Cooper, Duncan still undecided on Iran nuclear deal

Eight of the 11 members of the Tennessee congressional delegation say they will oppose the Iran nuclear deal when it comes to a vote, reports Michael Collins. Only one member, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, supports it.

Two others — U.S. Reps. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, and Jim Cooper, D-Nashville — are still studying the deal and remain undecided.

Duncan “continues to read as much as he can about the pros and cons of the bill and wants to give it a little more thought and give his constituents more time to contact him before making a decision,” said his spokesman, Patrick Newton.

Duncan is thus the only Tennessee Republican member of Congress not to declare his opposition in advance — in most cases, as with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, via press release. Cooper and Cohen are the only two Democrats in the delegation.

AP story on Trump’s Nashville visit (with links to others)

By Erik Schelzig and Jill Colvin, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Donald Trump will decide soon whether to mount a third party bid if he loses the Republican nomination for president, the real estate mogul said Saturday.

“I think over the next couple of weeks you’re going to see some things that are very interesting,” Trump said after a speech in Nashville to a gathering of tea party activists.

“We’re going to make a decision very soon,” he added, “and I think a lot of people are going to be very happy.”

Trump has so far refused to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, saying his refusal to commit gains him leverage over the party establishment, which has been caught off-guard by his early dominance in the race. He’s also said repeatedly that he’d prefer to run as a Republican as long as the party treats him fairly.

But to appear on the ballot in South Carolina and several other states, he’ll have to pledge to support the eventual nominee.

Trump was in Nashville to court tea party-leaning voters at a conference hosted by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement to take back the Republican Party for the vast and disenfranchised majority of its members.”
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Sunday column: Eyeing the summer’s big city mayoral races

While Knoxville is poised to reelect Mayor Madeline Rogero to a new term with a yawn, voters in Tennessee’s two larger cities have been witnessing a wondrous summer spectacle of political combat between multiple mayoral candidates that has involved some wild spending and strange doings.

Whether this is a cause for celebration or envy in Knoxville, of course, is a matter of opinion. But for political junkie entertainment value, the contests in Nashville and Memphis are darn near on a par with the presidential campaigns on the national level – and the outcome will have ramifications in the rest of the state.

Insofar as general human interest goes, maybe Memphis tops Nashville. Consider that one of the 10 candidates, Leo Awgowhat, was charged last week with vandalizing a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest by painting “Aw Go What” on it – a new type of campaign ad? — and another, perennial contender Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, professes to come from the planet Zambodia.

By most accounts, incumbent Mayor A C Wharton is the favorite – but not by much – and his chief challenger is Jim Strickland, a prominent city councilman. The election is Oct. 9.

Memphis has a majority black electorate and race is often an underlying factor in its elections. Wharton is black and so are most other contenders, including another city councilman, the Memphis Police Association president and a former school board member. Strickland is white.

Insofar as spending goes, Nashville unquestionably tops Memphis. It appears that seven candidates collectively spent about $15 million prior to the Aug. 6 general election, not counting Super PACs that got involved. In Memphis, it appears the collective total so far is around $1 million – mostly by Wharton and Strickland – though more can be expected as the election develops. Rogero had $76,718 in her campaign account at last report.

Nashville does have a runoff, scheduled for Sept. 10. It pits Megan Barry, a city council member, and David Fox, a former school board member and hedge-fund manager in a classic liberal-versus-conservative contest. Under state law, all municipal elections are nonpartisan, but this one has strong partisan overtones – and many think that benefits Barry in Nashville, which is fairly characterized as a blue island surrounded by a red sea comprised of adjoining Middle Tennessee counties.

The biggest spender in the regular election, real estate developer William Freeman, finished third and is out of the picture. He spent about $4.5 million, most of it self-financing.
Fox leads Barry in spending, having pumped more than $1.5 million in personal funds into the pre-runoff race. He also was supported by $500,000 in spending by a Super PAC, which turned out to be totally funded by Fox’s brother, who lives in Connecticut.

Fox has sought to portray Barry, who presided at Nashville’s first gay marriage ceremony, as an extreme social liberal. Barry has sought to portray Barry, who attends Republican fundraisers, as an extreme conservative. Both try to portray themselves as somewhat centrist.

It’s notable that most of the state’s leading Republican politicians, including Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who represents part of Nashville in the Legislature, have declined to take sides – as has the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Last weekend, Fox attended a fundraiser for state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican presidential candidate, was keynote speaker. Johnson endorsed Fox and Barry subsequently declared in a debate that Fox, “left Nashville to get the endorsement of a Republican legislator who is focused on overturning the will of Nashville.” Johnson has indicated he may file legislation to override a Nashville charter amendment that requires hiring of local residents for work on city-financed construction projects.

That got more Nashville media attention, by far, than Walker’s campaign appearance. Johnson told The Nashville Scene that he endorsed because what happens in Nashville, as the state’s capitol, has an impact statewide and he think its important that a “pro-business” mayor be presiding there.

He included outgoing Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Mayor Phil Bredesen, who went on to serve eight years as governor, as examples of pro-business leaders, even though they’re Democrats. Bredesen has endorsed Barry.

The state’s “Big Four” mayors – those from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis – jointly lobby the Legislature each year on issues impacting cities. So there’s some common interest there. They’re also all Democrats now and, with Republicans dominating the statewide scene, the mayors are increasingly viewed as leaders within their party.

Dean and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is not up for reelection until next year, have been mentioned as prospective 2018 gubernatorial candidates. Maybe Rogero should get some attention, too, since she must be a consensus builder to avoid opposition in a city that is not as Democrat-dominated as others in the Big Four.

But then again, she isn’t getting much campaign experience.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for the News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.

Legislators unhappy with UT’s gender neutral pronoun push

Some Republican state legislators are declaring dismay over a push by the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness for use of gender neutral pronouns, such as “ze” instead of “he” or “she.”

Excerpt from a News-Sentinel story:

State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he thought the suggestion was a joke.

“And then I found out it was true, at which point I thought, ‘Are we really paying somebody to come up with this stuff?’ ” he said.

Dunn, a graduate of UT, said he would rather see public money spent on other academic areas such as math or technology. The Pride Center is fiscally supported by the state school.

“I just think that when people pay their taxes, they would rather have it go to a university so that people can learn something,” Dunn said Friday. “Not be brainwashed into some gobbledygook.”

State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, posted on Facebook: “It seems to me the biggest lack of diversity we have at the University of Tennessee is people of common sense. Apparently, this is what happens when the decision is made that no one from Tennessee is smart enough to run our university.”

In a phone interview with the News Sentinel, Niceley said, “Maybe we ought to go back to ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for everybody and that’ll take care of it.”

State Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, wrote on Facebook: “First it was eliminating the Lady Vols. Now this? I doubt if parents spending over $15,000 a year expect this kind of nonsense education from the University of Tennessee. My advice would be find something better and more productive to do.”

Excerpt from a Fox News commentary/story:

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Republican State Sen. Mae Beavers told me. “If you must interview a student before you greet the student, that’s not acceptance – that’s just absurd.”

Beavers represents a “very conservative” district and she said her constituents are enraged over how their tax money is being spent by the university.

“The idea a child would want to be called by a gender neutral term is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “It’s getting so crazy in this country.”

Note: Previous post HERE. The UT Office of Diversity and Inclusiveness website posting on gender neutral pronouns is HERE.

O’Malley campaigns in TN, gets a donation from Bredesen

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley brought his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to Tennessee and noted he got a campaign contribution from former Gov. Phil Bredesen, reports The Tennessean.

“In Tennessee … I think I can compete and win, and compete and win in the general election,” the former Maryland governor said to reporters Thursday night at a Nashville hotel.

…“I think the overarching issue in this race is that 70 percent of us are working harder than we ever have,” he said. “But we aren’t earning anything more than we did 12 years ago and some us are making less.

“That’s not the way the American dream is supposed to work.”

In Tennessee, he’s earned support from at least one notable Tennessean. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen has contributed to his campaign, O’Malley said.

“Right off the bat,” he said.

O’Malley said he is campaigning off of a number of key issues, including debt free college, immigration reform, clean energy, criminal justice reform and the expansion of Social Security.

He’s also campaigned for a decrease in nationwide gun violence, and his Maryland gun safety legislation targeted at combat assault weapons and smaller ammunition clips created plenty of political finger-pointing as to why Beretta USA moved its headquarters to Gallatin.

But Maryland lost the plant due to Tennessee’s corporate incentives, O’Malley said. The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank, has criticized the state for corporate handouts.

“Beretta was one of those, with the NRA, that lobbied hard against (the legislation),” he said. “It was their choice to take the very generous corporate welfare being offered in Tennessee.

“If I had to do it over again, I would do same thing.”

Holt laughs off Democrat’s call for resignation

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini on Friday called on Republican state Rep. Andy Holt to resign over alleged environmental violations at his northwestern Tennessee hog farm.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking up to $177,500 in fines against Holt for discharging a total of more than 860,000 gallons of waste water from lagoons on the farm without the proper permits.

“This kind of blatant disregard for the rules disqualify him for being an effective legislator and he needs to step aside so that his constituents can have an effective and accountable voice at the Capitol,” Mancini said. (Note: The full statement is posted HERE.)

In a telephone interview, Holt laughed off Mancini’s suggestion, saying that he plans to keep his seat in the Legislature and remain an outspoken critic of the EPA and President Barack Obama.

“I imagine they would like me to quit,” said Holt, dismissing the Mancini’s press release as “propaganda.”
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Haslam heads to Israel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is headed on a trade mission to Israel on Saturday.

The Republican governor will be joined by five state economic development officials and 18 representatives from research institutions and the private sector in Tennessee.

State Department of Economic and Community Development spokesman Clint Brewer said the trip is aimed at fostering relationships between entrepreneurs and researchers in Tennessee and Israel. A major focus will be on the biomedical and high tech fields.

Brewer called Israel a “natural fit” for the governor’s trip because the country attracts most venture capital investment per capita in the world. The governor returns to Tennessee on Thursday.

Haslam’s most recent foreign trade mission was a weeklong trade trip to Japan and South Korea in June 2014.

Alexander voting no on Iran nuke deal

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said today he will vote against the Iran nuclear deal, contending that it would not stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon and could even touch off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Further from Michael Collins:

The accord “does not sufficiently restrict Iran’s nuclear program and makes no effort to put a brake on its other conduct as the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” the Maryville Republican said in a statement.

“The agreement puts some limits on Iran’s nuclear program, but it also legitimizes it, thereby encouraging a nuclear arms race in the most unstable area of the world,” Alexander said. “The agreement takes the pressure off Iran at a time when pressure is likely to succeed.”

Alexander said he believes the United States should negotiate with Iran, “but should do so from a position of strength, as we did with the Soviet Union.”

“Disapproval of this deal would help make clear that Congress is willing to confront Iran’s non-nuclear illegal and inhumane activities,” he said.

Congress is in the middle of a 60-day review of the agreement, which was announced July 14 after two years of negotiations involving the United States and five other Western powers.

…Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, also has said he would oppose the accord. Corker, whose committee has held a series of hearings on the agreement, has raised concerns that the deal will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would allow Iran to “industrialize” its nuclear program over time.

UT diversity office urges ‘ze’ as option to ‘he’ or ‘she’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — University of Tennessee students have been asked to use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze.”

The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion is asking students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus, multiple media outlets report.

“Transgender people and people who do not identify within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth,” the University of Tennessee’s Pride Center Director, Donna Braquet, wrote on the university’s website Wednesday. (Note: The Diversity Office website is HERE).

Braquet requested that teachers, rather than calling roll, will instead ask each student to provide the name and pronoun he or she — or ze — wishes to be referred by. She says it relieves a burden for people expressing different genders or identities.

“The name a student uses may not be the one on the official roster, and the roster name may not be the same gender as the one the student now uses,” Braquet wrote.

University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said there is no mandate or official policy to use the language.

“The information provided in the newsletter was offered as a resource for our campus community on inclusive practices,” Simsen said.

Braquet said if students and faculty cannot use pronouns such as ze, hir, hirs, xe, xem or xyr, they can also politely ask.

“‘Oh, nice to meet you … What pronouns should I use?’ is a perfectly fine question to ask,” Braquet said.

EPA seeks $177K in pollution penalties from Rep. Andy Holt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state lawmaker is facing up to $177,500 in fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for discharging waste from his northwestern Tennessee hog farm without a permit.

WTVF-TV in Nashville ( ) first reported Thursday that the EPA has filed the complaint against state Rep. Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. According to the filing, Holt’s farm discharged a total of more than 860,000 gallons from lagoons on the farm raising nearly 1,500 swine without proper authorization.

Holt, who has been a vocal critic of the EPA, told WTVF that he “loves a good fight,” but that he has also been in discussions about a settlement. He said he self-reported the discharges to the state after heavy rainfall had caused the lagoons to overflow.

State records have showed that Holt ran his farm without a permit for nearly three years when he was finally ordered to turn in required permitting paperwork in 2012. While Holt submitted incomplete papers in 2012 and 2013, the state let him keep operating.

Holt said he ceased operations on his hog farm around December 2014.
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