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Featured Transparency and Elections

Forrester Touts Dems’ TN Victories

He concedes the Democratic party in Tennessee is in a superminority at the state legislature, but state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says he put in place a plan to march the legislature back to Democratic control.

Even so, Forrester, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party, says that won’t happen overnight.

“We’re very, very excited about the four victories we had in the House,” Forrester said. “To defend all of our incumbents, which we did … we’re very excited about those victories.”

Indeed, Forrester counts Democratic Reps. Charles CurtissMark WindleDavid ShepardSherry Jones and Craig Fitzhugh and others among key wins.

“These are the people that represent our future,” Forrester said. “Even though we’re in the minority, we’ve moved the ball down field.”

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He also pointed to the victory of Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, the Democrat running against GOP incumbent Jim Gotto in the Davidson County House District 60 race.

“We took Jim Gotto, a right-wing Tea Party nut job, out of office,” Forrester said.

Both the Senate and House Republicans hold supermajorities, which means Republicans can pass any law without a single Democratic voice.

Forrester will be stepping down from his post in January.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

 

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Featured Transparency and Elections

Plumbers’ Union Lets Campaign Cash Flow, Racks Up $400K Debt

One of the most politically active labor unions in Tennessee is doubling down on the election this year, doling out more campaign cash than it did in 2010 or 2008, even as other unions have cut back on their political giving.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters Education Committee — the Tennessee union’s political arm — has given out $278,300 in campaign contributions so far in 2012, records show. That already has surpassed the $270,100 the union gave during the 2010 election season and the $245,440 it provided to politicians in 2008.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters union has even taken out hundreds of thousands dollars in loans — largely from Farmers & Merchants Bank — apparently to underwrite the union’s political payouts.

Records show the union’s political action committee has an outstanding loan balance of $398,971. Records show the committee taking out loans steadily for years. The last bank loan was for $70,000 received Oct. 12.

It’s unclear what this nearly $400,000 debt will mean for the union’s members.

And the election isn’t over yet. The campaign finance reports for the crucial last days have yet to be filed, so it’s all but certain that the Plumbers & Pipefitters will have far exceeded $300,000 in political giving by Election Day.

Spending more money on candidates this year was not deliberate, said former Secretary of State Riley Darnell, who serves as the union’s political adviser. There are simply more campaigns this year that the union has an interest in.

“We have a lot of candidates in support of working people,” Darnell said. “The need was greater.”

As far as the bank debt, Darnell said he couldn’t comment and that decisions such as taking out loans are made by internal union officials.

Plumbers & Pipefitters has long been one of the biggest political unions on Tennessee’s Capitol hill, frequently cutting five-figure checks to the state Democratic Party and giving large contributions to union-friendly candidates such as former state Sen. Jim Lewis, a Democrat running for a state Senate seat in District 16, which encompasses Marion, Warren and Coffee counties, and Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan, a former Democratic House majority leader.

The plumbers are priming the political pump as other labor unions in Tennessee have curtailed their campaign donations.

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The Tennessee, later known as Mid-South, Carpenters Regional Council political action committee, for example, doled out $68,700 in campaign contributions in 2010. In 2012 that number has dropped to $28,960.

Tennessee’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political action committee spread around $102,500 in campaign cash in 2010. This year, its campaign contributions are $80,700.

And the Tennessee Laborers PAC handed out $73,000 politicians in 2010. In 2012 that has shrunk to $45,500.

You can see the details of the Plumbers & Pipefitters campaign records, as well as all Tennessee campaign finance reports, by clicking here and using the state’s online search database.

The vast majority of union giving is aimed at Democrats and Democratic causes, though some union money is starting to trickle to Republicans. The carpenters union, for example, gave $500 to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s political action committee as well as $2,500 to the Tennessee Republican Caucus. The Laborers gave donations to Gov. BIll Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s PAC and state Sen. Jim Tracy from Shelbyville.

The Plumbers & Pipefitters’ giving has heavily favored Democrats.

The union’s escalation in campaign spending comes at a time when public employee unions in Tennessee are facing an increasingly hostile legislature. With Republicans controlling the governor’s mansion and both houses, unions have few seats at the bargaining table.

During the the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature passed efforts to curb union influence in state government and schools. Democratic state lawmakers reacted angrily, but they didn’t have the votes to thwart the measures.

Tennessee isn’t the only place where a union is placing big bets for Election Day.

In Michigan, not only are unions are working toward setting collective bargaining privileges in stone via a provision in the state Constitution, they are also trying to unseat a pair of conservative Justices on the state Supreme Court.

And nationally, the Service Employees International Union has emerged as the top outside spender on Democratic campaigns this year, surpassing even President Barack Obama’s main super PAC.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

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Ethics Complaint Filed Against DesJarlais, GOP Weighs Call For Resignation

Embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is facing a possible state inquiry into whether he violated medical ethics based on revelations that DesJarlais, a doctor, may have had a sexual relationship with a patient.

The left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health Monday.

Read the complaint here.

On the heels of that complaint, the Tennessee Conservative Union said it was in talks with GOP groups to decide whether to call on DesJarlais to resign from Congress.

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

The chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union said Monday he’s talking with other Republican-leaning groups and exploring whether to demand U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., resign from Congress.

The move comes as the 4th Congressional District lawmaker and candidate finds himself under growing fire following revelations that as a physician 12 years ago he pressed a former patient with whom he had been involved sexually to get an abortion. 

Tennessee Conservative Union Chairman Lloyd Daugherty in an interview declined to identify the other organizations with which he has been speaking. He said his goal is building a “coalition” in support of the congressman’s ouster.

On Friday DesJarlais’ opponent in the race to capture Tennessee’s 4th District Congressional seat, Democrat Eric Stewart, held a press conference at Legislative Plaza saying that both Republicans and Democrats should condemn DesJarlais’ actions.

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Turner Hopes Dems Can Capitalize on GOP Rifts

The caucus chairman of the Democrats in Tennessee’s House of Representatives predicts three to six Democratic gains in the House, and perhaps more, if the chips fall their way.

“Any gains we have we will be a victory for us,” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told TNReport. “I think we can pick off three to six people within reason, and maybe if things go our way nationally a little better we might even get a little higher than that.”

One of the biggest problems Democrats in Tennessee face is at the top of the ticket: President Obama. Indeed, the Democrats’ historic losses in the legislature came with Obama’s popularity in Tennessee sinking to Mariana Trench-like lows. But Turner said that Obama is more popular now than he was in 2010.

“It’s not going to be as bad as it was,” he said, pointing to Obama making significant gains, particularly in Middle Tennessee.

But if Turner’s party doesn’t catch the breaks it needs, he says that Democrats have some built-in advantages — even against a possible Republican supermajority.

“We have more experienced people,” he said. “We know how to govern.”

Republicans need just two more seats to gain a supermajority, which would be 66 seats out of 99.

If the GOP gains a supermajority, fully half of Tennessee House members will have two years or less experience maneuvering through committees and playing hard-ball politics at Legislative Plaza.

The other key advantage, Turner said, is the unity of the Democratic minority.

“Our people will have 32, 33 people back… hopefully a little higher,” he said. “Our people will be solidly behind each other, where (the Republicans) are somewhat separated. You have the traditional Lamar Alexander, Howard Baker, Beth Harwell, Bill Haslam-type Republicans, then they’ve got the very extremist Republicans out there that seem to be pushing the wagon right now and trying to lead them in a direction to the extreme right.”

That creates a split that his caucus can take advantage of, Turner said, and, because of that, “My 30-some-odd Democratic votes is a pretty large block when it comes time to pass some important bills.”