Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Boom in Booze Bills

While legislators are apparently not inclined to authorize the sale of wine in grocery stores this year, they are poised to set a record for granting special liquor-by-the-drink licenses.
At least 20 such bills are now pending, including three that await a House floor vote on Monday night.
Only four such bills were approved in 2009, pushing to 48 the total number of such enactments since 1972, when the practice began, a review of records indicates. The previous high for a single year came in 2005, when 12 such laws were enacted.
General state law now allows liquor-by-the-drink (LBD) sales only in cities that have approved them by local referendum. Thus, most establishments located outside a city – or within cities that have not approved LBD – are in “dry” areas and cannot qualify for a license.
Most special liquor license legislation – sometimes called “booze bills” in legislator conversation — grant a special exemption to such establishments. Two of the three bills on the House floor Monday, for example, authorize alcoholic beverage sales at the University of the South at Sewanee in Franklin County (HB3354) and at the Walking Horse Hotel in the Bedford County town of Wartrace (HB3006).
The third (HB3185) allows alcoholic beverage sales at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. While Nashville has approved LBD, the Ryman needs a special bill because it otherwise runs afoul of another state law – one that says only restaurants gaining most of their business from food sales can get a license.
Historically, such bills often inspired heated debate. They have become much less controversial and typically are approved almost routinely, though some legislators – notably including Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville – still occasionally raise objections

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Weekend Reading In TN Politics

Tea Time in 3rd District
Six Republican candidates for the 3rd District congressional seats participated Saturday in a forum set up by Chattanooga Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty. Matt Wilson has a report on the event with candidate sound bites.
Robin Smith told the tea party crowd, “I’m one of you,” and described herself as “a Christian first and an America second.” Chuck Fleischmann declared himself “fed up” with Washington and “Get the government out of our lives.”
Van Irion told the crowd that he is the real tea party candidate and said, “I am really mad at what the government’s doing to our country.”
Video of the forum available HERE.
New Demo PAC?
Charles Robert Bone, who lost to Chip Forrester in the contest to become state Democratic chairman last year, is talking up the idea of launching a new PAC to party candidates. He tells Nate Rau that it would not siphon off money from the party, just provide another tool for competing with Republicans financially.
Plans call for naming the PAC Forward Tennessee and activating it in April. The Tennessean story raises the possibility that the PAC could collect some of the $2.7 million in campaign cash now collectively held in accounts of retiring Democratic Congressmen Bart Gordon and John Tanner.
Sizing Up Susan
State Rep. Susan Lynn, her states’ rights crusading and other endeavors are the subject of a lengthy piece by Chas Sisk. She’s running for the state Senate seat now held by Sen. Mae Beavers, who once backed Lynn’s opponent in a Republican primary.
Bredesen to Blame for Democratic Downturn?
Gail Kerr opines that a Republican will be the next governor and that the outgoing Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, has some responsibility for the situation.

Bredesen couldn’t carry the state for Barack Obama. He hasn’t raised diddlysquat financially for Democratic candidates. Control of the General Assembly slipped away from the Democrats on his watch. And he has done nothing to groom a successor

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No Bird Watchers for Wamp?
The “normally docile birding community” got its feathers ruffled by some comments from Zach Wamp during a recent forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates, reports Anne Paine. The congressman declared that coal mining is “actually good for the girds and good for the environment.”
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” Melinda Welton, a bird specialist, is among those who reacted to the statement with dismay. “I wish that were true, but it is not,” said Welton, of BirdWorks Consulting in Franklin. “There are no current surface coal mining practices that are beneficial to the birds that depend on the forested slopes of the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee.”

An email statement from Wamp explaining his statement:
“Coal is a vital energy source that is available in only a few counties of our state, and today, 95 percent of all coal mining in Tennessee is taking place in old abandoned mines being reclaimed with new, modern and responsible mining techniques,” Wamp wrote.
“So what I was referencing at the forum in Brentwood when I said ‘it is good for the environment to mine coal in a responsible way’ is the reclamation work being done around those once abandoned mines that is leading to more polluted streams getting cleaned up, more wetlands being restored, and more reforestation and vegetation projects that are improving the habitat of the birds, elk and other wildlife that live around them.”

See also Jeff Woods commentary, which includes a full bloc quote of the Wamp statement.
Thune in Knoxville
U.S. Sen. John Thune delivered the keynote address at the Knox County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner. In his not-exactly-novel speech, he said Republicans need to get back to the basics of Ronald Reagan, reports Matt Lakin.

Sour Notes Sounded in State Song Situation

In Sunday’s News Sentinel, columnists Michael Silence and Sam Venable provide a duet performance in lampooning the Legislature over a bill to designate “So I’ll Just Shine in Tennessee” as an eighth official state song. (Or ninth, if you count the official Tennessee Bicentinnel Rap, adopted in 1996.)
Writes Venable: Far be it from me to heap ridicule upon members of the state Legislature. They don’t need the likes of me. They heap more than enough themselves.
He notes that Tennessee already has more state songs than any other state. Most just have one. But he also suggests opening lyrics for yet another:
O, Tennessee, land of my birth; the home of bellies round;
Where teeth are green and football reigns and six-guns loudly sound.

And here’s an excerpt from Silence:
Now comes the latest lunacy from Nashville; whether or not to have an eighth state song. Like seven isn’t enough?
As I said last week on my blog, “I swear this bunch is out to out-pathetic last year’s General Assembly. How about a reality show? We could call it “Lawmakers Unhinged.” Lord knows the show would not lack for participants or subjects.”

If you haven’t followed along on the Tennessee tune topic, the original report is HERE.

Government Lobbyists: Your Tax Dollars At Work & Working Well

(Note: The following is an unedited and slightly modified version of a column in Sunday’s News Sentinel.)

It wasn’t exactly surprising last week when not a single member of a House subcommittee would endorse the idea of prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for lobbying, which often involves how taxpayer dollars should be spent.
Indeed, the only surprise was that a legislator, namely Democratic Rep. Gary Moore of Nashville, would have the audacity to introduce such a proposal. The bill would have covered expenditures for lobbying that came either “directly or indirectly” from taxpayer dollars.

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Legislature in Slow Motion Until April?

From AP’s Eric Schelzig
Election season is a driving factor behind a push by lawmakers for an early conclusion of the legislative session. It might also be to blame for keeping the session from immediately kicking into high gear.
In the month since completing a whirlwind special session on education issues, lawmakers have fallen into a much more leisurely pace.
Republican Rep. Joe McCord of Maryville said a key date on the elections calendar might be at the root of lawmakers’ desire to stay away from some of the heavier lifting: the April 1 candidate filing deadline.
“Historically it’s always been with bills that are controversial in nature, that they get kicked back to the first calendar in April, so people know where they are,” he said.
All 99 House seats and 17 of 33 Senate seats are up for election this year. Also, two lawmakers are running for governor, three for Congress and at least three more for mayor of their home counties.
House Speaker Kent Williams agreed that part of the problem is that “there’s a filing deadline of the election coming.”
The Elizabethton Republican said that may have led some members to “waiting for when the time’s right” to take up more serious matters.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have given what some consider an undue amount of attention to issues like whether to honor late pop superstar Michael Jackson, add an eighth official state song or urge the U.S. Senate to reject a United Nations convention on children’s rights.
And some measures that otherwise would have received little scrutiny have been magnified by the dearth of bills on more traditional hot button issues guns or abortion.
“We haven’t got the real tough things up here yet,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner of Nashville. “If we’re acting this way over little bills that are just honoring people, when we get down to real hard work there’s going to be some tough days up here.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is one of the most vocal proponents of an early end to the session because he is barred from raising money for his gubernatorial bid until May 15 unless lawmakers wrap up their business before then.
The Blountville Republican said the Senate will keep pressure on the House by keeping a brisk pace and not taking up the normal amount of bills.
“All we’re waiting on is passing the budget, and once we pass that, we’re done,” Ramsey said. “It will keep the House’s feet to the fire because when we shut down our committees, they’re shut down automatically.”
Bills must work their way through the committee system in both chambers before they head for full floor votes.
Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis said he’s been troubled by the level of partisan contention on seemingly innocuous measures.
“If we’re going to get out of here within the next 30 to 60 days, then we’re going to have to settle the business of the state in a mature fashion without a whole lot of wrangling and personal stuff,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be here till June like in other years.”

Ramsey Taxpayer-funded Mailer Draws Attention

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has sent a direct mail piece to 45,000 homes in his state Senate district at a cost to state taxpayers of $24,000, reports Hank Hayes. The piece declares that Ramsey, who is running for governor, is “Listening, Working, Fighting for Us.”
Excerpt from the article:
The mail piece does not say “Ron Ramsey For Governor,” but Ramsey agreed its talking points are similar to those used in an election campaign.
“That’s what I stand for as a state senator,” he said of the talking points in the mail piece. “My message hasn’t changed to run for governor. This is what I’ve stood for since I ran for office in 1992. Would there be some overlap there? Obviously.”

The mail piece also has a tear-off survey to mail back to the lieutenant governor and asks people to rank 10 issues on a scale of 1 to 10.
One question asked about purchasing health insurance across state lines, more of a Washington issue than a Nashville issue. Said Ramsey: “If we can I’d like to convey that to my congressional colleagues. That’s something people care about and I care about. ”
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester said the mailer appears legal, but “I just question whether that’s appropriate ethical behavior.”

Gore To Receive Honorary Degree from UT in May

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has approved granting an honorary degree to former Vice president Al Gore Jr.
The degree – an Honorary Doctor of Laws and Humane Letters in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – will be given to Gore at the spring commencement exercises of the College of Arts and Sciences on May 14, where he will be the featured speaker, reports Chloe White Kennedy.
“Vice President Gore’s career has been marked by visionary leadership, and his work has quite literally changed our planet for the better,” UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said in a statement. “He is among the most accomplished and respected Tennesseans in history, and it is fitting that he should be honored by the flagship education institution of his home state.”
Gore received his regular college degree at Harvard University.

Miscellaneous Guber Notes: More Haslam Bashing, Etc.

Zach Wamp’s campaign rolled out an email news release Friday declaring that it joins WATE-TV’s Gene Patterson in viewing Bill Haslam’s inaugural TV ad as misleading.
The release focuses mostly on a statement in the ad that Haslam “helped create more than 11,000 jobs” while working with family-owned Pilot Corp. An excerpt:
“The 11,000 job creation claim being made by Mayor Haslam appears to be bogus and just plain made up because the facts don’t support it. Perhaps his father or brother could make that claim, but not Mayor Haslam,” said Sam Edelen with the Wamp campaign.
“Surely the Mayor isn’t giving himself credit for Pilot jobs created before he joined his Dad’s business in the mid-1980’s, or any of the jobs created when he left the family business to pursue his own interests from 1999 to 2001, and most certainly not any of the Pilot jobs created by way of company mergers and acquisitions or new hires since he left the company in 2003 to become mayor.”
“But no one knows, since Mayor Haslam refuses to document his ad claim,” Edelen said.

David Smith, a Haslam spokesman, was sent a copy of the release and invited to comment. His emailed reply:
“The Mayor’s record of creating jobs in the public and private sector speaks for itself. All this silly stuff from the Congressman is an attempt to get attention and is straight out of his Washington playbook.”
The Wamp camp also rehashed criticism of the Haslam ad stating that Knoxville, with Haslam as mayor, has the lowest tax rate in 50 years. Haslam has previously defended that claim. On Friday, Smith sent along a table of Knoxville tax rates going back to 1958. It can be seen by clicking on this link: Property_Tax_Rate_History.xls
Haslam was also asked Thursday whether the ad could be seen a misleading because only a portion of the 11,000 jobs were in Tennessee, where he is running for governor. No, replied the mayor, the ad wasn’t misleading because it doesn’t say the jobs were in Tennessee. He said more than 1,000 were Tennessee jobs. Smith says the actual figure is about 1,700.
Is Haslam Clueless?
Writing for the Nashville Scene, Jeff Woods grumbles about media attention to the Haslam wealth and the red umbrella in TV commercials while giving examples of Haslam apparently being unsure of state issues. But he still says Haslam is the guy to beat.
Everyone loves a winner. But aside from his money and his red umbrella, what makes Haslam so hot? For a front-runner, he sometimes displays a disappointing cluelessness on the issues.
McWherter Does Lewisburg
Mike McWherter campaigned in Lewisburg, visiting with local officials and Walter Bussart, a lawyer who made an unsuccessful run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1994 (losing to Phil Bredesen, who went on to lose to Republican Don Sundquist in the general election). Going by the Marshal County Tribune report, the McWherter rhetoric on the visit wasn’t exactly raging.
“I’ve known Walter since he first came to the legislature,” McWherter said. “We talked more about old times and old friendships.”

Capitol Flag At Half Mast for Slain Soldiers

Press release from Sen. Delores Gresham:
Tennessee’s flag is flying at half-mast over the state capitol today in recognition of four of the state’s fallen heroes who lost their lives in service to their country. Public Chapter 169, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and approved by the legislature last year, requires that if members of the Tennessee National Guard die in the line of duty, the Governor shall proclaim a day or mourning in their honor and the names of the deceased members of the armed forces shall be recorded in the journal of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The State Senate stood in recognition of the soldiers on Wednesday. The new law also requires that flags be flown at half-mast to honor these soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice for their state and country.
“It is very appropriate that the state should lower the flag to half-mast in reverent respect for our fallen heroes,” said Senator Gresham, who is a retired Lt. Colonel in the United States Marine Corp. “My heart swelled with pride and appreciation for the sacrifice of these Tennesseans. I was also proud that I had a little part in insuring that they and their families received Tennessee’s recognition.”
The soldiers honored were:
Sergeant David Clay Prescott, Jr. of Murfreesboro; died February 4, 2010, in Hattiesburg, MS; served as a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 2/278 Armored Cavalry Regiment
Staff Sergeant Michael Wayne Tinsley of Jackson; died February 10, 2010, in Hattiesburg, MS; served as a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 1/278 Armored Cavalry Regiment
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Billie Jean Grinder of Gallatin; died February 21, 2010, near Mosul, Iraq; served as a member of the Tennessee National Guard’s 1-230 Air Cavalry Squadron
Captain Marcus Ray Alford of Knoxville; died February 21, 2010, near Mosul, Iraq; served as a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 1-230 Air Cavalry Squadron
“As we mourn them, we are so proud of their service,” added Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), who is Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Veterans Affairs and who was co-sponsor of the bill. “They cared more about our freedom than their own lives and it is very appropriate that their service is recognized by the General Assembly and this state.”
The flag will be flown at half-staff over the Capitol until sunset.

Indictment Returned in Paul Stanley Extortion Case

From the AP:
A Nashville grand jury returned an indictment Friday against a man charged with trying to extort $10,000 from then-Sen. Paul Stanley over an affair with a legislative intern.
The indictment accuses Joel Palmer Watts of extorting Stanley, of Germantown. Stanley resigned last year after he told investigators that he had an affair with his 22-year-old intern, McKensie Morrison. He also acknowledged taking explicit photos of her in his Nashville apartment.
According to an affidavit from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Watts — who was Morrison’s boyfriend — found out about her affair with the senator when he discovered a disc of explicit photos of her.
On April 8, Watts began contacting Stanley via text messages and phone calls and demanding he pay $10,000 or the photos would be sent to the media and others, the affidavit said.
Stanley contacted the TBI, which arranged for him to record a meeting with Watts where he exchanged the money for the disc, according to the affidavit. Watts was arrested then.
Morrison was never charged and told a TV station that she wasn’t involved in the alleged extortion plot.
Stanley resigned in August after nearly a decade in the Legislature. When reached Friday for comment about the indictment, Stanley said he believed the grand jury came to right decision.
“It’s been an unfortunate chain of events in 2009 that has led up to this,” he said.
He expects that if the case goes to trial, he will be called to testify. Both he and Morrison are listed in the subpoena list for state witnesses.
The Associated Press could not immediately determine if Watts has an attorney.