This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
More than 1,000 East Tennessee State University students began a new chapter in their lives Saturday with a roll of paper in their hand. For some, it was a long time coming. As each student strode across the stage to become an ETSU graduate, friends and family erupted in cheers from the bleachers of the Mini-dome as each name was called. Arms were raised in victory, smiles spread across the faces that had been scrunched over final exams a week before. This semester, 1,337 students across the two ceremonies received their degrees after years of hard work and preservation. Students waved to their family and friends after crossing the stage… Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the soon-to-be graduates in his speech shortly before the students began their march across the stage to become alumna.
Local government and business leaders hope efforts such as convincing M-TEK to build a headquarters here will improve a per capita income that ranks below three neighboring counties. Rutherford County had a 2013 per capita income of $25,077, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website. Rutherford’s per capita income is less than Williamson County, $41,292; Davidson County, $28,467; and Wilson County, $27,864. “I think there are several factors that go into improving that number,” Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland said during a phone interview. “A good example is what we announced (with M-TEK) and being able to attract higher-paying corporate jobs. I think marketing Rutherford County and Murfreesboro for higher-paying jobs and corporate jobs is one of the things we worked on.”
Kingsport Board of Education (BOE) members asked two state lawmakers Friday to keep state academic standards high during a luncheon outlining their 2015 legislative priorities. “My concern is we don’t back up as a state. Whether we have Common Core standards or Tennessee state standards or if it is Kingsport City School standards we come up with, we just need to have high standards,” Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Lyle C. Ailshie told state Rep. Jon Lundberg and state Rep.-elect Bud Hulsey. State lawmakers voted in the last legislative session to delay further Common Core standards implementation, and a number of GOP lawmakers seem eager to continue a legislative roll back in 2015. Lundberg, R-Bristol, admitted “one of the more controversial things” lawmakers will do next year is debate educational standards.
More than 100 law enforcement officials from counties in Middle Tennessee and agencies across the state gathered Friday for the launch of the “Booze it and Lose It” campaign. The Governor’s Highway Safety Office sponsored the press conference at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. GHSO Director Kendell Poole said December is Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month. Alcohol and drug use is blamed for about one-third of traffic fatalities in Tennessee, Poole said. Explaining that he is thankful for his fellow officers, Sgt. Bill Miller, Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman, said troopers wear lapel pins stating “Zero, meaning zero traffic fatalities are acceptable within our friends and family.”
Recent legislation introduced by two state lawmakers would “help end racial profiling by law enforcement agencies in Tennessee,” according to a press release on the bill. The bill, filed last week by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), is called the Racial Profiling Prevention Act. It defines the discriminatory practice and calls for all law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy to prevent it by Jan. 1, 2016. The bill is in response to a police officer’s shooting and killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., earlier this year. Brown’s death sparked violent riots in that town and a national debate about use of force and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies across the country. But two local agencies, the Johnson City Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office, already have policies prohibiting officers from using race as a basis for targeting a person for any reason. In fact, such a policy is required for an agency to be considered for accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., officials said.
Congress cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill for President Barack Obama’s signature late Saturday night after a day of Senate intrigue capped by a failed, largely symbolic Republican challenge to the administration’s new immigration policy. The vote was 56-40 in favor of the measure, which funds nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. It also charts a new course for selected shaky pension plans covering more than 1 million retirees, including the possibility of benefit cuts. The Senate passed the bill on a day Democrats launched a drive to confirm two dozen of Obama’s stalled nominees to the federal bench and administration posts, before their majority expires at year’s end. Several Republicans blamed tea party-backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for giving the outgoing majority party an opportunity to seek approval for presidential appointees, including some that are long-stalled.
A rival labor group to the United Auto Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant said Saturday it expects to have signed up at least 15 percent, and perhaps as many as 30 percent, of the workforce as members by late January. The American Council of Employees plans next month to turn over names of its members to VW, which will have signatures verified by an independent auditor, ACE supporters said Saturday after a meeting at the group’s headquarters. Then, the group will gain some, but not all, of the rights to formally talk with company officials and meet inside the plant which the UAW garnered last week in accordance with a new plant policy. The auditor said UAW membership hit at least 45 percent, triggering such rights as biweekly meetings with the plant’s executive committee.
Nissan holds Rutherford County’s per capita income back through temporary employees who represent more than 60 percent of the factory’s 8,000-plus workers, United Auto Workers officials contend. “The majority of their workforce is employed by a third-party agency with no commitment whatsoever to the workers,” said Mike Herron, the chairman of the UAW Local 1853 that represents employees at the General Motors factory in Spring Hill. UAW has twice in the past attempted to unionize the 31-year-old Nissan factory when it had a larger makeup of direct employees but was unable to persuade the majority of the workers to agree to the collective-bargaining representation. Union officials hope both Nissan employees and the contact workers will join the UAW.
When Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe unveils his budget proposal next week it will include a top but elusive goal: expanding Medicaid eligibility for low-income Virginians, according to two sources. On Wednesday, McAuliffe is set to present a midcourse correction to the state’s two-year budget to be considered by lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session. Two state officials who have been briefed on the governor’s plans but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss them publicly said the plan will include expanding publicly funded Medicaid health insurance eligibility to about 400,000 able-bodied, low-income adults. The GOP-controlled General Assembly has repeatedly rejected McAuliffe’s efforts to expand the program this year and is almost certain to do so again during next year’s session, which begins in January.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam meets with The Tennessean editorial board on Monday, and we look forward to discussing the state of the state, his plans for the next four years and issues that have been on Middle Tennesseans’ minds. Among those issues: Health care, including TennCare and Medicaid expansion; Education, including Common Core, his thoughts on a new education chief and the Tennessee Promise; The economy, including who will fill the lead economic development role, the state’s long-term strategy on revenue and spending, and transportation; Recently passed constitutional amendments and what they mean for future legislation and policy making; His agenda as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he plans to announce by the end of the month what he will do about expanding TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid, which provides health insurance for the poor and low-income. As he prepares to start his second — and last — term as governor next month, we hope Haslam has worked out an expansion plan with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or that he will bite the bullet and propose expanding TennCare under stipulations of the Affordable Care Act. If he does recommend an expansion, we hope the move will cover nearly all of the additional 180,000 poor Tennesseans who would be eligible for coverage under an expansion and that Haslam will have the toughness to stand up to his fellow Republicans in the legislature who don’t support expansion, especially under Obamacare.
Last week’s Stump Scott Question examined the use of code names for economic development projects, particularly the code name “Project Lynch” before a local agreement was reached for M-TEK to build a headquarters here. This week I decided to provide more details after getting a call from the namesake real estate professional Eric Lynch. He also would like people to know the back story behind M-TEK coming here. Lynch said he was surprised to learn that his name was the inspiration behind the code name used until the Japan-based M-TEK reached an agreement to accept a 10-acre land donation from Murfreesboro city government to build a North American headquarters on Garrison Drive in the city’s Gateway area off Medical Center Parkway for 250 workers with an average pay of $60,000.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker isn’t inventorying any chickens before they hatch. The Tennessee Republican is biding his time, unwilling to really talk deeply about his probable elevation to chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take control in January. The peripatetic Corker, though, is positioned to lead in a time of global tumult. Besides his frequent Tennessee travels to tend the home fires, Corker, as the ranking Republican and next in line for the chairmanship, has trotted the globe to hotspots, including Turkey to visit refugee camps. But a curious columnist can’t help but wonder how a Corker chairmanship might look, given he is a peck away from emerging from the minority as the man with the gavel. In an August opinion piece in the Washington Post, Corker pegged our foreign relations problem.
While the winner in Tennessee Republicans’ “Wing War” was a debatable proposition in the August primary elections, events since then have tilted decidedly in favor of the establishment side. This bodes well for Gov. Bill Haslam, king of the state’s GOP status quo, as he girds for conflict among conservatives in the legislative session beginning next month. Last week’s solid victory for Rep. Beth Harwell, establishment queen, in the House Republican Caucus election of leaders for the 109th General Assembly was a post-election capstone. She defeated Rep. Rick Womick 57-15, with two abstentions, for a new term as House speaker. Womick, a strong voice among the wing that may be labeled arch-conservative or tea party, says he had commitments for 30 votes beforehand, but the secret balloting shows these folks are apparently an even smaller minority than the House Democrats, who have 26 members. Thus, even if the super-conservatives allied with Democrats — unlikely but conceivable in odd circumstances — the establishment still rules in the House.
In my early days as a journalist in New Mexico, the two parties vying for control were the Mama Lucys and the Cowboys. Both were made up of Democrats. New Mexico was a very blue state in those days. But the party was split into factions. The Cowboys were conservatives from the south, especially the Little Texas oil patch and the cattle-ranching regions, thus their moniker. The Mama Lucys were liberals from the northern, more heavily Hispanic counties. As students, some had attended New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M., where Lucy Lopez ran a popular hangout. The liberals plotted their takeover over bowls of green chile in their beloved Mama Lucy’s. I don’t recall either the Cowboys or the Mama Lucys complaining about the labels. Not so nowadays in Tennessee. Our state has a healthy two-party system. It’s just that the Democrats aren’t either of the two parties. Instead, we have the Republicans, and the other Republicans.