Featured NewsTracker

Parliament of Social Media Whores?

If, as has been suggested, giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys, then perhaps giving Twitter and Facebook accounts to politicians is like…giving Twitter and Facebook accounts to politicians.

At any rate, it’s probably too late now to second-guess the societal cost-benefit breakdown of that particular development.

In the Tennessee Senate, 29 of 33 lawmakers have an account on Facebook, and of those, 14 senators have an account on Twitter as well.

In the House, 60 of 99 total members have a Facebook account, but only 11 have Twitter accounts.

In other words, most state lawmakers have some presence on social networking sites, according to a TNReport survey of the statehouse pack.

Even the Legislature’s elder statesman, Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, has both a Twitter and Facebook account. Bear in mind, Henry first began serving as a state representative in the 79th General Assembly from 1955-1956, an era when color television was virtually unheard of and a full year before the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.

If this list is missing a legislator’s social networking account, feel free to send us a link and we’ll update it ASAP.


Sen. Tim Barnes, Facebook

Sen. Mae Beavers, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Andy Berke, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Mike Bell, Facebook

Sen. Charlotte Burks, Facebook

Sen. Stacey Campfield, Facebook

Sen. Mike Faulk, Facebook

Sen. Lowe Finney, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Ophelia Ford, Facebook

Sen. Dolores Gresham, Facebook

Sen. Joe M. Haynes, Facebook

Sen. Douglas Henry, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Roy Herron, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Jack Johnson, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Brian Kelsey, Facebook

Sen. Bill Ketron, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Jim Kyle, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Beverly Marrero, Facebook

Sen. Mark Norris, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Doug Overbey, Facebook

Sen. Kerry Roberts, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Eric Stewart, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Jim Summerville, Facebook

Sen. Reginald Tate, Facebook

Sen. Jim Tracy, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Bo Watson, Facebook

Sen. Jamie Woodson, Twitter, Facebook

Sen. Ken Yager, Facebook

Speaker Ron Ramsey, Twitter, Facebook


Rep. David Alexander, Facebook

Rep. Eddie Bass, Facebook

Rep. Harry Brooks, Facebook

Rep. Kevin Brooks, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Sheila Butt, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Scotty Campbell, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Joe Carr, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Glen Casada, Facebook

Rep. Jim Cobb, Facebook

Rep. Jim Coley, Facebook

Rep. Barbara Cooper, Facebook

Rep. Vance Dennis, Facebook

Rep. Linda Elam, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Joshua Evans, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Jeremy Faison, Facebook

Rep. JoAnne Favors, Facebook

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Richard Floyd, Facebook

Rep. Jim Gotto, Facebook

Rep. Curtis Halford, Facebook

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, Facebook

Rep. David Hawk, Facebook

Rep. Ryan Haynes, Facebook

Rep. Matthew Hill, Facebook

Rep. Andy Holt, Facebook

Rep. Julia Hurley, Facebook

Rep. Curtis Johnson, Facebook

Rep. Sherry Jones, Facebook

Rep. Jon Lundberg, Facebook

Rep. Kelly Keisling, Facebook

Rep. Debra Maggart, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Pat Marsh, Facebook

Rep. Gerald McCormick, Facebook

Rep. Steve McDaniel, Facebook

Rep. Frank Nicely, Facebook

Rep. Gary Odom, Facebook

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Dennis Powers, Facebook

Rep. Bob Ramsey, Facebook

Rep. Barrett Rich, Facebook

Rep. Jeanne Richardson, Facebook

Rep. Bill Sanderson, Facebook

Rep. Cameron Sexton, Facebook

Rep. Tony Shipley, Facebook

Rep. Mike Sparks, Facebook

Rep. Art Swann, Facebook

Rep. Curry Todd, Facebook

Rep. Joe Towns, Facebook

Rep. Johnnie Turner, Facebook

Rep. Mike Turner, Facebook

Rep. Eric Watson, Facebook

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, Twitter, Facebook

Rep. Kent Williams, Twitter

Rep. Ryan Williams, Facebook

Rep. Mark White, Facebook

Rep. Tim Wirgau, Facebook

Rep. Rick Womick, Facebook

Speaker Beth Harwell, Twitter, Facebook


Haslam Goes National on TN Tenure Reform

Gov. Bill Haslam said on Fox News Channel’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto” Wednesday that the tenure reform bill he signed into law was met with approval from teachers, who said they wanted to “teach with other good teachers.”

Haslam said he wanted a “great teacher in front of every classroom,” and for teachers to be treated like professionals where the good ones are recognized and “those who don’t need to be there, we acknowledge they might be happier somewhere else.”

He added that under the previous law, a teacher would receive tenure after three years and a day — a time-frame that has now been moved back to five years. Additionally, he says the law makes it possible for teachers to lose tenure if they fall to the “bottom of the pack.”


Dems, AG Say Photo ID Bill Unconstitutional

Supporters of a bill requiring voters to provide photo identification at the polls will make their last stand Thursday in the House, but Democrats say it’s unconstitutional and the attorney general agrees.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, House minority leader, and Sen. Lowe Finney, Democratic caucus chairman, each wrote letters to Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., questioning whether the bill, HB0007, was constitutional under both state and federal law.

Fitzhugh’s letter asked if the bill could be considered a “modern-day poll tax,” while Finney’s brought up whether his own version of the bill, SB1384, would in fact be ruled constitutional as it would provide access to a free photo ID — a move that could cost the state up to $1.2 million.

Cooper’s seven-page response concluded that a state requiring a person to present a photo ID to vote without also providing free access to one “unduly burdens the right to vote and constitutes a poll tax,” and that a court would “likely” find such a law unconstitutional.

The response also cited a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which upheld the constitutionality of an Indiana law requiring a voter to present photo identification, but only if the ID was provided free of charge.

The legislation, sponsored in the House by Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, passed the Senate in February by a highly partisan vote of 21-11. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, was the only Democrat who voted in favor.

Maggart told reporters the purpose of the bill was to “make sure our elections are honest and pure,” and that Republicans “did not want to keep anyone from voting.”

Democrats weighed in on Cooper’s ruling, saying it made it “pretty clear” that the bill was “a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.”

Maggart responded to the criticism, saying it was “disappointing that the Democrats go to great length to make sure people can cheat when they vote,” and added that she thought it was “unfortunate that Democrats were disenfranchising the people that are voting the right way and doing the right thing.”

This marks the fourth the time the bill has made its way through the General Assembly since it was first introduced in 2007. Each time it has passed the Senate before dying on the House floor.

Tax and Budget

Soda Tax Shelved ‘Behind Budget’

State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, has proposed boosting the tax on soft drinks and lowering the taxes on other groceries. But his plan may ultimately fizzle this session.

Stewart’s HB 537 would increase the tax on sugary drinks by one cent per ounce and lower the tax on food from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent. It would mean the soft drink tax alone on a 2-liter bottle of soda, at 68 cents, would exceed the 62-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes.

“I just don’t see how anybody can say it’s any big deal to pay a little more for a Coke so that somebody down the street doesn’t have to pay more for, or can pay less, for food for her children,” Stewart said.

Raymond Thomasson, president of the Beverage Association of Tennessee, said it was indeed a very big deal — and not just to the companies he represents. He rallied against attempts to “(use) tax policy to interrupt an individual’s right of choice and personal responsibility.”

“Soft drinks are not alcohol, and they’re not tobacco,” Thomasson said. “The sponsor has equated them the same. No one is being arrested by the police for driving a vehicle and abusing the consumption of a soft drink.”

Under the bill, a standard 12-ounce can of soda would cost an extra 12 cents. The bill would have the effect of increasing state revenues by $8.9 million annually, according to a legislative analysis. Stewart says his plan is “not a tax increase”; rather, it is “a tax swap.

“All it does is take the tax off food like milk and eggs that people have to buy, and you pay for that by slightly increasing the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages,” he said.

The bill was pushed back Wednesday in the House Finance Subcommittee behind the upcoming budget hearings, a move that typically means a particular piece of legislation won’t see the light of day again for the rest of the legislative session.

Stewart, however, expressed optimism after the committee meeting that his bill’s not dead yet.

“I can easily correct the fiscal impact to make sure that local governments are held harmless,” he said. HB 0537’s “fiscal note” declares that the measure would decrease local government revenues by $3,015,300, while increasing state revenues $8,888,300.

There were 29 states with soft drink taxes, including six in the Southeast — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida and Mississippi — as of a 2009 survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Nationwide, Rhode Island and New Jersey had the highest tax rates on sodas at 7 percent, though neither had a general sales tax on food. Of the 14 states with a food tax, Tennessee had the third highest.

Proponents of the bill say that such a tax increase would dissuade consumers from buying sugary soft drinks, which would improve public health. But an April 2010 study in the medical journal Health Affairs found that soda taxes need to be as high as 18 percent in order to make a significant difference.

Education Featured

Haslam Cautious on TEA Bargaining Issue

Gov. Bill Haslam is so far keeping mum on his official position as to whether public school teachers and their union, the Tennessee Education Association, should maintain collective bargaining leverage over local school boards.

Speaking at a press conference on the Vanderbilt campus Wednesday, Haslam told reporters gathered in the Wyatt Building on the Peabody College campus that he had previously met with the TEA and would be willing to listen to them regarding collective bargaining, but declined to further articulate his current views on the issue.

“There’s certain things that we know that we want to talk about. We do want to talk about tenure. I think that’s real important,” Haslam said.

The governor went on to say that in order for education in the state to move forward, there needs to be more parental involvement, better principals in schools and less blaming of problems in the system on teachers.

“I hope there’s not an anti-teacher mood because the wrong thing to do right now I think is to point fingers at teachers,” Haslam said. “To say that our problem is all teachers’ faults is just dead wrong.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey told reporters Tuesday that Haslam had engaged in a “nice conversation” with members of the TEA on Monday in what he described as “a get-acquainted situation.”

“The governor didn’t pull any punches…he talked about his interest in tenure and his interest in charter schools, and he talked some about principal training and professionalism, and how we help education do the job that needs to be done,” said Ramsey.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Debra Maggart recently filed a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and school districts. “You’re going to see some of us file some legislation that probably the old guard’s not going to like,” she told on Monday.

The TEA has issued statements denouncing Maggart’s bill and two others by Republican lawmakers seeking to restrict certain public-sector union fundraising practices and political activity.

Below are some of Haslam’s answers to questions at Wednesday’s press conference:

Reporter: A few things with Tennessee Education Association – one of them would take away collective bargaining rights, others would take them off the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Board – your thoughts on these? Is this something you’ve met with TEA and Republican leadership?

Haslam: I’ve had good discussion with both. We met with TEA and actually had a really good frank conversation. There’s certain things that we know that we want to talk about – we do want to talk about tenure – I think that’s real important. We do want to talk about continuing to expand charter schools. Some of the other things in terms of collective bargaining – I told them we were willing to listen to them. I met with some Republican legislators for dinner last night and heard some ideas there; not something we’ve come out with a final position on – we’ll continue those conversations. Like I said, we know two or three things we definitely want to enter the discussion in a big way on.

Reporter: Is there somewhat of an anti-teacher mood out there, or an anti-TEA mood?

Haslam: I actually think that’s a really good point. I hope there’s not an anti-teacher mood because the wrong thing to do right now I think is to point fingers at teachers, OK. I think what we should start with the basis of is saying how do we really help move education for children forward. And to say that our problem is all teachers’ faults is just dead wrong. I think (with) a lot of things in Tennessee we need to do better. We need to increase parental involvement in schools, we need to make certain we have the very best principals in schools. So to point the finger at teachers and say it’s all your fault – that’s something you won’t see me doing. Now, there are places we won’t engage – do I want to engage on tenure and that issue, you bet. So will we maybe disagree with TEA on that, you bet. But it won’t be about saying that teachers are at fault here.

Reporter: Going back to K-12, do you think that teachers and the TEA should maintain their bargaining rights?

Haslam: Well, I mean, I think that’s part of the discussion we should have. Ultimately, you know, I’m obviously a guy who thinks that you want to have – people should have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions. As a mayor, I was always – I worked against having our police and firefighters have collective bargaining rights, so I kind of have a position on that. I do think with TEA – I told them it was something I’m willing to talk about with them and continue. …We’re going to have a lot of discussion around tenure, a lot of discussions around charter schools and a lot of discussions around…how do we measure teachers’ effectiveness, and make certain we use that data in terms of how we look at these teachers.

Reporter: But when you start that discussion, what’s your position? What do you present?

Haslam: Well, the governor doesn’t always, on every item, present his position. A lot of times as governor you come in and listen and you learn, and then you present your position. …We have definitive positions we’re going to present right off the bat. Others, we’re willing to listen and learn before we come back with, “Here’s where we’re going to be.”


Wilson & Lillard Rehired; Both Pledge ‘Work’

As expected, Republicans maintained their firm hold over state government today as Justin Wilson was reelected for a second term as the state’s comptroller, and David H. Lillard was also sworn in for a second time as Tennessee state treasurer.

Neither faced an opposing candidate in the joint session of the General Assembly.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Wilson said in his brief address to the joint session.

Wilson recently told TNReport that the overriding concern facing his office is ensuring government “integrity” in Tennessee.

“That is the principle issue, and the one we are most concerned about,” Wilson said.

Lillard focused on the economic crisis in his address, and said that his mission in the Treasury Department was to “work as hard as we possibly can to serve Tennesseans in these times that are trying for many of our citizens.”