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Mancini: TN Democrats Keeping Busy With Launch of 109th General Assembly

Press release from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini; January 22, 2015:

Last week Tennessee Democrats helped to gavel in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly and they’ve been busy:

  • Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), wrote an op-ed for the Tennessean (which you can read here) in which he puts Governor Haslam’s election to a second term in perspective:

    “Despite cruising to re-election with 70 percent of the vote, Gov. Haslam received… 300,000 fewer votes than Gov. Bredesen did in his…landslide re-election in 2006. In fact, fewer Tennesseans voted to re-elect Gov. Haslam than the number who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 or 2008…

    …when you do the math, Gov. Haslam’s 70 percent victory represented just over 20 percent of eligible voters…

    By virtue of the election outcomes, Gov. Haslam and the Republican supermajority have the right to govern. But when the votes that elected them come from only 29.1 percent of the eligible voters — and even less for those legislators essentially elected in partisan primaries — it is clear that most Tennesseans have not given them a mandate to lead.”

  • Tennessee State Representatives Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) & Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) were sworn in as 2015 State Directors with Women In Government. They were elected by their peers. (Read more from Nashville Pride by clicking here.)
  • The Tennessee House Caucus celebrated MLK, Jr. day with this truth: “49 years after Dr. King uttered these words, we’re still fighting for a living wage for regular people. This ‪MLK day tell legislators it’s time for a state minimum wage.
  • ​And finally, members of the Tennessee Senate Caucus (Yarbro, Kyle & Harris) abstained from voting for the reelection of Ron Ramsey as Senate Speaker and Lieutenant Governor. (Read more from Humphrey on the Hill by clicking here.)
  • I’m hitting the road! ​Look for our “Listening Tour” announcement next week.

AFL-CIO Won’t Chuck Brown an Endorsement

Tennessee’s largest labor union has declined to endorse the state’s Democratic candidate for governor — and Charlie Brown couldn’t care less.

Gary Moore, president of Tennessee AFL-CIO, said that the union’s general-election endorsement committee has already met and “there was no endorsement at all in the governor’s race.”

“We feel like that [Brown] is certainly fair to a lot of our ideas, a lot of our philosophy, and certainly think he’s a stand-up gentleman, but we just didn’t feel like he was qualified to lead the state,” Moore told TNReport.

Brown is a 72-year-old Morgan County retiree who, without ever campaigning , won the Democratic gubernatorial primary by more than 35,000 votes on Aug. 7. His nearest competition was from John McKamey, a former Sullivan County mayor and the Democratic candidate for governor endorsed by the AFL-CIO in the primary.

A staunch union man, Brown took umbrage at Moore’s assessment. “What are you talking about that I’m not a leader?” he responded when advised in a phone interview of the former Democratic state lawmaker‘s remarks.

Brown contends he’s developed plenty of leadership skills as a workingman over the years, as a foreman, a superintendent, a lead carpenter and a road construction engineer. Even at his first job — helping build railway tunnels near Oakdale — Brown said he was put in charge of handling high explosives his first day on the payroll. 

But even without an official endorsement from union leadership, Brown expects union workers will support him because their interests are his interests.

“I don’t care if they don’t give me no money, I still believe in the union,” Brown told TNReport.

He added, “I’m not worried about the AFL-CIO, I’m worried about the people in Tennessee, and the unions in Tennessee.”

Brown prophesied a victory in November, with or without official labor endorsements. He’s said he’s confident he’ll be the Volunteer State’s next governor because “anymore, people can’t stand Bill Haslam.”

And that includes a lot of Tennessee Republicans, he said. “I’ve had Republicans stop me and say, ‘Hey, we’re not voting for Haslam, but we’re not saying we’re going to vote for you’,” Brown said. Then he wondered, “But who are they going to vote for?”

If victorious at the polls, Brown says he’s got some big plans for when he assumes office. He said he’ll “fix TennCare” and expand it.

“I already know how to get it back to the people, I’ve already researched this,” Brown said. “And I have to go through a bunch of Republicans, but this will work. It’s like (former governor) Ned McWherter brought it into action, I’m going to bring it back into action.”

He also promises to return tenure to the state’s teachers and expand benefits for state employees. And raising the minimum wage to $10.50 is another priority on his to-do list.

However, while much of his agenda matches that of many Democratic Party politicians in Tennessee, a few of his views demonstrate a decidedly more conservative side.

Brown described himself as unapologetically pro-life and pro gun. His belief in the Second Amendment and Holy Scripture is central to his candidacy, he said.

It was God who led him to run in the first place, and it will be God who is leading his campaign, Brown said. “If you don’t like it, I can’t help you,” he said.

But while Brown knows God is in his corner, he’s getting the feeling the Tennessee Democratic Party isn’t.

Brown’s not at all been impressed with the backing he’s received thus far from TNDP, which he likened unfavorably to the Tennessee AFL-CIO. Other than acknowledging he’s their candidate for governor, Brown said the party bosses have done nothing to help him win votes.

“So, I don’t know what they did with that $500,000 they made up at the Jackson Day Dinner,” he said. “I thought that was to help out the candidates.”

TNDP’s communication’s director, Rick Herron, emailed TNReport a statement saying the party is “looking to invest in races” where a difference can be made in “helping effect a victory.”  The party is “constantly evaluating” its budget, Herron wrote, as well as monitoring “the political landscape across the state and the viability of individual campaigns.”

“In making that assessment, we have invested in selected campaigns, both for the August elections and looking toward November, and we will continue to be attentive to solid opportunities,” wrote Herron, who is the son of TNDP Executive Director Roy Herron.

Roy Herron announced Saturday that he won’t be seeking a new term as the party’s chairman.

TNDP Chair Calls on Corker, Alexander to Vote to Overturn Citizens United

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; September 8, 2014:

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron released the following statement calling on U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to vote to stop the poisoning of our democracy by special interests and billionaires. Chairman Herron urged the senators to vote in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 19, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn recent Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC.:

“These recent Supreme Court decisions are endangering our democracy by opening the floodgates for billionaires and special interests to buy elections and politicians. No foreign corporation or billionaire should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to drown out the voices of our citizens. Our Republican senators should stand up for returning our democracy to the people.”

AG Issues Opinion on Kyle Senate Seat Vacancy

Tennessee’s top lawyer has waded into the issue of how to pick nominees for November’s general election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Kyle.

Unless the executive committee members are selected at large, the candidates for Senate are to be “nominated by the members of the party’s county executive committee who represent the precincts composing Senate District 30,” according to Attorney General Bob Cooper’s opinion. The Shelby County Democratic Party’s website says that county executive committee members are “elected from each state House District in Shelby County.”

The executive committee for the county’s Republican Party has members elected both at-large and by district, according to the Shelby County GOP.

The AG released the opinion Thursday morning in response to a request from Kyle, who won a Shelby County Chancery Court judgeship on August 7, and is leaving the General Assembly after 31 years in the Senate. Kyle has said he’ll resign by the end of August.

Kyle was joined in making the inquiry to Cooper’s office by Memphis Democratic Reps. Antonio Parkinson and G.A. Hardaway, who, along with Kyle’s wife, Sara, and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, have shown interest in filling Kyle’s chair.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Senate candidate and Memphis millionaire radio station owner Dr. George Flinn has indicated he’s considering a run. Barring a significant upset, though, the seat is expected to stay in Democratic hands.

According to the attorney general’s opinion, any House member currently running for reelection who has won their primary, but also wishes to run for the Senate vacancy, must withdraw from the House race before the party’s executive committee meets to make their selection. However, Cooper also wrote that if the candidate withdraws from that race, the party won’t be allowed to nominate another candidate.

The opinion was sought amidst some confusion about whether or not the caucus process the county party officials wanted to use would meet statutory requirements.

While he had not yet read the opinion Thursday afternoon, the spokesman for the Tennessee Department of State, Blake Fontenay, said the Division of Elections would “defer” to the the decision of the state’s attorney, and “would act consistently with their ruling.”

TNDP Hoping for Gains in Nov. After Tea Party Losses in Primary

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; August 8, 2014:

Radical Republicans’ losses throughout Tennessee have opened doors for Democrats in November.

The Tennessee GOP has long held truth and reality in contempt, and Ron Ramsey’s reckless ploy to undermine the independence of our judiciary with hundreds of thousands of dollars in misleading attack ads was just the latest and most offensive example of this contempt. Tennesseans saw through the distortions and outright lies being pushed by the Lieutenant Governor, and a bipartisan majority voted to retain our eminently qualified Supreme Court justices.

Despite a slate of cherry-picked candidates, nearly half of the non-incumbents in the Republican Red to the Roots program managed to lose their general election race, and of the latest non-incumbent additions to the class, three out of four lost. Voters sent a clear message that the radical Tea Party Republican agenda has no place in Tennessee.

Democratic candidates up and down the ballot will continue to take the fight to Tea Party Republicans and continue to make plain that Tennessee values are Democratic values.  Democrats’ continued successes will lay the foundation for this November and beyond.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron made the following statement on the results of the August 7th elections:

“Yesterday’s election results show that Tennessee is a state that supports common sense values and rejects right-wing extremism.”

Critics of Huffman Want Decision from Haslam

Despite a recent opinion by Tennessee’s attorney general offering legal cover to the state Department of Education for its decision to delay release of student test scores, critics of the agency’s embattled commissioner aren’t letting up on their demand that he be cut loose.

And they want Gov. Bill Haslam to make a decision sooner this summer rather than later in the fall after the general election, as he’s indicated he intends to do.

“I haven’t sat down and had that conversation with [any of the commissioners] about the next four years, because it’s not appropriate,” Haslam said on July 8. “I’m in the middle of a campaign right now, and we will — this fall, if I’m re-elected, we’ll sit down with all 23, and see if they want to continue, and if that works for us.”

Kevin Huffman has been a lightning rod for criticism from both the left and the right. But by the same token he’s got staunch defenders among both Republicans and Democrats as well. Two of his biggest fans have been Tennessee’s GOP governor and the Obama administration’s education chief, Arne Duncan.

Haslam has been emphasizing improvements in test scores that have come about under Huffman, including Tennessee’s status as the fastest improving education system in the nation. The fundamental test of his administration’s education efforts ought to be student performance, the governor said, and in his estimation kids in Tennessee’s publicly funded classrooms are “learning more than they ever have before.”

However, opposition to Haslam on education — in particular, his embrace of both Common Core and student-testing as a means of evaluating the job teachers are doing — runs deep both among educators and conservative politicians who fear the state is giving up control of its education system to outside forces.

Citing a “complete lack of trust” in the commissioner, as well as alleging the manipulation of test scores, a letter sent to Haslam on June 19 demanded Huffman be replaced. Fifteen Republican members of the Tennessee General Assembly — 13 lawmakers in the House and two senators, endorsed the letter, which declared that mistrust of Huffman stems from his “actions and general attitude,” and that he’s demonstrated a “failure to uphold and follow the laws of the state of Tennessee in this latest TCAP debacle we are currently witnessing.”

The letter also questioned whether or not Huffman had the authority to waive the inclusion of TCAP scores, considering that a bill passed by the General Assembly in the 2014 session granted Huffman waiver abilities, but specifically excluded waiving requirements related to “assessments and accountability.”

But state Attorney General Bob Cooper recently released an opinion, requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, that found Huffman in fact didn’t abuse his authority by waiving those requirements, that no state or federal law “would be violated by a delay in releasing TCAP test scores,” as long as the results were provided by June 30, which they were.

The attorney general’s opinion did little, though, to change the minds of Huffman’s detractors.

Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the attorney general’s office opinion, and said it didn’t really carry any legal weight. And anyway, “there are a lot of different issues” on which Hensley said he’s had problems with Commissioner Huffman.

Hensley, a member of the Senate Education Committee, indicated he stands by the letter’s main thrust. Huffman should “go somewhere else,” he said. “I just feel like the commissioner doesn’t listen to the superintendents and the teachers and the principles, and he doesn’t listen too much to the Legislature, either.”

Julie West, the president of Parents for Truth in Education, said that she thinks that Cooper’s opinion is just splitting hairs.

“The irony is Commissioner Huffman pushed for this, because he’s all about the testing, and when he doesn’t get the results he wants all of a sudden he wants to do away with that being factored in,” West said. “And let me say, if the Governor and the Commissioner were really as proud of TCAP scores as they want us to believe, it certainly would not have been announced during the Fourth of July.”

West said that she was not just in favor of Huffman’s resignation, but that he should be fired. West also said that part of the problem, and what was “more disturbing,” was that Cooper “seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to be the attorney for the people of Tennessee, rather than a servant of the Governor.”

“I think that part of the issue is the people of Tennessee don’t have a voice in who the Commissioner of Education is, and don’t have a voice in who the Attorney General is,” West said. “And for that reason they don’t feel, or they seem to act in ways that don’t show a lot of concern for what we believe, and truthfully for what the law seems to be.”

West described her group as not of any particular political perspective, but just people who are not “tolerating” what’s happening to their kids under Common Core or Huffman’s education department.

And regardless of the attorney general’s view on the controversy over the TCAP scores, those on the left wing of Tennessee’s political spectrum still think Huffman needs to go, too. The Tennessee Democratic Party has regularly called for Huffman’s ouster, on the grounds that he is aloof and unresponsive to local teachers and education officials.

The governor owes it to the people of Tennessee to declare whether or not he plans to keep Huffman around, said Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron. That decision, Herron told TNReport, “is overdue, and should be both made and announced as soon as possible.”

“The commissioner has refused to listen to the teachers in public schools, and to the superintendents and schools boards who run those schools,” Herron said in a phone interview. “But the commissioner has united Tennesseans, from Tea Party Republicans to Tennessee Democrats, from 60 superintendents to thousands of teachers, who all agree it is past time for this commissioner to go back to Washington.”

Mary Mancini, a Democratic candidate for the Tennessee State Senate district being vacated by longtime state legislator, Sen. Douglas Henry, said that Haslam needs to either make his decision about Huffman, or “explain in non-political terms” why he has not made that decision yet, because she finds the education commissioner’s performance to be lacking.

“When looking at this job performance, it’s clear that [Huffman]’s just not working the way he should be; doing his job basically,” said Mancini. “He’s been difficult and unresponsive to legislators on both sides of the aisle. Somebody needs to hold him accountable, and both Republicans and Democrats have been trying to do that, and he’s been completely ignoring them, and unresponsive, and that’s not acceptable.”

And the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, believes that the TCAP delay is another in a line of issues with the state’s top education executive, said Jim Wrye, government relations manager for the TEA.

“The policies were placed in that it would be anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of a student’s grade, and that it wasn’t ready at the end of school just threw a huge wrench into what is one of the most important things — which are final grades — for students, and especially for teachers,” Wrye said.

Wrye, though admitting he’s not a lawyer, said that he found the AG’s opinion interesting  because “the idea that you could be exempted from student assessments was something that was prohibited in that flexibility bill. It was something we had discussed at length during the legislative session.”

In September 2013, 63 school superintendents from around the state signed a letter criticizing the education reform policies being implemented by the state’s top education office. And later in 2013, teachers’ unions across the Volunteer State cast votes of “no confidence” in Huffman.

However, Huffman has enjoyed some recent support, with a petition of support recently announced that, as of press time, features over 400 signatures from Tennesseans, including Kate Ezell, a consultant associated with the Tennessee Charter School Incubator as a funds-raiser from September 2011 to January 2013.

TNDP: Akbari Win in Memphis ‘a Rejection of Destructive Tea Party Agenda’

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron; November 22, 2013:

Memphis — Following the announcement that Democratic candidate, Raumesh Akbari, won the special election race for Tennessee’s open State House District 91 seat, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron released the following statement:

Representative Akbari has won a clear victory, but it’s the people of Memphis who are the real winners. Today Memphis voted for a candidate who is ready to fight for opportunity, fairness and people who work for a living.

Rep. Akbari’s victory is also a rejection of a destructive Tea Party agenda that hurts working families. Memphis voters sent a clear message that they want a representative who will be a problem solver and a strong voice against the extremism at the state capitol.

Following after Speaker Lois DeBerry is a huge challenge, but Rep. Akbari is enormously talented and exceptionally bright. This awesome young woman is worthy of the mission ahead of her and all of Tennessee will benefit from her gifts.

TNDP Responds to TN Senate GOP Criticism of Obama Over Shutdown

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; October 8, 2013:

There is no defense for the small group of politicians in one party in one branch who forced the government to shut down — a despicable decision that’s hurting Tennessee’s economy and our working families. But these Republican politicians have proven time and again they are more interested in winning political arguments than solving our nation’s problems.

SHOT:

TN GOP state senators denounce Obama in shutdown letter
Associated Press // October 8, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly appear to be at odds about who will be blamed for the shutdown of the federal government.

CHASER:

19 Times Democrats Tried to Negotiate With Republicans
National Journal // October 7, 2013

To hear almost any Republican lawmaker speak in post-shutdown Washington is to hear that Democrats are refusing to negotiate to reopen the government and avert a debt default. It’s a talking point that may be selling well, but it’s only true if you ignore anything that happened before last Monday at about 11 p.m.

Republicans think they’ve hit talking-point gold with the message, as we learned from a candid “hot mic” moment last week when Sen. Rand Paul privately told fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell that he didn’t think Democrats had “poll-tested” the “awful” message. ” ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender, and then we’ll talk to you,” House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News on Sunday.

In a sense, Republicans are right. Democrats view keeping the government open and out of default as Congress’s most basic job, and the characterize anything that threatens that as “ransom,” so they say they’re not willing to come to the table until the government reopens. But, in context, the GOP’s biggest talking point of the shutdown falls apart when you consider that Democrats only started refusing to negotiate after Republicans stopped, the hour before the government shut down a week ago.

For instance, through a Senate Democratic aide, here are all the times since this spring Senate Democrats tried to negotiate with Republicans by sending their budget to a bicameral conference committee. Every time, Republicans blocked the move:

1. 4/23 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.

2. 5/6 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.

3. 5/7 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

4. 5/8 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

5. 5/9 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.

6. 5/14 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.

7. 5/15 Senator Wyden asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.

8. 5/16 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

9. 5/21 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Paul blocked.

10. 5/22 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.

11. 5/23 Senator McCaskill asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

12. 6/4 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.

13. 6/12 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.

14. 6/19 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Toomey blocked.

15. 6/26 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.

16. 7/11 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.

17. 7/17 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Mike Lee blocked.

18. 8/1 Senator Durbin requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.

19. 10/2 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.

“For six months I’ve tried to enter into formal budget negotiations with Paul Ryan, only to be repeatedly denied permission to negotiate by Ted Cruz and the tea party,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Now, a week into a government shutdown that he could end at a moment’s notice, Speaker Boehner is simply trying to distract from his constantly changing list of demands.”

The parties flipped positions Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year, when Republicans tried to finally start conference-committee negotiations just minutes before midnight. Democrats balked—”We will not go to conference with a gun to our head,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor—considering that they had been rebuffed almost 20 times beforer and that Republicans had shown no interest until it was already clear the government was closing. Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted a picture of a faux conference committee, which included zero Democrats, saying, “We sit ready to negotiate with the Senate.”

Perhaps we could have avoided a shutdown if they had been ready to negotiate before the government ran out of money.

TNDP Executive Director Leaving in Search of ‘New Opportunities’

Statement from Roy Herron, Chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party; September 9, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron released a statement Monday thanking outgoing party Executive Director Kevin Teets for his service and leadership on Jackson Day:

“Having just led the Tennessee Democratic Party to its most successful Jackson Day in years, Executive Director Kevin Teets is leaving the state Democratic Party to pursue new opportunities. Kevin led the efforts that doubled the gross and quintupled the amount raised at Jackson Day each of the last two years. That $350,000 will help elect Democrats, and I’m personally grateful for the incredible job Kevin did in leading our team. Kevin’s hard work made it possible for Sen. Tim Kaine and our dynamic Democratic mayors to energize Democrats statewide and for us to honor Congressman Cooper for all his years of service to the state. We wish Kevin well in all of his future endeavors.”

Tennessean Elected to DNC Executive Committee

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; August 29, 2013:

Will T. Cheek is only Tennessean on DNC Executive Committee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will have a strong voice on the national Democratic Party’s top committee.

Will T. Cheek was elected last week to serve a second four-year term on the Democratic National Committee’s Executive Committee, the party’s top board of directors.

“From attacks on voters’ rights and our democracy to the never-ending assault on working families and women’s health care, the South has long been a hotbed for extreme legislation,” Cheek said. “As we work to protect and expand opportunity for working and middle class families, my goal is to make the challenges we face in the South a top priority for national Democratic Party leaders.”

Cheek, a member of the Democratic National Committee and its Southern Caucus, was re-elected to represent the Southern Caucus on the party’s top governing board at a meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.