This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam recently appointed Patsy Camp, previous board president and vice president of government relations and public relations for the Jackson Arts Council, to the Tennessee Arts Commission. Camp is a native Jacksonian, having attended Jackson City Schools and Lambuth University, where she earned a B.A. in art and art history, Summa Cum Laude. She has long been an advocate for the arts, as indicated by her service on several boards, including the Tennesseans for the Arts Board in Nashville and the Jackson Art Association.
The penumbra of Gov. Bill Haslam’s greatness and legend stretches clear across the Appalachian Mountains. That anyway, seems to be the theory of Mitt Romney’s campaign, which enlisted Haslam’s aid Wednesday in western North Carolina. Haslam spoke to Romney supporters in Asheville, Hendersonville and Sylva, N.C., and according to the campaign, he delivered a message “to hardworking North Carolinians” that “a Romney presidency will be one that encourages their hard work and success.”
Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation John Schroer said Friday that his agency is working hard to reduce costs and increase communication with local communities. Speaking during an event organized by the Northeast Tennessee Chambers of Commerce, Schroer said TDOT undertook a “top-to-bottom” review when he took over the agency and the report has identified ways to save millions of dollars. “Our top-to-bottom review was 4-inches thick,” he said. As part of that process, TDOT is merging two departments together and has decided to scale back several large projects.
Every year, folks spend approximately $14.1 billion on tourism in Tennessee, and business people from around the county gathered Wednesday to learn how much of that cash can be attracted here. The Shelbyville & Bedford County Chamber of Commerce hosted the tourism workshop featuring Derrick Smith, middle Tennessee’s regional manager for the Department of Tourist Development, who has also done promotion work for the Tennessee Titans. Smith’s focus is getting more tourists here, encouraging them to stay longer and of course, spend more money.
A challenger to state Rep. Tony Shipley for the Republican nomination in House of Representatives district 2 says he has not ruled out contesting the election. The Kingsport Times-News reports that unofficial results from the Sullivan County Election Commission show Ben Mallicote lost to Shipley by just 11 votes in Thursday’s primary. Shipley received 3,405 votes to Mallicote’s 3,394. Shipley’s win was thanks to 91 absentee ballots in his favor compared with 36 for Mallicote. After Thursday’s election, county Elections Administrator Jason Booher reported recording no provisional ballots, but on Friday, he reported two.
Down a few dozen votes, Republican state Senate candidate Greg Vital hasn’t decided if he’ll attempt to clear numerous hurdles between him and a recount, a spokesman said Saturday. “We’ll make an announcement this week,” spokesman Rob Alderman said. “First we’re waiting on all the votes to be counted. Hamilton County found 25 votes they didn’t have before Friday. Are there others out there we’ll know about today or tomorrow?” Records show exactly 16,000 GOP primary ballots were cast in Senate District 10, which includes parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties.
Tennessee’s Republican establishment is striving to move past last week’s sometimes bitter legislative primary and its potential impact on officeholder leadership. The aim now for fall campaigns: Slimming even more the ranks of the minority party Democrats. The prospects look fairly bright for Republicans on both fronts, despite the losses of seven incumbent House members Thursday. The defeat of those veterans — and close calls for a couple of others — are seen by some as an indication of growing division within the state’s majority party and as, possibly, a threat to House Speaker Beth Harwell remaining in her position.
Thursday’s state legislative primary results likely signal more infighting among Republicans in the next two-year legislative term, particularly between the GOP’s pro-business and tea party wings in the House. Seven Republican incumbent House members lost to intraparty challengers, four of them to candidates who were backed by local tea party groups. The most notable was the defeat of House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville by Courtney Rogers, who had strong tea party backing.
One-third of state House Republican incumbents facing challenges in last week’s GOP primary elections lost, unofficial returns from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office show. Seven GOP lawmakers fell in 21 contested primaries statewide, including District 31 Rep. Jim Cobb, of Spring City, who lost to challenger Ron Travis, of Dayton, Tenn. In Upper East and West Tennessee, GOP incumbents barely scraped past voters, with five votes in one case and 11 in another.
The general election still determines the ultimate winner, but Tennessee GOP Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says political campaigns are getting to the point where primaries may be “the race.” “Before I got to be in the (Republican) majority, I had to practically beg people to run, and now we have four-way primaries and six-way primaries. Things have really changed,” Ramsey said when asked to reflect on Thursday’s primary election results. About a dozen incumbent state lawmakers lost in GOP and Democrat primaries on Thursday.
Tennessee Republicans once made a point of converging on the weekend after primary battles to put on a public face of party unity. Not this year. Seven Republican incumbents in the state House lost to GOP challengers in Thursday’s primary. Among them were the caucus chair and the education committee chair. All seven Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation won their nomination after two freshmen survived pitched campaigns to oust them. While previous rallies purporting post-primary unity have had their awkward moments, party leaders said they were needed to coalesce around the winning candidates.
For more than two years, Rutherford County has been in the middle of a perfect storm over Islam. While furor over the “ground zero” mosque in New York has faded, the dispute over the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro — which began around the same time — has only grown more intense. Fueled by fears that Muslims are gaining influence while Christians are losing clout, activists have battled to block construction of the Murfreesboro mosque. They’ve argued over the minutia of county zoning laws and whether Islam is a religion. And the fight is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Sullivan County’s largest taxpayer, Eastman Chemical Co., must fork over nearly $900,000 more in property taxes under the new rates approved Monday – for a total bill of about $10 million.The next largest business, the Bristol Motor Speedway, will pay an additional $110,984 under the 20 cent increase in the county tax rate. County commissioner Eddie Williams acknowledges that businesses will share a large part of the burden for the tax increase, but the county has not increased property taxes in eight years.
In the past decade, Robertson County has been one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing counties. More than 66,000 people now call it home, and nearly three-quarters of its workforce leaves the county for work. And yet, the county has had few major new road projects in more than two decades to help handle the influx. That’s why Mayor Howard Bradley says it’s time Robertson County join the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the regional body that helps allocate federal transportation funding in the region.
How did the party of choice and inclusion, the party that believes in government solving problems, wind up with a pro-life, gay-marriage-bashing, Big Brother-invoking U.S. Senate nominee? That’s the strange position the Tennessee Democratic Party found itself in after Mark Clayton won big in the primary election Thursday. Clayton beat six other candidates, including Park Overall, an actress and environmental activist who looked like the party’s candidate of choice after she spoke at the party’s Jackson Day dinner this year.
Idea is to encourage small donors The small print at the bottom of ads for federal politicians may soon get a new wrinkle — one that tells you to contribute to candidate X or Y by texting on your mobile phone. The proposal comes from Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, who said he expects the Federal Election Commission to give its final approval to the idea sometime this week. “More and more people use their phones for just about anything,” Cooper said in an interview. “It’s so convenient.” A whole generation of Americans, he added, has grown up with texting as central to their lifestyles. And Americans are used to texting to donate to charities of all kinds.
In this room, no one is gun-shy. An off-duty police officer stands before a mismatched crowd: an old man in glasses, a businessman in a button-up, college men in T-shirts and a baby-faced woman with braids in her hair. The outline of a human target is stuck to the wall behind him. Gun laws are the topic of Tuesday’s handgun carry class at Shooter’s Depot off Highway 153. Mark Haskins, a Chattanooga police sergeant and former SWAT officer, drills the laws into their heads. Guns are for personal safety. Deadly force can be used if there is the threat of serious bodily harm or death.
Last week, James King and his research team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory were still discussing whether or not to stay up for the Mars landing early, early Monday morning or record it and watch it at a more sane time. In this case, it appeared that excitement might win out over reason. According to King, there’s a lot of excitement and pride from the ORNL group, which contributed over the past several years to development of a new Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator that’s being used for the first time on the Mars rover Curiosity.
When it comes to debate about the facts between BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Memorial Health Care System, not much is black and white. Since the two failed in contract negotiations last week, both sides have leveled accusations about who is at fault. In an editorial board meeting with Times Free Press editors and reporters Friday, Memorial executives said they have only asked for enough money to operate their hospital and serve patients. Earlier in the week, BlueCross leaders said Memorial has asked to be the highest-paid health system in Chattanooga, which would drive up already-high costs.
Alarm bells sounded years ago for a coming doctor shortage in Memphis, then rang louder at the thought of thousands of new patients surging into doctors’ offices with health insurance from the Affordable Care Act. Shelby County needs nine more primary care doctors, according to August 2012 numbers from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a federal agency. They’re needed in the low-income areas of northwest Memphis/Frayser as well as in southwest Memphis, the federal agency said.
Setting out to find 105 workers for its mill in Memphis, paper maker Kruger Inc. this week opened eight temporary hiring centers — one in Memphis and seven in cities throughout the region. “This is so nice of them to come here,” Heather Gonzalez said on Tuesday after applying at the hiring center in Covington, about 30 miles north of the mill. “Downtown Memphis is a long ways to travel to look for a job.” Staffing the north-side Memphis tissue mill with Mid-South commuters reflects a trend that has steadily reshaped the state’s largest city.
As Lenoir City Schools director Wayne Miller prepares for another school year, he’s planning on focusing all his energy on helping the district adjust to new, mandated standards. Miller had to deal with more than a few distractions last school year. The district made national news more than once for controversies connected with social issues. The director, whose system is composed of a high school, intermediate/middle school and elementary school, said he hopes this year will be less exciting. Wednesday is the first full day of classes. One change that’s obvious: School board meetings will be opening with a moment of silence instead of a prayer.
In the last days before classes begin at Paulette Elementary School, teachers are making final preparations. Kindergarten teacher Kim Goforth sorted books for her students. On the other side of the school, which is entering its second year of operation, third-grade teachers Julie Larmer, Heather Hayes and Nicole Shoffner huddled together to prepare information for parents. “Last year it was the week before school started and we were just getting the phones put in, we were just getting the computers in. Nerves were high,” said Jason Bailey, school principal.
Central Maine is so vast and so empty, with so few roads, that it has given rise to a classic bit of New England humor. An old Yankee is asked for directions, whereupon he replies, “You can’t get there from here.” The problem in Maine is that most of its major roads run north-south. Very few run east-west, which makes traversing the state one long, slow slog. Peter Vigue, the chairman and chief executive of the Cianbro Corporation, a large engineering and construction company based in Maine, is hoping to change that.
Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a lobbyist to make a political contribution to a state legislator. But, if the lobbyist sets up a political action committee, gives money to the PAC and then the PAC gives money to the legislator, well, that’s just fine. And lots of lobbyists do that. Under Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a human being to give more than $1,400 to candidate for the state House. But a PAC, essentially a legal fiction created by human beings who are legislators, can give up to $7,100. So Louie Lobbyist, who as a human being is prohibited from giving anything to Larry Legislator, can fill out the PAC creation paperwork, then Louie PAC can give Larry $7,100.
Republicans all over this land seem to be digging in their collective heels over highly contentious voter identification laws that are in place in a number of states. That’s particularly true in Tennessee, where GOP leaders are convinced public support for voter ID laws is squarely on their side. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey gloated about it in an October 2011 newsletter titled “Suppressing the lies about voter ID.” Ramsey said support for these laws is overwhelming, adding, “the opposition amounts to just a few leaders in the upper echelon of the Democrat Party and their friends in the press.” Indeed, several opinion polls show that Ramsey is correct.
Looking at the statistics on traffic safety in Tennessee, it’s hard not to get angry. Fatalities and injuries from crashes are up. DUIs are up. Perhaps worst of all, the deaths of young adults ages 15-24 in crashes are up — and they are higher in the Nashville area than almost anywhere in the United States. What is going on? We have laws against speeding, reckless driving and driving under the influence. We require seat-belt use (in the front seat, anyway) and ban texting for drivers. Just look at the public-service ads: Tennessee is tough on driving offenses, right? Wrong. Tennessee is the Creampuff State.
“TN Democrats dump own Senate candidate” (Friday’s Tennessean.com headline) Ouch. Winning nearly 50,000 votes, Mark Clayton easily outpolled the other six candidates to face incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Corker in the fall general election. And before you could blink, the Democratic Party went all Mission Impossible on him and disavowed his candidacy. The terse news release on the party’s website: “The only time that Clayton has voted in a Democratic primary was when he was voting for himself. Many Democrats in Tennessee knew nothing about any of the candidates in the race, so they voted for the person at the top of the ticket.
Last weekend’s unprecedented infiltration by peace activists to the inner sanctum of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge was an outrageous and unforgivable breach of security. The security failure was made even more galling because the intruders were three aging activists — one an 82-year-old nun — and not a team of highly trained commandos. The failure prompted B&W Y12, the managing contractor at the plant, to take the extraordinary step of ordering a halt to nuclear operations. Y-12 is one of the nation’s most sensitive nuclear weapons sites. A comprehensive review of security measures — apparently long overdue — has begun.