Posts

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.

Knoxville-Area Democrat Files for U.S. Senate Race

Press release from the Campaign for Terry Adams for U.S. Senate; October 28, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Terry Adams, a Navy veteran, entrepreneur and attorney, announced today that he has filed to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

“After getting strong encouragement from a wide range of people around Tennessee, I have decided to enter this race,” Adams said. “We think the time is right for someone with a unique profile to run and win this seat and to serve Tennessee.”

Adams continued, “Washington is broken and we are not going to fix it by sending back the same people responsible for breaking it in the first place.”

Adams noted that if we had more small business owners and military veterans in Washington that common sense might prevail over out-of-control gridlock and brinksmanship.

“We have fewer veterans serving than in recent memory and I think that’s one of the reasons Washington is so painfully partisan and amazingly ineffective.”

With Republicans Lamar Alexander and Joe Carr battling for the nomination, Adams also noted that the Tea Party candidate had defeated an establishment Republican in at least eight recent Republican primaries for U.S. Senate: in Utah (Senator Lee), Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky (Senator Paul), Nevada, and Texas (Senator Cruz). Five out of the eight candidates then lost general elections.

Adams has roots in East, West and Middle Tennessee. He and his wife Phillis have two businesses in the Knoxville area where they live. Adams was raised in Nashville and went to college at UT Knoxville and the University of Memphis.

Nashville attorney, former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman, and former U.S. Senate Democratic Party nominee, Bob Tuke is the Treasurer of Adams’ campaign.

A formal campaign kickoff and statewide tour is being scheduled.

Click here to read Adams’ short biography online.

TN Tea Party, Conservative Groups Ask Alexander to Retire

Open Letter to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, from Tennessee Tea Party/Conservative Groups; August 14, 2013:

Nashville, TN – Twenty prominent tea party and conservative groups in Tennessee have signed a letter asking Senator Lamar Alexander to retire. The letter was authored by Republican activist Matt Collins and circulated amongst tea party and conservative groups across the state.

Below is the text of the letter:
___________________________________________

An Open Letter To Senator Alexander

Senator Alexander,

You have served a long and marked career. You have been a part of the Tennessee political scene for as long as most of us can remember. You have worked for Howard Baker, Winfield Dunn, served as Governor, were appointed to be the Secretary of Education of the federal government, President of the University of Tennessee, were a serious contender for the nomination of the Republican Party for President, and of course you are currently serving as a United States Senator. Your life-long career in government service is noteworthy.

During your tenure in the Senate we have no doubt that you voted in a way which you felt was appropriate. Unfortunately, our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values. Quite honestly, your voting record shows that you do not represent the conservative values that we hold dear and the votes you have cast as Senator are intolerable to us. Furthermore we have serious doubts about your ability to fix our problems since you have played such a significant role in creating them.

The Little Plaid Book you authored contains very sage advice on politics. Rule #297 is especially important because you advise anyone running for office to “Serve two terms, then get out.” Are you willing to follow your own advice, or will you fall into the mire of hypocrisy?

As you are likely aware, there have been polls conducted that show your vulnerability. While no viable contender has yet emerged, it is becoming more probable with each passing day that one will rise to the challenge. When a serious contender eventually does enter the race, the moment their fundraising capability makes them a viable candidate, your re-election is in serious jeopardy.

Therefore, we urge you to conclude your long and notable career by retiring with dignity instead of fighting against a serious conservative primary challenger who would expose to all Tennessee voters the actual history of your voting record.

Sincerely,

Sevier County Tea Party
Tea Party of Lincoln County
Gibson County Patriots
Benton County Tea Party
Carroll County Tea Party
Jackson Madison County Tea Party
Dickson County Tea Party / 912 Project
Obion County Tea Party
Stewart County Tea Party
Tennesseans for Liberty (Madison County)
Volunteers for Freedom (Henry County)
We the People (Tipton County)
Rutherford County Tea Party
TN 9-12 Project
Caney Branch Tea Party
TN Republican Assembly
Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots (Blount Co)
McMinn County TEA Party
North Sumner Tea Party
Tennessee 8th District Tea Party Coalition

Local Tea Parties Denounce Alexander’s Voting Record, Call for Primary Challenge

Lamar Alexander, Tennessee’s senior U.S. senator, may have solid backing from the state’s Republican establishment. But he’s getting no love from local Tea Party groups and hard-core conservative voters who hope to see him unseated in next year’s GOP primary election.

Alexander was on hand at the Smyrna airport Saturday for an event honoring local Republican party chairmen, joined on stage by state GOP party head Chris Devaney and former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate-turned-TV-talking-head Mike Huckabee. Outside, meanwhile, 200-plus protesters, many waving signs and wearing red “Beat Lamar” t-shirts, gathered to denounce Alexander, attacking his voting record as too liberal and labeling the two-term senator a “RINO,” or “Republican In Name Only.”

Among the conservative protesters’ concerns were Sen. Alexander’s support of recent immigration overhaul legislation, an internet sales tax bill that Alexander helped write and votes relating to the “fiscal cliff.” But more than any one specific issue, many said, it is Alexander’s willingness to seek out moderate positions and compromise rather than taking hard conservative stances that are driving them to call for his ouster.

Ben Cunningham with the Nashville Tea Party who helped organize Saturday’s rally pointed to scorecards put out by conservative watchdog groups that rank lawmakers based on their voting histories and which, Cunningham said, consistently put Lamar Alexander on the most liberal end of the list of amongst Republican senators.

“Our concern is that Lamar Alexander’s very unconservative voting record is not being advertised as it should be,” Cunningham told TNReport.

“Lamar Alexander is not a conservative, he’s never been a conservative,” he continued.

“The entire Republican establishment is saying to the whole state of Tennessee ‘We’re not going to let you debate Lamar Alexander’s record. We’re not going to let you have an open debate of all of his votes,’” Cunningham said. For the GOP establishment, he charged, the race “is about the fact that [Alexander] has got an ‘R’ by his name and he’s been there for 12 years. You shouldn’t elect somebody on that basis.”

But so far, a viable contender has yet to emerge to challenge Alexander, who before going to the Senate served as U.S Education Secretary and Tennessee’s governor.

Speakers at the rally encouraged attendees to get involved by knocking on doors and making calls in the runup to the primary but stopped short of naming a specific candidate.

Ben Cunningham with the Nashville Tea Party said there were multiple people he knew who were considering a run and speculated that announcements would be made in coming weeks, but refused to disclose any names.

Professional wrestler and libertarian activist Glenn Jacobs, known by the stage name Kane, appeared to be mulling a run earlier this summer but has subsequently fallen off the radar. Clarksville Republican state Sen. Mark Green aroused speculation amongst conservatives earlier this month after he dropped out of a scheduled appearance at Alexander’s Saturday event. A staffer with Green’s office subsequently told the Tennessean that the cancellation was due to a family scheduling issue.

One name that did receive some chatter amongst protesters Saturday was that of Kevin Kookogey, a former Williamson County GOP party chair and president of a conservative mentoring group who spoke at the rally about his recent testimony before Congress on IRS targeting of Tea Party groups.

Asked if he was considering making a primary challenge to Sen. Alexander, Kookogey said he had been approached several times about the possibility and was “considering it.”

Corker, Alexander Comment on IRS Targeting of Tea Party Groups

Statement from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; May 10, 2013:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., made the following statement today in response to reports that the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election.

“As I said last year, all nonprofit organizations seeking tax-exempt status should be treated fairly and equitably by the IRS,” said Corker. “The IRS’s admission that its employees were specifically targeting conservative groups – including groups in Tennessee – is outrageous, disturbing, and will further erode Americans’ trust in the federal government. Swift and decisive action should be taken to punish those responsible and to assure the American people that these actions will not be tolerated at the IRS or any other federal agency.”

Last March, Senator Corker joined Senate colleagues in asking the Internal Revenue Service to treat all nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status fairly in the designation process.

###

Statement from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; May 10, 2013:

MARYVILLE, May 10 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today released the following statement on the IRS’s admission today that it targeted conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election:

“This is the United States of America, where the First Amendment protects our right to organize and speak up and speak out, and it’s shocking to learn that the IRS arbitrarily targeted any peaceful political organization for ideological reasons. I asked the IRS last year to explain its actions, and today we find out it was, in fact, targeting Tea Party groups. Congress needs to investigate this further and make sure those responsible for it are held accountable and that something like this never happens again.”

Alexander joined 11 senators in March 2012 in sending a letter (attached) to IRS commissioner Douglas Schulman seeking assurance that the agency’s string of inquiries toward 501(c)(4) organizations affiliated with the Tea Party “has a sound basis in law and is consistent with the IRS’s treatment of tax-exempt organizations across the spectrum.”

Alexander said at the time: “The extra scrutiny the IRS appears to be giving Tea Party-related nonprofits is disturbing, so I hope we find that the IRS is treating all tax-exempt organizations the same. The government should not have what amounts to an enemies list based on what people or organizations say or believe, and if it turns out the IRS is denying Tea Party groups the proper tax status because of what they have to say, it must stop and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Related: (IRS Letter 501c4 Requests for Information.pdf)

###

Tea Party Marshaling Anti-Obamacare Muster

Members of the Nashville Tea Party are planning a rally outside the state Capitol at noon Wednesday. Their hope is to put GOP lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam on clear notice that grassroots conservatives want Tennessee to disavow state-level cooperation and support for the federal health insurance exchanges outlined in President Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

“We’re calling it the ‘Just Say No’ rally, and we’re trying to send a message to the governor,” said Ben Cunningham, leader of the Nashville Tea Party. “We’re encouraging him to just say no to a state-run exchange and let the federal government own this disaster.”

Cunningham said he expects people from all three of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions to attend.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that states choose between creating a state-run exchange where individuals may purchase health insurance eligible for federal subsidies or allowing the government to create a federally run insurance exchange.

Either way, those exchanges are supposed to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

Haslam continues to say he has not made a decision on what course his administration will formally set — even after the federal government extended the deadline to make a decision to Dec. 14. Haslam and other state officials have complained that the federal government has failed to answer key questions as to how state-run exchanges would work.

Many governors, such as Rick Perry in Texas and Jan Brewer in Arizona, have said they will not set up a state-run exchange.

Tennessee tea partiers “would like Gov. Haslam to join with those governors and say, ‘No, we’re not going to be a branch office of the federal government,’” said Cunningham. He said a petition to that effect is circulating and “is getting a very good response.”

“If they (the federal government) want to implement this program, have at it, but our experience in the past with Medicaid, with education funding, is always a bait-and-switch situation where they fund much of the expenditures on the front end, and then the states are left with huge expenses on the back end,” Cunningham said. “There is some indication now that the phone calls and the emails that the governor is getting are overwhelmingly against a state exchange.”

The governor has indicated that while he opposes Obamacare in general, and he thinks the health exchanges are a bad idea overall, he’d prefer it if the state run them rather than the feds. However, high-ranking Republicans in both houses of the state’s General Assembly have indicated that support is lacking among the majority party for the state taking on that responsibility.

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

House Republicans Running Rally-Round-the-Incumbents Campaign

Tennessee Republicans are looking to tighten their grip on state government in the Nov. 6 general election by winning an even larger legislative majority than they’ve enjoyed the last two years.

But party leaders, particularly in the House, say a first priority is to ensure that members of their caucus survive challenges in the Aug. 2 primary.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart both say incumbents winning primaries is a prime concern. In McCormick’s words, incumbents deserve to be “rewarded on election day” for responsibly governing since they began dominating state politics two years ago.

“Certainly, we want our incumbents to win,” said the Chattanooga Republican. “We think everyone, or close to everyone, is going to win. And then we feel like we can pick some seats up this November as a result of our staying focused on the issues voters care about.”

Maggart sees it as her unwavering responsibility to ensure sitting lawmakers get their jobs back next year. And she faces her own tough re-election challenge against Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Supporting a candidate can mean everything from political donations from individual lawmakers or the well-funded House GOP Caucus, appearances from high-ranking lawmakers such as Speaker Beth Harwell and even coming out to knock on doors or work political fundraisers.

“My job is to bring the incumbents back,” Maggart told TNReport. “That’s our job — my job — as the caucus leader.”

But while GOP legislative leaders say they see it as their rightful role to protect the already-in crowd, some prominent outsiders who speak for constituencies typically seen as leaning Republican argue that in reality, principles ought to take precedence over the power of incumbency.

The automatic impulse to protect incumbents is rarely the answer — and more often likely part of the problem, argues Ben Cunningham, spokesman of Tennessee Tax Revolt and a founder of the Nashville Tea Party.

“People tend to stay in office far too long and have a sense of entitlement about being re-elected, and that tends to be reinforced by the reality,” Cunningham told TNReport this week.

He said anytime voters can get candidate variety and real ballot-booth choices, it is rarely a bad thing.

“I think that’s one thing most Tea Party people have in common — that we tend to be skeptical of the sense of entitlement that comes with long-term incumbency,” Cunningham said. “I simply don’t feel any loyalty to someone because they’re an incumbent.”

In the primary election this summer, 21 House Republican incumbents face off against GOP challengers who say they better represent the party’s values or are better suited for the job than the sitting state rep. Four GOP state senators have primary opponents.

“Part of the problem is that some incumbents have become addicted to power,” said John Harris, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Firearms Association, which lost a long-fought battle with Republicans this year over allowing gun owners to stow their weapon in their locked car at work. The TFA supports Maggart’s opponent, Rogers, as a result of GOP leaders stonewalling the bill instead of allowing debate and an up-or-down vote on the House floor, where Harris says the legislation would likely have won approval.

His squabble with Maggart over gun rights is “merely a symptom of a much deeper problem with the personal agenda of incumbents and the caucus within the General Assembly, primarily the House of Representatives, to raise funds to retain power and their offices rather than to demonstrate by their actions that they can be trusted with a return to office,” Harris said.

“The question citizens need answered is, Who controls such a system?” Harris said. “It is not the citizens. It is elected officials who are seeking re-election. It is the caucus. It is a product called ‘incumbent protection’ even from members of their own partisan parties.”

The state Republican Party wouldn’t comment specifically on how they balance supporting incumbents versus ensuring those elected sport solid Republican values. But it tipped its hat to the current GOP powers that be in the Legislature for lowering taxes and reducing spending.

“We work very hard to recruit solid, conservative candidates to run for office, and encourage voters to listen to all the candidates and what they stand for when selecting our party’s nominees,” said TNGOP Chris Devaney.

Haslam Gets High Marks in MTSU Poll

After his first year in office, Gov. Bill Haslam’s fans outnumber his detractors 3-to-1, according to Middle Tennessee State University’s latest state poll.

The governor’s approval numbers have scarcely changed from those found in a fall 2011 poll, in which just over 51 percent of respondents said they approved of the job the new governor was doing. This year, 52.7 percent gave Haslam a thumbs-up.

The poll also found that a plurality of self-identified Democrats in the state approve of Haslam’s performance. The telephone poll of Tennessee adults is conducted twice a year by Middle Tennessee State University’s Office of Communication Research, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

“Among all Tennesseans, Haslam’s support is strongest when it comes to his fellow Republicans, 66 percent of whom say they approve, while only 9 percent disapprove,” the opinion survey’s authors wrote. “Fifty-five percent of independents approve, while 16 percent disapprove. Even among Democrats, a 41 percent plurality approve of the job Haslam is doing, while 36 percent disapprove.”

For the state Legislature, the latest poll numbers represent an uptick in approval but suggest that, for most Tennesseans, the body leaves something to be desired. This time around, 44.9 percent said they approve of the General Assembly, giving the group as a whole a plurality of support. Last fall, the poll found respondents’ opinions equally divided between those who approved, disapproved, refused or didn’t know.

Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was unimpressed with the new numbers.

“I still don’t think that’s a whole lot to be proud of,” he said, adding that the number may continue to rise if legislators stick to the issues voters care most about, like jobs and education, and “stay away from side issues.”

Knoxville Republican firebrand Stacey Campfield greeted the news more enthusiastically, as a sign that the GOP-dominated Legislature is delivering just what the voters ordered.

“Well I think people are seeing that we’re taking head-on, some big issues,” he told TNReport. “Really, the government bureaucracy that people see every day in their lives. We’re taking those issues on, we’re changing things. Education has gotten a world better than where it was.”

He went on, “Those statewide issues impact people. They wanted more conservative people in office, we’re bringing conservative legislation. That’s all we can do.”

Leading Senate Democrat Jim Kyle doesn’t think the approval rating’s increase has much, if anything, to do with Republican leadership or legislation meandering on the Hill.

“I think it’s a reflection of the improving economy and people feeling better about everything,” Kyle said.

As for the governor’s continued lead on the legislature, Campfield says that’s easy to explain.

“We do a lot more,” he said. “He’s a good guy and all, but we take a lot of the heat on a lot of the little issues. He only really has to deal with what hits his desk or what’s about to come up. We have to take individual little issues that maybe he doesn’t have to take on.”

Both the governor and the trailing legislators have a sizable lead on the country’s foremost populist protest movements. The poll found that 24 percent of respondents have a “favorable” opinion of the Tea Party while nearly half that – 13 percent – feel the same about Occupy Wall Street.

Reaction to the two groups also reveals disparity when it comes to the polarizing effect of each group along ideological lines. Among Tennesseans who scored highest on the poll’s measure of political knowledge, 67 percent of conservatives expressed approval of the Tea Party, while 55 percent of moderates and liberals disapproved.

When it comes to Occupy Wall Street, however, the opposition still emerges, but the support does not. The poll found that 54 percent of conservatives disapproved of the movement while only 10 percent of moderates and liberals approved.

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report

VIDEOS: ‘We Stand With Gibson’

A rally thrown by Tea Party activists in support of Gibson Guitar Corp. in light of a recent federal raid on the company drew hundreds to Nashville Saturday to listen to music and speakers denounce government overreach.

Guests at the “We Stand With Gibson” rally included Gibson Guitar owner Henry Juszkiewicz, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, conservative radio talk show hosts Phil Valentine, Steve Gill and others. They urged the audience to let the federal government know their displeasure with the government over the Aug. 24 raid in which federal agents confiscated imported wood, guitars and files from Gibson’s Nashville and Memphis locations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues that the wood, grown in India, was illegally imported in violation of Indian law and the U.S. Lacey Act. Gibson maintains that the wood is, in fact, legal — and that the Indian government approves of its exportation to the United States where companies like Gibson and others use it in the manufacture of stringed musical instruments.

 

Ramsey Proposes Public Hearings On Teacher Contracts

The latest compromise in the debate over how Tennessee teachers hammer out labor contracts would require that educators be given a chance to offer public input but would no longer enjoy collective bargaining leverage, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

Senate Republican staffers are still working out the details and likely will reveal them next week, but Ramsey said Thursday he expects the fresh language from his chamber will help win over House Republicans who won’t commit to an elimination of teachers’ unions’ collective bargaining power.

“I think that will give the teachers the protection they need and desire, yet don’t have the unions in the middle doing those negotiations,” he said.

The new provisions, which Ramsey said are conceptual right now, would create a “policy manual” for school boards to follow before hashing out teacher labor contracts. It would require public hearings for rank-and-file teachers to air their concerns to the school’s top decision makers.

The school boards would have no obligation to follow the teachers’ recommendations. But Ramsey said the public meetings would keep school board members more accountable to the public.

That sounds like a “glorified faculty meeting,” said Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association.

“I can’t imagine any set of conditions under which this gives teachers a voice. Every school system already has the opportunity, and in fact, the right to have whatever meetings they want to have with their faculties,” he said.

The TEA, which represents some 52,000 teachers, said using the public meetings as the main method to work out teachers’ issues of concern would be “unworkable” and “create chaos” whereas using select union representatives to hash out those issues would be more collaborative.

“I hope the lieutenant governor will go back and think about that again,” Mance said.

The amendment would be the second compromise in an ongoing quest by Tennessee Republicans to curb the authority of the Tennessee Education Association and other teachers’ unions to negotiate contracts.

So far, the GOP caucus is split over two competing proposals. The Senate version of SB113, that Ramsey favors, would ban unions from negotiating on behalf of teachers. The House version maintains collective bargaining but shrinks the list of issues that can be discussed at the negotiation table.

The issue is reminiscent of similar discussions in Wisconsin and Iowa aimed at diminishing union power. Proponents say the changes are necessary to save money and dig the states out of budget holes.

In Tennessee, the argument is a philosophical one over whether unions are good for education.

The issue came to a head Wednesday in the House Education Subcommittee. Republican Chairman Mike Harrison stepped away from his party’s platform on collective bargaining and proposed amendments to give teachers more issues and more negotiators to take with them to the bargaining table.

Both attempts failed, and he abstained from voting the bill out of committee.

“If I had voted against it, the bill would have essentially died, but there’s always other bills that someone could amend and bring the collective bargaining back, and I feel like it would probably be even worse if that had happened,” Harrison said.

The Rogersville Republican is unhappy with both the House and the Senate versions of the bill, but said he could go along with the House’s softer reforms if he can add his amendments.

To Harrison, the issue is less about union power than it is about representing teachers in his district.

“Unions in other states (versus) what we have here are apples and oranges. If you don’t have the ability to go on a strike, and if teachers either have the ability to be a member or not a member, I think it’s probably OK,” he said, referring to Tennessee’s right-to-work framework.

Because he was the tie-breaking vote on the committee, the measure should have died, potentially ending for the year’s discussions about teachers’ collective bargaining privileges. Instead, Speaker Beth Harwell stepped in and cast the deciding vote, passing it out of the committee, 7-6.

Harwell, who took pride earlier this year in dismantling the House Education committee to break up the body’s heavy Memphis majorities, said she was not disappointed her hand-picked subcommittee couldn’t pull the trigger on the bill she helped craft without her direct involvement.

“If I’m needed to be called in to keep a good bill moving forward, I’m honored to do that,” Harwell told reporters Thursday. “I think every day we get closer to garnering the votes we need for passage. Every day we’re making progress.”

Tennessee Tea Party secretary Tami Kilmarx said she’s confused about what exactly is going on among House Republicans, and to what extent the bulk of their 64-member caucus will support the Senate’s more sweeping collective bargaining rollback.

“Senators, like us, feel like we want to cut the head off the snake and do away with collective bargaining across the board,” she said.

Ramsey was scheduled to meet with Kilmarx’s tea party group in Murfreesboro Thursday evening to discuss the latest movement on collective bargaining.