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Dem Leader Forecasts Partisan Fireworks Over Education Again in 2013

Even though Republicans are lately focused primarily on the federal health care ruling, a top House Democrat expects education will again emerge as the most contentious political issue in next year’s Tennessee Legislature.

Debate about college tuition, charter-school expansion and school choice will be among the hottest of hot-button issues come dead of winter 2013, minority-party caucus chairman Mike Turner predicted this week during a conversation with reporters in Nashville.

And Turner doesn’t seem particularly optimistic his party will fare any better getting its way and protecting its interests than has proven the case in the last two years. During the 2011-2012 Tennessee General Assembly, Democrats failed to successfully defend one of their dearest and most loyal constituencies, unionized teachers, from landmark legislative defeats at the hands of a politically aggressive GOP bent on removing the Tennessee Education Association as an obstacle to majority-party education reforms.

“I don’t think next year is going to get any easier,” Turner said. “They may be better at what they’re doing. Governing is new to them, being in the majority is new to them. God help us all if they get their feet underneath them before we get it back.”

He added, “I think education next year will be a big fight again.”

Gov. Bill Haslam has said his next big issue is indeed higher education. Haslam has said he wants the state to re-evaluate the system’s costs, boost the number of graduates and better weave degrees with Tennessee employers’ needs.

On that particular education issue, and likely few others, Turner hinted that Democrats and Republicans might be able to find some common ground trying to determine how to diminish bloated, upper-level bureaucratic dead weight in the state’s university system.

“Higher ed has got to learn that we are in difficult times. When they cut, they just tend to cut the bottom,” said Turner, a firefighter from Old Hickory who isn’t facing a re-election opponent this year. “They’ve still got their 19 vice presidents and their department heads and above them they’ve got chancellors, and I don’t think they live in the real world up there. If the United States can have one vice president, I’m not sure UT needs 19.”

Such concerns are in fact presently on the minds of some of those attending government-funded colleges. Recently, students at the University of Tennessee launched an online petition drive in Knoxville to protest a $22,000 raise for its chancellor at a time when student tuition is expected to jump an average of $289 per semester.

Nevertheless, Turner characterized the pending evaluation of the costs of higher education as something of “a crisis coming” for college-bound students of low-to-moderate means.

Turner expects the Republican-led Legislature to take another shot at raising the bar on awarding the state-funded Hope Scholarship. Students now need either a score of 21 on the ACT or a 3.0 grade point average.

Haslam last year slid school choice issues to the back burner, asking a panel to study the implications of allowing parents to send their children to private, charter or other public schools outside their local area using a voucher program. The panel is expected to report its findings to the governor this fall.

“I think vouchers will be in play, big time this time,” said Turner. “I think they’re going to push them hard.”

Turner also anticipates a GOP-led push to expand charter schools, which he predicts “will ultimately lead to private re-segregation of the schools.”

Haslam began his first few months in office working to lift the cap on the number of charter schools that can open statewide.

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Press Releases

TFA: GOP Needs to Make TN ‘Citizen Friendly,’ Focus Less on ‘Big Business’

Statement from the Tennessee Firearms Association; May 7, 2012: 

News Reports Indicating Tennessee Republican Legislature being “Big Business” First Confirms Concerns of TFA

As news reports start to surface that the Tennessee Republican controlled Legislature passes legislation that is oriented toward big business and passed little if any laws to restore or strengthen the constitutional rights of citizens, we see confirmation of what TFA has been concerned with for the last 2 years.  The Republican leadership in the General Assembly has taken constitutional issues and core constitutional interest groups for granted and is instead pandering to Big Business primarily for money.

Why money?  Several reasons.  First, big businesses cannot vote.  They can however “invest” money in campaigns and into the businesses of legislators (for those who have careers or jobs).  Small business owners can vote but they do not have a lot of “political” money  or slush funds.

Second, when legislators pass legislation that companies like FedEx, AT&T, Bridgestone, Nissan, Volkswagon and Amazon demand, then the legislators claim that the legislation is about “jobs, jobs, jobs” which is code talk for pro-Big Business and cheap labor.  Almost none of the “business” legislation helps small businesses, family farms or people who work for themselves or small family businesses.

The Knoxville news posted this article on Monday discussing how the Republican controlled legislature turned its back on citizens and the constitution and spent its time on Big Business legislative items:

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/may/07/lawmakers-rarely-said-no-to-business-lobbyists/

Actions of the 107th General Assembly, recently adjourned, establish that businesses generally have reached a new peak of political power in our state.

Probably the most prominent illustration came when the business lobby locked horns with the Second Amendment lobby over whether employees should be able to keep guns in their locked cars in the company parking lot, even if the company prohibits firearms on premises.

The “Safe Commute Act,” as the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association called it, was the subject of a vigorous and intense push – including a TFA threat to politically crucify those voting no. The business lobby pushed back with less rhetorical bombast but equal vigor.

Maybe the whole thing – pitting individual gun rights against business property rights — was largely symbolic. But legislators took it seriously and business won.

Beyond the symbolic, examples abound of legislators in the Republican majority making Tennessee, already rated at the top of business-friendly lists, even more business friendly.

A sampler:

– Complaints about unwarranted collection of unemployment benefits led to the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012, which creates stricter rules for qualifying, requires more verification that recipients are looking for work, makes recipients subject to random enforcement audits, makes those getting severance pay ineligible for unemployment checks while the severance is still being paid, and requires recipients to take jobs at lower pay than their lost job. (SB3658)

– The inheritance tax was repealed, providing substantial savings for those who want to pass their business on to heirs. The exemption level, now covering estates valued up to $1 million, will be raised in steps between now and 2015. (HB3760)

– Having enacted a major tort reform bill last year by limiting noneconomic damages in successful lawsuits, legislators followed up this year with lesser measures with a similar goal. Perhaps most notable is a bill that requires the person filing a lawsuit to pay the defendant’s attorney fees up to $10,000 if the lawsuit is ruled groundless by a judge on a motion to dismiss. (HB3124)

– The state’s FastTrack support of new and expanding businesses will now include $80 million of direct cash grants in addition to previous incentives to cover infrastructure improvements, job training or tax credits. (HB2344)

– Bills that could be characterized as a tax increase were shot down. Examples include the proposed repeal of a property tax break now enjoyed by solar installations (HB3296), deemed too broad by the state comptroller’s office, and a bill that could have increased local government collections of hotel-motel taxes (HB3319).

– While legislators in the past have approved multiple mandates requiring health insurance to cover various things (hearing aids for children last year), this year no such efforts were successful. An example was legislation that would have required insurance companies to pay for orally administered anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs. That bill was defeated despite an appeal by Republican Rep. Curry Todd, who revealed that he suffers from cancer. (HB1087)

– State departments and agencies would give more advance notice — at least 45 days — to those holding state professional licenses, certifications or registrations that would be impacted by any pending fee increases or regulation changes. (HB3688)

– The “Tennessee Works Act” makes companies eligible for state grants (largely using federal money) for training of previously unemployed workers they hire. (SB2129)

One is hard pressed to find legislation approved in this year’s session that could be deemed as unfriendly to businesses.

A possible example, at least for some big companies, is a bill that requires advance approval from the Department of Revenue when claiming deductions from the state excise tax for payments made to affiliated companies. (SB2234).

The department estimates the measure, which was part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative package, will translate into $12.5 million in increased revenue. That’s based on the proposition that companies will be deterred from even trying to take debatable deductions and, if they try, will be turned down in many cases.

As things stand now, Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts told a Senate committee, that about 100 companies are “in various stages of audits” to determine whether deductions previously claimed are appropriate.

Of course, the commissioner also saw the bill as business friendly. The companies will now know on the front end whether their deductions pass muster, he reasons, and thus avoid the hassle of an audit.

And, to paraphrase Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s comments on businesses fighting the gun bills, if that’s the biggest worry businesses have in Tennessee’s Legislature, business people are very fortunate folks indeed.

Certainly, Tennessee’s Republican leaders can claim Tennessee is “business friendly”.  That is not the question.

The question is whether Tennessee is “citizen friendly” under the control of the Republican leadership.  One must seriously consider that question as we see in the last few years the infringement of the citizens’ right of self defense, the citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights, the citizens’ right to a trial by jury as to all factual issues (which includes damages),  the attack on citizens’ access to the courts through the chilling adoption of progressively liberal  ‘English Rule’ when “loser pays” in civil actions, medical malpractice reform designed to discourage attorneys from brining smaller but justifiable cases, reductions in workers compensation benefits, reductions in unemployment benefits, and the list goes on.

The evidence suggests that whenever an issue arises that involves “Big Business” then the money bet for the gambler is on “Big Business” to win the legislative battle because the trend is that Big Business always wins even if the opposition is the Constitution or the fundamental rights if citizens.

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Business and Economy Featured Liberty and Justice News NewsTracker

Leftovers on Menu for New Legislative Year

Republicans cleaned a lot of bills off their plate in their first year controlling the General Assembly and the governor’s office, but they built up a pile of bills they were saving for later.

Lawmakers say they plan to get down to business right away after returning to Nashville Jan. 10 in hopes of adjourning in late April to begin campaign season. But until then, they’ll have a roughly $30 billion budget to haggle over, new bills to debate and old ones to decide whether they’re worth passing before the election.

Guns on Campus, In Employee Parking Lots

Lawmakers talked about but never passed a number of gun bills proposed last year, including letting handgun carry permit holders lock their weapons inside their car while at work, HB2021, which made it to the House floor but never came up for a vote. Another bill, HB2016, would let college faculty and staff carry guns on campus, although that measure never made it out of committee. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle say they expect to see those issues introduced but probably sidelined this year. “Being an election year, I don’t see leadership letting that come to the surface,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, the Senate Republican Caucus Chairman from Murfreesboro.

Drug-Testing Unemployed, Welfare Recipients 

There’s a movement afoot to drug-test Tennesseans collecting public assistance. Two versions of the proposal were introduced early last year, SB48 and SB652, that would have focused on people collecting welfare. Both bills were immediately shelved in 2011, but Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is breathing new life into the idea with an eye on people collecting unemployment benefits and worker’s compensation. “I don’t think, again, that we need to be supporting that lifestyle with government money. I’m very much for that and I think you’ll see that passed this session.”

Income Tax Ban

This bill may have been left behind last Spring, but it’s expected to pass come 2012. The Senate OK’d a resolution, SJR221, asking voters to clearly ban an income tax by rewriting a portion of the Constitution. The legislation was held back in the House on the last few days of session. Lawmakers expect it will be one of the first they take up come January, but tax reform advocates plan to continue fighting for an income tax in exchange for lower food taxes. Debate over this bill is far from over — it would need a two-thirds vote in the 2013-14 General Assembly to get on the ballot.

Illegal Immigration

Republican lawmakers rallied to copycat Arizona’s illegal immigration bill and require drivers license exams be taken in English, but those bills never moved. In the midst of debate, another immigration bill filed that session fell just under the radar. HB1379 would require that governments check for proof of citizenship before issuing entitlements like TennCare, food stamps or unemployment benefits. GOP leaders say they’ll pick up this one and run with it and probably leave the others behind. “We’ve always wanted to ensure Tennessee wasn’t a magnet for illegal aliens,” said Rep. Debra Maggart, House Republican Caucus Chairwoman.

Picking Judges

Lawmakers kicked around the idea of changing how judges are selected, contending the current practice of the governor selecting judges who are later subject to retention elections is not in line with the state Constitution. “I think almost everyone agrees that’s a bad idea. I just don’t think everyone’s agreed on what is a good idea, yet,” said House GOP Leader Gerald McCormick. Democrats generally side with the Supreme Court, which has upheld the current system. One bill that remains from last year, SJR183, would ask voters to constitutionalize merit-based appointments. Other proposals have since popped up, like SJR475 which would require changing the Constitution to require the Senate OK the governor’s appointees.

Democrat’s Job Bills

Although they’re outnumbered, Democrats plan to take another stab at passing a stack of jobs bills that never got out of committee last year, such as calling for a small business tax holiday and giving tax credits to new entreprenuers. “We’re going to try again,” said House Democrat Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “None of the jobs bills passed and none of them got out of committee but we’re going to have another go at it.” The same goes for Senate Democrats, said the chamber’s Democratic vice chairman, Andy Berke. “That’s really where we should begin 2012 in the legislature rather than most of the issues that have been named as priorities so far”

Wine in Supermarkets

This perennial bill doesn’t fall into any of the caucus’ priority lists but has become a staple piece of legislation to expect every year. SB316 seeks to allow certain retail food stores to sell wine instead of just beer. It would also let liquor stores sell items like cork screws and mixers. Last session, the bill never got out of committee. Advocates for wine in grocery stores say their new strategy is to convince the Legislature to let locals decide if they want wine in grocery stores through voter referendums, although legislative leaders say they haven’t heard any serious talk that the bill has momentum to pass this time around.

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Press Releases

TFA: Citizens Wonder What Happened To GOP Campaign Promises

Newsletter from the Tennessee Firearms Association; Dec. 27, 2011: 

For years, Republican leadership in the State of Tennessee has touted the Republican party in general as the best friend of Tennessee firearms owners, hunters, collectors, and dealers.  That pattern may have been genuine for some who fall under the Republican umbrella but it certainly cannot be rejected at this point that for others it was nothing more than an empty campaign slogan to obtain votes at a time when Democratic leadership was highlighted by Jimmy Naifeh and his vendetta with the NRA and thus Tennessee’s firearms owners.

Despite these and other often repeated assurances to Tennessee’s conservatives, constitutionalists and advocates of individual freedoms, very little has materialized as reality once the Republicans gained total control of the Governor’s office, Senate and House in 2011.  Compared with the benefits and attention paid to “big business” such as AT&T and Amazon, Tennessee’s rank and file citizen voters have been left wondering what happened to the promises that they were made on issues like smaller government, tax reductions, illegal immigration reform (prosecution), opposition to an ever expanding federal government, resistence to federalized mandates, and removal of the infringements on 2nd Amendment rights.

On the eve of the 2012 session, we see public announcements from the House leadership that Speaker Beth Harwell (who has never had an acceptable voting record on firearms issues) has assembled is the word that the House does not plan to spend time working on 2nd Amendment issues.  This was easily predicted knowing that Beth Harwell was speaker and in light of the 2011 legislative session.

Channel 4 News in Nashville reports:

http://www.wsmv.com/story/16374305/lawmakers-prepare-to-tackle-controversial-issues

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) –

Lawmakers won’t waste any time before tackling some controversial issues when they come back to town next month.

When they come back in a matter of weeks, one of the first things they’ll take up could be one of the most controversial.

They will unveil the lines they’ve drawn for legislative and congressional districts.

“We’ll be prepared and ready to move the first week in session,” said House Speaker Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.

Every year the only thing lawmakers have to do is balance a budget, so obviously that will be a priority.

Following the governor’s formation of a task force on vouchers, lawmakers plan to slow down on that issue.

While the Senate wants to pursue a bill to allow carry permit holders to leave their guns in their workplace parking lots, House leaders said guns won’t be a priority.

“I think our focus will not be on gun issues, it will be on economic development and jobs, job creation,” said Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

So what can you expect?

Expect to see some changes to the unemployment system and worker compensation.

Lawmakers also favor drug testing those who receive state benefits as long as it’s financially feasible.

“We want to make sure that the people that benefit from the state are living up to their part of the deal,” said Harwell. “We have to weigh the cost factor there. How costly will it be to drug test the recipients.”

Perhaps state lawmakers’ biggest goal doesn’t have anything to do with legislation at all. They are hoping to get out of session early, targeting the end of April.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, floated the idea of a special session on health care reform.

Harwell said no one wants a special session. She understands it’s difficult to vote on a health care program when an election or Supreme Court ruling could change everything.

House Republicans can learn, and perhaps already have, that it was a mistake from the perspective of constitutionalists and conservatives to select Beth Harwell as speaker and to allow her unchecked discretion in the appointment of substantially all leadership positions in the House.  As to the other caucus leadership seats which are filled by vote of the caucus, some of the rank and file may now be better aware as to whether those seats were filled with the best conservatives for the tasks.

Now certainly, there are big issues of government which require attention other than firearms issues.  These include the budget, the 10th Amendment sovereignty of the state, illegal immigration, political corruption, fair and logical redistricting for similar communities, a cost-effective education system, and other functions which are properly the venue of state government.

But does this mean that constitutionally recognized and protected rights deserve no attention?  Does this mean that promises to repeal infringements can be placed at most on a back burner?  Does this mean that pet projects and “big business” demands (greased with financial support and perks) should take a priority?

When the primary mission is partisan politics, the constitution, the role of government and the rights of the citizen take a second seat to re-election and making decisions based primarily on the political perception thereof for campaign enhancements.

If Tennessee’s firearms owners and other conservative groups want to see a government that functions with priority on constitutional and conservative standards as the litmus test of proposed legislation rather than “how can this be used against a Republican in the next election” then perhaps Tennesseans need to elect and demand leadership who can put those priorities of stewardship first.

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Haslam Tweaks Gun Stance; McWherter Takes Shots

With just a week to go before election day, Republican Bill Haslam is backing away from comments he made recently about eliminating handgun carry permits.

“I’m in favor of leaving the law the way it is now. I’ve said that that night. I’ve said that ever since then. Somehow we keep coming back to this,” Haslam said Monday.

During a meeting with members of the Tennessee Firearms Association a week ago, the two-term Knoxville mayor indicated he would sign legislation allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in public without permits, should such a change in law pass in the Tennessee General Assembly. (Link to full video of TFA meeting)

Since then, Haslam has adjusted his stance, saying he’d in fact advocate against such changes to the law, but he has stopped short from retracting his comments before the gun-rights advocates.

Democrat Mike McWherter, who polls suggest is trailing considerably in the race for governor, pounced on Haslam’s comments last week with a commercial charging that the GOP candidate “caved under pressure and supports allowing even convicted felons and domestic abusers to carry a concealed gun, no questions asked.”

Haslam noted that even if the law was changed, background checks would still be required for the purchase of handguns.

With one week to go before election day, McWherter says his strategy during the remaining days of the campaign is to continually question Haslam’s leadership ability.

About one half million voters have already cast their ballots in Tennessee, according to state officials. Despite what appear to be long odds, McWherter maintains that he still has time to sway a majority of state voters his way.

Here are clips from both on the campaign trail Monday:

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McWherter: ‘Haslam Got Bullied’

Republican Bill Haslam wasn’t the only gubernatorial candidate feeling pressured by the Tennessee Firearms Association.

Democrat Mike McWherter tells TNReport that he had a “frank exchange” with the TFA about a month ago with members who were “civil to me but they were yelling at me, if you want to know the truth about it.”

“Obviously, Bill Haslam got bullied throughout that whole presentation,” McWherter continued.

Here’s what McWherter had to say:

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Press Releases

McWherter: Haslam Needs to Explain Stance on Gun Carry Permits

Press Release from Mike McWherter for Governor; Oct. 20, 2010:

Nashville – Gubernatorial Candidate Mike McWherter is demanding Bill Haslam clarify his position on handgun carry permits following statements made at a Tennessee Firearms Association meeting.

On Monday night, Bill Haslam was asked if he would sign a bill doing away with requiring permits to carry handguns and he responded, “”If the Legislature passed that and brought that to me, I said I would sign it.”

“Eliminating the permit process would allow anyone with a gun free reign in our communities and neighborhoods.” said Mike McWherter. “I am surprised that Bill Haslam, who fought alongside Mayor Bloomberg to remove guns from the streets, is now favoring the carry of handguns with reckless abandon, and I think he needs to explain the reasoning behind his decision to reverse his stance on the issue.”

There are roughly 300,000 handgun carry permit holders in Tennessee. To qualify, individuals must pass a handgun safety course, a criminal background check and pay a $115 fee. Carry permits are revoked for felony convictions and can be suspended for pending criminal charges or for court orders of protection.

“Does Bill Haslam oppose required handgun training and criminal background checks? Does he support convicted felons carrying concealed weapons? Is he ok allowing someone who’s under a restraining order to carry a firearm in public? asked McWherter. “I don’t think the people of Tennessee or our law enforcement officers want gang members, criminals and other unstable individuals carrying concealed weapons. Bill Haslam is willing to put the safety of Tennessee families at risk for political gain, this is irresponsible and speaks volumes about his character.”

About Mike McWherter

Mike McWherter, the only candidate in the race who is not a career politician, is a successful small business owner in West Tennessee. A native of Northwest Tennessee, he now lives in Jackson with his wife Mary Jane and their children Walker and Bess. The McWherter for Governor campaign can be found online at  www.mikemcwherter.com.

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Haslam: No NRA Endorsement = No Big Deal

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam weighs in on the National Rifle Association opting not to endorse anyone in the governor’s race, adding that at least he scored better than his opponent in the group’s candidates score card.

The NRA must have bought into Haslam’s “flip-flopped” stance on gun rights, Democrat McWherter said Wednesday.

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Gun Owners Endorse Ramsey for Guv

Press Release from Ron Ramsey for Governor; June 24, 2010:

(Springfield, VA)—Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund today announced the endorsement of Ron Ramsey for Governor of Tennessee.

Ramsey, the current Lieutenant Governor, “Displays a constitutional and historically accurate understanding of the Second Amendment and the threats that face it today,” said GOA Vice-Chairman Tim Macy.

As a strong Tenth Amendment advocate, Ramsey believes that “We must have a Governor who can stand up to federal officials who want to erode our basic rights.”

In 1997, while serving in the state legislature, Ramsey pushed a concealed carry bill that improved the state’s right-to-carry. Ramsey’s bill, which was signed into law, streamlined the application process so honest, law-abiding citizens would not have to wait up to a year to receive their permit.

GOA-PVF noted, in a letter to supporters, that Ramsey’s strong support of the Constitution and the Second Amendment stands in stark contrast to other candidates in the race.

Bill Haslam, mayor of Knoxville since 2003, was a member of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s gun-grabbing group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

As a member of the group, Bill Haslam’s name was part of a 2007 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supporting a bill to prohibit the hundreds of thousands of people on the federal government’s so-called terror “watch list” from purchasing firearms.

Under the bill, the Attorney General is permitted to strip away the civil liberties of Americans without due process of law and without the accused even knowing the details of the suspicion.

This provision was part of a larger bill that would have federalized even more gang and gun crimes, which properly belong at the state and local levels.

In 2008, Haslam’s name again appeared on a letter to Reid and Pelosi seeking to close the non-existent and misleadingly named “gun show loophole.” This legislation would have led to the closing down of gun shows and opened the door to complete federal control of private firearms transactions.

“As soon as Haslam announced his bid for governor, he left Bloomberg’s anti-gun group with much haste. If that isn’t the clearest sign of pandering and lip service, then we don’t know what is,” said Macy.

Another opponent in the race, Representative Zach Wamp, was criticized by GOA for “joining forces with Sen. John McCain to put a stranglehold on free speech over his support for the so-called Campaign Finance Reform Act.

“When Republican opposition stymied the bill in 2001, the anti-freedom crowd circulated a ‘discharge petition’ to force it on to the House floor. Zach Wamp joined a handful of other Republican turncoats to help pass a law that made it illegal to publish certain political information within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

“Of all the types of speech protected by the First Amendment, political speech was foremost on the minds of the Founding Fathers. Just this year, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that fact and in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (a case in which Gun Owners Foundation participated) undid much of the damage caused by Wamp and his congressional allies.

“In this race for Governor, the choice for gun owners and sportsmen is clear. Ron Ramsey is a proven, effective and constitutionally minded leader who will stand up to all attacks on our right to keep and bear arms,” concluded Mr. Macy.

To learn more about the Ramsey campaign, please visit www.teamronramsey.com.

Paid for by Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.