Haslam, Harwell, Ramsey plan joint ‘Education Summit’

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell today to announce that key stakeholders of K-12 education from across the state will come together in Nashville on Thursday, September 18 for Tennessee’s Education Summit: Progress of the Past, Present and Future.

“There is nothing more important to the future of our state than getting education right,” Haslam said. “We are making historic progress in Tennessee, and as part of that progress there has been a lot of change and discussion. This is a chance to review where we’ve been, take a look at where we are today, and make sure we’re planning for where we want to go.”

“The progress our state has made in education over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable. As the cause of reform continues, it is important to take stock and reflect on our past successes with an eye towards mapping our future progress,” Ramsey said. “It is now more important than ever to ensure we provide our students with a strong, world-class education rooted in Tennessee values. I look forward to this opportunity to listen, learn and discuss how Tennessee can build on its historic gains in education.”

“We need to ensure that Tennessee students are getting the very best education possible, so that they can compete on the global stage,” Harwell said. “One of the most important things we can do as policymakers is facilitate discussions with those stakeholders who are working with our children every day, and determine what progress we have made, and where we can do better. We have made significant progress, but there is more that can be done.”

Participants of the meeting will be educators, administrators, elected officials, business leaders, higher education officials and representatives from advocacy groups including the following:

Achievement School District
Drive to 55 Alliance
Professional Educators of Tennessee
State Collaborative on Reforming Education
Superintendent Study Council
Teach Plus
Tennessee Association for Administrators in Special Education
Tennessee Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Tennessee Board of Regents
Tennessee Business Roundtable
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Tennessee Charter School Center
Tennessee County Services Association
Tennessee Department of Education
Tennessee Education Association
Tennessee Higher Education Commission
Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association
Tennessee Municipal League
Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents
Tennessee Parent-Teacher Association
Tennessee Principals Association
Tennessee School Boards Association
Tennessee State Board of Education
University of Tennessee

Four senators appointed by Ramsey and five House members appointed by Harwell will also participate in the summit.

Harwell’s House appointees: Reps. John Forgety (R-Athens); Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg); Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma); Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet); oe Pitts (D-Clarksville).

This post will be updated with Ramsey appointees when they are named.

Supremes set plan for public portion of AG selection process

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. ­– The Tennessee Supreme Court will conduct public hearings and interviews Sept. 8, 2014 of the eight applicants for Attorney General and Reporter.

The meetings will be held in Nashville at Legislative Plaza, Room HR16, 301 6th Ave N, Nashville, 37243 starting at 9 a.m. CDT. Each candidate is required to speak on his own behalf for no longer than 10 minutes. Candidates may have others speak on their behalf, but the total time for each candidate and speakers cannot exceed 10 minutes. Candidates are not required to have someone speak on their behalf.

The hearing also will include the opportunity for any member of the public to express their opinions about the applicants.
The public hearing will be followed by public interviews of each of the candidates by the members of the Court. Each interview is expected to last approximately 15 minutes. The Court will conduct such additional proceedings as it deems necessary on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

The candidates for Attorney General are:

Eugene N. Bulso, Jr., Brentwood
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Nashville
Mark A. Fulks, Johnson City
William N. Helou, Nashville
James Douglas Overbey, Maryville
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Nashville
Andrew R. Tillman, Huntsville
William E. Young, Brentwood

Record big bucks reported pouring into state-office races nationwide

Money is pouring into statehouse elections this year at a potentially record-breaking rate, as the stakes for political control in the 50 capitals continue to rise, reports Stateline (an arm of Pew Charitable Trusts).

Campaign contributions for state races this election cycle likely will surpass a record $2.1 billion collected by candidates, legislative caucuses and state political committees in the last two-year election cycle of 2011-2012, said Edwin Bender, executive director of the dollar-tracking National Institute on Money in State Politics.

That record amount doesn’t include another $1 billion raised for campaigns on state ballot questions. Nor does it reflect uncounted millions spent by some outside organizations seeking to influence the outcome of elections.

The eye-popping total reflects growing recognition of the powerful role states play in regulating and taxing industries, from energy to insurance to gambling. It also reflects the fact that a wide array of hot-button issues, such as educational standards, the Affordable Care Act, immigration, gay rights and gun control, are being shaped and implemented in the states because of political gridlock in Washington.

States increasingly have exercised their traditional powers to be involved in nearly every social and economic issue, and inaction by Congress has made it the states’ business to carry out national policies, said Thad Kousser, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego.

“The stakes are higher and ever higher with the issues in statehouses,” said Kousser. “Insurance, environmental, the Affordable Care Act – statehouses have a huge amount of power over each of these. The education wars – that’s also a state decision.”

Paul Brace, professor of political science at Rice University, said there is “more power and influence on policy at the state level than 30 years ago.” Campaign contributions give donors access to lawmakers, he said, and access carries the ability to possibly influence decisions.

…The prospect of greater independent expenditure is sending chills through many statehouses and helping to spur an arms race for money.

Note: Tennessee isn’t mentioned in this piece, but a personal guesstimate is that our state has already achieved record spending in primary elections for state legislative seats, though it’ll be mid-October before the final reports are in – and some of the outside interest groups won’t have reports.

The Stateline report also goes into the spending elsewhere on races for attorney general. Here, of course, the AG electorate is confined to the five members of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Election of a Secretary of State, also a big spending item in some states, is in Tennessee left to an electorate of 132 people – the 33 state senators and 99 state representatives.

Along those lines, further from the Stateline article:
Not long ago, races for attorney general and secretary of state were low-cost, low-key affairs. That’s changed, too, as the financial and political stakes have risen.

To explain why attorneys general races are now big-dollar affairs, political scientist Kousser pointed to the $200 billion-plus settlement the tobacco industry agreed to in 1998 after actions by attorneys general in 40 states.

Attorneys general have broad jurisdiction on anti-trust, fraud and charities and with it, law-enforcement authority in most states and wide authority to sue, said James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School.

Millions of dollars often are involved when attorneys general sue over fraudulent activity or unlawful business practices. Tierney, a former Maine attorney general, said that gives many contributors financial incentive to make political donations to help elect or defeat candidates. “It’s not left or right (politics),” he said. “It’s business.”

To explain why secretaries of state races attract big money, Kousser said, one need only look at the 2000 presidential election, when Florida’s secretary of state, Katherine Harris, certified Republican George W. Bush the winner of that state’s deciding electoral votes.

More on mass escape from state detention center

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Thirty-two teens “overwhelmed” their minders and escaped from a juvenile detention center by crawling under a weak spot in a fence, a state government spokesman said. Hours later Tuesday, eight were still on the run.

Police caught up with some walking along roads or coming out of the woods. Some turned themselves in. And some were swiftly delivered back to the detention center by their own families, concerned about what other trouble they might face on the outside.

“He broke loose, he was gone, but he’s back now,” said LaWanda Knowles, whose nephew joined the escape. “I just want to know that he’s here safely and he’s OK — I don’t want the police jumping on him, nobody beating on him or nothing.”

The teens — ages 14 to 19 — left their rooms at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center at about 11 p.m. Monday night and “overwhelmed” the staff in a common area, said Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson.

“Staffing was lighter during the overnight hours, so presumably they had planned for that,” Johnson said.

The group then kicked out a metal panel under a window to get into a yard, and ran for a chain-link fence. The fence is buried 8 inches deep into the ground, but the teens managed to pull up a weak portion and slip out underneath it.
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MS tax-free ‘Sportsman’s holiday’ being advertised in TN

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — If you’re a sportsman, this weekend is your holiday.

Mississippi’s inaugural tax-free holiday will begin Friday. It runs through Sunday.

The Legislature passed a law creating an annual tax-free weekend in September. The law went into effect on July 1. The holiday will be held annually on the first Friday of each September until midnight on the following Sunday.

Individual sales of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, rifle scopes and certain hunting supplies will be exempt from taxes during the state’s inaugural tax holiday. Mississippi has a 7 percent sales tax.

Louisiana’s sportsman tax-free holiday is also this weekend.

“We’re very excited about this weekend,” said Tom Oaks, owner of Lonnie’s Sporting Goods in Corinth. “It’s going to be a great thing for both our customers and us.”

While a large turn-out is projected for the weekend, Oaks believes it would have been even more popular had it not been for the exclusions.

“I do think it’ll be big, but it could have been even bigger. Louisiana is in their fourth year of doing this and everything is included. Sportswear, hunting boots and other types of gear are excluded from ours.

“While I am definitely looking forward to it, it is not what it should have been,” Oaks said.

Oaks said he has advertised in Tennessee in hopes that more shoppers will be enticed to visit Lonnie’s and take advantage of the special opportunity.

“I’m thinking it’s gonna be crazy; it’s gonna be like Christmas time,” said Corey Campbell, manager of Scruggs Sporting Goods in Tupelo.

“Expecting a lot more bigger crowds,” Campbell said. “In the last week or two people have been in shopping, seeing what we had.”

While firearms are always a popular sell, retailers say ammunition will be their most popular item.

“Ammunition is gonna be a big one,” Alabama resident Calvin Kluesner said. “I suspect the closer we get to hunting season it will be like it has been the last few years. We won’t have any ammunition; it will be brought out pretty quick.”

A tax free weekend could make ammo much more affordable even for out-of-state people like Kluesner.

“Ammunition, scents, anything with hunting you know things that hunters are gonna start looking for pretty quick,” Kluesner said. “With the hunter tax free weekend I couldn’t think of another opportunity for hunters to get out and get those items that they are gonna need for hunting season.”

32 teens escape state juvenile detention center; many still on the run

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Thirty-two teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center by crawling through a weak spot in a fence late Monday, and more than half of them were still on the run Tuesday, a spokesman said.

The teens — ages 14 to 19 — went out into a yard at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center all at once, shortly after a shift change, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spokesman Rob Johnson said. They escaped through the fence surrounding the yard about 11 p.m., Johnson said, but it wasn’t clear whether that was spontaneous or a planned move.

Two teens were captured immediately and 13 others were found overnight, Johnson said. Local police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were searching for the 17 others.

The state-owned center in northwest Nashville held 78 teens at the time of the escape, and most had committed at least three felonies, Johnson said. The center has a school, offers vocational training and career counseling, and works to move teens to less restrictive settings, according to a state website.

The detention center was calm and back under control Tuesday morning, Johnson said. Police cars were on the scene, but there was little activity at the center or its neighbors — a women’s prison, several offices for trucking companies and other businesses.

On the western edge of the facility, the spot where the teens escaped, the closest neighbors are a frozen pizza plant and a liquor distributor.

Legislator, bar association eye adding new qualifications for becoming a judge

House State Government Committee Chairman Ryan Haynes and the Knoxville Bar Association plan to look into whether legislation or a constitutional amendment would be needed to increase qualifications for judges beyond having a law license, reports Georgiana Vines.

This follows Republican Clarence Eddie Pridemore’s upset victor over Democrat incumbent Daryl Fansler for Knox County chancellor in the Aug. 7 election. Pridemore has three years experience as a lawyer, mostly handling cases out of Knox County; Fansler was chancellor 16 years.

Pridemore, who had not practiced in Knox County Chancery Court, joined other new judges in taking his oath of office Friday at a ceremony sponsored by the Knoxville Bar Association at the state Supreme Court Building downtown.

Under election law procedures provided by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office, the most common qualification for judicial candidates is to certify on a nomination petition that he or she is a licensed attorney and place his or her Supreme Court registration/Board of Professional Responsibility number on the petition. That is a statutory requirement, said Gary Wade, a Tennessee Supreme Court justice…

The state Constitution requires a judge to be 30 years age and have five years of residency in the state and one year in the judicial district or county.

Wade Davies, KBA president, said taking a look at other judicial requirements “would require a statewide study. It probably would require a constitutional amendment. I really don’t know.”

…Haynes, a Knoxville Republican representing the 14th District, said he still needs to consult legal staff in Nashville, but he intends to introduce requirements for judges that they have “a certain number of years with an active law license.”

In general, Haynes said he is against requirements for elected officials, but certain positions in government already have minimum requirements, such as sheriff.

“It is important we have the most qualified people serving on our bench,” he said. “The breadth of the law is so vast that you have to have some kind of minimum requirements.”

He is a student at Nashville School of Law.

Haynes discussed the situation in response to News Sentinel questions, making it clear, “I am not speaking for or against anybody elected.”

On Nashville’s three competitive state House races (highlighting Jernigan-Gotto rematch)

According to The Tennessean, a rematch in House District 60 is “probably the most intriguing” among the handful of Nashville area races for the state Legislature that are somewhat competitive in the developing fall campaigns.

It’s a 53 percent Republican district winding through Donelson, Hermitage and Old Hickory, said state Rep. Darren Jernigan, the Democrat who won the seat in 2012 by just 95 votes out of more than 24,500 ballots cast.

Jernigan beat state Rep. Jim Gotto, the Republican who had been elected in 2010. But now Gotto, who says the district is about 50-50 politically, is hoping to stage a comeback — and counting on voters to decide Jernigan has been too liberal for the area.

“I think the people of my district deserve fiscally conservative leadership,” said Gotto, a former Metro councilman from Hermitage. “I bring a lot of experience in both the political world and the private sector.”

But Jernigan, a former councilman himself from Old Hickory, believes his attention to constituent service over the past two years has won the loyalty of enough Republican voters to hold back Gotto’s challenge.

“I feel confident that I have a lot of the Republican moderate voters that want to see common sense at the legislature,” he said. “Our message is common sense and stability and representation.”

Jernigan said he would focus on turning people out for early voting, which he won by 353 votes in 2012, enough to offset an election-day deficit. Early voting starts Oct. 15.

…Another battle could come in House District 50, which arcs from Bellevue in southwestern Davidson County all the way to Goodlettsville.

State Rep. Bo Mitchell, the Democrat who won the seat in 2012, faces Republican Troy Brewer, a certified public accountant who has kept the books for numerous GOP campaigns. Mitchell, who also has represented part of Bellevue in the Metro Council since 2007, said he’s already started knocking on voters’ doors. Mail and television commercials will come later.

As the incumbent representing the district — or part of it — at two levels of government, Mitchell also has a built-in advantage.

“I’m going to do the same thing I’ve always done: constituent service,” he said. “If you do the job and you do the job well, voters show over and over again that they appreciate that.”

Brewer, who said he spent much of the summer knocking on doors, plans to keep doing that while eventually adding mail and TV ads to get out his message. He said he’s lived in Bellevue since he was a young child in the 1960s, and he believes his connections will help.

“People know me,” he said.

Another first-term Nashville Democrat who faces opposition is state Rep. Jason Powell, whose District 53 covers a long swath of South Nashville. His opponent is Republican John Wang, a first-generation Chinese-American who runs Music City Insurance & Finance and Tennessee Chinese News, according to his campaign website.

AP’s 5 things to know about TN election (that you probably already knew)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Five things to know about the Nov. 4 general election and other ballot issues in Tennessee:

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is strongly favored to win re-election in November. In the August primary, Alexander fended off a tea party challenge by state Rep. Joe Carr. Carr had high-profile endorsements from tea party-allied figures, but he could not overcome Alexander’s fundraising advantage and 40 years in Tennessee politics. The 74-year-old Alexander, who has served two terms as the state’s governor and two terms in the Senate, will face Democratic candidate and attorney Gordon Ball in the general election.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who faced only nominal primary opposition, will likely coast to a second term. His Democratic opponent is a 72-year-old hunter named Charlie Brown, who did manage to win the Democratic primary for governor by more than 35,000 votes. Following his victory, Brown told The Tennessean newspaper: “I’m a redneck hillbilly, and I want to put this state first. I want to put Tennessee up front.”

After years of debate, state lawmakers passed a law this year that allows wine to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change. Only communities that currently allow package stores or liquor by the drink are eligible to hold votes as long as at least 10 percent of voters in the community sign petitions. Currently in Tennessee, wine can be sold only in liquor stores.

A proposed constitutional amendment would give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state. Abortion rights supporters strongly oppose the measure, saying it would allow the Legislature to put in place new laws regulating abortion even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother.

Another proposed constitutional amendment would give the Legislature the power to approve or reject the governor’s appointments to appeals courts. The proposal would keep the replace-retain elections for appeals judges and Supreme Court justices to serve a full eight-year term.

Tea party people take heart in Carr’s showing against Alexander

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the elder statesman of Tennessee politics, a primary challenge by a little-known tea party opponent was supposed to be little more than a glorified victory lap around the state.

Instead, the former governor and two-time presidential candidate had to crank up the campaign machinery in the closing weeks of the Republican primary to fend off state Rep. Joe Carr.

And while Alexander ultimately won, it was by just 9 percentage points — a far smaller margin than his campaign and most political observers had expected. The result is giving hope to tea party supporters they could be poised to break the moderate wing of the state Republican Party’s decades-long grip on statewide races.

“It is another step in the maturation of the tea party movement,” said Ben Cunningham, the president of the Nashville Tea Party. “After the disappointment of losing, I wouldn’t call it a euphoria, but lots of confidence about the possibilities for the future.”

Cunningham said the results reflected greater coordination between disparate tea party groups, giving activists valuable on-the-ground experience in trying to support a statewide effort.

“A lot was learned just in terms of the nuts and bolts of elections,” he said. “That will certainly help going forward.”
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