November 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 governor elected next RGA chairman (Associated Press/Colvin)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been elected as the next chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The second term governor will take the reins from New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who has been on a victory lap at the group’s annual meeting in Florida this week after Republicans did especially well in the midterm elections. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will be vice chair of the organization, the group also announced. Haslam will have big shoes to fill. The group raised more than $100 million during Christie’s tenure, setting a record and helping the potential 2016 candidate lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign. In a statement, Christie praised Haslam as “a strong leader among leaders.”

Haslam tabbed to lead Republican Governors Association (Tennessean/Boucher)

Add chief advocate of GOP policy in states across the country to Gov. Bill Haslam’s duties. Tennessee’s governor was chosen Thursday as the next leader of the Republican Governors Association. The national group of Republican governors picked the moderate conservative to succeed well-known presidential hopeful Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. “No one is achieving better results than our Republican executives in the states, and thanks to the RGA’s hard work, they can continue to drive America’s comeback,” Haslam said in a news release. “This election was a resounding affirmation of the policies and the leadership Republican governors are providing, and I am honored and eager to build upon that momentum as I take on the chairmanship.”

Haslam tapped to lead GOP governors (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was chosen as the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association Thursday afternoon, state Republican Party officials said. Haslam succeeds New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the partisan role, in which his job will be to get Republicans elected to governorships in 2016. Haslam was just re-elected to his second and final term as Tennessee governor on Nov. 4. “Republican governors are the standard bearers of truly meaningful reform, and from coast to coast, we’ve proven to be principled problem solvers, willing and ready to do what Washington has not,” Haslam said in a statement. “No one is achieving better results than our Republican executives in the states, and thanks to the RGA’s hard work, they can continue to drive America’s comeback.”

Haslam Named Head Of Republican Governor’s Association (WTVC-TV Chatt)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been elected as the next chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He’ll take the reins from New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who has been on a victory lap at the group’s annual meeting in Florida this week after Republicans did especially well in the midterm elections. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will be vice chair of the organization, the group also announced. In a statement, Christie praised Haslam as “a strong leader among leaders.” Haslam’s chairmanship “will serve the RGA well as it works to build upon a historic election year and strengthen our majority in the states.” Haslam “emerged as a true pioneer when he took office, and his commanding victory this past election shows that his reform-driven approach is working for Tennessee,” Christie added.

Gov. Haslam named RGA chairman (WSMV-TV Chattanooga)

Gov. Bill Haslam was elected to serve as the Republican Governors Association chairman in 2015, the RGA announced Thursday. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was elected to serve as RGA vice chairman. Both assumed the position Thursday. “Gov. Haslam is a strong leader among leaders, and his chairmanship will serve the RGA well as it works to build upon a historic election year and strengthen our majority in the states,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, outgoing RGA chairman. “Republican governors are the standard bearers of truly meaningful reform, and from coast to coast, we’ve proven to be principled problem solvers, willing and ready to do what Washington has not,” Haslam said.

Haslam Will Lead Republican Governors Association, Replacing Christie (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam will be the next leader of the Republican Governors Association, succeeding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the group’s chairman. “He emerged as a true pioneer when he took office, and his commanding victory this past election shows that his reform-driven approach is working for Tennessee,” Christie said in a statement following the announcement. The RGA’s role is to try to forge consensus among the state’s top Republicans and also to raise money for the party. Analysts say Haslam, a multi-millionaire with wide popularity in Tennessee, is a natural pick. Because several of the lead governors have presidential aspirations, the position was less hotly contested than in years past, according to Time.

Bill Haslam officially elected RGA chief (Politico)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association Thursday, according to an association aide. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will serve as the vice chairman. Haslam will preside over three gubernatorial elections in 2015: Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi. Several higher profile Republican governors, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, were mentioned as possibilities for the post but declined to run. Haslam, whom his friends and colleagues describe as a policy wonk, is in his second term as governor Tennessee. The election came at the RGA’s annual meeting at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

The anti-Christie (Politico)

Bill Haslam is no Chris Christie. The soft-spoken Tennessee governor doesn’t go out of his way to pick fights. He describes himself as a problem-solver rather than a partisan. A relative moderate, Haslam hasn’t used his office to antagonize the White House. In fact, President Barack Obama praised the Republican for his education policies at a gathering of governors last year. All of which makes the wealthy former Knoxville mayor an unconventional choice to lead the Republican Governors Association, the powerfully funded, intensely partisan committee that helped the GOP seize 31 governorships in the 2014 election. He was officially elected to the post at the group’s annual meeting Thursday, after a number of higher-profile governors — including Indiana’s Mike Pence and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley — passed on the job Haslam’s ascent is not merely a matter of winning by default, however: National Republican leaders attribute his emergence as a dark-horse candidate for the chairmanship as an unintended consequence of the earnest, no-drama approach that makes him such a surprising selection for the job.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate falls again (Nashville Business Journal)

The state’s preliminary unemployment rate for October fell to 7.1 percent, down from September’s rate of 7.3 percent, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced today. Nationally, the unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, down from 5.9 percent in September. Over the past year, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has fallen from 8.1 percent to 7.1 percent. The national unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell from 7.2 percent to 5.8 percent.

Jobless rate falls in Tennessee, Georgia (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Employers added nearly 42,000 workers across Tennessee and Georgia last month, cutting the jobless rate in both states by two-tenths of a percentage point. But the October unemployment rate of 7.1 percent in Tennessee and 7.7 percent in Georgia remained well above the 5.8 percent nationwide rate. The number of persons on the job in the two states rose to the highest level since before the 2009-2010 recession. “We had significant over-the-year growth in almost every sector, which shows the overall strength in our job recovery,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in an announcement of the drop in unemployment. “I’m especially encouraged that the number of construction jobs grew by nearly 5 percent to give us the most jobs in that industry in five years.” Georgia’s jobless rate rose earlier this year to the highest of any state and Tennessee’s rate has remained above the national average for nearly four years. ”

TennCare director tries to thread needle on Medicaid expansion (Tenn/Wilemon)

TennCare Director Darin Gordon gave medical students insight this week on a difficult task — finding a way for Tennessee to benefit from federal tax dollars already being collected from state residents. He talked about trying to come up with a “Tennessee Plan” that will satisfy the federal government for Medicaid expansion and simultaneously get past state legislators who don’t want anything to do with Obamacare. Gov. Bill Haslam gave him the task in March 2013, Gordon said during a Wednesday speech at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. “I told the governor, ‘I can tell you exactly what the federal government is going to do, and I can tell you exactly what the legislature is going to do,’ ” Gordon said. “Those things can’t be further apart. He said, ‘I have a task for you. I want you to thread the needle. Go right in the middle. Find something that has a chance that addresses both sides of concerns.’ That has not been easy.”

Tennessee State Museum to house Sulphur Dell artifacts (Tennessean/Barnes)

Artifacts excavated from the First Tennessee Ballpark at Sulphur Dell site in April will find a permanent home at the Tennessee State Museum. The Metro Sports Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously Wednesday to house the artifacts dating to 1150 A.D. at the museum, which will display the items with its permanent Mississippian Period exhibit. In return for the donation, the museum curators will assist the ballpark project team with interpreting the history of the Sulphur Dell site and incorporating it into the facility and greenway. “The ballpark has a rich history that predates baseball, and we are pleased to partner with the team at the Tennessee State Museum to honor and celebrate that history,” said Toby Compton, executive director of the sports authority.

State offers turkey fryers safety tips (Associated Press)

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has some safety tips for turkey fryers. The main one is to avoid using outdoor gas-fueled turkey fryers that immerse the turkey in hot oil because officials say they pose a risk for injury. State Fire Marshal Gary West says the outdoor fryers heat gallons of cooking oil to very high temperatures, and there’s a risk of oil being spilled. Officials recommend that consumers utilize the oil-free models that are available or seek commercial professionals to prepare the entrée. For more safety tips, visit: .

UT donates Christmas tree for state Capitol (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

First eight men trimmed the bottom of a 75-foot Norwegian spruce tree. Then they cut off the top. The crew used two cranes to lift the 40-foot top section, turn it horizontally in mid-air and then lower it onto a lowboy trailer. By Thursday evening, the 5,000-pound tree was headed west on Interstate 40 for the 130-mile journey to Nashville. Today, it will likely be erected in front of the state Capitol. On Dec. 1, there will be a public tree lighting. “We donated the Capitol Christmas tree last year, and they liked that tree enough to where they called us again this year and asked if we could provide another one,” said Martin Schubert with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. The tree was part of a study in the 1970s and 1980s examining the needle retention of Norwegian spruce and other varieties of Christmas trees on UT’s research forest.

Tennessee lawmakers, governor move closer to Common Core repeal (Fox News)

Tennessee may be the next state to put the Common Core Educational Standards on the chopping block. Two Republican state senators introduced legislation this week to repeal the national curriculum, a move that came on the heels of Gov. Bill Haslam calling for a public review of the English and math standards being pushed by Washington. The efforts show building momentum that could make the Volunteer State the third to opt out of the controversial program, which is aimed at establishing minimum national standards but has met with broad criticism from parent groups, conservatives and even some teachers unions. “Like many other states, this is a key issue this year in Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, chairman of the government operations committee.

Tennessee’s response to Obama’s immigration announcement (Tenn/Boucher)

With details emerging about President Barack Obama’s plans for executive orders, to be announced during his immigration reform speech tonight, Tennessee lawmakers are already responding. We’ll post those reactions here as we get them throughout the day (don’t expect too many happy campers in the Tennessee federal delegation.) Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN (11 a.m.): “This president is not acting in strength, he is acting in weakness. Unless lightning strikes, it will be the worst presidency in modern history. “There has to be a response, no question. But it has to be a response that enables us to continue to move our nation ahead, remembering that this president will be gone in two years. He’s incredibly weak, and candidly, he is doing these things because he doesn’t have the ability to lead and is not willing to put the effort out to do the work to actually cause things to pass in Congress.”

East Tennessee lawmakers blast executive order on immigration (N-S/Collins)

President Barack Obama’s decision to use executive action to change national immigration policy and protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation brought swift condemnation Thursday from East Tennesseans in Congress. “There is a right way to do things, and there is a wrong way to do things,” said U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville. “This is the wrong way.” With unemployment and underemployment rates still high and with millions of people giving up looking for work, “it is not a good move to bring in millions more people from other countries,” Duncan said. But Bill Garibay, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee, praised the president’s decision, saying it is a good start toward fixing the nation’s broken immigration system. “It’s a start,” said Garibay, who lives in Clinton.

Immigrants in Memphis applaud Obama’s actions, want more (CA/Zamudio)

More than a decade ago, Erica Lopez moved to Memphis to start a new life. She never imagined that 15 years later she would still be afraid to drive to work and risk deportation. “We go to work every morning and we don’t know if we’re coming home,” said Lopez in Spanish. “All it takes is a traffic violation to separate our family.” Lopez, 38 and her husband are undocumented immigrants with two U.S.-born children. The family has made Memphis their home. This “mix status” family could benefit from President Barack Obama’s executive actions announced Thursday night. “We’re happy to know that this is something that could help dozens of families like ours,” she said. “It means living without fear.”

Obama spurns GOP with expansive immigration orders (Associated Press)

Spurning furious Republicans, President Barack Obama unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on “felons, not families.” The moves, affecting mostly parents and young people, marked the most sweeping changes to the nation’s fractured immigration laws in nearly three decades and set off a fierce fight with Republicans over the limits of presidential powers. In a televised address to the nation, Obama defended the legality of his actions and challenged GOP lawmakers to focus their energy not on blocking his actions, but on approving long-stalled legislation to take its place.

Fort Campbell will lose 159th CAB, 2,400 soldiers (Associated Press/Barroquere)

A 2,400-soldier combat aviation unit that recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan will be deactivated at Fort Campbell and its members sent elsewhere, the Army announced Thursday, as overseas wars wind down and the military continues to reorganize and downsize. Army spokesman Lt. Col Donald Peters said the decision regarding the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade stemmed from “the need to organize aviation assets to best support operational requirements under significant fiscal constraints.” The unit’s shutdown will leave the military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line with a total population of 26,500 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2015 in October. That’s down from a high of 31,092 in 2013.

Fort Campbell will lose 159th CAB, 2,400 soldiers (Leaf Chronicle)

Fort Campbell confirmed Thursday a move long rumored and feared: The 2,400-soldier-strong 159th Combat Aviation Brigade will be shut down. The 159th CAB, recently returned from Afghanistan, will be deactivated. Most of the soldiers in the brigade are being reassigned to new units, some remaining within the 101st Airborne Division. While the loss of the 4th Brigade Combat Team earlier this year was mostly offset by increases in the size and support structure of the remaining three maneuver brigades, that doesn’t appear to be the case this time. The move will bring Fort Campbell’s active-duty population to 26,500 by the end of fiscal year 2015, in October. That’s down from a high of 31,092 in 2013.

Fort Campbell Losing Another 2,400 Soldiers In Army Downsizing (WPLN)

The 159th Combat Aviation Brigade based at Fort Campbell has likely flown its final mission. The Pentagon has reportedly chosen to phase out the unit as part of a larger Army restructuring related to sequestration. Losing these helicopter pilots, crewmembers and maintenance staff would mean a reduction of 2,400 active-duty soldiers on post. Fort Campbell already lost the 4th Brigade Combat Team as part of Army downsizing and Congressman Marsha Blackburn, whose district includes the post, says the cuts may continue. “Until the President works with us on the issue of funding the military, our concern is you will see more of this,” she told WPLN Thursday. Blackburn concedes that there will still be more troops based at Fort Campbell than there were before 9/11. But if the country is going to continue leaning on the military like it has in the fight against Ebola, Blackburn says deployable troops should not be on the chopping block.

Hillary Clinton visits St. Jude hospital (Associated Press)

Hillary Rodham Clinton is visiting St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Clinton’s visit on Thursday is at least the second time she has visited St. Jude. She also visited when she was first lady. St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. The hospital says it is working to increase the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade. Clinton is attending the opening of the Marlo Thomas Center for Global Education and Collaboration. Thomas is an actress and daughter of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food. Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, has yet to announce whether she will run for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton returns to Memphis for opening of new center (CA/Fretland)

Hillary Clinton came to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when she was first lady for the dedication of the Patient Care Center in 1994. She returned 20 years later for the opening of the hospital’s new education center. “This is a place that just exemplifies the blessings that are delivered here on a daily basis, and it’s really an honor to be back,” she said Thursday, standing in front of a red bow at the entrance to the Marlo Thomas Center for Global Education and Collaboration. The new center, named for the St. Jude national outreach director, “is critical to St. Jude in leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” the hospital said in a news release. “It will also become the hub for the St. Jude International Outreach Program, which aims to improve childhood cancer survival rates worldwide through 25 official partner sites in 17 countries. The center also will support the training and education of St. Jude’s postdoctoral and graduate fellows on their way to becoming tomorrow’s scientific and medical leaders.”

Medical device tax may be heading for repeal (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

A tax that manufacturers of medical devices say is costing them millions of dollars could be headed for repeal next year when Republicans take control of both chambers of Congress. GOP lawmakers in both the U.S. House and Senate plan to make abolishing the medical device tax one of their first priorities in the new Congress that begins in January. And, in an encouraging sign for opponents of the tax, President Barack Obama has suggested that might be an area in which he and the incoming GOP majority in Congress can work together. “We are cautiously optimistic there is a good opportunity the tax will be repealed in the new Congress,” said J.C. Scott, senior executive vice president of government affairs for the Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AvaMed, a Washington-based trade association that has been fighting the tax.

2 Nashville schools await takeover decision (Tennessean/Garrison)

It’s down to two middle schools in Madison. But right now, it’s still unclear whether state-run Achievement School District will hand control of Metro’s Madison Middle School or Neely’s Bend Middle School to an independent charter school operator. Over the next three weeks, officials from the Achievement School District, known as the ASD, say they plan to talk to parents, teachers and community leaders at both schools to decide where to intervene. A final decision and announcement is set for Dec. 12. “We wanted to gather input before we made a final decision,” ASD superintendent Chris Barbic said, adding that it’s less about the two schools proving that they shouldn’t be selected. “We want to do a little bit more fact finding and due diligence and talk to parents and talk to teachers and learn a little bit more about these schools.

Two Nashville Schools Must Show Why They Shouldn’t Be Taken Over (WPLN)

Two Nashville middle schools have one last chance to save themselves from state takeover. Tennessee’s Achievement School District has been looking at the city’s 15 chronically underperforming schools and has narrowed the takeover targets to Neely’s Bend or Madison – both middle schools. Simultaneous meetings will be held at both schools December 4th. It’s an unprecedented move to let them make their case and avoid takeover. ASD superintendent Chris Barbic says there are some things that just don’t show up on his spreadsheets. “I think a final piece of the decision making process for us is to get eyeball to eyeball with folks – parents, teachers, folks in the community – and hear what they have to say about the school to really feel like we have a full picture before we make a final decision,” he told reporters on a conference call.







Tom Humphrey: Future politics likely colored by dark money (News-Sentinel)

Dark money flowed into several Tennessee campaigns in the election season recently ended, some darker than others but all indicating — along with some other factors — a trend toward anonymity in politicking that apparently follows national inclinations. And maybe it works, so we can expect more in the future. In other recent election cycles, dark money — funding where the donors are undisclosed to the public — has generally come from national organizations. StudentsFirst, for example, reports in Tennessee only that six-figure chunks of cash came from the national headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., then was spent bashing state legislative candidates or local school board candidates who don’t support the “education reform” organization’s agenda or supporting those who do. Who gave the national group that money? Well, under existing rules, nobody really knows, though national media have reported some generalities such as hedge fund operators.