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Tea Partiers In Tune With Gibson

Organizers for Saturday afternoon’s “We Stand With Gibson” rally/concert in Nashville say the event is geared more toward people seeking a good time than looking for a political rant fest.

Clearly, though, with a line-up that, in addition to musical performers, includes conservative radio hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, and Memphis Tea Party founder Mark Skoda — as well as U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Gibson Guitar’s CEO himself, Henry Juszkiewicz — there’ll no doubt be plenty of fire-breathing to accompany the cool harmonies.

The purpose of the event is, after all, to raise awareness and fuel outrage about an incident that one function organizer says has galvanized anti-government sentiment like no other in quite a while.

“I don’t think any other issue has captured the passions of tea partiers like this one has in the last year,” said Ben Cunningham, a blogger and spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt.

“There is near universal agreement among the tea party and conservative groups that the raids — the one that occurred in August and the one that occurred two years ago — were an overreach by the federal government. It was an abuse of power and authority,” said Cunningham.

The purpose of the “We Stand With Gibson” event is to say to the federal government, “Back off,” Cunningham said during a press conference Wednesday.

The gathering, which is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. at the Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar, was also planned with the idea in mind of people coming together in support of others facing difficulty and uncertainty — like they did during the floods of 2010, Ken Marrero, a blogger and rally organizer, added.

The victims in this case, said Marrero, are Juszkiewicz and the employees of Gibson. Their place of work was inundated back in August with federal agents who allege Gibson illegally imported wood from India in violation of a recently amended U.S. law known as the Lacey Act.

The agents seized wood, guitars and other company property, according to the company. No charges have been filed, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency conducting the investigation, is reportedly considering filing a criminal complaint.

In a sworn statement filed last month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Kevin L. Seiler wrote that after reviewing Juszkiewicz’s public statements in the wake of the raid on Gibson, “it is clear that Gibson understands the purpose of the Lacey Act, and understands that the (seized company property), which is fingerboard blanks, are not finished fingerboards and thus Gibson is aware that its order for fingerboard blanks was an order for contraband ebony wood or ebony wood which is illegal to possess.”

Marrero said he supports the idea of government regulating natural resource extraction and prohibiting Americans from violating the environmental and wildlife protection laws of other countries, which is ostensibly the purpose of the Lacey Act.

But he thinks the federal agents stepped way over the line in the Gibson case, both in the way they are interpreting the law and the way they executed the raid.

Marrero said it is his understanding that Indian law — at least according to the Indian government — has not been violated. India’s deputy director-general of foreign trade reportedly stated in a Sept. 16 letter, “Fingerboard is a finished product and not wood in primary form,” and that the “foreign trade policy of the government of India allows free export of such finished products of wood.”

Marrero wonders why the United States government “is enforcing a law that the Indian government doesn’t even consider is a violation.”

“How is that right?” he said.

Cunningham, too, condemns what he described as the “hideously complex” web of regulations that businesses and taxpayers have to understand, negotiate and abide by to remain in compliance with federal law.

“We have all kinds of these 2,000-page laws that empower bureaucrats to be petty tyrants,” said Cunningham. “Think of the IRS code.”

In any event, said Cunningham, when government officials do perceive that some nonviolent violation of a rule or regulation has occurred, the proper course is to “call (an alleged violator) up on the phone and say, ‘We are concerned about this law and your compliance with the law.'”

“You don’t send armed agents with their guns drawn into their corporate headquarters. That is an abuse of power, and that is our government abusing the power that we grant to them,” said Cunningham. “And that is why we are here — we are holding them accountable for this abuse of power. It’s got to stop. And we the people are coming here on Saturday to say that to our federal government.”

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Business and Economy

Reagan Administration Economist Arthur Laffer Speaks at GOP Retreat

Economist Arthur Laffer, widely known as the “father of supply-side economics,” spoke to House Republicans during their retreat this week at Tims Ford State Park.

Laffer, a member of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policy team, talked to the group about Tennessee’s economic assets, said Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair.

“Dr. Laffer has a wealth of data, research, knowledge and experience about how the different states compare with one another,” she said.

“One of the focuses he worked on with us was how Tennessee ranks with other states and what makes Tennessee so attractive to people to live here. We’re in a central location, we don’t have a state income tax, we are a right-to-work state, and states like that tend to have favorable economic outcomes.”

In addition to listening to Laffer and other guests, Republicans discussed ways to improve communications with their constituents and various items constituents are concerned about, including reaction from teachers about the state’s new teacher evaluation process, Maggart said.

The retreat, which is held every two years, was paid for with caucus funds, Maggart said.

Maggart didn’t have an exact number of lawmakers who attended the retreat Monday and Tuesday, but she said she had 55 RSVPs committed to attend at least part of the event and that it looked like most of those showed up, including Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

The Republicans have a 64-34-1 majority in the House.

Maggart, who was guarded about sharing what legislators discussed, said the lawmakers did not formally talk about redistricting, a subject of much political speculation. The discussions did include attempts to dramatically reduce the number of bills filed in the Legislature, she said.

“We talked about next year (an election year). I’m not going to unveil what we’re doing,” Maggart said.

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney has said the state GOP’s goal is to produce a “walkout-proof” majority in the Legislature, meaning enough of a majority that Republicans would have a quorum even without the presence of Democrats in meetings. Republicans have a Senate majority of 20-13. Two more Republican seats in each chamber would be needed to meet Devaney’s goal.

Maggart said the Republicans have been working on their legislative package for next year, although she said she was not ready to unveil that now.

“We’ll be giving that information out when we get it ready,” she said.

Republicans have already been public about at least visiting issues such as changing workers’ compensation laws, oversight of the Court of the Judiciary, halting the extension of unemployment benefits, further monitoring regulations that may hamper business and enacting more tort reform measures next year. But Maggart made clear the party still believes jobs cannot be legislated, a position that puts Republicans at odds with Democrats, who presented a list of jobs bills this year with complaints that they were not seriously considered. Unemployment in the state is 9.8 percent.

Democrats have also scheduled a Jobs Tour for Sept. 19-24, and the state Democratic Party took exception Wednesday to the rosy picture painted by Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey about their presentation to the major bond rating agencies in New York.

A release from the Tennessee Democratic Party quoted Chairman Chip Forrester as saying, “This bond rating dog and pony show for Wall Street executives looks obnoxious to the 300,000 Tennesseans who are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”

Maggart maintains that jobs cannot be legislated.

“We’re going to continue to concentrate on paving the way for job creation. The Legislature does not create a single job,” she said. “We want to do what we can to make Tennessee the most attractive state for small businesses to thrive. We want to decrease regulation on small business people.”

Maggart gave the handling of the new photo ID law, requiring photographic identification in order to vote, as an example of how the number of bills filed in the Legislature can be decreased.

“Freshmen didn’t know I was working on it for five or six years, so we can cut down on the number of people filing the same bill,” she said.

Republicans have drawn up a process, spearheaded by Harwell, where lawmakers can consult freely about their bills in a process that normally holds even the filing of legislation as a matter of attorney/client privilege. McCormick has also spoken publicly about reducing the number of bills.

On the teacher evaluations issue, Maggart said members are hearing about it from their districts.

“Teachers are concerned about it. They have questions,” Maggart said. “That was pretty much across the board. I shouldn’t say everyone, but a lot of people had heard from teachers concerned about the process.

“You know it’s going to be a concern because it’s new. It has never been done before. Certainly you’re going to have people who have questions.”

The state adopted a system where teachers will be evaluated based on a formula that relies heavily on classroom observation and student growth under the state’s value-added assessment scores.

Laffer is one of the authors of Rich States, Poor States, released by the American Legislative Exchange Council and issued in its fourth edition this June. Other authors of the book are Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal, and Jonathan Williams, director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force for ALEC.

“He (Laffer) uses IRS data. That’s such a great data resource, because the IRS knows so much about you. They’ve got your address, know how much you make, how much your deductions are. He has been analyzing people who move, like him, and what the state’s economic status is. Ours is good. People move here from other states,” Maggart said.

“He contrasted all the good things about Tennessee and how we keep moving forward on those things.”

Laffer Associates, an economic research and consulting firm, is in Nashville. An effort Wednesday seeking comment by Laffer on the Republican retreat was unsuccessful.

Other speakers at the retreat included Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications for the Department of Economic and Community Development; a presentation on communications for lawmakers by a consulting firm; and a presentation by Public Opinion Strategies, which handles polling.

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VIDEOS: Haslam Supports Tort Reform, Backs Expanded Role for Charter Schools

Gov. Bill Haslam detailed his legislative priorities on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, laying out a laundry list of issues he wants to clean up in this year’s legislative session.

His three-pronged agenda focuses on education, tort reform and government efficiency.

“When I first started all this, I said our goal is to make Tennessee the number-one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, and we have a legislative effort that reflects that,” he told reporters early Thursday morning before lawmakers called both chambers into session.

His plan includes lengthening the time it takes for teachers to earn tenure.

In addition, Haslam said he wants to increase the role of charter schools in Tennessee. He is proposing lifting the cap on charter schools and providing for open enrollment and allowing lottery scholarships to be used for summer courses. He furthermore said that when the state takes over a failing school as part of the First to the Top legislation approved last year, it should be able to contract with charter schools in an effort to improve opportunities for the students affected.

Haslam also said he wants lawmakers to limit certain payouts in personal injury lawsuits and reduce the number of Tennessee Regulatory Authority board members from four to three.

This package of bills does not include a formal jobs package even though he ran his election campaign saying he wanted to help create jobs. He said he didn’t think legislation could directly create jobs.

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City Mulls Restrictions on Residential Junk-Touching

At some point if you live in Dresden you might have to reconsider trying to hustle a little extra spending cash by pawning off those gently used stuffed animals, that hardly used exercise equipment or the wide-collar blazers from the ’70s.

The Powers That Be in this city with a median household income of $23,000 (compared to the statewide $43,000) are thinking about putting the breaks on an age-old means of unloading accumulated junk on friends, neighbors, unknown passersby and other unsuspecting suckers.

The mayor, Danny Forrester, said the cause for considering a clampdown on yard sales is fear of competition, according to an account in the Weakley County Press.

“Our main goal is to get a better hold on the number of yard sales that are taking place,” Forrester said. “Some people are having them every week, and that gets in direct competition with the business holders. We never wanted the yard sales to get into competition with charitable organizations either.”

One suggestion that’s been floated is requiring permits without fees. Another is limiting that days of week yard sale operation is allowed.