November 20 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Names New General Counsel (Associated Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has selected a Knoxville attorney to be his new general counsel. The Republican governor named Dwight E. Tarwater on Wednesday. The 59-year-old replaces Herbert Slatery who left the administration last month to become the state’s attorney general. Tarwater currently practices law in Knoxville in the law firm he helped begin in 1987. He has vast courtroom experience, having tried cases locally, across the state of Tennessee, and in several other states. Tarwater will start in the governor’s office on Dec. 8.

Haslam Announces Dwight Tarwater as New General Counsel (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Dwight E. Tarwater will join his senior team as general counsel.  Tarwater replaces Herbert Slatery who left the administration in October to become the state’s attorney general. Tarwater, 59, currently practices law in Knoxville in the law firm he helped begin in 1987, Paine, Tarwater and Bickers, LLP.  He has vast courtroom experience, having tried cases locally, across the state of Tennessee, and in several other states.  On appeal, he has represented clients before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the Tennessee Supreme Court and in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 6th, 10th, and 11th Circuits. “I am very grateful to Dwight for his willingness to leave behind a highly successful career and the firm he has built from the ground up to join our staff,” Haslam said.

Gov. Bill Haslam favorite to lead Republican Governors Association (AP)

No fewer than a half-dozen potential presidential candidates are gathering in Florida as the Republican Governors Association prepares to select its next leader. The organization’s annual conference began Wednesday in a luxury oceanside resort where the nation’s Republican governors are celebrating their party’s recent success in the midterm elections while privately jockeying for position as the 2016 presidential contest looms. …Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam acknowledged he has emerged as the favorite to lead the Republican Governors Association through the next year, although the formal vote won’t occur until Thursday. “I told them I’d be willing to do it,” Haslam said in a brief interview. “It’s an important organization,” he added, explaining his interest in the post.

Report: Haslam favorite to lead Republican Governors Association (NBJ)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is the front runner to be the next leader of the Republican Governors Association, The Associated Press reports. According to the AP, Haslam acknowledged that he is the leading contender; a vote is scheduled for Thursday. “I told them I’d be willing to do it,” Haslam told the AP. Many GOP governors with presidential ambitions, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have taken themselves out of the running.

Tenn.’s Haslam likely next head of GOP governors’ group (Washington Times)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has emerged as the probable choice to succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the outgoing chairman of the Republican Governors Association, The Washington Times has learned. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who won reelection to a second term on Nov. 4, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence are among the GOP governors considering runs for the 2016 presidential nomination and could find doing so while wearing the RGA captain’s cap problematic.

State agency approves Tennova application for new hospital (N-S/Locker)

A state agency on Wednesday approved Tennova Healthcare’s request to move its Physicians Regional Medical Center from its decades-long home on Oak Hill Ave. to West Knoxville. The state Health Services and Development Agency voted 9-0 to approve Tennova’s plans to build a new 272-bed, five-story, $303.5 million hospital at the intersection of Middlebrook Pike and Old Weisgarber Road. Tennova, which early this year was acquired by Community Health Systems, a for-profit firm based in the Nashville area, said the new facility will open in 2018. The HSDA board also approved the replacement and relocation of the 25-bed nursing home at Physician’s Regional to the new site, which will cost $6.5 million. About two dozen residents of both the hospital’s old and new neighborhoods traveled to Nashville to oppose the relocation.

Womick disavows puppet depiction of Harwell (Times Free-Press/Sher)

State Rep. Rick Womick, who hopes to unseat Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell in Dec. 10 leadership elections, is disavowing anonymous email images portraying Harwell and two key legislative allies as puppets on a string controlled by the House clerk. In an email to House members, Womick said he will “not allow” his challenge “to degrade into a campaign centered around character assassination. “While I appreciate the efforts of undisclosed supporters across the state, I am not responsible, do not condone, and do not support these, or any future emails, that degrade, attack, or misrepresent the character of any individual associated with the Tennessee House of Representatives,” he wrote. The image is one of several landing in Republicans’ email in-boxes.

Womick disowns anonymous attacks on state House Speaker Harwell (N-S/Harwell)

State Rep. Rick Womick, who is challenging fellow Republican Beth Harwell for election as speaker of the state House of Representatives, has disavowed any connection to anonymous emails criticizing Harwell and other legislative leaders. The latest of at least three emails sent to state legislators featured an image depicting Harwell as a puppet of House Clerk Joe McCord, a former state representative from Maryville. McCord, who was appointed to his post by Harwell, is also holding strings attached to House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson and former House Republican Chairman Debra Maggart. “It is time to cut ties,” the email states, first reported by the Nashville Post Politics blog. “Vote Rick Womick for speaker. No one will pull his strings.”

Tennessee Congressman Considers Shutdown To Stop Obama’s ‘Amnesty’ (WPLN)

Tennessee Congressman John Duncan says he’s willing to accept a government shutdown in order to block President Obama’s executive order on immigration, an action Duncan says is tantamount to amnesty. Obama’s executive action would allow up to five million undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. without the fear of deportation. There are nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Duncan and other Republicans are considering linking the executive action to the next federal spending bill. By doing so, they could shut down the government — similar to the GOP-fueled 16-day shutdown that occurred last October over defunding the Affordable Care Act.

Secret Service chief says training emphasized after security lapses (CA/Hansen)

Secret Service has renewed its emphasis on training and hiring, including a more stringent candidate-selection process, in the wake of high-profile security failures at the White House, acting agency chief Joseph Clancy told lawmakers Wednesday. With little more than 40 days in the position, Clancy told the House Judiciary Committee that he had already identified areas for improvement after a series of lapses that included a fence-jumping White House intruder in September, shots being fired at the building in 2011 and a prostitution scandal involving agents on an overseas visit to Colombia in 2012. “Failure can be an integral part of success, whether that refers to an agency or an individual,” said Clancy. He replaced previous agency director Julia Pierson, who resigned after a series of revelations about the fence jumper and other security failures.

In Six Months, Slow Progress For Tenn Veterans Waiting To See Doctors (WPLN)

A substantial number of veterans in this region are waiting more than a month to see doctors, even though the federal Veterans Affairs department and the regional healthcare system has spent more than $17 million since May to send patients to private care. Earlier this year, during investigations into long wait times, the Veterans Health Administration set a goal: to see patients within 30 days of when they wanted an appointment. The Tennessee Valley Healthcare System missed that goal about 10 percent of the time, so it started paying for thousands of veterans who weren’t being seen quickly enough to go to private doctors instead. That was six months ago, but the percent of appointments with wait times of 30 days or longer still hasn’t decreased.

US labor secretary lauds federal health care law (Associated Press/Johnson)

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez decried criticism of the federal health care law and urged Tennesseans to sign up for coverage, saying it’s working for millions of Americans. Perez visited Lentz Public Health Center in Nashville on Wednesday where he spoke to reporters and held a round-table discussion on open enrollment and health insurance options under the federal Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment started Nov. 15 and ends on Feb. 15. When a reporter asked Perez about Tennessee congressional Republicans who have heavily criticized the law, Perez noted that some predicted Medicare to fail when it was first introduced, but it hasn’t.

Labor Secretary: Pre-Obamacare, business owners were paying the price (NBJ)

During a visit Nashville to promote Affordable Care Act enrollment, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez says Obamacare has benefitted more than just the uninsured, citing a number of groups, including business owners, who have seen positive impacts from the law. Perez cited the act’s prohibition of lifetime and annual spending caps and its ability to prevent medical costs from bankrupting even insured families, along with ways its reduced costs for seniors as a few examples. When asked what he’d say to business owners wary of the law’s impact on their premiums, Perez said they, too, are reaping rewards. “Business owners prior to the Affordable Care Act were already paying for the consequences of a broken health care system,” Perez said. “The Affordable Care Act, among other things, has bent the health care curve,” he continued.

U.S. labor secretary to Tennessee: Raise minimum wage (Tennessean/Boucher)

As U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez toured Nashville business Letter Logic Wednesday, he said the employees he spoke with noted the culture of the business as their favorite part of their jobs. The culture of the transactional printing company includes employees earning at least $12 an hour, significantly higher than the $7.25 federal hourly minimum wage in place at many Tennessee businesses. Perez, who’s advocating nationally in support of raising that wage to $10.10, said the federal minimum wage is the floor that states should use for their hourly rates. “What we’ve seen as the result of the failure to raise the minimum wage is that floor has a lot of trap doors in it, and people have fallen into poverty. And nobody who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty,” Perez said.

Perez: Tennessee would benefit from minimum wage hike (Nashville Biz Journal)

Thomas Perez, the U.S. secretary of labor, says the Tennessee economy would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Perez was in Nashville Wednesday, meeting with local business leaders to discuss the minimum wage issue. I caught up with him after that roundtable discussion, which was closed to the media. “The level of attrition in the businesses is all very low,” Perez said of turnover at the Nashville business owners he met. “They made a compelling business case for why fair wages and good profits aren’t mutually exclusive, but go hand-in-hand.” Perez’s main argument: Putting more dollars in the pockets of employees will boost consumer spending and lessen the reliance on government programs.

DOE cleanup projects under funding pressure (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

The demolition of a former uranium-enrichment facility is well ahead of schedule, and other Oak Ridge projects are making significant progress at lower-than-expected costs, the Department of Energy’s cleanup contractor said this week. However, DOE’s acting assistant secretary for environmental management, who was in Knoxville Wednesday for an annual “business opportunities” conference, warned it’s going to be increasingly difficult to fund big cleanup projects in the future. “At a time of flat budgets and increasing resource requirements, it’s going to be tough,” Mark Whitney told the gathering at the Knoxville Convention Center. “We’re going to have to make some tough decisions because of this,” the DOE official said. “Not everybody is going to be happy with the decisions.”

Report: Not enough teachers for STEM fields (Tennessean/Boucher)

While the same number of Tennessee students remain interested in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, there won’t be enough teachers in those fields soon, according to a report from the ACT. The report shows Tennessee mirrors national trends when it comes to the low number of students interested in STEM fields looking to move on to teaching. Nationally, about 900,000 students who took the ACT expressed interest in STEM fields; 4,424 said they’d like to teach math, and 1,115 said they’d like to teach science. In Tennessee, only 35 of the 4,170 students who said they were interested in science said they’d like to have a career in science education, according to the report. For math, 155 students of the 2,153 who said they had an interest in computer science and math—about 7 percent—said they’d like to pursue a career in math education.

Education reform a ‘hoax,’ Diane Ravitch says (Tennessean/Garrison)

Diane Ravitch railed on charter schools, teacher evaluations, over-testing and much more Wednesday during a blunt speech in Nashville, delivering a crowd of parents, teachers and a few politicians just what they came out to hear. It was all part of her trademark takedown of the education reform movement — and she didn’t leave a topic unchecked. Ravitch, one of the nation’s leading voices against charter schools and various new education reforms — many that are in place in Tennessee — told a crowd of 400 or so at Vanderbilt University that the “narrative that the reformers have been constructing is itself a hoax. “They say that our schools are failing. Again and again it’s on the cover of magazines and in the news media — our schools are broken, our schools are obsolete. “Our test scores are not flat or declining,” she countered.








Editorial: A review of Common Core is the right course (Jackson Sun)

As we look to the next state legislative session in Nashville, we encourage restraint among lawmakers as they consider action related to Common Core education standards. This week, two state senators, Dolores Gresham and Mike Bell, filed legislation to repeal the state’s Common Core standards. Gresham is chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, and Bell is chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. In filing their bill, Gresham and Bell effectively thumbed their noses at Gov. Bill Haslam, as Haslam has recommended a more measured review of the Common Core standards. All three are Republicans. We acknowledge that Common Core standards are becoming increasingly unpopular with teachers, politicians and others. We acknowledge Common Core likely has its share of flaws.