Monthly Archives: July 2012

TRA Gets Executive Director, Two New Part-time Directors

Thirty days after a new law took effect transforming the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the utility regulating agency got an executive director and a quorum for its new part-time board on Tuesday.
Earl R. Taylor, a Panera Bread franchisee who lives in Knoxville and has previously worked as a consultant to media companies, was named as the full-time executive director of the agency jointly by Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
Previously, the TRA had four full-time directors and no executive director. Under the legislation passed this year at Haslam’s urging, it will have five part-time directors and a full-time executive director.
Two of the part-time director positions were also filled Tuesday by appointment of James Allison and Herbert Hillard.
Allison is president and CEO of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp., headquartered in Shelbyville. He grew up in Maryville, according to Haslam spokesman and is described in a news release as “also regarded as one of the top instant replay officials in college football after having been an on-field official in the Southeastern Conference for more than 12 years.”
Hillard is executive vice president and chief government relatons officer of First Horizon National Corp. in Memphis.
Two of the former full-time TRA directors – Kenneth Hill and Sara Kyle – remain as part-time directors after the agency overhaul. One part-time director position still remains to be filled.
The new law took effect July 1 and when it did, the agency was left with only two of the part-time board members in place – not enough for a quorum – and with no executive director. The appointments Tuesday resolve that situation.
Taylor was not among the 18 persons who initially applied for the TRA executive director position.
“We wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, so we had those who applied and we also had conversations with others who might be interested,” said Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email. “We’re excited Mr. Taylor is willing to serve in this capacity.”
Taylor’s resume, provided by the governor’s office, says that as a Panera franchisee since 2000, he has developed stores in Florida and has stores under development in Texas and Louisiana. Before that, he was employed by Harmony Media as a consultant. In the 1990s, the resume says Taylor “developed and signed-on” WBXX-TV, Channel 20, in Knoxville and served as general partner and in other capacities at WKXT-TV in Knoxville.
Before that, he practiced law in Johnson City. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UT Knoxville and a law degree from the University of Memphis.

Note: The governor’s news release is below.

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TN Tops in Combined State & Local Sales Tax Rate

News release from Tax Foundation:
Washington, DC, July 31, 2012–California and Indiana have among the highest statewide sales taxes in the country, but Tennessee and Arizona take top billing when local sales taxes are added to the calculation, according to a new analysis by the Tax Foundation.
Hawaii, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, and Wisconsin have the lowest combined state and local rates. Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not levy sales taxes.
“Retail sales taxes are one of the more transparent ways to collect tax revenue, as statewide sales tax rates are generally well-understood by taxpayers. The local sales taxes collected in thousands of jurisdictions in 37 states, however, often are not,” said Tax Foundation economist Scott Drenkard. “These rates can be substantial, so a state with a moderate statewide sales tax rate can end up with a very high combined state and local rate.”
The states with the highest combined state-local rates are Tennessee (9.43 percent), Arizona (9.12 percent), Louisiana (8.86 percent), Washington (8.83 percent), and Oklahoma (8.68 percent). The states with the lowest non-zero combined rates are Alaska (1.79 percent), Hawaii (4.35 percent), Maine (5.00 percent), Virginia (5.00 percent), and Wyoming (5.18 percent).

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TN Early Voting Sets Record: 326,876

News release from Secretary of State’s office:
A total of 326,876 Tennesseans voted early or absentee by mail, easily surpassing the previous high for an August election during a presidential year. The previous record – in August 2008 – was 217,441.
Early voting ended Saturday. The election will be held Thursday.
It is important to compare elections with the same or similar races on the ballot because that can affect turnout. For example, the presidential election in November is expected to have a higher turnout. Also, August elections during non-presidential years tend to have higher turnout because high profile races for county mayor and sheriff are on the ballot then.
“For the last year, our Division of Elections has conducted an unprecedented voter outreach effort,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “This campaign was launched to help educate people about Tennessee’s new photo ID law. Not only have election officials at the state and the county level done a good job in informing people about that law, but they have also raised awareness about this year’s elections. We see that reflected in these record early voting numbers.”
Voters should remember to bring a state- or federally-issued photo ID to the polls with them in order to cast ballots Thursday. A voter who does not present a state- or federally-issued photo ID at the polls will not be turned away, but will receive a provisional ballot. However, the voter will need to return to the local election commission office within two business days after the election and present a state- or federally-issued photo ID in order for the provisional ballot to be counted.
Examples of acceptable forms of ID, whether current or expired, include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs and other state or federal government photo ID cards. College student IDs are not acceptable.
For more information, please visit www.GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

Efforts Underway to Unseat GOP Moderate State Legislators

By John Hanna, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP.
Political groups are helping finance the efforts by supporting primary election challenges targeting several dozen moderate Republicans in the Midwest and South, especially prominent lawmakers who run key state committees.
Two years after Republicans swept into power in many state capitols, the challengers say it’s time to adopt more conservative policies.
“If you don’t believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?” declared Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who’s running for the state Senate, with the goal of making it more conservative.
The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to slash state income taxes.
The Club for Growth, a major conservative interest group, is spending about $500,000 in Missouri this year. That’s double the amount it invested two years ago. The anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity opened new chapters in Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. The conservative business group Texans for Lawsuit Reform spent $3.5 million on legislative candidates in the first half of 2012, more than double its total during the same period two years ago.

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TN Political News Notes, 7/30/12

Voting Foulup in Dickson, Too?
At least two voters in Dickson County have experienced the same kind of incorrect ballot problems that affected at least 2,266 early voters in Shelby County, the state Democratic Party and a Dickson lawmaker said Monday. HERE.
DesJararlais Has a Primary
Despite some suggestions to the contrary, Congressman Scott DesJarlais says he’s not taking his victory in the 4th Congressional District primary for granted. He’s even bought one TV ad in the primary season. HERE.
House Finance Chairman’s Finances
Rep. Charles Sargent is taking some heat for collecting 80 percent of his campaign money from outside his Williamson County District. Sargent’s challenger, Rob Hathaway, is a political newcomer who said voters are tired of feeling like their voice is shouted down by giant checks and special interests.
Sumner Money Sizeups
The Tennessean has stories on campaign financing in Senate District 16, an open seat, and on two Sumner County House races (including Debra Maggart’s District 45.
Non-endorsements Noted
There’s a flap over the Hamilton County Education Association not endorsing two longtime members in ongoing races.
Rogers Gets an Endorsement
Courtney Rogers has been endorsed by state Sen. Kerry Roberts… and also has a press release taking a swat at Rep. Debra Maggart for using her state office phone number in campaign materials. HERE..

Small Donors Don’t Matter Much Anymore?

Small-dollar donations make up a relatively minuscule part of the money that fuels congressional incumbents, including those in the Tennessee delegation, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics reported by The Tennessean.
Take, for example, Sen. Bob Corker, who is seeking the Republican nomination for a second term in Thursday’s primary. Corker has raised $14.1 million when contributions to both his campaign and his personal political action committee are considered.
Of that, about 2 percent, or $271,090, is from donors who gave $200 or less, the center’s breakdown of Federal Election Commission reports shows.
Small-dollar percentages for other incumbents include:
• Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin: $42,144 — 2 percent of $1.77 million.
• Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood: $53,317 — 4 percent of $1.43 million.
• Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper: $22,192 — 3 percent of $934,349.
• Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump: $43,921 — 2 percent of $2.02 million.
• Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville: $70,287 — 8 percent of $924,523. Cooper’s figure is for his campaign committee only. He does not have his own PAC.

Democrats See Primaries as Start of Rebuilding in Legislature

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democrats are looking at Thursday’s primary as a critical step in the rebuilding urged by an internal analysis last year.
Since 2006, Democrats have lost 19 seats in the House and three seats in the Senate, placing them firmly in the minority of the two chambers. Another nine Democratic incumbents announced earlier this year they weren’t running again.
Then there are the newly redrawn districts by Republicans that are pitting several incumbent Democrats against each other in the primary this week.
Nevertheless, Democratic leaders say they’re optimistic about the party’s 47 challengers and incumbents in races.
“We’re incredibly encouraged by the quality of Democratic candidates we see in serious races throughout the state,” said Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese. “We’ll … look to them for leadership as we continue on a new, strategic path forward to rebuild the people’s Democratic Party in Tennessee.”

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Pro-Voucher PACs Drop $250K into State House Campaigns

Andy Sher has tallied up $367,000 worth of late campaign spending by PACs in Tennessee legislative campaigns that were reported in filings for the period July 1-26.
More than $250,000 came from two PACs supporting school voucher legislation that got much of their money from outside the state. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, were the biggest beneficiaries.
In Memphis’ House District 90, Students First and the Tennessee Federation for Children have joined hands in a state House primary on behalf of a Democrat who backs education vouchers.
Tennessee Student First’s PAC put up $104,018 to fund neighborhood canvassers and direct mail to help Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis. DeBerry, a black social conservative, faces Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, a white liberal, records show.
The Tennessee Federation for Children spent nearly $36,000 on direct mail and advertising to help DeBerry. It also put $100,489 into contributions and independent expenditures for various Republican candidates.
DeBerry backs vouchers while Richardson does not.
…The Tennessee (Students First) group received all its funding from the national organization. It spent $150,182 to help House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, who faces Republican Dale Carr. That included an independent expenditure of $46,164 for advertising.
The Tennessee Federation for Children’s in-state backers include Nashville auto dealer Lee Beaman and Dorothy Scarlett, wife of retired Tractor Supply Co. Chairman Joe Scarlett. They respectively gave $10,000 and $15,000 in the second quarter.
But the group in July received a flood of new contributions, including $65,000 from the American Federation of Children, a Washington, D.C., group that also backs vouchers, according to Registry filings.

TN Political News Notes

Zelenik Ad Gets a Politifact ‘False
“Diane Black voted to fund Obamacare, then she voted to repeal it. I guess she was for it before she was against it,” says Lou Ann Zelenik in a radio ad for her 6th Congressional District campaign.
Politifact Tennessee has rated the claim on Black’s vote to fund Obamacare as false. HERE.
Third District Review
Chris Carroll, who has followed the 3rd Congressional District campaign more closely than any reporter in the state, sizes up the campaign situation in the final days, HERE.
A sample: But the tone changed when the foursome realized they differed little on issues — they’re all interested in cutting spending, aiding industry and promoting social conservatism. As they sought to differentiate themselves, negative attacks began hitting 3rd District mailboxes, televisions and computer screens.
Gardenhire Equals Vital in Spending
Fueled by $57,000 in personal loans to his campaign, Todd Gardenhire matched rival Greg Vital dollar for dollar in spending on the Republican Senate District 10 primary from July 1-26, state records show. HERE
Black Remembers TennCare
U.S. Rep. Diane Black recalls her days in the Tennessee state legislature and the woes of TennCare in an interview with The Hill. HERE.
Hill ‘100 Percent’ Claim Questioned
The Tomahawk of Mountain City says there’s been confusion over Timothy Hill claiming a “100 percent rating” from Tennessee Right to Life in his House District 3 campaign. Right to Life has actually endorsed one of his opponents, Kevin Parsons. HERE.
Rogers, Maggart & the Phone Factor
Post Politics has a news release from Courtney Rogers in House District 45, wherein she says Debra Maggart has emailed supporters Rogers’ unlisted home phone number in an unwarranted harassment effort. HERE.
Elam Chiles Lynn on Residence
Rep. Linda Elam issues a “blue card” challenge to her Republican primary opponent, former state Rep. Susan Lynn, in House District 57. HERE.

NRA Downgrades Niceley Rating to ‘C,’ Protests Use of Old ‘A+’

The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund says state Senate candidate Frank Niceley has been “deliberately misleading voters” by saying in campaign literature that his NRA rating is “A+” instead of the “C” that has was assigned for the 2012 primary.
The fund’s president, Chris Cox, warned Niceley in a letter that his rating could be lowered further unless the “misrepresentation” is ended.
Mike Alder, a spokesman for Niceley’s campaign, said the candidate as a state representative had an “A+” in his last NRA rating and the rating was not changed until July 23. Before that, he said, literature stated that Niceley “has had” the “A+” and that was accurate.
Immediately after the rating was changed, Alder said, the campaign moved to eliminate the reference to “A+” in all references, including “tossing out” about 2,000 hand cards.
The new ratings leave Hobart Rice as the highest rated candidate in the 8th Senate District primary with an “A Q,” which means he is rated on the basis of a questionnaire answers and has no voting record.
The NRA has also lowered its previous ratings of some other legislative candidates, notably including House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart. She now has a “D” and the NRA has spent $75,000 on attacking her and supporting her opponent, Courtney Rogers, who got a special non-incumbent “A” and an endorsement.

Note: NRA Tennessee legislator grades page is HERE.