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August 26 TN News Digest

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

Aggressive Pragmatism (Inside Higher Ed)
Bill Haslam wasn’t sold on the idea of two years of tuition-free community college when he first heard it. That was back in 2008, when the Republican, now governor of Tennessee, was Knoxville’s mayor. Mike Ragsdale, who was then mayor of the surrounding Knox County, made the pitch to Haslam. Ragsdale was among a group of local leaders who were trying to create a private scholarship to cover the tuition costs for high school graduates who wanted to attend community and technical college. “It would be fair to say that he was skeptical,” says Ragsdale, who remembers Haslam telling him “it wasn’t the right time, probably just to try not to hurt my feelings.”

Vacuum maker TTI announces Tennessee expansion (Associated Press)
TTI Floor Care North America, the maker of Hoover, Dirt Devil and Oreck vacuum cleaners, is expanding its Tennessee plant and plans to double its work force at the facility over the next five years. Company and state officials announced Monday that the plant will add 211 jobs in Cookeville as it moves production capacity from China and Mexico. Simon Lawson, the president of TTI Floor Care North America, cited the skilled workers and the plant’s central locale for selecting it for the expansion. TTI bought the plant and brand from Oreck after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. The company makes upright and handheld vacuums, carpet washers and hard floor cleaners.

TTI Floor Care North America to expand Cookeville operations (Herald-Citizen)
Yet another substantial economic development for Putnam County happened today, as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with TTI Floor Care North America officials today announced the company will invest in its Cookeville facility by adding additional manufacturing capacity to introduce new product lines and support existing product transfers. TTI Floor Care North America will create 211 new jobs in Putnam County, nearly doubling its workforce over the next five years. “This is a great day for TTI Floor Care, but also a great one for Cookeville and Putnam County.

Oreck’s new owner to bring 200 jobs to Cookeville plant (Tennessean/Williams)
TTI Floor Care North America, which bought Oreck Co. out of bankruptcy last summer, announced an expansion at Oreck’s Cookeville plant Monday afternoon. TTI will create 211 new jobs at the plant over the next five years, nearly doubling the local workforce. The company expects to be able to move some of their production from factories in China and Mexico. “The Cookeville facility provides us with a number of advantages including a skilled, tenured workforce and a central location for shipping to a majority of the U.S. quickly and efficiently,” said Simon Lawson, president of TTI Floor Care North America.

Construction to begin on Beretta facility (Tennessean/Cross)
Firearms manufacturer Beretta USA is scheduled to break ground at the site of its new Gallatin facility this week. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Italian company’s manufacturing facility and campus is set for Thursday in the Gallatin Industrial Park. Gov. Bill Haslam, Beretta USA Executive Vice President and Director Franco Gussalli Beretta, along with other local, state and company officials are scheduled to attend the invitation-only event. According to plans submitted to the city’s planning department in July, the building — which will feature a mixture of wood, brick, glass and concrete on the outside — will include about 130,000 square feet of manufacturing space, 12,500 square feet of office space, firing ranges and 245 employee parking spaces at the rear of the building along with 45 visitor parking spaces.

TCAT partners with national organization (WCYB-TV Johnson City)
More skilled labor is headed to Tennessee, with a partnership between the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, and a national organization. This type of skilled labor pays more than other jobs. News 5 spoke with John Lee, an instructor at the college of applied technology in Elizabethton, about why skilled labor is important to the region. “It’s a nationwide certification and we’re trying to ensure that our youth in America’s new work force understand all of the new equipment that’s out there, and how to use all the functions on that equipment,” says Lee. “The equipment is very expensive, and we want to make sure they can test and diagnose things properly.”

Gov. Haslam makes appointments to state boards, commissions (TFP)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointments of 118 Tennesseans to 52 boards and commissions. “I am honored to make these appointments, and I appreciate these men and women who are so willing to serve in this capacity,” Haslam said. “Tennessee will be well-represented on these boards and commissions.” The governor continues to evaluate the state’s complete range of boards and commissions to identify potential reforms that might be made to ensure Tennesseans have a government that is responsive, effective and efficient. Appointment terms are varied due to differing statutory requirements or term limits determined by specific qualifications.

Blount residents named to state boards (Daily Times)
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the appointments of 118 Tennesseans, including three Blount County residents, to 52 state boards and commissions. They are: • Wayne Davis, of Alcoa, to the Air Pollution Control Board; • Trudy Hughes, of Maryville, to the Tennessee Community Service Agency Statewide Board of Directors; • and Jackie Glenn, of Maryville, to the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board. Appointment terms are varied due to differing statutory requirements or term limits determined by specific qualifications.

Tennessee to stay with test-based teacher evaluations (Tennessean/Garrison)
It was music to the ears of his biggest critics — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, discussing standardized testing, sounded much like them as he carved some leeway into one of his bedrock education policies. In a blog last week that surprised many, Duncan wrote that testing issues are “sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” He then told states they could request a one-year delay from tying student test results to evaluations of teachers as classrooms shift to tougher academic standards. Tennessee, though — a favorite of President Obama’s education secretary and one of the first states to pilot a systematic evaluation of teachers — won’t be one of them as it begins the fourth year of its evaluation system.

Attorneys for suffocated inmate: State hid evidence (Tennessean/Haas)
The family of a prison inmate who died after being pinned by guards is asking a federal judge to reopen their lawsuit in light of new evidence from a prison guard’s resignation letter, which surfaced in a New York Times article about the case but hadn’t been given to their lawyers. Charles Toll, 34, died Aug. 17, 2010, at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution after guards forcibly removed him from his cell — a death ruled a homicide by a medical examiner. His mother, Jane Luna, sued the state, but lost the case after a two-week jury trial in August 2013. But his attorneys are asking a judge for a new trial after they say the state withheld evidence that the Tennessee Department of Correction falsified training documents and ignored potential witnesses in investigating the death.

State auditing Brenda Radford’s campaign finance report (Leaf Chronicle)
For the first time in its history, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance board has voted to audit a local candidate’s campaign finance reports, in this case a candidate from Montgomery County. Trustee Brenda Radford reported she raised $14,268 in unitemized donations of $100 or less in the second quarter of this year in her race against challenger Brandi Bryant. Her itemized contributions totaled only $4,950. Because such a high percentage was unitemized, the Registry’s board directed the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance to audit Radford’s second quarter financial report.

TennCare fraud affects every citizen in the state (Times-News)
TennCare fraud is committed by a small portion of people receiving benefits, but the consequences can be felt by every citizen in the state. That’s because Tennessee taxpayers are on the hook for the hospital bill, which could run in the thousands of dollars. So preventing TennCare fraud has become a top priority for officials in the state. “People don’t realize, but sometimes people kind of insulate themselves from certain types of crimes because they’re not a victim of it,” said Chad Holman, special agent with the Office of the Inspector General. “With this, if you’re a taxpayer in this state, everyone is a victim.”

Chattanoogans get to vote on wine; prohibition-era law could fall (TFP/Brogdon)
Come November, Chattanoogans will make history. Voters either will uphold decades-old, prohibition-era laws that keep wine sales out of food stores, or they will take a revolutionary step and bring wine and food together. Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said Monday that Chattanooga and Collegedale have joined four other municipalities that will have referendums in November to decide whether wine will be allowed to be sold in grocery stores. By the deadline on Thursday, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank and Signal Mountain all had turned in enough signatures to the election commission to put the referendum on ballots. But election officials were still counting signatures for other municipalities.

Election Commission uncorks wine in groceries referendum (Johnson City Press)
Voters in Johnson City and Jonesborough will get to choose if they want to see wine on grocery store shelves after the county election commission approved including the question on the November ballot in a meeting Monday. Commissioner Jon Ruetz made the motion to place the wine referendum on the ballot for voters in those two jurisdictions within Washington County. Both motions passed unanimously. Earlier this month, Maybell Stewart, the county’s administrator of elections, said the office counted 1,722 signatures for Johnson City, which needed only 1,316, a figure set by the new law of 10 percent of the votes tallied in the most recent gubernatorial election.

According to new study, Tennessee supports clean energy (Memphis Biz Journal)
Tennessee voters agree that reducing carbon and introducing clean energy is a good move for the state. A recent poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research and commissioned by the Energy Foundation confirms that 83 percent participants support increasing the use of renewable energy in Tennessee. The polls showed that 72 percent of voters support TVA’s move to retire its coal fleet, seen most recently in the decision to switch Memphis’ Allen Fossil Plant to natural gas. Additionally, 25 percent of voters prefer renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to meet the area’s need. The 600 registered voters also fielded questions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Rape Kit Lawsuit Refiled in Circuit Court (Memphis Daily News)
Three women who filed suit in Memphis Federal Court against the city and county over the untested rape kit backlog have refiled the suit in Shelby County Circuit Court, again seeking class-action status for the legal claim of negligence. The federal civil lawsuit filed in March by Meaghan Ybos, Madison Graves and Rachel Johnson was dismissed a week ago by U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes on a motion by attorneys for the women. The state civil lawsuit, filed Monday, Aug. 25, repeats the claims made in the original federal lawsuit but does not include the claims that the rape kit backlog violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and other federal constitutional claims. The new lawsuit is based on the state’s Governmental Tort Liabilities Act and alleges the city and county “had prior notice of the reckless, willful and wanton actions of their employees and agents, but took no steps to train them, correct abuses or authority or discourage the irresponsible use of authority.”

Corker doesn’t see combat troops taking on Islamic State (Tennessean/Cass)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said today that he expects the White House to announce soon how it will deal with the “almost demonic” terrorist group known as the Islamic State, but he doesn’t expect the nation to send troops back into combat in the Middle East. Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a speech to 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee that he had tried to reach Denis McDonough, Democratic President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, earlier in the day. He later told reporters that he was trying to “push (the administration) along in making a decision.”

Corker Calls For Action Against ISIS In A Divided Syria (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls the militant group ISIS the roughest and most well funded extremist group that the U.S. has ever dealt with. To stop them, Corker says, the U.S. needs to work in both Iraq and Syria — “using our air assets, drone assets, intelligence assets, to help stabilize and beef up the Iraqi military, but to do the same thing with the Kurds and do the same thing with the vetted moderate opposition within Syria itself,” he says. “There’s going to have a be a recognition, as we’ve known for some time, that there is no border between Syria and Iraq. ISIS has to be addressed on both sides of the border.”

Corker among wealthiest members of Congress (Tennessean/Barton)
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee held assets in 2013 worth between $19.02 million and $89.7 million, based on a Senate financial disclosure form filed this month. That compares with the $18.67 million to $91.55 million disclosed on his 2012 form. Corker’s 2013 wealth was spread over 38 different assets, including ones held by his wife, Elizabeth. Like Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, the senator is annually listed as one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Based on his 2012 form, Congressional Quarterly listed Corker as the 22nd wealthiest out of the 535 lawmakers in the Senate and House. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated the Republican senator’s net worth at $49.11 million based on his 2012 form.

Primary challenger concedes to US Rep. Scott DesJarlais (Associated Press)
The Republican state senator who challenged scandal-plagued U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais conceded his 38-vote primary loss to the incumbent on Monday, saying he decided not to challenge the results. State Sen. Jim Tracy said in a news release that he had decided against putting the GOP, state officials, his family and others through “additional weeks of litigation, with uncertainty as to who the nominee will be.” Tracy had faced a Tuesday deadline to decide whether to challenge the results to the state Republican Party’s executive committee. It was not clear how a challenge would have closed the 38-vote gap, and Tracy acknowledged that a recount would not uncover illegal votes or votes illegally prevented from being cast.

DesJarlais gets 4th Distict primary win; Tracy won’t challenge results (TFP/Sher)
Scandal-ridden U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais on Monday was finally able to bring his Aug. 7 GOP primary election to a successful close after state Sen. Jim Tracy announced he won’t challenge the razor-thin results and conceded defeat. But with only a 38-vote victory, does this mean South Pittsburg physician DesJarlais has definitively put behind him a troubled past that includes having once urged a patient he slept with to get an abortion and threatening to commit suicide outside his first wife’s bedroom? Observers aren’t so sure, noting the contest, in which Tracy only directly hammered DesJarlais about his turbulent past toward the end, still ended so close that the congressman’s victory margin amounted to a minuscule fraction of 1 percent.

Tracy concedes GOP primary to U.S. Rep. DesJarlais (Daily News Journal)
Jim Tracy announced today that he’s conceding his 38-vote loss today in the Aug. 7 Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. “I am announcing my decision about whether or not to file a contest of the August 7th Republican Primary for the Fourth Congressional District,” Tracy said in a statement. “When I started this campaign, my goal was to offer the citizens of the 4th District a choice in who to represent them in Congress. “I presented my plan to offer conservative, effective leadership, and my opponents offered theirs. And after over 75,000 votes were cast in the Republican Primary, less than 40 votes separated the incumbent Congressman and me.

Tracy Opts To Concede Instead Of Dispute Primary Results (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
More than three weeks after voting ended, state Sen. Jim Tracy has conceded in the 4th Congressional District Republican Primary. Rep. Scott DesJarlais came out on top by just 38 votes. “We have consulted with knowledgeable people, and I have consulted with my family and, most importantly I have prayed for guidance,” Tracy said in a letter release Monday morning. “In the end, the decision of whether or not to file a contest was mine and mine alone.” Tracy compliments the Tennessee Division of Elections for being “fair and objective.” He says he’s learned of people who were not on the rolls who voted anyway or a voter who was given the wrong ballot. But he says he will not contest the outcome, leaving the public with “additional weeks of litigation, with uncertainty as to who the nominee will be.

Rep. DesJarlais thanks voters after Tracy concedes (Daily News Journal)
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais sent out the following statement after Jim Tracy conceded the Republican primary today to the incumbent: “I want to thank the people of Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District for once again putting their faith in my ability to serve them,” DesJarlais said in his statement. “I promise I will never take that trust for granted. I am glad we can now come together as Republicans and start focusing on the general election in November.”

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