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August 12 TN News Digest

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

Does Your State Make the Grade? (US Chamber of Commerce)
In 2006, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an effort to look closely at the nation’s educational effectiveness on a state-by-state basis. To do this, it employed a variety of factors to grade each state and the District of Columbia on their respective K–12 school systems in order to identify both the leaders and the laggards in school performance. The inaugural Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K–12 Educational Effectiveness was released in 2007, providing many states with a sobering look at their education systems.

Sources: Hundreds of state workers moving to UBS Tower (Nashville Biz Journal)
The state of Tennessee will move workers out of its Cordell Hull building downtown into the UBS Tower, according to multiple real estate sources. The moves involve the offices of the state attorney general and Department of Children’s Services. Combined, the agencies have 430 employees in Cordell Hull today. They are seeking to lease a combined 107,000 square feet of offices in UBS Tower, formerly known as Regions Center. According to public bid documents online, the state plans a formal announcement Tuesday of an “intent to award” the leases.

State threatens Pinch District’s Historic status (Memphis Business Journal)
One of Memphis’ oldest historic districts, the Pinch-North Main Commercial District, could lose its place on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Historical Commission has recommended stripping the Pinch District’s Historic Places designation because of an excessive number of demolitions, improper infill developments and vacancies inside the district’s boundaries. The 197-acre district, which was listed on the Register in 1979, includes 37 buildings north of Interstate 40 and south of A.W. Willis Avenue between Front and Second streets.

Court considers if executioners can be named (Associated Press)
A Tennessee appeals court is considering whether 10 death row inmates have the right to know about the drugs that will be used in their executions and whether their lawyers can get the names of the people who will kill them. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1lPRSe6 ) reports that the state Court of Appeals heard oral arguments this week in the lawsuit brought by the inmates. They sued after the legislature passed a law that keeps details about lethal injection secret. Lawyers for the state argued that a Nashville judge overstepped her authority when she ordered officials to turn over the names of the execution team to the attorneys for the condemned prisoners.

Tennessee fights release of execution team identities (Tennessean/Haas)
State officials on Monday fought to block lawyers for 10 death row inmates from getting information about exactly who will kill their clients. Appearing before the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville, attorneys for the state argued that Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Claudia Bonnyman improperly ordered them to reveal the names of the lethal injection team that would execute prisoners. Bonnyman’s ruling came in a lawsuit involving 10 death row inmates suing for more information about who would execute them and the drugs that would end their lives.

Attorney General Robert Cooper to seek second term (Tennessean/Haas)
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on Monday announced he would seek a second term in office. Just four days after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s failed attempt to gain control over the selection of the next Tennessee Attorney General, the state Supreme Court announced it was taking applications for the office. Ramsey’s campaign against three Tennessee Supreme Court Justices focused heavily on Cooper’s decision to not join in a multistate lawsuit against Obamacare. But on Monday, Cooper said he plans to stay put, if the Supreme Court chooses to reappoint him.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper seeks reappointment (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper says he plans to seek reappointment by the state Supreme Court after three Democratic justices survived efforts by Republicans to defeat the judges. “Tennesseans sent a clear message last week that they want an independent, nonpartisan judicial branch,” Cooper said in a statement. “That is how I have run the Attorney General’s office over the last eight years, and I am proud of our many accomplishments. I am strongly convinced the office must continue in this direction.” Cooper added, “I am honored to serve as Tennessee’s Attorney General and will apply for another term.”

Pledging Not To Bow To Conservatives, AG Asks For Another Term (WPLN-Radio)
The Tennessee Supreme Court has opened up applications for Attorney General, and the current AG, Bob Cooper, has announced that he’ll seek another term. This follows a conservative effort to remove three Democratic judges on the bench, a campaign largely motivated by a desire to appoint a Republican to the state’s top attorney slot. Cooper, nearing the end of his eight-year term, said in a statement that voters last Thursday, in deciding to retain the three contested judges, sent a clear message “that they want an independent, nonpartisan judicial branch.”

Supreme Court Retention Clash Likely to Continue (Memphis Daily News)
Both sides declared victory when the three Tennessee Supreme Court justices were retained by voters in the Thursday, Aug. 7, statewide judicial elections. The votes to retain or replace Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark ended with all three being retained for an eight-year term. But the nature of the campaign was also a victory of sorts for the political forces arrayed to oppose their retention. The justices and their backers see the retention campaign as part of an effort by the Republican supermajorities in the Tennessee Legislature to exert political control over the court.

Sen. Summerville resigns from Republican Caucus (Associated Press)
State Sen. Jim Summerville resigned from the Republican Caucus following a loss in last week’s election primary. In an Aug. 9 letter to Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, Summerville said he would be serving as an independent member of the Senate for the remainder of his term and asked that his resignation be effective immediately. With all precincts reporting in District 25, former Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield had 9,832 votes, or 42 percent, compared with Summerville’s 3,700 votes, or 16 percent. Summerville is known for his controversial legislation, as well as comments concerning his own GOP colleagues. Last year, he proposed a measure to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions in Tennessee. After the legislation failed, Summerville threatened GOP lawmakers who voted against it, saying they would face repercussions in this year’s election.

Briggs: Opponent has ‘uphill battle’ in state Senate race (News-Sentinel/Witt)
Richard Briggs beat incumbent 7th District state Sen. Stacey Campfield in a Republican primary less than a week ago, and some political observers are ready to crown Briggs the winner in the November general election. But Briggs still must get past Cheri Siler, the Democratic candidate vying for the Senate district that covers North Knoxville, downtown and much of West Knox County and Farragut. Siler is an instructional coach with Knox County Schools, and this is her first political campaign. “I was feeling like regular people, working class folks, were not represented in the Legislature,” Siler said.

Wine-in-grocery stores issue moving toward vote (Tennessean/Sisk)
Nashvillians will get a chance to vote this fall on whether grocery stores can stock wine if election officials in Davidson County approve about half of the 33,226 signatures that have been turned in. With less than two weeks until an Aug. 21 deadline, organizers of the Red, White and Food campaign say they have collected many more than the 15,460 signatures needed to place the question on the November ballot in Metro Nashville, raising confidence they’ll clear the hurdle. If they succeed, Nashville will join 37 Tennessee communities, including Brentwood, Mt. Juliet, Lebanon, Gallatin, Hendersonville and Murfreesboro, where election officials have indicated supporters have enough signatures.

The business impact of selling wine in grocery stores (Nooga)
Bi-Lo, Publix and Food Lion are soliciting support from customers to get wine sold in grocery stores in Hamilton County—but if that happens, business at smaller, independent shops could be damaged. “Since my shop is located right next to Whole Foods, it wouldn’t even make sense for us to stay open,” John Smith, manager of Vine Wine and Spirits, said. In March, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that allows wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores. But there’s a provision of the bill that allows voters in individual cities and counties a referendum to decide on the issue locally. To get a referendum, a certain number of voters need to sign a petition.

Tennessee ranks poorly for serving underprivileged children (Nashville Biz Journal)
Tennessee often finds itself on the wrong end of many lists, but has separated itself from the bottom of the pack in a new WalletHub study that analyzed the best and worst states for underprivileged children for 2014. Tennessee ranks 37th among the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The study looked at 16 key metrics, ranging from infant death rates and children in foster care to instances of documented abuse. Scores were derived from each state’s health rank, education rank and how it ranked for providing early childhood foundations and economic well being. Tennessee’s worst showing was in the latter category, where it finished 45th. You can learn more about the study’s methodology and its results by clicking here.

DesJarlais, Tracy campaigns seek legal counsel (Associated Press)
The campaign of scandal-battered U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said it’s consulting with election attorneys in case the incumbent’s 35-vote lead over his opponent in the Republican primary is challenged. “We want to protect the integrity of the process and when it’s a close election like this, we don’t know what the other party is going to do in this case,” DesJarlais told WKRN-TV over the weekend. “Unfortunately you have to reach out to make sure you are properly represented.” DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson told the television station the campaign is taking “every precaution to preserve the integrity of this result, and if that means bringing in legal counsel, we are prepared to do that.”

Scott DesJarlais keeps lead over Jim Tracy after 2 votes counted (TFP, AP)
Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais on Monday held on to his slender 35-vote margin over GOP primary challenger Jim Tracy after Grundy County Election Commission members sorted through provisional ballots in a contest that’s been too close to call. In the end, commissioners accepted two provisional ballots from voters who did not have their government-issued photo identification with them when they sought to vote in last Thursday’s election but were able to present them by Monday’s close-of-business deadline on Monday. The scandal-plagued DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician, and Tracy, a state senator from Shelbyville, each received one additional vote and thus DesJarlais’ razor thin lead did not change although the totals in the 4th Congressional District primary increased by two.

What to expect if Tracy challenges outcome in DesJarlais race (N. Biz Journal)
Less than three dozen votes separate embattled Congressman Scott DesJarlais and state Sen. Jim Tracy in the Republican primary for the state’s 4 th Congressional District seat (DesJarlais has a 35-vote lead, to be exact). While both sides have declared victory, the primary vote is still too close to call. DesJarlais’ campaign told WKRN-TV it is seeking legal counsel in the likelihood that Tracy’s campaign challenges the election results. According to WKRN, Tracy’s campaign is also seeking legal counsel. Tracy has five days to challenge the results once they are certified by the state.

Beat Lamar becomes Beat Jim Cooper, endorses Bob Ries (Tennessean/Cass)
With a little help from a few college students, the super PAC that failed to unseat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the Republican primary is now turning its sights on a congressional Democrat. The Spring Hill-based Real Conservatives National Committee said today that it’s launching Beat Jim Cooper and endorsing the six-term Nashville Democrat’s Republican opponent, Bob Ries, in the November general election. “Jim Cooper is an Obama supporting Democrat who has represented Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District for far too long,” organizer Michael Patrick Leahy said in a news release. “Congressman Cooper provided the key vote that moved Obamacare out of a critical committee. Congressman Cooper supports amnesty, just like Lamar Alexander.”

Headrick: Numbers say win against Chuck Fleischmann possible (TFP/Brogdon)
To defeat U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in November, Democratic candidate Mary Headrick will need an army of support from the district’s center — and that’s what she hopes to get. “I want you to get rid of the idea that this is a Republican district. I have analyzed the data,” she told the Hamilton County JFK Club on Monday. Headrick said the district has its share of Republican and Democrat voters, but those aren’t the ones who decide elections, she said. Headrick is looking for the issue-driven independents to give her campaign extra fuel.

TVA’s power shift spurs debate over wind, gas (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Environmental groups in the Tennessee Valley are on the verge of winning their third major battle against TVA’s coal-fired power plants. But anti-coal activists are still fighting a larger war against fossil fuel generation of any type by the federal utility. In a teleconference Monday ahead of next week’s decision by TVA to shut down its Allen coal plant in Memphis, a coalition of the state’s biggest environmental groups urged TVA not to simply replace the Allen coal plant with a similar or bigger natural gas power plant. TVA already replaced its coal plant at its John Sevier plant in Tennessee with a combined cycle natural gas plant three years ago and TVA is now building a similar $1 billion natural gas plant to replace its oldest units at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky.

TVA should use renewable energy to replace coal units, groups say (CA/Charlier)
While applauding TVA’s proposal to retire coal-fired units at the Allen Fossil Plant, representatives of a half-dozen environmental groups say the giant federal utility overlooked renewable-energy alternatives for the Southwest Memphis generating facility. In comments filed recently with the Tennessee Valley Authority, groups that include the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Sierra Club took issue with the agency’s recommendation to generate power from natural-gas units at a plant that would be built just south of Allen in the Ensley Bottoms area. The recommendation came in a draft environmental assessment filed by TVA in early July.

Metro schools stop requiring TCAP practice test (Tennessean/Garrison)
Metro Nashville Public Schools are no longer mandating a standardized test designed to predict end-of-year exam results in a move that will give more leeway to teachers. But the decision to let individual schools decide whether to use Discovery Education Assessments, taken three times a year in advance of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program in the spring, might do little to reduce the volume of testing in the classroom, an area some have criticized. Officials expect teachers themselves to help create an assessment in its place if they choose to dump it. Ending the requirement is directed largely at embracing Common Core academic standards.
OPINION

Editorial: Where is the supervision at DCS youth centers? (Tennessean)
Just two years after the last death in a juvenile facility run by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, two teenage boys have committed suicide less than three weeks apart. These tragedies are coming all too frequently, and it renews the question of whether DCS is following all of its procedures to protect the children in its care. On July 13, Brandon Charles Greene, 16, hanged himself in his room at Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge. On Aug. 1, an 18-year-old whose name has not yet been released hanged himself, also at Mountain View. Local police, DCS investigators and medical examiners are investigating both cases.

Editorial: State should separate gun policies, job recruiting (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee, thanks primarily to the actions of the General Assembly, has received a reputation as a “gun-friendly” state, and state economic development officials are hoping to capitalize on this with efforts to recruit more gun manufacturers to Tennessee. They’ve already had one success with the announcement that Beretta plans to move its U.S. manufacturing and research-and-development operations to Gallatin. This will add about 300 jobs to the state’s labor force. Beretta officials in making the announcement noted that more stringent gun laws now are in place in Maryland, which Beretta is exiting. Observers also note, however, that Tennessee provides a cheaper workforce than Maryland.

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