This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Like any good preacher, Buzz Thomas begins with his hands in his pockets and a casual tone, leaving plenty of room for his message to crescendo. He stands in front of a two-story wall of windows, and at 7:30 a.m. on a Tuesday in October, the rising sun is casting a soft glow on the buildings and trees behind him. “You know, it doesn’t really matter if you have granite counter tops,” Thomas, whose real first name is Oliver, tells the crowd of about a hundred. “It really doesn’t matter if you drive a Lexus. It really doesn’t.” Working women and businessmen, retired couples and young professionals all nod. Thomas — who is an ordained Baptist minister, a lawyer, a TnAchieves board member and heads the Greater Schools Partnership — has given this speech before.
With a Nov. 1 deadline approaching, nearly two-thirds of Tennessee’s high school seniors have applied for a new scholarship program that guarantees to cover the costs of a two-year college degree. Among them is 17-year-old Christian Woodfin, a senior at Red Bank High School. He told The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bitly.com/1tyMovq ) that without the Tennessee Promise program, it would have been difficult for him to attend college. He plans to use the program to get a two-year degree in fire science and engineering so he can be a firefighter. Gov. Bill Haslam has visited high schools around the state to promote Tennessee Promise. He hopes the program will help boost the number of Tennesseans with two- or four-year degrees to 55 percent, up from 33 percent now.
While we come from different political parties, we share a deep gratitude for having served as governor of our great state. We also come together this election season, along with many others, to strongly encourage all Tennesseans to vote yes on Amendment 2. Amendment 2 is the judicial selection amendment to our state constitution, and it is important. Passing Amendment 2 will bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose the 29 appellate court judges who serve statewide in Tennessee. These include the five justices on the Supreme Court, the 12 judges on the Court of Appeals and the 12 judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Amendment 2 does not change the selection process for trial court judges, who will continue to run in local elections.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to hold a public review of the Common Core State Standards is a prudent and measured response to an issue that too often in recent months elicited hasty and emotional outcries. The K-12 academic standards for math and English have been a source of controversy in Tennessee and other states that have adopted them. Earlier this year the Legislature delayed the implementation of new standardized tests geared toward Common Core. Haslam’s proposal consists of allowing any Tennessean to review and comment on the standards, with the data to be turned over to two committees made up of Tennessee educators.
The Haslam administration is seeking public input on Tennessee’s K-12 education standards in English and math, including the controversial Common Core. The review will be conducted on a website that will launch in a couple of weeks, said David Smith, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam. Academic standards are typically done every years, and the current standards are in their fourth year. Time for look “With all the discussion in Tennessee and across the country about Common Core standards, the governor thought it was an appropriate time to take a new look at our current standards,” Smith said. Citizens will be able to go online, review each standard and comment on what he or she likes or does not like, Smith said.
Tennessee needs at least $38.8 billion of public infrastructure improvements during the five-year period of 2012-2017 according to a new report by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). The need for public infrastructure improvements, as reported by state and local officials, is up $1.3 billion (3.5%) compared with the year before. Costs for current infrastructure needs fall into six general categories: Transportation and Utilities: $21.8 billion Education: $7.7 billion Health, Safety, and Welfare: $5.9 billion Recreation and Culture: $1.7 billion Economic Development: $1.3 billion General Government: $555 million
Angela Hibbitt’s mind is strong, but her body is weak. She has a graduate degree, a home, a boyfriend and a social life despite depending upon a wheelchair for mobility and a ventilator to breathe. She relies on 20 hours of daily nursing care to maintain her independent lifestyle, but TennCare is trying to institutionalize her to cut costs. She’s fighting the move. The move would take her 100 miles from her Milan home where nurses provide care to Saint Francis Hospital in Memphis, where she would be a perpetual patient. The state’s plans to put her in a hospital’s ventilator unit came as a complete surprise, she said, because she didn’t learn about it until she went to an appeals hearing. She had asked the state to keep providing 20 hours of daily nursing care during the hearing in May, but the administrative judge ruled in TennCare’s favor.
The Metropolitan Planning Commission and the University of Tennessee have launched a study to see if a food hub should be developed in the Knoxville area. Such an operation would be meant to help local farmers and small- and medium-sized food producers get their products into the market and give communities better access to locally produced food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Oct. 3 it was awarding $52 million in grants nationwide to support these types of food systems, and $25,000 of those funds are going to the Knoxville effort. “And we also have matching funds to go with the grant,” said Liz Albertson, the planner heading up MPC’s part of the project.
The first major master plan in two decades for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center aims to start a conversation well beyond the borders of the Memphis Medical Center-area campus. With its new five-year plan for adding 15 new facilities and renovating 10 more on the campus, the university also is inviting its neighbors, developers, retailers, restaurant owners, bioscience firms and others to join in. “What we would hope is that people look at this and want to participate in the crafting of the Medical District,” said university Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Kennard Brown. Capping a year of work, consultants with the global architectural and design firm Perkins + Will will present the plan at an open house Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. in a dining hall at the Student Alumni Center.
Confused about the state Constitution questions on the ballot? If you’ve had trouble figuring out the legalese on the Nov. 4 ballot about four important proposed amendments to Tennessee’s constitution, you are not alone. We’ve given you the questions and tried to tell you, simply, clearly and impartially, what a “yes” vote would mean and what a “no” vote would mean. Amendment 1: Abortion Shall Article I, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section: Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.
It was quite the show last month when proponents of a Tennessee constitutional amendment that would ban state and local income and payroll taxes kicked off their campaign. About 100 to 200 people gathered at The Woods at Fontanel, an outdoor music venue outside Nashville, and enjoyed free drinks and entertainment as country recording artist David Nail played. The “world’s largest airship,” 200 feet long, made an appearance for the event held to promote “state tax reform and fiscal responsibility.” Economist Art Laffer, who made famous the idea that lowering taxes results in increased economic activity and thus more tax revenue, was among those speaking.
Amendment #3, one of four proposed amendments to the state constitution on the Nov. 4 election ballot, would prohibit the establishment of a state income tax. The amendment has wide support and has been endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, among others. Over 80 percent of state legislators voted in favor of the measure, according to the “Yes on 3” group which supports it. Two sides to issue Tennessee currently has only the Hall Income Tax on investment income, not a traditional state income tax, and this amendment would prevent such a payroll tax from being added in the future — unless some future amendment were to reverse it. Proponents say the lack of a state income tax is an incentive for industrial recruitment, and that taking it off the table is an incentive for state officials to be wise in their spending.
After a bruising, 38-vote primary win, few would fault U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais for taking time off the campaign trail before gearing up for the general election. But even he didn’t expect to be out this long. The two-term Republican congressman’s neck cancer almost completely kept him from campaigning for re-election until the day before early voting started. Since then he’s made a handful of appearances, but without getting specific about his condition, his staff acknowledged that it has sidelined DesJarlais at times. “He feels like crap, but he’s recovering,” said Robert Jameson, DesJarlais’ communications director. The congressman’s prognosis hasn’t changed much since his office announced he was ill in July, when he was given a 90 percent chance of a full recovery.
Tennessee 3rd Congressional District candidates Chuck Fleischmann and Mary Headrick will debate Monday on WTCI, the local PBS affiliate. Fleischmann, the Republican incumbent from Ooltewah, is being challenged by Maynardville, Tenn., physician Headrick, a Democrat. The two have met at candidate forums this election cycle, but this is their first debate ahead of the Nov. 4 election. The debate, which is produced by the station and the Chattanooga Times Free Press, will be held at the WTCI studio at 8 p.m. Monday and broadcast live on WTCI, on timesfreepress.com and wtcitv.org. After the debate is over, it will be available on timesfreepress.com and wtcitv.org, and it will be rebroadcast on WTCI at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 2.
Tennessee U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Gordon Ball thinks he can win because he believes voters are tired of incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander. “He’s lived on the public payroll for 40 years and done absolutely nothing,” Ball, a Knoxville attorney, said in an interview of Alexander, who has served as governor, U.S. Department of Education secretary and now is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate. Ball cites Alexander’s nine-point August GOP Primary victory over Tea Party-backed opponent Joe Carr as evidence of why voters are tired of the two-term incumbent. “I think what happened is they thought they were going to beat Joe Carr by 30 points and would easily walk back into the Senate,” Ball explained. ”
The foot soldiers in the battle for control of the Senate come well armed. With data-infused smartphones and tablets in hand, they have an unprecedented amount of information about the potential voters they are trying to persuade and more money than ever in a midterm election to do it. This fusion of old-school door knocking and an overlay of data analytics has been changing elections for at least three cycles, but each advance builds on its predecessor with voters largely unaware why the canvassers know so much about them. So now, even before Emma Benson, a field director for the conservative political organization Americans for Prosperity, knocks on a door, she has more than 700 data points about the person behind it, like magazine subscriptions, car ownership (make, model, year), propensity for voting, and likes and dislikes mined from Facebook and Twitter, from rock bands to baseball teams.
The Shelby County Schools board of education has sent a resolution to Nashville, asking the state to get serious about funding public education in Tennessee. Board member Chris Caldwell has a few terse words if it is ignored. “I will say this: They need to quit talking about education in Nashville if they are not going to fund it.” The board is asking the state to pay $10,000 more toward teacher salaries and fund 12 months of insurance premiums for district staff, instead of 10. The requests are also the top recommendations from the state Basic Education review committee from last year. The committee meets Monday to frame its recommendations, which go to the governor, state board of education and members of education committees in both the state House and Senate.
Supt. Dorsey Hopson chooses his words carefully on the subject of truancy and withholding benefits from parents who chronically look the other way. State law does permit it, and Hopson is looking for a way to cut through the fog on whose responsibility it is to ensure children get to school. “If the choice comes down to parents being held accountable or a kid not being able to get the instruction time those kids need, I have to err on the side of the kids,” Hopson said. But he also knows he can’t go down that road without assurances that key stakeholders won’t cave to the pushback. “There has got to be political will. It has to be there,” he said.
Since Barack Obama became president, the theme of most Tennessee Republican political ads has been to liken any Democrat running for anything to Obama. This effort has had remarkable success, a notable example being 2010 races for the state Legislature, which then gained a Republican supermajority that rules in both the House and Senate. This year, there has been some variation in efforts to unseat the remnant Democratic legislators in a handful of seats where supermajority redistricting left some genuine competition between the two parties. Say, for example, an effort last week to tie Democratic state Rep. Bo Mitchell to a Ponzi scheme operator, Barry Stokes.