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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

AAUGH! TNDP’s Woes Could Affect Abortion Amendment Vote

Could an unknown candidate for governor play a decisive role in whether constitutional amendments pass or fail in Tennessee this year?

The Democratic Party of Tennessee has lately been getting unwanted national media attention and mounting ridicule related to their Aug. 7 gubernatorial primary winner, a man named Charles V. “Charlie” Brown. The 72-year-old Morgan County retiree is a political unknown who espouses some rather unorthodox political views and priorities, at least for a modern Democrat.

Brown’s biggest political attribute appears to have something to do with his name. He may have won because his was the only name most Democratic primary voters in any way recognized on their gubernatorial ballot last Thursday. Or, it could have been because it was at the top of the ballot, due to where ‘B’ finds itself in the alphabet, and a majority of the party’s voting base quickly check-marked his box and then moved on to more pressing election questions.

At any rate, unless party officials try to remove Brown’s name from the ballot, he’ll officially be the Democrats’ guy in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

And that’s got Davidson County Democratic officials reportedly concerned that exasperated progressives may choose to skip the gubernatorial election on the ballot — which, in turn, could hurt the party’s chances of defeating a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution that many active Democrats fear and loathe.

Early polling suggests a majority of Tennessee voters are skeptical of the Amendment 1 abortion-rights question. If passed by voters, the Tennessee Constitution will be amended to declare, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.” The state’s General Assembly, currently dominated by Republicans, would be granted sweeping powers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

But there are variables that may come into play that have more to do with turnout than just tallying up the “yes” and “no” votes.

A change-in-wording to the document must win a majority of the votes not on the ballot question itself, but of the total number of people who cast votes in the gubernatorial election. The Tennessean offers this explanation:

If 1.4 million people vote in the governor’s race, for example, the proposal to remove abortion protections from the constitution will need 700,001 votes to become law. But if 1.5 million people vote in the abortion referendum and 1.4 million vote for governor, the same 700,001 votes will get the job done for the amendment, despite being in the minority on that issue. On the other hand, if those 1.4 million vote for governor and just 1.3 million people vote in the abortion referendum, anti-abortion forces will need more than a simple majority to win.

Multiple attempts to reach Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron for comment on Brown’s candidacy have gone unanswered.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Legislature Could Dash Cops’ Practice of Taking Cash

Tennesseans, and anybody else traveling in the state, would get protection from improper seizure of their property under a proposal in the General Assembly with backers across the political spectrum, the Huffington Post reports:

According to the libertarian law firm Institute for Justice, every state in the country has some version of a civil asset forfeiture law. Under (Rep. Barrett Rich’s HB 1078), Tennessee would be the first to abolish it. …

Much of the call for reform over the years has come from alliances between conservatives, who are appalled by forfeiture laws’ disregard for property rights, and progressives, who are alarmed by the laws’ tendency to encourage racial profiling on the highways and their disproportionate effect on the poor. Simply carrying a lot of cash, for example, is often seen by police as an indication of illegal drug activity, and the poor and undocumented immigrants are more likely to carry cash.

The bill would make it harder for law enforcement to make a traffic stop, then seize cash or other private property without ever charging the owner with a crime. The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in a House Criminal Justice subcommittee.

The money pads the coffers of law enforcement, with the burden of proof on the individual if they’re interested in getting their money back.

“Guilty until proven innocent,” is how the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee describes the situation. “Under current Tennessee law, no standard of probable cause is required to seize and hold private property – a hunch is all it takes.”

The bill would require the issuance of a forfeiture warrant prior to seizure and a conviction before the property can be forfeited.

The legislation follows a series of investigations by NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams into what amounts to “highway shakedowns,” according to one expert interviewed by Williams. Using public records, Williams discovered that cops focused their efforts on the westbound side of Interstate 40 outside Nashville – where they were more likely to collect cash – rather than the eastbound side as drugs travel into the city.

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Press Releases

State Edu. Dep’t Boasts of Duncan’s Teacher Evaluation Praise

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; July 24, 2012:  

Tennessee exemplifies the improved student performance and higher levels of teacher professionalism states can attain through federal Race to the Top education reforms, wrote U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a column for the Huffington Post.

The piece, “The Tennessee Story,” highlights the Tennessee Department of Education’s recent report on its new teacher evaluation system as a national example.

“As Tennessee has shown, our children, our teachers, and our country will be better off when school leaders and educators finally undertake the challenging task of creating a meaningful and useful system for supporting and evaluating our nation’s teachers,” said Duncan, citing Tennessee’s largest-ever gains on student achievement tests that accompanied its first year of comprehensive teacher evaluations.

Duncan applauds Tennessee’s use of student growth as major component of teacher evaluations and its commitment to soliciting feedback from thousands of teachers to improve the system.

“Student growth can and should be one of a number of measures in evaluating the performance of teachers — and it’s important not to ignore a teacher’s impact on student learning just because it is difficult to measure,” he said. “Better evaluation systems improve classroom instruction.”

Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education, said he appreciated the support of the national education department.

“We know we’ve got a ways to go in Tennessee, but we’re excited about the changes we’re seeing,” he said. “It is humbling to be held up as a national example—states all have a lot to learn from each other.”

Under Duncan’s leadership at the U.S. Department of Education, Tennessee became one of the first two states to win Race to the Top funding in 2009 and went on to receive a waiver from certain parts of No Child Left Behind in 2012.

Tennessee implemented one of the country’s first comprehensive, student outcomes-based teacher evaluation systems in the 2011-12 school year, part of its Race to the Top plans to improve teaching and learning.

Earlier this month, the department submitted a thorough review of its first year, recognizing the new system’s success in cultivating higher-quality classroom instruction and recommending further improvements for next year.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.