October 28 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Gov. Bill Haslam has earned a second term (Commercial Appeal)

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is facing a re-election challenge from a Democrat, a Constitutional Party candidate, a Green Party candidate and three independent challengers, none of whom have the skills and experience to be the chief executive of a state. So, as voters head to the polls during the Nov. 4 general election voting period, it should be a no-brainer to re-elect BILL HASLAM to a second term — with justification. His education initiatives, such as Tennessee Promise, in which the state’s graduating high school seniors will be able to attend a state two-year college or technical school tuition free, have the potential to have huge social and economic impact on the state.

Haslam: Tennessee Promise signups double projections (TFP/Anderson, Pare)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam spent Monday in Chattanooga promoting Tennessee Promise and speaking at Young Life Chattanooga’s annual banquet. In the afternoon, the Tennessee Republican told the Tennessee Association of Manufacturers that there’s quite a bit of empty space in the state’s community colleges since attendance has dropped as the economy improved. He said the state’s community colleges are prepared to handle the much higher-than-expected number of Tennessee Promise applicants, but there may be challenges at the program level. “If we’re having a lot of people sign up for welding classes, we need to make sure that’s what we’re increasing our capacity for — or nursing classes or whatever it is,” he said in Chattanooga.

More volunteers needed for TN Promise program (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The deadline for high school seniors to register for two years of free tuition at a community college or technical school is Saturday. Administrators with the Tennessee Promise program said they still need thousands of volunteers to mentor those studentOn its 10th birthday, the Tennessee Lottery is celebrating the fact that more than $3 billion have been raised for college tuition. So far, more than 46,000 high school seniors have already signed up for the Tennessee Promise program. “We knew that parents and students would respond to the governor’s vision,” said Mike Krause with Tennessee Promise. “Forty-six-thousand is an exciting number. We’re the only state in the nation giving our students this kind of opportunity, and students are taking advantage of it.”

Governor Haslam keynote speaker at Young Life Chattanooga banquet (WRCB)

No matter where you come from, life as a teenager has its ups and downs.  Taylor Mason tries to ease that burden.  “I can look at a high school girl and say, ‘I’ve been through it, I promise it gets better,’ so I think that’s what makes it easier because I’ve been through all the crap they’ve probably been through,” she said… More than 500 area residents listened to Governor Bill Haslam as the keynote speaker at Monday’s Annual Young Life Chattanooga Banquet. He’s served with the organization for more than 25 years and wants to continue to help area teens become a different kind of statistic.

TDEC looking for feedback on solid waste plan (Tennessean/Barnes)

Since March, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has held special focus and public input meetings in order to create a solid waste and materials management draft plan. Now, it’s complete and ready for public feedback. TDEC is inviting the public to learn and comment about the plan Tuesday in the Nashville Room of the William R. Snodgrass Tower’s third floor. At 3 p.m., the plan’s overview will be discussed prior to the 4 p.m. public hearing. The draft plan is available online.

TennCare signup woes still being fixed (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)

While Tennesseans who have waited months to find out whether they are eligible for the state’s Medicaid program say they are still in the dark, TennCare officials say they are resolving the lengthy application delays ahead of a court-ordered schedule. Since early this year, TennCare has faced criticism for long delays that left hundreds of Tennesseans — including newborns — in coverage-status limbo. On Sept. 2, a federal judge ruled that TennCare needed to hold hearings for people who had waited more than 45 days for an answer on their status. It has now been 56 days since that ruling, and there have been no hearings. TennCare officials say that is because they have gone beyond judge’s order, resolving the issues that led to the delays and making eligibility decisions within that 45-day limit — without needing to resort to a hearing.

TDOT to meet with public Tuesday (Leaf Chronicle)

Montgomery County Government is partnering with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to host a public input meeting, called a “Book a Planner” meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the William O. Beach Civic Hall at 350 Pageant Lane. “Book-a-Planner” is an interactive outreach program and presentation, administered through the Long Range Planning Department’s Office of Community Transportation staff. Attendees are able to share their input via live polling to assist TDOT in making sure the community’s future needs are addressed. Montgomery County and TDOT are seeking the public’s help. By 2040, Tennessee is projected to have an additional 2 million people and be the 15th most populous state in the United States.

Andree Blumstein named Tennessee solicitor general (Associated Press)

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, a Vanderbilt Law School graduate, 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.

Slatery: Tenn. able to set hours for adult stores (Associated Press)

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says in his first legal opinion since taking office that Tennessee can continue to restrict hours for adult-oriented establishments. The opinion released Monday relies on a 1998 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld restrictions on the hours of Knox County adult bookstore as being in the “substantial government interest” of reducing crime and solicitation of sex, and in seeking to preserve the “aesthetic and commercial character” of surrounding neighborhoods. Slatery acknowledged that that ruling stands in contrast to a January decision in the neighboring 7th Circuit that found the city of Indianapolis failed to demonstrate that its restrictions on hours for adult stores reduced crime. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal of the Indianapolis case this month.

Study: Tennessee sixth-least politically engaged state (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee is the sixth-least politically engaged state, according to a new report from personal finance site WalletHub.com. WalletHub analyzed the 50 states and Washington, D.C., across six metrics to generate its rankings. Metrics ranged from the percentage of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election to the voter turnout in the 2010 midterm elections. Tennessee ranked second to last in turnout for the 2010 midterm elections, behind only Texas in terms of the percent of citizens who voted. The Volunteer State ranked No. 46 in turnout in the 2012 presidential election. It also ranked in the bottom third of states for the percent of citizens who were registered to vote in the last presidential election.

Tennessee ranked 6th-worst state for political engagement (Tennessean/Barnes)

Tennessee is the sixth-worst state for political engagement, according to WalletHub’s 2014 Most and Least Politically Engaged States analysis. The low ranking comes from two major factors: The Volunteer State had the second-worst voter turnout in the nation for the 2010 midterm elections and ranked sixth worst for the percentage of voters who voted in the 2012 presidential election. The state also ranked 38th in percentage of registered voters in the 2012 elections and in total political contributions per adult population. When it comes to a fair tax system, education and gross domestic product per capita, the state also ranked among the worst states. It received the sixth-worst ranking for education.

Abortion amendment advocates push for clinic regulation (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Standing outside The Women’s Center, a South Nashville abortion clinic and doctor’s office, abortion opponents made their case for greater regulation of such facilities — then engaged in a testy exchange with someone who opposes it. Passage of Amendment 1 this November would open the door for lawmakers to enact new abortion restrictions, including clinic regulations that Tennessee courts have found to be unconstitutional in the past because they impose “an undue burden on a woman’s right to privacy.” Amendment 1 backers say such measures are needed to protect the health and safety of women and girls, while abortion rights advocates say they are strictly intended to curb access to abortion.

Is Tennessee’s Amendment 3 Vote Just About The Income Tax? (WPLN-Radio)

In some political battles, the two sides see a core issue so differently that they barely seem to speak the same language. And then there’s the fight over adding an amendment to Tennessee’s constitution that would ban a state income tax. At times, it’s hard to even tell which side is talking. Both sides say they’re concerned about letting working Tennesseans keep the most of their paycheck. Both contend the vote on amendment three will determine whether lawmakers can levvy an unfair tax. But one group is warning about the income tax while the other says the amendment will ultimately lead to a higher sales tax. Confused yet? Let’s back up a step and look at the amendment itself.

House Speaker Harwell Open to Governor’s Bid (Associated Press)

Republican state House Speaker Beth Harwell is open to a possible run for statewide office in Tennessee. Harwell in an interview with the The Paris Post-Intelligencer said she was happy with her current position in charge of the 99-member House, but said she would “certainly be interested” in running for statewide office. Harwell became the state’s first female House speaker when she was elected by the chamber in 2011. Republican Rep. Tim Wirgau of the Henry County community of Buchanan cited Harwell’s House leadership for his belief that Harwell will become Tennessee’s “first woman governor.” Republican Gov. Bill Haslam faces little-known Democrat Charlie Brown in his bid for a second term. The state constitution limits governors to two consecutive terms.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan to speak at Tenn. conference (AP)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is scheduled to speak at the Tennessee Educational Leadership Conference being held this week in Nashville. The annual event began Monday and ends on Wednesday. According to a news release, Duncan is scheduled to speak Tuesday about “the importance of strong school leadership.” More than 2,000 educators are expected at the conference, which has workshops and other speakers, including Gov. Bill Haslam who is also scheduled to speak on Tuesday. The theme of the conference is “Tennessee Promise.” The state continues to push the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, an initiative created by Haslam to cover full tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate. The deadline to apply for the program is Nov. 1.

Alexander Returns to Positive Message for Final Ad (Associated Press)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is returning to familiar themes touting his long political career in Tennessee in what his campaign is calling the “closing TV ad” of his race against Democratic challenger Gordon Ball.cAlexander, a former governor who also ran for president twice, is seeking a third Senate term. His first ads of the general election campaign featured a departure from the incumbent’s usual feel-good message in attacking Ball as a “slick-talking personal injury lawyer” beholden to Democratic President Barack Obama’s agenda. In the latest ad, Alexander touts his successes as governor like bringing the auto industry to Tennessee and stresses the senior role he would play if Republicans pick up enough seats to gain a majority in the Senate.

Poll: Lamar Alexander leads Gordon Ball by 22 percentage points (TN/Garrison)

Though Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander’s re-election campaign has turned negative against Democrat Gordon Ball, a new poll shows that he enjoys a comfortable lead that has even increased by a tick. A new CBS New/New York Times Upshot/YouGov Battleground Tracker poll found 55 percent of those polled support Alexander, compared to 33 percent for Ball. Numbers are from fieldwork conducted Oct. 16 through Oct. 23. From Sept. 20 through Oct. 1, the same group found that Alexander led 53 percent to 33 percent. Those margins, though, haven’t stopped Alexander from going on the offensive against Ball, a Knoxville attorney.

Alexander leads in new poll, releases final, “positive” TV ad (CA/Locker)

A new New York Times/CBS News/YouGov tracking poll shows U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander leading Democratic challenger Gordon Ball — but still polling under 50 percent of likely voters. When poll respondents who indicated they are “leaning” Republican or Democratic in the race are included, however, Alexander was leading 55 to 33 percent in the poll of 974 likely voters conducted Oct. 16-23. Without the leaners, Alexander led 47 to 30 percent when respondents were asked which candidate they would vote for in the Senate election. Alexander launched his final television ad of the campaign on Monday, a “positive” 30-second commercial that, unlike his previous ads since the Aug. 7 primary, does not mention his opponent.

Condo owner says he was ‘duped’ by Senate candidate Gordon Ball (CA/Collins)

The squabble started over missing items taken from a luxury Florida condo sold last month by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball. In just a matter of weeks, the dispute escalated into a volley of charges and countercharges that have landed in court, with the condo’s new owner arguing Ball duped him and then tried to get him to sign a confidentiality agreement to keep the whole episode quiet. “It still is appalling to me that he would do this in the face of asking people (in Tennessee) for their trust and, I’m sure, saying he believes in transparency when he doesn’t in his personal life,” said Barry Kraselsky of Eufaula, Alabama, who bought the condo from Ball. Ball, a multimillionaire attorney from Knoxville who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in the Nov. 4 election, said he has never met Kraselsky — the condo sale was handled by Ball’s real-estate agent — but that he tried in good faith to settle their disagreement.

Marijuana advocates see ‘tipping point’ on issue in Senate race (N-S/Humphrey)

The Tennessee leader of an organization promoting marijuana legalization said Monday that recent comments by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and seven of his re-election opponents — including Democrat Gordon Ball — indicate the state’s politicians have reached a “tipping point” on the issue. “For the first time ever in Tennessee, I feel very positive about the prospects for legalizing medical marijuana,” said Doak Patton, president of the Tennessee chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws in an interview. A bill to authorize use of marijuana for medical purposes when prescribed by a physician, sponsored by Democrats, was killed earlier this year in a Republican-controlled state House committee — Republicans voting no; Democrats voting yes. In a debate last week, Ball and six Independent or third-party candidates for the U.S. Senate all declared — with some variations — that the federal government should leave marijuana matters to be decided by states. Alexander did not attend the debate, but subsequently said the same thing through a spokesman, initially in response to an inquiry by the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

3rd District candidates debate ahead of election (Times Free-Press/Brogdon)

After about an hour of debate, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Democratic challenger Mary Headrick agreed on one thing: The U.S. Postal Service distribution center on Shallowford Road should stay open. That’s where their consensus ended. With only a few days left before early voting ends, and just more than a week before the Nov. 4 election, Fleischmann and Headrick met for one-on-one debate. The two tackled issues ranging from sending U.S. troops to Iraq, health care reform, abortion law, veterans affairs and the fate of the nation’s post. Fleischmann said he agreed with President Barack Obama’s recent decision to send support to moderate Sunni forces in Iraq, and the decision to begin airstrikes against ISIS, the so-called Islamic State. But Fleischmann said he’s not prepared to commit troops to the fighting.

Roe looks to retain seat in House (Bristol Herald-Courier)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe hopes to retain his First District seat, but he faces three challengers on the Nov. 4 ballot. Roe, the Republican candidate who is a physician and former Johnson City mayor, faces Robert Smith, the Green Party candidate, Michael Salyer, the Libertarian candidate, and Robert Franklin, an independent. There is no Democratic challenger. First elected to the House in 2008, Roe has been critical of President Barack Obama’s leadership skills and of Obama and Democratic congressional leaders on issues including health care, veteran’s affairs, defense, energy and the economy. In a recent discussion, Roe said the country has a leader who “has no idea what to do” with regard to the war in the Middle East and the Ebola outbreak. Roe has urged for a travel ban to and from countries in West Africa, where the deadly disease has killed thousands.

VA Disability Claims Soar (Wall Street Journal)

Requests for disability pay by veterans have ballooned during the past five years, overloading many doctors who evaluate the claims and increasing the possibility of fraud, according to current and former VA staff and government watchdogs. From fiscal 2009 to 2013, the number of medical disability claims received by the Veterans Benefits Administration—a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs—climbed 44%, while the number of doctors called upon to evaluate the claims rose only 22%, according to the VA. “Claims are coming in a lot faster than what the VA is able to handle,” said Daniel Bertoni, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which investigates federal spending. A March 2013 GAO report found that claims jumped 29% from 2009 to 2011 but the agency processed only 6% more.

North Dakota: ND Fights over How to Spend Huge Oil Revenues (Governing)

North Dakota’s oil taxes have let the fiscally conservative state do things that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago: It has cut income and property taxes, built new roads and set aside more money for schools — all while building up a sizable savings account. Now, one of the hottest debates in the state is whether to dedicate a portion of the state’s oil and natural gas taxes to promote conservation efforts, too. North Dakota voters will decide the question, called Measure 5, this November. The idea comes from outdoors groups, hunters and environmental activists. Ducks Unlimited is the biggest financial backer, pitching in $1.9 million of the $2.9 million raised by proponents so far. The oil industry is leading the opposition, contributing nearly half of the $2.2 million raised by foes of the measure.