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Press Releases Uncategorized

TFA: Gun Rights Advocates Have Successful 2014 Primary

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 9, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Firearms Associa(on played both a successful offense and defense in the August 8th primary elections. The TFA supported several pro-gun incumbent legislators who held their seats by a wide margin while also successfully supporting challengers against two incumbents with a history of opposing firearms legislation.

“The big government wing of the Republican Party lost the election in the grand scheme of things” observes John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Legislators the TFA backed who staunchly support the right to keep and bear arms ended up retaining their seats while opponents of gun bills lost or nearly lost their seats. This success sends a strong reminder
that Tennesseans consider the right to keep and bear arms fundamental and gun issues cannot be ignored in legislative elections”

Two pro-gun legislators, Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers, were challenged by candidates backed by the establishment. However the TFA support of Sen. Beavers and Rep. Rogers helped ensure they held their seats with wide margins.
TFA was also heavily involved in the challenge to 18-year incumbent Representative Charles Sargent by local entrepreneur Steve Gawrys. The race ended with Rep. Sargent almost losing his seat by a margin of 254 votes causing the election to likely face a recount. Political experts have noted that if Rep. Sargent ultimately ends up victorious in this race, he will probably not seek another term in 2016 after taking heavy damage to his credibility and electability this time.

Local high school teacher David Byrd in Waynesboro overthrew the embattled incumbent Representative Vance Dennis with the help of a TFA direct mail program. Representative Dennis worked behind the scenes at the Capitol to kill pro-gun bills.

Although TFA does not play in federal races, John Harris also commented that “The TN 4th Congressional race and the US Senate race both demonstrate the need for closed primaries and runoff elections in Tennessee”.

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Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Switchblades Now Legal to Carry

Knives with blades longer than four inches in length, as well as automatic knives — also known as “switchblades” — are now legal to carry no matter where you live in Tennessee.

The change to the language of the Tennessee statute  was to ensure statewide consistency in the law that governs the type and size of knives that can be legally carried, said the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

“If compared to guns, it would be like allowing a city to say you could only own a .22 rifle, but you couldn’t own a .30-06 rifle,” said Bell, a Republican, who also serves as the Senate Government Operations Committee chairman.

The legislation passed 24-1 in the Senate and 75-16 in the House, where it was sponsored by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It also increases the maximum fine for carrying a switchblade with the intent to use it in the commission of a felony from $3,000 to $6,000. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure April 8 and it took effect July 1.

A 2013 bill with the same sponsors would have scrapped the four-inch restriction, as well as allowing brass knuckles and switchblades. However, after receiving pushback from police in the state, the a duller version of the bill was adopted that restrained local municipalities passing stricter ordinances than those adopted by the state.

Prior to approval of last year’s “preemption” bill, a person carrying a knife with a four-inch-blade within the bounds of the law in Nashville would’ve been acting illegally by possessing that same knife in Clarksville, observed Bell.

He defended the loosening of the knife restrictions while keeping the restrictions in place for brass knuckles and other weapons. “A knife is a tool — they’re used as tools all over the place,” Bell said, but added that there isn’t much practical use for brass knuckles or other similar weapons, and he hasn’t heard people “clamoring to use” those items.

According to Bell, when he began looking into issues around knife violence several years ago, he discovered that most attacks were carried out with kitchen knives, and that the crimes were usually domestic-assault related.

“When I first spoke to the TBI about this bill about three years ago, the TBI told me that automatic knives, or switchblades, don’t even show up as a statistic in crime,” Bell said. “That’s how rare it is for somebody to use one.”

Todd Rathner, a board member for the group Knife Rights — an organization somewhat like an “NRA for knife owners” — testified in the Legislature this year about switchblades, and informed that that 30 other states in the United States had no restrictions on automatic knives.

“Back in the 1950s, because of movies like ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and other silly Hollywood productions, the federal government in its wisdom saw fit to place restrictions on so-called switchblade knives, and then a number of states followed,” Rathner said. “Some states didn’t. My home states of Arizona has never had a law against switchblades, and it’s never caused any kind of a problem.”

Bell said he knows several people who enjoy outdoor activities that use automatic knives in the pursuit of those activities because of the handiness of having a knife that can be operated with one-hand.

And previously law enforcement officers and firefighters had special exemptions to the law for similar reasons, Bell said. Additionally, he said that the change in the law could lead Tennessee knife manufacturers to expand their operations, and provide more jobs for Tennesseans.

But the change in law has faced criticism from the state’s minority party since it was proposed last year, despite some Democratic members ultimately voting in favor of this year’s legislation.

Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, lampooned the number of weapons-related bills the General Assembly’s been considering over the past couple years. “Are y’all expecting the zombie apocalypse, or something, because there are just so many weapons available now, and I was just wondering if you knew something we didn’t?” Jones said.

This week, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, tweeted that, “#Switchblades & #swords are now legal to carry in #Tennessee, but not brass knuckles. This does not seem fair (or like a good idea).”

However, the bill received two votes from Democrats in the Senate and six in the House, including a thumbs-up from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. The upper chamber’s lone no vote belonged to Lowe Finney, the minority party caucus chairman who is retiring from the Legislature.

 

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Featured Liberty and Justice

No Switchblades for Now, But No More Local Knife Rules Under Proposal

A bill initially intended to lift restrictions on knives in Tennessee has been scaled back in the state House. It now only prevents cities or counties from putting new restrictions on the books that are more stringent than statewide law.

As first introduced, House Bill 581 by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis would have scrapped the state’s current ban on carrying blades longer than four inches. It also would have okayed switchblades and brass knuckles.

But after reportedly receiving pushback from law enforcement, the sponsor accepted an amendment Tuesday morning that rewrote the bill, dropping all references to blade size or type and focusing solely on state “preemption” of local rules.

While the measure, as amended, wouldn’t change the state’s current four inch rule right away, it does open the door for lawmakers to lift those restrictions in the future without worries that local authorities could interfere.

That prospect rankled some House Democrats who took up the cry for local control.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley voiced his opposition, telling the chamber “there are ordinances all across the state local governments have put into place affecting these particular instruments and what we’re doing here is just doing away with them. I think we need to be consistent about local control and with this amendment, it doesn’t happen.”

But sponsor Dennis wasn’t convinced, saying the legislation would simply “provide uniformity across the state in relation to knives in exactly the same way as we do with firearms.”

Last month, the Senate passed a companion version of the bill, sponsored by Mike Bell, R-Riceville, that included language dealing with blade length and knife style. But Bell told TNReport he plans to adopt the house version.

Bell said he thought that the current restriction were outdated and that he may address them with future legislation, but he said that the preemption aspect was the core of the legislation.

“It’s not the part of the bill with the most titillation factor — switchblades would be — but if you tried to pass a law legalizing switchblades without the preemption part, then every city could just ban them,” said Bell. “The preemption part is the most important part of the bill and that’s what we’re going to get.”

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Education NewsTracker

Campfield Not Backing Down on TANF Bill

State Sen. Stacey Campfield says he’s moving forward with a controversial bill that would tie some state benefits for poor families to their children’s school performance, despite objections raised by Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Knoxville Republican lawmaker told TNReport that he plans to bring Senate Bill 132 up in the Senate floor Thursday, saying he isn’t convinced by what the Haslam administration called “philosophical” concerns about the legislation.

“I’m waiting to hear their legitimate objections,” Campfield said. “I talked to the governor about it and really he just said it sends a bad message but, you know, sometimes we have to think about the future generations instead of the immediate political ramifications. What’s been portrayed a lot of times about this legislation sure may sound bad in the media, but the reality of the bill is that it helps kids get out of poverty.”

Campfield’s measure, carried on the House side by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis, would lower the amount of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments by up to 30 percent if a child fails to pass to the next grade. Parents could prevent the reductions by attending two parent-teacher conferences during the school year, taking an eight-hour parenting class or enrolling their child in a tutoring program or summer school.

The bill’s sponsors argue that it will encourage parental involvement in students’ academic progress. But the governor, himself a Republican, has said that he’s not sure cutting benefits is the right way to address the issue.

“My concern has been (that) whenever we want to have a cause-and-effect, we want to make certain that there really is a direct link there in the relationship,” Haslam told reporters Monday. “I think that there are too many other reasons that could cause a child to struggle in school beyond just a parent’s lack of involvement. Parents’ involvement is a key, and we all think that. And we’re all working hard to have more parental involvement in children’s education. But to have that direct link there, when there are so many other factors, is worrisome to me.”

The proposal has also sparked much harsher criticism, especially from Democratic legislators, and even earned a bit of national television mockery on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus has dubbed the plan the “Starve the Children Bill” and Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory called it “bigotry” during a press event Tuesday.

A spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Human Services told the House Government Operations Committee during a discussion on the bill April 9 that about 53,000 families in the state receive TANF payments. The maximum benefit for a single mother with two children is $185 per month.

During the same meeting, Memphis Democrat Johnnie Turner compared that monthly benefit figure to the $173 Tennessee lawmakers make as a “per diem,” arguing that legislators might not fully appreciate how much of an impact the money has for the state’s poorest families.

“Why would we only penalize the poorest—$185? That’s how much we make a day,” Turner said. “Do these parents care about their children? Yes. Do they want them to get a better education than they did? Yes. But there are circumstances that they cannot overcome…They love their kids, they’re doing the best that they can, so we’re going to penalize the child, ultimately who is the victim.”

The Government Operations Committee ultimately voted 8-4 along partisan lines to give the legislation a positive recommendation. The House version is next set to be considered by the lower chamber’s Finance, Ways & Means committee.

Gov. Haslam has suggested that, should the measure pass both chambers, it might be a candidate for veto.

Amelia Morrison Hipps and Mark Todd Engler contributed to this story

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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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Liberty and Justice News Transparency and Elections

Challenger to State Rep. Joshua Evans has DUI Record

A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in his history — a fact that a couple GOP incumbents want to highlight even while a fellow member of their caucus faces trial for DUI himself.

The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.

“I think it’s probably important for voters to have that information and be able to use that in their consideration,” said Evans, a Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner.

Evans is beating back a challenge from Harrell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, in the 66th District encompassing Robertson County. The August primary election race is one of 21 this year where House Republican incumbents are trying to fend off challengers.

Harrell was arrested Sept. 4, 2010, on drunken driving charges and refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test.

“It was certainly a mistake, but I learned from it. I’ve moved on. I’m a better person because of it,” Harrell told TNReport.

According to the arrest warrant, Harrell was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone on I-40 in Nashville on a Saturday night and was seen “meandering back and forth in his lane of travel, partly crossing into other lanes.” The report said he had watery, bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and “lacked smooth pursuit” while performing field sobriety tests before refusing a blood-alcohol test.

His DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2011, along with violating the implied consent law.

TNReport obtained documents about Harrell’s arrest from Rep. Vance Dennis, a Republican lawyer from Savannah who describes himself as a “good friend” of Evans, and provided the information for “personal” reasons.

“I was just trying to be helpful to the people of his district of Robertson County. To make sure everybody knows everything there is to know about Rep. Evans’ opponent,” he said.

But Dennis wouldn’t go so far as to criticize the plight of Rep. Curry Todd, a Collierville Republican who was arrested in October for DUI, illegal possession of a firearm and refusing a blood-alcohol test. His case has been bound over to a grand jury.

“I’m not going to cast aspersions on anyone for their prior actions, but I think people of the state have a right to know what’s out there and what’s in an individual’s history who’s running,” Dennis said.

Harrell says the leaked details of his DUI arrest prove his opponent isn’t certain of his re-election.

“You see this in politics all the time, and I think it’s just an indication that my opponent is not that confident in his voting record or in his relationships he has in the district, so he wants to point to this first rather than pointing to relevant information or relevant facts,” said Harrell.

Evans says Harrell’s mishap with the law only “recently came to his attention” and says he had nothing to do with making sure those details landed in TNReport’s hands. But he quickly added that he considers himself a proponent of stiffening DUI laws, including those that allow drivers to skip out on blood-alcohol tests.

“An issue like this is really up to the voters,” Evans said when asked whether Todd’s arrest, too, should be highlighted. He said he doesn’t plan on making Harrell’s DUI a part of his campaign.

Lawmakers added several DUI laws to the books this year, including one that would have forced drivers suspected of driving under the influence, like Harrell or Todd, to submit to a blood-alcohol test if compelled by a court order or a search warrant. That law is now in effect. Todd, who was on the floor during much of bill’s debate, left the chamber for the day minutes before lawmakers in the chamber voted.

Another clarifies that people entitled to use a drug that impairs a operating heavy machinery cannot use that as a defense against a DUI charge. That law kicks in July 1.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Beavers Silent on Newest Plan to Police Judges

After years of discussion and several months of focused haggling over details, some Tennessee lawmakers say they’re optimistic a deal is within reach to overhaul the panel charged with punishing unethical judges.

But it’s unclear if Sen. Mae Beavers — who has led the charge to bring more accountability to the Court of the Judiciary and rein in wayward judges — is on board.

“Nobody, I think, is just elated with the version,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, who is sponsoring the reform in the House of Representatives. “I don’t think everybody got everything that they wanted on either side of the issue, but I think it’s a reasonable compromise.”

Beavers, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, declined to comment about the compromise Tuesday.

The new language of HB2935 would require that 10 of 16 members of the board be sitting or retired judges. Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican, has pushed for more laypeople. The new plan would also require the board report statistics about judicial ethical blunders on a monthly and quarterly basis.

The legislation comes as Knox County faces a seemingly interminable tide of expensive and traumatic legal aftershocks resulting from ex-judge Richard Baumgartner’s unscrupulous activities while serving on the bench.

Baumgartner illegally obtained and abused prescription drugs for years in the Knoxville criminal court over which he presided before stepping down last winter. In March he pleaded guilty to a single count of official misconduct. As part of a judicial diversion agreement, Baumgartner was allowed to voluntarily resign from office and keep his government pension.

Convictions in numerous high-profile murders, sexual assaults and other violent criminal cases are in jeopardy as a result both of Baumgartner’s actions and the failure of law enforcement officials, court employees and other judges around him to report instances of his erratic, unstable, legally suspect and otherwise inappropriate behavior when they witnessed it.

“The unfortunate thing with Judge Baumgartner is that there will be a ripple effect throughout the entire Tennessee criminal justice system for years, if not decades,” Gregory Isaacs, a prominent Knoxville criminal defense attorney, told TNReport recently.

“The problem is there are going to be consequences — there are going to be decisions made that hurt victims,” added Isaacs, who is appealing a Baumgartner-court conviction of a man sentenced to 38 years in prison for raping his stepdaughter. “But unfortunately Judge Baumgartner has put everyone in the position of having to make those tough decisions.”

The Baumgartner episode is one of several that has raised questions among lawmakers and critics in the public about the effectiveness of Tennessee’s system for detecting and punishing judges who act in a fashion dishonorable or unfitting to their office.

Dennis said he’s confident, though, that the reform proposal he’s backing “will eliminate the appearance of impropriety that some folks perceived with our current Court of the Judiciary.” A practicing attorney and secretary of the House Judiciary Committee, Dennis added that he wants to see “a better functioning body to supervise and investigate” accusations of professional misconduct against judges.

Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said the latest bill, which is set for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee next week, will give people facing judges in court the best recourse to deal with unethical behavior.

“If they have a complaint of judicial ethics … then they will have an avenue that should be more transparent, more open, with people who are amenable to listening to the problem and working to a solution,” said Rich. “I think this will expose bad judges, but it will not punish good judges.”

Rich pulled from consideration the plan backed by Beavers Tuesday, SB1198, which called for a panel controlled by non-judges, including retirees from the judicial system, law enforcement and laypeople.

Mark Engler contributed to this article.

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Featured Liberty and Justice Transparency and Elections

Plan to Constitutionally Formalize TN’s Judicial Selection Practice Met with Early Skepticism

Tennessee’s most powerful elected leaders want to amend the state Constitution to validate the current and, to some at least, controversial method of appointing high-level state judges.

But some majority-party legislators aren’t so sure that’s a good idea — or that it’ll fly with voters.

Flanked by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday he’ll press lawmakers to pass a resolution asking voters to approve language to the state Constitution enshrining Tennessee’s present selection practice for judges on the Tennessee Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.

“I believe the current process has worked well during my time in office, and I’ve been pleased with both the quality of candidates and the process for choosing them,” said Tennessee’s Republican governor. “The judiciary is the third and equal branch of government, and we are here to make this recommendation because we believe it is important for our Constitution to clearly reflect the reality of how we select judges in Tennessee.”

If the measure is approved this year — and again in the next legislative session by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate — voters would see the constitutional-amendment question on the 2014 general election ballot.

Currently, judges are appointed by the governor, whose choices for the bench are limited to a slate of candidates provided by a selection commission. Those judges, who serve eight-year terms, are subject to yes/no “retention” elections as their first term expires.

But even though that system has been formally ruled constitutional, and is strongly supported among the state’s legal establishment, many lawmakers have trouble getting over the nagging feeling that it really doesn’t gel with the clear wording of the Tennessee Constitution, which states, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” The state government’s foundational document also declares, “The judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”

“Our current method of choosing judges is a very good system, but it is not constitutional,” Ramsey said Wednesday.

Speaker Harwell said she, too, supports the so-called “Tennessee Plan,” but has “serious concerns about the constitutionality of the plan at present.”

“I also respect the previous decisions of the courts, which have determined otherwise,” added Harwell, a Nashville Republican. “As the governor stated today, clarity is certainly needed.”

Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from Franklin and a leading proponent in the Legislature of voters choosing who sits on the Supreme Court and appellate courts, was among lawmakers to express reservations Wednesday about what Haslam and the two speakers are proposing.

Casada said it seems to him elementary and unambiguous that the Constitution requires competitive judicial elections, and not merely an up-or-down vote on a judge well after he or she has been deciding cases.

Casada said he’ll be pushing a direct-election bill for judges this session. He said he’s not opposed to the idea of Tennessee voters getting their say on the current plan in the 2014 election, as proposed by Haslam, Harwell and Ramsey, but believes the electorate ought first to get an opportunity to see what a statewide judicial election would look like.

“We need to go ahead and put it into the code that the judges are elected by the people in a contested election, like the Constitution currently says they should be,” said Casada, who chairs the House Health and Human Resources Committee. If Tennesseans don’t like what they see after that, then they could adopt the plan proposed by Harwell, Ramsey and Haslam, he said.

Vance Dennis, a Republican who serves as secretary of the House Judiciary Committee, said he’s skeptical at this time that the proposal to amend the Constitution will win the two-thirds legislative majorities necessary to ever even get on the ballot.

Dennis, an attorney from Savannah, isn’t a supporter of direct judicial elections. But he said it is clear the system used now is constitutionally suspect in the minds of many.

“Legally, the current plan has been found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court. Lots of folks disagree with that; lots of folks believe that the way that was done was not entirely appropriate,” said Dennis. “It is the law of the land, so what we are doing is legal. But it really doesn’t meet my definition of what an election is.”

Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, another supporter of giving voters a greater direct voice in choosing judges, said he harbors “serious doubts” a majority of Tennesseans can be convinced the existing system is the best option available.

Nevertheless, Bell, who has also sponsored a direction-election bill, said he’s willing to stand down and let the governor and speakers pursue their chosen course.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey acknowledged during Wednesday’s press conference that there’s an apparent preference within the GOP “of electing everything, so to speak.” He said, however, that he, Harwell and the governor will embark upon a “sales process” to bring doubtful voters and politicians around.

“To have someone spend multimillion dollars to get elected statewide probably won’t get to where we want to be, anyway,” said Ramsey.

Ramsey said he wants to see “conservative judges who interpret the law and not make the law” assigned to the Supreme Court and appellate courts. So long as Tennessee has “a governor who  appoints people who think that way,” the current system is best for achieving that aim, he said.

Asked to speculate on what would happen if voters ultimately reject the proposed constitutional amendment, Gov. Haslam said he “would still be of the opinion that doing it the way we do now is the best system.”

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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

Lawmakers Issue ‘Hunters for the Hungry’ Challenge

Press Release from the Republican Caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Nov. 9, 2011:

State Legislators announce Hunters for the Hungry Legislative Challenge

(November 9, 2011, NASHVILLE) – Several members of the Tennessee House of Representatives have partnered with the Tennessee Wildlife Federation (TWF) to promote their Hunters for the Hungry program by establishing the Hunters for the Hungry Legislative Challenge.

In this statewide contest, Members of the General Assembly will compete amongst themselves to ascertain which lawmaker can convince the most sportsmen in their district to contribute a Whitetail Deer to the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Hunters for the Hungry program. The challenge will commence on November 19, 2011 – opening day of the deer season in Tennessee.

Representative Vance Dennis (R—Savannah), who is chairman of this event, remarked, “Tennesseans are proud of our heritage and we all know this State is blessed with an abundance of deer and deer hunters. The Tennessee Wildlife Federation has done an outstanding job establishing and operating their Hunters for the Hungry program over the last several years. With this new challenge, I believe we, as State legislators, have an opportunity to make sure our whitetail deer herd is managed effectively while providing food for those in need. I am delighted to coordinate this event with TWF and make a difference in Tennessee.”

The Hunters for the Hungry program collects thousands of pounds of venison each year for distribution among the various food banks and soup kitchens across the State. “This program is one of the most unique and cost-effective ways to feed hungry people with a healthy, renewable resource,” says Matt Simcox, TWF’s Hunters for the Hungry Coordinator. “We can provide a meal for an average of 25 cents, and one deer can provide an average of 160 meals for those in need in our communities.”

Each participating legislator has agreed to raise funds to pay the processing costs for at least the first ten deer donated to Hunters for the Hungry on the opening day of deer season at participating butcher shops. In addition, volunteers across Tennessee have raised additional funds to cover the reduced costs that participating butchers charge for processing venison donated to the program. Once those funds are depleted, however, sportsmen are required to pay the reduced processing fee for deer they contribute to the program.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R—Chattanooga), who is participating in the event, highlighted the worthwhile cause of the challenge. “Far too many Tennesseans need a warm meal this time of year. I am very appreciative of Representative Dennis’ effort and leadership of this event. The partnership he has created with the TWF will ensure a lot of individuals receive the help they need. I’m happy to lend my help for this cause.”

“I look forward to seeing which of my colleagues will rise to the challenge and convince the sportsmen in their communities to step up and contribute to this worthy cause. I am hopeful this will become an annual event,” concluded Rep. Dennis.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation is the largest and oldest nonprofit organization in Tennessee dedicated to the conservation, sound management, and enjoyment of Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources for current and future generations through stewardship, advocacy, and education. Additional information on the challenge and TWF may be found by contacting Matt Simcox at 615-353-1133 or Representative Vance Dennis.