Monthly Archives: February 2010

McMillan and McWherter Camps on Kyle’s Exit

Jim Kyle’s withdrawal from the Democratic gubernatorial primary could make the vote in Shelby County more important in the statewide primary picture – and it already was pretty important.
As a candidate, Kyle had emphasized the importance of his Shelby County base. With him out, Kim McMillan and Mike McWherter will be competing head-to-head there as well as statewide.
“Obviously, it makes things a little bit easier in Shelby County,” said Kim Sasser Hayden, McWherter’s campaign manager. “Mike already has supporters there and I think he will have more now.”
Overall, Hayden said of the Kyle withdrawal: “I don’t think it changes our strategy very much.”
Joe Livoti, finance director for McMillan, said Kyle’s withdrawal “can’t hurt” the McMillan campaign and he thinks it will help.
“As the field narrows, it allows people to focus on the two candidates,” Livoti said, adding he thinks McMillan will benefit from a head-to-head match.
He also declared that McMillan, who had only about $100,000 campaign cash on hand at last report, is staying in the race.
“Kim is completely devoted to this campaign and we will continue to fight on until we win the primary,” he said.

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Kyle Quits Gubernatorial Race

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said today he is abandoning his campaign for governor, saying that his duties during the current legislative session and a fundraising blackout made the race impractical.
His withdrawal leaves Jackson businessman Mike McWherter and former state House Majority Leader Kim McMillan as the two remaining major Democratic candidates for governor.
Kyle did not endorse either of the two candidates, but left the door open to possibly doing so later. He said he would be working for election of Democratic legislative candidates as well.
The Memphis lawmaker noted that he has often said during the campaign that “if hard work isn’t enough, then things must change.”
“It has become clear to me in recent days that hard work will not be enough for me to have a successful campaign for governor,” he said.
Kyle said he believes it possible for a Democrat to win the governor’s office this fall, but he also said that the current political landscape would have made it difficult to get his message across.
“There’s a lot of hostility our there in the public mind,” Kyle said, flanked by his wife, Sara, at a news conference in the Legislative Plaza. “I came to the decision they would not be hearing my message fully and clearly because of the economy and the hostility in the public.”
Since announcing as a candidate last July, Kyle had raised $741,485, according to a Jan. 15 campaign finance disclosure. That included a $300,000 personal loan to the campaign and $73,000 transferred from his state Senate campaign account to his gubernatorial campaign.
As a state legislator, Kyle has been prohibited from collecting campaign contributions since the legislative session began on Jan. 12. The fundraising “blackout” will continue until the end of the session or May 15, whichever comes first.
Kyle said he plans to refund contributions to donors after paying remaining campaign expenses, with each donor receiving a proportionate refund to the amount of expenses.
The senator is the third Democrat to announce his candidacy and later withdraw from the race. Nashville businessman Ward Cammack had endorsed Kyle after his withdrawal last month. Before that state Sen. Roy Herron abandoned his campaign for governor and instead became a candidate for the 8th District congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. John Tanner.
There are four major Republican candidates for governor: Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.
The statement issued by his campaign is below.

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Robin Hires a Campaign Manager

A campaign news release:
Third District Congressional Candidate Robin Smith announced today that Chris Meekins will serve as her campaign manager for the 2010 election.
Meekins, who will oversee the operation of the campaign, brings an extensive background in Republican politics to the effort, having previously served as manager of a campaign in Maryland that resulted in the defeat of an 18-year incumbent in the Republican primary as well as races in Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, and Connecticut. He comes to the campaign from his position within a national political consulting firm.

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State GOP Gets a New Executive Director

A state GOP news release today:
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney announced today that veteran Tennessee political operative, Gregory Gleaves, will serve as Executive Director for the Tennessee Republican Party:
“Gregory has an extensive background in Tennessee politics and we’re thrilled he’s joining our team,” said Devaney. “We’re working to make 2010 an historic year for Republicans in our state and with Gregory at the helm of our political operation, I have no doubt we’re going to experience extraordinary success in November.”

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Ramsey Joins Others in Critique of Haslam

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has been somewhat less critical of Bill Haslam than other Republican gubernatorial candidates, chose a day when the Knoxville mayor visited his office to change that approach.
Asked at a news conference Thursday about his apparent reticence in joining Bill Gibbons and Zach Wamp in criticizing Haslam, Ramsey said initially that “when they’re attacking, there’s no need to pile on.”
But Ramsey subsequently declared he would point out differences with Haslam “when the time comes – and apparently it is right now.”
Ramsey noted that Haslam has pushed a property tax increase as Knoxville mayor, though a Haslam TV ad declares that Knoxville now has its lowest tax rate in 50 years.
“The tax rate is lower, but the taxes are higher than they were when he went into office,” said Ramsey, adding that is possible because property values were increased through a reappraisal so that taxpayers paid more in dollars even though the rate was lower.
Another difference between himself and Haslam, Ramsey said, is “I actually ran a small business while he walked into a family business.”
The Senate speaker also said that Haslam once joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, formed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and widely criticized by pro-gun groups. Haslam later resigned from the group.
Haslam visited Ramsey, House Speaker Kent Williams and Gov. Phil Bredesen on Thursday, joining Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton for what the mayors described a courtesy call to discuss concerns of big city mayors during the current legislative session.
Actually, Haslam said, the mayors have “a light agenda” this year, recognizing the state faces budget problems. The chief concern, he said, is to “make certain nothing is coming down the pike that would have a negative impact on cities.”
In an encounter with reporters leaving Ramsey’s news conference, Haslam defended his TV ad statement on Knoxville taxes.
“Here’s the reality: Right now, as a percentage of the value of your home, you’re paying less in Knoxville than you have in over 50 years,” Haslam said.
Haslam and Ramsey both said the two maintain a friendly relationship, meeting frequently on the campaign trail and occasionally talking on their cell phones.

TN’s Fincher: Washington GOP Insiders’ Favorite Outsider

The AP has a national story out of New York today that cites Stephen Fincher, a candidate for the Republican nomination to Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District seat as the ‘model congressional candidate’ for national Republicans.
Here it is:
NEW YORK — Ask national Republicans to name a model 2010 congressional candidate, and they’re likely to mention Stephen Fincher. A 37-year-old farmer and gospel singer from Frog Jump, Tenn., Fincher has raised more than $675,000 in his bid to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner.
His nontraditional background suits the GOP just fine.
“He’d never run for office before, never been to Washington, D.C., before,” marveled California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who met Fincher on a recruiting trip for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “He said, ‘Listen, Mr. Kevin,’ he said he couldn’t look his children in the eye and say he watched this country change and didn’t do something about it.”
That a political novice like Fincher could become a top GOP contender to win a historically Democratic district speaks volumes about the unpredictable political environment that has come to define the 2010 midterm elections.
Voters are angry. President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings have sunk, particularly among the independents who helped put him in office. The Democratic and Republican parties are both unpopular. Independent voters are growing in stature and anti-tax tea party activists have become a potent political force.
The fractious atmosphere has sent both parties scrambling to find challengers and open seat candidates who fit the national mood, while they also try to protect incumbents from being steamrolled by it.
“Arguably, both political parties need to earn back voters’ trust,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Republicans lost it and we need to gain it back.”

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If Your Motorcycle Is a Lemon, This Bill’s For You

A proposal to include motorcycles in the state’s “lemon law” for defective vehicles has been unanimously approved by the Senate.
The measure (SB2649) sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Burchett of Knoxville was approved unanimously on Thursday. It would give owners of new motorcycles the same rights as those who have cars and trucks that don’t perform properly. The companion measure is on the House consent calendar for Monday night.

Heating Bill Help Legislation Passes Senate

From the AP:
The Senate has unanimously approved legislation that seeks to help low-income Tennessee residents. The measure co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville was approved 30-0 on Thursday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the House floor on Monday.
The legislation (SB3870) allows the Department of Human Services to provide low-income energy assistance at “any percentage of the federal income poverty level that is permitted by federal law.” Henry says the measure also authorizes the department to appropriately pay out funds to low-income residents if the federal government changes their eligibility requirements and the Legislature is not in session.
Earlier story HERE.

Legislative Reporting: Seating Special Interests, Bottle Bills, Fish Tales

Squabble Over Board Seats
Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee are debating whether various trade associations and professional organizations should be designated in state law to hold seats on regulatory boards and commissions. Andy Sher reports that Committee Chairman Bo Watson, joined by Sen. Dewayne Bunch and some other Republicans, have been stripping such language from “sunset” bills that come before the committee.
Lobbyists and trade groups privately have been complaining for at least a week over the situation. On Wednesday the issue prompted a full-fledged debate among panel members.
Sen. Bunch questioned “why any special interest group should be listed in the Tennessee Code Annotated (state code) more or less giving them a leg up on other Tennessee citizens who may be qualified?”
“Let’s remove all special interest groups’ (recommendations),” the senator said.
Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, however, a potentially pivotal vote on the panel, downplayed Sen. Bunch’s assertions, noting that a “patchwork” has grown up over the years. Some statutes say governors “shall” accept recommendations. Others say “may,” he noted.
“I don’t think it’s anything sinister at all,” Sen. Crowe said, noting that lawmakers may want to change all recommendations to “may.”
But Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, charged that statutes reflect choices made by Democratic legislative leaders who “picked favorites among their friends and gave advantages” to them.

Machine Gunning Legislators
Jeff Woods has reproduced a couple of interesting emails involving a so-called “machine gun shoot” for legislators.
One is from a House Judiciary Committee staffer suggesting that members talk among themselves about having a meeting while attending the shooting session next week, compliments of Hero-Gear and Barrett Firearms. The other is from Committee Chairman Kent Coleman, nixing the idea.
Pass the Bottle Bill’
A bill to ban open containers of alcohol in Tennessee cars has cleared a key House subcommittee, but still has a long way to go before passage. Similar legislation has failed repeatedly over the past two decades or more.
Sponsor Rep. Jon Lundberg, quoted by WPLN:
“Things that make common sense should be able to happen in a political body. And this is one of those issues that I have trouble going back home, and when people say, ‘Why can’t you pass that bill?'”
Anti-Crime Lobbying
About 50 Shelby County residents lobbied legislators Wednesday for laws that would increase prison terms for violent criminals, reports Richard Locker. Many carried posters or pictures of relatives who were the victims of violent crime.
“One of the reasons my husband and I are here is, if we can make the law more of a deterrent, my son might have been a victim of robbery, not murder,” Beverly Walker told the Shelby County legislative delegation’s weekly luncheon meeting.
DUI Interlock Competition Continues
A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee has now approved two bills that would require more drunken driving offenders to put ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. The second bill was approved Wednesday with Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, as sponsor. He contends it is “tougher” than a proposal by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, that was approved earlier.
The Other Bottle Bill
In his weekly column, Frank Cagle makes a pitch for passage of legislation that calls for requiring a deposit on beverage containers to promote recycling.
Supporters of the bill estimate that the current rate of about 10 percent of our containers being recycled would jump to a rate of 85 percent.
The bill has bipartisan support, with 13 Democratic and four Republican co-sponsors at present. The major opponents of the bill are beer distributors.
This recycling “circle of life” will create new businesses and jobs. It will also be a floor upon which even more recycling efforts may be built.
And all of us old people will have a second job, out in the fresh air, to supplement our Social Security.

Fishing for Column Fodder
Rep. Ty Cobb’s bill to allow fish tanks in barber shops provides Gail Kerr with column fodder, which she has used to provide an entertaining round of one-liners, puns and such. (Crew-cut fish, fishy tale, guppy family values, etc.) And she expresses gratitude to the Legislature after wondering why legislators of old passed a ban on fish tanks in the first place.
It’s a fishy mystery. Maybe lawmakers were concerned that a goldfish-turned-floater would traumatize little Johnny during his first haircut? Or maybe it was a PETA thing? Or … oh, who the heck knows.
Whatever the ill-conceived logic of this old law, the International Association of Newspaper Columnists In Search of Fodder is deeply grateful. Bless you, state legislators, for this jewel.

Advocates for Disabled Argue Against TennCare Cuts

From AP’s Lucas Johnson:
The head of a national advocacy group for the disabled said Wednesday that Tennessee’s proposed cuts to its expanded Medicaid program could eventually have a negative effect on the state’s economy.
Andrew Imparato of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of People with Disabilities joined the Tennessee Disability Coalition to discuss cuts to TennCare, which has about 1.2 million enrollees.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has said he needs to slash $201 million from TennCare to balance the state budget. The proposed cuts include capping many TennCare recipients’ annual benefits at $10,000 and limiting them to eight outpatient procedures.
But Imparato said such cuts are going to force people into emergency rooms, “and the state is going to end up having to pay more money.”
“There are lots of people who absolutely have to see a doctor more than eight times a year and cannot afford to pay out of pocket for those visits,” he said. “So you put a cap like that in place … their health is going to deteriorate, they’re going to end up in the hospital. That’s not moral, and it’s not going to save the money that the state says that they’re going to save from these proposed cuts.”
However, TennCare officials recently announced that a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could give the state $120 million and prevent some cuts. The federal agency has said the state can keep some of the reimbursements it makes to the federal government to pay for prescription drug benefits.
TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said Wednesday that bureau officials and the governor are still discussing what to do with the extra money.

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