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Haslam Expects to Stump for Romney in NC

Gov. Bill Haslam may be clearly in Mitt Romney’s camp, but he doesn’t expect to make many more public appearances for him outside Tennessee leading up to election day.

Haslam said he expects to go no farther than North Carolina.

“I’ve already been to North Carolina once or twice and probably will do that again. That’s probably the closest neighbor of ours which is really in play,” Haslam told reporters in Brentwood Monday.

“I think that this election is really, really important. So if I can help in one of those states that is at a tipping point, I’m more than excited to do that,” he said.

Haslam spent the day before the Aug. 2 primary election in North Carolina to greet Romney volunteers and sit in on an agriculture round table, according to the governor’s schedule.

The key is pointing out the difference between President Obama and Romney, Haslam said, which boils down to a choice between “government that is going to make more decisions for you, that’s going to prescribe more things verses a government that’s going to take advantage of the things that have made this country great, which is primarily free enterprise system.”

The governor is traveling to Tampa, Fla., Tuesday for the Republican National Convention.

Democrats Down a Few Incumbents, Too

Incumbent Tennessee Democrats evaded the kind of thrashing administered by legislative primary voters to their Republican counterparts. But they didn’t come away entirely unbloodied either.

Five incumbent Democrats were voted out of office Thursday. Among them were four who lost against fellow lawmakers who they were pitted against as a part of redistricting, and one culled by a Democratic challenger.

Heading into the November general election, the minority party now can focus on their an uphill battle trying to recover from two years ago when Democrats lost 14 seats in the House and one in the Senate.

“We’ve had a little dip in the road here and we need to make sure Tennessee stays focused on those three things, jobs, education and good fiscal management,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who faces his own re-election challenger in November.

“We have some very good candidates. If people would just give them a look we could elect some and we can overcome the problems we had in redistricting and retirements,” he said.

GOP-directed redistricting earlier this year merged Democrat-leaning districts and resulted in the purging of four rank-and-file incumbent Democrats from Legislature. Other Democrats saw the writing on the wall and opted to retire this year in lieu of running uphill races against Republicans.

Of those ousted was Memphis Sen. Beverly Marrero, a high-ranking Democrat who had served the Legislature for the better part of a decade. She lost her seat to to Minority Leader Jim Kyle by 10 percentage points, a result of Republicans pinning the two against each other after Kyle asked that he be placed in Marrero’s district instead of that of neighboring Republican Brian Kelsey.

Also in Memphis, Rep. John Deberry outdistanced Rep. Jeanne Richardson while Rep. G.A. Hardaway beat out Rep. Mike Kernell, a veteran lawmaker whose career spanned four decades. Both races won on nearly 2-to-1 margins.

The race was even clearer in Chattanooga where Rep. Joanne Favors defeated Rep. Tommie Brown on an almost 3-to-1 margin, winning 3,957 votes to Brown’s 1,514.

But that wasn’t the last of the Democratic defeats Thursday. Longtime Nashville Rep. Mary Pruitt fell to challenger Harrold Love by a mere 41 votes.

The election isn’t over for Kyle and Favors, though, as they both face off against Republicans in the November election.

Even as Democrats lick their wounds, they’re hopeful general election voters will reject the victorious crop of conservative upstarts who picked off incumbent Republicans on Aug. 2.

“You don’t want to ever think negatively about your opponents getting beaten in the primary and all that, but the fact is this can only be encouraging to the general election on our side,” said Fitzhugh, adding the defeats will ultimately make for “a little different complexion on the ultimate makeup of the General Assembly.”

A GOP leadership crisis means opportunities for Democrats, Sen. Lowe Finney, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said in a press release Friday. “When you look at the number of incumbents unseated last night, it’s clear the Legislature will be a very different place next year,” he said. “I’m confident the Democrats can be very influential in that environment.”

Among the ousted GOPs were high-ranking leaders like Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart and Education Chairman Richard Montgomery.

But even as Republicans regroup after this week’s political upsets and await to hear if the results of close races will be challenged, they argue they still see Democrats as “at a severe disadvantage” in the general election, said state GOP Party Chairman Chris Devaney.

Governor Gearing Up to Help Favored GOP Candidates

Besides being a time to remember fallen soldiers, reopen swimming pools and enjoy a long weekend, Memorial Day also represents the unofficial start of campaign season.

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll lend some of this clout this year to Republican lawmakers in legislative races who have helped advance his agenda.

“Obviously I’ll be a lot more active this fall in Republican races. I’ll also be a lot more active for folks that have worked really hard for us,” Haslam told reporters after a Memorial Day ceremony on Capitol Hill.

So, who is on that list?

“We haven’t gotten there, yet,” Haslam said, but added he doesn’t see himself pitching in on Democratic races for friendly Democrats.

Haslam’s support “will mainly be going to events and help,” he said, although the he did not rule out making political contributions.

So far, Haslam said he’s been to a campaign event for state Rep. Ryan Williams, a freshman legislator running against Democrat Thomas D. Willoughby, both of Cookeville. Haslam said he’s also planning to attend an event for House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery who is facing off against Dale Carr in the Republican primary election. Both are from Sevierville.

Haslam says he hasn’t sat down to figure out which races he’ll be helping, but said he didn’t think he’d be involved in races for open seats.

Bipartisan Ethics Commission Could Hit Minor, Independent Candidates with Major Fines

Eight candidates for state elected offices will be assessed fines from $50 up to $10,000 Tuesday for failing to report their political conflicts of interest on time.

Many of the reported late filers are little-known candidates running for slots in the state Senate or the House of Representatives, although two are independents running for governor and one is in a tight race fighting over an important swing district.

Among the late filers is Keith Clotfelter, a Democrat looking to snag a vulnerable Republican-held seat in the House of Representatives, District 36. GOP Incumbent Chad Faulkner lost in the Aug. 5 primary.

“I think the people have a lot more issues to worry about than that right there,” said Clotfelter, a contractor who has been involved with manufactured housing sales. He owes the state $75 for submitting his conflict of interest statement to the state Election Commission three days late.

He said a worker on his staff mistakenly filed the information after the state’s deadline, but said the campaign would pay the fine soon.

His race will likely be targeted by Democrats and Republicans alike as both parties try to gain seats in the House. Republicans now have a 50-48 advantage in the chamber, with a lone Independent.

Clotfelter said he doesn’t expect his Republican counterpart, Dennis Powers, to make much of an issue out of late paperwork, adding that voters probably don’t care.

“It’s not as big a concern to them,” he said. “It’s a mistake we made and it’s something we’ll rectify.”

Other candidates could face much harsher fines, according to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins.

“It’s up to the commission to determine the amount of the actually civil penalty,” said Rawlins.

Individuals are fined $25 for each day the conflict of interest statement is late, he added, however the board may reduce the fines as they see fit.

Candidates who fail to file that information with the state after 30 days can be assessed up to a $10,000 penalty, he said. However, the board has full discretion to set the fine at a lower amount or dismiss the charges.

Although the Ethics Commission reviews compliance for all political candidates regardless of party, the six-member body does not include Independents.

The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. The governor, House speaker and lieutenant governor each appoint a member from each party to serve a four-year term which includes hearing and determining ethics violations and fines.

Jay Kalbes, an Independent running for the solid Republican 45th district owes Tennessee as much as $10,000 for submitting his paperwork 56 days late. He is running against Rep. Debra Maggart and Democrat Charles Ihrig in the November election. All three candidates are from Hendersonville.

Priscilla G. Steele and Mitzi Turnage both lost their primary elections. Steele, who wanted to run as a Republican against now-Independent House Speaker Kent Williams in upper East Tennessee, owes up to $10,000 for revealing her conflicts of interest 32 days late.

Turnage lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis in the primary election but now could owe up to $10,000 for turning in her documents 58 days late.

Other political candidates facing possible fines from the state election commission include Thomas Ken Owens, a Democrat who faces off against sitting Republican state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City. He owes the state $50 for submitting his paperwork two days late.

Independent gubernatorial candidates Boyce McCall, Sr., and Howard Switzer both owe the state $50 for filing their conflict of interest paperwork day days late.

The state Attorney General’s office would collect on any outstanding or unpaid penalties.

The board will meet for the third time this year on Tuesday and decide whether to reduce fines for any of the candidates. The six-member body will also assess similar penalties for 51 local candidates, five office holders, one lobbyist and seven employers of lobbyists.

Haslam Touts Poll Showing Big Lead

Press Release from Haslam for Governor Campaign, Aug 10, 2010:

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam receives his highest level of support so far following his Republican primary victory last Thursday in the race for governor of Tennessee.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the Volunteer State shows Haslam earning 56% support. Democrat Mike McWherter, a businessman and son of a former governor, picks up 31%. Three percent (3%) prefer some other candidate, and 10% are undecided.

Haslam won 48% of the vote in last week’s GOP primary to defeat Congressman Zach Wamp and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey.

In June, Haslam was the only Republican of the three to reach 50% support against McWherter, who was unchallenged for the democratic nomination. In the first survey of the race back in March, Haslam held a 45% to 27% edge over McWherter.

Full Analysis at RasmussenReports.com

Ramsey Goes It Alone At Putnam County Forum

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey got up from his chair on the stage Tuesday night in Cookeville and ambled over to pick up two more.

He took them over and sat them down, one on each side of his.

One chair represented Bill Haslam. One represented Zach Wamp. And Ramsey addressed the empty chairs periodically throughout the evening.

Putnam County Republicans held a forum for all three of the three front-running gubernatorial candidates Tuesday, but it didn’t work out that way. With Wamp and Haslam no-shows, Ramsey had the stage — and the audience of about 100 people — all to himself.

He didn’t appear to mind.

There were no time limits, and seemingly no limits to the questions the partisan audience had for the candidate.

But Ramsey slogged it out for about 90 minutes onstage, occasionally pausing to offer the empty chairs a chance to join the discussion. “Right, Zach?” he would ask. Or, “We’ll let Haslam answer this one.”

But neither the congressman nor the mayor laid a glove on the lieutenant governor that night.

And Ramsey probably won a lot of votes in the hall just by showing up. Organizers seemed frustrated by the circumstance, but there was a refreshing twist to a candidate being able to answer a question in full without a bell ringing shortly after he began to speak.

After Ramsey gave his basic stump speech, Ramsey plunged right into the Q&A — the first question was about Sharia law and Islam, which has become a hot topic in the state most notably with the controversy over a proposed mosque in Rutherford County.

Ramsey declared that he welcomes any other faith in this country, but that an attempt to bring other “law” here simply can’t be allowed.

“Here’s the deal. If someone wants to come to this country and be a freedom-loving person who wants to live within our laws that’s fine. There are Muslims who do that, who want to live in our society. They become one of us. They follow our Constitution. They follow our law. They’re freedom-loving. That’s great. That’s what this country is all about,” Ramsey said.

“But, and this is indisputable, there is a radical faction that has taken over a portion of this that the freedom-loving Muslims need to push back on just a tad. When you’re promoting violence I don’t think that can possibly be any kind of religion. As far as Sharia law, when you come over here, you agree you’re moving to the United States, therefore, you’re going to live under our Constitution,” to which someone in the audience yelled “amen.”

It goes back to the way the nation was founded, Ramsey asserted.

“You’re going to live under our laws that were founded under Judeo-Christian principles. That’s what you do when you come here,” he said. “Don’t come over here bringing your laws and want to change us into that. This is what made us the greatest country in the world.

“I appreciate the First Amendment that gives the freedom of religion. I also appreciate the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment. Anybody who comes here ought to also appreciate the Constitution and the laws and live under those laws here in the United States.”

Ramsey laid out his plans for K-12 education as well as higher education, emphasizing how good the state’s community colleges and technology centers are for educating a workforce. He said he favors keeping the sales tax on food because it is part of a tax structure he likes and prevents moving toward an income tax.

Ramsey discussed his ideas for utilizing local health departments to help manage health care needs in the state. He said he is ready to be a “super-salesman” for Tennessee attracting business as governor and said, although he wrestles with the issue, he is leaning toward favoring closed primary elections where people cannot cross over and vote in a party other than their own. The state currently has an open primary process.

“You don’t want people who really aren’t in your party to choose your nominee,” he said. “That’s just wrong.”

He said he frequently hears Tennesseans say they are registered as a Republicans or Democrats but that the reality is they’re not.

Ramsey expressed a fair amount of frustration that his campaign has siphoned up a healthy $3.5 million in contributions, and still he’s been financially overshadowed by Haslam, whose campaign has raised over $8 million. Ramsey said he is not in favor of term limits, saying people have the right to vote people out of office. And he said he is the only candidate in the race with experience in state government.

Sparks Fly at Debate: GOP Rivals Try to Burn Haslam on Fuel Company Ties

A couple Republican candidates for governor used rival Bill Haslam as an onstage punching bag Thursday, harping on his refusal to release details about his personal income from his family business.

GOP hopeful Bill Gibbons, Shelby County’s district attorney, called the Knoxville mayor out during a gubernatorial debate in downtown Nashville for not revealing how much income he earns from Pilot Corp., the truck-stop chain the Haslams have built into something of a national gas- and diesel-station empire.

“Frankly, he has a conflict of interest, because every time the state of Tennessee has a major highway project, Pilot Oil has an interest. He doesn’t want us to know the scope of that conflict of interest,” said Gibbons.

Congressman Zach Wamp didn’t want to miss out on the action, and he, too, took a poke at Haslam when the opportunity arose.

He didn’t name any names, but it was obvious to everyone in the room who Wamp was referring to when he opined that transparency should begin before being elected to office.

“On Wall Street, they say too big to fail. And I wonder here if one family or one corporation is too big to be held accountable like everyone else,” he said.

Haslam declined to share his details about his personal income. But he didn’t hesitate to fire back at his detractors for what he described as their seeming sleights to his family’s entrepreneurialism and success.

“It bothers me to hear somebody say a Tennessee company that started as a small business has grown to be a national company, that there’s something wrong with that,” said Haslam.

Haslam is the only Republican candidate who so far hasn’t release personal income records as requested by a band of Tennessee’s large newspapers. Those records are not public and are not required to be released to run for political office.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is also running in the August primary election, stayed out of the Haslam-centered spat.

Also participating in the debate co-hosted by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press were Senate Democrat Leader Jim Kyle, former House Democrat Leader Kim McMillan and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.

Gibbons Pushing Open Gov’t Agenda

Forcing public officials to release their personal financial records may be an intrusion of privacy, but it’s necessary if voters are to get an accurate picture of their backgrounds and business interests, said GOP candidate for governor Bill Gibbons.

Currently the district attorney for Shelby County, Gibbons wants to mandate that people in public office make more of their financial dealings open to citizen review. He said he plans to publish his own federal income tax returns for 2009 soon.

“When you think about it, there’s no more reliable, trustworthy way for the public to know whether or not we have any conflicts of interest, and the scope of those conflicts, as a result of our income and investments,” Gibbons said.

During a press conference in downtown Nashville Thursday afternoon, Gibbons continued to hammer on cross-state political rival Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, for not being more forthright in releasing financial information, particularly the financial stake he has in the Haslam family-owned Pilot Corp. fuel company and chain of Pilot Travel Centers. (See video below.)

Gibbons released five years worth of federal income tax returns last fall after a request for financial data from Tennessee’s largest newspapers.

Gibbons and his wife, a federal judge, reportedly earned just above $300,000 for the past three years, mostly from their government jobs, and have paid about $62,000 a year in federal income taxes.

The Memphis Republican said he’ll push several other open government initiatives if elected governor, such as requiring public officials to disclose how much money they’ve received from financial interests along with how much they have in various investments. The law currently only requires lawmakers to disclose the sources of those dollars.

Gibbons promised also to:

  • hold public budget meetings with state agencies when discussing budget requests
  • change the formula used when governments charge for public documents
  • reestablish as many as six regional governor’s field offices throughout the state
  • pin down lawmakers on each significant vote they take in the General Assembly including procedural action and committee votes.

The general primary election is Aug. 5. Gibbons is one of several GOP hopefuls, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Haslam.