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Holt Looking to Halt Use of Traffic Cameras in TN

A conservative Northwest Tennessee Republican lawmaker is hoping to build a bipartisan consensus in the General Assembly that’ll lay the brakes to the proliferation of unmanned traffic-enforcement cameras — and maybe end their use altogether over time.

“We recognize that this has been attempted in the past here in the state, but think that the conditions are right now that would help to benefit this legislation,” state Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, told TNReport this week. Similar legislation has been passed or proposed around the country, and Holt said he’s examining those initiatives to ensure Tennessee lawmakers get the benefit of “other legislative perspectives from across the nation.”

Holt believes unmanned cameras violate a core doctrine in American constitutional law — the right for people accused of a violations of law to face their  accusers, which is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

He also doubts there are any public safety benefits that result from the wide use of unmanned cameras.

Governments using traffic-enforcement cameras are “not a good substitute for law enforcement” and “an unconstitutional action” to boot, Holt said.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 13 states have laws banning the use of speed cameras and 10 states have laws prohibiting the use of red light cameras. Tennessee law permits both red light and speed camera use.

Holt attributes their prevalence to “municipal greed,” and calls revenue gathered through their use a “pseudo-tax.”

“If I could single-handedly outlaw every speed camera in the Great State of Tennessee, I would do it without a second thought,” Holt said in a press release issued last week. “Regardless of political party, the vast majority of folks are 100 percent against them.”

He said he recognizes, however, that contractual agreements exist between companies and municipalities across the state which could make instituting an immediate difficult. “We’re obviously going to have to deal with that. But what we want to go ahead and do is set a stake in the ground to say that red light cameras, speed cameras — unmanned — are not welcome in this state,” he said.

The constitutionality of red-light cameras has long been a contentious issue.

In 2009, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled red light cameras are not a violation of due process.

In 2010, then-Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion that found red-light camera citations are constitutional, as the “Confrontation Clause” pertains to “testimonial statements,” which a photograph is not. An AG opinion represents the officeholder’s best judgment of how a judge would rule in a particular case, but is not legally-binding.

And most recently the Ohio Supreme Court, in a divided 4-3 ruling in December, upheld traffic camera enforcement by municipalities, reversing an Ohio Court of Appeals judgment that the municipal court has “exclusive authority over traffic-ordinance violations.”

As of February 2014, there had been a 6 percent decline since 2012 in the number of communities using red-light cameras. Growing questions about whether the cameras enhance safety or cause more accidents, as well as about the motives for their use, have been cited as likely causes of the decline.

In 2008, the City of Chattanooga was ordered to refund $8,800 in red-light camera fines to 176 motorists after it was discovered the cycle for the yellow light was too short.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill in 2014 clarifying that drivers who clear an intersection after a traffic light turns red are not guilty of running the light unless their front tires passed the stop bar after the light switched. The proposed wording change was inspired by language used in red-light camera laws.

The 109th General Assembly will convene Feb. 9 for regular session, following a special session on Feb. 2 to discuss Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” Medicaid expansion proposal.

Holt said he expects to file legislation in the next few weeks.

‘Insure TN’ Brouhaha Brewing Between House, Senate?

Disagreement appears to have developed between the Republican-dominated chambers of the General Assembly over how to handle Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal scheduled for discussion in a special session beginning Feb. 2.

On Thursday, leaders of the Tennessee Senate’s GOP supermajority indicated the upper chamber will be holding off on committee votes on the issue until the House approves a resolution authorizing Tennessee to sign up for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion funding.

But that doesn’t seem to sit well with some Republicans in the House.

“Apparently, there was a Senate Republican Caucus meeting yesterday where it was fantasized to the effect that we would go through this process on Insure Tennessee through several committees before they even considered it in the Senate, and I would like to dispel that silly notion that they had in that Senate Republican Caucus meeting,” Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said Friday morning on the House floor.

“That will not happen,” said the Republican from Chattanooga, who is expected to attempt to guide the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan to approval in the House.

Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan — the centerpiece of which is a system of Affordable Care Act-financed vouchers to allow the purchase of private-sector health insurance by lower income Tennesseans — has been met with skepticism by many members of the Republican Legislature, even as GOP leaders have pledged to keep an open mind about the expansion.

According to an emailed statement Friday from the office of Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, the lower-chamber leadership was under the impression “that the House and Senate would each run the resolutions concurrently. “

Alexander Hasn’t Won Carr Over

Incumbent Sen. Lamar Alexander came away from the Republican primary in August with a comfortable margin separating him from state Rep. Joe Carr, the challenger who received the second-most votes in the race.

Carr only captured 40.6 percent of the vote, and in a field of mostly unknown challengers — five others besides Carr — Alexander took the nomination with 49.65 percent.

But Alexander’s 331,705 vote total constituted just under half the total 668,039 cast — meaning more GOP primary voters favored someone other than Alexander than were for him.

Only 240,949 votes were cast in the Democratic primary, which was won by Gordon Ball, a Knoxville trial lawyer attorney whom Alexander paints as an ally of the Obama administration and various liberal special-interest groups that traditionally align with the Democratic Party.

Alexander is running a campaign that centers on convincing Tennessee general election voters he’ll be a dependable vote against Barack Obama’s agenda during the president’s last two years in the White House.

But Alexander has yet to win over his highest-profile critic in the Republican Party. Carr told TNReport he’s not ready to endorse Alexander — and likely won’t until the incumbent Republican comes out strongly against Common Core and promises to fight “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

“It’s not up to me. It’s up to Sen. Alexander,” Carr said, adding that he’s had no communication with Alexander personally since the two met at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Rutherford County earlier this month. At that meeting, Carr said they talked about issues and he accepted Alexander’s apology for not taking Carr’s primary election-night phone calls to congratulate him on winning.

The ball’s in his court,” Carr said.

As for Alexander promising to earn a reputation as an impediment to Obama’s policies and programs going forward,  Carr told TNReport he has “no idea” what the campaign or the state Republican Party are talking about in that regard.

I will be as excited and intrigued as every other voter in Tennessee to see this strange turn of events,” said Carr, whose principle primary campaign theme was that Alexander’s been more friend than foe to Obama these last six years. 

Carr pointed to Alexander’s backing of various Obama administration initiatives and appointments as evidence he’s never really applied himself consistently or wholeheartedly to thwarting the president’s will.

The announcement last week that Attorney General Eric Holder is stepping down offered a prime example of how Alexander has often tended to earnestly award his trust to President Obama — even to the point of siding with liberal Democrats and against conservative Republicans — only to claim he regrets it later.

Alexander, who was one of 18 Republicans who joined with 55 Senate Democratic to confirm Holder in 2009, said in a statement that when it comes time for the president to pick Holder’s replacement, he hopes Obama “will nominate an attorney general this time who will faithfully apply the laws Congress has passed and not seek to impose policies the president wishes Congress had passed. The role of the top law enforcement officer in the country is to enforce the law—not to advance the president’s agenda.”

It should have been clear to Alexander during the confirmation process — and indeed it was to 21 other Republicans in the U.S. Senate — that Holder was going to be a problematic figure among conservatives, Carr suggested. Holder’s political aims, his ambitions and his performance as attorney general could have been “easily predicted and forecast by his past behaviors when he was in the Clinton administration,” Carr said.

In a strategy similar to Carr’s, Ball has pointed to Alexander’s Senate voting record as a defense against TNGOP claims that a vote for him will be a vote for Obama.

Ball is pushing Alexander to debate — a challenge Alexander has thus far dodged. Similarly, Alexander refused to share a debate stage with Carr during the GOP primary campaign.

Ball has said Alexander is doing Tennesseans a “disservice” by depriving them of a chance to see the candidates for such a powerful elected office challenge each other on matters of great national importance.

Ball, Alexander Trying to Outdistance Each Other from Obama

Depending on who you talk to, both candidates for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seat up for grabs this year have a lot in common with Barack Obama.

Earlier this week the Tennessee Republican Party pitched out a press release painting a vote for Gordon Ball, the Democratic Party’s candidate for Senate, as a vote in favor of Obama’s “agenda,” which includes Obamacare, higher taxes, less restrictions on abortion, unions and gun control.

“Like many Democrats in Tennessee—and every personal injury lawyer I’ve come across—Ball will try to cloak himself with conservative rhetoric in order to win,” TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney said in a news release. “But the reality is: He’ll be one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda.”

In Devaney’s telling, Tennesseans face a straightforward choice. They can send Alexander back to Washington so he can “defend us from President Obama,” or they can put the bat in the hands of Ball, who would be “Obama’s lapdog in the Senate.”

Ball thinks Team Lamar is overplaying just how dependably Alexander can be relied upon to take on the president. He launched the You-Love-Obama accusation right back at the third-term-seeking Beltway insider.

It’s Lamar Alexander who’s earned a reputation as one of the White House’s pet senators, having “voted with President Barack Obama 62 percent of the time,” a press release from the Ball camp indicated Tuesday.

Ball noted that’d he’d be starting with a clean slate if elected. “I have voted with (the president) 0 percent of the time,” he said. And he fashions himself as more middle-of-the-road than left-of-center. Ball compared his political leanings to those of Ned McWherter and Phil Bredesen.

Ball’s strategy of distancing himself from a president with whom he shares party affiliation looks to resemble that of Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, another upstart Southern Democrat looking to upset a GOP fixture on the national political scene. Grimes is running to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a recent TV ad featuring her shooting clay pigeons, Grimes also took aim at McConnell’s loyalty to University of Kentucky basketball and his knowledge of basic firearms safety. She also peppered the president. “I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA,” she said.

Grimes was the keynote speaker this summer at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Jackson Day Dinner. Neither Ball, nor his opponent in the Democratic primary, Terry Adams, spoke at that event.

Ball and Alexander will get a chance to go mano a mano to hash out who’s more Obama-esque next month. Both have agreed to appear at an Oct. 16 state Farm Bureau candidates’ forum at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

Alexander, Ball to Appear at TN Farm Bureau Candidate Forum

Press release from the Lamar Alexander Campaign for U.S. Senate; September 17, 2014:

Lamar Alexander’s campaign for re-election today released the following statement from the senator on the Tennessee Farm Bureau candidate forum scheduled for Oct. 16:

“I have accepted an invitation from the Tennessee Farm Bureau for a candidate forum at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. This will be a good opportunity to remind Tennesseans that my opponent is just one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda, and that a vote for me is a vote for a new Senate majority that will lead the country in a different and more conservative direction.”

Ketron Receives Nat’l Security Award for Work to Prevent Homegrown Terrorism

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 11, 2014:

WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2014 – – State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) will be awarded the National Security Eagle Award by ACT! for America at an event tonight in Washington DC. Ketron is set to receive the national honor at the organization’s fifth annual national conference which will be attended by members from 875 chapters from across the nation, in addition to 9-11 family members and American wounded warriors.

ACT! for America is the nation’s largest national security movement with over 280,000 active grassroots members from various political parties and religions. It is an issues advocacy organization dedicated to effectively organizing and mobilizing the most powerful grassroots citizen action network in America.

Ketron sponsored Tennessee’s “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” to cut off the support for terrorists who are planning to commit acts in Tennessee and curb the incidence of homegrown terrorism. He filed the bill in the wake of homegrown terrorist shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas, which targeted U.S. soldiers.

Recently it was reported that as many as 300 Americans are fighting alongside ISIS, the most radical group of jihadists who claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“Homegrown terrorism remains a tremendous threat to the U.S.,” said Senator Ketron. “Recent developments continue to show that this threat is not only real, but can happen in any state, any town and any community. I appreciate this recognition from ACT! and will continue to work for the safety and security of our citizens. The 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack should continue to serve as a reminder to all Americans that we can never let our guard down as there are those who are willing to hide behind innocent citizens to reign down terror on this nation.”

Ketron will also attend a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Pentagon’s 9-11 Memorial on Friday.

Alexander: Gallup Poll Shows Americans Want Washington Out of Schools

Press release from the Lamar Alexander Campaign for U.S. Senate; August 21, 2014:

Lamar Alexander’s campaign for re-election today cited a nationwide Gallup poll that shows Americans overwhelmingly agree with him that states and local school boards, not Washington, should decide what is taught in public schools. Alexander said accomplishing that goal would be a priority in a Republican majority.

“Washington just can’t keep its sticky fingers off of our schools, and this Gallup poll shows that Americans share many of the concerns we’ve seen in Tennessee, and that Senate Republicans have been trying to address,” Alexander said. “The Obama administration has been acting like a national school board, making decisions about standards, tests and other issues that should be left to states and local school boards. If Republicans take a Senate majority — and I have the opportunity to serve as chairman of the Senate education committee — we can begin to reverse the trend toward a national school board and get Washington out of our local schools.”

The Gallup poll showed Americans “prefer local school boards over federal government, 56% to 15%.” In 2013 in his role as the lead Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Alexander introduced the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act.”

The legislation — which would let states decide whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing and remove from Washington decisions about standards, tests, teacher evaluations and other issues — was supported by Republicans on the committee and rejected by Democrats. If Republicans were to win a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate in November, Alexander would be in line to serve as chairman of the HELP committee.

Following Primary, Alexander Emphasizes Moderate Credentials

Having sufficiently stressed his conservative credentials to stave off a Tea-Party challenge from his right, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is looking now to win support among moderate liberals and centrists.

The two-term incumbent has released what he hopes will be a growing list of endorsements he’s picked up from the ranks of Democrats and independents.

Included in what he’s calling “Tennesseans for Alexander” are Democratic notables like former U.S. Rep. John Tanner and the longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly, state Sen. Douglas Henry.

Also on the list are several current or former mayors, as well as former University of Tennessee Football Coach Johnny Majors and Rochelle Stevens, an Olympic gold medalist.

Alexander’s Tea Party-backed primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr, criticized Alexander as being too moderate.

During his campaign Alexander did his best to highlight his conservative endorsements and credentials, as well as his opposition to President Barack Obama‘s policies.

Now, though, Alexander looks to be shifting toward his “consensus-building politics” mode.

Not everybody who bought into Alexander before is buying in this time, though.

Alexander’s Democratic opponent in the November general election, Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney, has previously allowed his name to appear on a “Tennesseans for Alexander” list, a decision that Ball now calls “a huge mistake.”

Tracy, Desjarlais Lawyer Up, Sherrell Preps for Nov.

Several days after Tennessee voters cast their ballots in party primaries and local elections, the Republican nominee to represent the state’s 4th Congressional District in November is still up in the air.

The race between Jasper physician Scott Desjarlais, a two-term incumbent, and Shelbyville state Senator Jim Tracy is so close — less than 50 votes separate the challenger from the incumbent — that both candidates have declared themselves the winner, and have sought legal counsel.

Sen. TracyTracy, an insurance agent and two-and-a-half term state senator, announced his candidacy in January 2013 in the wake of the revelation in fall of 2012 that Desjarlais, the pro-life doctor and GOP nominee for the U.S. House seat, had in the past had sex with patients and later pressured one to get an abortion.

However, Desjarlais did well with rural voters, who seemed more inclined to consider his voting record than his troubled past when it came to casting their ballots, according to the Associated Press.

According to unofficial election totals from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, Desjarlais came in with 34,787 votes, and Tracy had 34,752 — a 35 vote difference.

scott desJarlais  pic mugFourth Congressional District provisional ballot voters had until close-of-business Monday to make their way to their local election offices with a proper form of identification to ensure that their votes count, though it could be several days until the total vote tally is completed, according to the AP.

Only two provisional ballots were approved by Grundy County Election officials Monday night, one for each candidate, the Times Free Press and AP report.

Bill Green, the state executive committeeman for Tennessee’s 16th Senate District — which includes Coffee, Marion, Franklin, Grundy and Sequatchie Counties, told TNReport Monday that he had not been in touch with anybody else on the executive committee about what they’re going to do once the provisional ballots are counted.

Calls to both the Republican State Executive Committee’s National Committeeman John Ryder and National Committeewoman Peggy Lambert to discuss what to expect after the provisional ballots are certified and counted were not immediately returned Monday afternoon.

Because they are committed to neutrality in primaries, officers for the Tennessee Republican Party “cannot speculate” about the outcome of the 4th District race, said TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney in e-mailed statement.

“According to state law, any Republican election contest would have to be submitted to the Tennessee Republican Party, acting as the State Republican Primary Board, within 5 days after election certification,” Devaney wrote. “If an election contest is received, the Primary Board would consider all arguments regarding a contest in a just and fair manner.”

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Lenda Sherrell, who faced no opponent in the primary has been readying herself to face her GOP opponent in the general election, “whoever it is,” reports the Times Free Press.

Additionally, Desjarlais is a finalist in liberal comedian Bill Maher’s “Flip a District” campaign, in which the HBO talk show host will attempt to flip a district by using his show to place an incumbent member of Congress under a large degree of scrutiny.

Carr: Lamar Should Drop Negative Tactics, Agree to Debate

Press release from the Campaign for Joe Carr for U.S. Senate; July 30, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN– TN State Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr released the following statement tonight in reaction to Sen. Lamar Alexander going negative and attacking Carr:

“Things must be really bad for Lamar to go negative and embrace these kind of dishonest and deceitful tactics. But if it’s a debate about Common Core he wants, I dare Lamar Alexander to stop hiding behind his negative attacks and debate me before next week’s election.”

As reported today by the Knoxville News Sentinel “with the primary just days away, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign is doing something it has avoided doing for months: It is finally acknowledging the existence of Republican challenger Joe Carr. Alexander’s campaign is attacking Carr by name for the first time in a flier sent to voters in several Middle Tennessee counties where Carr is presumed to have his strongest support…”

Carr added, “Talk about blatant hypocrisy – I’ve spent the last two years fighting against Common Core but when Lamar Alexander is asked about his position he says ‘let’s not talk about Common Core.’ If this is something Lamar Alexander really feels strongly about, why does he refuse to take a position? What does it say about Lamar Alexander that he’s willing to take cheap-shots at me in a flier, but won’t stand-up and debate me in person?”

The negative attack against Carr comes as Alexander continues to come under attack for comments made earlier this week while campaigning in Tennessee which has revealed a massive divide between Senator Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee Congressional Delegation. When asked about his support of the Senate’s immigration bill (S. 744) last year, Alexander replied, “I voted to end amnesty.” However, Tennessee Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan Jr., Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann have been vocally forceful in their characterization of S. 744 as “amnesty.”

“This is very straight-forward, either Lamar Alexander is lying or he’s suggesting Reps. Blackburn, Black, Duncan, Roe, DesJarlais and Fleischmann are when they call S. 744 ‘amnesty’,” said TN State Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr. “You have to wonder if Reps. Blackburn, Black, Duncan, Roe, DesJarlais and Fleischmann agree with Lamar when he says the Senate immigration bill was actually a ‘vote to end amnesty.’”

“The Senate amnesty bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Rep. Blackburn declared at the time. “I do not believe in amnesty and if we are going to make any changes to our system we must start by securing our borders. Any other reform effort is meaningless if we don’t start with strengthening our border security.”

Rep. Black decisively said, “There is no place for amnesty in immigration reform, period…In Congress, I was proud to be a vocal opponent of S. 744, the flawed Senate immigration bill that would have granted almost immediate legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.”

“I’m not going to vote for a bill that looks to me like it’s very similar to the [1986 amnesty] bill,” Rep. Duncan said about the S. 744. “I don’t know that Ronald Reagan would do the same thing if he was facing a problem that had become four or five times worse than it was in 1986.”

“The United States has always had a generous legal immigration policy, but we simply cannot grant amnesty to those who choose to break the law,” Rep. DesJarlais said in a statement about S. 744. “The Senate immigration proposal is the ObamaCare of immigration: A broad, comprehensive bill fraught with unintended consequences and unexpected results. I will fight to make sure this bill never reaches the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Providing a pathway to citizenship before securing the border is putting the cart before the horse. Before overhauling our nation’s immigration system, we should first ensure we are enforcing the laws that are already on the books.”

Rep. Flesichmann added, “An estimated 15 to 20 million illegal immigrants currently reside in the United States. I do not support rewarding these illegal immigrants with amnesty. In 1986, when legislation was passed granting general amnesty, the illegal immigrant population quadrupled.”

“I am opposed to the Senate bill because it includes a pathway to citizenship without sufficient protections to ensure our laws won’t be broken in the future,” Rep. Roe said last year. “Congress must take a transparent, incremental approach to dealing with this important issue instead of rushing through a seriously flawed piece of legislation.”