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August 3 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Tax-free weekend offers deals, attracts shoppers (News-Sentinel/Jones)
Crayons, colored pencils, clothing and computers will be scooped up by shoppers today as Tennessee’s Annual Sales Tax Holiday continues. Consumers can save almost 10 percent on school supplies, school art supplies, clothes and footwear, and computers priced up to $1,500, during tax-free weekend. The weekend of savings began at 12:01 a.m. on Friday and will continue until 11:59 p.m. As the new school year approaches, retailers are using this holiday to provide shoppers with what they and their children will need in the coming weeks and shoppers are taking full advantage of the savings. Maryville resident Cami Dodd was at the Walmart in Alcoa on Friday. Her daughter will be going into kindergarten this year, she said.

Shoppers fill stores to take advantage of tax-free weekend (WKRN-TV Nashville)
If your child is heading back to school, now is the time to shop. Tennessee’s tax-free holiday weekend started Friday and runs until 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Tonya Turner said this is a great time to get school items. “As much as we have to buy, I’ll take any savings I can get,” she said. “Papers, notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, rulers, scissors, everything. I’ve got two lists.” In Davidson County, she will save nearly 10 percent in sales-tax. School supplies, clothing, and even computers are tax-free up to $100 dollars per item. Turner’s son, Clayton, said it is great for families on a tight budget. “You can save money to like buy food, and buy other stuff that you need,” he explained. Although the tax free weekend does not cover everything, the Turner family told News 2 anything that cuts cost is worth it.

Tax free deals open to everyone, not just students (WBIR-TV Knoxville)
Tax free weekend is in full swing across Tennessee. It started Friday and lasts through Sunday at midnight. During that time clothes, school supplies and computers are tax free. The holiday coincides with the back-to-school season, but anyone can take advantage of the deals. On Saturday morning, there was a line outside of the Apple Store in West Town Mall as some were trying to save money buying computers and iPads. “I’ve needed a computer for a long time, and I decided this was the time I had to devote to learning it. And for getting the sales tax free; that was my incentive to get out and do it this weekend,” said Lisa Campbell from Crossville. Campbell says she saved around $150 by buying her computer on Saturday. “That’s significant. That’s worth getting up early and driving to Knoxville for,” she said.

Teen inmate who hanged himself dies (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
An 18-year-old inmate at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge who apparently hanged himself on Friday has died. The youth, whose name has not been released, died at 6:05 p.m. Saturday according to state Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson. It appears he hanged himself using a bedsheet connected to a wall bracket. He was initially taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital, then to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Johnson said the death is under investigation. The youth, who was from White County, is the second teenager in a month to die in the Dandridge facility.

Campaign to topple Tenn. Supreme Court justices faces tough odds (TFP/South)
The heated, expensive campaign against three sitting Tennessee Supreme Court justices has only gotten hotter as Election Day approaches. But experts who’ve studied the data and politics in retention elections across the nation expect that if recent history is any indicator, opponents will have a tough time unseating the three. Conservative groups led by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have sent mailers, run TV ads, spoken across the state and given voters a video tutorial on the lengthy ballot with the goal of unseating justices Connie Clark, Gary Wade and Sharon Lee, all appointees of former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. But research going back to the 1960s shows that nationwide, judges in retention elections have a wide margin of success and opponents will have to persuade around 20 to 30 percent more voters to cast ballots against retention.

Campfield and Briggs (and Alford) fight for GOP nod (News-Sentinel/Witt)
The race for Tennessee State Senate District 7 may be more of a wrestling match than mudslinging. Sen. Stacey Campfield says he is facing the “dirtiest” campaign encountered in a dozen years of campaigning, exemplified by a direct-mail ad with the senator’s grinning face posted atop a bare-chested, leaping man wearing pale blue tights with a flaming red cloak draped behind him. It’s an edited movie poster from the 2006 Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre”with Campfield’s face superimposed over Black’s. Below the picture is the declaration the senator “has brought the wrong kind of attention to Tennessee.” Open the foldout from Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs’ mailer and there’s a list of Campfield’s “top 10 most embarrassing moments.”

Carriger opts out of District 7 debate (Johnson City Press)
One of the challengers for the Republican nomination for the District 7 seat in the state House of Representatives will not be participating in a debate scheduled to take place three days before the Thursday primary election. On Saturday, Phil Carriger informed his opponent Todd Franklin, who devised and helped create the event, that he would not attend the debate, which is scheduled to take place from 7-9 p.m. Monday at the Jonesborough Visitors Center. Carriger, Franklin and incumbent state Rep. Matthew Hill are all vying for the seat, and had all agreed to participate in the debate. In a phone interview, Carriger said he decided against participating in the debate, however, because of confusion over certain details.

Early voting wraps with record turnout (Tennessean/Wilson)
Early voting wrapped up in a record-setting way in Tennessee on Saturday. Even before the day’s voting totals were submitted from all 95 counties, data from the Tennessee secretary of state’s office showed more than 550,000 people cast their ballots since polls first opened July 18. The number surpassed any statewide total for an August election on record, according to the state data. State primaries and county general elections are scheduled to be held Thursday. Several counties in Middle Tennessee, including Davidson County, also set early voting records for an August election. In Nashville, more than 30,000 people cast their ballots since polls opened at the Howard Office Building two weeks ago.

What’s at stake? A five-pronged look at this week’s election (CA/Veazey)
It is believed to be the longest ballot in Shelby County history; 81 people are running for 40 judgeships alone. Early data suggests turnout will be between 25 and 30 percent of registered voters. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. Great — we’ve got the basics out of the way. So here are five things to keep an eye on in the run-up to and during Thursday’s county general election and state/federal primary: Will Republicans Sweep? On a Magic 8 Ball, this answer would come up: Signs point to yes. Let’s judge it against 2010, a year that saw Republicans win almost all of the countywide offices.

Early vote strong in Hamilton County (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Anderson)
Saturday’s rain did not stop early voters from traveling to the Brainerd Recreation Center to cast their ballots. “I always vote early to skip the lines,” said Ruby L. White, a voter at the rec center. “Nothing, not even this rain, would stop me from casting my vote today.” Saturday marked the final day of early voting in Tennessee before the primary election Thursday. It’s the biggest ballot in eight years, with everything from U.S. House and Senate and statewide primaries, a galaxy of judicial retention elections and the county general election plus local judges and some municipal races.

New drug screening law knocks 4 off benefits list (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
A controversial new Tennessee law to drug-test applicants for public benefits has already resulted in the Department of Human Services disqualifying people seeking aid since the rules went into effect July 1. Four people were turned down because they refused to participate in any part of the drug screening process. Six other people willingly submitted to a drug test, and one tested positive. Officials with the Department of Human Services say they are making contact with that applicant for further action — which could include referral to a drug treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits or disqualification if the person refuses.

Same-sex couples prepare for appeals hearing (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
For 10 months, Regina Lambert has been coordinating media interviews for her star plaintiffs: a lesbian couple with a newborn daughter who want family health insurance and marital rights. They’ve talked to local TV stations, state newspapers and national wire services. But when a TV reporter put a microphone on Lambert earlier this year and asked why the case was important to her, the longtime corporate lawyer who has never done activist work before took a moment to answer. “In that short period of time, I remember thinking, ‘You cannot ask people to put their lives out there and to share so much and open themselves up and not be willing to answer the question,'” she recalled.

Lawmakers, psychologists, others weigh in on same-sex appeal (N-S/Boehnke)
With less than a week before a three-judge panel is set to hear a landmark same-sex marriage appeal, groups representing law enforcement officers, military families, psychologists, lawmakers and others have filed more than two dozen friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. Twenty-six of those briefs support recognizing gay marriage in Tennessee. Three back the state’s ban on it. Many of the same organizations, none of whom are parties in the case but still have an interest in the outcome, also have filed briefs in the Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio case. Cases in those states are also scheduled for oral arguments on Aug. 6 at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Alexander avoids declaring his positions too vividly (Tennessean/Stroud)
When tea party sympathizers say U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has failed to stand up to liberals and Democrats on the things they care about most, they have a point. But if he told them where he stood, they might not like what they’d hear. Alexander, seeking re-election to a third six-year term, has been selling himself throughout the campaign as a “results-oriented conservative.” But on a remarkable number of hot-button issues, Tennessee’s senior Republican senator has stopped short of explaining what he thinks, let alone how he would get results.

Internal poll shows big lead for Alexander (Tennessean/Sisk)
A poll done by an adviser to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander shows the senator holding a 29-point lead in the Republican primary, even after an appearance by radio show host Laura Ingraham on behalf of one of his challengers. Alexander stood at 53 percent in a ballot test conducted July 27-29 by North Star Opinion Research, part of Alexander’s campaign. State Rep. Joe Carr, whom Ingraham campaigned for in Nashville on July 22, stood at 24 percent, and Memphis physician George Flinn was at 5 percent.

DesJarlais race not foregone conclusion, experts say (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Dismissed as burnt toast after a scandal over affairs and abortions in late 2012, is it possible Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais could pull off a victory in his 4th Congressional District GOP primary with Jim Tracy? GOP strategists who long ago had written off the two-term South Pittsburg physician now privately say the race has tightened. Some believe the outcome isn’t clear, although others still give the edge to Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville. “I don’t know,” said one operative who backs Tracy. That’s a major turnaround from the conventional wisdom in this election cycle.

Districts ring in school year with new projects, programs (Tennessean/Manskar)
Middle Tennessee’s public school districts are welcoming back students with new facilities, programs and staff aimed at improving their education. Here’s a breakdown of what each county is bringing to the table, from free meals to multimillion-dollar building projects. Metro will offer free meals for all its students, funded by a federal program. With that new program comes a change in how the district collects data about how many of its students come from low-income families. Instead of calculating that number based on free and reduced-price meal applications, it will ask all parents to fill out a survey.

 
OPINION

Editorial: Virtual academy must address lack of student progress (News-Sentinel)
The under-performing Tennessee Virtual Academy received a last-minute reprieve from state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman last week, but the online school remains at risk of closure. Students at the school, operated by for-profit K12 Inc. through the Union County Public Schools, have performed poorly on test scores since it opened in 2011. The state can shut down a virtual school after three consecutive years of underachievement. Huffman initially sought to limit enrollment, directing Union County Director of Schools Jimmy Carter to “unenroll” 626 new students for the upcoming year. Huffman said Union County continued to accept students even after being notified that closure was a possibility, an action he termed “irresponsible.”

Tom Humphrey: Predictions range from easy wins to close contests (N-S)
Predicting election outcomes is easy in some cases and impossible in others, but always a topic for obsessive debate and discussion among political junkies. Having engaged in several such conversations lately, here is a stab at sizing up some Tennessee contests in Thursday’s balloting from an old guy who’s previously been right, oh, about half the time. The easiest one, statewide, is Bill Haslam in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Of course he wins. And the governor ought to be embarrassed with anything less than 65 percent of the vote against a field of odd and unknown opponents.

Editorial: Alexander’s experience, knowledge serve Tennessee well (Tennessean)
Mainstream Republicans learned the hard way last spring that they should never count out the tea party wing. A virtually unknown, little-funded professor, David Brat, knocked off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his suburban Virginia district and shook up the national midterm election season. State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas hopes to repeat the feat this week in Tennessee. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is having none of it. He has campaigned with vigor, if not before the Virginia shocker, then certainly after.

Editorial: Community is better off economically because of PILOT program (CA)
In the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke,” a prison boss played by Strother Martin tells a rebellious prisoner played by Paul Newman that “what we got here is … failure to communicate.” That, in a nutshell, sums up why there is so much hostility among citizens over the granting of tax breaks to companies to attract jobs in a community that does not have enough of them. The business community, the Memphis and Shelby County mayors and officials with the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) have not done a good job of explaining to the public — especially homeowners who think their property taxes are too high and the 28 percent of the population who live in poverty — how the tax breaks directly and indirectly benefit them.

Editorial: Politics put before jobs, healthcare by legislature (Jackson Sun)
Haywood Park Community Hospital in Brownsville closed last week. Positions were eliminated. The community is now less attractive for economic development. People no longer have ready access to inpatient and emergency room care. The hospital has been converted to an urgent care center. Why? Partly because of a failure of leadership by Gov. Bill Haslam and partly because of the political obstinacy of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and the Republican majority in our state legislature. They have refused to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, a move that damages hospitals and threatens jobs across the state every day. And — while they may claim otherwise — they have not made serious efforts to come up with an alternative plan.

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