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September 21 TN News Digest

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

Haslam announces workforce grant competition (Associated Press)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a new statewide initiative to help residents get more education and training for jobs that are available in their communities. Haslam says the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is accepting applications from partnerships across the state for $10 million in grants from the Labor Education Alignment Program. Applicants must represent a partnership between a local economic development agency, a community college, the local school district and at least two employers. The program is part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to help residents get an education or other training beyond high school. He says that will allow them to “get better jobs and create better lives.” The competition for grant money is open through Nov. 17. Applicants can apply for up to $1 million.

Haslam, Grinder proclaim POW/MIA Recognition Week (Business Clarksville)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder on Thursday proclaimed September 19-25, 2014 as POW/MIA Recognition Week. Since 2011, the remains of seven Tennessee service members who previously listed as Missing In Action (MIA) were recovered and returned to their country. Specialist Marvin Phillips went missing on September 26, 1966 while serving with the United States Army in Vietnam. The Palmer native was laid to rest at Palmer Cemetery in Grundy County on September 26, 2011 Private First Class Frank Jennings went missing on April 25, 1951 while serving with the United States Army in Korea.

THP program aims to stop crashes before they happen (News-Sentinel/Hickman)
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper with any experience on the road already knows where the worst traffic crashes are likely to occur. A patrol cruiser idling on the shoulder of the interstate often hints at a known problem area, such as a stretch of roadway that has been the site of a recent fatality. Likewise, a late-night checkpoint can mark the spot where experience has shown patrolmen they’re likeliest to catch a drunken driver behind the wheel. THP’s top brass, however, admit that while the agency’s chief mission is to save lives, much of their work historically has been a matter of reacting to tragedies rather than anticipating the worst before it happens.

Traffic to begin flowing on new Marion bridge in November (TFP/Benton)
Haletown resident Chris McNabb was born 53 years ago on the old U.S. Highway 41 bridge over the Tennessee River. “They were taking my mom to [Dr. J.G.] McMillian’s clinic and the bridge scared her so bad she went into labor,” McNabb said over his lunch Thursday at the Anchor Inn Bait & Tackle Store at the east end of the old bridge. “By the time they got to Jasper, I was in the world,” said McNabb, who was seated at a small table in sight of the old bridge scheduled for demolition in the coming months. Tennessee Department of Transportation and construction officials say traffic is expected to start crossing the replacement for the 1929-era Marion Memorial Bridge in November, if not before.

Last Tennessee Republican AG was elected — in 1865 (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Newly appointed state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who last week became only the second Republican in Tennessee history to hold the post, fully embraces the unusual process in which the state Supreme Court names the state’s top lawyer. But what Slatery, and most other people, may not know is that Tennessee’s one and only previous Republican attorney general, Thomas M. Coldwell, who served from 1865 to 1870, also happened to be the last one popularly elected to the job. “It’s an interesting story,” said former Tennessee Attorney General W.J. Michael Cody, who said he researched the history of Tennessee’s unique approach with former Deputy Attorney General Andy Bennett, now a Court of Appeals judge. Most other states, including Georgia and Alabama, elect their attorneys general.

Herron slams justices for dropping Bob Cooper (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said Saturday he’s “heavily disappointed” the state Supreme Court didn’t reappoint Democrat Bob Cooper as state attorney general, and he revealed the party spent $300,000 to help save the three Democratic justices on the retention ballot. Last Monday, the five-member court cast Cooper aside and named Republican Herbert Slatery III, Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, to an eight-year term as state government’s top lawyer. “We did a poll a week out and two of the three [justices] were behind and the third was in a dead-heat tie,” Herron told members of his party’s state executive committee. “There were large numbers of undecided voters. We thought they were on a path to defeat.”

No 2nd term for Tennessee Democratic Chair Herron (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron says he won’t seek a second term in the job. Herron made the announcement in a statement on Saturday, saying he’ll leave the job after two years. Herron succeeded Chip Forrester, whose two terms were hampered by a long-running feud with elected Democrats like former Gov. Phil Bredesen. Herron, a Dresden attorney, retired from the Legislature after a 25-year career in the state House and Senate in 2012. He made an ill-fated bid for an open congressional seat in 2010, losing to Republican Stephen Fincher by 20 percentage points.

Democratic chair Roy Herron won’t seek second term (Tennessean/Humbles)
Tennessee Democratic Chairman Roy Herron will not seek a second term after two years in the position. Herron made the announcement Saturday at a meeting of the Democratic Party State Executive Committee. “Electing Democrats in Tennessee in order to move our state forward will continue to be my focus and passion,” Herron said in a press release. Terry Adams, who finished second in the Senate primary last month, said he is interested in succeeding Herron. “If the executive committee of the Democratic Party sees fit to have me as chairman, I would certainly be interested,” Adams said.

Herron to step down as Tennessee Democratic Party chairman (CA/Locker)
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron told the party’s state executive committee Saturday he won’t run for a second two-year term in January. Herron also said that the Tennessee Supreme Court’s failure to reappoint Democrat Robert Cooper as state attorney general troubled him given that the state party helped the three Democratic justices win their retention re-elections Aug. 7 and retain a majority of the five-member court. The court voted 5-0 last week to replace Cooper with Republican Herbert Slatery, Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel.

Ball challenge to Alexander: Glock vs. piano (Associated Press)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball on Saturday defended his support of gun rights from an NRA attack and lightheartedly challenged Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander to a “duel” of sorts, since he said Alexander won’t agree to a traditional debate. “I’m from Cocke County, where we actually do own guns. So I’m going to issue a challenge to Mr. Alexander: his piano versus my Glock,” Ball jokingly told state Democratic Executive Committee members during their meeting in Nashville. “Democrats are gun owners too.” Alexander is a piano player who occasionally plays at events. The National Rifle Association, which has endorsed Alexander, announced last week it had given Ball an “F” rating.

Democrat Ball hammers Alexander for debate refusal (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball told party activists Saturday he can beat Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, and he joked that since the incumbent won the NRA’s endorsement but refuses to debate him, he’s challenged Alexander to a duel of sorts. “I’m from Cocke County, where we actually do own guns. So I’m going to issue a challenge to Mr. Alexander: his piano versus my Glock. Democrats are gun owners too,” Ball told the state Democratic Executive Committee conference in Nashville. Playing pianos at public events is one of Alexander’s political trademarks. “This past week we’ve been attacked and attacked and attacked in the media by the Republican Party and then by Lamar Alexander himself. We’ve issued a challenge to Mr. Alexander to debate, which he refuses to do. In light of the NRA’s rating of me, I’m going to issue a challenge to Mr. Alexander to a duel.”

Williamson school board gears up for Common Core fight (Tennessean/Brown)
The Williamson County school board has put the federal education Common Core Standards in its crosshairs. Members of the board are gearing up for an Oct. 6 meeting where they plan to draft a resolution opposing the state’s adoption of the standards, which have been phasing in since 2010. Half of the 12-member board is new this year after three incumbents opted not to run for re-election and three others were voted out during August’s election. Several of the new members campaigned on anti-Common Core platforms. In its first session for the new school year, the board last Monday named as its new chairman Mark Gregory, an outspoken critic of the federal education standards. “We need to emphasize local control,” Gregory said in an interview.

 
OPINION

Tom Humphrey: AG selection could backfire on Supremes (News-Sentinel)
Our new Supreme Court’s first political judgment call seems a sound one, given the peculiar circumstances, but not without some rough edges that conceivably could come back to haunt two of the five justices fairly soon and perhaps even the institution they all represent. The political judgment call was selection of Herbert Slatery — Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, distant cousin and boyhood buddy — as Tennessee’s attorney general for the next eight years. Well, OK, some suspect he’ll serve only four years, leaving when Haslam runs out his likely new gubernatorial term. In today’s Tennessee politics, that was a very wise move toward Supreme self-preservation. In tomorrow’s Tennessee politics, maybe not so much. Tennessee’s constitution grants the legislative branch of government rather broad oversight of the judicial branch.

Editorial: Legal claims require transparency, accountability (News-Sentinel)
Knoxville and Knox County governments spend more than $1 million a year to settle legal claims, largely out of public view and with little accountability for mistakes and mishaps. The payments, ranging from a few hundred dollars to nearly $300,000, stem from a wide array of incidents — vehicle crashes, accidental shootings, policy violations, negligence and more. In too many cases, settlements escape public scrutiny because scant documentation exists. Public employees involved in the incidents too frequently escape punishment for bad behavior. Local agencies must be more transparent about the settlements and hold employees accountable for their actions. Records reviewed by the News Sentinel found that from August 2010 through December 2013, Knox County government agencies paid out more than $2.7 million.

Guest columnist: ACA’s broken promise to make health care affordable (N-S)
It’s easy to forget that Obamacare’s actual name is the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The law’s authors used the word “affordable” because they promised it would lower the average family’s premiums by up to $2,500 a year. It’s worth remembering the law’s name — and the promise that it conveys — in light of the recent news about Tennessee’s expected health care premium rates for 2015. We won’t be seeing any savings. Earlier this month, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance approved an average 2015 premium hike of 14 percent. The state’s largest insurer — BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee — will raise rates even further, with the average premium increase clocking in at 19 percent. This is the second year in a row in which Obamacare has raised premiums for Tennesseans.

Columnist: Efforts to limit access must be fought (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
During his first inaugural address, President Barack Obama promised to “do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.” But during last week’s conference of the American Society of News Editors in Chicago, Sally Buzbee, chief of The Associated Press’s Washington bureau, said access to information in the federal government has “worsened significantly in the past few years.” She listed ways the administration has limited journalists — refusing to allow photos of the military launching attacks in the latest war in the Middle East, withholding court filings on proceedings against detainees in Guantanamo and allowing only White House staff photographers to cover visits with foreign leaders.

Editorial: When good-paying jobs lost, jobs paying same wages hard to find (CA)
The news last week that Cargill Inc. is closing its corn sweetener mill on Presidents Island is disheartening for a number of reasons. The mill, which is scheduled to close in January, is a major industrial player on the island and in Greater Memphis. The company has had a strong commitment to community projects, some led by employee volunteers, that likely will diminish. And 440 people, including 120 contract workers, will lose good-paying jobs averaging $55,291 a year, which translates into a $24 million payroll. That will be a big loss in a city with an overabundance of low-paying jobs. The bigger impact, though, is that even if most of the Cargill employees are able to find new employment here, it is likely many of those jobs will involve fewer hours and lower pay.

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