This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam met with teachers and local school officials Thursday during a visit to Eakin Elementary School, congratulating Eakin on its status as a Reward School due to the growth in student scores. He also asked teachers for their input — and got it. “I really just came, kind of, to listen,” said Haslam as he sat down with a half-dozen teachers plus Principal Dulcie Davis, assistant principal Nichole Yockey, and others ranging from state legislators to school board members. Hard work equals success “You’ve had really good results here,” he said, asking what the secret was of the school’s success.
With a Nov. 1 deadline approaching, some 42,000 of Tennessee’s roughly 62,000 high school seniors — or about two-thirds — have applied for Tennessee Promise, a new scholarship program that guarantees to cover the costs of a two-year college degree. Among them is Christian Woodfin, 17, a senior at Red Bank High School and starting varsity baseball pitcher, who plans to use the program to get a two-year degree in fire science and engineering so he can be a firefighter. “I’m very excited and blessed,” said Woodfin, who’ll be the first member of his father’s side of the family to go beyond high school. “Without that, it would been really hard to … go to college.”
In the lobby of Volunteer State Community College, students are signing a poster to signify their commitment to graduating. Savannah Tripp, 21, is two classes away, but she says for many students, just getting to college can be a struggle. “You have to have so much stuff, like shot records, transcripts, financial aid stuff. There were times when I was like, I really don’t know what I’m doing,” she says. She even thought about giving up along the way, she says. That’s a problem that state officials are very aware of. As of Tuesday, 44,000 high school seniors had signed up for Tennessee Promise, the new state scholarship that will send students to community college for free. But they still have a lot to do before their first day of class, including filling out financial aid forms, applying to a specific campus or completing the program’s required community service.
At their fall meeting in Memphis last week, the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference voted to endorse Amendment 2, a proposed change to the state Constitution to grant the governor authority to pick Supreme Court and appellate judges. But the vote was by no means unanimous, and it took two tries to get it over the two-thirds hump that the conference requires for making such endorsements. “Quite frankly, there was strong opposition from a few,” Wally Kirby, executive director for the DA’s organization, told TNReport. “Some of them feel like all of the judges should be properly, popularly elected — like they are.” Kirby said that Bill Gibbons, a former Shelby County prosecutor who for the past four years has served as head of the state’s Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security, was on hand and lobbying heavily for the endorsement.
Someone who appears to support Tennessee’s proposed constitutional amendment on abortion has quietly launched an online campaign to tell voters how to help it pass: Don’t cast a ballot for any candidate in the governor’s race. But neither of the two main groups campaigning on this year’s closest watched issue know who is behind it, and no one has taken credit for it. A recently launched website at truthon1.org features a YouTube video in which a woman explains why sitting out of the governor’s race during this year’s election — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is widely seen as a shoo-in against Democrat Charlie Brown — might be good for supporters of Amendment 1, which would change the Tennessee constitution to grant state lawmakers power to set new restrictions on abortion.
The online video features idyllic snatches of Tennessee daily life: guitar players, old barns, church socials — and the official Tennessee welcome sign, glimpsed through the window of a car passing over the state line. But then there is a strategically placed, and purely fictional, detail: The welcome sign announces Tennessee as “Your Abortion Destination.” The video was designed by abortion opponents here who believe that Tennessee has for too long been a Bible Belt outlier due to a State Supreme Court decision in 2000 that ruled that the state’s constitutional guarantee of a right to privacy includes the right to an abortion. Over the years, the ruling has served as a partial bulwark against the wave of abortion restrictions that have swept other conservatives states.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has selected Andree Sophia Blumstein to be his solicitor general. Blumstein will oversee appellate litigation in state and federal courts, review written opinions, as well as advise the attorney general. For the past 21 years, she has been a partner at the Nashville firm of Sherrard and Roe PLC where she concentrated on appellate litigation, health law, taxation and antitrust. Blumstein succeeds Acting Solicitor General Joe Whalen, who will remain with the solicitor general’s office in another role. Slatery was sworn in earlier this month as Tennessee’s 27th attorney general, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction.
Newly installed state Attorney General Herbert Slatery has recruited a longtime Sherrard & Roe attorney to be his new solicitor general. Andrée Blumstein will take the place of Acting Solicitor General Joe Whalen, who will take on another role in the organization’s office. In her new role, Blumstein will oversee appellate litigation in state and federal courts, review written opinions and advise the attorney general. She has spent more than two decades at downtown-based Sherrard & Roe, where she concentrated on appellate litigation, health law, taxation and antitrust cases. “I could not be more pleased that Andrée has accepted this important appointment,” Slatery said.
Cheri Siler, Democrat in the 7th District state Senate race, has released an Internet ad with a Halloween theme that accuses her Republican opponent, Richard Briggs, of being the scariest creature without a mask because he’s hiding in darkness and afraid to debate her in public. Bonnie Brezina, Briggs’ campaign manager, called the ad inappropriate for a candidate awarded the Bronze Star after serving in the Army as a colonel in Operation Desert Storm. “It is unfortunate that our opponent and her campaign have compared a decorated war hero to a vampire,” Brezina said.
Thursday is the last day to take advantage of the early-voting window, but those who miss out needn’t fret — chances of encountering long lines on Election Day appear to be pretty slim. The Williamson County Election Commission reported that just more than 13,000 ballots had been cast by late Friday afternoon. At the same point four years ago, 28,000 had voted early. Many candidates, from governor down to small-town mayor, are either considered to be heavy favorites or running unopposed. The biggest draw to the polls could very well be the four proposed amendments to the state constitution, the hottest being Amendment 1, which deals with abortion rights.
Your vote in the upcoming November 4 election may help decide if Tennessee could ever have a state income tax. In other states, you’re taxed on every penny you earn. If approved, Amendment 3 would prohibit that here. Some think they already pay enough taxes as is in Tennessee. While the idea of paying less may seem attractive to some, not everyone is on board with the idea. Senator Brian Kelsey, who is sponsoring the amendment, said, “Amendment 3 is very simple. Voting yes on 3 will keep Tennessee income-tax free.”
Sen. Bob Corker last week shared a story about some advice he had given to President Barack Obama not long ago. Corker said he told the president he would be better off if Republicans became the majority party in the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 4 election. Corker said that’s because leaders of both parties would be forced to govern responsibly. Now, U.S. senators are always happy to share those moments when they give free advice to sitting presidents. But while the focus of the story Corker shared with The Tennessean editorial board was his own advice — and he didn’t say all that much about how the president received his wisdom — Corker also offered evidence that he would do his part to make things work better. If Republicans take over the Senate, Corker probably would become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Two days after a visit to 101st Airborne Division headquarters at Fort Campbell to discuss the unit’s controversial Ebola mission in Liberia, Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) gathered signatures of fellow Tennessee House Republicans on a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking further clarification on the mission. Joining Blackburn were Tennessee Representatives Diane Black (TN-06), Scott DesJarlais (TN-04), John Duncan (TN-02), Stephen Fincher (TN-08), Chuck Fleischmann (TN-03) and Phil Roe (TN-01). The letter begins: “On Oct. 3, 2014, we were advised by the Army that 1,500 members of the 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell would be deployed to West Africa to participate in efforts to quell the Ebola outbreak. We have since been gathering information about the deployment.”
Lamar Alexander and Gordon Ball were on the same campaign trail but different races at about this time 36 years ago. Alexander was making his second bid for Tennessee governor after failing in 1974 and Ball was running for an East Tennessee congressional seat. Alexander was a Republican in a predominantly Democratic Southern state that had only recently elected its first Republican governor, Memphian Winfield Dunn, in nearly half a century. Ball was an East Tennessee Democrat running in the one reliably Republican part of the state since the Civil War. Alexander won. Ball lost. For Alexander it was the second of six campaigns – three for governor, and three for the U.S. Senate including his current re-election bid in which Ball is his Democratic challenger on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney who is running against Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, met with the Bristol Herald Courier editorial board Friday as he made his way through East Tennessee on what he’s calling his “No Show Lamar Tour.” If elected, Ball said, he plans to pursue an increase in the minimum wage and strengthening public education without Common Core, which he says is destructive to the ability of teachers to teach. “I don’t think it’s possible to live on $7.25 an hour and raise a child,” Ball said. “Seventy-seven percent of our economy is based on consumer spending. We have 117,000 in Tennessee who live on minimum wage.”
Gov. Bill Haslam recently led the Tennessee Education Summit with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Tennessee teachers, state Board of Education and Department of Education members, business and community leaders, and professors. The purpose of this roundtable was to discuss the current problems with education in Tennessee from different perspectives. The group listened to various speakers who addressed concerns from their expertise. The current problems with Tennessee education, according to these various speakers, are: Students in Tennessee are not performing as well as students in other states. This problem was first highlighted in 2007, when Tennessee received an “F” rating from a national study because the state’s exceptionally low expectations falsely inflated student proficiency rates.
This year, Tennesseans will vote on whether to take personal decisions away from women and their doctors and give the power to the politicians. I’m reminded of one such personal decision involving a woman, a doctor and me. While carrying twins during her first pregnancy, my wife had complications. Nancy and I went to a Nashville hospital for a high-resolution ultrasound. The specialist said he’d seen this particular complication 16 times. In 15 of those cases, both twins had died. In the other case, one twin survived. Thirty-two babies. 31 dead. The doctor said our twins were not going to live. He recommended an abortion. “How sure are you, doctor?” I asked. The doctor said he was pretty sure. “Like 90, 95, 98 percent certain?” He replied, “Yes.” The doctor again recommended abortion. Nancy was in tears. I tried to choke back tears. I finally managed to get out the questions pounding inside my head: “Is Nancy’s life in danger? Is the abortion needed to save her life?”
What the race on the November ballot for the U.S. Senate says about our current political environment goes beyond whatever the results will be. To us, it says our politics is changing. The deck is being shuffled and there are new players at the table. There are also new potential players watching the game. A statewide campaign for office in Tennessee is as good a political test as there is in so many ways. Tennessee spans two time zones. A candidate who wants to kick off his or her candidacy with an announcement in all of the major cities in all of the state’s three grand divisions often has to spread them across two days or start before dawn or finish close to midnight.