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JAS: TN Supreme Court Election Campaign TV Ad Spending Surpassed $1.4 M

Press release from Justice at Stake; August 7, 2014:

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 7–Television ad spending in Tennessee’s Supreme Court election surged past $1.4 million, in a tough contest that attracted money from in-state and out-of-state sources. On Thursday, voters delivered new eight-year terms to all three incumbent Tennessee justices who sought retention to the five-member court.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

According to estimates provided by Kantar Media/CMAG, more than $1.4 million worth of television advertising for and against the justices’ retention had aired by the time polls opened today. More than a million dollars’ worth of advertising contracts are also identified in publicly-available FCC files.

The Tennessee Forum, an anti-retention group funded by a PAC operated by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, spent an estimated $474,150 on TV ads. An out-of-state group, The State Government Leadership Foundation, also spent $63,390 on TV ads to unseat the justices. Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded group, spent money on anti-retention radio campaign for which expenditures remain undisclosed.

The most spending on TV ads, however, came from the justices themselves, who spent an estimated $579,870 in joint ads defending against anti-retention efforts. Tennesseans for Fair Courts, a group formed by a local attorney, also spent $215,840 on TV ads to retain the judges, and Chief Justice Gary Wade funded TV ads totaling $94,980.

Skyrocketing judicial election spending has become the rule, not the exception in recent years. The $1.4-million Tennessee Supreme Court race follows a $1.3-million judicial primary in North Carolina in May, in which the Republican State Leadership Committee was a major spender, and an Arkansas Supreme Court race in which advertising spending doubled over the previous cycle.

The escalating spending on a judicial election in Tennessee matched a national trend of increasing expenditures on judicial elections since 2000, Brandenburg and Bannon noted. In recent years, the trend has spread to several states, such as Tennessee, that have worked to insulate courts from political pressure by establishing merit selection systems. Retention (up-or-down) elections held within the framework of merit selection systems have begun to attract spending and political pressure not previously seen in these races.

Television spending data for the Tennessee race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Tennessee 2014 webpage. For past spending in judicial elections, read The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012: How New Waves of Special Interest Spending Raised the Stakes for Fair Courts, a report released by the Brennan Center, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. No fundraising or advertising has been previously documented in Tennessee Supreme Court elections in the New Politics reports.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending estimates are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.

Agreement Reached to Open Great Smoky Mtn Nat’l Park

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; October 15, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) with all normal operations from Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20.

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”

The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Sevier County has sent $300,500 to NPS to open the park for five days.

The state is paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days.

An NPS report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Haslam has worked with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who has expressed a willingness to assist financially with the reopening.

“I appreciate the cooperation and support of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina,” Haslam said. “Together, we’ve been able to reopen the nation’s most-visited park during a key month for tourism in Tennessee.”

The park will open at 12 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 16 and stay open until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday, October 20 if the shutdown is not ended in that time.

Campaign Kicked Off to Fight EPA’s Coal-Burn Regs

Critics of new Environmental Protection Agency limits on coal-plant emissions say they fear the Obama administration is attempting to incrementally phase out coal as an energy source in America.

The Consumer Energy Alliance launched a nationwide public relations campaign last week geared toward convincing the public of coal’s utility as an “affordable and reliable” source of U.S. electricity.

At a regional conference in Nashville Sept. 25, Michael Whatley, the alliance’s executive vice president, said a “full-fledged conversation” is necessary to discuss what detrimental impacts the new rules are going to have on coal-fired power plants.

Whatley said the initial emphasis of CEA’s campaign will be to fan opposition among broad sectors of energy consumers – industry, agriculture and household users.

The regulatory effort that prompted the CEA campaign would require new large natural gas-fired turbines to be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, and small natural gas-fired turbines to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Additionally, new coal-fired plants would be limited to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, according to an EPA press release on the new standards. New coal plants could also opt for a tighter limit if they choose to average emissions over multiple years, offering more operational flexibility.

Lacking more advanced emissions control technology, newer power plants produce 1,800 pounds of carbon emissions per megawatt-hour, The Tennessean recently reported.

Whatley told TNReport the EPA’s new regulations “are going to basically require that you cannot build a new coal-fired power plant unless you can capture all of the carbon emissions that come off it, and then sequester them in the ground somewhere.”

He said the the technology doesn’t yet exist to do that.

“What we’re going to see next year is another set of regulations that are going to talk about how they’re going to reduce the emissions from pre-existing plants,” Whatley said. “And unfortunately, right now, we don’t know what the impacts of that are going to look like.”

The EPA release says that the agency will reach out to state and local governments, as well as those in the industry to work to establish the new standards for carbon pollution from existing plants.

This second round of regulations would come about under a separate section of the Clean Air Act as the first set, and although the agency would establish the requirements, the states would be the ones to choose how to enforce the new rules, according to a report by The New York Times.

Dr. David Penn, the director of Middle Tennessee State University’s Business and Economic Research Center, teaches a course on environmental economics and told TNReport that he believes the benefits of restricting pollution from coal will ultimately outweigh the costs.

“It certainly is going to reduce the demand for coal, but the demand for coal … at power plants has been falling anyway as plants switch to natural gas, which is cheaper,” Penn said. “Coal is finding other markets in Europe and in the Far East. Better air quality has a cost, but the benefits typically far exceed the cost of increasing air quality. Benefits in terms of more longevity — (and) you’re sick fewer days.”

This is a view that the Tennessee Environmental Council shares.

“Anything that we do to sequester coal and all the carbon discharges, and all the other toxic pollutants that come out of those smoke stacks is good for human health, and it’s really good for our economy (because it cuts health care costs),” said Executive Director John McFadden.

The intent of the new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions for the purposes of fighting global warming and improving health by restricting the allowable amount of carbon produced by new natural gas and coal-fired power plants, according to the agency press release.

However, the EPA’s proposal, which outlines the regulations, suggests that the expected reduction in carbon emissions will be “negligible” through the year 2022.

Senate Conservatives Fund Urges Alexander to Fight ACA Funding

Press release from the Senate Conservatives Fund; August 21, 2013:

Alexandria, VA — Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) announced a new 60-second radio ad Wednesday calling on U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to oppose all funding for Obamacare. Senator Alexander voted in favor of the FY2013 continuing resolution earlier this year, which included funding for Obamacare, and he has refused to oppose funding for the law’s implementation next year.

SCF’s radio ad will run on stations across Tennessee for two weeks beginning Thursday, August 22. The value of the media buy is $45,900.

 

 

“Republicans in Congress can stop Obamacare by refusing to fund it, but Senator Lamar Alexander refuses to join the fight.

“Lamar Alexander voted to give President Obama money to implement Obamacare earlier this year, and he’ll do it again if you don’t make your voice heard.

“Obamacare is unaffordable, unworkable and it’s unfair.

“It will hurt Tennessee families.

“Many could lose their doctors.

“Others may be forced to pay higher premiums.

“Obamacare is a job killer, yet Lamar Alexander refuses to do what it takes to stop funding for this liberal train wreck.

“Please visit Don’t Fund Obamacare dot com and sign the online petition urging Lamar Alexander to oppose all funding for Obamacare.

“Again, that’s Don’t Fund Obamacare dot com.

“This could be our last chance to stop Obamacare.

“It’s time for Lamar Alexander to start listening to us, not his friends in Washington.

“Send Lamar Alexander a message.

“Don’t Fund Obamacare dot com.

“Paid for by Senate Conservatives Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

“SenateConservatives.com.”

SCF is also running radio ads in North Carolina and South Carolina urging U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to oppose all funding for Obamacare.

Senate Conservatives Fund advocates for conservative policies and helps raise money for conservative U.S. Senate candidates.

State to Deploy Oral Rabies Vaccines for Wild Raccoons Along Eastern Border

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 25, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to prevent the spread of rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program administered by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee on October 2, 2012.

“Control of raccoon rabies is a vital aspect of protecting public health in Tennessee,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We’re pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock.”

Public health workers will distribute vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against westward spread of the raccoon-adapted strain of rabies virus. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga. The vaccine packets will be distributed by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially equipped airplanes in rural areas.

The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed on the following schedule:

  • October 2 -12: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties
  • October 7-16: Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and is a threat to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said L. Rand Carpenter, DVM, state public health veterinarian. “It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for their dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans. It is also extremely important that people don’t transport raccoons from one area of the state to another.”

Rabies, once disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided soon after exposure.

This is the eleventh year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. Two raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies in the eastern part of Tennessee so far this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly here as has been documented in other areas of the United States.

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

  • If you or your pet finds a baited vaccine packet, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area. These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating these baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Don’t try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/rabies.htm.

The Tennessee Department of Health urges individuals to enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats from a distance and keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccination to help prevent exposure to animals that can carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies. Visit the site at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids/.

TN Looks to NC, FL for Education Reform Ideas

There aren’t any silver-bullet reform measures to solve all education problems in Tennessee, but with the right combination of policy and school leadership, student achievement can be improved without increased spending, a new state report suggests.

Assigned to study states that’ve shown education progress without breaking taxpayers’ pocketbooks, Office of Research and Education Accountability Director Phillip Doss told the House Education Committee during a presentation last week that school systems in Florida and North Carolina tended to perform well “regardless of what we were analyzing.”

Both those states also show shared similarities with Tennessee’s per-pupil spending and family characteristics, and both have shown consistent gains in student test scores, OREA’s study indicated.

However, Florida and North Carolina were both given A’s for the percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level when accounting for state expenditures. Tennessee received a C on the same report, which was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In Florida, which passed its “A+ Plan” in 1999, schools with higher scores get more funding and autonomy. Schools with poorer performances are required to implement state sanctioned reforms.

In addition, the state offers a variety of nontraditional school options, including charter schools and its “virtual school” program, which allows students to take distance and online courses.

Florida is among states in the vanguard of the school-choice movement, and is ranked third for number of charter schools and second for charter-school enrollment.

Like Florida, North Carolina offers non-traditional options, too. Students there can earn a high school diploma and two years of college credit simultaneously.

“They focused on teacher policy as well,” said OREA Assistant Director Russell Moore. “Beginning teachers are required to participate in a three year induction program.”

North Carolina conducts teacher working conditions surveys, Moore said. Results showed “effective leadership” is essential for recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

Another North Carolina program provides outstanding high school seniors with college scholarships in exchange for a four-year teaching commitment.

“Policies may look similar from state to state, but we believe the implementation is where the difference is made,” Moore said.

He also cited a study on the Chicago education system, which included a look at schools with disadvantaged student populations. The study notes five key elements required for student success: school leadership; parent-community ties; faculty and staff capacity; safety and order; strong curriculum; and instructional support.

“Those supports have to work in combination, in tandem. They have to be interwoven, and schools have to be strong on all of these to show improvement,” Moore said. “(The researchers) likened it to baking a cake –without the right ingredients the whole enterprise falls flat.”

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, chairman of the House Education Committee, said his goal for Tennessee education is to lead the Southeast, and incorporating policies that work in North Carolina and Florida into the Volunteer State’s system would seem an appropriate strategy for success.

“I think the targeting of North Carolina and Florida is critical,” said Brooks “If we can exceed their competency and output, we will accomplish substantial gains in this state.”