This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is visiting businesses in three rural counties west of Nashville this week. The governor is headed to Benton, Humphreys and Houston counties in the Kentucky Lake region on Tuesday. He plans to visit Jones Plastic and Engineering in Camden, DuPont Titanium Technologies in New Johnsonville and Glastonbury Southern Gage in Erin. The governor also has two public events in Nashville this week, starting with a visit to Percy Priest Elementary School on Monday. On Thursday, the governor plans to attend a foreign policy discussion featuring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker has been chosen 2013 State Tourism Director of the Year. The honor is being announced Monday by the U.S. Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors at a luncheon in Richmond, Va. The award is made annually to the state tourism director who contributes to successfully raising the profile of their state as a travel and tourism destination, selecting the individual exhibiting the most impressive achievements. Whitaker was reappointed to her post at the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development by Gov. Bill Haslam in January 2011.
MTSU students will return to classes Saturday, and incoming freshmen and undecided students may want to take note of a new report from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce before declaring a major. Not surprisingly, technology jobs in Tennessee are in high demand, according to the report, and one local software developer said she can see why. “It’s a great field to go in to,” said Kory Wells, a software product director for Zywave. “During the recession, they were still hiring like crazy. There were even recruiters trying to place young people in the field.”
A Chattanooga couple accused of child abuse and murder return to court today in a case that sheds new light on how computer problems within the Department of Children’s Services have affected the ability of caseworkers to protect children. Four-year-old Ty’Reke Evans died Dec. 19, 2011, after suffering multiple blunt force injuries, including rib fractures, brain swelling, and bruises and welts that a physician said were consistent with being beaten by a belt. An autopsy also noted internal organ damage a week to 10 days old. His then-3-year-old brother was admitted to the hospital on the same day Ty’Reke died with similar injuries.
Tennessee wildlife authorities will decide this week whether sandhill cranes will be in hunters’ sights this year, but conservationists say there are plenty of other birds for sportsmen to shoot. The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will convene in Knoxville on Thursday to set the upcoming waterfowl hunting season and decide whether up to 2,300 sandhill cranes will be included. Dan Hicks, spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency — which is bringing the proposal to allow crane hunting in several areas around the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs and Rhea counties — said data show the cranes are overpopulating the refuge and out-competing other waterfowl.
Applicants for the 2013 big game quota hunts can look online to find out if they were selected. The results are on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website under the “hot topics” section. Results also will be sent by mail. Hunters should receive those over the next one or two weeks. Leftover permits are available for two areas in the Wildlife Management Area hunts. Those go on sale Aug. 28 at 8 a.m. CDT. Permits can be purchased at any TWRA license agent. The receipt will serve as the permit. No phone sales will be accepted.
Gun-themed fundraisers are not all that unusual in the Tennessee legislature. Still, state Rep. Courtney Rogers’ plan for a “Pistols and Politics” event at a farm in Cottontown is worth noting. In an email that went out Aug. 9, the Goodlettsville Republican invited supporters to “come exercise your 2nd Amendment rights” with her Saturday at the home of J.K. and Erica Brister. The event will include a gun swap, a pistol shoot and a “personal protection firearm” door prize. It also will feature baby animals and a play area for the children, Rogers says.
After Rogers announced the “Pistols and Politics” event, Maggart hinted she might be interested in a rematch. Maggart gave a fig-leaf answer, “I’ve had lots of requests,” when asked over Twitter by TN Report, a website that specializes in state Capitol news, whether she would run again.
The two boards that will rule on ethics complaints filed against Gov. Bill Haslam by a former state Democratic Party chairman currently have Republican majority membership because of unfilled vacancies — in one case, because Haslam has left a seat designated for a Democrat empty since March. “I think the governor has put himself in a very uncomfortable spot, perception-wise,” said state Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis. “He is now going to be picking a judge who will be hearing his case.”
The lessons learned in the aftermath of the July 10 flash flood that struck South Pittsburg are having an impact across Marion County and potentially the state. The city did not qualify for federal assistance after the disaster even though the damage estimates to residences, businesses, and city-owned properties are in the millions. County Emergency Management Director Steve Lamb said a bill is in the works in the state Legislature that would create a state fund for future incidents like the one in South Pittsburg to help aid in recovery.
Routes to downtown have lost their federal funding The reality of federal stimulus funds coming to an end means Williamson County and its three largest cities are being asked to fund a significantly larger share of the regional bus service that carries their residents to and from Nashville. In December 2009, the Middle Tennessee Regional Transportation Authority launched the two Williamson express bus routes — 95X to Spring Hill and 91X to Franklin and Brentwood — with $586,000 in stimulus. The routes have been extremely popular and have gained ridership among residents glad to leave behind their cars and relax on the bus on their way to work or a medical appointment.
Mayor Chris Mason was, he admits, a bit too optimistic about how quickly a renaissance in downtown Harriman could occur. “Everybody needed more time,” Mason said of the response to the city’s all-out marketing effort in June titled “Prospect 14.” That event formally put 14 properties on the market that were previously occupied by medical provider Covenant Health and are now owned by the city. Structures range from a well-kept eight-room house to several historic buildings on Roane Street — the city’s main thoroughfare — to the former Roane Medical Center.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker dug in his heels for what he knew would be a testy exchange. The setting could not be more genteel — a breakfast speech to a group of financial experts amid the oak panels and Oriental rugs of Forest Hills’ Richland Country Club. But there was money on the line, and one audience member thought Corker was threatening it. “This is the ‘but’ part,” Corker muttered as an exchange of pleasantries with Woody Woodruff, a Nashville lawyer whose own daughter had interned in Corker’s office, segued into sparring over the senator’s plan to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s main backers of home mortgages.
U.S. Sen Bob Corker on Sunday called for the United States to “recalibrate” future foreign aid to Egypt, consistent with America’s national interests. The Tennessee Republican, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” just after returning from a week-long trip to the Middle East. “We need to keep the lines of communication open,” Corker said. Overall, he said, America should “continue to have an aid relationship with Egypt” but in a fashion tied to U.S. interests.
Tennessee Tea Party and national conservative groups are hoping to find the Volunteer State equivalent of a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz to mount a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. The tea party will host five “vetting” sessions starting Aug. 31 in Nashville, when the groups are slated to hear from former Williamson County GOP Chairman Kevin Kookogey, challenger Brenda Lenard and possibly Knoxville Mayor Tim Burchett. On Sept. 14, the Chattanooga Tea Party and the Beat Lamar PAC, which is co-sponsoring the events statewide, will hold a forum in Chattanooga.
It seems two Democrats have decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014. Many people are already aware that Larry Crim, a perennial candidate who lost out to Mark Clayton in last year’s primary, has announced plans to run. And apparently so has Jacob Maurer, who launched a write-in campaign in the general election after Democrats disavowed Clayton and sought an alternative. Maurer has a Facebook page detailing his candidacy. “After a summer of long reflection and a ton of encouragement, I have decided I WILL run in the primary next August,” he wrote in a recent blog post.
When Nicholas Aponte recalls the night in 1995 that sent him to prison, he describes an immature 17-year-old who lacked the nerve to say no to a cousin he admired for being a troublemaker. The cousin said he needed to “do a robbery” and asked if Aponte wanted to tag along. “I said, ‘OK, we’ll do the robbery or whatever,’ ” Aponte said. “It was spur of the moment.” The plan failed. A 28-year-old sandwich shop assistant manager was killed during the robbery. Aponte was later arrested, as was his cousin, younger brother and a friend.
Geological visits to monitor volcanoes in Alaska have been scaled back. The defense secretary is traveling to Afghanistan two times a year instead of the usual four. For the first time in nearly three decades, NASA pulled out of the National Space Symposium, in Colorado Springs, even though representatives from France, Germany and China all made the trip. Five months after gridlock in Washington triggered the deep spending cuts known as sequestration, much of the United States government is grounded.
The Shelby County Schools food service director says he is determined to offer free lunches to all students in the district. Tony Geraci told The Commercial Appeal that he wants to remove the stigma from students who get meals that are free or at a reduced price. Geraci says he’d like a universal lunch program to go into effect at Shelby County Schools by next year that would put lunch on the same level as books and desks. “Now you eliminate any stigma around meals,” he said. “For me personally and professionally, it makes a lot of sense. There is always a stigma attached to free meals. I want to eliminate that stigma.”
By the end of the day, barring some last-minute developments, Knox County Internal Auditor Richard Walls will be on his way out the door. Only the terms of his departure appear to be in question. The Knox County Audit Committee voted 4-1 last month to recommend that the Knox County Commission fire Walls for not performing as well as expected. Walls has conceded he doesn’t have enough support among commissioners to survive, and Commission Chairman Tony Norman has offered Walls some sort of buyout that will be discussed at today’s work session. The events building to this climax do not reflect well on how Knox County government operates, and once the matter is resolved officials must move forward in a way that inspires confidence instead of derision.
Though I find it way too early to get worked up about the 2014 Senate election, Tennessean reporter Joey Garrison’s stories this week got me doing that dangerous dance — thinking. His first story was about how the state’s Democrats are conducting a “Where’s Waldo” hunt for anyone skinny enough to throw their hat in the ring to oppose Republican incumbents Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Lamar Alexander, which was followed a couple of days later by a story featuring comments from Nashville Tea Party President Ben Cunningham about his organization’s quest to find a real Republican to take down Alexander, the flaming liberal GOP-poseur from East Tennessee.
As the nation approaches Oct. 1, the next important date under the Affordable Care Act, an ongoing debate continues over whether young adults will buy health insurance. Some groups are urging young people, sometimes referred to as the “young invincibles,” not to buy health insurance. The “young invincibles” are under 30, have never been sick, and many believe they do not need to buy health insurance. But even if the “invincibles” are in very good health, it is still in their best interest to think about health insurance in a new way — as solving a financial problem. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 people under age 65 are having trouble paying their medical bills.