October 21 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee has sixth-best business climate, survey says (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee is the sixth-best state for business, with Nashville ranking among the top cities for economic development, according to a new survey of corporate executives and site selectors ranking the states with the most favorable business climates This is the third straight time Tennessee has appeared near the top of Development Counsellors International’s “Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing” survey. The survey, published every three years since 1996, tracks trends in economic development. New York-based DCI specializes in economic development and tourism marketing.

Report: Nashville near the top in attracting young, college-educated residents (NBJ)

The number of college-educated, young professionals moving to Nashville increased by 48 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to a report published Monday by City Observatory, an urban policy think tank supported by the Knight Foundation. That rate puts Nashville in second place, behind only Houston, and well above the national average of 25 percent, according to the report, which can be read in its entirety here. Reporting today on the findings, The New York Times writes that where these young, college-educated workers eventually settle and end up “provides a map of the cities that have a chance to be the economic powerhouses of the future.”

Nashville ranks seventh in growth of young professionals (Tennessean/Riley)

Educated young people are moving to Nashville in droves. A new report shows Nashville is successfully attracting young professionals, ages 25-34, with college degrees. That is good news because the availability of qualified job applicants helps spur businesses, including startups, to set down roots in a community. Growth of young professionals also has been linked, a report shows, to greater urban revitalization. City Observatory, a new website and think tank, ranks Nashville No. 7 in its growth of this highly desirable group. In a dozen years, the metropolitan area has experienced a hike of nearly 48 percent. “We know that educational attainment is the big driver of urban success,” said Joe Cortright, economist and founding director of City Observatory. “… This is a good group to focus on because it has broader effects.”

Haslam says no secret to positions in second term (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he sees little reason to make explicit declarations about his positons on issues in order to claim a mandate in a second term. Haslam faces political unknown Democratic nominee Charlie Brown, who has reported no fundraising activity since joining the race. Given the expected wide margin of victory, observers have questioned why the governor has decided to run a feel-good ad narrated by children instead of seeking political insulation for controversial issues like his support of Common Core education standards, a modified plan for Medicaid expansion and an overhaul of Tennessee’s gas tax. “I’m not quite sure I understand the argument,” Haslam told The Associated Press during a weekend visit to a chili cook-off in Franklin. “After four years, is there any secret where I stand on things?”

Gov. Haslam orders flags at half-staff to honor WWII vet (Tennessean/Stroud)

Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered flags over the Capitol and all state office buildings lowered to half-staff on Wednesday in honor of Pfc. Cecil Harris of Shelbyville, who died during World War II and whose remains were recently discovered in France. Harris is to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. Harris’ widow, Helen Harris Cooke, was pregnant with his son when Harris left for war. His son, Eddie Harris, was just a few months old the only time he ever saw his father. Now 70, he called the discovery of his father’s remains “a miracle.” Cecil Harris was part of a rifle platoon when he died in Dambach, France, on the second day of 1945.

U of M Lambuth student appointed to Board of Regents (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam has named Rebecca Reeves, a junior at the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus, to serve a one-year term as a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents. In her role on the board, Reeves will represent all students throughout the TBR system, including the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, community colleges and public four-year universities, according to a news release. Each TBR institution nominated one student. Nominees were narrowed to three students and were followed by interviews with members of Haslam’s staff as well as with the governor. Consideration was based upon student involvement, dedication to higher education and each nominee’s ideas to improve higher education in the state, the release said.

Governor’s Highway Safety Office awards Jackson Police Department $100,000 (JS)

The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office has awarded the Jackson Police Department $100,000 to help keep Jackson streets safe, according to a press release sent out by the department Monday afternoon. During the past few years the GHSO has awarded JPD around $40,000 per year in funding to pay officers to conduct increased anti-alcohol enforcement. This federal fiscal year the Jackson Police Department was awarded nearly $100,000 to conduct these efforts. As part of ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of the citizens of Jackson, the Jackson Police Department’s Alcohol Countermeasures Team will be performing Sobriety Checkpoints and increased DUI enforcement throughout the city this weekend.

Will The Amendments Pass? Depends On How Many Vote For Governor (WPLN)

Advocates of defeating any of the four constitutional amendments on the November ballot are pushing Tennesseans to also cast a vote for governor – any candidate will do. The motivation springs from a state law linking the fate of the amendments to the total votes for governor. Even amendment supporters admit it’s sort of confusing for voters to understand: in order for an amendment to pass, it needs to get a majority of the total votes cast in the governor’s race. The law requires a majority by just one vote. To over-simplify it, if 100 people cast a vote for governor, an amendment needs at least 51 “yes” votes to pass. The more people who vote for governor, the higher the bar is set for an amendment to pass. Conversely, if you don’t vote for governor, you’re making it easier for an amendment to pass.

House minority leader questions pre-K grant process (Times Free-Press/Boucher)

The leading Democrat in the state House of Representatives believes Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration missed an opportunity with its recent application for federal early education funding and may have opened up the state to a lawsuit. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he’s happy Nashville and Shelby County stand to gain nearly $70 million in federal grant money to expand their prekindergarten programming. but every district in the state should have been allowed to make their own request. He thinks previous legal challenges to the state’s education funding system and the state constitution show that, regardless of the source of the money, funding for each district needs to be equal.

Flinn’s state Senate campaign again self-funded (Commercial Appeal/Veazey)

George Flinn’s latest pursuit for elected office is again being funded by, well, George Flinn. The radiologist and radio station owner gave his campaign for the vacant state Senate District 30 seat $20,000 on Sept. 19, the only donation as of the Sept. 30 filing deadline for third quarter campaign activity. The sum is in line with other statehouse races and is far from the amounts Flinn has spent in other campaigns. Data collected by OpenSecrets.org indicates Flinn spent $5.8 million on three failed attempts to run for Congress between 2010 and 2014. Democratic nominee Sara Kyle’s campaign had $12,350 as of the same time checkpoint, split almost evenly between donations and loans from herself.

Nashville voting site restrictions raise First Amendment concerns (Tenn/Garrison)

Restrictions over where people can place campaign signs and distribute political materials at Nashville voting locations could be unconstitutional, the Davidson County Election Commission has advised. But Metro Nashville library officials, who oversee five early voting sites set to open Tuesday, still plan to enforce their disputed policy after hearing from Metro attorneys who have said otherwise. In a letter last week to leaders of the Nashville Public Library and City of Belle Meade, election commission Chairman Ronald Buchanan urged both to scrap policies used in previous election cycles that regulate campaign activity on property beyond the parameters of 100-foot campaign-free zones.

Tennessee’s vague surrogacy laws can lead to heartache (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

A week after giving birth, a Tennessee woman who agreed to be a surrogate for an Italian couple changed her mind. She wanted to keep the baby girl. After years of legal wrangling, the state Supreme Court earlier this month ruled partially in her favor, sending the case back to a Nashville juvenile judge to decide on custody of the girl. The girl is now 3, lives in Italy, speaks no English and has been raised since infancy by the Italian couple after the surrogate’s legal fight to keep her was dismissed by lower courts. It’s a wrenching custody battle that surrogacy law experts say might have been avoided if Tennessee laws didn’t lag woefully behind new reproductive technologies, including the common use of surrogates by couples experiencing fertility problems.

Alexander to talk streamlined financial aid at Pellissippi State (News-Sentinel)

Sen. Lamar Alexander will host a roundtable discussion about his proposal for a streamlined federal financial aid application Tuesday afternoon at Pellissippi State Community College. In June, Alexander proposed turning the 108-question Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) form into a two-question postcard as part of his Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act. The postcard would ask high school juniors their family size and household income two years ago. The proposed bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is also aimed at allowing year-round use of Pell Grants, discourage over-borrowing and simplifying repayment of loans, according to Alexander’s office. Along with Alexander, who is up for re-election next month, the roundtable will include college and high school officials, students and parents.

Alexander’s Spending on Re-Election Bid Tops $8 Million (Associated Press)

Republican Lamar Alexander’s campaign spending in his bid to represent Tennessee in U.S. Senate for a third term now tops $8 million. By comparison, the former governor and two-time presidential candidate spent $4.5 million on his entire Senate bid in 2008. Alexander in August defeated tea party-styled state Rep. Joe Carr by 9 percentage points, and now faces Democrat Gordon Ball in the general election. Alexander reported raising about $660,000 in the third quarter and spending $1.5 million. He ended the period with $1.3 million on hand. Ball loaned his campaign $1 million in the quarter and raised $138,000 from outside sources. He spent about $115,000 and had $1 million remaining.

Gordon Ball’s poll shows Sen. Alexander ahead 45-32 percent (TFP/Sher)

Democrat Gordon Ball says a new poll he commissioned shows Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander ahead but with just 45 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Ball. Meanwhile, the same poll of 595 voters, conducted last weekend by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, shows a little-known conservative independent, Tom Emerson Jr., with 13 percent of the vote. Ten percent of those surveyed were undecided, according to the survey which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. “The polling for Lamar has continued to drop as Sen. Alexander began his negative campaign,” Ball’s press secretary, Trace Sharp, said in a statement this afternoon.

Most Congressional Incumbents Appear Safe in Tennessee (Associated Press)

After defeating his Republican primary opponent by a mere 38 votes, scandal-ridden U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais appears to be only one of Tennessee’s nine incumbent House members to face a serious challenge in the general election. DesJarlais won the right to defend his 4th District seat after narrowly winning the August primary against state Sen. Jim Tracy. DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who now opposes abortion rights, won despite a series of personal scandals that included affairs with patients, urging a mistress to seek an abortion and once holding a gun in his mouth for hours outside his ex-wife’s room. DesJarlais is being challenged by Democrat Lenda Sherrell of Monteagle, who has kept up with the incumbent in fundraising.

Fleischmann camp addresses FEC filings ahead of election (TFP/Brogdon)

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s campaign had until Monday to answer questions the Federal Election Commission raised over the congressman’s July quarterly report, and a spokesman said late Monday all issues were addressed. “The one that’s due today will be turned in today. The one that’s due Thursday will be as well,” said Fleischmann spokesman Brian O’Shaughnessy. “We’ve been communicating with the liaison with the FEC to make sure everything we are doing is within the protocols. I’m confident with that guidance everything is accurate.” Fleischmann was dogged by FEC questions about his campaign funds during the primary, and in September the campaign was hit with 10 findings involving $12,300 in excessive or illegal campaign contributions, and $37,056 in incorrectly reported disbursements in his July quarterly report.

Erlanger gains financial traction, eyes expansion (Times Free-Press/Belz)

It is not enough for Erlanger Health System to pull off a financial comeback this year, says hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel. “We want to prove that this turnaround is sustainable,” Spiegel said at the hospital board’s budget and finance committee meeting Monday night. Erlanger’s positive financial trajectory appears to have traction, as the public hospital posted a $7.7 million profit in its first quarter of financials this year. More significant, though, is the hospital committee’s decision Monday to refinance Erlanger’s current debt to bring in $70 million for three major projects: • A $50 million expansion of the Erlanger East campus to a full service hospital. • $8.5 million toward an orthopedic center and other surgical improvements. • $11.5 million to put toward a new children’s and women’s ambulatory center — the first phase of the hospital’s planned new children’s hospital.

Williamson school board passes resolution opposing Common Core (N-S/Swan)

By a unanimous vote of 12-0 on Monday night, the Williamson County school board voted for a resolution in support of more local control over school standards in their district. Some saw the measure as an anti-Common Core move against an overreaching federal government, while others saw it purely as a political move. Regardless, nothing physically changes for Williamson County teachers, parents or students. “The fact that we were able to draft something that supported both means to an end, with regards that we don’t control Common Core at the local level, but it also sends a message that we want local control,” said member Kenneth Peterson. “Tonight was about moving forward as a board,” said member Dr. Beth Burgos. Burgos said Monday’s resolution changes the tone in Williamson County.

Texas: In Texas, Toll Roads Proliferate—and a Backlash Builds (Wall Street Journal)

Toll roads are experiencing a growth spurt around the U.S. as states strapped for cash look to relieve traffic congestion without raising taxes. But a political backlash is rising in Texas, one of the states that most aggressively encouraged toll-road construction, as residents realize that many major urban freeways are increasingly no longer free. Here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the fourth-largest metropolitan region in the U.S., with more than 6.5 million people, public and private entities have constructed one of the most extensive toll-road networks in North America—and numerous additional toll roads are on the horizon. Transportation officials are considering converting part of U.S. Highway 75, a major north-south artery, to toll lanes.






Editorial: Tourism support good for county (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County received more good economic news recently with the announcement that it ranks among the top 10 counties in the state for tourist spending, nearly $300 million. Also good news is that this income increased 6.8 percent between 2012 and 2013. County residents paid $240 less in state and local taxes because of the tourist spending, according to the report. Promotion of tourism is a good investment because those who visit the county to spend these dollars do not require the same level of services of those who actually reside in the community Rutherford County has a particular advantage in regard to tourism because it actually is at the center of the state and those who organize sports competitions, business meetings and conventions of state profit and non-profit organizations can tout a central location for these events.

Editorial: Unable to wake up from the VA nightmare (Tennessean)

The Veterans Affairs system in Middle Tennessee is in a deep hole and is using a teaspoon to dig its way out. A full month after a tense and crowded town-hall meeting in which Director Juan Morales asked veterans who said they were having trouble getting to see doctors to “fill out a form” so that his staff could check out their complaints, it appears that staff have worked only on those they deemed “needed direct and immediate attention.” The number of complaints they’ve addressed is not clear, but veterans who have been contacted by The Tennessean say that either no one has contacted them, or when they do, the staff does not address the vet’s grievance.