Haslam leaves Durham ouster to legislators

CAMDEN, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is renewing his call for state Rep. Jeremy Durham to resign, but says he won’t speed up the process for convening a special legislative session to oust him.

Haslam told reporters after a grant announcement in Camden on Tuesday that he will leave it to lawmakers to decide on calling the special session.

It takes two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers to call a special session. Haslam noted that two-thirds is also the threshold for ousting a member.

Durham earlier this month suspended his reelection campaign but did not resign after an investigation by the state attorney general included allegations that he sexually harrassed several women at the Legislature. Durham has denied most of the allegations.

Durham will qualify for a state pension if he is not ousted.

Suicide at TN Tower raises security questions

Security issues were raised by a recent suicide at Tennessee Tower, located across the street from the state Capitol, reports WSMV TV.

Police identified the man as Anton Kanevsky, 26, who was visiting Nashville from New York. A state worker saw his body fall past his office window one morning.

Police said Kanevsky left his keys, phone and sandals on the roof before leaping to his death on the plaza 31 stories below.

His family may never know why, but many people want to know how a traveler from out of state got onto the roof of the building.

Kanevsky’s social media profiles show he is from East Meadow, NY, and fluent in Russian. He kept an online travel journal and chronicled his brief few days in Nashville on Facebook. He was looking for work.

Kanevsky stayed at a hostel in downtown Nashville. He had no obvious connections to anyone at the Tennessee Tower.

Security at the tower falls under the state’s General Services division. They contract with private security companies Walden Security and Allied Barton.

Employees must scan their ID to get into Tennessee Tower. Visitors must sign in and show a photo ID. It’s not clear if Kanevsky got to the roof through an elevator inside the building or if he found another way.

The tower is currently having work done on its top floors and roof. There is an outside elevator that’s supposed to be for construction workers, so it’s possible Kanevsky rode that.

Wellspring Builders, the general contractor, referred Channel 4’s questions to the state. The General Services administration would only say it’s under investigation.

TN Sanders delegates not rowdy, but not happy either

From a Tennessean report on doings at the Democratic National Convention on Monday:

Tennessee was not among the delegations with large rowdy packs of Sanders loyalists.

…But Kristy Douglas, 27, a Sanders delegate from Jasper, Tenn., said she’s unsure whether she will vote for Clinton in November, though she also made clear she wouldn’t vote for Trump either. She was among those at an afternoon rally of around 1,900 in Philadelphia Monday who participated in a chorus of boos when the Vermont senator praised Clinton.

“We [feel] like it’s still not over yet,” Douglas said. She noted several pending lawsuits pertaining to the primary process, uncounted ballots in California in addition to the latest email scandal and Clinton’s vice presidential pick Sen. Tim Kaine who she called “unprogressive.”

“I don’t think Hillary wants our support and she’s not going to get it,” Douglas said. “There’s a lot of angry people out there that feel this was stolen from us.”

…Laurie Dworak, a 52-year-old Sanders delegate from Chattanooga, was not among the Sanders backers who booed during Monday’s rally. But she said she understands why some did, likening their expression to an opportunity to provide catharsis for the contentious race or booing the coach of an opposing football team.

She’s among the Sanders supporters who say she will vote for Clinton in the general election. She also predicted that the majority of her fellow Sanders supporters would eventually back Clinton as well.

“It’s more an expression of frustration,” Dworak said of the booing. “Nobody wants to lose and right now it feels as if we’ve lost.

“When the coach mentions the opposing team, you’re going to boo,” she said. Continue reading

Deputy sheriff to deter fights at next House District 18 forum?

After shouting and shoving erupted at a House District 18 candidates forum last week, organizers of the next scheduled forum have asked that a Knox County sheriff’s deputy be on hand for security purposes at the Thursday event, reports the News Sentinel.

For those who haven’t been heard (or read), Rep. Martin Daniel shoved his opponent Steve Hall during a forum Thursday that included fellow Republican House candidates James Corcoran and Bryan Dodson. (It occurred during a Hallerin Hilton Hill radio broadcast.)

…And now, the Center City Conservatives Republican Club has asked for a Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy to be present when the same four candidates gather at its 6:30 p.m. Thursday forum at Shoney’s, 4410 Western Ave.

“I don’t know that (Hill) thought it was necessary before,” Brian Hornback, president of the Center City Conservatives club, said about seeking some protection for the event.

“We are in someone else’s establishment,” Hornback, who is also a local political blogger, said. “Don’t you think it’s the responsible thing to do?” (Note: Hornback’s blog is HERE and includes a recent post on the forum, security, etc.)

Before the scuffle, many local political watchers presumed the 18th House District race was just between Hall, the former officeholder, and Daniel, who unseated Hall in 2014. Corcoran and Dodson weren’t considered to be front-runners by some politicos.

“It’s wide open now,” Dodson said.

The scuffle is the latest turn in a race that up until last week only had been beset with minor, yet regular, troubles. Hall said that he’s been losing campaign signs by the hundreds. Corcoran’s campaign manager caught someone on video taking that candidate’s signs — which was later ruled to be a mistake. And both Daniel and Dodson have said they’ve seen their campaign signs destroyed.

…As for the forum, Hornback said that each candidate will have a chance to make opening statements, and then the public can ask questions. Each of the candidates will have a chance to answer each question, he said.

And with the presence of a deputy for the event, Hornback hopes to avoid the possibility of a Round 2 from the prior week.

DNC staff fretted over Sanders supporter in Knoxville event

Some of the Democratic National Committee emails revealed by Wikileaks deal with internal debate over whether to allow an East Tennessee Bernie Sanders supporter to attend a private Knoxville event in June for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, reports Georgiana Vines.

The emails show Amanda Kruel, currently a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention, was vetted was vetted at some length prior to the DNC fundraiser. She was a Sanders field organizer at the time.

“I did not realize that and to my knowledge I was the only one vetted that way,” Kruel said in a brief telephone interview with the News Sentinel in between meetings in Philadelphia on Monday.

…At the fundraiser at the home of Leanne and Rusty Comer in Deane Hill, Kruel was with a group of demonstrators at the subdivision’s gated entrance prior to the event, for which she had paid $50 to attend. When it was time for the event, she went by car. A security person told her she couldn’t go into the gated community with Bernie Sanders materials in the car and she said she told him, “I always have Bernie stuff in my car.” She eventually was admitted.

At the fundraiser, attended by about 40 people, Kruel said she had an opportunity to talk with Wasserman Schultz and they posed for a picture together, which she had as her Facebook picture on Monday.

Kruel said she had the feeling Wasserman Schultz had been warned about who she was but the conversation was cordial.

“There wasn’t any incivility,” she said.

…The emails show that staff discussed denying Kruel admission to the Deane Hill event and refunding her money. They allowed her to attend for fear of unfavorable publicity.

The email quoted DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall as saying, “on further thought, Kruel could turn this back on us and say she was denied attendance by the big bad establishment.”

The emails also show that the Knox County Democratic Party was not heavily involved in the event until longtime activist Sylvia Woods asked that Cameron Brooks, the county party chairman, be invited to take her place since she would be out of town.

Kruel told the Washington Examiner that knowing what she knows now, she wonders if a man in the background of the picture of her and Waserman Schultz wasn’t a security person.

“I joked after the event that he seemed to have been ‘assigned’ to me, as he was never far from me. That joke may have been a fact,” she said.

Casada pushes Armstrong ouster petition

As House leaders collect signatures required to call a special legislative session to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham, the former mentor to the embattled Franklin Republican continues to push for the ouster of a Democrat, reports The Tennessean.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, is now circulating his own petition for a special session that includes the names of both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong. Armstrong, D-Knoxville, is under federal indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges.

“Just as Rep. Durham lied to me and betrayed the trust of this Caucus with his actions, it is plain to see that Rep. Armstrong has also betrayed our trust as a legislative body and used his public office for personal gain,” Casada said in an email Monday to all members of the House GOP caucus.

The move comes after House Speaker Beth Harwell released a petition Friday that only names Durham in its call for a special session. Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen acknowledged Casada’s desires for Armstrong to be included on the petition Friday, but didn’t immediately say Monday how Casada’s petition may affect the one being circulated by the speaker.

…The current sexual harassment accusations against Durham come from the attorney general’s investigation, which only became public this month, whereas the extent of the allegations against Armstrong have been public since late 2015, Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville said. He questioned why the legislature didn’t pursue ousting Armstrong while it was in session earlier this year, when all the information available now was also available then.

“There’s the concern about really why at this point is Joe being added? If it’s simply politics, then that’s not a reasonable basis to do it now when we should have done it in March,” Sexton said.

Casada agrees the legislature should have moved to boot Armstrong during session.

“We should have done that back then, but we didn’t,” Casada said in a phone interview. “So now we’re cleaning up the mistake. There’s no reason, we just didn’t.”

Casada said he expects members will sign both petitions. He said a special session that included discussion of expelling both members would be truly bipartisan, although he didn’t specify why such a session had to be bipartisan.

“What we’ve got here is two men who have visibly, openly violated public trust. It’s indisputable. They both need to go.” Casada said, calling on Democrats to sign his petition.

Last week (House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike) Stewart, D-Nashville, said any attempt to include Armstrong before the outcome of his trial would be an effort by Republicans to shirk their duty in dealing with Durham.

Hepatitis-infected TN prisoners sue the state

Tennessee inmates infected with hepatitis C on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against state prison officials, asking the court to force the state to start treating all inmates who have the potentially deadly disease.

Further from the Tennessean:

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the ACLU and other advocates in U.S. District Court in Nashville, says the Tennessee Department of Correction officials knowingly denying inmates care for their hepatitis C, also known as HCV, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It alleges the department is denying care because the best available medication is too expensive.

“In reality, (department officials) ignore the medical needs of (inmates) and class members in order to save costs. (The department’s) written politics for HCV diagnosis, assessment and treatment utilize outdated standards of care and normalize the practice of refusing treatment for unjust and medically unsound reasons,” the lawsuit states.

Inmates Charles Graham, also known as Charles Stevenson, and Russell L. Davis are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Attorneys representing the inmates include Thomas Castelli from the Nashville office of the ACLU, Karla Campbell of Nashville-based law firm Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings and Elizabeth Logsdon of advocay organization Disability Rights Tennessee.

Note: The ACLU press is below, including link to the text of the lawsuit. Continue reading

Haslam puts Stephen Smith on senior staff

News release from governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Stephen Smith will join his senior team as senior advisor for policy and strategy. Smith is currently the deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs at the Tennessee Department of Education, where he works with the administration, General Assembly and other stakeholders on key policy, legislative and legal issues.

“Given our focus on education, Stephen has already been integrally involved with our office on a number of initiatives and issues over the past six years. I’ve always appreciated his professionalism, grasp of the issues, and relationships with the legislature and stakeholders throughout the state,” Haslam said. “He’s a strong addition to our team, and we’re excited to have him on board.”

Smith, 41, joined the Tennessee Department of Education in 2011 and has been central in the development and adoption of several key administration policies and reforms including revisions to the state’s education accountability system, teacher tenure reform, expansion of school choice options, modernization of the state’s teacher salary schedule, and enhancement of the state’s funding formula for education known as the Basic Education Program (BEP).

“I have been very fortunate these past six years to work in the Tennessee Department of Education and be part of Governor Haslam’s successful efforts to improve student achievement in this state,” Smith said. “I am tremendously excited about this new role and the opportunity to work more directly with the governor on a wide range of issues to help Tennessee continue to be recognized as a national leader in education, job creation and fiscal responsibility.”

Smith is a licensed attorney and formerly worked in private practice as well as the nonprofit sector representing clients in both a legal and consulting capacity. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and law degree from the Nashville School of Law.

He and his wife, Christina, live in Williamson County and have three young daughters, Ellery, Adler and Ivey.

Smith will join the governor’s office August 2.

Haslam announced last week that Will Cromer, who has been his chief policy advisor since 2010, will leave the governor’s office in September. TennCare director Dr. Wendy Long has named Cromer deputy director and chief of staff of TennCare.

Transgender Tennessean to keep Democrats timely

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The first transgender person to be named to a Tennessee government board or commission has been named the official podium timekeeper at the Democratic National Convention.

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry appointed Marisa Richmond to the Metro Human Relations Commission in May. Richmond is a Nashville resident, a professor in the history department at Middle Tennessee State University and former president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.

State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said Monday that she was thrilled by Richmond’s selection for the timekeeping role. Mancini said Richmond has been “one of the strongest advocates for the LGBTQ community in Tennessee and across the country for many years.”

The 17-member commission in Nashville oversees the human relations department, which is tasked with resolving discrimination complaints and carrying out educational programs.

News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
Philadelphia, Pa (July 25 2016) — The Chair of the State Democrats (Mary Mancini) comments on the selection of Tennessean, Marisa Richmond, as the official podium timekeeper at the Democratic National Convention.

“I am thrilled that Hillary for America and the DNC have chosen a great leader, advocate and Tennessean to be the official podium timekeeper. Marisa has been one of the strongest advocates for the LGBTQ community in Tennessee and across the country for many years. She is a shining example of what makes Tennessee and the Democratic Party the Party of the people.”

Congressional Gold Medal for Pat Summitt will have to wait

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. says he has ended his campaign to award Pat Summitt the Congressional Gold Medal medal because of a lack of support among fellow congressmen before her death and a law requiring a five-year wait for posthumous honor, reports Michael Collins.

Legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal must be sponsored by two-thirds of Congress — 290 House members, 67 senators. Duncan’s bill to honor Summitt had just 142 co-sponsors — 73 Republicans and 69 Democrats.

Summitt’s death last month further complicated matters: To qualify for the award posthumously, a recipient must be deceased at least five years.

While it won’t be possible to award Summitt with the gold medal right now, Duncan said he intends to see if there are other ways for Congress to honor her life and career.

“She has been honored about every way she can,” he said.

Duncan nominated Summitt for the Congressional Gold Medal back in 2014, just a couple of years after she ended her reign as the head coach of the UT women’s basketball team.