House District 14 voting records compared

Georgiana Vines reviews voting records of Karen Carson and Jason Zachary, the two candidates vying to succeed former state Rep. Ryan Haynes in a House District 14 special election.

Zachary, 38, a congressional candidate in 2014, has voted in five GOP primaries with the Knox County Election Commission since 1996, and Carson, 58, has voted in 16 Republican primaries and two Democratic primaries since 1992. Prior to being elected to the school board, she voted in most elections, although not every primary.

When Carson first ran for the school board in 2004, that nonpartisan race, county primary and presidential preference primary were held on Feb. 10. Carson won nearly two-thirds of the vote against incumbent Brian Hornback. She voted in the Democratic presidential primary, although she doesn’t remember the candidate, she said Friday.

“George Bush was going to be the Republican. There were some pretty scary Democrats running,” she said.

John Kerry eventually became the Democrats’ choice.

The other Democratic vote was for a state primary and county general election on Aug. 1, 1996. Again, she said she couldn’t remember whom she supported.

Otherwise, Carson has consistently voted in Republican county, state and federal elections, nonpartisan school board races and general elections.

Zachary has consistently voted in presidential elections since 1996 and state general elections since 2006. He began voting in a county primary or school board race in 2008 and voted in all three elections held in 2014.

Zachary said he has had “more of an engagement” the past few years in trying to understand the political process.

“I became aware of how important primaries are, especially in East Tennessee,” he said.

n related developments, the Tennessee Right to Life Political Action Committee has endorsed Zachary after both candidates completed questionnaires and were interviewed, said Brian Harris, the group’s president.

Neither candidate is being endorsed by a small business organization. Jim Brown, Tennessee state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said both candidates did well on a questionnaire, and the group’s PAC decided not to get involved in this race.

Today’s prison problem reporting: Administration defends overtime policy

In Saturday reporting on Tennessee prison problems, The Tennessean quotes Mark Cate, who stepped down Friday as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff, defending the Department of Correction’s overtime policy and declaring there is “absolutely not’ a plan for total privatization of the state prison system.

The Times-Free Press, meanwhile, reports that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says a Senate subcommittee will soon be investigating prison staffing shortages. House Speaker Beth Harwell had announced earlier in the week that a House committee will hold a hearing Aug. 10.

From The Tennessean:

Cate argued there is a misconception that problems reported at Tennessee prions are directly related to a change in how correctional officers are scheduled to work, and in turn are paid. Last year the state shifted from a 40-hour work week to a 28-day schedule, in an effort to cut down on overtime costs.

However, correctional officers have told The Tennessean the shift greatly cut staff pay, leading to a significant number of resignations. With fewer people working, officers have few options but to work double shifts. The longer hours and less staff create a more dangerous environment at the prisons, officers have argued.

“There’s no question that the 28-day work schedule was a way for us to manage overtime better than we were in the past,” said Cate, adding he believes the state found evidence of abuse of overtime around the state.

There’s no correlation between the 28-day work schedule change and the employee shortages or reported increase in violence at prisons, Cate said. Instead, Cate argued other employers in the areas of certain prisons are drawing employees away from their jobs, and pointed to state data that shows attacks on correctional officers are on the decline.

From the TFP:

“Recent reports of problems at the Department of Correction are troubling to say the least,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, said in a statement. “Correction officers are committed public servants with tough and dangerous jobs. We must do all we can to ensure they are protected while at work.”

…Ramsey reappointed members to the Senate State and Local Government Committee Correction Subcommittee. Chairman Ken Yager and I have been in close contact on this issue and I expect his corrections subcommittee to meet very soon,” Ramsey said.

…he department has also acknowledged 322 correctional officers have quit since last August, although officials say the department historically has had high turnover rates.

And Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t putting all blame on the policy, either. And, in fact, incidents of violence are down, according to Haslam spokeswoman Laura Herzog.

“While we do have some employee vacancies, they are not across the board at all of our prisons,” Herzog said in an email. “We are drilling down to find the root cause and wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it is because of the 28-day schedule. The improving economy is a part of the story.”

Other law enforcement agencies use the 28-day schedule, and the state always maintains mandatory staffing leaves, Herzog said.

She added the “data shows that there has been a decrease this year of 28 percent in violent incidents compared to last year.”

Some guards and lawmakers question the statistic.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said guards at the West Tennessee Penitentiary located in his district tell him the department changed how it classifies assaults on guards.

Schofield disputed the assertion in December in a Times Free Press interview and continues to maintain that isn’t the case.

Norris vs Harris rhetoric war: ‘Muddled thinking’ vs ‘No one is leading’

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris recently had a press release war of words over a report saying that Tennessee ranks 36th among states in caring for children. (Note: Both releases posted HERE.) Now they’ve continued it in the Commercial Appeal.

Briefly, Norris began with a press release declaring dissatisfaction with Tennessee’s No. 36 ranking and calling for action to improve child well-being in the state. Harris followed with a news release noting Republicans killed Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee program, which he says would have improved health care for thousands of children.

So, Norris then sent the CA an email decrying “the theatrics and muddled thinking evidenced by Senator Harris’ press release.” An excerpt:

We actually increased funding for health and education in this year’s budget which I sponsor, but Senator Harris voted against it. In fact, he voted against any and all funding for health and education this year!

What have the Democrats done?

I organized a Nutrition Caucus which helped provide food for thousands of Tennesseans, but I don’t recall seeing him at any of our food packaging events. The budget I passed this year actually provided additional funding for food banks everywhere across the state (and community health clinics by the way), but Senator Harris voted against it, too.

With a record like that, and press releases like his, the Democratic Leader demonstrates that it is he who can’t be taken too seriously.

And Harris responded to that:

Luckily I’m not as sensitive as some politicians. Look, the record speaks for itself. Republicans are in charge and in too many categories we’re not doing well. There are too few good ideas coming from the other side and too much fear of voting on tough issues, like Insure Tennessee.

I’m sympathetic a little. I think I understand why few in their party wanted to carry the legislation and why they wanted to avoid a vote on giving insurance to working Tennesseans, veterans, and those with lower-incomes. The extremists dominate their party and there is a widespread fear of taking tough votes. The nail that sticks out will quickly get hammered back in by the far right-wingers. No one is leading.

Head of TN child nutrition program quits after reports of questionable spending

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The director of an $80 million food program for impoverished children has resigned following a story in The Tennessean reporting at least $1.8 million in questionable spending last year by contractors.

Carmen Gentry tells the newspaper (http://tnne.ws/1MXpHIm ) she was threatened with demotion or worse after the story revealed problems that she blames on Tennessee Department of Human Services leadership.

After her resignation, Gentry sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services outlining her concerns. Chief among them is that Tennessee’s program that subcontracts with hundreds of agencies to feed 180,000 children during the school year and 42,000 children during the summer is mostly paper-based. She also complained that there is not enough staff to effectively administer the program and the staff lacks training.

DHS spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin disputed Gentry’s claims. She said the department recently made applications available online and is exploring other upgrades.

With regard to staff, she said in an email, “There are over 40 positions dedicated to working on the food programs in the Department. These positions are program staff, finance and administration staff, external program review staff and internal audit staff.”

She also listed several trainings that Gentry and her staff have attended.

Food and Nutrition Services acknowledged they have received Gentry’s letter and say it is under review.

Problems with the Tennessee program were uncovered by the state Comptroller’s office during an audit of the Child and Adult Care Food Program as well as a summer food program for children. In operating the programs in Tennessee, DHS distributes federal dollars to contractors providing snacks and meals to day care centers, mobile lunch buses, emergency shelters and recreational programs.

The audit found millions in questionable expenditures from the contractors. It concluded “DHS management had not ensured that critical controls and effective practices were in place and operating as needed,” and a lack of oversight “threatens the integrity of the programs.”

Oversight of the program has been a problem not just in Tennessee, but across the country, stretching back decades. In 1999, the federal General Accounting Office found that opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse were woven into the design of the program.

Lee Harris: ‘Guns in parks’ may close festivals, concerts in TN cities

News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Joined by gun safety advocates and a former chief of police, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris talked about the danger to Tennessee concert goers posed by an attorney general’s ruling forcing private entities to allow guns at concerts.

“If this is allowed to stand, some of these major festivals may decide to end or move out of public parks,” Sen. Harris said. “A few reasonable people may avoid going just to avoid risk. Given the economic impact of these festivals, we have to do something so that people can feel safe at major festivals and concerts. We need legislation that makes clear that organizers can ban guns at these events when they believe there is a security risk.”

Junaid Odubeko, a Nashville attorney who served in the Bredesen administration and provides legal counsel to the Senate Democrats, said the ruling will stop city and county governments from banning guns in their parks, including at major festivals, even if these governments contract with private, third-party entities to operate the parks.

“The AG has opined that the legislature’s actions here are clear and unambiguous,” Odubeko said. “The legislature wanted to take away the ability of local governments to keep people from carrying guns in parks. From my review of the law, I would say that the AG correctly interpreted the legislative intent of the new law.”

There have been at least 20 accidental shootings in Tennessee so far this year, according to Beth Joslin Roth, policy director for the Safe Tennessee Project.

“The frequency of these kinds of incidents is alarming,” Roth said. “What’s even more alarming is the possibility of these kinds of accidental shootings happening in extremely crowded situations such as an outdoor concert venue or festival. Unlike those who describe accidental shootings as ‘acts of God,’ we believe that they are 100 percent preventable.”

Retired Memphis Chief of Police James Bolden spoke from his experience in law enforcement on the danger guns can pose in large crowds where alcohol is consumed.

“At the Memphis in May festival, at any given time we could have 75,000 citizens cramped into a small space,” Bolden said. “Even if you took a small percentage and allowed them to bring firearms, we’re setting ourselves up for a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Police won’t know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and would have to make a snap decision.”

Sen. Harris will host a roundtable in Nashville with gun safety advocates to continue the discussion, tentatively set for Aug. 13.

Note: Reporting on the release and Harris’ news conference Friday includes: News sentinel/Commercial Appeal HERE; Times-Free Press HERE. Both quote a former Memphis police director as seeing a “potential disaster” and note regional events that could be impacted.

Previous post HERE, including link to the AG opinion HERE.

TN Right to Life backs Zachary in House District 14 special election

News release from Tennessee Right to Life
NASHVILLE, JULY 30, 2015: The state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization has announced its official endorsement of Jason Zachary for the special election in the 14th district state House seat.

“With the election of Mr. Zachary, voters in this district have an opportunity to send another committed pro-life voice to the Tennessee state House,” said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life. “Jason has demonstrated an understanding of pro-life goals and a desire to work with Tennessee Right to Life toward achieving them.”

In addition to an impressive interview with members of the Tennessee Right to Life Political Action Committee, Zachary returned a 100% candidate survey and is an active supporter of adoption as a life-affirming means of protecting children and building families.

“We are confident not only that Jason Zachary’s vote will always be in support of protecting the unborn but that he will be a demonstrated leader in promoting life,” said Harris. “Tennessee Right to Life urges concerned pro-life supporters to work and vote for Zachary’s election on August 12.”

Note: Zachary is opposed by Knox County School Board member Karen Carson in the Republican primary to succeed former Rep. Ryan Haynes.

Record spending in Nashville mayor’s race; Freeman hits $4.5M

Bill Freeman’s campaign spending in Nashville’s mayoral race has now topped $4.5 million, reports The Tennessean. That’s apparently the most ever by a Nashville mayoral candidate ahead of the August general election.

Freeman’s campaign spent $1,863,829 between July 1 and July 27, easily the most among the seven current candidates during that time, according to pre-general election financial disclosures submitted to the Davidson County Election Commission on Thursday.

The wealthy real estate executive also loaned his campaign another $995,000 this month, meaning he has now given his campaign $3,650,000 in personal resources since he entered the race in January.

Freeman also raised $158,358 from individual donors this month and has now raised the most through contributions of any candidate. In the most recent fundraising period, he beat out Megan Barry, who raised the second most from individual donors, $145,407. Excluding personal loans from candidates, other candidates raised the following from individual contributions this month:

Linda Eskind Rebrovick, $65,239
David Fox, $62,905
Charles Robert Bone, $57,732
Howard Gentry, $53,253
Jeremy Kane, $30,100

Other candidates, in addition to Freeman, gave their campaigns personal loans this reporting period. Bone pumped another $365,000 into his campaign, meaning he’s now contributed $1.29 million in personal money to his campaign. Fox gave his campaign another $165,000, bringing his self-funding up to $1.57 million. And Rebrovick loaned her campaign another $50,000, meaning she’s now loaned her campaign $1.3 million

TDOC revises new rules on overtime for guards

Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield is rolling back some of the new overtime rules that resulted in severe manpower shortages of correctional officers, according to The Tennessean.

Beginning Saturday, the state employees will be paid overtime once they’ve worked 160 hours on a 28-day schedule. Previously, they had to work 171 hours to qualify for the premium wages. In a letter announcing the change, Schofield said he also would assess the overtime budget before Jan. 1 and “make a determination of how we proceed.”

The changes come after an investigation by The Tennessean that revealed Schofield had expanded executive positions at higher salaries within the agency then switched correctional officers from a traditional 40-hour workweek to save $1.4 million a year in overtime costs. The change resulted in officers quitting and those who remained having to work double shifts. Several officers have told The Tennessean they fear the manpower shortage will turn a dangerous job deadly. Family members of prisoners also have told The Tennessean they are concerned about the safety of their loved ones.

“Recently, we have had a series of articles, news reports, social media messages, etc., that have not displayed the efforts of this agency in a kind light,” the letter stated. “Although I know that it is not easy to see these kinds of stories about your organization, I want you to know that we do good work, and I encourage you to stay positive and focused on our mission.”

Note: SChofield’s referenced letter to staff is available by clicking on this link: TDOCstaff

Engagement in Iran deal a ‘tar baby’ for Corker on the TN political front?

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has put himself at the center of the decision on the failure or success of the Iran nuclear deal in a way that, columnist Frank Cagle says. indicates he is either very brave or very foolish — or both.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it was Corker’s bill that required the Iran deal to come back to Congress for a vote. He was roundly criticized by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration for interfering. Kerry was also upset when Corker told him he had been “fleeced” by the Iranians.

But Corker is now being blasted by conservatives as being a tool for President Barack Obama. He is regularly lambasted by conservative talk show hosts like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.

(Basically, the Democratic administration is unhappy with Corker for his current criticism of the deal – as in telling John Kerry he was “fleeced” – while right-wing Republicans fault him for sponsoring legislation that makes it much easier for the Iran deal to clear the Senate.)

My point is that it may be a very long time before the outcome of the Iran deal will become clear. In the meantime, how is Corker’s role in all this playing back in Tennessee?

When you add the Iran deal baggage to Corker’s earlier suggestion of a double-digit increase in the gas tax, you have the makings of a very tough primary challenge in 2018. A little-known state House member gave U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander fits in his primary last year. If you go out in the countryside you will find that Corker is not nearly as popular as during his 2012 re-election romp.

Corker is to be commended for his profile in courage taking on this issue. But he may come to regret wrapping his arms around this tar baby.

DCS official fired after being charged with assault

Warren Crook, an employee of the Department of Children’s Services, has been terminated from his position after being charged with four counts of aggravated assault, reports the Jackson Sun. The charges stem from Crook firing a shotgun during a confrontation involving teenagers near his Lexington home.

Crook, 54, served as an administrative services manager for the department (in Madison County). According to Rob Johnson, Crook’s job was mostly “desk driven,” and he had no contact with children in his job.

According to the termination letter obtained by The Jackson Sun, Crook’s last day was July 24. It is required by law that DCS give a 10 day paid notice, but Crook is not permitted to work during those 10 days.

“As a result of your inappropriate personal conduct which directly affects your position, duties and responsibilities, the department has experienced negative media coverage and undue concern from our community partners and the general public,” the letter says.