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Press Releases

Tennessean Elected to DNC Executive Committee

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; August 29, 2013:

Will T. Cheek is only Tennessean on DNC Executive Committee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will have a strong voice on the national Democratic Party’s top committee.

Will T. Cheek was elected last week to serve a second four-year term on the Democratic National Committee’s Executive Committee, the party’s top board of directors.

“From attacks on voters’ rights and our democracy to the never-ending assault on working families and women’s health care, the South has long been a hotbed for extreme legislation,” Cheek said. “As we work to protect and expand opportunity for working and middle class families, my goal is to make the challenges we face in the South a top priority for national Democratic Party leaders.”

Cheek, a member of the Democratic National Committee and its Southern Caucus, was re-elected to represent the Southern Caucus on the party’s top governing board at a meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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Press Releases

Scenic Vistas Protection Act Dies in Senate Committee

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; March 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) pledged to carry on her fight to protect Tennessee’s mountaintops and the state’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry despite this year’s special interest setback in the state legislature.

Rep. Johnson’s companion bill — the Scenic Vistas Act, a measure that would prohibit mountain top removal above 2,000 feet in Tennessee — died Wednesday in the Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee.

“It’s clear that big special interests control too many politicians in legislature,” Johnson said. “If we do nothing to protect our mountaintops, we will be left with nothing. Our irreplaceable mountains will be destroyed, the economic benefits will be shipped to China, and our multi-billion dollar tourism industry will be left in shambles.”

According to MarketWatch, Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company, based in Guiyang, Guizhou China, is the “first Chinese company to invest in coal in America,” The Chinese corporation now owns 30,000 acres of East Tennessee ridgelines.

The Scenic Vistas Act would protect East Tennessee mountain ranges from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal employed by coal companies, including Guizhou Guochauang Energy Holding’s Tennessee-based operations.

Mountaintop removal not only kills tourism jobs, but it eliminates coal-mining jobs, too, because it requires fewer employees to blow up a mountain, Johnson said.

“It’s past time the politicians who run the legislature put the interests of everyday Tennesseans above the concerns of corporate special interests,” Rep. Johnson said. “Regardless of today’s outcome, we will carry on this fight. As long as there are mountains in Tennessee, I will be standing beside the business owners and families who are working to protect our mountains for the future.”

BACKGROUND:

“We are what you might say a Chinese company.” “Triple H’s operations manager, Alex Housley, said in a telephone interview that the family owned company is being sold (to Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company, based in Guiyang, Guizhou China). [Timesfreepress.com, 3/20/13]

Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding raised $616 million to acquire and develop Triple H Coal, which operates in Jacksboro, Tenn. According to MarketWatch, “This is the first Chinese company to invest in coal in America.”

Chinese Company Owns 30,000 Acres of Tennessee Mountaintops. With this corporate acquisition, Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company now owns 30,000 acres of mineral rights. [triplehcoal.com, accessed 3/20/13]

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Press Releases

Johnson Denounces ‘Apparent Grade Fixing’ at TN Virtual Academy

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; February 12, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) denounced the K12, Inc. education corporation for apparent grade fixing at their in-state subsidiary, Tennessee Virtual Academy, a for-profit online school.

More than $15 million in public funding is flowing to the for-profit Tennessee Virtual Academy this year thanks to a law passed by Republicans. Despite the hefty price tag, the poorly performing virtual academy has recently come under fire after scores placed the corporate school among the state’s worst performing schools.

This week WTVF News Channel 5 uncovered a Virtual Academy internal memo directing teachers to delete student’s bad grades.

Rep. Johnson, a career schoolteacher, said deleting bad grades would never be acceptable at the Knox County public school where she teaches.

“Public school teachers are accountable for every student test score every time, and we have multiple layers of accountability to honestly measure student success,” Johnson said. “This internal grade-fixing memo clearly shows that the Tennessee Virtual Academy’s bottom line is protecting corporate profits instead of improving student learning.

“They lied to parents, they cheated kids and they stole from taxpayers,” Johnson said. “Tennesseans deserve better than a big, out-of-state corporation cheating our children and taxpayers to line its own pockets, and it’s time to fix this multi-million dollar mistake.”

Proposals that would alter the laws governing the Tennessee Virtual Academy are scheduled for discussion in the State House Subcommittee on Education at 3 p.m. today.

BACKGROUND

  • The Tennessee Virtual Academy, a subsidiary of the K12 corporation, now enrolls about 3,200 students across Tennessee. — WPLN.org
  • Only 16 percent of K12’s Tennessee students were proficient in math. — WPLN.org
  • Gov. Haslam’s own education chief has called K12’s performance “unacceptable” — The Tennessean
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Press Releases

New TNDP Boss Challenges GOP Supermajority to ‘Prove They’re Pro-Life’

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; February 5, 2013:

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron issued the following the statement after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day has resigned from her post:

“As a former chairman of the now-abolished Select Committee on Children and Youth, I saw the Republicans eliminate that legislative oversight which protected Tennessee’s children. Far too many children have suffered and died, and it’s past time for Republicans to prove they’re pro-life after birth by protecting Tennessee’s children.”

DCS has been sued by The Tennessean, The Associated Press and 10 other news organizations to obtain case records of 151 children who died between January 2009 and July 2012 and had been the subject of state investigations of abuse or neglect.

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Featured Transparency and Elections

Forrester Touts Dems’ TN Victories

He concedes the Democratic party in Tennessee is in a superminority at the state legislature, but state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says he put in place a plan to march the legislature back to Democratic control.

Even so, Forrester, the longtime leader of the state Democratic Party, says that won’t happen overnight.

“We’re very, very excited about the four victories we had in the House,” Forrester said. “To defend all of our incumbents, which we did … we’re very excited about those victories.”

Indeed, Forrester counts Democratic Reps. Charles CurtissMark WindleDavid ShepardSherry Jones and Craig Fitzhugh and others among key wins.

“These are the people that represent our future,” Forrester said. “Even though we’re in the minority, we’ve moved the ball down field.”

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He also pointed to the victory of Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, the Democrat running against GOP incumbent Jim Gotto in the Davidson County House District 60 race.

“We took Jim Gotto, a right-wing Tea Party nut job, out of office,” Forrester said.

Both the Senate and House Republicans hold supermajorities, which means Republicans can pass any law without a single Democratic voice.

Forrester will be stepping down from his post in January.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

 

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Featured

’Tis the Season: Campaign Time on Taxpayer Dime

A Tennessee Senate staffer appears to have been doing political work while collecting a full-time state paycheck, an apparent violation of state law, public records and documents reviewed by TNReport show.

Derek Hummel has been executive secretary for Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, since April of this year, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. Over the past three months, he has also been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records and Facebook postings.

Hummel has identified himself as field director for the Phillip North for State Senate campaign. Hummel was paid $625 in September by the North campaign, according to campaign finance filings released last week.

When TNReport visited Ford’s office at the Capitol last week to interview Hummel, no one was present, but Hummel’s desk was strewn with what appeared to be campaign material, and political documents were visible on his taxpayer-funded desktop computer.

During an attempt to interview Hummel today, he accused TNReport of violating state law by calling him on his government-office phone.

“You’re an idiot,” Hummel told TNReport. “I’m calling Bill Fletcher,” he added, before abruptly hanging up. Fletcher is a prominent Tennessee Democratic campaign advertising specialist and political strategist.

A call and an email to the Phillip North campaign have gone unreturned. Attempts to leave a message with Sen. Ford at her Memphis office were unsuccessful because her voicemail box was full.

According to a state law call the “Little Hatch Act,” state employees are prohibited from “engaging in political activity not directly a part of that person’s employment during any period when the person should be conducting business of the state.” The law mirrors the federal Hatch Act.

Examples that suggest Hummel may have been conducting political activities while collecting a state paycheck include:

+Under a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post, Hummel on July 25 at 10:07 a.m. urged readers to sign a political petition. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

+Under an ‘Americans Against the Tea Party’ Facebook post, Hummel on July 26 discussed a Tennessee Democratic Party petition at 11:15 a.m., 11:19 a.m. and 12:51 p.m. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day, again 8 to 4:30. On one of those posts he makes during business hours Hummel mentioned how an intern for the Democratic Party had drafted the petition dictated by him “because, by state law, we can’t meddle in politics during business hours.”

+During a phone call taken by Hummel on a non-state cell phone — a recording was provided to TNReport from someone who said they made the call on Sept. 24 during work hours — he talked about working throughout the week on ‘get out the vote’ efforts in his role as field director for the North campaign. State records show he was paid by the state that day.

+On a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post that links to North’s views on a Nashville school issue, Hummel commented on Sept. 18 at 3:48 p.m. State records show Hummel was paid by the state for working that day.

+On a ‘North for Senate’ Facebook post on Sept. 21 at 4:21 p.m., Hummel’s cell phone number is posted with a message asking volunteers to call. State records show that Hummel was paid for working that day.

+On Hummel’s desk and on web browser tabs on his state desktop computer, TNReport last week observed campaign documents connected to the North campaign and campaigning in general. (TNReport did not open any desk drawers or search the computer other than to look at the tabs that were open on the computer screen.)

It is not uncommon for staffers in the Tennessee General Assembly to participate in political work, but it is common practice for those staffers to provide notice to the Senate’s chief of staff or to Legislative Administration officials saying they are taking hours off, days off, or a leave of absence for that political work.

In the case of Hummel, it appears he did no such thing: The Senate “does not have any correspondence from Mr. Derek Hummel concerning leave of absences,” Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, said via email in response to a records request from TNReport.

A spokesman for the lieutenant governor’s office, to whom all Senate staff officially report, declined comment.

Charges of elected officials and their staff using taxpayer dollars to boost political activities are heard occasionally throughout Tennessee.

For example, earlier this year, a reception sponsored by East Ridge city officials for a congressional candidate drew questions about how local taxpayer money was used.

The reception, for Scottie Mayfield, a Republican running for Tennessee’s 3rd District seat, took place while employees were on the clock, and about $80 in city funds were spent on snacks for the employees, according to the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

City Manager Tim Gobble insisted that the reception was not meant to be an endorsement and was an attempt to be “hospitable,” but other city leaders have said it was an inappropriate use of city funds, according to the paper’s report.

And last year, Democrats accused Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, of violating the Little Hatch Act, saying it was illegal for Ramsey to use his publicly funded office to promote his “Red Tape” initiative because it is funded by his political action committee, RAAMPAC.

Ramsey denied doing anything wrong, and soon after, Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said he saw no evidence of ethical wrongdoing.

But Rawlins also said his office does not handle alleged Little Hatch Act violations. Because the Little Hatch Act is a criminal statute, that task would fall to Tennessee’s district attorneys, as it did two years ago in Bradley County.

An investigation was launched after Bradley County’s Board of Education chairman and vice chairman sent an e-mail to 800 county school employees endorsing a county mayoral candidate in the Republican Primary, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

No charges were filed in that case.

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NewsTracker

Turner Hopes Dems Can Capitalize on GOP Rifts

The caucus chairman of the Democrats in Tennessee’s House of Representatives predicts three to six Democratic gains in the House, and perhaps more, if the chips fall their way.

“Any gains we have we will be a victory for us,” Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told TNReport. “I think we can pick off three to six people within reason, and maybe if things go our way nationally a little better we might even get a little higher than that.”

One of the biggest problems Democrats in Tennessee face is at the top of the ticket: President Obama. Indeed, the Democrats’ historic losses in the legislature came with Obama’s popularity in Tennessee sinking to Mariana Trench-like lows. But Turner said that Obama is more popular now than he was in 2010.

“It’s not going to be as bad as it was,” he said, pointing to Obama making significant gains, particularly in Middle Tennessee.

But if Turner’s party doesn’t catch the breaks it needs, he says that Democrats have some built-in advantages — even against a possible Republican supermajority.

“We have more experienced people,” he said. “We know how to govern.”

Republicans need just two more seats to gain a supermajority, which would be 66 seats out of 99.

If the GOP gains a supermajority, fully half of Tennessee House members will have two years or less experience maneuvering through committees and playing hard-ball politics at Legislative Plaza.

The other key advantage, Turner said, is the unity of the Democratic minority.

“Our people will have 32, 33 people back… hopefully a little higher,” he said. “Our people will be solidly behind each other, where (the Republicans) are somewhat separated. You have the traditional Lamar Alexander, Howard Baker, Beth Harwell, Bill Haslam-type Republicans, then they’ve got the very extremist Republicans out there that seem to be pushing the wagon right now and trying to lead them in a direction to the extreme right.”

That creates a split that his caucus can take advantage of, Turner said, and, because of that, “My 30-some-odd Democratic votes is a pretty large block when it comes time to pass some important bills.”

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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Policing Parties’ Candidates Not Within ‘State’s Purview’: State Elections Official

The state’s elections coordinator says he doesn’t have the authority to scrap the results of the Aug. 2 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, in which a little-known candidate whose “hatred and bigotry” has prompted the party to disavow his candidacy won the nomination.

Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said there’s no time to hold a new primary, and no grounds to do so, in a letter to Larry Crim who came in a distant third to Mark E. Clayton. Clayton garnered 30 percent of the vote in the field of seven candidates.

Clayton followed all the legal requirements in qualifying to have his name on the ballot, and the state Democratic Party did not move to disqualify him in the seven-day window following the qualification deadline prescribed in state law, Goins says in the letter dated Aug. 7.

The grounds you and (your lawyer) stated to me were that Chip Forrester as chairman of the Democratic Party failed to properly carry out his duties charged to him under the Tennessee Democratic Party’s bylaws. Let me be clear that it is not within the state’s purview to determine whether Chip Forrester is adequately performing the duties assigned to him by the party.

In other words, like deciding who is a “bona fide” member of the party for primary voting purposes, this is an area governed by the parties.

The state Democratic Party has explained the outcome of the election by saying that Clayton’s last name, beginning with a ‘C’, appeared at the top of the list and was therefore the default choice for any voters confused by the array of choices.

His win is a mystery, seeing as how Clayton didn’t play the money game and at last check his website was down. His opponent in November, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, had a cool $6.3 million as of mid-July.

Forrester told the Nashville Scene that Clayton’s affiliation with Public Advocate of the United States, an anti-gay group based in Falls Church, Va., was cause for concern.

“This kind of hatred and bigotry is not a candidate that the Democratic Party can embrace,” Forrester said.

More than 48,000 members of the party’s primary voters cast their ballots for Clayton last week.

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Press Releases

TNDP Wants State Election Probe in Shelby Co., All of TN

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; July 26, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — With more than 1,000 wrong ballots cast in Shelby County, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester urged state election officials Thursday to review early voting ballots across the state.

“Republicans have spent the last two years talking about the importance of pure elections and yet they have failed over and over again to protect our voting rights,” Forrester said. “Their far-reaching incompetence and mismanagement has completely undermined our elections and any shred of faith voters may have had left in the process.”

Election officials confirmed to Memphis media that early voters in Shelby County cast more than 1,000 wrong ballots during early voting.

With so many mistakes, state officials should review early voting ballots ahead of the August 2 Primary Election — specifically in districts and precincts that were severely altered by redistricting — and report on the scope and magnitude of the “wrong ballot” mishap.

Initially election officials refused to acknowledge the widespread error, but thanks to the persistence of two concerned citizens, Joe Weinberg and Steve Ross, voters now have an understanding of the problem in Shelby County. So far state officials have failed to address whether the “wrong ballot” oversight is happening elsewhere in Tennessee.

“The taxpayers funding these elections deserve to know whether their vote counted or it was stolen because of incompetence,” Forrester said. “How big is this problem? When will it be fixed? Unfortunately, we don’t know because Elections Coordinator Mark Goins has not publicly addressed the issue that 1,000 wrong ballots were cast on his watch.”

Local election officials say they won’t lift a finger to fix this blunder. The pattern of neglect we see from our election officials is unacceptable.

“From the failed implementation of the voter-suppressing photo ID law to the disenfranchisement of law-abiding voters, we have called on Coordinator Goins multiple times to take some responsibility and fix the problems plaguing our elections, but it appears he’s more interested in playing politics than being accountable to voters,” Forrester said. “While we are proud to live in a state where citizens stand up to a neglectful government, our citizens deserve leaders who will hold themselves accountable for the errors happening under their command.”

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Press Releases

TNDP: Unemployment Rise Proof GOP ‘Failed to Focus’ on Jobs Legislation

Statement from the Tennessee Democratic Party; July 19, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued a statement today after the Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development announced the state unemployment rate for June increased to 8.1 percent, up from the May revised rate of 7.9 percent.

“June’s unemployment increase is further proof that Tennessee’s economy is suffering because the majority party failed to focus on jobs and failed to protect the middle class. Instead they prioritized rewarding their special interest campaign donors and wasted our time and money arguing extreme legislation that hurts our families.

“After two years of complete Republican control — wages are falling, fewer people are earning paychecks than just a few months ago, and more people are giving up their search for a quality job. We’ve seen enough do-nothing leadership in Tennessee, and it’s obviously time for a new path forward.”

Background

June Unemployment Rate Increases to 8.1 Percent. [TN.gov, 7/19/12]