Monthly Archives: March 2009

Coal Miners May Move Mountains for Another Year

The idea of prohibiting so-called “mountaintop removal” coal mining in Tennessee was quietly sidelined for at least another year or so on Tuesday by a diplomatic state Rep. Bill Dunn, the environmentally-conscious and God-fearing Republican who sponsored the bill this year.
Officially, Dunn took the bill “off notice” and declared that proponents will wait to see what happens with legislation proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration to ban coal mining within 100 feet of a stream. That, he said, accomplished half of what the “mountaintop removal” bill sought and “half a loaf is better than no loaf.”
Unofficially, Dunn was acknowledging the reality – he cannot get majority support of the measure from the House Environment Subcommittee. He had a couple of solid votes, a couple or three “no way” votes and the rest “uncomfortable” with a decision and thus inclined “no” if prodded into a vote.
Thus, a retreat was in order to keep up hopes for another day. Maybe next year.
Proponents of the proposal were philosophical with Dunn’s decision.
“He’s the sponsor, driving the train,” said Dawn Coppock, the LEAF lobbyist who has more or less served as point person for advocates. “The rest of us are just along for the ride.”
The demise of the bill came with due ceremony, including Coppock’s impassioned plea to the subcommittee for passage, complete with a slide show of mined mountains. She got in some quotable one-liners, such as:
“Mountaintop mining creates jobs for dynamite, not men.
The “sludge ponds” created to hold water runoff from mines are “ticking little time bombs” comparable to TVA’s fly ash storage at Kingston Steam Plant.
She also complained that the coal industry lobby had not negotiated with environmentalists toward a compromise. (Bredesen, arguably, had already done so, as Dunn tacitly acknowledged.)
“They think they don’t have to negotiate with us because you guys aren’t going to pass it (the bill) out of committee,” she said.
They were right, as Dunn basically acknowledged.
Chuck Laine, lead lobbyist for the coal industry, sat in the back of the room. He did not ask to speak. He did not need to do so. The negotiation was over. At least for this year.

Al Gore’s Uncle, RIP

The AP
and the Jackson Sun Report that former Circuit Court Judge Whit LaFon, an uncle
of former Vice President Al Gore, has died in Jackson at age 91.

 

Which
inspires a bit of recollection.

 

I called
Judge LaFon back when he was accused of drug trafficking and various other
misdeeds by World Net Daily as part of a curious smear campaign that,
rightfully I suspect, never got any traction in mainstream media. But it was a
big deal among the right-wing radio clan.


 The allegations were so sensational,
I gave him a call just to see if he’d say anything. (The Gore gang wasn’t.) He
answered the phone, but declined any comment on the record. I left that one
lay.

 

I saw him
some time later at an event honoring veterans at the state capitol. He was a
frail old gentleman wearing one of those American Legion hats and a name tag.
Introduced myself, chatted a moment, and mentioned the effort to contact him
earlier.

 

He said
Al had told him to be quiet about that “pile of (animal excrement),” but that it
was absurd conjecture and had made him madder than anything he had ever
experienced — and he was really like to vent about it sometime. I gave him a
card with my phone number. He never called.

 

From the
AP: The Jackson Sun quoted another of LaFon’s nephews, Tom LaFon, of Park City,
Utah, who said the former judge had a stroke about two weeks ago…. LaFon was
the brother of Pauline Gore, the mother of Nobel laureate Al Gore.

LaFon
retired from the bench in 1998, telling a Sun reporter he planned to help in
Gore’s presidential campaign.

Former
Gov. Ned McWherter, who appointed LaFon to Circuit Court in 1987, said he was
“an honest, decent public servant who played by the rules and enjoyed his
life.”

Graveside services were scheduled for
Saturday afternoon at Hollywood Cemetery.

 I strongly suspect that Ned was right and those other guys were wrong.

Win For a Reasonable Stacey Campfield

The state House of Representatives on Monday night approved for the first time a bill sponsored by Rep. Stacey Campfield, who has failed in such endeavors since his election to the House five years ago.
The vote was 74-21, indicating, perhaps, that 21 representatives find the Knoxville Republican so abhorrent, given his past conservative activist activities (OK, some would say right-wing crazy crusades), that they cannot support even a rather reasonable proposition with his name attached.
The proposition behind HB804 is that a divorced parent in military service, who has visitation rights with his/her child, should be able to assign those rights to a relative when he/she is assigned to visit Afghanistan/Iraq or some other place that makes it impossible check in on the child personally.
As in, “I want my sister to visit with little Johnny and let me know how he’s doing while I’m watching for improvised explosive devices, or dodging bullets.”
During debate, even Campfield opponents were occasionally complimentary. Rep. Jeanne Richardson, the lady who had a hypothetical sexual encounter with Stacey on another bill, declared his was “very gracious” in accepting an amendment in committee.
Richardson’s argument came during discussion of an amendment proposed by Rep. Sherry Jones, that basically said anyone taking the parent’s place in visitation must have a long-term (12 months) relationship with the child in question.
Great and convoluted debate ensued over the amendment – including House Speaker Kent Williams remarking at one odd parliamentary point, “Are you kidding me?” And Jones appealed to Republicans (without much success) that, “This is not partisan… this is about the best interests of the child.”
Actually, the amendment probably didn’t make much difference, one way or the other, insofar as the average impacted individual was concerned. It was symbolic.
Campfield chose to oppose it, contending that the bill, as revised, already assured that a judge could block some oddball designation of prospective child visitor by the non-custodial parent.
The vote on the amendment was 50 for Stacey, 45 against — a squeaker that relied upon winning a few key Democratic votes, including Memphis Reps. G.A. Hardaway and Mike Kernell, who (as I understand, but have not verified) have both been through divorces and are thus somewhat sympathetic on the matter of dad visitation rights. Vote count on all the stuff HERE.
The upshot: Stacey Campfield, when willing to compromise in committee and deal with selective Democrats, can be effective in advancing a reasonable piece of legislation despite otherwise making a lot of Democratic people mad and some Republicans uneasy. But just barely.

Misfire in House Gunfight

The “guns in bars” bill, compromised into a guns-in-restaurants-that-don’t-serve-alcohol-after-11 o’clock bill, was stalled on the House floor by a strange confluence of those against the whole idea and those that didn’t think it went too far in compromising.
The key was an amendment by Rep. Brian Kelsey, who wanted to dump the 11 o’clock stuff. He argued that the curfew would be too confusing and won amendment approval – over the objections of the sponsor, fellow Republican Rep. Curry Todd – on a 61-32 vote. (Vote HERE)
With an exception or two, seems those opposed to liberalizing gun-packing opportunities, just to gum up the works, joined those who wanted even more liberalizing. Todd, after losing the skirmish, pulled the bill from facing a final battle.
Declared sponsor Todd afterwards, as reported by the AP:
“I’m disappointed with my Republican colleagues who sat there and didn’t vote with me… They left me hanging out there.”
Todd said his bill was the result of a carefully crafted compromise, and that it is now under threat of failing for the year because of Kelsey’s amendment.
“I had some of some of my colleagues — and I won’t name them — going around working behind the scenes behind me, and never had the courtesy to come see me,” he said.

Technical Difficulties

A computer problem has blocked yours truly from doing much
of anything today involving computers or the Internet, which, unfortunately,
covers about everything an outpost reporter can do – other than call a tech guy
(actually, it was a gal – thanks, Lori!) and whine, interspersing hours of such
activity with calls to editors to explain the dearth of typical daily doings.

 The
technological problem is not fixed, but perhaps bypassed temporarily  – starting with a couple of posts filed
from home, where my wife’s computer is not afflicted — that will appear above.

Teddy Bart, A Particle of God

Teddy Bart, veteran Nashville broadcast personality who was recently arrested in a police prostitution sting operation, has published a novel, A Particle of God.
Here’s a description from the promotional email:
A Particle of God is cleverly crafted parable of an aging local talk show host facing his own inner demons. While wallowing in a pool of self-pity and recrimination after losing his gig, Joey Robin receives a mysterious message instructing him to set out on a journey. Along the way he encounters departed legends of broadcasting–Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, Arthur Godfrey and others. They help him find answers to the questions that haunt him: Why some…not others? Does fate enter in, or can a person really create their own reality? For those who believe success has unfairly eluded them, if you brood why fame and fortune has been granted to others and not to you, “A Particle of God” is a must read.
i occasionally appeared as a guest on the Teddy Bart Roundtable radio talk show in Nashville and in the process got to know his wise and witty wife, Jana, as well. The politically-neutral-and-informationally-oriented show was, basically, killed as not fiscally viable by its bipartisan board of directors, which included Democrat Ned McWherter and Republican Ted Welch.
Along with everyone else similarly acquainted with the always amiable and inquisitive Teddy, the arrest of Teddy’s seventy-something self in such circumstances was a jaw-dropper. It didn’t make sense. An emailer acquaintance summed it up: “Next you;re going to tell me Santa Claus is a child molester.”
The book, of course, was written long before the arrest episode. The timing of the release and the arrest is, however, interesting. Despite budget constraints (the NS cut our pay, you know), I may actually break down and buy a copy. It’s on Amazon HERE, if anyone wants to get ahead of me and report back.
And I do wish Teddy — and Jana — the best. One stupid, incomprehensible foulup shouldn’t erase all that proceeded, should it?

Nancy-Ann Goes National; Tennessee Media Notices

As a personal note, Nancy-Ann Min was one of most remarkable combinations of brains, beauty and people skills this old coot reporter has ever encountered in the form of a Tennessee state government bureaucrat over the decades. That was way back in the days when she was running the state’s human services department for Gov. Ned McWherter as something of an intellectual among rednecks.
Now, the lady member of the raised-in-Roane-County political mafia is national health care reform czar and still recalling her roots enough to grant interviews to the last Tennessee media outposts in Washington. Sounds like her brains and skills are still intact.
The Tennessean report leads on the lack of personal mementos in her “barren office.” The News Sentinel report leads on the call from Barack Obama at a time in life when she “thought she was done with a career in public service.”

GOP Goober Candidates on the Road, With Some Observations

The four major Republican gubernatorial candidates spoke to party faithful in Clarksville, the Leaf-Chronicle reports. Some snippets are quoted with a note or two in parenthesis:
Ron Ramsey: “While in the Senate, I have gained experience the others don’t have.” (And, perhaps, some they wouldn’t want.)
(Zach) Wamp said no governor since Lamar Alexander has put forth a “bold agenda,” which is what the state needs. (Actually, an argument can be made that Don Sundquist was a lot bolder.)
Bill Haslam: “I started my business in Tennessee and had over 13,000 employees,” he said. “So it’s important when I’m recruiting a business that I can look at them and tell them I’ve been in their shoes before. I can tell them Tennessee is the right place for you.” (Wait, didn’t his dad start the family business, Pilot Corp.?)
(Bill) Gibbons said he has been involved in local government in Shelby County and understands “unfunded mandates from the state” and his experience as a prosecutor overseeing a caseload of more than 100,000 cases per year positions him as a good candidate. (So, would he abolish some of those mandates, like paying a portion of school costs?)

Wamp also made an appearance at a Republican State Executive Committee gathering, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, and got in a jab at Democrat Bredesen for accepting a piece of the federal stimulus money:
“The unemployment insurance piece to allow part-time workers to draw unemployment insurance is not a good precedent… That’s the only piece of the Bredesen reaction to the federal stimulus that I would have handled differently (as governor) because we’re going to be saddled with figuring out how to pay for those benefits after he leaves.”
Ramsey, who will get to vote one way or the other on the enabling legislation (One of those experiences the other guys might prefer to avoid, is quoted as saying, “We’re examining it to see what happens,”
Haslam is quoted, too, on the issue: “I’d have to be assured that the legislature would have the courage to go back and rescind it.” (Assurances of legislative courage? Oh, you mean from Ramsey, who will have the voting experience, right?)

News Sentinel colleague Hayes Hickman, meanwhile, reports on Haslam ‘s dual duty as mayor and candidate and other aspects of his campaign. Kleinheider picks out one point for TPJs (Tennessee Political Junkies) from the report. He has an opinion on SJR127.

AG Cooper’s Lobbying Duty

In something of an oddity, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper is lobbying the Legislature on behalf of consumers who he thinks would be harmed by a bill that allows natural gas companies to raise rates annually with less regulatory oversight.
“This bill likely would result in unjustified price increases and does not have the necessary safeguards to protect consumers – not just residential consumers, but business and commercial concerns as well,” Cooper said in a brief interview.
The Consumer Advocate Division of the Attorney General’s Office regularly takes on consumer matters in courts and before the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees utilities such as natural gas companies.
But Cooper said opposition to HB1349, as written, marks the first time since he became attorney general that an active lobbying campaign has been waged against a bill pending in the General Assembly.
Cooper said he was unaware of whether his predecessors in the office had made similar efforts. The attorney general said he felt obliged to do so because a state law says the consumer advocate office has “duty” represent consumer interests on utility matters before the Legislature as well as regulatory agencies.
His efforts have included a personal meeting with Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, sponsor of the bill pushed by natural gas companies. Sargent was apparently unswayed, but Cooper said “discussions are continuing.”
Under current law, natural gas companies must file a petition with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority seeking a rate increase, then present data showing the need. The consumer advocate division and others can argue against the proposal.
For example, Atmos Energy Corp., which provides gas in Blount County and much of Northeast Tennessee, recently sought a $7.3 million increase that was reduced to $2.5 million in an agreement following regulatory authority proceedings. The consumer advocate division said in a news release that meant a 95-cent monthly increase for the average residential customer versus $2.40 under the original filing.
The bill would allow companies to file for rate increases every year, which would be approved by the Tennessee Regulatory Authority without a hearing. It would be subject to challenge by opposing parties after taking effect. Also, companies could pass on to consumers the cost of gas conservation efforts under the bill, then collect a 15 percent bonus for the “economic benefit” of conservation plans.
“Since the utility’s customers are required to pay for all of the costs of these plans, the benefits generated by them should flow to the customers rather than the utility,” says a statement from the consumer advocate division opposing the bill.
Sargent said the bill will help consumers overall, promoting conservation efforts and allowing small annual increases on a “streamlined” basis rather than less frequent but more substantial rate increases. Ample safeguards remain in place, he said.
The measure, set for a vote Tuesday before a House subcommittee, is also opposed by the Tennessee AARP.