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Nashville’s Mary Mancini Announces State Senate Candidacy

Progressive Mary Mancini, the former executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, will run for the Democratic nomination for state Senate’s District 21 seat.

Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry, the Tennessee Legislature’s longest serving member, is retiring next year.

“It’s been an incredible experience to lead Citizen Action because it is such a well-respected organization whose mission aligns so completely with my personal values and priorities,” Mancini said. “But the work we did made me realize that Tennesseans need a principled progressive voice to represent them at the legislature.”

She added, “I know that I can be that voice because for almost a decade I have been at the Capitol – shining a bright light onto our elected representatives and holding them accountable for their destructive and divisive lawmaking.”

During her time at Citizen Action, Mancini has been an advocate for safe and healthy work conditions, accessible and affordable health care, government accountability and participatory democracy, and equitable living conditions for the poor, elderly, disabled, and those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

Mancini joins fellow Democrats Metro Councilman Jason Holleman and attorney Jeff Yarbro.

Holleman’s plank positions are improving public education, fiscal responsibility, preservation, social justice, health insurance reform and responsible growth.

Yarbro also wants to focus on public education, health insurance reform and social justice issues.

In 2010, Yarbro ran unsuccessfully against Henry.

Henry, who has held the seat for more than 40 years, narrowly won after a Yarbro-requested recount.

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ESPN Tackles Haslam Family, Pilot Oil Investigation

ESPN has recently tackled the fortunes of the Haslam family with two articles detailing its struggle with an FBI investigation and Jimmy Haslam’s purchase of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

A story from Oct. 9 outlines the FBI’s investigation into Pilot Flying J and Jimmy Haslam’s role in the scandal.

Although Haslam insists that he is “making it right” with his customers who were shortchanged on their rebates, the FBI investigation continues. Agents and prosecutors are sifting through what one lawyer involved in the investigation said are “literally millions of pages of emails and documents.”

At least 11 former Pilot employees already are cooperating with the FBI and offering evidence against Pilot. Seven of them have entered guilty pleas to fraud charges, and four have obtained immunity from prosecution in return for their cooperation. Late last month, federal prosecutors, in a major signal, arranged to postpone the sentencing of the seven to allow the FBI to continue its probe. The delay shows that the investigation is growing beyond earlier expectations, say lawyers and an investigator involved in the probe who spoke to ESPN.com on condition of anonymity. The court cases are now scheduled for a report to the judge on Feb. 3.

And:

Western is one of 27 trucking companies that have sued Pilot and demanded payment of the discounts they were promised. There’s also a class-action lawsuit filed in Little Rock, Ark., on behalf of all Pilot customers in which Haslam and Pilot have made a major settlement offer. But as enormous as his problems with his customers might be, Haslam’s biggest problem is the FBI’s continuing investigation.

According to the sworn FBI statement filed in federal court in Knoxville, the probe began when an individual known only as Confidential Human Source 1 (CHS1) told the FBI that an employee of Pilot had described to CHS1 a vast scheme in which Pilot officials “had been intentionally defrauding” Pilot customers by withholding amounts due to customers in the form of monthly rebate checks. Instead of sending the promised rebate on the fuel purchased by the customer, Pilot employees reduced the amounts of the rebates to increase company profits and to increase their sales commissions.”

The sports website then published another story that digs deeper into the Haslam family.

The Haslams are one of the most powerful families in the South. Jimmy’s younger brother, Bill, is the governor of Tennessee and is considered a potential Republican candidate for the White House in 2016. They don’t like to talk about that, of course. One store at a time, one election at a time. Their father, “Big Jim” Haslam, is a regular Horatio Alger story, taking Pilot from a tiny gas station to an American interstate institution.

And:

When (Bill) Haslam was elected governor in a landslide in 2010, Big Jim swelled with pride. He filled his office with pictures of his boy on election day. A February 2013 article in Politico called Haslam “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a man who makes government work. The article said Haslam had a 68 percent approval rating at the time.

But he has his share of critics. They bristled when Haslam refused to disclose his personal ownership stake in Pilot. They wondered why one of Haslam’s advisers has also been working with Pilot’s public handling of the FBI investigation.”The Haslams have done some wonderful things in the community,” said Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson. “[Bill] might be a nice family man and all of that. But unfortunately as governor, he’s appointed Pilot board members to high-powered government jobs and given preferential treatment to businessmen and lobbyists with ties to Pilot.

When taken together the articles imply the FBI may still indict Jimmy Haslam.

In which case the Haslams are rumored to have a contingency plan; the reins would be handed to Big Jim Haslam, who refused to comment on the rumor.

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AG: Haslam Can Still Appoint Judges in Absence of Nominating Committee

Gov. Bill Haslam has the authority to fill judicial vacancies now the Judicial Nominating Commission has ceased to operate, Tennessee’s Attorney General has declared.

Haslam requested the opinion from Attorney General Bob Cooper after the General Assembly failed to reauthorize the JNC at the end of the last legislative session. The Legislature didn’t replace commission with an alternative mechanism for appointing judges. The panel was created in 2009 to screen applicants and select nominees for judicial appointments.

“After the Judicial Nominating Commission terminated this past session, our office requested guidance from the Attorney General on the governor’s options for appointing judges going forward,” said Dave Smith, spokesman for the governor.

Smith said Haslam wants continuity in the process until a proposed state constitutional amendment establishing a new judicial selection process appears on the November 2014 ballot. In 2012, the General Assembly approved a measure to amend the Tennessee Constitution that would apply to all Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges.

“The governor will now have further discussions with legislative leadership on next steps in working toward the common goal of a fully functioning judiciary in Tennessee,” Smith said.

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Ethics Complaint Against Governor Dismissed

Former Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester testifies Oct. 9, 2013, before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester testifies Oct. 9, 2013, before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

An ethics complaint filed against Gov. Bill Haslam was dismissed Wednesday by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance because of a lack of evidence.

The committee, which voted along party lines, refused to further investigate whether the governor failed to properly divulge a campaign-related association he had with veteran political consultant Tom Ingram.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester lodged the complaint in August based on news reports asserting Haslam hadn’t disclosed the nature of his relationship with Ingram consistent with state campaign-finance reporting requirements.

Ingram, who was chief of staff and chief deputy to Gov. Lamar Alexander in the 1970s and ’80s, was on Haslam’s 2010 campaign payroll and helped with the governor’s transition. Ingram advised Haslam during the transition and Haslam then reportedly chose to continue their relationship.

Forrester alleged in his complaint that Ingram’s work for the governor was campaign-related and therefore Ingram’s pay and activities should have been reported with the state.

Forrester’s complaint referenced internal Haslam administration communications obtained by Nashville’s News Channel 5 suggesting Ingram performed campaign-related work while Haslam was paying him privately. In particular, an email from October 2012 showed Ingram and Haslam Chief of Staff Mark Cate discussing a “2014 planning retreat” at Loews Vanderbilt.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Haslam campaign attorney Joseph Woodruff said Ingram was at the meeting, but as a volunteer only, not paid staff. “The money was not campaign funds because the work was not campaign related,” Woodruff said.

Forrester was asked by the committee Wednesday to produce the emails (which can be found here), but he didn’t have them. He offered to present them at the Registry of Election Finance’s next regular meeting but Republican committee member Patricia Heim, who was appointed by Haslam, moved instead to immediately dismiss the complaint for lack of “hard evidence.”

Chairman Henry Fincher, the House Democratic Caucus appointee, agreed that without the emails Forrester’s case was weak. But Fincher suggested Forrester be afforded additional time because the committee hadn’t requested prior to the hearing that the emails be submitted.

“I understand there is a strong interest in resolution…getting it done, getting it finalized,” Fincher said. “But also realize there are news reports that discuss emails that are there, and I think the public interest is such that we (need to) offer a reasonable time to produce something we just asked him for today.”

House Republican Caucus Appointee Justin Pitt argued the complaint didn’t present sufficient grounds and called for a vote, which fell along partisan divisions, 3-1-1. Republicans Heim, Pitts and Darlene McNeece voted to dismiss the complaint. Fincher voted against and the other Democrat, Norma Lester, abstained.

Despite the dismissal, Forrester said he will consider refiling the complaint and include all the evidence from the beginning. “The consultant was on the campaign payroll, went off the campaign payroll and was paid personally. His activities I can’t imagine would have changed in any substantive way in terms of his advice to the governor,” Forrester said afterward.

“Gov. Bill Haslam is hiding the truth from Tennesseans, just like he’s hiding his tax returns,” he said.

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Health Care NewsTracker

Court Puts Hold on Obamacare ‘Navigator’ Rules

State-based rules enacted to regulate who can help the uninsured sign up for health plans under the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee could have a chilling effect on free speech, a U.S. District Court judge in Nashville has ruled.

Judge Todd Campbell issued a 14-day restraining order Monday on regulations governing Obamacare activists, or “navigators,” trying to enroll Tennesseans in federally run health care exchanges.

The rules define who a navigator is, require them to submit to criminal background checks before they are allowed to offer any assistance and clarify navigators are not allowed to sell health insurance.

The legislation giving rise to the regulations passed last spring, with only one member of the Tennessee General Assembly, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, voting in opposition.

Judge Campbell, a Clinton administration nominee who worked for Al Gore’s presidential campaign committee in the 1980s, declared that the language defining a navigator is too broad and could inadvertently snare and inappropriately penalize librarians, union organizers, churches and others just seeking to help people sign up for government-subsidized health insurance.

Under the state regulations, navigator rule-breakers face a $1,000 fine per violation.

The federal lawsuit was filed by Service Employees International Union Local 205, which feared members could be targeted for helping others sign up over the Internet.

“These ‘emergency rules’ were never about protecting people from fraud, this was a political game by the governor and his allies,” Doug Collier, the union’s president, said following Judge Campbell’s ruling. “We believe it is every American’s right to have access to affordable health care and we are not going to let him play political games with people’s lives.”

The issue was also challenged last week in Davidson County Chancery Court by the Tennessee Justice Center, League of Women Voters and others. That suit also asked that a temporary restraining order be issued because the rules may limit navigators rights to free speech and because a navigator is broadly defined as “individuals and entities that facilitate enrollment in exchanges.”

But, unlike in the federal court, Chancellor Russell T. Perkins said the rules will probably not affect the exchanges or violate anyone’s First Amendment rights, as argued by the plaintiffs. Even so, the state afterward agreed to narrow the definition of “navigator” to only include those formally registered as such or certified application counselors.

In response to the TJC suit, state Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak said the intent of the emergency rules are meant to protect the state’s citizens.

“Our focus is on protecting Tennesseans and taking reasonable and responsible steps to provide consumer safeguards,” she said, adding navigators will have access to individual’s personal financial and medical information.

“These rules are those reasonable and responsible steps,” she said.

Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, also defended the law, citing the strong bipartisan support it garnered in the General Assembly.

Noting that support for the legislation giving rise to the new rules was overwhelming, Haslam said the proposed regulations “are not intended to be a stumbling block.”

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Governor Still Mulling Fate of Cordell Hull Building

The Haslam administration’s plans to demolish the historic Cordell Hull building are still under review, the governor said recently.

“The evaluation is to decide whether we’d be better off to use that and reconfigure it or to use it in some other way,” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters at state economic development conference in Nashville Friday.

“Regardless, that building is going to have to be reconfigured,” he said.

In the spring, the administration sought approval to demolish the 59-year-old building after a real estate firm was hired by the administration to study the condition of the state’s buildings.

Jones Lang Lasalle, a Chicago-based company that Haslam once invested in, determined that the state would need to spend $40 million to repair the Cordell Hull structure and an adjoining building. The firm then recommended tearing the office building down as the most cost-efficient plan of action.

The Haslam administration has agreed that the Hull building is more of a liability than an asset to the state, saying its layout isn’t conducive to the style of office design that the state is seeking to implement.

Employees who are currently housed in the Cordell Hull building, located adjacent to the State Capitol on Charlotte Avenue, will move to the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. in downtown Nashville. The move is estimated to save the state $100 million over the next 10 years, Haslam said.

“Either way economically we are a lot better off having people move out of there to somewhere else. And if that building is deemed it’s the best place and worthy of being used, then we’ll do the reconfiguration,” Haslam said.

JLL also suggested either selling the land to a private developer who could then lease office space back to the state or creating green space.

Despite the claims of neglect from JLL, a report from News Channel 5 said it would only take $2.8 million to repair the building’s leaking foundation and only $28 million to repair all the issues currently plaguing the National Register-eligible government building.

Haslam’s plans came under fire after a tour of the building by state lawmakers didn’t turn up as many problems as questions.

The Tennessean furthermore reported in July that Jones Lang Lasalle will receive a 4 percent commission when state workers are relocated.

And the company was initially hired for $1 million to evaluate the state’s $6.2 billion in property holdings, “but that agreement gradually grew to $38 million to manage state buildings and represent Tennessee in lease negotiations,” the newspaper reported.

At least one group thinks the building is worth saving. Historic Nashville Inc. listed the Cordell Hull Building on its annual Nashville Nine. The list is made up of buildings “threatened by demolition, neglect or development”

The group said the Cordell Hull Building is worth saving because it is “one of the best examples of mid-century modern office architecture in the state.” Also it was designed by a local architectural firm and it’s public spaces are lined with “now-rare Tennessee pink marble on the walls,” Historic Nashville wrote in a press release.

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Bell Buckle Schoolteacher Enters Race For U.S. House Seat

John Anderson
John Anderson

A third Republican, John Anderson, of Bell Buckle, announced his candidacy for the 4th District U.S. House of Representatives seat in the August 2014 primary, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported.

According to the Times-Gazette:

Anderson is a schoolteacher and political activist.

“I work with young people and their families every day, and I see optimism about the future fading,” Anderson said in a news release. “There is a sense of helplessness and a quiet anger. We won’t accept that. We Americans are a strong, courageous people. We are going to take our country back from the politicians and their corporate cronies. That is the fight I am going to lead.”

Anderson has taught mathematics in Bedford County schools for 30 years and served as an officer on the Bell Buckle Fire Department.

Anderson will face state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburgh, in the August 2014 Republican primary.

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Murfreesboro Physician Announces State House Bid

The Republican primary contest for the Tennessee House of Representatives seat Joe Carr is vacating got a little more interesting this week.

Murfreesboro physician and “enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation,” Bryan Terry, announced his intention Monday to run as a Republican for the open seat.

Carr will not run for re-election to the District 48 state legislative seat because he is challenging Tennessee’s senior United States senator, Lamar Alexander, for the Republican nomination in 2014.

Terry, an Oklahoma native, will take on two-term Rutherford County Commissioner Adam Coggin in the Republican primary, who announced his candidacy in July.

Both candidates work in the health care industry. Terry is as an anesthesiologist and Coggin as an administrator at National Health Care’s AdamsPlace Independent Living in Murfreesboro.

But Terry said Monday his experiences as a physician are what he hopes will differentiate most from Coggin in the eyes of voters. “Because there is no physician in the state house, … I think that’s the one thing that will separate myself from my opponent,” he said.

Fighting the Affordable Care Act will be a primary campaign theme, Terry said. He promised if elected to take a leadership role in opposing Obamacare, which he termed a “federal takeover” of health care. Terry said he favors returning control over care to the patient-physician relationship.

In addition to engaging on health care specifically, Terry’s top priority generally will be fighting for “conservative principles…like limited government, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and personal responsibility,” Terry said in a press release announcing his candidacy.

He also said he wants to be better at involving citizens in legislative decision-making and “standing up for the average citizen.”

“I am the exact opposite of the career politician, political power broker, insider,” Terry said. “I will not be a part of special interest back room deals at the Capitol.”

Terry relocated to Tennessee from Moore, Okla., when he trained at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. At Murfreesboro Anesthesia Group he serves as the group’s HIPAA Officer, Medicare Compliance Officer and serves on the Physician’s Excellence Committee for St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital.

His wife, Cheryl, is a licensed pharmacist and has been active in local organizations.

Coggin said when he announced his candidacy last summer that his priorities are growing the economy and shrinking state power. “We must focus on attracting jobs and on limiting the size of government,” he said.

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State Rep. Watson Not Seeking Re-Election

State Rep. Eric Watson announced he will not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 2006, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Friday.

Watson, a Republican from Cleveland, currently serves as chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He said he’ll instead run for Bradley County sheriff, the Times Free Press reported:

Watson told an overflow crowd at his annual lawmaker luncheon that he will not seek re-election to the District 22 seat he has held since 2006. Instead, he said, he intends to challenge incumbent Jim Ruth in the May Republican primary.

“I’m proud of my accomplishments in Nashville, but I will not seek another term,” Watson told an audience of supporters that included state House and Senate colleagues, other elected officials and prominent Bradley County Republicans.

“More and more, I’ve realized we have problems closer to home – problems that cannot be properly addressed from Nashville,” he said in a 20-minute speech interrupted more than a dozen times by applause.

Watson worked for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years.