’t need and that don’t create jobs.”

FACTS:

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the voter ID law, which affects more than 126,000 voters in the state. [Times Free Press, 9/13/11]

Since July, only 214 people have updated their IDs. [Tennessean reporter Chas Sisk, accessed 10/4/11]

The wait at driver license centers is too burdensome for the sick and elderly. The Department of Safety estimates an average hourlong wait for service at testing centers. News reporters have found citizens who’ve waited between two and three hours. [ABC24.com, 9/21/11]

More than half of Tennessee’s rural counties DO NOT have drivers license centers—making it more difficult for those in rural counties to obtain a voter ID card. [TNSenateDems.com, 7/28/11]

675,337 Tennesseans ages 18 and older either have no driver’s license or have a license that does not carry their photo. [Commercial Appeal, 9/25/11]