This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is one of the agencies that will be meeting with administrative leaders to discuss its budget. Gov. Bill Haslam, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes and David Thurman, the state budget director, are presiding over the annual budget hearings that began Tuesday and will last through next Tuesday. The hearings are for fiscal year 2013-14. Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent cut in spending as a fallback.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget hearings continued Wednesday in Nashville with presentations by officials for transportation, children’s services and other departments. The budget hearings that opened Tuesday began the preparations for the fiscal 2013-14 budget request that Haslam will present to the state legislature in January, The Commercial Appeal reported (http://bit.ly/XjgSlz ). Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said Tuesday that he wasn’t asking for funds to expand pre-kindergarten classes.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he’s leaning toward the state running its own insurance exchange program under the federal health care overhaul. But he’s holding off on making a final decision, which is required by the end of next week. The Republican-led state legislature would have to sign off, and some lawmakers in the governor’s party are dubious. “I think politically it will be difficult. In some other states, you had some governors who said they wanted to do it and a legislature that voted no. But I think the arguments haven’t been made yet.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam joined Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Major General Terry “Max” Haston of the Tennessee Military Department today to recognize five veteran state employees and half a million Tennessee veterans of all ages and eras. The Governor’s Veterans Day event was held at the Tennessee Tower Plaza in downtown Nashville. Sergeant Frank C. Bell, Jr., began his military career in the United States Army in December 1952.
The state of Tennessee is making plans to sell off large office complexes, including the Cordell Hull Building in the shadow of the state capitol. The agency overseeing state buildings says they’re beyond repair.In tight years, General Services Commissioner Steve Cates says maintenance is one of the first things to go. And that’s happened for enough years, he says half a dozen buildings aren’t worth saving. “It’s probably the first time we’ve looked at what the true deferred maintenance costs are compared to the value.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is aiming its sights at big city gangs that have infiltrated the state’s small towns. “What we’ve seen are a lot of urban gangs migrating to smaller communities and towns in rural West Tennessee,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said after a budget hearing with Gov. Bill Haslam. “Sometimes on the weekends, thousands going into those towns, partying, violence, drugs, the things that follow that type of clientele.” At the hearing, Gwyn requested a $70.9 million budget for 2013-14, representing about a $1.5 million reduction from last year’s budget at the governor’s request.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says time is running out for school systems to use federal Race to the Top funds. WPLN Radio reported that during budget discussions Tuesday, Huffman told Gov. Bill Haslam some systems haven’t spent their share of the money, which must be used or returned by 2014. Huffman said with 18 months to go, school systems are saying they plan to use the funds, but the pressure builds each succeeding quarter that it isn’t spent.
Nearly 150 patients who were exposed to potentially contaminated steroid injections in Tennessee got medicine that was more than 7 weeks old, even though industry guidelines say its shelf life should have been no longer than 24 hours. Almost one in five of those patients developed fungal infection — a rate dramatically higher than for those who were treated with fresher medicine, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. The methylprenisolone acetate produced by Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center is blamed in a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that has sickened 424 people and killed 31, including 13 in Tennessee.
The Knoxville nonprofit that Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day led for 10 years amassed numerous state rule violations before she left the agency, according to records obtained by The Tennessean. Some of the violations that occurred while O’Day was CEO of Child and Family Tennessee were minor – personnel files missing dates that reference checks were completed — but others were far more serious. On March 15, 2010, just nine months before becoming Gov. Bill Haslam’s pick to lead the state’s child welfare agency, O’Day was put on notice that DCS had “concerns for the safety and well-being of custodial youths placed at Child and Family Tennessee.”
One side of the newest widened section of Interstate 65 in Franklin is expected to open this month. Two lanes have been added to each side of the heavily traveled stretch of I-65 from roughly Murfreesboro Road to Goose Creek Bypass, where work began in November 2010. While the new lanes are mostly complete, crews are still working on a noise wall and a retaining wall, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Beth Emmons said. The $27.7 million project includes a bridge over the Harpeth River, three retaining walls and four noise walls.
An audit of Madison County finances conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has determined that there was improper use of a county vehicle and of employee time by Jackson-Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Marty Clements. The audit also cites four missing receipt books from the Rabies Control Office, according to an audit report dated Oct. 26. The auditors reported these findings to county officials and recommended the establishment of an audit committee in Madison County.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam is set to visit East Tennessee on Thursday and Friday. She’ll be reading at schools and a fundraising event as part of her goal to encourage more families to read to their children. Mrs. Haslam will be in Knoxville at the Beck Cultural Center on Thursday morning, Norwood Elementary in the afternoon, followed by Inskip Elementary on Friday.
Republican leaders in Tennessee’s House and Senate spent much of Wednesday happily basking in the post-election glow of their “supermajorities.” Aided by legislative redistricting, huge campaign war chests and nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters who said “no” to President Barack Obama, House Republicans saw their majority rise from 64 to 70 in the 99-member chamber. House Democrats saw a six-seat loss, going from 34 members to 28. There is one independent. In the 33-member Senate, Republicans saw their advantage soar from 20 to 26.
Tennessee Republicans have reached another high-water mark for dominance of state government by gaining a 70-28 majority over Democrats in the state House and 26-7 advantage in the state Senate – a six-seat GOP gain in both chambers. With Republicans already controlling the governor’s office, two U.S. Senate seats and seven of nine U.S. House seats, there is some speculation that the “new normal” — a phrase favored by Gov. Bill Haslam — will mean more quarreling within party ranks than with diminished Democrats.
Although Republicans controlled both houses of the Tennessee legislature for the last two years, the super majorities they won Tuesday mean the General Assembly will be a different place when it convenes its two-year term Jan. 8. The super majorities — more than two-thirds of the membership of both chambers — give the GOP virtually absolute control, to alter rules and cut off debate at will and to maintain a quorum and pass legislation even if no Democrats are present.
Those elected to represent Rutherford County in the state House of Representatives Tuesday encouraged their opponents to stay involved in the issues that led them to run for office. The winners — incumbents Mike Sparks, Rick Womick and Joe Carr and newcomer Dawn White — refrained from celebrating until the final ballots were counted early Wednesday morning. “I didn’t want to go to bed not knowing if I won or not,” said Sparks, R-Smyrna, who represents the 49th District.
Tuesday’s statehouse general election results assure that GOP-driven education reform will remain a primary topic of policy discussion in the 2013 Legislature, said a key House Republican leader. “We’ve got to address education,” said Rep. Glen Casada, who currently chairs the House Health and Human Resources Committee and is a likely successor to the role of GOP caucus chair for Debra Young Maggart of Henderson, who in August was ousted in the Republican primary.
Tennessee Democratic leaders said Wednesday that they plan to talk with Gov. Bill Haslam about expanding pre-kindergarten classes after the state’s education commissioner said he doesn’t plan to request funding for an expansion. Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke earlier this week during the governor’s budget hearings. Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent cut in spending as a fallback. The Commercial Appeal reported Huffman said expanding enrollment in schools and inflation will require an additional $2 million in routine cost increases.
Many Tennessee Republicans had hoped for a President Romney to undo the federal healthcare overhaul. Governor Bill Haslam is facing a deadline next week to say whether the state will set up its own insurance exchange, or leave it up to Washington. Republican lawmakers don’t love either option, and are split about what to do. Exchanges are websites similar to Expedia, but for people shopping for health insurance plans vetted by the government. With control over millions of federal dollars hanging in the balance, Haslam wants the state to run its own exchange.
Despite having handed Republicans a highly coveted super majority status in the General Assembly, Democrats heralded Tuesday as a victory. Losing six state House seats over last legislative session’s total is actually a win for Democrats, top party leaders said Wednesday. “Our numbers are down, we know that,” said Craig Fitzhugh, the leading House Democrat. “But the fact that we were able to retain all of our incumbents and pick up four new seats clearly shows the reversal of a trend. We are in the process of clawing our way back, ladies and gentlemen.”
Issues ranging from smoking on county property to scholarship programs for disabled veterans are among the items Montgomery County’s Legislative Liaison Committee want local lawmakers to bring before the state Legislature next year. The County Commission’s committee each year crafts an agenda of topics for the local delegation to take with them to Nashville for the next session of the General Assembly. On Dec. 12, the 2013 Legislative Agenda will be presented to the state representatives and state senator, as well as the senator-elect.
The departure of state Democratic Party Chair Chip Forrester after the election may prompt some big-money Democratic donors to become more active within the party. Forrester’s re-election in 2011 was opposed by big donors like Doug Horne, a former state chair, but Forrester rallied executive-committee members to give him another term. Some of the big donors have kept a low profile since the battle over Forrester’s tenure. Two candidates have expressed interest in the seat, to be chosen in January: David Garrison, the party’s treasurer, and Wade Munday, who has been communications director.
In Shelby County and Tennessee the presidential race stuck to the script both national campaigns expected. President Barack Obama carried Shelby County and Republican challenger Mitt Romney took the state and its 11 electoral votes. While that was expected because of what has happened in Tennessee since 2000 and the large Democratic majority within Memphis, there were some surprises. Voter turnout in the most popular election cycle among Shelby County voters was 61.9 percent, about the same percentage as four years ago.
Murphy’s Law ruled the night Tuesday at the Rutherford County Election Commission. If it could go wrong, it did. Not only did the Election Office run into problems because of the time-consuming count of 3,000 absentee ballots, office workers had to count the final 15 of 46 precincts — 50 machines — by hand when the county’s MicroVote machines malfunctioned, according to Administrator of Elections Nicole Lester. “We didn’t enjoy staying up ’til 3 a.m.,” Lester said Wednesday. “It was very frustrating for us to not be able to get the results out quickly.”
Hours after a technical snag with Grundy County, Tenn., voting equipment caused problems with balloting summaries, results in one County Commission race and six municipal elections, including hot contests in Monteagle and Altamont, finally were tallied on Wednesday. Monteagle’s incumbent mayor, Marilyn Campbell Nixon, held onto her seat by more than 100 votes over former mayor Charles Rollins; and Russell L. Leonard, Alexander “Lexie” Orr, Harry Parmley and Alvin Powell Jr. netted the most votes in the nine-way race for four Monteagle alderman seats, records show.
The economy was Chattanooga voters’ chief concern Tuesday, but a majority expect their own financial situation will get better in the next year. With the economy on the mend, nearly seven in 10 supporters of President Barack Obama and nearly half of those backing Mitt Romney said they think they will be doing better a year from now, according to responses to a Chattanooga Times Free Press survey taken during early voting and Election Day. “I don’t want to focus on the negative,” Red Bank music shop owner Jonathan Cathell said.
In retrospect, the political season of 2012, unremarkable in many ways (especially for the largely uncompetitive nature of the fall ballot), may come to seem pivotal. One way in which that seems obvious is in regard to the nature of the electoral process itself and how it is conducted. Few people who pay attention to the political process in these parts need to be reminded either of the glitches and rumors of glitches that plagued voting locally or of the state initiatives — notably a controversial photo-ID law — that have complicated matters.
With the close of this year’s presidential election, the Shelby County Election Commission has no major votes to oversee until the county primaries in May 2014. That’s a rare break for an organization that’s had to deal with several unplanned elections in recent years, including the special vote for Memphis mayor in 2009 and last year’s school consolidation measure. The commission and its 17-member staff have a full 18 months to perform what chairman Robert Meyers called a “top-to-bottom review” of virtually everything about the way elections are run in Shelby County.
The total number of registered voters in Washington County increased significantly this year compared to the 2008 presidential election, but fewer voters actually turned out. Also, there is an obviously increasing trend here for people to vote early. When comparing percentages of those voting early and those voting on Election Day, early voting topped the latter by nearly 10 percent. Washington County Administrator of Elections Maybell Stewart said there was a record number of address changes that had to be dealt with on Election Day, most of these resulting from people moving within the county.
Recent litigation over the division of sales tax revenues between Cleveland and Bradley County may be coming to an end. Earlier this week, the Bradley County Commission voted 14-0 to approve a resolution stating that the county waives its right to apply for a rehearing of a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals ruling in the case. “An overwhelming resonation in this community is that this needs to stop,” Bradley County Commissioner Adam Lowe said. “We hear the voices of the folks in the city, we hear the voices of the folks in the county: This needs to stop.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais says his victory in the 4th Congressional District race shows that voters care about getting things done in Washington, not salacious details of his divorce. “For the second election in a row, my opponents and the liberal media have tried to ignore the problems facing our nation and instead concentrate solely on a 14-year-old divorce,” DesJarlais said in a statement. DesJarlais easily won re-election Tuesday, overcoming revelations that, as a physician, he had affairs with at least two patients a dozen years ago and pressed one of the women about getting an abortion.
The race for the 4th District Congressional seat for 2014 has started.Midstate Republicans have been gearing up for the race, with the idea that if Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart upset the incumbent Congressman Scott DesJarlais they would try and get the seat back. If scandal-plagued incumbent DesJarlais were to squeak out a win, then he would definitely have a Republican opponent in his primary, given his vulnerability. The likeliest Republicans to try for the seat are state Sen. Jim Tracy and state Sen. Bill Ketron.
President Barack Obama barely penetrated the South in Tuesday’s election. He hardly needed to. Even without the 13 electoral votes he won in Virginia or the 29 he was poised to pick up as counting continued in Florida, Obama received more than enough support from other parts of the country to defeat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for a second term. But the president’s struggles in the rest of the South — largely a sea of Republican red on the Electoral College map — highlighted what the Democratic Party is up against in those states, including Tennessee.
A former safety manager for TVA’s nuclear program has been found guilty of eight counts of fraud in Chattanooga’s federal court. Walter Cardin, 55, of Metairie, La., could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine on each count, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Bill Killian. During a 12-day trial in U.S. District Court, jurors heard evidence that Cardin, as safety manager for the Shaw Group (formerly Stone & Webster Construction), provided false and misleading information about injuries at the Browns Ferry, Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants.
A public meeting is set in Roane County today to discuss EPA approval of final TVA plans for remnants of the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill. The plan, the least expensive of three alternatives TVA considered, involves simply monitoring remaining ash in the Clinch and lower Emory rivers as nature disposes of it over the next 30 years. A citizens group established as a liaison between TVA and the community generally supports the plan, but its leader said more needs to be done to make the community whole.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it has approved TVA’s preferred plan for dealing with the final cleanup phase of the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill. A public meeting to discuss details of dealing with the sludge that coat the bottoms of the Emory and Clinch rivers will be held Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Roane County High School, 540 W. Cumberland St., Kingston. TVA’s favored alternative relies on natural processes such as mixing, scouring and burial of remaining materials, which the EPA concludes are of relatively low risk to wildlife.
The re-election of Barack Obama means pro-international tourism policies will remain in place and provide a boost in confidence for the tourism industry, hospitality officials said. “It affects confidence,” said Tom Negri who runs Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. “Knowing the election is over, there is new confidence in our election system, no matter (which party won).” Jan Freitag, senior vice president at Hendersonville-based Smith Travel Research, said that certainty in the political world could lead to more travel.
Tuesday’s election results could mean innovation, jobs and more patients, Nashville health officials said today. Dr. Wayne Riley, president of Meharry Medical College and an HCA Holdings Inc. corporate director, said today’s stock gains for hospital companies, including HCA, is because of certainty gained with the election results. “That is clearly a reaction to the removing of uncertainty around whether the president was going to be re-elected because of the (Patient Protection and) Affordable Care Act,” Riley said.
The presidential election is over, but corporate and financial professionals considering the odds of renewed private investment in the economy are still watching Washington. In short, the “fiscal cliff” still looms. In the run up to the election, many business voices — particularly, but not only, those who opposed President Barack Obama — said money remained on the sidelines in the economy because of economic uncertainty. The thought has long been that after the election, more companies and the banks that fuel some of their spending with debt would be ready to rock and roll.
Ten more Memphis City Schools will be run by charters or the state through the Achievement School District next fall. Staff at schools in Frayser, North Memphis and the southwest corner of the city got the word in meetings with ASD staff Monday and Wednesday. The teachers were invited to join the ASD or look elsewhere for jobs. The schools are all in the bottom 5 percent in the state. They are: Graves Elementary, Norris Elementary, Alcy Ball Elementary, Corry Middle, Cherokee Elementary, Hanley Elementary, Shannon Elementary, Treadwell Elementary, Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary, Klondike Elementary, Cypress Middle, Georgian Hills Middle, Denver Elementary and Whitney Elementary.
Democratic President Barack Obama might have won re-election Tuesday, but in Tennessee the Republican Party tightened its grip on the reins of power. The GOP gained seats in the House and Senate, giving the party a “super majority” in both houses. In addition to setting the agenda and having the votes to pass legislation at will, Republicans can have a quorum, even if every Democrat walks out of the Capitol, and can suspend the rules to pass legislation immediately.The election results confirm that Tennesseans overwhelmingly have aligned themselves with the Party of Lincoln. The Republican Party is fielding stronger candidates and providing them with superior resources. Having control of last year’s redistricting process didn’t hurt, either.
Since the outcomes of Tuesday’s elections in Tennessee have unfolded pretty much as expected — the state went big for Mitt Romney, Republicans won “supermajorities” in both chambers of the General Assembly, and so on — the discussion over problems at the polls fell silent on Wednesday. This is not a discussion, however, that should go away; at least, until Tennessee sees a smooth election process. It’s true that the biggest worry that voters in this state had going into the November elections was whether the new voter ID law would lead to large numbers of people being turned away at the polls. According to news reports, no such problem materialized. That is a relief, and it is probably more attributable to voter advocates working hard over the course of the year to ensure that people prepared themselves for the new rules.
Does anyone think it would be good public policy if we stopped public funding of high schools? After eighth grade we would require all parents and high school students to pay to get a high school diploma. It’s insane. But it is generally accepted that a high school diploma for our grandparents was the equivalent of a community college, technical school, or four-year college degree in today’s economy. The gap between a high school diploma and a college degree in job prospects and income level is widening. Success in life, in America and in the global economy, is more and more tied to a post-secondary degree. Why then do we continue to insist that such degrees, whether it be community college, a technical school, or college, is up to the student?