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August 17 TN News Digest

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

Commissioner touts ‘Drive to 55’ (Columbia Daily Herald)
Julius Johnson’s specialty is agriculture, but he took time to discuss another component that is important to economic development in the state — education. Johnson, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture commissioner, spoke Tuesday to Generation Maury — a young professionals branch of the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance — at the Tennessee Farm Bureau building in Columbia. He spoke about agriculture in the state but dedicated the bulk of his time discussing Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative designed to get 55 percent of Tennesseans a college degree or certificate by 2025.

Counties near Chattanooga get disaster declaration (Times Free-Press, A. Press)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday that President Barack Obama has declared 18 counties, including Marion, Sequatchie and Bledsoe, federal disaster areas due to storms that swept the state in June. State and local governments and electric utilities spent nearly $10 million in response to and recovery from the wind damage and flash-flooding impacts. The disaster declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for debris removal, emergency protective measures and rebuilding and repairing roads and other facilities. “This federal aid will help our communities in rebuilding and recovery,” Haslam said.

I-65 could reopen by Sunday afternoon, TDOT says (Tennessean/Wilson)
Crews demolished the Goose Creek bridge most damaged by Friday’s tanker explosion in Franklin. Because the teardown was completed much earlier than transportation officials expected, crews plan to start repaving Interstate 65 on Sunday, said Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Heather Jensen. The highway in south Franklin was shut down on Saturday morning, about a day after a tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of gasoline slammed into the bridge’s support beams on the interstate. TDOT crews said the bridge and its replacement under construction were both unsafe for drivers after the explosion, which also killed the driver of the tanker.

Madison County can’t house all its juvenile offenders (Jackson Sun)
Five years ago, when Amy Jones began working for the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center, there were one to two nights a month when the center was empty. All eight beds were bare, and nobody was locked up. Those days have passed, and the center is fighting a losing battle with too many children and not enough beds. The center has seven beds and one cot and can house a maximum of eight children at one time. The center houses 1,108 different children in an average year. Repeat offenders are not counted in that total. The offenders stay an average of seven days, according to Jones, the director of Juvenile Court Services.

After 32 years on the bench, Swann to retire (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vines)
Bill Swann has just returned from the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Harvard College and he wants everyone to know it. He’s got a new hat featuring his alma mater’s crimson color that he wears as he bounces out of the City County Building toward Gay Street for lunch. Back at the office earlier, he had said the anniversary with 480 alumni was very encouraging about the future. “We were all exactly the same age (71). We all looked very, very healthy with many, many years ahead,” he said. That’s where his mindset is now that he will be retiring Sept. 1 after serving 32 years as judge of 4th Circuit Court. It’s primarily a domestic relations court of which he is only the second judge. His successor is Greg McMillan, elected on Aug. 7. Both are Republicans.

Red gets redder as Democrats blue over election results (TFP/Brogdon)
This month’s elections followed a 30-year trend: Republicans gained, Democrats lost and Hamilton County turned a deeper shade of red. Two long-time incumbents, Public Defender Ardena Garth and Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell, were replaced by Republicans. And the few Democrats who ran gained no ground. The local left posted no candidates for mayor, and three Republican commission incumbents and a cadre of state representatives floated by, unchallenged by the opposite party. In 1984, seven of nine commissioners and almost all county elected officials were Democrats, including the sheriff and the county executive (now mayor).

A primary win by Scott DesJarlais could help Democrats (Tennessean/Stroud)
The election of Charlie Brown as the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor was a gift to those who look for allegory in their politics. We used “Good grief” on the front page on election night. No one has been called a blockhead yet, but when Brown suggested in a letter sent to newspapers all over the state that he’d like to strap Gov. Bill Haslam into the electric chair and give him “half the jolt,” it would have been legitimate commentary. On the surface, Brown doesn’t seem much different from Mark Clayton, the hapless extremist the state’s Democratic voters tapped to take on U.S. Sen. Bob Corker two years ago. And maybe the party as a whole hasn’t moved much further from the disarray it found itself in at that moment.

Medicare to Start Paying Doctors Who Coordinate Needs of Chronically Ill (NYT)
In a policy change, the Obama administration is planning to pay doctors to coordinate the care of Medicare beneficiaries, amid growing evidence that patients with chronic illnesses suffer from disjointed, fragmented care. Although doctors have often performed such work between office visits by patients, they have historically not been paid for it. Starting in January, Medicare will pay monthly fees to doctors who manage care for patients with two or more chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression. “Paying separately for chronic care management services is a significant policy change,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Bringing the outdoors in: National outdoor retailers converge (TFP/Brogdon))
This must be hunting territory. And fishing, boating, trapping, Carhartt- and camo-wearing, rugged outdoor and lifelike decoy country. Because the biggest names in outdoor outfitting and retail are clamoring to get in here, even if it means rubbing elbows with the competition. Which they’re willing to do, obviously. This year, Gander Mountain, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops announced stores either in Chattanooga, or in its immediate perimeter. And that’s on top of a handful of outdoor retailers already in the city and surrounding area. St. Paul, Minn.-based Gander Moutain struck first, of the newcomers.

 
OPINION

Guest columnist: Effective teachers vital for national security (Tennessean)
If you are a parent, chances are you recognize the role of teachers in your child’s academic success and preparation for higher education and the workforce. As retired generals, we also see the impact of quality teaching on the opportunity to serve our nation. That message was top-of-mind when we released a Mission: Readiness report, “Too Poorly Educated to Serve,” which documented the challenge faced by young people who find they lack the math, literacy and problem-solving skills that are demanded by today’s high-tech military. Educational underachievement is the leading reason (followed by being overweight or having a criminal record) why more than 70 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for service.

Editorial: DesJarlais’ vote tally proves little (Daily News Journal)
Although the final tally is not official yet, state Sen. Jim Tracy seems to be making little headway in overcoming the lead of incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the race for the GOP nomination for the 4th District congressional seat. DesJarlais’ lead, as of Friday, still was fewer than 40 votes, and that slim edge must be galling to Tracy. However, it still is a victory for the incumbent if it holds up. Rutherford and Bedford counties, which Tracy represents in the state Senate gave him a 6,000 vote lead, but he was unable to maintain that advantage in the other 14 counties in the district. Tracy received nearly 40 percent of his vote total in Rutherford County and nearly 49 percent of his vote total in Rutherford and Bedford counties.

Free-Press Editorial: Who’s afraid of voter ID? (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
What are Roy Herron and other Democrats afraid of? The Tennessee Democratic Party chairman would like residents of the Volunteer State to believe the state’s voter ID law is akin to the poll tax levied against blacks in order to vote by Democrat-led states in the South before the civil rights era. Indeed, Herron actually told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in late July that it is the desire of the Republican Party “to go into every state they control and disenfranchise as many people as they can. It’s not because of voter fraud. They’re trying to disenfranchise poor people and black people.”

Editorial: If tax breaks ended today, city still would have a staggering debt (CA)
Last week’s news that the Memphis and Shelby County mayors are preparing an incentive package to try to persuade Cummins Inc. not to move part of its Memphis operation over the state line into Mississippi is sure to add fuel to criticism about the use of tax incentives to attract and retain businesses. Critics have labeled the controversial incentives, including PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes), corporate welfare that denies the city badly needed tax revenue. Supporters say the incentives are needed to compete with other states and counties in the quest to lure businesses and the jobs they bring. They point out that companies receiving PILOTs do make some payments, usually on property on which no taxes are being collected.

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