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Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTYwGvWGVE[/youtube]


Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation.

“I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.”

Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

And if money talks, Ramsey may be right. GOP candidates for state Senate have a massive financial lead going into the final days of their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports released by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The reports released this week show Republican Senate candidates with a more than 2-to-1 lead in terms of cash on hand. And when you add up the total amount of money raised in contested races, Republicans have outraised Democrats $1.8 million to $861,000 since Jan. 1, records show.

You can search all of the filings by clicking here.

Perhaps more telling is the amount of money spent in the past two months, which is what the most recent campaign finance reports show.

Of the six key races that Ramsey spoke of, Republicans have spent $384,041 and Democrats have spent $253,451, according to those filings.

That’s money that goes for newspaper and radio ads, campaign workers, mailings, food and gas to fill up the gas tank.

In only one of those races did the Democrat outspend his opponent. That was the race in Senate District 24, a West Tennessee district that spans from Obion County to Benton County.

In that race, Democrat Brad Thompson spent $111,372 over the past two months. His Republican opponent John Stevens spent $62,932 over that same period.

Most of the six races, though, more closely resemble the contest in Senate District 20, a district that surrounds downtown Nashville like a letter “C” spanning from Belle Meade to Goodlettsville. Republican Steve Dickerson plowed $54,941 into the race over the past two months. His opponent, Democrat Phillip North, spent $28,028 over that same period.

“I do think there will be significant gains,” Ramsey said. “Somewhere between two (Senate seats) to five or six.”

This is not the first time that Ramsey has been talking about a possible supermajority. Check out what he told the Nashville Scene and Nooga.com.

Other Senate seats identified as being in play include:

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Press Releases

NFIB Picks Favorite Incumbents to Support In August Primary

Press Release from the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee Chapter; July 6, 2012: 

NFIB Endorses Candidates in 5 Senate, 20 House Primaries

NASHVILLE, July 6, 2012 – The National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee’s leading small business association, today said it has endorsed candidates in 25 state legislative primary races. The endorsements were made by NFIB/Tennessee SAFE (Save America’s Free Enterprise) Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members. State primaries are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 2, with early voting beginning July 13 and ending July 28. NFIB expects to announce general election endorsements later this summer. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

“NFIB supports candidates who understand how important it is to reduce burdens on small business,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee. “These candidates have consistently supported less taxation and have worked diligently to improve our unemployment and workers’ comp systems.”

Endorsements by Senate and House Districts (NFIB members bolded)

Senate District, Name

2, Doug Overbey

14, Jim Tracy

18, Ferrell Haile

28, Joey Hensley

32, Mark Norris

House District Name

2, Tony Shipley

5, David Hawk

6, Dale Ford

8, Art Swann

10, Don Miller

11, Jeremy Faison

12, Richard Montgomery

20, Bob Ramsey

22, Eric Watson

24, Kevin Brooks

27, Richard Floyd

31, Jim Cobb

45, Debra Maggart

48, Joe Carr

61, Charles Sargent

66, Joshua Evans

71, Vance Dennis

90, John DeBerry

96, Steve McManus

99, Ron Lollar

NFIB’s endorsement is critical to these campaigns. Small business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for actively recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to go to the polls. NFIB has pledged it will activate its grassroots network on behalf of these campaigns. NFIB’s political support is based on the candidates’ positions and records on small business issues.

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Press Releases

ACLU: Amended ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Still Sends Wrong Message

Letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; April 20, 2012:

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has returned from the dead. Despite numerous reports that Rep. Joey Hensley, the sponsor, was not going to move for a vote on the bill, he did just that. The bill passed the House Education Committee by one vote on 4/17/12.

Whether or not Tennessee is embarrassed nationally for passing a bill that fosters discrimination against LGBT people is now in the hands of the House Calendar and Rules Committee.

Urge committee members to send the discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” bill back to the Education Committee today.

Though amended, this bill is so tainted by its original wording and intent to ban any discussion of sexual orientation that its passage will still send the wrong message to schoolchildren: that a particular group of people are not worthy of recognition or even mention in their day-to-day lives.

Anti-LGBT bullying is clearly a problem in our schools. Research shows that kids as young as elementary school-age frequently hear the word “gay” used negatively. Do we really want to interfere with educators’ ability to encourage all students to be respectful of one another regardless of sexual orientation—promoting safe schools for all students?

Tell legislators that educators should not be hamstrung in their efforts to address all forms of bigotry and harassment.

Thank you for standing up for the fair treatment of all Tennesseans.

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Featured Health Care News

Nursing Board Revamp Referred Back to Committee

Attempts to gut the nursing board and stitch it back together fell apart in the House Thursday after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle asserted the proposal went too far.

The Board of Nursing will dissolve June 30 without some sort of nod from the Legislature to continue setting standards for the profession. But the board has become notorious for butting heads with the General Assembly.

“In the last two years we’ve been round and round from the abuses of our nurses by that board, period,” said bill sponsor Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, who wants to revamp the panel and says some of those issues “have been worked out” in his bill.

“There’s absolutely no retaliatory premise in this,” he continued.

Shipley and Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, were the focus of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe for pressuring the Board of Nursing last year to rescind disciplinary action against three area nurses the board had punished for allegedly over-prescribing medication. Ultimately, though, the Davidson County District attorney who requested the TBI investigation ultimately concluded the legislators broke no laws.

The board also went toe-to-toe with Hendersonville Republican Debra Maggart in 2009 and 2010. The fight was over the Legislature wanting to expand authority for administering drugs to nursing-home patients, a rule the board for a time refused to enforce, saying it wasn’t safe for the public. Critics of the board said its members were just trying to protect what they regard as their own turf — that the dispute was more about shielding the economic interests of registered nurses than patient safety.

But House lawmakers in the medical profession said they’re worried SB2313’s requirement that members be chosen geographically from the state’s nine congressional districts is too narrow.

“I think that this bill may have some retaliatory intent, and that does concern me,” said Rep. Joanne Favors, the nursing board’s chief defender and herself an experienced nurse.

Selecting members based on where they live, namely outside urban areas, will mean “problems in the future with selecting people who would be the most representative of what we need in this state,” said the Chattanooga Democrat, contending major nursing schools and hospitals reside in the state’s big cities.

Shipley argues the current board is too “Nashville Basin-centric,” and wants to ensure nurses from rural corners of the state are equally represented on the panel. Members of other professional boards with geographic selection rules usually break up the appointments by the three grand divisions.

The governor currently appoints members to the board with help from recommendations by the profession’s interest groups, such as the Tennessee Nurses Association, which also takes issue with the “geographic distribution being that tightly controlled.”

“If we get hamstrung into doing just the congressional districts, we’ll find qualified people, but… it’s incredibly difficult to find people who have the ability to spend time away from their workplace,” said Sharon Adkins, executive director of the nurses association. She said the association is OK with other terms of the bill, such as shortening the amount of time members can sit on the board.

Pharmacist and state Rep. David Shephard, D-Dickson, and Republican Rep. Joey Hensley, a doctor from Hohenwald, also expressed reservations.

Shephard contends the conflict of interest requirements banning members who have a direct or indirect financial interest in health care services would be too stringent given that nurses naturally benefit from the medical industry. Hensley added he disliked the switch that could weight the board more heavily with advanced practice nurses, a classification of registered nurse.

In a narrow 47-44 vote, lawmakers agreed to send the bill back to the Government Operations Committee, with 14 Republicans siding with the Democrats. The measure cleared the Senate earlier this month on a 20-9 vote, so the ball is entirely in the House’s court.

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Education NewsTracker

Schoolteacher Sex-Talk Dictates Debated

After delays earlier in the legislative session, the so-called “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” bill moved out of a House subcommittee Wednesday afternoon.

As amended Wednesday, the bill, House Bill 0229, states that “instruction or materials” given to public school students before the ninth grade “shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.”

The amendment is identical to the one applied to legislation the Senate passed last year.

As has been the case every time the bill is scheduled to appear, the hearing room – which had to be changed to accommodate the crowd – was filled to capacity for the House Education Subcommittee’s afternoon meeting. Many in attendance wore purple shirts to signal their opposition to the bill.

Rep. Bill Dunn, the bill’s former House sponsor who brought the amendment Wednesday, said the new language is in line with current curriculum and state code. The amendment, he said, effectively makes it so that the state’s Board of Education will have to come to legislators before changing the curriculum in the future. He also tried to quell what he called the “hysteria” surrounding the bill.

“This bill [as] amended does not prohibit the use of the word ‘gay,’” he said. “It does not change the anti-bullying statute and it does not prohibit a school guidance counselor from discussing issues of sexuality with a student.”

Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, reiterated Rep. Dunn’s comments, saying that the bill requires teachers to follow the curriculum and does not ban them from answering questions brought by students about human sexuality.

Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh spoke against the bill, saying he “[did] not know the purpose of bringing this legislation again at this time” and calling it a “solution looking for a problem.”

But Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis, was the most vocal Democrat Wednesday afternoon.

In a passionate defense of the legislation, he chided those who he said were demonizing people with views different from their own. He also defended “the basic right[s] of an American,” which he said included the right to “run my home, raise my children as I see fit.”

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Education NewsTracker

Early Timeout Taken on Bill Restricting Human Sexuality Discussions in Public Schools

A measure making it illegal for public elementary or middle schools in Tennessee to teach about homosexuality has cropped up again in the state Legislature and suffered a minor setback Wednesday.

But Rep. Joey Hensley delayed committee action on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, after a request from House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery.

Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who serves as the number two man on the committee and chairs the subcommittee where the bill currently rests, told TNReport Wednesday the controversial legislation will most likely reappear in three weeks.

House Bill 229, which has become the source of an annual hubbub on the Hill and was to be the target of protests Wednesday, would prohibit schools from providing “instruction or materials” that discuss sexual orientations other than heterosexuality.

The proposal has previously drawn national media attention, falling on sympathetic ears as well as eliciting criticism that it turned the state Senate into “a national laughing stock” when that body last year passed a version of the bill – Senate Bill 49 – by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. The measure died in the House.

Montgomery, R-Sevierville, said he asked Hensley for the delay after several committee members asked for more time to look at it. Explaining the move to the committee, Montgomery said the bill would be packaged with other curriculum legislation and taken up at a later date.

Hensley recently replaced Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, as the bill’s lead sponsor. Dunn, who still appears as a co-sponsor, said, “The key point was strategy.”

As a committee leader, Hensley is well-positioned to shepherd the bill forward, and Dunn noted Hensley’s status as a father, a doctor and a former school board member as reasons his sponsorship might be advantageous for the legislation.

Hensley has also just announced plans to to run for a new state Senate seat.

Montgomery said he hasn’t surveyed the committee’s membership and that he’s still on the fence himself.

“I’m not sure yet where I’m at,” he said. “I’d like to get all the knowledge we can first.”

One leading statehouse Democrat said the early appearance of such a controversial bill sets the wrong tone for the legislative session.

“Why are we doing this? It’s just a political move,” said Democratic House Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, of Ripley. “The first meeting out of the box, I think you have to set the tone, and this is not a good tone to set.”

Both Hensley and Dunn said they feel confident they have the votes to get the bill out of committee this time. But if they don’t, that doesn’t mean it’s going away. Campfield, who has pushed the measure for years, said another delay wouldn’t phase him.

“Hopefully it will make it up to the House,” he said. “But if not, we’ll be back again next year.”

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Education Featured

Disagreement Runs Deep Over School Vouchers

The philosophical lines on school vouchers are so distinct and the passions on both sides so pronounced it probably shouldn’t be surprising that even guns in bars crept into the debate on a voucher bill Tuesday in a Tennessee legislative committee.

House Bill 388, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, would provide scholarships and school choice for low-income students in the state’s four largest counties. It was the focus of considerable discussion in the House Education Subcommittee. The issue drew familiar themes of rhetoric, but it was flustered Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who brought guns into the conversation.

Naifeh, no supporter of vouchers, told the subcommittee he had read that 65-70 percent of the people in Tennessee are opposed to vouchers.

“I know that doesn’t mean anything to those that are for vouchers, because a larger percentage of people in this state were against guns in bars also, but that didn’t seem to matter, so I guess this doesn’t seem to matter either,” Naifeh said.

Subcommittee Chairman Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, asked Naifeh to stay on topic. But Naifeh wasn’t holding back on his recent reading.

“I have also read where private schools are really hoping this passes, because enough of them are in financial trouble, and this may be somewhat of a bailout for them,” Naifeh said.

Dunn’s bill won’t go anywhere until the Legislature reconvenes in January, and Tuesday’s discussion was only for study, but he is prepared to bring the voucher bill up next year, and the debate figures to be just as passionate when the action goes live.

Dunn’s bill, called the Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act, would give low-income students vouchers — or scholarships as they are called — to attend another school in their district. The opportunity would apply only in the state’s four largest counties — Davidson, Shelby, Knox and Hamilton. Advocates for vouchers see it as an innovative way to help educate children who would like an alternative to their current school. Opponents see it as taking money from public schools and subsidizing private schools.

Metro Nashville Schools Director Jesse Register, representing the school boards in those heavily populated counties, spoke in strong opposition to the bill. Register told lawmakers he supported the reforms recently passed by the General Assembly but he flatly opposed school vouchers.

“Vouchers have been around a long time,” Register said. “There is simply no evidence that private school vouchers work.”

Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr., an at-large member of the Shelby County Board of Education, testified by speakerphone to the subcommittee, advocating vouchers. The Shelby board recently passed a resolution opposing a voucher bill, but Whalum said he will not sign the resolution.

“One reason is I am tired of watching as poor children across our state are continually denied high-quality education because of the behemoth administrative bureaucracy that does more to perpetuate the system than to educate children,” Whalum told the subcommittee. “I assure you the parents I represent would jump at the chance to allow the kids to just have a chance, just have an opportunity at a quality education.”

Whalum said studies opposing school choice vouchers are “inconclusive, at best.”

Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairman of the full House Education Committee, wasn’t ready to commit to vouchers.

“I personally am going to be very, very reluctant to support a program like this until we get every bit of information we can possibly get, look at it, evaluate it, and see what the pros and cons are,” Montgomery said. Montgomery had expressed similar discomfort when the bill was considered by the subcommittee in the last session.

The subcommittee also heard from John Husted, secretary of state of Ohio, who was a legislative leader in enacting that state’s EdChoice voucher system. Husted appeared via teleconference.

“I have great respect for what you’re all going through,” Husted told the Tennessee lawmakers. “I was at the beginning of school choice in Ohio, and I know a lot of people question your motives, your motivations, whether you’re a proponent or an opponent.”

Dunn asked his colleagues to consider the way higher education works, where students and their families get to choose the college of their choice and how much better the nation’s colleges stack up in performance when compared to its K-12 schools. Dunn sees that as a strong argument for school choice in the lower grades.

A recent Middle Tennessee State University poll found that West Tennesseans believe their local schools are worse than the state norm, while those in Middle and East Tennessee believe their schools are better than the norm.

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Press Releases

House GOP Applauds New Education Commissioner Taking Helm

Press Release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives, April, 5, 2011:

Visionary Leader Takes Reins at Department of Education, Will Help Enact Reforms That Lead to Job Growth

(April 5, 2011, NASHVILLE) – On Tuesday, Governor Bill Haslam swore in his pick to guide Tennessee’s Department of Education, Kevin Huffman. As the new Commissioner of Education, Huffman is tasked with guiding and implementing the much-needed reforms that are at the heart of the education initiatives moving through the General Assembly.

Following the swearing in ceremony, leaders of the House of Representatives released statements applauding Commissioner Huffman taking the reins at the Department of Education.

Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R–Nashville) stated, “I am looking forward to working with Commissioner Huffman to ensure Tennessee students have every opportunity at their fingertips and every classroom has a great teacher at the helm. Kevin Huffman’s background of strong reform will build on the momentum we currently have here to make our schools even better. Strong schools lead to job growth and prepare the next generation for our global economy.”

House Education Chairman Richard Montgomery (R–Sevierville) said, “I look forward to working with Commissioner Huffman over the coming years to enact an agenda that is both visionary and attainable. Raising the standards for student achievement and teacher excellence are laudable goals and I am confident we will reach them.”

House Education Subcommittee Chairman Dr. Joey Hensley (Hohenwald–R) remarked, “Governor Haslam took his time to find a strong, qualified candidate to lead education reforms in Tennessee. He found that person in Kevin Huffman. He has a strong track record of reform and will be a key leader for revolutionizing Tennessee’s education system.”