December 18 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 Candice McQueen new ed commissioner (AP/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday named a top education official at Lipscomb University to be the next Education Department commissioner. The Republican governor announced Wednesday that Candice McQueen will replace Kevin Huffman, who was heavily criticized during an overhaul of the state’s education system. He announced last month that he was leaving for the private sector. Haslam had said he wanted the new commissioner to already be familiar with Tennessee. “I want somebody who believes that every child can learn, and someone who understands that what we do in K-12 education … is critical to the future of Tennessee; to making sure that we’re preparing students and giving them every opportunity to compete in a very difficult international economy,” Haslam said.

Candice McQueen named new education commissioner (TN/Garrison, Boucher)

Lipscomb University Senior Vice President Candice McQueen is Gov. Bill Haslam’s pick to fill Tennessee’s high-profile education commissioner position at a time when public schools have never been more debated in the state. The selection, made Wednesday, was met with widespread enthusiasm from leaders in education reform who had backed Kevin Huffman, the polarizing education chief she will replace. Many of Huffman’s harshest critics, meanwhile, praised the pick as well. In her role as dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education, she emerged as an authority on Tennessee’s two most-contested education policies — the state’s shift to more rigorous Common Core academic standards and a teacher evaluation system that takes into account student test scores.

Haslam names education commissioner (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam has named a top education official at Lipscomb University to be the next Education Department commissioner. The Republican governor announced Wednesday that he’s chosen Candice McQueen. She will replace Kevin Huffman, who announced last month that he’s leaving for the private sector. Haslam had said he was considering someone in Tennessee who would have a built-in advantage by already being familiar with the state’s education picture. McQueen was appointed senior vice president of Lipscomb’s College of Education in January after being credited with overseeing the rise of one of the nation’s top education programs. McQueen also serves as dean. She is seen as having a strong grasp of Common Core academic standards, which have been phased into Tennessee’s classrooms over the past four years.

Haslam names new education commissioner (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has named Candice McQueen commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education. McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb University in Nashville, replaces Kevin Huffman, who stepped down in November. She will start Jan. 20. “Tennessee is headed in the right direction. We are making a real difference in the lives of our children and the future of our state,” McQueen said. “My goal is for every graduate to be college and career-ready so they can succeed in the future. I want Tennessee to continue to set the pace and lead the nation in the reforms and innovations that are making a real difference in the lives of our students.”

Haslam names Lipscomb’s Candice McQueen new education commissioner (NBJ)

Gov. Bill Haslam named Candice McQueen Tennessee’s new education commissioner on Wednesday. McQueen, the dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education, will replace Kevin Huffman. In her prepared remarks, McQueen discussed the importance of making sure Tennessee students are “college and career ready when they leave high school.” She emphasized continued focus on “high standards and smart assessments” that measure how students and teachers are doing. Earlier this year, Haslam announced a public review of Tennessee’s academic standards amid criticism over Common Core. “The future of Common Core will depend on our review of [state] standards,” McQueen said Wednesday. “Certainly, I’m in favor of high standards … we’re going to stay on track for [outlining] high standards.”

Tennessee’s new education commissioner is… (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam today named Dr. Candice McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb Univerity, as his new education commissioner. “There’s nothing that’s as important to me as governor as what we’re doing in education, and I’m thrilled to have Dr. McQueen join our team,” Haslam said in a news conference announcing her appointment. The 40-year-old McQueen succeeds current Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who shook up Tennessee’s education establishment and became a lightning rod for criticism as he pushed policies tying student-test scores to teacher evaluations and pay as well as Common Core education standards. McQueen said she is “truly grateful for the opportunity and I am looking forward to working hand in hand with the Department of Education and with the folks in this room and beyond with this important work.”

McQueen to lead Department of Ed, stresses quality review of Common Core (NP)

Tapping into her teaching history and expertise in the politically polarizing education standards, Gov. Bill Haslam is appointing Lipscomb University’s Senior Vice President Candice McQueen to head up the Department of Education. At a press conference in the Capitol Building’s legislative library — in the same room he announced his appointment of Kevin Huffman as his first education commissioner in 2010 — McQueen vowed to embark on a listening tour around the state to hear from superintendents, school leaders and legislators as she begins her tenure.

Haslam Names Candice McQueen New Education Commissioner (WTVF-TV)

Tennessee has a new home-grown Education Commissioner with experience in and out of the classroom. Governor Bill Haslam officially appointed Dr. Candice McQueen to the position that was once held by Kevin Huffman, who left for the private sector. McQueen is not a stranger to the education landscape in Tennessee. She’s often called upon by districts to assist with teacher training and to help establish best practices. Politicians have sought out her expertise on controversial subjects. The Clarksville native was an elementary and middle school teacher prior to becoming Dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education in 2008. “It’s what happens in that magical moment when a teacher and a student connect and have a relationship that I want to celebrate,” she said.

Lipscomb administrator named TN’s education commissioner (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Haslam named Dr. Candice McQueen to the role at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. She will begin in her new role on Jan. 20. McQueen replaces Kevin Huffman, who announced last month that he was stepping down as commissioner. “Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach. I am grateful for her willingness to serve in this role, and I know she’ll do a great job as we continue our efforts to provide a quality education for all Tennessee students.”

‘Listening’ Tops Priority List for Lipscomb’s Dean McQueen (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s choice to take over for departing state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is a resident Tennessean and a Nashville university professor who says she’s passionate about bringing out the best in both students and teachers. Candice McQueen, dean of the Lipscomb University College of Education, was named the next head of the Tennessee Department of Education Wednesday. She’ll assume Huffman’s duties on Jan. 20. Huffman, who moved to Tennessee in 2011, often clashed with teachers and local district administrators as he served as point man for the Haslam administration’s education overhaul.

New education chief: Every student deserves great teacher (Tennessean/Boucher)

On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Lipscomb dean Candice McQueen as the next Tennessee Commissioner of Education. McQueen discussed her priorities for the future and several challenges facing Tennessee. The questions and answers are compiled from a news conference and additional McQueen statements. Why do you want to be commissioner? “I care so much about the work that’s being done. I want it to go forward at the speed that it can to make sure that every student has a great teacher and a great experience that gets them ready for what happens after college and after, you know, they’re in their careers. And so I look at this as an opportunity to have a different kind of influence. We’ve had influence in the work that we’ve done, but I want to impact the million kids that we have in our state, for good. I want to make sure that we have the education that is nationally known and respected and I believe that’s going to happen.”

Education Commissioner McQueen is teacher and trainer of teachers (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s new state education commissioner, Candice McQueen, is a Tennessee native and professional educator who transformed Lipscomb University’s once-sleepy education college into a nationally recognized institution. McQueen will succeed Kevin Huffman, whose work overhauling policy changes, such as pushing student testing and tying test results to tenure and salary, put many teachers and school superintendents on the warpath. “There’s nothing that’s as important to me as governor as what we’re doing in education, and I’m thrilled to have Dr. McQueen join our team,” Haslam said in a news conference announcing her appointment.

Tenn’s New Education Commissioner Is Known As Common Core Booster (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam named a new education commissioner Wednesday, and she’s one of the biggest supporters of Common Core education standards in the state. Candice McQueen is dean of Lipscomb University’s college of education and oversees its private K-12 school. She’s been a teacher of teachers for most of her career after spending a few years in public school classrooms herself. She’s no stranger to the state capitol. McQueen has been called on to testify in legislative hearings, where she has given a full-throated defense of Common Core. But her arrival comes just as Haslam has opened up Common Core to take comments and suggested changes. McQueen said she expects to follow through on that process.

Haslam: Sun ‘way off base’ on economic development (Jackson Sun)

The state is spending more money per capita on economic development in the Southwest Tennessee Development District than in any other part of the state, according to Gov. Bill Haslam, who spoke with The Jackson Sun’s editorial board Wednesday. Haslam’s comments were in response to a story published by the Sun on Dec. 7 that said the district, which includes Madison and seven other counties, was last among nine development districts in the state in investment through the FastTrack program, one of the state’s largest economic development programs. The Sun’s examination looked at FastTrack projects that had gone to contract in 2013 and the first three quarters of 2014.

Haslam offers alternative in Medicaid expansion (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to make one thing clear about his plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee: It’s not Obamacare. On Monday, Haslam announced his plan to expand Medicaid to what he expects could be more than 200,000 working poor people in Tennessee. The program, called Insure Tennessee, would be funded by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. But, in a meeting Wednesday with The Jackson Sun’s editorial board, Haslam emphasized his plan is not traditional Medicaid. He said it offers private-market choices for insurance and represents a shift from a pay-for-service system to one based on outcomes that encourages people to take on more personal responsibility for their health.

Legislators cautious on Haslam proposals (Cleveland Daily Banner)

The four state legislators representing Bradley County expressed caution when reacting to Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement of the new “Insure Tennessee” plan. The plan is a two-year pilot program to provide health care coverage to tens of thousands of Tennesseans who currently don’t have access to health insurance, or have limited options. In a press conference in Nashville Monday morning, Haslam said the Medicaid expansion plan would be leveraged with federal dollars. The governor decided two years ago against expanding traditional Medicaid, and has been in constant talks with federal officials seeking a plan that could gain approval from both federal officials and the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Beyond the Bay Area: Why Hagerty is pushing next for Tokyo flight (N. Biz Journal)

A nonstop flight between Nashville and Oakland is just the beginning, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said. Without question, Hagerty told me, the flight to Oakland, announced today by Southwest Airlines, is an important link between Nashville’s growing entrepreneur and tech scene and the sources of venture capital in the Bay Area. “The nonstop flight to the Bay Area helps us with our entrepreneurial thrust here in Tennessee,” Hagerty said. “We have been pushing to get more early stage capital investment in the state. [This flight] goes a long way to building a bridge to get more capital here and tighter linkage with the cutting-edge technology development that’s occurring in Northern California.”

EDGE approves two new tax incentive packages (Memphis Business Journal)

The economic development arm of Memphis and Shelby County on Wednesday approved nearly $12.2 million in incentives for two large projects. The board of the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County approved two 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentives packages, one of $12.2 million for Target Corp. and the other of $13 million for Cummins Inc. Target plans to open a more than $50 million online fulfillment center at 5461 Davidson Road that would create nearly 500 jobs. Target will also get a $150,000 grant, on top of other incentives, for workforce training.

M-TEK given tax break for headquarters (Daily News Journal)

The Industrial Development Board approved nearly $35,000 in tax abatements Wednesday morning for M-TEK’s corporate headquarters to locate to Murfreesboro’s Gateway. The automotive supplier announced earlier this month it will build its North American headquarters in Murfreesboro and the IDB offered a 10-year tax break on the company’s personal property. The incentive totals $34,791 total over the course of 10 years, said Brian Hercules, vice president, Economic Development, Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “Since the property was donated by the city (Murfreesboro), we didn’t offer a real estate tax abatement, but we offered them a personal property tax abatement instead,” Hercules explained to the IDB.

TBI says it suspended Holly Bobo investigation at DA’s request (Jackson Sun)

In a statement released this evening, the TBI said, “Until further notice, and at the request of District Attorney General Matthew Stowe, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has discontinued its investigation into the Holly Bobo case and severed ties with the 24th Judicial District.” Stowe issued a statement earlier today in which he denied that he initiated the suspension of the TBI’s assistance with cases in his district. TBI Director Mark Gwyn said in a written statement this evening that, “We certainly regret these unprecedented circumstances playing out in the media. But in a meeting last week, which included 30th District Attorney General Amy Weirich; 28th District Attorney and President of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference Garry Brown; and Wally Kirby, executive director of the conference, Stowe made allegations of misconduct by TBI and other law enforcement agencies, both local and federal.

TBI exits Holly Bobo investigation over rift with DA’s office (C. Appeal/Bryson)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will suspend its investigation into the murder of Holly Bobo after the district attorney prosecuting the case leveled accusations of misconduct, according to a TBI statement released Wednesday evening. TBI Director Mark Gwyn said his office, as well as other local and federal law enforcement agencies, was accused of misconduct by Matthew Stowe, district attorney for the 24th Judicial District. Stowe “also repeatedly stated he wanted our agency to suspend all activities in his district …” said Gwyn. “Stowe may characterize this as a misunderstanding, but his requests were clear and I wasn’t the only one who heard it.”

U of M halts changes to retirement plans for temps (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Late Wednesday, a week after University of Memphis informed temporary workers it would no longer be contributing to their retirement, it reversed course. Sort of. The university said it will continue making Social Security payments “until further notice.” “We heard your concerns,” Maria Alam, Human Resources chief said in an e-mail sent to the “university community” shortly before 4 p.m. Instead, the university will focus on benefit changes mandated by U.S. Department of Labor and the Affordable Care Act, she said. The university estimates it could save $500,000 a year by putting temporary workers — summer grounds keepers, faculty and clerical workers — on an alternate Social Security retirement plan that employees would self-fund with 7.5 percent of pretax earnings.

Tennessee Supreme Court To Hear Arguments Over Execution Team IDs (WPLN)

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear arguments on Thursday over whether the identities of those who carry out executions should be revealed to attorneys suing the state. At issue are the identities of pharmacists, medical examiners and executioners. Namely, anyone involved in the process of capital punishment. The attorney general’s office has refused to hand over the identities to attorneys with the federal public defender’s office — saying it’s not relevant and carries too much of a risk of harassment and retaliation. But the attorneys for death row inmates say it is critical in order to conduct interviews to advance a suit attacking the drugs used in lethal injection.

Middle Tennessee mayors urge road funding fix (Associated Press)

A group representing 40 mayors in Middle Tennessee is urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to find new sources of revenue to pay for transportation needs. The Tennessean ( ) reports that the Middle Tennessee Mayor Caucus listed transportation revenue as its top state priority for the upcoming legislative session. The mayors group did not lay out a preferred path for a road funding system that keeps pace with inflation. Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and others have acknowledged that Tennessee’s antiquated road funding system needs to be updated, but none has taken the reins on making a specific proposal.

Tennessee town bans negative comments on social media (Memphis Biz Journal)

A town in Eastern Tennessee has done something many social media users have both feared and desired — created a ban on false statements on social media. The city council of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, which lies just north of the Georgia state line, approved a new “all-inclusive” social networking policy, according to the Times Free Press. The policy applies to all of South Pittsburg’s elected representatives as well as “anyone associated with the town in an official capacity who uses social networks.” The new policy was approved by a 4-1 vote in the council’s most recent meeting.

Corker takes neutral tone on Cuba policy changes (Tennessean/Troyan)

Amid bipartisan condemnation of the new Cuba policy President Barack Obama announced Wednesday, Sen. Bob Corker offered a more muted, neutral assessment. Corker, the Tennessee Republican who will take over as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, stayed largely above the fray after Obama moved to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba’s communist regime. While some Republicans and Democrats called Obama’s actions a vindication of the regime’s human rights abuses, Corker said simply that they would be reviewed in committee. “The new U.S. policy announced by the administration is no doubt sweeping, and as of now there is no real understanding as to what changes the Cuban government is prepared to make,” Corker said.

Senators upset with White House handling of TVA board nominees (N-S/Collins)

Upset over the way the Obama administration has handled nominations to TVA’s board of directors, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have put the White House on notice: No future nominees to the public utility board will be confirmed unless the two senators are consulted first. “If they don’t recognize our constitutional responsibility to advise and consent, we’re not going to confirm their nominees,” Alexander said. The two Republicans delivered their message during a meeting last week with three White House staffers, just two days after the Senate voted to confirm Ronald Walter of Memphis and Virginia Lodge of Nashville to the nine-member board. While both Tennessee senators voted to confirm Walter and Lodge, they complained the White House had not sought their input about the nominees.

First ACA wave nears 2.5 million enrollees (Tennessean/Fletcher)

A wave of people signed up for health insurance on the private exchange in the run up to the first deadline on Monday. Nationally, 2.46 million bought health insurance on the federal marketplace between Nov. 15 and Dec. 12, according to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services. More than a million of those signed up between Dec. 6 and Dec. 12. The enrollment period began in the middle of November. Jackie Shrago, a volunteer with, an organization that assists people with enrollment, said that from the start of the enrollment period to Monday, volunteers associated with assisted about 700 families in the Nashville area. Volunteers helped about 250 enroll, while many of those 700 families were planning to finish enrollment on their own computers or call the federal hotline.

Hemlock Permanently Closing $1.2 Billion Plant in Tennessee (Associated Press)

Hemlock Semiconductor Group is permanently closing its idled polysilicon plant in Clarksville, citing global trade disputes that have led to an oversupply of the compound used in solar energy panels. The company’s president, Denise Beachy, announced the decision to the The Leaf-Chronicle on Wednesday. Construction on the on the plant located near the Kentucky line was begun in 2009, and the facility was close to complete when Hemlock announced in 2013 it would not begin construction because of the supply glut and disputes with China over tariffs. Hemlock will now work with local officials to decide how to dismantle the facility and to determine which parts can be repurposed for other business uses.

Hemlock closing Clarksville plant permanently (Leaf Chronicle)

While digesting Hemlock Semiconductor’s announcement of a permanent plant closure on Wednesday, many community leaders sought to put the best-possible spin on it. Some even expressed relief that the plant closure brings … well, closure, and an opportunity to look ahead to other business prospects for Clarksville. But no matter how you slice it, Hemlock Semiconductor, in and of itself, will go down in history as a disaster for Clarksville-Montgomery, the state of Tennessee, and the nation’s industrial complex. Looking back, there was that monumental day – Dec. 15, 2008, just over six years ago – at Austin Peay State University, where state and local leaders filled the Music/Mass Communications auditorium to hear the announcement from then-Gov. Phil Bredesen and Hemlock officials that the company would be locating a $1.2 billion polycrystalline silicon manufacturing plant on 1,300 acres here.





Editorial: LEAP grant will result in dividends for region (Jackson Sun)

We celebrate recent news that Jackson State Community College and the Jackson Regional Partnership have been awarded a $900,000 state grant to better develop our workforce. The money has been awarded through the Labor Education Alignment Program, or LEAP. The program is funded by a $10 million appropriation by the General Assembly. Money is awarded through a competitive process. The program is designed to align educational and training opportunities with local workforce needs. It speaks highly of our legislature and the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam that the state is willing to make such an investment. It speaks highly of the leaders of our region that a winning proposal was submitted for the money.

Editorial: Moving on after Hemlock (Leaf Chronicle)

The Emerald City of our community’s collective economic dreams is now but a glimmer of hope, flickering faintly, fading into the misty realm of a nightmare on the edge of town. The $1.2 billion investment was real, and the gleaming industrial complex was built amid fanfare and high expectations. But the cold, mind-numbing reality is here. Hemlock Semiconductor will not open the high-tech manufacturing plant that promised to change and sustain the local economy for decades to come. The promise of hundreds of high-paying white-collar jobs and good mid-level technician’s jobs will not materialize, and the potential for secondary solar-related industries has evaporated. Make no mistake, this is a heart-breaking loss for this community. Unfortunate, bitter, disturbing – go ahead, pile on the adjectives.

Marsha Blackburn: Nothing lawful, fair about Obama’s executive amnesty (Tenn)

President Obama often speaks of “fairness.” Our workforce participation rate is at its lowest level in 36 years and over 90 million Americans are out of work. Moreover, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, “government data show that since 2000 all of the net gain in the number of working-age (16-65) people holding a job has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal).” Is it fair that hard-working taxpayers will now have to compete for jobs with millions of illegal aliens to whom President Obama has unilaterally granted work permits? Is it fair that people who have lawfully entered this country and been waiting in line get pushed aside in favor of those who broke our laws? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “lawless” as follows: “Not regulated or based on law.”