Press Releases

Senate Republicans Laud Passage of Latest Meth-Fighting Initiative

Press Release from the GOP Caucus of the Tennessee Senate, April 29, 2011:

Tennessee Legislators Work Together To Pass E-Tracking Legislation To Fight Meth Production

New system will prevent abuse of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Senate yesterday passed SB 1265, which calls for the implementation of a statewide, real-time electronic tracking system, called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange), to monitor and block illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), an ingredient used in methamphetamine production. The bill also calls for felony charges for manufacturing meth in front of children and increases penalties for meth-related offenses. The legislation is a compromise brokered by Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and members of the legislature.

“I commend Safety Commissioner Gibbons and the Tennessee Senate for supporting a compromise that will prevent methamphetamine production in Tennessee while maintaining consumer access to important cold and allergy medications,” said state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the bill’s sponsor. “E-tracking is the only solution that will stop illegal sales of pseudoephedrine products by providing a real-time, preventive system in every Tennessee pharmacy.”

There is currently no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal PSE sales in real time, as many pharmacies rely on handwritten paper logbooks to track purchases. As a result, criminals have learned to circumvent the current system. SB 1265 and its companion bill in the House (HB 1051) will provide a secure, interconnected electronic logbook that advises pharmacists when to refuse a sale based on an individual’s purchase record elsewhere in the state and beyond its borders. In addition, the state’s comptroller will conduct a thorough study of Tennessee’s meth production, which will be released by January 1, 2013.

“Most importantly, electronic tracking preserves access to the trusted medicines that many Tennesseans rely on and trust for cold and allergy relief,” continued Sen. Beavers.

E-tracking, which has been adopted by 13 states nationwide, will give local law enforcement officials a powerful investigative tool to track meth production across state lines. E-tracking allows law enforcement to find previously undiscovered meth labs and helps them identify meth cooks without costing taxpayers one penny.

The provision stiffening penalties against making meth in the presence of a child would take place on July 1, 2011. The bill would make the crime aggravated child endangerment which is punishable as a Class A felony if the child is eight years old or younger and a Class B felony if the child is over the age of eight.

SB 1265/HB 1051 is supported by the Tennessee Pharmacists Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The NPLEx system would be fully integrated into Tennessee pharmacy systems by January 1, 2012.

Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Self-Service Kiosks Proposed for Quicker DL Renewals

Tennesseans may see an easier way to renew their driver’s licenses, with plans at the Department of Safety to look at self-service kiosks for license renewals.

Lines to renew driver’s licenses in the state are notoriously bad, and Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons told Gov. Bill Haslam in a budget hearing Wednesday that the waiting periods are “not acceptable.”

Gibbons said the wait is about 45 minutes and can be substantially longer in urban areas.

Gibbons said the driver’s license system is a moneymaker, however, bringing in $39 million per year for the department and $25 million for the state’s general fund. The $174 million base budget Gibbons proposed to Haslam is a zero-growth proposal, he said.

The department is monitoring Mississippi’s experience in providing self-service kiosks for license renewals. Safety officials see a lot of potential in the kiosks and plan to try them on a pilot basis. The kiosks could be used to renew or replace licenses. The process at the kiosk takes about two minutes.

Gibbons said after his presentation the proposed kiosks would be at the normal stations now used for license renewals.

“Not at a Kroger,” he said.

Gibbons said state appropriations cover 68 percent of the revenue in the base budget proposal for Safety, with department revenue and federal grants among other sources.

The department is ready for a new radio system, which will replace one that is more than 30 years old. The General Assembly has appropriated $39.2 million for the first phase of the system, and the department will not move on the second phase at this time, Gibbons said. Federal stimulus funds were also applied to the first phase. The new system is expected to improve communications and will be interoperable with other states — in other words, Tennessee’s system will be able to “talk to” that of other states.

The department is also implementing a new driver’s license system, and the Legislature has appropriated $30 million for it. The department plans $7 million in improvements that include mandatory raises for state troopers, which will cost $801,700.

In meeting requests for 1 percent and 2 percent potential reductions, the department would eliminate 23 positions for the 1 percent reduction and 38 positions for the 2 percent cut.

Gibbons said the department is aggressively promoting use of online services, which has been a frequent line of thinking in presentations of several departments in budget hearings this week. Gibbons said roughly 60 percent of transactions with his department could be done online.

Members of the department told the governor that traffic fatalities have decreased, in part, because of stronger enforcement on more holidays than before, and the strategy includes event days like the Super Bowl.

The Safety Department includes homeland security responsibilities, and staffers told Haslam the department does monitor events like the protests in recent days in Egypt.

The department handles gun permits, which Gibbons said about 300,000 Tennesseans now have.

Featured News Transparency and Elections

TN No Longer an Openness Leader on Financial Disclosures

Advocates for open government in Tennessee are expressing concern about whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s executive order relaxing income disclosure rules portends similar steps away from transparency, but there seems to be little out-and-out outrage over the governor’s move.

“The only thing that bothers me about the executive order is the tone that it sets and the signal that it might send,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “He’s not rolling back a law.”

Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause in Tennessee, had a similar reaction.

“I hope it’s not an indication of how we’re going to go from here, and I’d like to think it’s not,” Williams said. “But it’s just sad that his very first executive order, just a day or so after being sworn in, he takes a significant step backward.”

One fascinating aspect of the reaction, advocates for openness in government have said, is that the more demanding executive order that Phil Bredesen, Haslam’s predecessor, set as governor went largely unnoticed — until Haslam’s order loosened the requirements.

After being sworn in as the state’s 49th governor Jan. 15, Haslam’s first executive order was to declare that members of the executive branch must follow state law on disclosure, which brings the administration in line with the Legislature. The order means key administration officials including Cabinet members will have to divulge the sources of outside income but not the specific amounts they make. The step rolls back a Bredesen order, which called for disclosure of the amounts.

“Bredesen, to his credit, set a tone of openness by issuing that executive order in the first place,” Gibson said. “So I can’t slam him (Haslam) for doing it, because he’s basically doing what the law is for the Legislature.

“The thing that Bredesen did was far more disclosure than what Congress is required to do. Congress has to report the value of their investments in categories, from $50,000 to half a million dollars, and half a million dollars to a million, and a million to 5 million. So even members of Congress don’t have to report what their actual income is.”

Williams noted that the Haslam step presents a glaring change.

“It sticks out like a sore thumb at being a difference from what had been the precedent,” Williams said. “He (Haslam) is correct that the law doesn’t require it, but it’s kind of one of those things, once you’ve set the precedent, it’s definitely a step backward to not continue it.”

Haslam’s order caught the attention of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, and its policy director, John Wonderlich, called the decision a “stunning disrespect for the role disclosure plays in democracy.”

“Governor Haslam’s executive order flouts the public trust embodied in that disclosure system, and places his personal and political concerns over the public interest and integrity of the very system he was elected to lead,” Wonderlich wrote.

A recurring refrain, however, is a call for a middle-of-the-road approach that would require ranges of income be reported, rather than none.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit research group, falls into that category.

“I guess my solution is a compromise, which is what we have in California and which I believe is recommended, which is ranges,” said Stern. “Over a thousand dollars. Over $10,000, over $100,000, over $1 million, and at that point who cares? You should have an idea.”

“We want to know what the conflict is and approximately if it’s a big conflict or a little conflict, but we don’t need to know the exact amount of the conflict,” added Stern, whose organization describes itself as promoting “innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments.”

Issue of Income Prominent in Gov’s Race

Common Cause’s Williams said the potential for conflict should be closely watched for department heads such as those in Economic and Community Development and Revenue, not because he has concerns specific to Haslam’s choices for those jobs but because of the nature of the positions.

Haslam named Bill Hagerty, founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co., a merchant bank and private equity firm, to the post of Economic and Community Development commissioner. Haslam picked Richard Roberts, director of Miller Industries, which makes towing and recovery vehicles, to head the Department of Revenue.

The issue of Haslam’s personal income rose prominently in the 2010 governor’s race, with opponents among Democrats and Republicans insisting that Haslam’s income from his family’s Pilot Corp. presented a conflict of interest. Ironically, one of Haslam’s harshest critics was his current commissioner of Safety, Bill Gibbons.

Gibbons ran against Haslam for the Republican nomination. He dropped out early but not before he proposed a plan for openness in government.

Gibbons, previously the Shelby County district attorney general, hit Haslam hard on the issue during the campaign and said every time the state widens a highway with a lot of commercial traffic Pilot has an interest with its truck stops. He said voters couldn’t know if it was a big conflict or a small conflict because Haslam would not reveal his income from Pilot. Haslam did divulge his income from investments outside Pilot Corp.

Haslam has also announced a blind trust for his holdings, but the trust will not include Pilot holdings or a real estate investment he has outside the state.

Among candidate Gibbons’ detailed plans for openness was a strengthening of disclosure laws by moving beyond the requirement of candidates and officeholders to disclose only the sources of income and require reporting of the amount of income from each source.

An effort to reach Gibbons this week for comment on Haslam’s executive order was unsuccessful.

Haslam consistently refused during the campaign to divulge the amount of his income from Pilot, as first requested by a consortium of the state’s largest newspapers. He reasoned that Tennesseans knew that his family owned Pilot and therefore knew all they needed to know. He has now extended that same principle to other members of his administration, and Haslam used the same consistent line of explanation when he addressed the executive order in a recent press conference as governor.

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey reiterated the explanation Haslam has given going back to the campaign.

“To the best of my knowledge the executive order was a follow-up to what he said all over this state to the people of Tennessee,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think the executive order was one period, one comma, different from what he had said for months.”

Haslam Order In Line With Other States’ Rules

Ramsey said to his knowledge there was no survey of what is done in other states to influence the decision.

There is little to suggest Haslam’s order is out of line with other states, although that doesn’t translate into a sparkling record on public disclosure.

The Center for Public Integrity, a journalistic research organization in Washington that promotes improving government openness and accountability, issued a report in 2009 in which Tennessee was among 20 states given a grade of “F” for its disclosure laws. Tennessee was given 57.5 points out of a possible 100, ranking 34th among the 50 states. Only Louisiana, Washington and Hawaii received a grade of “A.”

The report was an update to a report by the Center for Public Integrity issued in 2007. Tennessee received an “F” in that report as well.

Like all the surveys reviewed by TNReport, though, the center’s study focused on laws, not executive orders by governors.

Charts compiled by the Center for Ethics in Government for the National Conference of State Legislatures show a broad range of requirements on disclosure, with several states requiring reporting based on ranges of income.

The Center for Ethics in Government does not summarize its findings like the Center for Public Integrity, but Peggy Kerns, director of the ethics center, said, “I would think that most states do not require disclosure of the actual amount of income, just the source.”

Stern, the Los Angeles researcher, said he believes the work done by the Center for Public Integrity is a good measuring stick and that there has been “not much change at all” since the report was released.

The written report in 2007 did address more closely how state requirements affect governors than the more recent report.

“Requiring them to disclose their private financial ties could reveal possible conflicts of interest,” the 2007 report said. Only Washington received a grade of “A” in that report.

The 2007 study made specific mention that Bredesen, who was wealthy before his election, did not take a paycheck as governor, which put him in the company of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Then-Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey drew a salary of $1 a year, the report noted. Haslam, like Bredesen, is not accepting a paycheck from the state.

The 2009 report noted that two southern states — Louisiana and Mississippi — made the biggest improvements since the earlier study, and it pointed to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pushing through an ethics reform package that bolstered requirements for all lawmakers to report their financial interests. That action, the report said, led Louisiana to the top spot in its rankings, with 94.5 points out of 100 in the center’s 43-question survey.

Press Releases

Former Mayor, Veteran Cop to Aid Homeland Security Chief Gibbons in Haslam Administration

Press Release from Bill Haslam, Governor-Elect of the State of Tennessee, Dec. 29, 2010:

Former TBI Agent and State Trooper Served as Hamblen County Mayor for 15 Years

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam and Tennessee Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner-designee Bill Gibbons named former Hamblen County Mayor David Purkey as Assistant Commissioner for Homeland Security.

The Office of Homeland Security (OHS) was transferred from the Governor’s Office to the Tennessee Department of Safety in 2008, and OHS’s primary responsibility is directing statewide activities for the prevention of and protection from terrorist-related events. The office also serves as a liaison between federal, state and local agencies and the private sector on security matters.

“David Purkey is a man who has helped make Tennesseans safer throughout his life, and I’m grateful that he’ll be a part of our team,” Gov.-elect Haslam said.

“David brings to the table an in-depth background in emergency planning and preparedness,” Gibbons said. “As a former county mayor, he understands the importance of forging close working relationships with local communities in our efforts to keep our state safe. He’s just the right choice for this assignment.”

Gibbons also announced David McGriff, who currently serves as director of the West Tennessee Drug Task Force, as interim Deputy Commissioner. McGriff has 41 years of law enforcement experience, and he will assist on an interim basis in setting priorities for the office, as well as identifying both challenges and opportunities.

Prior to this position, Purkey was Hamblen County Mayor from 1995-2010. Before becoming mayor his career included stints as a state trooper, TBI special agent and Hamblen County Director of Emergency Management, and he served in the U.S. Army Reserve and Tennessee Army National Guard.

“Protecting our citizens and critical resources is the highest priority of government, and having served in government safety roles previously, I am truly honored to return to my public safety profession,” Purkey said. “I appreciate Gov.-elect Haslam and Commissioner-designee Gibbons for giving me this opportunity to work with our local, state, and federal partners, and I promise to work with the State Homeland Security staff and the State Homeland Security Council to build upon the very positive relationships already established between our emergency services providers.”

Purkey, 51, is married to Pamela, and they’re members of First United Methodist Church of Morristown.

Press Releases

Recap of Haslam Appointments Thus Far

Statement from Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Governor-Elect, Dec. 10, 2010:

“The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, yet very exciting as we continue building our team and preparing to take office in the New Year. Since the election we’ve had a great response from citizens all across the state offering suggestions for better government and with interest in helping our administration.

“I’m encouraged by the quality and depth of the leadership team (listed below) we’ve recruited to date and look forward to announcing more appointments soon. To read more about our appointments, please go to our transition website at”

“And with the Inaugural approaching and a goal to have the most inclusive celebration possible, things are really starting to come together for the weekend of January 15th. The festivities will kick-off Friday night with a celebration event downtown. The Inaugural Ceremony will take place mid-morning Saturday at Legislative Plaza and the evening celebrations will be held at the newly renovated Opryland Hotel. We are also honored to invite Tennesseans to the Executive Residence on Sunday for an Open House. Details are still being finalized with many of the events free and open to the public. A separate website with all of this information and more is in the works. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Inaugural Team at 615.690.8668.”

Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice News

Republicans Energized about Nuclear Power; Democrats by Green Jobs

All four Republican candidates for governor expressed support Wednesday for ramping up nuclear power as part of the state’s energy future in a forum before the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

Two Democratic candidates spoke in a separate session with members of the organization prior to the Republicans taking their turn at a downtown Nashville forum Wednesday. The Democrats were not asked about nuclear energy, but they addressed green energy as a vital part of the state’s economic future.

Republicans were asked specifically about coal and nuclear power. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, from Blountville, said the nation took a wrong turn on nuclear energy decades ago.

“One of the worst mistakes we’ve ever made in this country, in the late 1970s, was turning away from nuclear energy,” Ramsey said. “I had a chance to go to work building one of those plants, yet we mothballed that and we’ve gone backward. We need to look at nuclear energy, coal and natural gas. Green energy is all well and good, but it’s going to be a small percentage. We’ve got to know when you turn the light switch on that the lights will come on.”

Ramsey said the state should continue to rely on coal and find the best ways to obtain it.

“We have to rely on good science. I mentioned that before at a forum and got criticized,” Ramsey said. “I’m opposed to mountaintop removal, but at the same time there are ways of getting to that coal, and we need to do it. Alternative fuels are out there but a lot is down the road. We’ve got 100 years of reserves in the ground, and that’s going to help us be energy independent.”

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the approach should be to pursue a policy that includes nuclear power, solar power and wind power.

“But we also need to use less,” Haslam said. “In Knoxville, we looked at our own energy use, not only as good stewards of the environment, but we saved money. As a country, we do have to consider producing more energy domestically.”

Bill Gibbons, Shelby County district attorney general, said a diverse energy policy is needed and said Gov. Phil Bredesen has taken the state in the right direction with energy technology.

“We also need nuclear energy. We’ve got to be realistic about that,” Gibbons said. “It’s a clean source of energy. We’ve got to have that as part of the mix.”

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga complimented the Obama administration for its openness to nuclear energy.

“We need to build another hundred nuclear reactors as a nation in the next 20 years,” Wamp said.

Referring to both President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Wamp said, “I’m frankly glad they realize if they want to meet any of their carbon goals they have to have an ambitious nuclear plan, and I think they’re starting to get that drift.”

Democrats Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman, and Kim McMillan, a former state legislator and aide to Bredesen, pointed to the potential in jobs related to new investment in polycrystalline silicon in the state. Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie are making large investments in Tennessee. Both Democrats said the focus should be on attracting suppliers for those companies. Hemlock will be in Montgomery County, Wacker in Bradley County.

“We’re all very proud of the work Governor Bredesen has done in green energy,” McMillan said. “That is the job of the future. We need to bring in other satellite industries to feed off them. That’s where the growth will be. We can grow this economy by focusing on the green energy field. I’m excited about the possibility of becoming the Silicon Valley of the South.”

McWherter found a bright spot to talk about.

“In so many ways, Tennessee lags many other states, but I want to brag on Tennessee,” McWherter said. “We’re among the top three states in creating clean energy jobs. They are Oregon, Colorado and Tennessee. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s a position I want to see Tennessee stay in.

“The suppliers that will come in for Hemlock and Wacker will want to locate in a corridor between Clarksville and Chattanooga. What we’ve got to do is go out and actively recruit those supplying industries for those two signature companies. As your next governor, I assure you I will go after those industries very aggressively.”

McWherter said all Tennesseans are invested in those companies, given the tax incentives that attracted them to the state.

“I don’t care where you live in Tennessee, you’ve got an investment in Volkswagen and Wacker and Hemlock. You pay taxes, and we have given tax incentives. You’ve got an investment,” McWherter said.

“The way to get a return is to go out and capture these supplying industries. Once we get those industries in here, they will employ people,” he added. “That makes their employees consumers, and that helps the revenue situation for everyone across the state. It is imperative that the next governor knows to go out and recruit those supplying industries.”


Sparks Fly at Debate: GOP Rivals Try to Burn Haslam on Fuel Company Ties

A couple Republican candidates for governor used rival Bill Haslam as an onstage punching bag Thursday, harping on his refusal to release details about his personal income from his family business.

GOP hopeful Bill Gibbons, Shelby County’s district attorney, called the Knoxville mayor out during a gubernatorial debate in downtown Nashville for not revealing how much income he earns from Pilot Corp., the truck-stop chain the Haslams have built into something of a national gas- and diesel-station empire.

“Frankly, he has a conflict of interest, because every time the state of Tennessee has a major highway project, Pilot Oil has an interest. He doesn’t want us to know the scope of that conflict of interest,” said Gibbons.

Congressman Zach Wamp didn’t want to miss out on the action, and he, too, took a poke at Haslam when the opportunity arose.

He didn’t name any names, but it was obvious to everyone in the room who Wamp was referring to when he opined that transparency should begin before being elected to office.

“On Wall Street, they say too big to fail. And I wonder here if one family or one corporation is too big to be held accountable like everyone else,” he said.

Haslam declined to share his details about his personal income. But he didn’t hesitate to fire back at his detractors for what he described as their seeming sleights to his family’s entrepreneurialism and success.

“It bothers me to hear somebody say a Tennessee company that started as a small business has grown to be a national company, that there’s something wrong with that,” said Haslam.

Haslam is the only Republican candidate who so far hasn’t release personal income records as requested by a band of Tennessee’s large newspapers. Those records are not public and are not required to be released to run for political office.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is also running in the August primary election, stayed out of the Haslam-centered spat.

Also participating in the debate co-hosted by the Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press were Senate Democrat Leader Jim Kyle, former House Democrat Leader Kim McMillan and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter.

Press Releases

Gibbons Campaign Outlines Priorities for Fighting Crime

Press release from Bill Gibbons, GOP candidate for Tennessee governor, Jan. 20, 2010:

With the Tennessee General Assembly now in session, Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons today released his plan to cut crime in Tennessee by outlining what he hopes to accomplish his first year in office as governor.

“Tennessee ranks third in the nation in violent crime. This is unacceptable. Tennesseans deserve to feel safe in their homes and on their streets, and they should not have to live in fear in their own neighborhoods. Creating safer communities is a top priority for me, which is why I’m ready to lay out specific plans for combating crime in our state my very first year in office,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons has eight steps he plans to take his first year in office as governor:

1. Toughen sentencing laws for violent gun crime

Under Tennessee law, someone can be convicted of robbery with a gun and only serve a small portion of his sentence before being paroled. This system is creating a revolving door of criminal activity, with repeat offenders viewing the punishment simply as “the price of doing business.” “Specifically, I will propose abolishing parole for robbery with a gun, enhancing sentences for gang-related violent crimes (defined as violent crimes committed by three or more), and expanding of the current crooks with guns law to provide enhanced sentences for additional types of crimes committed with guns not currently covered,” he said.

2. Toughen sentences for burglars

“In Tennessee, someone can be convicted of burglary and basically get a slap on the wrist – diversion if it’s his first offense, probation if it’s his second offense, and less than a year in jail if it’s the third offense. I will propose an end to diversion for conviction of burglary and an end to the current presumption that a defendant is entitled to probation and tie the availability of probation more to a willingness to undergo effective drug treatment for those with drug addiction problems.”

3. Increase funding for drug treatment courts

“Crime is closely tied to drugs. I support reaching out to non-violent drug offenders and getting them the help they need to combat their drug addictions. More of our state dollars spent on drug treatment should be earmarked for effective drug treatment court programs.”

4. Attack juvenile crime by combating truancy

Far too often, skipping school leads to juvenile crime. As Shelby County District Attorney General, Gibbons has held parents accountable for their kids’ truancy and has worked to implement what is becoming a model program to match truants with volunteer mentors. “As governor, I want to expand this effort and tap into the volunteer spirit of the Volunteer State by recruiting thousands of citizens to serve as mentors for kids who are skipping school,”

5. Enact Stronger laws on methamphetamine

“Our meth home-cookers and their pill shoppers have learned to avoid purchasing certain amounts of a primary meth ingredient at any one time. I want to strengthen state law so that having more than nine grams of such a product becomes a presumption of intent to manufacture meth for purposes of prosecution. I also want to enact legislation to make it a felony to endanger a child through the manufacture of meth. Tennessee has no law addressing this problem, yet we know through recent reports that home-cookers often do so in the presence of a child.”

6. Restore professionalism to the Tennessee Highway Patrol

“Our Highway Patrol should not be a political football. The citizens and our state troopers deserve better. As governor, I will recruit a true professional to lead our Highway Patrol, someone who will give it the status it deserves as our state’s top law enforcement agency. The Highway Patrol already has a role in the interdiction of drugs, but we need to make better use of this agency and give it a more prominent role on the front line of the fight against drugs. Interstate 40 must be a top priority, as it is one of the leading drug trafficking corridors in the United States.”

7. Toughen sentencing for repeat domestic violence offenders

“Under our current state law, unless a deadly weapon is used, no matter how many times an offender commits a domestically-related assault, it’s a misdemeanor. We must change that to make repeat offenses a felony. This change is badly needed in order to break the cycle of domestic violence we see far too often.”

8. Provide Additional prosecutors

“Many D.A.’s offices across the state are handling huge caseloads with limited personnel. It is not unusual for state prosecutors to face a thousand new cases each year. We must give D.A.’s offices across the state the help they need so that cases can in turn, be given the attention they deserve.”

Bill Gibbons, a Republican, is the Shelby County District Attorney General, serving as the top state law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest jurisdiction. He entered the governor’s race on January 4, 2009. For more information on Bill Gibbons, visit his campaign website at


Candidates for Governor Weigh in on Higher Ed

With lawmakers on the cusp of approving major education reforms this week, candidates for governor gathered in Nashville Thursday to offer their views on education.

Hosted by the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, SCORE, gubernatorial hopefuls addressed issues ranging from pre-K programs to college graduation rates, improving teacher quality to linking jobs to education. Sponsored by NewsChannel 5 and other organizations, the entire one-hour forum can be viewed here.

The seven candidates — four Republicans and three Democrats — had all raised at least $250,000 for their campaign fund prior to Thursday’s forum at Belmont University.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat in his last year in office, called lawmakers into Special Session this week to approve his proposals to reform education in light of a pending grant proposal for $485 million worth of “Race to the Top” federal funds.

The highly competitive grant rewards states with the most creative and innovative education reforms.

Bredesen also asked lawmakers to review how the state treats higher education, an issue not specifically related to the RTTT competition. He wanted lawmakers to tackle that subject as well, but members have agreed to push off that issue until the regular session this spring.

Candidates at the forum tackled the topic anyway, offering 1-minute explanations on how they would improve the two-year and four-year college graduation rates.

“We have to combine, we have to partner between our educational institutions and our work force development efforts in our state,” said Kim McMillan, former Tennessee House Democratic leader.

“Part of the problem is that we have a lot of out students entering in college who aren’t prepared. They’re spending a lot of money on remedial courses at the college education level,” said Bill Gibbons, Shelby County District Attorney General who is running for the Republican nod for governor.

Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman running for a space on the Democratic ticket, said Tennessee Diploma project is the key to improving higher education.

Congressman Zach Wamp, a Republican, said he wants to see high school students get “fired up about the future” with the help of distance and online learning.

Maybe the problem is too much red tape, said state Sen. Jim Kyle, who leads the Democratic party in the chamber.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican, said students should be able to transfer more classes from their community college classes when switching to a four-year university.

Bill Haslam, Republican Mayor of Knoxville, pointed to two programs in his own city as examples of what the state can do.


Gibbons Pushing Open Gov’t Agenda

Forcing public officials to release their personal financial records may be an intrusion of privacy, but it’s necessary if voters are to get an accurate picture of their backgrounds and business interests, said GOP candidate for governor Bill Gibbons.

Currently the district attorney for Shelby County, Gibbons wants to mandate that people in public office make more of their financial dealings open to citizen review. He said he plans to publish his own federal income tax returns for 2009 soon.

“When you think about it, there’s no more reliable, trustworthy way for the public to know whether or not we have any conflicts of interest, and the scope of those conflicts, as a result of our income and investments,” Gibbons said.

During a press conference in downtown Nashville Thursday afternoon, Gibbons continued to hammer on cross-state political rival Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, also a GOP gubernatorial candidate, for not being more forthright in releasing financial information, particularly the financial stake he has in the Haslam family-owned Pilot Corp. fuel company and chain of Pilot Travel Centers. (See video below.)

Gibbons released five years worth of federal income tax returns last fall after a request for financial data from Tennessee’s largest newspapers.

Gibbons and his wife, a federal judge, reportedly earned just above $300,000 for the past three years, mostly from their government jobs, and have paid about $62,000 a year in federal income taxes.

The Memphis Republican said he’ll push several other open government initiatives if elected governor, such as requiring public officials to disclose how much money they’ve received from financial interests along with how much they have in various investments. The law currently only requires lawmakers to disclose the sources of those dollars.

Gibbons promised also to:

  • hold public budget meetings with state agencies when discussing budget requests
  • change the formula used when governments charge for public documents
  • reestablish as many as six regional governor’s field offices throughout the state
  • pin down lawmakers on each significant vote they take in the General Assembly including procedural action and committee votes.

The general primary election is Aug. 5. Gibbons is one of several GOP hopefuls, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Haslam.