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TNDP Launches Online Petition Against Governor’s Class-Size Expansion Effort

Press Release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, Feb. 8, 2012:

View the Petition: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Democratic Party launched Wednesday an online petition drive opposing Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to eliminate average class size requirements at public schools. Chairman Chip Forrester released this statement to accompany the petition:

“Parents and teachers know first hand what difference small class sizes make in improving student learning. It’s common sense; the fewer students in a classroom, the more time a teacher can spend with each individual student.

“If our goal is to improve student learning, Governor Haslam’s plan to increase class sizes is the wrong way to go. It’s a bad idea that shortchanges our kids’ future.

“We can’t afford to settle for anything but the best in Tennessee’s classrooms because the countries our kids will be competing with for the jobs of the 21st century — China, Japan, India — aren’t settling either.

“In tough economic times, education is an easy target for cuts, but nothing could be more short-sighted. When parents are stressed at home because they’ve lost a job, children need more strong, effective teachers, not less. When jobs are scarce, there’s no better time for young people to get that degree or for workers who’ve been laid off to go back and re-train.

“It’s time to recommit to our kids, our workers, and our future by making sure Tennessee has the best educated children in the nation.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party will deliver the petition and comments to the governor’s office in the coming days.

Online at: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/

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BACKGROUND

Tennessee’s Teacher Quality in Tennessee Among Best in Nation. The Memphis Business Journal reports that Tennessee teachers earned one of the highest overall grades in the nation on the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Tennessee earned a B- and was one of only four states to receive a B grade. [Memphis Business Journal, 1/27/12]

News Coverage of the Haslam’s Class Size Plan

Educators balk at Haslam class size proposal

www.tennessean.com

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lift a cap on class size averages is meeting resistance from educators, but the Republican calls the proposal a key element to his effort to allow school districts to hike teacher salaries.

Guest column: Haslam’s bad idea — larger class sizes

www.commercialappeal.com

It’s your daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She’s excited, but also scared to be leaving Mom and Dad. You tell her it will be all right, that her teacher will take care of her and that she’ll make lots of new friends.

Johnson City Board of Education passes resolution opposing part of Haslam’s plan

www2.tricities.com

The Johnson City Board of Education is making its opposition to part of Governor Bill Haslam’s education reform plan be heard loud and clear.

Reporter’s Notebook: School class size plan gets failing grade

www.timesfreepress.com

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to relax state mandates on local schools’ classroom size isn’t getting a passing grade from many of the people who run them — school superintendents and directors.

Some teachers opposing Haslam’s new education plan

http://crossville-chronicle.com

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to allow local Tennessee school districts to determine class sizes is drawing strong opposition from teachers who say it will adversely affect students’ ability to learn and graduate.

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Featured Transparency and Elections

1-2-3, Go! Redistricting Maps Advance

Tweaks to the lines on redrawn Democratic districts in the state House came down to something like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

House lawmakers approved the new maps 67-25-3 Thursday. Speaker Beth Harwell said she had politely encouraged Democrats to throw some votes her party’s way for the sake of bipartisanship appearances.

“I said to (Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner), ‘If we are making these concessions for some of your members, I would appreciate votes from your caucus,’” she said.

That left the #1 and #2 Democrats to figure out who would make Harwell feel appreciated.

“I’d like to think it was a little punitive, maybe, because the discussions were pretty hot and heavy,” Turner, of Old Hickory, said. … “I thought it was worth that to save a couple of our members.”

Turner threw down rock to Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s paper in their session to make sure the speaker got at least one leadership vote from their side. Turner was one of six Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-drawn maps, while Fitzhugh toed the party line.

“Everybody we had that was paired, we tried to do so something about that,” said Turner, who had been one of the most vocal critics of GOP maps. “In areas where it didn’t impact their members, they decided to give us a couple of those back.”

In the final hours before the map was approved by the chamber, Republicans agreed to make these concessions to preserve incumbent advantage:

  • Separate Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart, who had been drawn into the same south Nashville district.
  • Return Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, to the district he represents now. He had been lumped into the same district as Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
  • Adjust the lines in the district represented by Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville.

Democrats pitched a handful of other amendments to the maps on the House floor, mainly attempts to make more Shelby County districts represent a greater percentage of minorities. All those attempts failed.

The maps fell “way short on minority representation,” according to Turner, although he said he wanted to talk to the Tennessee Democratic Party, the General Assembly’s Black Caucus and other “interested parties” before deciding whether to challenge the lawsuit in court.

Harwell said the Democratic votes symbolize that the map has bipartisan support.

“Bottom line is, surely it sends a clear message that a majority of the members in this General Assembly is pleased with it, and I think the people of this state will be well represented by this map,” she said. “No one can doubt that we have drawn these lines fairly, that there’s proper representation from each district.”

In the new map, sitting House members who would have to run against other legislators (unless they relocated) are situated in:

  • District 28 in Hamilton County: Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, and Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Rhea and part of Roane counties: Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 86 in Shelby County: Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis
  • District 98 in Shelby County: Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis

The Senate is expected to vote on its maps and OK the House drawings Friday. If approved by both chambers, the maps will go to the governor for his approval.

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Press Releases

TNDP Calls House GOP Collective Bargaining Bill ‘Blatant Power Play’

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party, March 24, 2011:

Bill strips Tennessee teachers’ ability to negotiate contracts

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Democratic Party chair denounced Thursday the anti-teacher bill approved by House Republicans on the Education Committee this week.

The “so-called compromise” bill continues a misguided effort to strip teachers of their current right to negotiate classroom improvements for students, better working conditions and fair wages.

“To call this a compromise is nothing short of ridiculous,” said Chip Forrester, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party. “You don’t make compromises with yourself. This was a back room deal cut in secret between Republicans, Republicans and presumably their public relations people.”

The anti-teacher bill makes it illegal for teachers to effectively negotiate a contract covering their salary, benefits, working conditions, school safety, class size, planning time, time to teach, length of the school day, scheduling and other priorities. The measure passed the House Education Committee Tuesday on a 12-6 party-line vote.

“This is nothing more than a Republican PR stunt,” Forrester said. “It is not a compromise — it is a blatant power play to strip teachers of their right to effectively negotiate with their employer.”

“With state unemployment rising and Tennesseans clamoring for work, the majority party and the administration should be pursuing an aggressive jobs package, but once again, all we are seeing is a concerted effort to shred the rights of working people,” Forrester said. “Meanwhile Democrats are standing by their pledge to get people working again and will introduce proposals in the coming weeks that would bring more jobs to Tennessee and preserve quality jobs and rights for our teachers and all working families across the state.”

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Press Releases

Democrats Demand More Job-Creation Focus by GOP Lawmakers, Governor

Press Release from the Tennessee House and Senate Democratic Caucus, Feb. 24, 2011:

First initiatives of the new majority in legislature fail to bring forward promised job creation

(Nashville) – Democrats in the state House and Senate asked Thursday for answers from the new majority and administration on their promises for a comprehensive job creation plan.

“In the last year, we heard repeatedly that Tennesseans wanted their senators, representatives and governor to work on a plan to create jobs,” said Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson). “Some of our districts have unemployment rates of as much as 20 percent.

“Today marks the 40th day of the new administration and we’re simply asking: where is this jobs plan?”

Tennesseans have lost more than 1,900 jobs in Union City, where the Goodyear plant shut down, said Finney. Seventeen more jobs are gone in Knoxville, where a family lumber company is going out of business after 87 years. More than 40 jobs are leaving Lawrenceburg as a metals plant closes. The list goes on and on.

“We have the opportunity to regain the kind of bipartisan support we had in our First to the Top legislation; that we had in creating the West Tennessee megasite; that we had in providing startup funding for Tennessee businesses,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).

“Together, we can work to attract businesses and create jobs in Tennessee. But we are waiting on the majority to lead.”

Now, instead of working together to put Tennesseans back to work, the majority party is attacking working families. Instead of creating jobs, they are creating new ways to make it harder to vote. Instead of helping Tennesseans find employment, they’re telling them, “You’re on your own.” Fitzhugh said.

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Forrester: Dems Need to Fight For Their Principles

Statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester; Jan. 9, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester vowed he would continue to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire on behalf of Tennesseans who struggle to provide a better life for their families during his next two-year term at the party’s helm.

He also promised to unify Tennessee Democrats for the hard work ahead to regain majorities in the state’s General Assembly and its congressional delegation. Forrester won re-election as party chairman on Saturday after a spirited campaign among two other candidates, whom he said he looks forward working with in unifying and moving the party forward.

“Each one of them should be thanked by all Tennessee Democrats for their desire to help this party and this state,” Forrester said of Matt Kuhn and Wade Munday. “We have much to do in the next two years to ensure we elect Democrats who will work tirelessly to ensure our communities have good jobs, effective schools and a quality of life each of us deserve.

“Tennessee Democrats care about our communities and the people who live in them. Too often we overlook the less fortunate among us. We cannot forget those who get left behind in the progress of today’s society.

“It’s our job as Democrats to ensure everyone has an opportunity to succeed, and we can only do that if we fight for our principles and have selfless leaders and elected officials who fight for those same principles. Matt and Wade have shown they are Democrats who will go to the mat for their principles,” he said.

Forrester received 38 votes from then party’s executive committee, which selects the chairman every two years. Kuhn received 17 votes, and Munday received 10. Forrester said he was committed to involving all interested Democrats in the electoral process.

“I am honored and humbled by the support that I received from the state executive committee in my bid for re-election as chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party,” he said. “But I am also pleased that, in this race for chair, we had challengers who brought energy, enthusiasm and new ideas to be discussed. Young Democrats are the future of our party, and I am pleased these challengers stepped up to offer themselves for service to our party.

“My number one objective is to unify our party. I honor and respect those on the executive committee who did not support me and will work to make them an integral part of moving this party and our state forward,” Forrester added.

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Business and Economy Featured News Transparency and Elections

Clinton Implores TN Democrats to Reshape Election Debates

About 1,500 or so Democratic Party die-hards waited for nearly two hours under threat of downpour in downtown Nashville Thursday night to hear former President Bill Clinton suggest ways they may dodge the storm clouds gathering on the electoral horizon.

In order to do that, Clinton said, party enthusiasts are going to have to focus a lot of energy battling the “anger, apathy and amnesia” gripping the country right now.

Clinton was in town to give a boost to the profile and political fortunes of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter in his uphill battle against Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, the Republican primary winner.

However, Clinton’s themes were no doubt similar to what he’s been pitching wherever he’s taken stage lately — most recently this week in Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama.

“I am concerned about this election only because of the relentless opposition and complaints and criticism of the other party and their minions in media,” said the one-time Democratic commander-in-chief. They have “created the feeling that somehow everything is not right and it is the fault of the Democrats.”

Clinton said he “gets the anger” pulsing through the electorate and focused on the party that controls the United States government right now. However, decisions made in anger are usually wrong — and if voters act on that anger at the polls, they’ll regret it, he said.

But the responsibility for breaking out of the apathy and combating the political amnesia rests with Democratic activists, he added.

“I believe that Mike McWherter will win this race if you, between now and election day, can convince most Tennesseans to change the subject from anger, apathy and amnesia, to the following: What are we going to do now, and who is most likely to do it?” said Clinton. “If those are the questions, Mike wins. If it is about anger, apathy and amnesia, we’re all toast. And we’ll all pay the price.”

Republicans are the ones primarily responsible for the country’s economic woes and the government’s bleak fiscal picture, charged Clinton.

“They only care about (balancing) the budget when (Democrats) are in, and then they want to get rid of education and privatize Social Security and Medicare…and give people in my income group another tax cut,” he said.

The GOP is “a very ideological party,” and “they are impervious to evidence,” Clinton said.

Clinton praised the stimulus package and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which he credited with “saving the financial system and keeping interest rates near zero.” Together, those government interventions into the economy prevented 8.5 million more people from being unemployed, he asserted.

However, Clinton made little mention of President Obama directly, and was more or less mum on the subject of the health reform package, the wisdom and workability of which McWherter and outgoing Gov. Phil Bredesen, also on hand for the event, have themselves questioned.

Indeed, Clinton at one point made something of a joke at Obama’s expense. “I feel an enormous debt of gratitude to (Mike McWherter) and his father and his family for the support I received — and the support my candidate received in 2008,” Clinton said. He added, to audience laughter and applause, “I still think she’s doing pretty well as secretary of state, by the way.”

Clinton said the most important duty a governor shoulders is bringing jobs to a state. That’s something the two-term president said McWherter has a much better understanding of than Haslam.

“If you look at every analysis (and) all the job growth for the next 10 years, the most potential is in three areas: small business, manufacturing … and clean energy,” said Clinton. McWherter “is the only candidate that’s actually got a plan to increase assistance to help small business expand and to make America more energy independent through the use of Tennessee-grown biofuels, and those are two of the three areas where we are going to get our job growth. Nobody else is talking about that.”

Andrea Zelinski shot video and contributed reporting to this story.

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Press Releases

TNDP: Election Problems Sen. Ketron’s Fault

Press Release from Tennessee Democratic Party; Aug. 19, 2010:

MURFREESBORO – State Sen. Bill Ketron shoulders much of the blame for recent election blunders that call into question the intention of the Murfreesboro lawmaker and Republican colleagues who fired election administrators across the state and delayed a law meant to improve elections.

Reported election mishaps in Rutherford, Davidson, Hawkins, Maury and Shelby counties have revealed troubling problems in Tennessee and the Republicans responsible for conducting those elections, according to Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester.

“Mr. Ketron and the Republican leadership in the General Assembly should apologize to all Tennesseans for mishandling elections in this state,” Forrester said. “People, regardless of their party affiliation, expect their votes to be counted correctly.

“Using wrong voter files, miscounting ballots, and not even opening voter precincts at all like over in Rutherford County do not provide many of us with confidence in the election process, which is the bedrock of our democracy. It appears the Republicans responsible for running our elections are either grossly incompetent or trying to manipulate election results.”

Ketron sponsored the bill that delayed until 2012 the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which required all county election commissions to make the switch to optical scan machines and paper ballots before the November 2010 elections. More than $30 million in federal funding has been set aside to purchase the new machines.

“If we had those machines in place earlier this month and Republicans hadn’t fired so many experienced election administrators, we likely would not have encountered as many problems,” Forrester said. “Republicans flat out lied when they said the purchase of these new machines would be a financial burden to county governments.”

Republicans took control of local election commissions in all 95 counties after the November 2008 elections, firing many county election administrators soon thereafter and threatening to fire Rutherford County Election Administrator Hooper Penuel, as well.

A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Penuel and several other county election administrators in Tennessee contending Republicans violated their constitutional rights by conspiring to treat their jobs as political patronage. Penuel has settled his claim with the Rutherford County Election Commission and will retire at the end of the year.

“Conducting fair and accurate elections is not a partisan issue,” Forrester said. “It is at the core of this country’s foundation. Instead of disenfranchising voters we should be encouraging as many citizens as we can to get involved in the process. Mr. Ketron appears to be more worried about playing partisan politics and taking care of special interests than he is about governing responsibly.”