Press Releases

Cohen, Cooper Join Bipartisan Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Arizona Redistricting Case

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 27, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, this week joined 19 other Members of Congress in filing a bipartisan amicus brief in the Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. The amicus brief, which was signed by 10 other Democrats and 9 Republicans, supports the right of citizens to determine how federal elections are conducted in their individual states and defends the federal government’s Constitutional authority to make or alter regulations related to the “time, place, and manner” of Congressional elections.

“Elected officials should focus on effectively and equitably representing their constituents, not merely winning partisan battles,” said Congressman Cohen.“Unfortunately, in seeking to overturn the decisions of a non-partisan, independent commission endorsed overwhelmingly by the voters of their state, Arizona’s Republican leaders have chosen a different path. This meritless lawsuit misrepresents the Founder’s intentions, puts partisanship above people, and merely underscores the urgent need to get politics out of the redistricting process. The people of Arizona voted to eliminate gerrymandering, and the Supreme Court should respect their choice.”

The Arizona case centers on a referendum passed by Arizona voters in 2000 which, in an effort to make the redistricting process non-partisan and to combat gerrymandering, set up an independent, five-member redistricting commission to take redrawing of congressional districts out of the hands the Arizona legislature. In 2012, after the independent commission carried out its duty for the second time following the 2010 Census, the Arizona State Legislature sued, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause grants the power of setting election laws explicitly and exclusively to the individual state legislatures, a misinterpretation of the language.

In supporting the constitutionality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the bipartisan Congressional amicus brief reiterates that:

  • Congress has broad and express Constitutional authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of congressional elections,
  • For more than 170 years, Congress has done so in a way that supports the people of Arizona to form a redistricting commission,
  • Congress has in fact weighed in and has said in federal statute that states’ redistricting can be done by more than the State Legislature proper,
  • The use of an independent commission for districting is consistent with, and supports, core principles of federalism reflected in the Constitution and the Elections Clause itself, which seek to ensure a direct link between national representatives and the People,
  • The use of an independent commission is an important, democracy-promoting development that will help reduce negative effects of severe partisan gerrymandering.

Congressman Cohen also reintroduced his Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act, which would bring an Arizona-style independent redistricting commission to every state, earlier this month. His legislation would take the decennial congressional apportionment process, which often leads to partisan gerrymandering, out of the hands of politicians and give it to an independent redistricting commission.

“It’s time to take politics out of the redistricting process,” said Congressman Cohen when introducing the John Tanner FAIR Act. “Congress is so polarized today that we’re unable to find common ground on the major issues facing our country.  Instead of solving our nation’s problems, Congress is just kicking the can down the road and waiting until the next election for answers.  I believe that if we eliminate the gerrymandering of districts we will help get more accomplished for our country.”

The John Tanner FAIR Act was championed for many years by former Congressman John Tanner and was introduced in the 112th Congress by former Congressman Heath Shuler. Beginning after the 2020 census, it would require each state to appoint an independent and transparent congressional redistricting commission. The commission would be charged with creating a redistricting plan that emphasizes geographical contiguity and compactness of districts rather than political affiliations or the impact a district’s lines may have on incumbent representatives.

The Congresspeople signing on to the Arizona amicus brief include: Julia Brownley (D-Cal.),Ken Calvert (R-Cal.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.),Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Duncan D. Hunter (R-Cal.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Cal.), Tom McClintock (R-Cal.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), David E. Price (D-N.C.), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Cal.).

Press Releases

TCA: ‘Plethora of Election Problems, Mistakes’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 9, 2012: 


The past few weeks saw a plethora of election problems and mistakes at the polls in Tennessee.

As we venture further into election season, Citizen Action urges all to be proactive in their voter mobilization and education. Everyone should know that voting is a right guaranteed to you by the Tennessee Constitution and you should never let anyone tell you that you can’t vote.

If you had any problems voting during the primary election last Thursday, August 2, please email us at or call 615-736-6040.

Even if the problem was resolved and you were able to vote, we want to hear your story. Every story means we are one step closer to holding our election administrators and commissioners accountable for fair and accurate elections.


ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, was back in the news last week, after holding yet another national convention. (Read about one progressive’s “Week With ALEC” here.)

We would agree with other critics that ALEC is a “a secretive, corporate-controlled lobby for conservative causes.” ALEC counts as its members executives of large corporations and mostly conservative state lawmakes. The lawmakers are tasked with carrying the legislation authored by the corporate executives back to their respective states. The large corporations do their part by contributing lots of $$$ to state legislator’s election campaigns.

Common Cause recenlty filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing ALEC of misusing their tax-exempt status by lobbying state legislators. The state of Wisconsin has also filed a complaint ” claiming that ALEC’s ‘scholarships’ for travel expenses to conventions violate a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators.” Tennessee also bans gifts from lobbyists to legislators but in 2006, with the help of ALEC Board Member Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville), an explicit exemption was added for ” out-of-state travel expenses provided by ‘a recognized organization of elected or appointed state government officials.‘”


The good news is that many of the corporations who once belonged to ALEC are fleeing from it. Some TN legislators have left as well.

The bad news is that many State Legislators are still members. Here’s the who’s who of TN legislators who are associated with ALEC:

TN House of Representatives

  • Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville)
  • Rep-elect Susan Lynn* (R-Mt. Juliet)
  • Rep. John D. Ragan* (R-Oak Ridge)
  • Rep. Kevin D. Brooks* (R-Cleveland)
  • Rep. David Hawk* (R-Greeneville)
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey* (R-Maryville)
  • Rep. Tony Shipley* (R-Kingsport)
  • Rep. Vince Dean* (R-East Ridge)
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson* (R-Clarksville)
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick* (R-Chattanooga)
  • Rep. Charles Sargent* (R-Franklin)
  • Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville)
  • Rep. Stephen McManus* (R-Cordova)
  • Rep. Harry R. Brooks* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge* (R-Jackson)
  • Rep. Julia Hurley (R-Lenoir City)*
  • Rep. Mark White* (R-Memphis)
  • Rep. Phillip Johnson (R-Pegram)
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Joe Carr* (R-Lascassass)
  • Rep. Jon C. Lundberg* (R-Bristol)
  • Rep. Joshua G. Evans* (R-Greenbrier)
  • Rep. Mike T. Harrison* (R-Rogersville)
  • Rep. Johnny Montgomery (R-Sevierville)
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel* (R-Parkers Crossroads) (Read quotes here)
  • Rep. Barrett Rich* (R-Somerville)
  • Rep. Kelly Keisling* (R-Byrdstown) (Also recently made appearance in HuffPost)
  • Rep. Vance Dennis* (R-Savannah)
  • Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough)

TN Senate

  • Sen. Reginald Tate** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Ken Yager* (R-Harriman)
  • Sen. Dolores R. Gresham* (R-Somerville)
  • Sen. Steve Southerland** (R-Morristown)
  • Sen. Jim Tracy* (R-Shelbyville)
  • Sen. Bill Ketron** (R-Murfreesboro)
  • Sen. Mike Bell** (R-Riceville)
  • Sen. Brian K. Kelsey** (R-Germantown)
  • Sen. Mark S. Norris* (R-Collierville)
  • Sen. Ophelia Ford** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Jim Kyle* (D-Memphis)

*These members won their primary races last week. And here is a list of the August 2 Primary Election results.

** No re-election bid this year.


GOOD NEWS! We have a Constitutional challenge to Tennessee’s Photo ID to Vote law! The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

“An amended complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys for the city and for two Memphis voters without state-issued ID cards whose provisional ballots in last Thursday’s election were not counted. The complaint charges that the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote under both the federal and state constitutions.

The attorneys…have asked the federal court to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court whether requiring otherwise qualified voters in Tennessee to present photo IDs violates the state constitution.”

HERE WE GO! Thank you again to everyone who worked so hard last winter to repeal the law. The fight is not over yet!


It was only a matter of time. Finally, Jon Stewart skewers conservative charges of rampant voter fraud on last night’s edition of The Daily Show: “The Wizards of I.D.”

Watch Part 1.

Then watch Part 2.

Favorite line – “If you have a favorite Meg Ryan movie, you might be eleigible to vote!”


RALLY TO STOP VOTER SUPPRESSION IN TENNESSEE Please join to speak with one voice to decry this injustice. Saturday, August 11, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm at Krutch Park, Knoxville, TN More info here.

COMMITTEE MEETING Tennessee Equality Project Nashville Committee Meeting at Nashville West Buffalo Wild Wings onWednesday, August 15 at 7:00 p.m.

CONFERENCE Tennessee Health Care Campaign
23rd Annual Conference on Saturday, August 18
9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Kresge Learning Center
Meharry Medical College
1005 Dr. D.B. Todd Blvd. Nashville. For more info:

TRAINING: VOTER REGISTRATION Nashville’s League of Women Voters is hosting a “How to Register Voters” Train-the-Trainer workshop on Sat, August 18 10:30 am – 12 noon at the Goodwill Career Solutions center, Nashville

SUPER VOTER REGISTRATION DAY The NAACP, Middle Tennessee Urban League, Citizen Action, and others encourage your organization to join with us to organize and sponsor an all-day Voter Registration Drive on Sunday, August 19.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING WORKSHOP A Nashville Workshop on Faith-based Community Organizing on Saturday, August 25 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Spruce Street Baptist Church. Planned by The Nashville Faith-Based Organizing Project. Training by The Gamaliel Foundation. Register for free online here.

Transparency and Elections

State Planning Education Push on New Photo ID Election Law

State election officials plan to aggressively promote all aspects of Tennessee’s new law requiring voters to present photo identification in order to vote.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, whose office oversees elections in the state, among many other duties, talked with Mark Goins, state elections coordinator, last week about plans to get the word out about the new law.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a photo ID bill (SB0016) this year, and it has been signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The state will require photo ID at the polls beginning Jan. 1, 2012, which means the first big test will be the state’s presidential primaries scheduled for March 5.

Hargett says the effort will be two-fold — to make sure local election officials know what to do and, more emphatically, to make sure the voting public knows about the law in advance of voting.

“We’re going to have to work all 95 counties. We need to get out there with boots on the ground and see what resources they have to make sure they fully understand how to implement that law,” Hargett said.

“I’m less concerned with our ability to implement it, because we’ve got good election people around the state. I want to get the message out, so whenever people show up at elections after January 1, they’re not saying, ‘Oh no, what is this?'”

Hargett outlined the plan in a speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Club of the Davidson County Republican Party over the holiday weekend. His speech covered the various aspects of his office’s responsibilities, ranging from publications like the state’s Blue Book to business services to its duties in overseeing elections.

He was proud that November’s elections went smoothly, with the exception of a complaint filed after the election by a Republican Senate candidate in Putnam County. Hargett’s election team had endured the experience of a website crash in the August primary due to the demand for results, a night he termed a “learning moment.”

Hargett has been making numerous public appearances in the state in an effort to educate citizens about the duties of his office. Elections, while a high-profile part of the office’s responsibilities, are far from the only task the secretary of state oversees.

Hargett is one of three Republican state constitutional officers, the others being Comptroller Justin Wilson and Treasurer David Lillard. The Davidson County Republican Party group gathers regularly for breakfast meetings, and Hargett spoke Saturday at Tee’s Fireside Cafe before about 40 people.

Hargett said his office will be active through public service announcements, getting election officials out to various civic organizations to spread the word and working through the media, including issuing press releases, on the new law. Hargett also said when the state publishes ballots next year, his office wants to make sure the new requirements are published along with them.

“I want to focus on areas where some have claimed this law would treat the elderly, or people who may be poor, unfairly,” Hargett said. “I want to make sure we approach a wide, diverse group of people, everywhere possible.”

The House passed the bill 57-35, the Senate 21-11. Most Democrats opposed the bill, saying hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans do not have photo IDs.

“On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. After all, we all want open, free and fair elections, but like so many issues the devil is in the details,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh wrote on his blog. “Take for example the impact this legislation will have on rural communities. In Tennessee, only 44% of our counties have a driver’s license station. In our district, we only have one station for all three of our counties, while areas like Nashville & Memphis have multiple DMV’s. This makes it easier for people in cities to obtain a photo ID and vote, while some people in rural areas will have to travel 30 miles or better just to get an ID.”

During debate on the bill in the Legislature, opponents likened it to a “poll tax” which could be construed as an effort to stunt voter participation. Proposals for alternative approaches, such as showing a Medicare card, were shot down.

But in an effort to address constitutional concerns, the Legislature passed SB1666, which provides photo IDs for free for Tennesseans who need them.

Voters must sign an affidavit to obtain the photo ID. The IDs will be handled by the Department of Safety. The act is expected to result in additional state spending of $422,574 for fiscal year 2011-12 and every five years thereafter, since photo IDs expire every five years. It will also involve a one-time increase in spending of $15,500 for computer and programming costs.

Meanwhile, 16 Democratic U.S. senators have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to look at whether states’ photo ID laws infringe on voting rights.

Hargett said he is hopeful the new law can withstand any legal challenge and that his office can focus on the law as it currently stands. When asked by former congressional candidate Lonnie Spivak if there were a chance to have photos placed on voter registration cards, Hargett said he didn’t think the state had the money or the capacity to do that at this time, although he liked the concept.

“Some larger counties could probably handle that. Some smaller ones probably couldn’t,” Hargett said.

He said Goins had removed 13,000 dead people from voter rolls in the state since Hargett took office. Hargett said he doesn’t mean to imply there were that many fraudulent votes cast but that anytime one fraudulent vote is cast it erodes confidence in the system overall.

But he backs the photo ID concept.

“If you rent a movie, you show a photo ID,” Hargett said. “If you want to give blood, you show a photo ID.

“We’re also working with surrounding states to compare voter rolls to make sure people are not voting in multiple states. While 99.9 percent of us would never think of voting in two different states, some people have. It’s up to us to make sure you’re only voting in one state.”

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, sponsored the photo ID bill in the Senate, and Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, carried it in the House.

“Although it passed in the Senate four years in a row, it would get to the House and die,” Ketron said recently. “We now protect the purity of the ballot box, and for those who want to cheat through dead people, convicted felons and people living outside their district, it’s not going to happen, because we’re going to make sure that you have a photo ID.

“And for those who can’t afford it, the state of Tennessee is going to pick up the tab so it will pass muster for being constitutional, as it did in Indiana, the first state to pass it.”

The new dates for the presidential primaries were also a product of this year’s legislative session.

The Legislature moved the state’s Democratic and Republican presidential primaries in 2012 to March, heeding demands by the national parties to stop front-loading the primary calendar.

The parties have said they would penalize states by taking away delegates without such action. Four states — Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — have preference on earlier primary or caucus dates. Tennessee’s presidential primary had been the first Tuesday in February.


1986 Felony Comes Back to Haunt City Councilman

A city of Jackson councilman has resigned after more than a decade of service, after officials realized he was ineligible based on a felony conviction 25 years ago, the Jackson Sun is reporting.

City Councilman Johnny Dodd announced his resignation Thursday, saying that the conviction stemmed from a youthful mistake.

From the Jackson Sun:

Dodd was convicted of grand larceny in 1986 when he worked at Service Merchandise and gave away some merchandise from the store, he said in an interview Thursday. He said he thought his record had been expunged and he was told by election officials he was eligible for office when he first ran for council in 1999.

Election officials realized the mistake while researching another candidate’s eligibility.

Dodd said he hopes to have his full citizenship rights reinstated in time to run for City Council in the May election.

More coverage: WBBJ-TV Channel 7.