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TNReport Ceasing Operations

It is with great disappointment that I must inform our readers that TNReport.com won’t be maintaining news gathering operations this legislative session.

Our financial and staffing situations have been difficult for the past year — such that it is no longer possible for TNReport to effectively cover Tennessee state politics at this time.

I’d like to offer my sincerest gratitude to all of you who’ve contributed to our nonprofit journalistic endeavors over the years, both in terms of charitable donations and hard work.

I hope that in time TNReport can obtain adequate funding to restart our efforts.

Regretfully,
Mark Engler
Editor

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Featured NewsTracker

Haslam Exits RGA Chairmanship Post

The Republican Governors Association held leadership elections in Las Vegas this week, thus capping off Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s year-long stint chairing the organization.

With the election this month of Matt Biven in Kentucky, there are now 32 sitting or soon-to-be-sitting Republican governors in the United States. That number could change depending on the outcome Saturday of Louisiana’s gubernatorial runoff. (Update, 11/22: Democrat John Bel Edwards won Louisiana’s race for governor.)

Members of the RGA on Thursday picked New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to take over for Haslam. Martinez won selection as vice chair in November 2014 and faced no opposition in this week’s vote.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who two months ago quit his bid to capture the GOP’s presidential nomination, will be the organization’s new vice chair.

In a press release from RGA, Haslam praised both Walker and Martinez, who’s both the first woman and the first governor of Hispanic heritage to head the association.

Haslam called Martinez “one of the Republican Party’s best leaders” and “an outstanding choice to lead the RGA for the next year.”

“She has made the tough decisions necessary to move New Mexico forward and knows what it takes to win in a blue state, a skill that will be vital to ensuring our governors and candidates have the resources they need to win in 2016,” said Haslam.

Tennessee’s governor also praised Gov. Walker’s record, calling it “enormously impressive.” Haslam noted that Walker, too, has triumphed in three elections in what’s traditionally been a Democrat-leaning state, and has done so by challenging organized labor.

Since first securing the Badger State’s highest public office in 2010, Walker, who survived a 2012 recall effort and won reelection last year, “has not shied away from any battle, even taking on the labor unions, in order to build a better tomorrow for Wisconsin,” said Haslam.

Now that Haslam is no longer leading the RGA, he may feel freer to stump for a GOP presidential candidate of his liking. When asked in the past who he favors in the crowded Republican primary field, Haslam has declined to answer.

“It’s probably best for me to stay out of it until I am either not in this role (as RGA chairman) or that field narrows some,” Haslam told TNReport in August.

Nine of the GOP presidential hopefuls at that time were or are current or past governors. Since then, Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobbly Jindal have abandoned their 2016 Oval Office aspirations. Jindal’s departure was announced just this week.

Haslam complained during a RGA press conference this week that real estate magnate Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, neither of whom have ever held elected public office, seem to be stealing headlines and limelight from the Republican governors in the race.

A poll conducted earlier this month by Middle Tennessee State University indicated Volunteer State opinion is widely split among the GOP field, but Carson is leading with Trump in second. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading among Democrats.

“Benjamin Franklin famously said, ‘Well done is better than well said,'” said Haslam, according to a Politico story published Thursday. “Unfortunately, around the presidential election, we live in a media environment where well said is better than well done.”

Haslam will serve on the RGA’s 2016 executive committee, along with Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Pence of Indiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska.

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Harwell: Gas-Tax Increase ‘Difficult’ In 2016

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell says there’s appreciable support among lawmakers for putting more money toward the state’s road budget next year.

“People are interested in our infrastructure — in how much money we are spending, maintaining it, even producing more roads, because they are a huge part of economic development. So I think legislators will be taking a look at that,” said Harwell, a Nashville Republican first elected to the Legislature in 1988.

But it’ll be “difficult” for the General Assembly in 2016 to muster the votes to elevate the per-gallon tax rate motorist pay for gasoline in Tennessee, the speaker told TNReport in Cookeville Thursday evening following a town hall meeting of her Task Force on Rural Economic Development.

Gov. Bill Haslam has been trying to build pressure on legislators the past few months raise the state’s current 21.4 cent per gallon gasoline tax, although he’s yet to say just how much more he thinks motorists ought to be paying at the pump. The diesel tax is 18.4 cents a gallon, and like the tax on gasoline, hasn’t changed since the late 1980s.

Harwell reiterated her view that before any tax increase gets a seriously look by GOP lawmakers, money that was removed from the transportation budget a decade ago ought to be rerouted back toward roads.

In the Senate, Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy favors that as well. The Shelbyville Republican is sponsoring legislation to put $260 million from the general fund into the transportation spending outlay for the next fiscal year.

Typically, the taxes paid on gas and diesel purchases in Tennessee are designated to fund transportation projects. But under previous governors, Republican Don Sundquist and Democrat Phil Bredesen, funding was taken from fuel tax reserves and put toward the general fund.

Harwell noted that the state is currently taking in more sales-tax and other revenues than what the General Assembly and the governor’s administration budgeted for during the last legislative session, which ended in April.

Year-to-date collections for the first three months of the the current fiscal year have been $223.3 million more than the budgeted estimate, according to the latest revenue tallies compiled by the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. The general fund now has $207.8 million more in it than state government is legally authorized to spend.

“Our revenues are increasing in the state and we have some extra money there,” Harwell said. She suggested the state “restore that money that we took from the Department of Transportation during a rough time in a previous administration — restoring that so they at least have equal footing there in that funding.”

Gov. Haslam has said he’s willing to entertain the idea of rerouting general-fund dollars toward roadbuilding and maintenance. But he also says there’s vastly more transportation infrastructure need than surplus tax-collections can pay for.

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Business and Economy NewsTracker

Push to Pump Up State Gas-Tax Lacks Political Octane

The latest Tennessee government tax collection tallies that came out last week suggest state government is, for the time being anyway, awash in unanticipated revenues.

While the budget year is still young, not yet three months old, early indications are that significantly more money is coming in than lawmakers and the governor were expecting when they plotted out the state’s spending plan last winter.

In September alone, the second month of the fiscal year, the state collected $113.4 million more than the budgeted estimate. That’s $82.2 million more than in September last year, according to a Department of Finance and Administration press release issued Oct. 14.

“Year-to date collections for two months were $132.5 million more than the budgeted estimate,” the administration reported. “The general fund was over collected by $116.8 million and the four other funds that share in state tax revenues were over collected by $15.7 million.”

The state also over-collected more than half a billion dollars last fiscal year.

For advocates of raising the state’s per-gallon taxes on gasoline and diesel — an idea Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has been test-driving around Tennessee — the fact that the government’s tank of revenue is overflowing will probably tend to make it tougher to convince skeptical lawmakers that it makes sense now to hit road-users with a tax hike.

High-ranking House Republicans like Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada appear particularly unified in their opposition to raising fuel taxes in 2016.

Tennessee’s 21.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline has been in place since 1989, as has the 18.4 cents per gallon diesel tax.

In a statement emailed to TNReport by her media spokeswoman on Friday, Harwell said she’s “encouraged by the revenue numbers, and believe(s) that we should use a portion of the surplus to replace the funds that were taken over the years from the highway fund.”

The speaker has for a while been indicating she’s more inclined to talk about putting “one-time money” toward transportation infrastructure than raising taxes on fuel.

Leader McCormick echoed that sentiment earlier this month.

Talking about the quality of Tennessee roads and transportation funding in general “is a legitimate discussion to have,” McCormick told TNReport on Oct. 6.

But when the conversation turns to widening revenue-collection avenues, his instinct is to hit the brakes.

“I am not convinced we need to raise taxes to fund the road program right now,” McCormick said. “We do have to pay for it, and at some point we will have to address that, and we want to study it very closely and make sure we are doing the right thing. A tax increase is a last resort, not a first resort.”

Rep. Casada said Friday that House Republican leadership is aligned behind the idea that “we need to take the excess (general fund) revenue and put it toward the Department of Transportation to meet those immediate needs.”

He said majority-party lawmakers who oppose raising the gas tax are not unsympathetic to Haslam administration transportation officials who’re arguing that road improvement ought to be prioritized. But raising any tax is a tough sell when the citizenry has already over-contributed resources for what state government budgeted, he said.

“We have a surplus now and we had a surplus last year,” Casada said. “Let’s deal with that first and not take more money from the taxpayers.”

Casada doubts there’s enough support even on the House Transportation Committee to move legislation that aims to take more money from truckers and motorists at Tennessee fuel pumps.

“This is not the year to raise the gas tax,” he said.

Shelbyville Republican Jim Tracy, the Senate’s Transportation Committee chairman, has been, like Haslam did earlier this year, touring the state to talk about issues related to road infrastructure needs and financing.

Political and public willingness to entertain a tax increase is simply lacking, he said recently.

“We are not ready to do it yet,” said Tracy, who was in Knoxville and Fentress County for road-funding roundtables last week. “I don’t think the legislators are convinced of the need yet. I don’t think the citizens are convinced of the need.”

Tracy said he does however sense “a big movement” in support of setting aside a minimum of $260,000 million from the state’s general fund next year for transportation spending. That’s the amount he and others, like Harwell, say was inappropriately drained from gas-tax collections a decade ago and spent on other government programs.

Five of the Senate Transportation Committee’s nine members are in fact on record in opposition to raising the gas tax. In total, 15 of the General Assembly’s 33 senators have pledged not to vote for a fuel-tax hike should the Haslam administration propose one next year.

Over in the House, Casada, McCormick and Harwell are joined by 40 other representatives who have made assurances to the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity that they won’t support raising the gas tax in 2016 — and perhaps even beyond. All but one are Republicans: Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island, who won election to an open General Assembly seat in 2014 by just 54 votes over his GOP competitor.

A nationwide organization that lobbies for lower taxes and smaller government, AFP has been challenging the Haslam administration’s road-funds-are-lacking narrative through their “Ax the Tax” initiative.

Fanning up grassroots opposition against increasing the cost of gas hasn’t been too difficult, said Tori Venable, the group’s communications director.

“You have Gov. Haslam trying to raise taxes on the state, you have Sen. (Bob) Corker trying to raise taxes on the federal level,” she said. “This is potentially a double-whammy for Tennessee taxpayers.”

One of the main themes the governor and proponents of raising the gas tax are using to try and convince people that revenues are lagging is that cars these days get appreciably better gas mileage than three decades ago. The state therefore gets less money per vehicle-mile driven on Tennessee roads, they say.

But Venable said that’s not a one-way argument.

“When it comes down to it, the middle class and the working poor are the ones who drive older cars and they also drive further to work,” she said. “People who live in rural areas, people who have a fixed income, they are the ones who are going to be hurt worst by raising the gas tax.”

In an op-ed published Friday by the national political news website, The Hill, AFPTN director Andrew Ogles wrote that with gas prices at their lowest in years, there’s a predictable trend among state and federal lawmakers across the country to push for raising gas taxes.

“That’s certainly been the case in my home state of Tennessee,” wrote Ogles. “Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is currently gallivanting across the state calling for an increase to our gas tax. Joining him are various special interests — including building and construction companies — that stand to gain handsomely if his plan goes through.”

Ogles, who garnered significant state and national media attention for his role in leading AFPTN’s successful campaign against Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” Medicaid expansion plan last legislative session, contends that road-and-bridge decay wasn’t a key priority when the governor and lawmakers approved the state budget a few months back.

“(I)n April state legislators diverted $120 million in surplus funds to construct a new state museum,” wrote Ogles. “If infrastructure funding is truly in peril, this state-level ‘Smithsonian’—as (Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey) characterized it — could certainly be put on hold. Other examples abound, as well.”

Haslam has said that while he’s amenable to using at least part of any state revenue surplus for transportation funding, there’s always ample political competition for government funding — and oftentimes in fat years more so than lean.

“It is interesting when you have a surplus how many people have an idea for how to spend it,” Haslam said at a Transportation Coalition of Tennessee conference in Murfreesboro earlier this month.

The governor said he’s “very willing to consider” pumping the $260 million back into the transportation budget that was siphoned off under the two previous governors, Republican Don Sundquist and Democrat Phil Bredesen.

But as with all sales-tax-driven general fund revenue, “that money needs to compete with a lot of other things that are raising their hands for that money,” said Haslam.

“We have about $4 billion worth of deferred maintenance on our buildings in the state, so we are trying to take a chunk out of that — because, literally, chunks have been falling out of our buildings. That is one of those very non-glamerous, non-sexy things, but we have to do those,” the governor said.

Haslam administration officials maintain that more than $6 billion dollars in “very seriously vetted” road projects around Tennessee are currently in a state of unfunded “backlog.”

The governor and state transportation officials, as well as the state comptroller, argue the current gas and diesel tax rates are insufficient to meet longterm transportation construction and maintenance needs.

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Education Featured NewsTracker

Vanderbilt Study May Strengthen Calls to Defund Pre-K

The General Assembly’s most vocal foe of Tennessee’s publicly funded prekindergarten initiative is hopeful the latest study calling into question the early childhood learning program’s effectiveness will spur conversations about doing away with it altogether.

State Rep. Bill Dunn, a Knoxville Republican, described the conclusions outlined in a research report released this week from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College as “invaluable.” While discussion in the past has tended toward whether to expand the state’s $86 million or so a year pre-K program, Dunn argues that the most logical focus of debate now ought to be whether to downsize or eliminate it.

bill dunn 2015
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville

“It is obvious we have spent a lot of money on this program, and the Vanderbilt study shows that in many cases the children who participate actually do worse,” Dunn, a member of the House Education Instruction & Programs Committee, told TNReport. “I think that in the private sector, if somebody were doing something and getting worse and worse results, they would quit doing it. I think if a private individual was spending a lot of money to get worse results, they would quit doing it.”

The Vanderbilt study — “A Randomized Control Trial of a Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Skills and Behaviors through Third Grade” —was initiated in 2009 and funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study’s authors describe their “rigorous, independent evaluation of the state’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program” as a landmark analysis.

“It is the first prospective randomized control trial of a scaled up state‐funded, targeted pre‐kindergarten program that has been undertaken,” declared the executive summary of the study’s findings, released to the public on Monday.

The results left the pre-K study investigators like Peabody Research Institute Director Mark Lipsey “stunned” and asking “a lot of questions” about how such a highly touted education initiative could perform so seemingly poorly when put to statistical scrutiny.

Few lasting benefits could be identified for the lower-income children who participate in Tennessee’s more than 900 government-funded pre-K classrooms. Rather, in key assessments of performance and temperament, children who attended pre-K exhibited inferior development over time than their peers who entered kindergarten with no formal academic preparation.

The study did find that at the start of kindergarten, children who’d attended pre-K indeed rated “better prepared for kindergarten work.” They also displayed “better behaviors related to learning in the classroom” and were observed engaging in “more positive peer relations.”

But by the end of the year, kids who didn’t attended pre-K “had caught up to the (pre-K) children and there were no longer significant differences between them on any achievement measures,” researchers found.

By the time the children were in second grade, pre-K kids and the kids who didn’t attend pre-K “began to diverge.” According to the study, children who attended pre-K began “scoring lower…on most of the measures” than children who did not attend pre-K.

Similarly, the beneficial “behavioral effects” pre-K instilled in kids early on appeared to lag with passage of time — to the point that, “in the spring the first grade teachers reversed the fall kindergarten teacher ratings.”

vanderbilt pre-k study report sept 2015“First grade teachers rated (pre-K) children as less well prepared for school, having poorer work skills in the classrooms, and feeling more negative about school,” the study’s authors observed. “It is notable that these ratings preceded the downward achievement trend we found for (pre-K) children in second and third grades.”

By second and third grades both groups of children were rated by teachers as exhibiting similar “behaviors and feelings.”

“There was a marginally significant effect for positive peer relations favoring the (pre-K) children by third grade teachers,” the study determined.

During a panel discussion on pre-K in Nashville last week, one of the study’s primary researchers suggested that, in absence of any systematic analysis of student-performance data or consistent evaluation of individual programs, the promise of pre-K may have been oversold over the years.

dale-farran
Dale Farran, associate director of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute

Undoubtedly, not all pre-K programs around the state, and for that matter the country, are of the same caliber, said Peabody Research Institute Senior Associate Director Dale Farran. From classroom to classroom, “teachers were doing vastly different things,” she said.

“We are pushing the benefits of pre-K without taking the time to define what we really mean and worse, to determine if what we implement has the outcomes we have promised,” said Farran. “It is time to take a step back and try and determine what it really is that we want to scale up…and then how we can take that vision and make it happen with consistency.”

Rep. Dunn agrees that taking a step back and re-evaluating the program ought to be a top priority over the coming months.

But he’s more of a mind to roll pre-K back than scale it up.

“If we are trying to get kids ready for kindergarten, then what does that really look like? If that is the goal, we should approach it in a different way,” he said. “I don’t think it takes a whole year to get ready for kindergarten. And in the past I have proposed that if we used the summer months before kindergarten for at-risk kids to get up to speed, you would probably get the same effect, at about two-thirds less of the cost.”

Dunn may have a powerful ally in Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

The Tennessee Senate’s presiding lawmaker has never expressed much regard for pre-K. Last year he described pre-K as “a liberal, feel-good program that’s not working.”

In an emailed statement to TNReport on Wednesday, Ramsey said the Vanderbilt study serves as confirmation that “pre-K’s effectiveness is marginal at best and all but disappears over the long term.”

“It is time to face the hard truth that, while well-intentioned, government funded pre-K is ultimately a misallocation of resources,” said the Blountville Republican. “Tennessee is one of the most-improved states in the nation in education and we must do what we can to remain so. We need to train our focus on those areas where we can affect the lives of our children and get results: K-12 and higher education.”

Dunn, too, proposes routing state taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on pre-K back into K-12 education.

“I have always believed that putting great teachers in the classroom is important. Maybe we can have a conversation about teacher salaries, or something along those lines,” he told TNReport.

Jim Wrye, a spokesman and lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, said he’s heard talk like that from Dunn before. But even in wake of the Vanderbilt research report, Wrye doesn’t think it’s a very good suggestion.

“We would rather not take from one area in providing services to children and provide it to another,” he said. “Our position is that, overall, Tennessee education is woefully underfunded.”

Wrye added, “TEA has always been a supporter of early childhood education and believing that high-quality education with a teacher that is empowered to teach and grow the level of learning in the student is really critical to their future.”

Nevertheless, Wrye said the Vanderbilt study warrants close examination by everyone interested in education policy in Tennessee.

“Good lord, having a seven- or eight-year-old being burned out on education? We need to start asking ourselves, What are we demanding of our kids and how is it affecting the classroom and the joy of learning?” he said. “That is a really disconcerting outcome.”

Wrye suggested the study could in fact be interpreted as an indictment of high-pressure test-taking situations in early grade school.

“We think it is an incredibly bad policy idea, the idea of pushing such young children into that sort of memorization-regurgitation role,” he said. “The idea that you are going to gain meaningful data out of standardized tests for six-year-olds makes no sense to us whatsoever. So, policies that really drive high-stakes standardized testing can burn kids out, there is no doubt about it.”

Dunn’s view is that the Vanderbilt results — and results like it from previous studies, including an assessment commissioned several years ago by the Tennessee comptroller’s office — show that pushing kids into schoolroom settings too early can produce negative outcomes.

“I think what we are finding, and that people need to recognize is, maybe, just maybe, putting a bunch of four-year-olds in a classroom is not a good idea,” he said. “We have to remember that there are 19 other four-year-olds in the classroom influencing the children, too. And if they are a bad influence, that could lead to problems down the road.”

Gov. Bill Haslam, who for years has indicated he’ll rely heavily on the Vanderbilt study’s results to chart his administration’s long-rang thinking on pre-K, said earlier this week that he’s yet to fully examine the findings.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley, quickly put out a statement after release of the Vanderbilt report Monday declaring his full support for continued taxpayer financing of pre-K.

“Students have better attitudes about school and are better prepared for classroom instruction when they have access to high-quality pre-K programs. Our challenge is to sustain that growth as students move to higher grade levels,” Fitzhugh said. “So the question is not does early childhood education work — it does. The question is whether Tennessee will invest in the education infrastructure necessary to support those gains long-term. That remains to be seen, but certainly is something of which I am in favor.”

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Featured NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Secretary of State Anticipates 2016 Retention Election for Justice Wade’s SCOTN Replacement

State elections officials and the attorney general’s office spent last week keeping mum about uncertainty over the timing of retention elections for Supreme Court judges in wake of Tennessee voters ratifying Amendment 2 last year.

But the Tennessee secretary of state’s office — which oversees the division of elections — appears now to have concluded that the successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade should first face a retention election next August, and not in 2022, as some have speculated.

“Per Tenn. Const. Article VII Section 5 there will be a retention election in 2016 for Justice Wade’s vacancy,” Adam Ghassemi, director of communications for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, wrote in an email to TNReport Friday evening.

The provision of the state Constitution cited in Ghassemi’s statement declares in part that should an unscheduled judicial opening arise, “such vacancy shall be filled at the next biennial election recurring more than thirty days after the vacancy occurs.”

The “next biennial election” for Tennessee judges is next August.

Justice Wade, who won a new eight-year term to the Supreme Court last August, unexpectedly announced his retirement from the bench on July 24.

Wade’s departure, effective Sept. 8, will take effect approximately seven years ahead of schedule, and it will create the first vacancy on the five-member Supreme Court since voters endorsed new judicial-selection procedures in November.

Those revisions were contained in the Amendment 2 referendum, which won approval from 61 percent of  the ballot-question’s vote during the 2014 general election.

Amendment 2 eliminated a pronouncement in the Tennessee Constitution declaring, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”

In place of that sentence, which had been part of the state’s guiding document since 1870, Amendment 2 established a new system in which the governor picks the judges to serve on appeals courts and the Supreme Court. Those appointments are then subject to an as yet unestablished legislative confirmation process and, later, retention elections in which voters choose to keep or reject the judges.

However, the portion of the Tennessee Constitution cited by the secretary of state’s office on Friday, Article VII, was in fact not altered by Amendment 2.

Article VII addresses “State and County Officers.” Amendment 2 rewrote only Section 3 of Article VI, which is titled, “Judicial Department.”

Amendment 2 modified the Tennessee Constitution so that it now declares that the state’s most powerful judges “shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor.”

In wake of Wade’s retirement announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration indicated confusion over whether their new Supreme Court appointee will stand for a retention vote in August 2016 — the next regularly scheduled judicial election — or in 2022, when Wade’s full term was scheduled to expire.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week that Haslam’s office had determined that the timing for Wade’s replacement to face retention election is “unclear at this time.”

“We anticipate the General Assembly will address the question when they reconvene early next year,” the governor’s deputy director of communications told the Commercial Appeal.

Current Tennessee statutory code, which was in effect before passage of Amendment 2, requires judges to win retention within two years of being appointed to the court.

The new constitutional mechanisms contained in Amendment 2 were sold to voters under the promise that they would add “checks and balances” and provide “more clarity” to the state’s process for selecting appeals and high-court judges.

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Featured NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Wade Departure Sets in Motion New Procedures for Picking Supreme Court Judges

Just a year after mounting a zealous and richly financed campaign to keep his seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court, Justice Gary Wade announced Friday that he’s retiring from the bench later this summer.

The 67-year-old judge told the Knoxville News Sentinel over the weekend, “I just don’t have as much energy as I used to have.” Wade may take a job as dean of Knoxville’s John J. Duncan Jr. School of Law at Lincoln Memorial University, according to the story.

Wade, who from 2012-2014 served as chief justice of the state’s high court, said last week in a statement through the Administrative Office of the Courts that his resignation will take effect Sept. 8. His current term began Sept. 1, 2014 and was scheduled to expire in 2022. The release offered no reason for Justice Wade’s decision to step down, although a spokeswoman for the court told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “He just said he thinks it’s time.”

Democrats Likely Losing Control of 5-Member Court

Wade and two fellow Tennessee Supreme Court justices, Sharon Lee and Cornelia Clark, won fresh eight-year terms in retention elections last August after surviving an ouster attempt funded heavily by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s political action committee.

The three justices, all appointed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, ran a “coordinated campaign” to retain their seats. They raised more than a million dollars in the effort — much of it from the state’s legal community and the Tennessee Democratic Party.

In a statement on Facebook Friday, Ramsey congratulated Justice Wade on his retirement and called him “a good friend and a formidable opponent.”

“I look forward to this historic opportunity to give Tennessee its first ever Republican Supreme Court majority,” wrote Ramsey.

Wade’s retirement will set in motion an as-yet unsettled and untested new process for selecting and approving new appellate-level judges that was ratified by Tennessee voters last year.

Voters Gave Power to Governor  

Driven by a massive campaign effort bankrolled by a broad coalition of powerful special interests and backed by a bipartisan confederation of political establishment elites, “Amendment 2” won statewide approval in November with about 61 percent of the electorate in favor. Very little was comparatively raised in opposition.

Although Tennessee voters weren’t expressly told so on the ballot, Amendment 2 blotted out a nettlesome sentence that had been part of the state’s foundational government document since 1870: “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”

Despite that language, the state’s most powerful politicians and judges had for decades prior to Amendment 2’s passage denied that traditionally understood definitions of elections were ever constitutionally mandated for judges in Tennessee. They opted instead to codify a “merit selection” and “retention election” plan similar to that outlined in Amendment 2.

The judicial appointment process now in place is not much different than what’s been used since 2009: The governor will appoint a replacement for Justice Wade from a slate of suggested names sent to him from a “Council for Judicial Appointments.” The council will have 60 days to make its recommendations after formally being requested to do so by the governor.

Confirmation Biases

Once the governor announces his choice to serve on the court, the state’s constitution as altered by Amendment 2 now directs that a legislative confirmation process take place when the General Assembly meets again in January.

There’s a small problem with that, though. The actual procedure by which confirmation is to be deliberated upon, or the appointee rejected, hasn’t yet been established by the General Assembly.

The GOP supermajority-controlled Legislature failed this past session to agree upon or approve a procedure for confirming or potentially rejecting a judicial nominee sent to them by the governor.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, the Shelby County Republican who authored Amendment 2, also sponsored a bill this past session outlining a proposed confirmation process for the General Assembly.

But that legislation stalled on the final day of regular legislative business, April 22, when the 99-member House and 33-member Senate couldn’t stop squabbling over how to weight the votes of their members in such a process.

In his “2015 Yearly Review,” Kelsey wrote that the confirmation legislation “awaits final reconciliation next year.”

Appearances of Accountability

The new legislative approval-or-rejection component was in fact a key selling point Amendment 2 backers promoted to convince voters the constitutional rewrite included appropriate checks and balances, as well as “greater clarity and accountability,” in the judicial selection process.

Sen. Kelsey dubbed Amendment 2 a “Founding Fathers Plus” plan when he first started floating it a few years ago. He said it was designed to mimic and improve upon the U.S. federal government’s judicial selection system.

“It is called the ‘plus’ plan because the Senate plus the House are included in confirmation, as opposed to the federal plan, in which confirmation is limited to the Senate,” Kelsey wrote in a 2013 op-ed.

The “Yes on 2” campaign last year played up the lawmaker-oversight aspect of the amendment as well. Amendment 2 was written to introduce “a new layer of accountability by having our elected representatives in the legislature confirm or reject the Governor’s appointees,” the Yes on 2 campaign proclaimed.

But Amendment 2 also contained a provision, now enshrined in the Tennessee Constitution, enabling judges to circumvent legislative confirmation if lawmakers can’t agree on a nominee or a way to approve or deny a governor’s selection — as happened this last session.

“Confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session, or the convening date of the next annual legislative session, if made out of session,” the Tennessee Constitution presently declares.

20150726_130100That matter was addressed earlier this year by Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slatery, who wrote that the governor can appoint judges as he sees fit, and if the General Assembly can’t speak with a unified voice then there’s nothing they can do to stop judges from taking a seat on the bench.

“(T)he Legislature may reject an appointee only by taking affirmative action to do so within the specified time limit. Confirmation, on the other hand, may be by affirmative action or by inaction,” Slatery wrote in a March 27 opinion in response to a query by Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, the Tennessee House’s sponsor of Amendment 2.

Slatery concluded, “The Legislature may act affirmatively to confirm, but if it does not act within the specified time limits either to confirm or reject, the appointee is confirmed by default.”

Under current state law, the new member of the Tennessee Supreme Court Haslam appoints will presumably stand for retention election in August 2016, along with Justices Holly Kirby and Jeff Bivins, who Haslam appointed last year.

Amendment 2 declared that after judges are appointed and confirmed, they “shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state.”

The General Assembly hasn’t yet approved statutory language regarding judicial retention elections since passage of Amendment 2. But the Kelsey legislation, Senate Bill 1, would require — as is the case under current law — that judges appointed to fill a vacancy “face a retention election…at the next regular August election following confirmation, and the retention election shall be for the remainder of the eight-year term.”

TNReport is awaiting clarification from the Tennessee secretary of state’s office on the timing of the new Supreme  Court appointee’s retention election.

Gov. Haslam in a statement Friday thanked Wade “for his years of service to Tennessee as a dedicated member of the judiciary.”

“I greatly appreciate Gary’s commitment to justice and his love for our state,” the governor said. “Tennessee will miss his service on the Supreme Court, and I am grateful for his good work.”

 

Categories
Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

TN Complying With SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: Governor, AG

Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement Friday pledging that state government departments “will comply…as quickly as possible” with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that appears to nullify a “marriage protection amendment” added to the Tennessee Constitution a decade ago.

“The people of Tennessee have recently voted clearly on this issue,” Haslam said of the same-sex marriage ban voters overwhelmingly ratified in 2006. “The Supreme Court has overturned that vote.”

Media outlets across the state reported a rush among same-sex couples to obtain legal nuptials from duly authorized government officials in wake of the ruling.

On a 5-4 vote in the case of  Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, joined the court’s liberals — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — in declaring that states cannot ban same-sex marriages and also must recognize such marriages performed in other states.

Tennessee was among the states, along with Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, where prohibitions against same-sex marriage recognition were under challenge before the high court.

Writing for the majority, Kennedy observed that society’s assumptions about marriage have been subject to modified over the ages. But marriage remains, he wrote, “a keystone of the Nation’s social order.”

“Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations,” he contended.

“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest,” Kennedy said. “With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

Kennedy wrote that it has become apparent to the 5-member majority that the state laws in question “burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality.”

They therefore concluded that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

“The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry,” wrote Kennedy. “No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

The bottom line, he wrote, is that a majority on the court believes “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States.”

“It follows that the Court also must hold—and it now does hold—that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character,” Kennedy wrote.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged “strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness” advanced in the majority opinion.

Nevertheless, Roberts remarked, “this Court is not a legislature.”

“Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be,” wrote Roberts, who just a day before the Obergefell v. Hodges came down released a controversial opinion of his own on the Affordable Care Act. As a result of his reasoning in King v. Burwell, the chief justice — who was appointed by George W. Bush — was himself accused by critics of reconfiguring statutory language to suit a desired outcome.

Quoting Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, Roberts proclaimed, “The people who ratified the Constitution authorized courts to exercise ‘neither force nor will but merely judgment’.”

State’s Arguments Slain, Slatery Vows to Bow to SCOTUS

In the wake of oral arguments before the Supreme Court back in April, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued a statement reiterating his desire to see the justices leave decisions about marriage recognition to individual states.

“This has been the longstanding province of the states and our position is that it should stay that way,” said Slatery, adding that “citizens of the state (should) vote and decide such important issues.”

On Friday afternoon, Slatery issued an opinion blasting the ruling.

The majority’s order “not only changes the definition of marriage, but takes from the states and their citizens the longstanding authority to vote and decide what marriage means,” Slatery said in a prepared statement.

“To the Tennessee citizen who asks, ‘Don’t we get a chance to vote on this in some way?’ the answer from the Supreme Court is a resounding, ‘No, you do not’,” Slatery continued. “For the court to tell all Tennesseans that they have no voice, no right to vote on the issues is disappointing.”

All the same, the attorney general committed his office to “take the necessary steps to implement the decision.” In a press conference Friday afternoon, Slatery advised that government marriage-license issuers should refrain henceforth from discriminating against same-sex couples.

Issue Appears Partisan Now, But Wasn’t Always

The Tennessee Republican and Democratic Parties issued sharply differing reactions to the ruling after it was released Friday.

“With today’s decision we see that love and respect has triumphed and we rejoice knowing that every person has the right to marry the person they love,” TNDP chair Mary Mancini said in a press release statement. “Today is a day that Democrats celebrate with those couples as they build strong families while securing a future for themselves, in Tennessee and across our nation.”

butt scotus2Ryan Haynes, chairman of the Tennessee GOP — which dominates state and congressional elected offices — lamented the court’s invalidation of the apparent will of the people.

“Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman,” Haynes said. “If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process but, unfortunately, today’s judicial activism short-circuits that ability. While this has long been pushed by the Democrats’ agenda, the issue is far from settled.”

In fact, both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly were controlled by Democrats when it voted twice on lopsided tallies in favor of altering the state’s constitution to limit legal marriages to “one man and one woman.” Among the co-sponsors of the gay-marriage ban, which won approval in 2004 and 2005, were Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the present-day House minority leader, and former Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory, who in the past served as House Democratic Caucus chairman.

Mike Turner and Craig FitzhughTwo-term Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who preceded Haslam, supported the same-sex marriage ban when it won ratification before voters in 2006, the same year he won re-election to the state’s highest elected office.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Fitzhugh indicatd he’s altered his perspective over the years. While he understands how “emotionally charged” the debate over same-sex marriage has been, the ranking House Democrat said he supports the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I firmly believe that civil marriage is a fundamental right for all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and that there should be no governmental interference with the bond that two loving people have for each other,” Fitzhugh said. “Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms this founding principle.”

Categories
Featured Health Care NewsTracker

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of IRS on Obamacare Exchange Subsidies

(Note: This post will be updated with reactions from Tennessee advocates, organizations and elected officials throughout the day)

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the Obama administration’s interpretation and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is close enough for government work.

Writing for the court’s 6-3 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the plain wording of the ACA relating to whether or not participants in federal health insurance exchanges should receive subsidy tax credits “is properly viewed as ambiguous.”

But despite the ambiguity, the court concluded that the Internal Revenue Service validly interpreted the law when it deemed that all Americans are potentially eligible for the coverage subsidies, regardless of whether they are enrolled in state- or federally run exchanges.

An estimated 6.4 million Americans will hence get to keep their subsidies if they obtained government-approved medical insurance through Healthcare.gov.

“In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined — ‘to say what the law is’,” wrote Roberts, citing the seminal Marbury v. Madison case, an early 19th Century Supreme Court opinion that’s generally regarded as the cornerstone of judicial review. “That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.”

Roberts concluded that the Democratically controlled Congress that passed the Affordable Care Act did so “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

“If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter,” continued Roberts, who back in 2012 provided the swing vote in favor of upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance mandate.

In the King v. Burwell opinion released Thursday, Roberts concluded that, taken in the context of the whole law, the disputed provision of the ACA that seems to grant subsidies only for participants of state-run exchanges can in fact “fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.”

Critics of the Affordable Care Act, which became law in March of 2010, argued that the phrasing of the ACA clearly indicates health-insurance subsidies should be available only to participants of health insurance exchanges “established by the State” — and by extension, not the federal government’s exchanges.

During congressional debate over Obamacare, it was anticipated that most if not all states would create their own online exchanges for citizens to purchase subsidized insurance. In fact, though, only 13 states now run their own exchange “marketplace” websites for individual health insurance coverage.

Tennessee is among the 18 states that have left creation of an exchange entirely to the federal government. In total, 36 exchanges are administered in some capacity by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.

In a derisively worded dissent joined by conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia wrote that the court’s majority had essentially added words to the statute, and in so doing expanded the scope of the law beyond its established limits.

“The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government’,” declared Scalia. “That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”

Later in his dissent, Scalia wrote:

“Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’ It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words ‘established by the State.’ And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words ‘by the State’ other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges.”

In the majority’s opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “the meaning of the phrase ‘an Exchange established by the State under (the ACA)’ may seem plain” on its own. But such a reading is “untenable” when weighed against the entirety of the law.

“In this instance, the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase,” wrote Roberts.

Below are some reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling from Tennessee politicians and organizations:

Press release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee:

Nashville, Tenn. (June 25, 2015) — Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling on King v.Burwell regarding the Affordable Care Act:

“We are relieved for the nearly 200,000 Tennesseans who will continue to have access to affordable health care. It’s clear that the Supreme Court justices did the right thing in looking at the intent of the law rather than siding with a twisted interpretation of individual phrases.

The Affordable Care Act has saved lives and will continue help build a healthier America. The TNDP will continue to work to ensure every Tennessean has access to affordable health care, especially those in the “insurance gap” left by the Republican failure to pass Insure TN. For Democrats, the fight for strong families and effective government is not over, even with this ruling.”

Press release from the Republican Party of Tennessee:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.–Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell:

“ObamaCare was created, passed, and implemented on a party-line basis. Democrats essentially shoved this down the throats of Americans and it is disheartening to see the Court develop another avenue to keep this hurtful law alive. Individuals and businesses are struggling under this law. Republicans are going to continue offering solutions to actually drive health care costs down and make quality health care accessible once again—which is the exact opposite of what Americans have gotten under this flawed law.”

Statement from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee:

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 25 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell:

“It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court didn’t read the law the way that Congress wrote it. The 36 percent increase in some individual health care rates announced recently should remind Tennesseans that Obamacare was an historic mistake. It gave Americans higher health care costs while reducing our choices of health plans, doctors and hospitals. Republicans are ready to reduce the cost of health care so more people can afford it, put patients back in charge, and restore freedom and choice to the health care market.”

Statement from U.S. Sen Bob Corker, R-Tennessee:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on King v. Burwell.

“Today’s ruling affirms that it is up to Congress to come together around a responsible solution that provides relief from the damaging effects of the president’s health care law, including policies to provide far greater choice in the marketplace so affordable plans that meet the actual needs of Tennesseans can openly and effectively compete for their business,” said Corker.

Corker voted against passage of the health care law and has voted for legislation to repeal it.

Statement from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee 1st District: 

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) released the following statement on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court ruling:

“The president’s health care bill is so deeply flawed it cannot be fixed, and today’s ruling does not change that fact. Folks around the country are still struggling because of ObamaCare, and I will continue the fight to bring certainty to the American health care system and to transition away from this monstrosity to a patient-centered, market-based health care system.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tennessee 2nd District:

“The President and his supporters assured us many times that Obamacare would save the average family $2,500 a year.  Instead, most people have seen their premiums and other health care costs go way up.  Unfortunately, this ruling leaves Obamacare in place and preserves the status quo of rising prices and a declining quality of medical care for everyone.  The only way to really bring costs down and make health care affordable for all is to go totally in the opposite direction away from government-run health care.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee 3rd District:

Fleischmann Agrees Supreme Court’s Ruling is Absurd

This morning, the Supreme Court released its ruling on King v. Burwell, upholding that subsidies are allowed in the federal marketplace despite language in Obamacare explicitly stating otherwise. After the decision, Rep. Fleischmann released the following statement.

“I agree with Justice Scalia that this decision is ‘quite absurd.’ While I am disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling, the decision today confirmed what we have said all along: Obamacare is a poorly written law that was not read by the Members of Congress who passed it. Although this is a setback, it is by no means the end of our fight. I will continue to work to repeal Obamacare and replace it with true free market healthcare reform that benefits hardworking families and businesses in East Tennessee.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee 4th District:

Congressman Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (TN-04) released the following statement in response to the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in King v. Burwell upholding tax subsidies issued by federally run exchanges:

“I am terribly disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling. As I have said from the beginning, this issue goes well beyond the Affordable Care Act and to the very heart of our constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court has further expanded executive power to the point where the White House now believes it has the ability to unilaterally change laws – a power exclusively reserved for Congress. Though subsidies have been preserved for less than 5 percent of individuals, it does not change the fact that the vast majority of Tennesseans will continue to face unaffordable premiums and deductibles, which are set to increase by double-digits next year. That is why it is imperative we continue in our efforts to repeal this law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of Tennessee seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee 5th District:

Cooper Praises Supreme Court’s Health Care Ruling;
Says state must take next step and pass Insure Tennessee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5) today praised the Supreme Court for preserving federal subsidies that help an estimated 6.4 million Americans – including nearly 200,000 Tennesseans – pay for health insurance.

Cooper celebrated the ruling’s implications not only for those with federal subsidies, but also the insurance market and the preservation of benefits in the Affordable Care Act. For instance, health care insurers can no longer deny people for pre-existing conditions, and young adults can stay on a parent’s insurance plan until they turn 26.

Cooper also noted that the ruling removes a stated obstacle for passing Insure Tennessee.

“Tennessee legislators said they were waiting for the ruling,” Cooper said. “We now have it. They should finish the job and provide protection for all Tennesseans by passing Insure Tennessee.”

On Monday, Cooper will join a coalition of state and community leaders for a press conference on what’s next after today’s positive ruling.

Statement from U.S. Rep Diane Black, R-Tennessee 6th District:

Washington, DC– Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), a nurse for more than 40 years and member of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision in King vs. Burwell:

“Today’s irresponsible Supreme Court decision does not change the fact that Obamacare is a fundamentally broken law that has failed to deliver on its most basic promises,” said Congressman Diane Black. “I am deeply disappointed that the court shirked its duty as a coequal branch of government by not acting to hold this President accountable for following his own laws, but my resolve to erase Obamacare remains stronger than ever. After today, one thing is certain: if this disastrous law is to be stopped, it will require strong leadership from Congress. We as conservatives must redouble our efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. That is what Americans voted for at the ballot box last November and that is what they expect from us today.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee 7th District:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who serves as Vice Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, issued the following statement expressing her disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell.

“While today’s Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell is extremely disappointing, it does not change the fact that Obamacare is broken and was passed based on a series of deliberately misleading promises,” Blackburn said. “The president’s health care law has led to higher costs with even higher costs coming. The law has failed to provide affordable healthcare to Americans. It is nothing more than a broken promise – an insurance card but not actual health care. The law is fundamentally flawed, and the court’s decision does not change our resolve to repeal it and replace it with patient-centered solutions that will increase access to affordable healthcare for all Americans. Much like TennCare, Obamacare will have to be fixed by the next Administration.”

Press Release from U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee 8th District:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Stephen Fincher (TN-08) released the following statement after the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the President’s healthcare law in the case of King v. Burwell:

“Today’s ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare is still harmful to many Americans,” said Congressman Fincher. “Millions have been faced with higher premiums, lost coverage, reduced paychecks, and many other damaging side effects. My Republican colleagues and I remain committed to repealing this unworkable law and giving the American people what they asked for all along – real solutions that increase people’s access to quality and affordable healthcare.”

Background:
King v. Burwell was a case brought before the Court by David King against Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Secretary,  Sylvia Mathews Burwell, over subsidies used to purchase health insurance on federally established exchanges. King argued that, as written, Obamacare only provides for tax subsidies to individuals if they purchase health insurance through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Court upheld Secretary Burwell’s argument, allowing citizens of states without a state based exchange to utilize federal subsidies to purchase health insurance.

Statement from U.S. Rep Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee 9th District:

WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell ruling that upheld the health insurance subsidies provided to millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act:

“This ruling affirms that the subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act to our citizens are legal,” said Congressman Cohen. “I am pleased the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the law which is working and making health coverage affordable for millions of Americans, including more than 230,000 Tennesseans who are receiving an average of $213 each month through the law. I hope that this ruling will help the nation to see that the Affordable Care Act is a federal law that is keeping Americans healthy and alive, and that it is here to stay. I also remain hopeful that the Tennessee General Assembly will finally act to expand Medicaid so that our citizens can access the same benefits of the law that residents of other states do.”

Reaction from Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, reported by the Tennessee News Network:

“Number one, I’m surprised,I thought they would rule the other way.

“Number two, I’m disappointed in the sense that I really did think this would be an opportunity to fix some things in the law that were broken.

“Third, though, I am pleased for those folks who have insurance subsidies now and for the insurance companies that have a more predictable environment to operate in.

“So while philosophically I did not agree with the ruling, in terms of the smoothness of the market and people being able to obtain insurance in a predictable way, it’s good.”

Statement from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville:

The Supreme Court today provided mere short-term relief to a long-term problem. While the Supreme Court decision will not result in millions losing their health coverage immediately, it is clear to everyone that deep and fundamental flaws in the law remain. I look forward to 2016 and electing a president who can appropriately assess the damage and chart a course away from Obamacare.

Statement from Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley:

No more excuses on Insure Tennessee

Nashville, TN: House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh released the following statement on the Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell:

“Regardless of your feelings about the Affordable Care Act, one of the most conservative courts in the history of this country has ruled–again–that it is the law of the land. There are no more excuses for this legislature or its leadership to ignore the 300,000 working men and women waiting on health care. We have work to do. It is my hope that the Governor and our speakers will call legislators back to Nashville immediately to work on passing Insure Tennessee.”

Statement from Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville:

Supreme Court decision means 155,000 Tennesseans can keep their insurance, and one less excuse not to pass Insure Tennessee

The United States Supreme Court rejected another challenge to the Affordable Care Act today. That’s great news for two reasons.

First, Tennesseans can continue to receive tax credits and cost assistance when they purchase health insurance on the federal exchange. More than 155,000 individuals and families use that help to pay for their coverage.

Second, now that it is clear that the Affordable Care Act will continue to be the law of the land, there is a much better chance of passing Insure Tennessee.

Opposition to Insure Tennessee has always been part of a national effort to overturn the ACA. In fact, the leaders of the opposition to Insure Tennessee signed onto a brief urging the Supreme Court to gut the law. Now that we know the law will survive, we can hopefully do what is right for Tennessee.

  • Will we continue to force over 250,000 to go without insurance?
  • Will we continue to reject the infusion of $1 billion into the Tennessee economy — without one additional penny of taxes on Tennesseans?
  • Will we continue to put Tennessee hospitals and the jobs of our health care workers in jeopardy?
  • Will we continue to force doctors and hospitals to provide uncompensated care to the uninsured and pass those costs along to everyone else who has insurance?

We all understand that there is opposition to the ACA. But today’s decision confirms that it will continue to be the law. And it’s increasingly unlikely that Congress will repeal it. Repeal in part or in full has been proposed and rejected more than 50 times.

Study after study demonstrates that states that have expanded Medicaid have seen significant budget savings, revenue gains, and made greater health coverage gains while saving money.

You can rest assured that some opponents will find a new excuse to oppose Insure Tennessee. It’s like a bad game of whack-a-mole. Some will say that now we should wait until a new President is inaugurated – 19 months from now. But serious people should recognize that continuing to oppose the expansion of health coverage in Tennessee at this point isn’t remotely what’s in the best interest of Tennessee.

No more excuses. Contact our legislators and let them know it’s time to get serious about Insure Tennessee.

Press Release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives:

Below are statements from House Republican leadership following today’s King V. Burwell decision by the United States Supreme Court:

“The Supreme Court’s decision is both surprising and disappointing. However, there will be no interruption for Tennesseans who have insurance through the federal exchange and no major disruption to the state’s insurance marketplace. The Supreme Court’s ruling shows the Affordable Care Act is a federal program, and this gives the U.S. Congress the opportunity to address the significant problems with the law. With Tennessee’s TennCare waiver up for renewal next year, I hope HHS will be in a different posture to consider additional flexibility for our state Medicaid program and will consider block grants.” — Speaker Beth Harwell (R–Nashville)

“Obviously, I am disappointed with today’s Supreme Court ruling. ObamaCare has been a failed law from the start, and it is unfortunate that it has survived another legal challenge. I am hopeful that our elected officials in Washington will take action to repeal this law and replace it with something that will be beneficial for all citizens.” — Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R–Chattanooga)

“As the Speaker stated, this decision from the Supreme Court is both surprising and disappointing. Now, more than ever, it is time for us to stand firm and tell Congress that it needs to clean up its own mess. ObamaCare is Washington’s problem and it needs to be repealed by Washington. Here in Tennessee, we will continue our fight against federal government mandates in our personal lives as we look for additional ways to protect our state from this flawed law.” — Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R–Thompson Station)

Tweets from Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis:

“I’m glad the Supreme Court rendered a ruling that preserves health insurance subsidies that hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans rely on.”

“Now that the SCOTUS has ruled, there are few excuses for not bringing Insure Tennessee for a debate and vote on the floor.”

Tweet from State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown:

“For the 2nd time, the Sup Ct has rewritten ACA to uphold it. It will take the new Congress & a new pres to repeal the flawed ObamaCare law.”

Statement from State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro:

“The Supreme Court has saved Obamacare yet again. In this ruling, they have given the IRS the power to rewrite laws passed by Congress. Absolutely ridiculous, not to mention dangerous.”

Statement from State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville:

“The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on King v. Burwell, and budget deficit arguments, as well as other reasons for opposition, have proven baseless.  No more excuses – we must act now on Insure Tennessee.  Further delay is harmful and inexcusable.  While the Governor and the majority in the state legislature sit on their hands quixotically awaiting political winds to change, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans continue to needlessly suffer without access to affordable healthcare.  Thousands of Tennessee families sit around their dinner tables praying this week’s paycheck will not be their last.  Dozens of hospitals across the state remain in budgetary limbo doing whatever it takes to keep their doors open.
As elected officials, we have a duty to serve all the people of Tennessee.  Let us not forget that this is a duty each of us voluntarily placed upon our own shoulders.  The inexcusable failure to act immediately and effectively on this issue constitutes a breach of our public duty, and those responsible for this failure should be held accountable.”

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee:

Obamacare Subsidies Upheld by Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court determined that the IRS’s interpretation of the subsidy provision of the Affordable Care Act was lawful. Even though the plain wording of the Act provides that tax subsidies are available only for individuals who enroll “through an Exchange established by the State,” the IRS interpreted this provision to apply equally to states like Tennessee, where the federal government operates the exchange.

This decision underscores the need to continue working to make healthcare more affordable, effective, and protected from the arbitrary decisions of the IRS. It also means that thousands of small businesses and low-income Tennesseans who opt out of purchasing insurance will continue to be penalized by fines stemming from the individual and employer mandates—a scenario that could have been prevented if the Court had overturned the IRS rule.

Beacon CEO and attorney Justin Owen stated, “Despite the ruling today, we must find ways to make healthcare more accessible to all Tennesseans. Allowing the IRS to change the law to apply subsidies and penalties in states with no exchange means that the true cost of healthcare will continue to be disguised from consumers and shifted to someone else.”

Owen went on to note, “Obamacare has been proven to be unaffordable, unworkable, and unfair. We should not invite further consequences of this already failing law into our state by expanding Medicaid. Instead we should focus on real solutions that will help all Tennesseans obtain quality healthcare and the insurance plan they like. Examples include repealing the costly insurance mandate for all Americans, expanding charity care, embracing innovations such as telemedicine, and reforming the existing Medicaid program for those truly in need.”

 Press Release from the Tennessee Health Care Campaign:

Good Decision

Statement by Walter Davis, Executive Director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign:

The Supreme Court was right to recognize that health reform provides tax credits for consumers in all states. Now it’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to accept that the law is working and take important steps to fully implement it.

Today is a good day for Tennesseans and all Americans. It is time for state and federal legislators to realize that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land. More than that, it is a law that is working for the good of all Americans. Fewer uninsured. Calming of price increases. Preventive care available to millions reducing the costs and lessening the risk of serious diseases.

The Supreme Court was right to recognize that health reform provides tax credits for consumers in all states. Now it’s time for people on both sides of the aisle to accept that the law is working and take important steps to fully implement it.

The Court made the right decision on the law, which is good for millions of people, including the Tennesseans who have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance marketplace.

The Supreme Court found what should have been obvious from the beginning… the intent of Congress was clear and the ACA is clear that subsidies are available in both federal and state exchanges.

Millions of people, including 220,000 in Tennessee, would have lost their subsidies and been at risk of losing their coverage, and insurance markets would have been destabilized had the Court invalidated the subsidies contrary to what Congress intended when it passed the Affordable Care Act.

Likewise, Congress should now reject harmful, drastic, structural changes to Medicaid, such as a block grant or “per capita cap” which would be strangling Medicaid access over time.

Now Tennessee policymakers should recognize health reform is working, abandon efforts to undermine it, and instead take advantage of the opportunities that health reform offers to improve lives. The first step should be to expand Medicaid – or accept Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee.

States that have expanded Medicaid have seen large gains in the number of adults with health insurance and they are saving money in family budgets. Hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of “uncompensated care” they are providing is declining steeply. Tennessee has already lost nearly One and a Half Billion Dollars since the beginning of the ACA.

Tennessee has failed to expand Medicaid and is falling further behind, leaving thousands of people unnecessarily uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage.
Nationally, 3.7 million people are uninsured and without access to affordable health coverage because of states’ failure to accept available federal funds for Medicaid coverage for their residents.

In short, the Supreme Court got it right. Now it is time for Tennessee’s legislators, starting with the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House to accept the law of the land. Make sure people needing help get it. Don’t make life more difficult for people who need insurance and now have a path to affording it. Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey, this time do the right thing.

Press Release from Grant Starrett, Republican Candidate for United States Congress, 4th District:

(MURFREESBORO, Tenn.) – Today, Grant Starrett released the following statement on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court decision:

“I am disgusted that the Supreme Court has continued its tortured analysis of the Frankenstein law known as ObamaCare. This goes to show the importance of vetting and getting the right judges, especially when Republicans appoint them. Unfortunately, Chief Justice Roberts, who pledged to merely be an umpire, has shown that his strike zone varies considerably based on the issue before the court. He himself concedes that the court rejects the “most natural reading” of ObamaCare in order to uphold a law that is unaffordable – both for the government supervising it, and the people regulated by it. This ruling also goes to show the importance of electing the right people to repeal ObamaCare entirely and reorient our healthcare system toward a free market alternative.

“We recently learned that under ObamaCare, individual plans in Tennessee could see drastic premium increases next year. Tennesseans need a free market alternative to this unaffordable law, and they need someone in Washington who will fight for that alternative.
“In short, we need people who will actually do what they say they’re going to do – on the bench, and in Congress.”

Press Release from the Tennessee Medical Association:

TMA Statement on King vs. Burwell

The Supreme Court’s ruling today provides much-needed clarity for healthcare providers and patients in Tennessee.

The uncertainty surrounding tax credits and federal and state health insurance exchanges jeopardized patient care and was a potential disruptor to our healthcare system, especially for the nearly 156,000 Tennesseans who currently use federal subsidies to purchase health insurance on the federal exchange.

We can now all move forward with a continued focus on increasing access, delivering quality care and improving patient health.

Statement from the Tennessee Hospital Association:

“The King v. Burwell case has been one closely watched by hospitals across the country, but especially here in Tennessee. As we continue to provide services to more than 400,000 uninsured Tennesseans, maintaining coverage for the roughly 156,000 people in our state who have insurance through the federal Exchange with subsidized premiums is increasingly important.

“With today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, the future of federal subsidies for this coverage is secured and thousands Tennesseans will rest easier knowing they can continue to afford their monthly premiums.

“Our state’s hospitals are committed to caring for all people in our state, regardless of coverage status. However, in an era of significant reimbursement cuts and financial challenges, widespread insurance coverage is a critical issue for hospitals. As a result, the Supreme Court’s ruling is especially good news for our industry.

“THA and its members are grateful for today’s decision and its implication for the future of insurance coverage in our state and across the nation.”

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of Americans for Prosperity:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans for Prosperity Tennessee issued the following statement in response to today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the case King v. Burwell:

“We will not let politics be a distraction in the discussion on healthcare; our focus should be on people” said Andrew Ogles, state director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee. “Today’s decision only adds to the anxiety of Tennesseans who have already been harmed by Obamacare’s burdensome mandates and out-of-control costs. Our efforts to encourage Congress to bring state-based and patient-focused reforms to healthcare will not stop.”

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Multiple Facets to Debate Over Removal of Controversial Confederate General’s Bust from Capitol

A high-ranking Tennessee lawmaker who sponsored a 2013 law prohibiting removal of war-related monuments and memorials from public property opposes calls to get a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the Statehouse.

Steve McDaniel, a Republican from Parkers Crossroads who serves as deputy speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, said Forrest is a notable figure in the state’s history, and the monument should remain where it is now, so that visitors to the Capitol can see it and “react” to it.

McDaniel said the basic purpose of the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act” that he, along with Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, sponsored two years ago is to preserve articles of historical remembrance. The law itself was passed as a reaction to the the city of Memphis renaming a local park named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“It is there and it is part of our history — it is part of our Tennessee history and it is part of our national history,” McDaniel, who also chairs the House Ethics Committee, said of the Forrest bust at the Capitol in Nashville.

Steve McDaniel, square picIf items that commemorate people and episodes of history are removed because of contemporary political pressures, “we will start forgetting what our history is about, what happened,” said McDaniel, whose bio on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website says that his “interests include southern historic preservation.”

But a number of prominent Tennessee politicians of both partisan persuasions have indicated they in fact support banishing the bust. Their ranks include Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who in 2013 signed the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.” That law won approval in the GOP-dominated Legislature on vote tallies of 69-22 in the House and 26-3 in the Senate.

heritage protection actThe Heritage Protection Act contains different sections covering different types of monuments — and there may be some legal ambiguity, for example, as to whether the NBF bust constitutes a memorial to “the War Between the States,” or rather if it is a statue or monument to a “historical military figure.”

McDaniel acknowledged there may be some unintended uncertainty in the way the law is written regarding whether the Tennessee Historical Commission has authority to order the bust removed under a “waiver” provision in the statute. McDaniel said his “intent,” however, was that such decisions must come before the full Legislature.

Democrats generally opposed the Heritage Protection Act when it was up in the Legislature, particularly in the House.

McDaniel drew ire from minority-party and legislative Black Caucus members when he refused to add amendment language to the measure protecting monuments dedicated to 1960s Civil Rights Movement leaders and events. McDaniel said during floor debate at the time that he wanted to keep the measure “narrowed to Tennessee’s military history.”

In wake of the mass-homicide attack last week by a 21-year-old white gunman, apparently motivated by murderous racial animus, that left nine people slain at a black church in Charleston, S.C., there has been a political clamor across the South to purge symbols associated with the Confederacy from public spaces.

In several states, debate has centered around the Confederate flag. In Tennessee, outrage has focused more on commemorations of Forrest — the bust at the Capitol, a statue of the Confederate military commander on private property but highly visible along I-65 in Nashville, and the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Benton County.

Hero or Hatemonger?

According to the online edition of The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Nathan Bedford Forrest “established a reputation as one of the greatest cavalry generals of the Civil War.” He is described as “one of the finest Confederate cavalry commanders and one of the foremost military figures produced by the state of Tennessee.”

“(Forrest’s) ferocity as a warrior was almost legendary. His claim to have slain one more enemy soldiers in personal combat than the twenty-nine horses killed beneath him only added to the legend. Forrest understood, perhaps better than most, the basic premise of war: ‘War means fighting and fighting means killing’,” reports his entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, which is a joint project of the Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee Press.

“Despite a mere six months of formal education, Forrest rose from semi-subsistence to planter status, acquiring substantial property and wealth, largely through the slave trade,” it says of his pre-war years.

Also noted are two of the most controversial — some would argue notorious — aspects of his legacy.

Nathan Bedford Forrest portrait“Promoted to major general on December 4, 1863, Forrest conducted raids against Federal communications and supply lines in Tennessee. In April 1864 he captured Fort Pillow, north of Memphis. In the latter stages of that battle, Forrest lost control of his men. As members of the black and Tennessee Unionist garrison attempted to surrender, an act for which they should have been spared, some of Forrest’s men fired on them. Of the fort’s 585-605 men, between 277 and 297 were killed; 64 percent of these were U.S. Colored Troops. Charges of a ‘Fort Pillow Massacre’ became grist for Northern propaganda mills during the war and plagued Forrest for the remainder of his life.”

After the war, Forrest “embraced the Ku Klux Klan, assuming the role of the first Grand Wizard of the secret organization,” according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia.

“Through it he sought to restore white conservative Democrats to power. Even so, he never completely adjusted to the new realities of the postwar South,” the NBF entry continues. “In the 1870s Forrest’s health began to fail, and he died in Memphis on October 29, 1877.

Bipartisan Agreement: NBF Doesn’t Belong in Capitol

Present-day Democrats are among those leading the charge to erase Forrest’s name and likeness from government-owned property.

In a statement to the Tennessean, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, wrote, “Symbols of hate should not be promoted by government. South Carolina should remove the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol, and Tennessee should remove the bust of Forrest inside our Capitol.” In the same article, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was quoted saying that “our Capitol should be representative of the people of Tennessee.” Fitzhugh said he believes more commemoration of women and African Americans is in order.

“Only those that represent the very best of Tennessee should be afforded such recognition in the halls of state government,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said in a statement Wednesday. “We can’t and shouldn’t sanitize our history, but we do have a choice about which individuals we honor and elevate as models to school groups touring the Capitol.”

A statement Wednesday from Tennessee’s 17-member Black Caucus of State Legislators, all of whom are Democrats, demanded “the removal of a bust of Confederate General and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol.”

The Black Caucus “fully supports the growing movement to remove racist symbols from places of prominence across the country,” read the statement, which added: “Since the tragic murder of nine African-American church members in South Carolina last week, a national debate has re-ignited about the appropriateness of these symbols being displayed, particularly the Confederate flag that currently flies in front of the South Carolina statehouse.”

Republicans lawmakers are voicing discontent with the NBF bust as well.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga sent a letter to the State Capitol Commission Tuesday declaring, “In light of recent events, I feel it is appropriate to reevaluate the current placement of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in our State Capitol.”

“Nathan Bedford Forrest’s military prowess and exploits in the Civil War have been well-documented,” wrote McCormick. “However, his background as a slave trader and a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan overshadows his contribution to our state’s history in the minds of many. Certainly, we should attempt to find the proper balance between honoring his military accomplishments versus his less positive attributes.”

haslam and gerald mccormick 2015McCormick is seeking “a recommendation from the Capitol Commission that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust be removed from its current location in our Capitol and be turned over to the Tennessee Historical Commission for an appropriate placement, perhaps in a Civil War setting in which his military service can be put in the proper perspective.”

“I realize that this is a passionate topic,” McCormick concluded. “I look forward to discussing this matter with each of you in a way that will reflect positively on our state at the next Capitol Commission meeting.”

McDaniel: Whitewashing History Wrong

A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who is active as a Civil War battlefield preservationist, McDaniel takes a more charitable view of Forrest than critics of the Capitol bust.

He called Forrest “a military genius.”

“That is the reason I admire him,” McDaniel said, adding that Forrest “is still studied today when you look at military tactics, his tactics are studied by our modern-day military.”

McDaniel said that “generally speaking” he regards Nathan Bedford Forrest as an honorable figure in the history of the American South. “You have to look at a person like him in the context of his time,” McDaniel said. “None of us today would ever condone slavery, but that was a different day and a different time. And so you have to do the best you can to judge someone in their time frame of when they lived.”

McDaniel said Forrest was cleared of allegations he committed what amounted to war crimes at Fort Pillow, and that his association with the KKK is somewhat misunderstood today.

“He was not a founder of the Klan” said McDaniel. “They founded the Klan and then placed the honor of being the top person — they asked Forrest to be the first grand wizard, which he accepted because of what they initially stood for. But he saw that they were not standing for the principles that he believed in, so he resigned and disbanded the Klan. And of course the Klan has come back many times, and most of the time they are waving the Confederate flag. And so those that appreciate history think that is very unfortunate that people have abused the intent of the Confederate flag.”

McDaniel noted that he draws a distinction between the debate over Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee and controversies boiling with respect to the Confederate flag. “I wouldn’t be a proponent of flying the Confederate battle flag over any government building,” he said.

McDaniel said he does not oppose removing the bust on the grounds that any honest examination of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s life must necessarily prove he was a noble man. Rather, McDaniel said he thinks people should be free to draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions about him.

“If the Forrest bust is not there, then we remove part of history and people won’t have an opportunity to react one way or the other,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, sent a letter of his own to the Capitol Commission Wednesday urging the members “to begin the process of evaluating the characteristics of Tennesseans who should be honored in the Capitol Complex.”

Ramsey’s letter didn’t mention Nathan Bedford Forrest by name, but noted that “(t)hose honored in the Capitol should be those who accurately reflect the historic accomplishments of the Volunteer State and its people.”

“Under state law, the Tennessee State Capitol Commission is given the power to develop a master plan for the capitol building and its grounds and to determine its furnishings,” wrote Ramsey. “As such, we are writing to encourage you to begin the process of evaluating the characteristics of Tennesseans who should be honored in the Capitol Complex.”