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Education NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Womick Redoubles Haslam Criticisms

Rick Womick isn’t backing down from provocative comments he made in a letter sent to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration a week ago.

The Rockvale Republican state representative told the Associated Press this week he’s sticking by his letter. In fact, he’s upped the rhetorical heat a bit, calling the reelection-seeking governor a “traitor to the party.”

“You had the head of our party targeting individual members because we don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, that’s treason,” the former Air Force fighter pilot told the AP.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported that, according to campaign finance reports, Advance Tennessee PAC, with connections to supporters of Haslam and Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House, Beth Harwell, was launched in July and spent $137,725 in five primary races against incumbent legislators who’ve opposed the administration.

Successfully fending off attacks from moderate challengers in the GOP primary were state Reps. Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, Mike Sparks of Smyrna, and  Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough.  Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chairman, and Stacey Campfield, the notoriously controversial state senator from Knoxville, were both unseated.

Haslam laughed-off Womick’s warlike words. And he defended efforts to purge hostile Republicans from the General Assembly.

“I don’t know why my supporters should be precluded from doing what everybody else is doing, in terms of being engaged and trying to make certain good people are elected,” Haslam told reporters. He added that there are plenty of groups, such as teachers unions, who want to “engage in primaries,” and he doesn’t see his supporters actions as being any different.

Womick was one of 15 state legislators to sign a letter in late June that called for the resignation of Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s embattled education commissioner, on the grounds that he allegedly manipulated the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results when the department delayed their release by four days.

After the release of that letter, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper issued an opinion — requested by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet — that affirmed Huffman’s delay of the release of TCAP scores as acceptable under state and federal law.

Womick’s most recent letter to the administration accused the AG and Huffman of collusion on the opinion, and referred to it as “an orchestrated cover-up” and “Clintonesque.” Womick’s letter added that while many other legislators were unhappy with Haslam, to prevent further retaliation, he would not name them.

He also told the AP that in the future he expects a stronger legislative stance against Haslam, who is “making a lot of enemies very quickly.”

But Haslam said he plans to continue business as usual.

“For any governor, the job is to propose an idea and then to get at least 50 members of the House and 17 members of the Senate to vote in favor of it,” Haslam said. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Corker Coy About Presidential Bid

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker might run for president.

Or he might not.

Tennessee’s junior senator, two years into his second term, spoke at a Lawrenceburg Chamber of Commerce event and acknowledged he entertains daydreams about being president of the United States. He said, though, that he won’t be making any hasty decisions about jumping in the 2016 race — and that his wife might ultimately end up with veto power on the matter.

A story by the Associated Press reported that Corker said “there are times when I do wish I could have the kind of impact and create the kind of change and have the kind of vision for our country” that he thinks “so many people here in Tennessee would like to see happen.”

And Corker told the Jackson Sun editorial board Wednesday afternoon that he “relishes” the presidential role, knowing the “huge difference” he could make as opposed to just being a U.S. senator.

Corker also told the Economics Club of Memphis something similar on Wednesday night — though he apparently added that while he’s indeed thinking about it, it isn’t an all-consuming ambition.

Like the Volunteer State’s other GOP Senator, former Gov. Lamar Alexander, Corker, who is the chief Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been criticized by Tea-Party conservatives for working too closely with liberal Democrats.

In addition to his efforts in the Senate on financial reform and the auto-industry bailouts — which earned him the moniker “Bailout Bob” — the former Chattanooga mayor has received national media and political attention for some of his proposals, including raising the gas tax, arming the Syrian rebels and taking a hardline stance against Russia over Ukraine.

If he does decide to make a bid for president, Corker would join a field of candidate that is speculated to also include such notable Republicans as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and brother of George W. Bush, told a Florida NBC affiliate that he, too, is still weighing the pros and cons of a presidential run.

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Williams: AP Reporter Deserves No Punishment (UPDATED)

…UPDATED: Rep. Joe Towns, a Democrat from Memphis, the sponsor of the resolution aiming to revoke the chamber media credentials of Associated Press reporter Erik Schelzig, withdrew the proposal Monday night on the floor of the House of Representatives….

House lawmakers from both parties were fuming last week that a reporter tried to take pictures of their leader collapsed on the chamber floor as a result of what later proved to be low blood sugar. But House Speaker Kent Williams himself on Monday said the reporter in fact did nothing wrong.

Except for maybe climbing on the furniture, Williams said — although he added that he hasn’t actually viewed the video of the event.

The House speaker told TNReport Monday he is urging the sponsor of a resolution to revoke reporter Erik Schelzig’s House press credentials to drop the matter.

“I don’t have any problem with him trying to take a picture,” said Williams. “He was just doing his job. I’ll protect his First Amendment rights, you know, to do his job.”

Moments after Speaker Williams’ knees buckled while in the middle of a vote in the House of Representatives Friday, a number of lawmakers quickly came to his aid at the podium.

Meanwhile, Schelzig was in the press box behind a wall of glass panels. He then climbed on his chair and took pictures with his digital camera above the glass.

Legislators standing around the House floor who saw Schelzig documenting the tense event began shouting at him to stop taking pictures. They quickly then rushed the press box, demanding he be removed.

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, later filed a HR371 asking the press corps chairman to ban Schelzig from accessing the House floor. Schelzig currently himself serves as the legislative press corps chairman.

Laura Leslie, the president of Capitolbeat, the national association of state capitol reporters and editors, penned a letter to Williams Monday voicing opposition to HR371, declaring that the event was “no doubt an alarming moment for many, and emotions were running high. But Mr. Schelzig was just doing his job, ‘despicable’ or ‘distasteful’ as some representatives found it. The Speaker’s health IS news.”

Williams said it may have been inappropriate for Schelzig to climb up on the furniture to snap a photo, but said he has not seen the video.

“It’s over. It’s done. Let’s just get past it and move on,” he said.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.