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


State Ups RTTT Grant Request

Tennessee asked the federal government on Tuesday for more than half a billion dollars in grants to funnel into the state’s public schools.

That’s a $17 million increase over the $485 million figure the governor used during an address to the General Assembly last week.

The Volunteer State is now soliciting $501.8 billion in U.S. Department of Education “Race to the Top” grants, which are part of the federal stimulus package passed last year.

Gov. Phil Bredesen called lawmakers into special session last week to change several education laws in order to strengthen the state’s application.

Ultimately approved by the General Assembly, those policy adjustments now link student test-scores to teacher and principal evaluations, and create a state-wide “Achievement School District” to adopt and manage failing schools.

The increase in the total federal funding request came from higher than expected costs related to turning around failing schools,  said state Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Woods.

Tennessee joined 40 states and the District of Columbia in vying for a chunk of $4.35 billion in education dollars under the federal education grant.

Eight states opted out of applying by the Jan. 19 deadline, including, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Vermont and Washington.

Texas and Alaska have opted out of the program entirely.

No more than 20 states that applied this week will collect on a share of the grant, which will be awarded in April. Losing states can reapply June 1.

President Obama said Wednesday he wants to expand the “Race to the Top” program by $1.35 billion in next year’s federal budget.


Republicans Sounding Agreeable to Bredesen’s Education Reform Pitch

Gov. Phil Bredesen’s speech before a joint meeting of the House and Senate for the special legislative session on Tuesday drew skepticism from some in his own party. But to many Republicans on Capitol Hill, the reform plan outlined by the Democratic governor was just what they wanted to hear.

“He has asked us to be bold and join him in this opportunity to prepare students for this global economy and I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Senate Education Committee member Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville. “I think this is an excellent opportunity for Tennessee, and I look forward to this week so we can work together.”

Bredesen is offering two legislative proposals for the special session.

One, called “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010,” is designed to position Tennessee to snatch up a portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars the Obama administration is dangling in front of states in “Race to the Top” education funding grants.

The other bill, the “Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010,” is written with the idea in mind of trying to boost lagging college completion rates in Tennessee. “On average, only 46 percent of full-time students at four-year schools graduate within six years, and only 12 percent of full-time community college students attain associate degrees within three years,” Bredesen told lawmakers.

For every 100 students who enter ninth grade in our public schools, Bredesen said, 67 graduate from high school in four years. Of those, 43 go directly to college after graduation, but only 29 return for their sophomore year.

“Just 19 graduate with an associate’s degree in three years or a bachelor’s degree in six years,” Bredesen said. “We can do better. We’ve got to do better.”

For Tennessee schools to have a chance at some of the “Race to the Top” funding, which is part of the stimulus package the Democratic-led Congress and the Obama administration passed last year, changes need to be made to how teachers here are evaluated, said Bredesen.

The “Race to the Top” application specifically requires that student achievement data be added as a “significant factor” to teacher and school principal evaluations, according to the governor. Other states the Bredesen administration sees as “primary competitors” have generally determined that half a teacher’s or principal’s performance evaluation should be based on student achievement.

Currently, it is illegal in Tennessee for school administrators to use student achievement data to rate and review teachers for tenure.

“I know this represents change, but this is not rocket science,” Bredesen said about his proposal to allow student progress to drive official teacher-performance assessments. “It is a commonsense notion; we pay teachers to teach children, a part of their evaluation ought to be how much the children they teach learn.”

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said afterward that Bredesen “made a very good case on why we need to do this, and that it’s probably the right thing to do.”

Democrats grumbled that all this proposed change is coming at them without much opportunity for considered debate and analysis. The deadline for the state to apply for the “Race to the Top” grants is Jan. 19. That means a legislative package needs to be on Bredesen’s desk before then.

“I think he’s pretty optimistic. I think he’s entered into a contest where we may or may not win and are trying to change the entire system in a very short period of time,” said Rep. John C. Tidwell of New Johnsonville. “A lot of the details don’t work out.”

While everyone “would love the luxury of time,” said Woodson, “this isn’t the only time in our legislative history that we’ve been talking about these important issues.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said tying teacher performance reviews to student test scores “is something (Republicans) have been pushing for years.”

Ramsey predicted that getting the legislative changes Bredesen wants passed through the chamber over which he presides probably won’t be too difficult. “I think we can do it,” said Ramsey. “I don’t see a lot of problem on the Senate side.”

Education Featured News

Breaking Down ‘Race to the Top’

Lawmakers will spend the next few days changing Tennessee’s education laws to make the state eligible for an infusion of federal education funding.

But the hottest issue up for debate at the statehouse this week — how strongly to tie student test scores to educators’ tenure and yearly evaluations — accounts for only 12 percent of the overall “Race to the Top” federal grant application.

“That’s just one little technical piece to be taken care of,” said Rachel Woods, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education.

Race to Top pie

The $4.35 billion grant competition, which is a part of the federal stimulus package, will award the top 10 to 20 states with leading education reforms that boost student achievement and graduation rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Tennessee is slated to receive more than $400 million if it wins the grant money.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called this a “once in a lifetime chance” to propel student achievement, will be most interested in how Tennessee fits into the grant’s four-pronged approach for reform.

He and the U.S. Department of Education will measure how well the state can:

  • Adopt measures to better prepare students for college, work and compete in the global economy
  • Build databanks that measure students’ success; use that information to fuel instruction
  • Attract, develop, reward and keep effective teachers and principals, particularly in tough-to-teach classrooms
  • Turn around low-achieving schools.

The 102-page grant application — which scores much like a high school final exam — looks for a state to pitch several education reforms. Sections range from finding ways to improve the transition between preschool and kindergarten, how to use student data to drive instruction, and methods to better prepare students for jobs in complicated subjects like math and technology.

The application, which is estimated to take 681 hours to complete, is cut into several pieces. The slice with the heaviest weight calls for states to find, keep and develop quality teachers.

That section, worth 28 percent of the total evaluation, asks for Tennessee to prove how it will support several initiatives, such as alternative teaching certification programs and attracting quality teachers to struggling schools.

The section also calls for making professional-development programs for teachers and principals more rigorous. It also and includes linking student-performance data to salary, tenure and firing decisions — which accounts for 58 out of 138 possible scoring points.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit research and advocacy group, suggests a state’s performance in this teachers section will “make or break” their application, while winning proposals break new ground in this area.

“It will require break-the-mold initiatives and iron political will on the part of states to undertake a human capital reform agenda — and, accordingly, the Department has assigned the big points and promised the big money for this tough work,” read NCTQ’s “Race to the Top Scorecard” (pdf).

Lawmakers expect to reverse a current ban on using annual standardized tests to help determine whether teachers receive tenure.

In 1992, schools began collecting student performance data through standardized tests. But the Tennessee Education Association convinced lawmakers to make it illegal to use those scores to help evaluate teacher performance for tenure.

Gov. Phil Bredesen called the special session specifically to pass legislation to help the state compete for “Race to the Top” grant money and other education issues.

He said last month the scores would have to weigh in at 50 percent or more to engage the issue. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican, agreed last week with 50 percent mark and expects to push the measure through.

The main opponent, the Tennessee Education Association, said it is willing to support test scores accounting for 35 percent of teachers’ and principals’ evaluations.

For “Race to the Top” grant money, Tennessee will also have to prove it has the statewide capacity to follow through on promised reforms and show that — since at least 2003 — it’s already made good headway in improving student achievement, according to “Race to the Top” documents. The section, called “State Success Points,” represents a quarter of the grant application.

About 14 percent of the application depends on the state’s commitment to developing standards other states can later adopt on their own.

Another 11 percent is given based on the state’s recent track record for shifting more dollars to education each year and 9 percent is for using student data to drive instruction. An additional 3 percent — considered a tie-breaker — is given for developing a plan to help emphasize student studies on science, technology, engineering and math, called STEM. The application does not dictate any other specific areas of student study.

Another section includes turning around lowest-achieving schools. To do this, lawmakers expect to create a statewide “achievement” school district that will adopt those institutions and take over instructional oversight such as hiring and firing decisions.This section makes up 10 percent of the application and requires lawmakers to pass new legislation this week.

The application is due by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Winning states will be announced in April.

The U.S. Department of Education will accept a second wave of applications on June 1, 2010, from states that missed the first deadline or were rejected in the Spring.


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.

Health Care News Tax and Budget

Guv Taking Hands-Off Approach to Health Care Reform Challenge

Gov. Phil Bredesen indicated today he won’t push to try blocking federal health care legislation in court.

While Bredesen, a Democrat in his last year in office, has in the past taken issue with the hefty $1.5 billion price tag the plan could mean to Tennessee in expanded Medicaid costs, he said the decision-making authority to file legal action is properly left to Attorney General Bob Cooper.

“I think it just encourages really bad behavior on the part of legislators just seeing everything as an opportunity to hold things up and get something. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he told reporters Monday after addressing the Nashville Rotary Club.

Cooper said last week he’s going to hold off deciding whether to pursue a legal course against the federal government’s health care reform package until the final legislation is ironed out in Washington.

Republican state Reps. Susan Lynn, Mt. Juliet, and Debra Young Maggart, Hendersonville, urged Cooper to begin investigating now whether Tennessee has a case against the health care overhaul on the basis that the federal insurance-purchase mandate is a violation of Tenth Amendment state sovereignty protections.

Another sticking point for many critics was the political compromising behind the U.S. Senate’s bill, which exempted Nebraska from paying its share to expand Medicaid programs.

State Senate speaker Ron Ramsey, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, has also called on Cooper to “examine the constitutionality of federal legislation which singles out Nebraska for favorable treatment over 49 other states.”

Sen. Diane Black, a registered nurse from Gallatin, said she’d too would like to see Tennessee fight the federal government’s health care plan on the basis that it creates a mandate and favors one state over others.

“I would just assume they just not try to mandate how health care should be conducted in our particular state,” the Republican said.

Bredesen said he was “very unhappy” that Nebraska will be spared the full cost of the legislation.

“I will be honest. It is just a huge load on the states at a time when we’re still digging out of this recession,” Bredesen said about Washington’s efforts at health care reform.

The governor stopped short of saying whether he felt the state should join or ignore the 13 other Republican attorneys general who have lined up to fight the health care package.

Legislators in at least 16 other states have introduced bills or constitutional amendments to stifle the health care package, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.