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AFP-TN Praises State Senators For Killing Medicaid Expansion Bill

Press release from Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee; February 4, 2015:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After numerous hearings over the past couple of weeks the Senate Health Committee voted against the plan to expand Medicaid under Obamacare 7:4. A sea of red shirts in committees and the halls of legislative plaza turned the tide against the Insure Tennessee Medicaid expansion proposal.

Over 200 activists with Americans for Prosperity converged on the Capitol for the committee hearings yesterday. They came from all areas of the state: Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Tri-Cities; many volunteers took off work and drove four or more hours to attend.

After the vote AFP-TN state director Andrew Ogles stated:  “We couldn’t have done this without our grassroots activists showing up to hold their legislators accountable. This is truly a victory for the Tennessee taxpayers.”

“We commend the Senators voting to defeat this measure and other legislators who led the fight. Thank you for listening to your constituents and voting to stop Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.”

The special session Senate Health Committee members casting the votes were as follows:

Senators voting against the measure – Mike Bell (R), Janice Bowling (R), Todd Gardenhire (R), Frank Nicely (R), Brian Kelsey (R), Kerry Roberts (R), and Rusty Crowe (R)

Voting for Medicaid expansion under Obamacare: Dr. Richard Briggs (R), Becky Massey (R), Ed Jackson (R), and Jeff Yarbro (D).

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Harris: Out of State Special Interests Pressing Legislators to Choose Politics Over People

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; January 27, 2015:

Leader: “It’s easy to be a critic, but we were elected to govern.”

NASHVILLE – Political mailers and radio ads funded by out-of-state interests are putting undue pressure on legislators to consider politics first, people second, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said.

“Instead of listening to out-of-state special interests, we should be hearing from people who are working but still can’t afford quality health care,” state Sen. Lee Harris said. “It’s easy to be a critic, but we were elected to govern.”

Mailers and radio spots funded by the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity have blanketed the state at a time when legislators are considering whether to expand Medicaid for 200,000 Tennesseans, half of whom work but can’t afford health insurance.

“Unfortunately, the Tennesseans whose lives would change with access to health care can’t afford to influence legislators in the same way,” Sen. Harris said.

A copy of an Americans for Prosperity funded mailing sent to Chattanooga-area constituents is attached below.

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AFP-TN Urges Rejection of Haslam “Insure TN” Plan

Press release from Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee; January 22, 2105:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is considering expanding Medicaid under Obamacare with the Insure Tennessee program.  States that have chosen to expand Medicaid have faced unexpected financial hardship and skyrocketing healthcare costs.

The long-term financial liabilities and lack of a reliable exit clause are two of the many concerns with Insure Tennessee’s Obamacare expansion. Many have questioned whether it’s possible to opt-out of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare once implemented.

As states attempt to end their participation, Tennessee should watch and see how it plays out. There could be fallout from the federal government suing states or withholding traditional Medicaid funding, placing truly vulnerable citizens at risk.

Ballooning enrollment and uncontrollable costs put expansion plans in competition with other state priorities such as education, public safety and infrastructure.

“We are calling on our state officials to reject Obamacare expansion in Tennessee,” said Andrew Ogles, state director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee.”Despite untrustworthy promises from the Obama administration that we can ‘try it before we buy it,’ this is the same administration that said, ‘If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.’ Our state does not need to go down the same disastrous road.”

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Americans for Prosperity Announces 2015 Agenda

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee; January 16, 2015:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Thursday Americans for Prosperity, the nation’s foremost grassroots advocate for economic freedom, announced its Reform America 2015 agenda. The Tennessee chapter will be working with its federal delegation to enact agenda policy reforms on healthcare, energy and taxes.

“Our work did not finish in November and ‘Reform America’ is about taking the election debate and turning it into policy realities,” said Americans for Prosperity Tennessee state director, Andrew Ogles.

Priorities for the ‘Reform America 2015’ agenda include: a repeal of the medical device tax; return to a 40 hour workweek; repeal of the death tax and bringing American profits home; ending green energy government subsidies; and moving forward with the Keystone XL pipeline.

Explore Reform America 2015 Here: www.reformamerica2015.com

The chapter will be mobilizing its grassroots activists in the coming weeks through letters, phone calls, canvassing and visits to member offices to promote the ‘Reform America 2015’ agenda.

“AFP-TN has worked hard to develop a strong grassroots network and now we will leverage that capacity in all of our policy fights.”

In addition to ‘Reform America 2015′,’ the Tennessee chapter will be mobilizing on local issues including Medicaid expansion.

“Many of the issues in ‘Reform America’ have state level components and in Tennessee preventing the expansion of Medicaid from robbing our state government is at the top.”

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Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Legislature Gearing Up for Tax Reform Debate

Tennessee Republicans are flush with even more power in the General Assembly after the 2014 general election, and members of the expanded supermajorities in both dens of the statehouse are sure that one thing’s for certain: there’s no time like the present to talk about tax cuts.

There’s some disagreement, though, about which ones to go after first.

The two biggest targets are the Hall tax on investment earnings and Tennessee’s highest-in-the-country sales tax.

While many of the Volunteer State’s conservative Republicans favor doing away with the Hall tax, some of the party’s legislative leadership have instead made populist arguments in favor chipping away at the state’s sales tax. Over the past several years since losing majority-party status, that’s been a priority as well for Democrats, who charge the tax hits Tennessee’s poor the hardest. And as pitiful as their numbers are in the Legislature, Democrats could play a role in helping shape the discussion, particularly in the House.

While some Republicans have in the past balked at discussing cuts to the state’s general sales tax — or the tax on food — due to fears that its reduction would be a potential step toward enacting a state income tax, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said he hopes a recently passed constitutional ban on taxing Tennesseans’ income would change the discussion.

“Every time since I’ve been here we’ve tried to have a discussion about the state’s revenue and expenses, people say ‘Oh, it’s Trojan Horse for the income tax,'” the Collierville Republican told reporters last week. However, the overwhelming passage of Amendment 3 on Nov. 4, a change in the Tennessee Constitution that expressly prohibits the enactment of income taxes at the state or local level, “should silence those critics,” said Norris.

In the wake of two-thirds of Tennessee voters approving the amendment, Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed legislation earlier this month aimed at, over the next three years, entirely phasing out the Hall Income tax — a six percent tax on income received from investments over $1250 a year for individuals making more than $33,000 a year.

In response, Norris and state Rep.Gerald McCormick — the majority leaders in both legislative chambers, who routinely carry legislation for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — filed a proposal to reduce the state sales tax from 7 percent to 6.75 percent.

Getting rid of the Hall Tax would cut about $260 million from the annual budget. Likewise, McCormick told the Times Free Press, the proposed sales tax cut would reduce annual state revenue by about the same.

Norris referred to his proposal as one of “the bookends” of the greater tax reform discussion.

“The bill was filed, so I filed a bill. Do you want to cut $260 million in revenue for these people, or $260 million revenue for all people? It sort of frames the issue,” Norris said last week.

But while two of the state’s top fiscal conservative groups generally support reducing the tax burden of all Tennesseans’, they’re standing firm on their particular support for specifically doing away with the the Hall tax first — and they say that ought to be lawmakers’ first priority.

Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity is “committed to assisting in the repeal of the Hall Income Tax,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Tori Venable. “Repealing this regressive tax will help our state as a whole, not just those who will benefit from the tax cut. The assurance of the Hall Income Tax repeal will help our state recruit more businesses, increasing job growth and economic output,” she wrote in an email to TNReport.

Lindsay Boyd, policy director for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a 10-year-old Nashville-based free-market think tank, told TNReport via email that, first and foremost, the Hall Tax has to go. It “deters Tennessee families from settling in our state and small business entrepreneurs from investing in our economy,” Boyd said. She added that chipping away at the sales tax is a good idea, but it’s not going to show immediate results and definitely shouldn’t detract from the Hall tax discussion.

“A minuscule cut to the sales tax, as proposed by Rep. McCormick and Sen. Norris, may be a discussion we should resume once we free Tennesseans from the worry of having their hard earned dollars punitively and heftily taxed by the Hall tax on investment income- remembering that 40 percent of those who pay the Hall income tax earn less than $50,000 per year,” Boyd said.

Last session’s House GOP Caucus chairman, Franklin Rep. Glen Casada, told TNReport he favors prioritizing Hall tax elimination. Eliminating it as quickly as possible is an “excellent idea,” he said, because it would attract senior citizens to the state.

“It’s a wise, prudent financial move,” said Casada,who added that it’s unfair to ding people who’ve “played by the rules” and have saved money for retirement — and are not relying on government assistance.

Casada said he favors reducing taxes in general — but wants to begin with getting rid of the Hall tax, “and then start cutting sales tax on food.”

For an alternative perspective — or another tax-cutting idea to add to the mix — look no further than the House majority leader.

McCormick told TNReport this week that he thinks franchise and excise taxes should be looked at too. “I just think we need to look at all of them at the same time, and then decide if we can afford to cut taxes who we want to cut them for,” he said.

McCormick added that he was concerned cutting the Hall tax would “disproportionately” benefit higher income Tennesseans. The Legislature should “look at something that might also help those that are on the bottom rungs of the income levels.”

Haslam has suggested any legislators interested in cutting their constituents taxes should also be looking for cuts to make in state expenses. “I believe in cutting taxes. We’ve cut taxes since we’ve been here. We also believe in balancing the budget. And I think it’s important when you’re talking making any changes to revenue in the state, what are the commensurate changes you’re going to make in the expense structure as well?” Haslam said earlier this month.

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Press Releases

AFP Protests Common Core at TN Education Summit

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee; September 18, 2014:

NASHVILLE – A coalition of groups gathered together at Legislative Plaza to protest Common Core. An invitation-only education summit was hosted across the street during the protest. Seventy-four activists and parents showed up to urge lawmakers to repeal Common Core.

Americans for Prosperity provided support for the activists while debuting their tour bus. Currently the bus is wrapped with a Stop Common Core message; over the next three months AFP-TN will utilize the bus to promote free-market issues.

Andrew Ogles, AFP-TN state director stated: “As one of the most conservative states in the country Tennessee should take the lead in setting its own education standards, stopping the federal over-reach that is Common Core. Just like ObamaCare, Common Core is a Trojan horse for the federal government to take over state budgets.”

In addition, AFP-TN activists will be knocking on 4,000 doors across the state on Saturday to stop Common Core. Sign up at www.iamafp.com

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AFP: Victories Won Against Common Core in Primary

Press release from Americans for Prosperity – Tennessee; August 13, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee (AFP-TN), a grassroots organization that advocates for economic freedom, is continuing its issue campaign on Common Core, which director Andrew Ogles said is a hot-button issue for many in the state.

(Click here to listen to the radio ad running across the state on Common Core.)

AFP- TN state director Andrew Ogles said the following:

“There’s no doubt our issue advocacy campaign to stop Common Core has made an impact. In the last six weeks we’ve spent approximately half a million dollars bringing the issues with Common Core to light, and this is just the beginning. Our support has helped bring together a broader coalition of parents, community leaders, and legislators. Together we can stop Obama’s radical education agenda and stop Common Core.”

The overall defeat of Common Core supporters this legislative cycle shows that the public is indeed opposed to this one-size-fits-all takeover of the education system. For example, the Williamson County school board saw four pro-Common Core school board candidates lose their election bid, three of them being incumbents. State Representative Glen Casada soundly defeated his pro-Common Core opponent. Meanwhile, officials who opposed Common Core remained in office.

“Moderates claimed Common Core would be a non-issue. That claim has been proven false across the state. Conservative legislators like Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers were able to fend off moderates with Common Core ties,” said Ogles.

AFP-TN has been engaged in educating the public on the problems of Common Core for weeks, and plans to continue ramping up its issue advocacy efforts heading into the legislative session.

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Press Releases

JAS: TN Supreme Court Election Campaign TV Ad Spending Surpassed $1.4 M

Press release from Justice at Stake; August 7, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7–Television ad spending in Tennessee’s Supreme Court election surged past $1.4 million, in a tough contest that attracted money from in-state and out-of-state sources. On Thursday, voters delivered new eight-year terms to all three incumbent Tennessee justices who sought retention to the five-member court.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

According to estimates provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $1.4 million worth of television advertising for and against the justices’ retention had aired by the time polls opened today. More than a million dollars’ worth of advertising contracts are also identified in publicly-available FCC files.

The Tennessee Forum, an anti-retention group funded by a PAC operated by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, spent an estimated $474,150 on TV ads. An out-of-state group, The State Government Leadership Foundation, also spent $63,390 on TV ads to unseat the justices. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded group, spent money on anti-retention radio campaign for which expenditures remain undisclosed.

The most spending on TV ads, however, came from the justices themselves, who spent an estimated $579,870 in joint ads defending against anti-retention efforts. Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a group formed by a local attorney, also spent $215,840 on TV ads to retain the judges, and Chief Justice Gary Wade funded TV ads totaling $94,980.

Skyrocketing judicial election spending has become the rule, not the exception in recent years. The $1.4-million Tennessee Supreme Court race follows a $1.3-million judicial primary in North Carolina in May, in which the Republican State Leadership Committee was a major spender, and an Arkansas Supreme Court race in which advertising spending doubled over the previous cycle.

The escalating spending on a judicial election in Tennessee matched a national trend of increasing expenditures on judicial elections since 2000, Brandenburg and Bannon noted. In recent years, the trend has spread to several states, such as Tennessee, that have worked to insulate courts from political pressure by establishing merit selection systems. Retention (up-or-down) elections held within the framework of merit selection systems have begun to attract spending and political pressure not previously seen in these races.

Television spending data for the Tennessee race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Tennessee 2014 webpage. For past spending in judicial elections, read The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, a report released by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending estimates are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.

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Progressive Group Slams Nat’l Conservative Groups Involvement in Retention Race

Press release from the Center for American Progress; July 31, 2014: 

To: Interested Parties
From: Center for American Progress, Legal Progress
Re: National Right-Wing Groups Target Tennessee Judiciary

On August 7, Tennesseans will decide whether three Supreme Court judges appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen (D), along with other appellate judges, stay on the bench. Governor Bill Haslam (R) will fill any vacancy should the Supreme Court judges lose.

This election has obvious implications for Tennessee citizens, but national conservative groups are using it as a clarion call for the right wing agenda. That is why the Republican State Leadership Committee, or RSLC, and the Koch brothers-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, have joined the race.

Right wing to spend millions to make sure courts put corporations over middle class families in Tennessee

The president of the RSLC said it plans to spend “north of $5 million” to elect judges this year, including more than $200,000 so far in Tennessee. With one week left in the race, the RSLC could be the biggest player in the Tennessee Supreme Court election.

The RSLC has not shied away from sharing their goal: protecting their radical, right wing agenda that puts corporations over middle class families. According to RSLC’s president, “Republicans have had a significant amount of success at the state level, not only being elected to offices but implementing bold conservative solutions… Unfortunately, that’s running into a hard stop with judges who aren’t in touch with the public.”

The “bold conservative” policies that have been challenged in court include legislation that disenfranchises voters, keeps injured citizens from filing lawsuits, and cuts essential services like health care and education. After the RSLC helped elect Republican legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina, the state legislatures passed two of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws.

In order to protect the agendas of GOP politicians, the RSLC has become the first national party organization focused on electing judges. It’s not just the RSLC. Americans for Prosperity are also running ads criticizing three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot on August 7.

The RSLC has done this before

Tennessee is not the only state in which the RSLC has spent millions of dollars trying to influence judicial elections. North Carolina is another prime example. In North Carolina, four out of seven seats are up for grabs in November. It is the first election in more than a decade in which candidates have no access to public financing.

The RSLC was the biggest spender in the May 5 primary election for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Its money funded ads attacking an incumbent justice for being “soft” on “child predators,” citing her dissent in one case. During the 2012 election, as the North Carolina Supreme Court was deliberating in the redistricting lawsuit, RSLC spent more than $1 million to keep the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in place. And then Justice Paul Newby, who benefited from the RSLC’s money, refused to recuse himself in the redistricting lawsuit.

Conclusion

The RSLC is seeking to use judicial elections to promote its right-wing agenda at the expense of middle class Tennesseans. After helping elect conservative legislators, the RSLC saw those legislators roll back the clock on voting rights, limit access to justice, and allow more money in politics. Citizens are challenging many of these statutes in state courts, but the RSLC is spending millions of dollars to ensure that their legislators’ agendas are not thwarted by the courts. The RSLC wants state courts that will serve as rubber stamps for legislatures. Citizens would be better served by independent courts that decide each case based on the facts and the law, not politics or partisanship.

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Ads For, Against Retention of State Supreme Court Justices Flood TN Airwaves

Press release from Justice At Stake; July 23, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23 – A significant new barrage of politically-charged campaign ads hit Tennessee airwaves this week targeting three state Supreme Court justices up for retention. Among the out-of-state groups spending money to unseat the justices is Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-linked dark money group that also spent money to influence state Supreme Court races in North Carolina and Florida in 2012. Other groups seeking to influence Tennessee’s retention election include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which distributed fliers, and the State Government Leadership Foundation.

The state is seeing a surge of ads both for and against Justices Gary Wade, Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee as the August 7 retention election approaches. Early voting began July 18. While much of the advertising spending is likely to remain undocumented until the next state disclosure deadline at the end of July, public FCC files show spending on television ad contracts continues to rise, and has crossed the $400,000 threshold.

The ads include:

  • A radio ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, criticizing the justices for appointing a “liberal” Attorney General who did not oppose Obamacare.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a pro-retention group, disputing claims made in ads opposing the justices.
  • A TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum, a conservative Tennessee group, claiming the justices are “liberal on crime” and “threaten your freedoms.” It urges voters to “replace the liberal Supreme Court.” The group said these ads are part of statewide campaign that will air through the election.
  • A TV ad highlighting the justices’ records, saying they upheld “nearly 90 percent of death sentences,” and urging viewers to vote in favor of their retention.
  • A TV ad from the State Government Leadership Foundation, a partner group of the Republican State Leadership Committee, criticizing the three justices for being “liberal on the Obama agenda.”
  • A TV ad in favor of Justice Gary Wade, describing him as focused on work, family and faith.
  • A TV ad sponsored by Keep Tennessee Courts Fair (the coordinated campaign to retain justices Connie Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade), in which retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Mickey Barker says “politics has no place in our courts.”

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice. But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which has been monitoring money and politics in this year’s judicial elections. “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that judges are accountable to the law, not special interest groups pouring money into retention elections. Ads that politicize judges’ records on the bench undermine the independence of our courts.”