Monthly Archives: July 2012

Miller Funding PAC Attacks in TN Legislative Races, Too

A wealthy Nashville health care investor has given more than $120,000 to two new political action committees that have used most of the money to attack incumbent Republican state legislators or help their challengers in the last days of campaigning.
The sole donor to the two new PACs is Andrew E. Miller, who last week gained national attention by giving $260,000 to two federal-level PACs that are using the money for attacks on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black in Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District.
One of the state-level PACs is Tennesseans 4 Ethics in Government, which has been given $50,250 by Miller, according to disclosures filed with the state Registry of Election Finance. The PAC used $30,263 to pay for radio ads targeting four incumbents and had $19,987 remaining as of Monday, the report says.
Targeted incumbents in the ads are Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough; Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville; and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin. The disclosure reports spending $7,885 each on Overbey and Ford ads; $7,221 on the Maggart and Sargent ads.
The second new PAC, named Truth Matters, got $71,000 from Miller, then distributed all but about $7,500 of the money to 10 Republican candidates.
Among the donations: $7,100 each to Scott Hughes, Overebey’s opponent in Senate District 2, and Micah Van Huss, Ford’s opponent in House District 6; and Rob Hathaway, Sargent’s opponent in House District 61. Maggart’s opponent, Courtney Rogers, got $5,800.
Under state law, Miller could have given just $1,400 to a House candidate as an individual. . But a PAC can give up to $7,100 to a candidate.
Others receiving $7,100 contributions from Truth Matters PAC include two incumbents who face challengers on Aug. 2, Reps. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport; and Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby,
Also receiving donations were Republican candidates in open seats where multiple candidates are running. Those chosen for contributions by Truth Matters were Eric Chance of Morrison in Senate District 16; Timothy Hill of Blountville in House District 3; and Rob Mortensen of Nashville in Senate District 20, Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, who has no primary opponent but faces a Democrat in November, received $5,000.
Registry records also show Miller put $10,000 into another new entity, Standard Club PAC, that had not made donations to any candidates as of last week’s disclosure deadline. The new PAC received no other money.
He also gave $10,000 to a PAC operated by House Speaker Pro Temoore Judd Mathney of Tullahoma and $40,000 to Leaders of Tennessee PAC, an established PAC that donates to conservative Republicans.

AP Story on TN Congressional Primaries: Focus on 6th District

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Filled with big money punches and verbal attacks, the primary for the 6th District congressional seat is looking more like a female boxing match: Black vs. Zelenik, the rematch.
Two years ago former state Sen. Diane Black defeated Lou Ann Zelenik by fewer than 400 votes in a GOP primary that pitted Black’s mainstream Republican credentials against Zelenik’s tea party fervor. Black went on to win the seat east of Nashville, helping tip the Tennessee congressional delegation to 7-2 in favor of the GOP.
Now the two Republicans face off again Thursday in a contentious race that’s heated up within the last month.
The latest Federal Election Commission records show Black raised about $1.6 million and has roughly $360,000 on hand, where Zelenik has raised about $320,000, with close to $120,000 in ready to spend cash.
But at least two political action committees have surfaced recently and are generating thousands of dollars to take out negative ads against Black. Last week, Zelenik received endorsements from three state Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny.

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Sunday Column: Republican Referendum on the TN Status Quo

Setting aside the impact of personalities and local politics, insofar as that’s possible, this week’s primary elections may be seen as a Republican voter referendum on the new normal of our state’s leadership under one-party rule.
The belief that this is so is clearly illustrated by the Republican Establishment Trinity (RET) — Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — taking sides in many of the two dozen contests where incumbent Republican legislators are being challenged.
For Harwell and her chief lieutenant, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, the selection of favorites has extended beyond incumbent protection to financial contributions in a half-dozen or so open seats where there is no incumbent. And not all incumbents have received donations.
This is understandable. By somewhat reliable rumors, Harwell was elected speaker by a single vote in the House Republican Caucus after the 2010 elections over then-House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada. The actual vote is an official Republican secret.

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Two TN Democrats Quit ALEC as Republican Legislators Praise It

Two Tennessee Democratic legislators have resigned from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which this summer is the target of a national campaign from critics contending it has become a secretive, corporate-controlled lobby for conservative causes.
Tennessee Republican legislators attending ALEC’s national convention in Salt Lake City last week, however, say the organization has made them better lawmakers by enhancing an exchange of ideas and information between the public sector and the private sector.
“It’s an organization that promotes the principles on which this country was founded — free markets and free enterprise,” said Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, deputy speaker of the state House, a member of ALEC since 1989 and a member of its national public sector board of directors.
ALEC is largely financed by its private sector members. Two groups leading the anti-ALEC campaign — Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Color of Change — say 30 major corporations have recently abandoned membership, including General Motors and Walgreens last week. Others quitting range from Walmart and Coca-Cola to Amazon and Miller Coors.
There are Tennessee groups critical of ALEC as well.
“We think Tennessee legislators are being bought and paid for by an exclusive network of corporate lobbyists and special interest groups,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

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In 9th District, Cohen and Flinn Looking Past Primary to Fall Clash

Thursday’s Republican and Democratic primaries for the 9th Congressional District seat look like anything but a toss-up, observes Bart Sullivan. Name recognition and funding heavily favor incumbent Steve Cohen and challenger Dr. George S. Flinn Jr.
In fact, in a speech to the United Transportation Union’s meeting at The Peabody last week, Cohen was already predicting a Democratic primary win over Memphis City Schools board representative and Memphis Urban League CEO Tomeka R. Hart.
“Then we’ve got a general election going up against a self-funder,” Cohen told the union members. “He’s going to spend probably $3 (million) or $4 million dollars.”
He wasn’t talking about 2010 Republican nominee Charlotte Bergmann, who has raised $19,495 this election cycle and had $531.93 in cash on hand in her most recent Federal Election Commission report this month.
Flinn, 68, raised $3,385 in the period between July 1-13, has loaned his campaign committee $1 million, has already spent $354,417 and has $442,948 in his FEC account.
…Flinn also appears to be looking to November, and Cohen. He said he will take issue with Cohen’s liberal voting record, saying “my views are more in line with Memphis and Shelby County,” which he said he believes are “middle-of-the-road conservative.”
…Flinn, who owns more than 40 radio stations from California to Florida, including Hot 107.1, a hip-hop station in Memphis, said he will spend “whatever it takes to get the message out.” Flinn spent $3.6 million in 2010 in his loss to Fincher in the GOP primary.

Clerks Refusing to Yank Driver Licenses for Failure to Pay Court Costs

Starting July 1, clerks throughout Tennessee gained the power to begin suspending driver’s licenses if court fees and fines go unpaid for a year. But The Tennessean reports that not a single license has been suspended, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Even Tommy Bradley, chief administrative officer for the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office and the man who wrote the law, is holding off until Aug. 1 to give debtors one last chance to pay at least something.
Other clerks are questioning whether to suspend licenses at all, out of logistical or moral reservations.
“I just want to wait and see,” said Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal. “I’m afraid this law is going to be hurting the people who would really like to put out the effort to pay and they simply can’t.”
Bradley acknowledges there is “widespread” opposition to the law, which he wrote to help collect hundreds of millions in uncollected court costs.
…Neal said that aside from moral qualms at saddling poor offenders with even more burdens, she’s not sure she has the money or staff to send out notices and then process debtors for suspensions.
“We’ve got all the work that we can say grace over now,” Neal said. “To me, it’s going to be more record-keeping and a little bit more difficult to keep up with.”
Neal said she’s more likely to just continue sending unpaid debts to a collection agency. It’s cheaper and easier on her overworked staff.

Protestors Penetrate High Security Area at Oak Ridge’s Y-12

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge say three people were arrested early Saturday for trespassing and defacing a building in a high security area of the site.
A press release from the facility said the incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. and an investigation into how they got into the facility is being led by the Department of Energy Inspector General.
The individuals, whose names were not released by Y-12 officials, were to be transported to another facility to be processed with federal trespassing charges.
Y-12 maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and provides nuclear fuel for the Navy and for research reactors worldwide. The statement from the facility said the incident appeared to be a protest-related action.
Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the facility, said Saturday that the individuals used spray paint and a substance that looked like blood to deface the building.
Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/MU8CD3 ) that the three people were members of a group called Transform Now Plowshares. Ellen Barfield, who described herself as a friend of the group who had spoken with one of the people after the arrests, said the three individuals had cut through fences to get access and posted a banner and poured blood.
Barfield identified the three as Michael R. Walli, 63, of Washington, D.C.; Megan Rice, 82, of Nevada; and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, of Duluth, Minn.
Rice was listed in the Blount County jail’s online inmate information system as a federal inmate.
The nuclear complex does get protesters and activists to the site and Wyatt said they often stand in a public area near the facility’s front entrance. About a dozen activists were convicted last year of trespassing after they intentionally crossed a blue line separating state and federal property at the complex in 2010.

Remember Dorothy Cooper? Now There’s Olean Blount

Dorothy Cooper was the first senior citizen to get media notice for problems in getting a photo ID to vote. Olean Blount of Carroll County is the latest. From the Tennessean:
Three trips. More than 120 miles. Three hours with her daughter in the car.
That is what it took for Olean Blount to get the right identification card to cast her ballot.
“I don’t know why I needed it,” she said. “Everybody around here knows me.”
The 92-year-old woman from Westport, a crossroads 11 miles southeast of Huntingdon in Carroll County, says she spent the better part of two days trying to get a picture ID in time for the March presidential primary.
…Because Carroll County lacks a driver service center, Blount and her daughter drove first to the clerk’s office in neighboring Benton County, only to be sent home because a camera was broken. They returned a few days later but were told then that the county clerk could not issue her an ID card after all. County clerks could issue a photo ID only in exchange for a non-photo driver’s license, available in Tennessee to senior citizens.
They next traveled to the driver service center in Henry County, where Blount was issued an ID. But they were wrongly charged $9.50 for the card, which by law was supposed to be issued free of charge. Blount got a refund, but she does not feel that she got her money’s worth.
“That was back when gas was around $5,” she recalled with only a slight exaggeration. “So I didn’t get my money refunded, all of it.”

Shelby Commission Subpoena Seeks Identity of Online Commenters

The Shelby County Commission has filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters in The Commercial Appeal’s stories about suburban plans to create their own school districts.
More from Sunday’s CA:
Editor Chris Peck called the request a “fishing expedition” and an unwarranted invasion of readers’ privacy, and the newspaper’s attorney, Lucian Pera, said he will resist on grounds the subpoena infringes on the work of the newspaper and the rights of readers.
County Commission attorney Imad Abdullah said in the subpoena the county wants first and last names, postal addresses and telephone numbers of all account users who posted comments, including comments the newspaper’s digital media staff removed because they were racially charged or otherwise inappropriate.
Abdullah did not specify a reason for the request nor how the information would be used, and he did not return calls or e-mails asking about the county’s motives. But Lori Patterson, a spokeswoman for his law firm, sent an e-mail saying, “At this point, we would prefer not to comment on the purpose of the subpoena.”
The subpoena the attorneys filed this week specifies 45 newspaper stories dating from Nov. 19, 2010, to July 12, 2012. The earliest story was about the Memphis school board’s initial consideration of surrendering its charter, a move that ultimately led to the merger of city and county schools. The latest story was about U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel ‘Hardy’ Mays’ ruling allowing municipalities to hold referendums on whether to set up independent school districts with the caveat that the constitutionality of the referendums will have to be decided later.
On June 26, the County Commission attorneys filed a federal court motion to block the Aug. 2 referendums to start school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. They argued that the people who arranged the referendums are trying to discriminate against African-Americans by carving out majority white suburban districts from the new unified school district.

Performance Audit of Shelby County Voting ‘Mess’ Planned

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee election officials called Friday for closer scrutiny of a contest in the state’s largest county after reports that more than 5 percent of voters have gotten the wrong ballot during early voting.
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked the state comptroller’s office to do a performance audit of the vote in Shelby County. Goins described the situation as “a mess,” and a letter from Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett noted that the current issues are part of a string of troubling election problems dating back years.
The state stepped in on the next to last day of early voting after voting database expert Joe Weinberg estimated more than 2,300 voters cast early choices on the wrong ballot. The mistakes are largely the result of redistricting and affect state legislative races.
Weinberg told The Commercial Appeal that he has been helping identify the problems for the Shelby County Election Commission, which reports 445,747 registered voters in the county.
Goins said he wants to get the matter corrected by next Thursday’s primary and expects to have an “error free” general election in November.
Voters who already cast incorrect early ballots will not be allowed to vote again, and officials are urging voters who think their ballot is wrong to tell a poll worker before casting their ballots.
Richard Holden, the county’s Administrator of Elections, told The Associated Press on Friday that he could not confirm Weinberg’s numbers, and he did not provide his own estimate as to how many ballots have been incorrect. Holden said the commission was working to make sure that no more mistakes were made.
“I haven’t been looking in the rear view mirror,” Holden said. “I have been looking through the windshield.”
In their letter to the comptroller requesting the audit, Hargett and Goins said election problems in Shelby County have stretched back about a decade. In 2010, an election official loaded the wrong information into an electronic toll book, indicating that thousands of voters had cast ballots when they hadn’t.
Candidates in 2006 sued the county election commission, alleging that irregularities affected the outcome of a county general election. In 2005, a special election to fill a vacant seat was voided because ballots were cast by ineligible felons and dead people.
“While each example is in and of itself unacceptable, together they indicate a troubling pattern of errors that cannot go unnoticed,” the letter said. “These errors have eroded public confidence in the Shelby County Election Commission Administration to the point where every action taken by them is considered suspect.”
Many of the improper ballots are in uncontested races, but more than 300 of them have showed up in the District 93 contest involving current state representatives Mike Kernell and G.A. Hardaway.
Both candidates say they continue to hear from voters about problems.
“We’ve got one goofy scenario after another and there is just no excuse,” Hardaway told the newspaper.
Through Wednesday, 41,595 votes had been cast.
Six suburban cities have referendums on whether to leave the county school system and create their own schools. Those elections are being contested in court as a violation of the state constitution and the votes could be thrown out later.