Monthly Archives: February 2014

Corker: Ukraine upheaval is Obama’s fault

Sen. Bob Corker blamed President Barack Obama Thursday for not orchestrating a strong response to upheaval in Ukraine and expressed concern about how Russian President Vladimir Putin will respond, reports The Tennessean.

The Tennessee senator, the senior GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said… the United States should be taking steps to help the Ukrainian economy, possibly arranging loan guarantees through the International Monetary Fund, as well as issuing a stronger signal of overall support for the new government there. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week the administration is planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine.

“Right now it appears the president really doesn’t have a plan,” Corker said.

He added the lack of direction mirrors the administration’s response over the past year to the Syrian civil war, in which more than 130,000 people have been killed. It’s a response, he said, that left regional leaders such as Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia “totally exasperated.”
The White House press office did not respond to Corker’s comments.

And then there’s this news release from the Corker camp on Friday:
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Corker hires new chief PR person

News release from Sen. Bob Corker:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced today that Tara DiJulio has joined his senior management team as communications director. DiJulio will serve as the senator’s primary spokesperson and will oversee communications and media strategy for his Senate office and the minority office of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Tara is one of the most well-respected communicators on Capitol Hill, and I’m proud to welcome her to our team,” said Corker. “She is a demonstrated leader and her talent and professionalism will be invaluable as we continue to serve the people of Tennessee and work to address the big issues facing our nation.”

DiJulio has served as a communications strategist to four U.S. senators, most recently serving as communications director for U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.).

“I am excited to join this outstanding team and look forward to being a part of the great work Senator Corker is doing for Tennessee and our country,” said DiJulio.

DiJulio was elected by her peers to serve as the president of the Senate Press Secretaries Association in 2012 and has been a member of the executive board for five years. She also volunteers as a mentor with the Sara Start Fund for Foster Youth, a program that helps former foster youth get a start on their professional lives. She is a graduate of the University of Washington where she received a degree in communications and political science. DiJulio assumes her position immediately, replacing Laura Herzog who returned to her home state of Tennessee in December and now serves as deputy director of communications for Governor Bill Haslam.

In 2012, Tennesseans overwhelmingly re-elected Bob Corker to his second term in the U.S. Senate, where he is ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an active member of the Senate Banking Committee.

Note: DiJulio succeeds Laura Lefler, who left Corker to join Gov. Bill Haslam’s PR staff. Previous post HERE.

AG: Cities must pay off all liquor money owed to school systems — but can work out an installment plan

Cities across Tennessee need to start paying school districts millions of dollars in unpaid mixed-drink taxes, the state attorney general says, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

Local school officials say the opinion released this week by Attorney General Robert Cooper means Chattanooga officials must pay the $11 million-plus it owes to Hamilton County Schools and can’t negotiate a lesser settlement or use land to offset the debt. (Note: The opinion is HERE)

“It’s wonderful news. It’s the best news since Santa Claus,” said school board member David Testerman. “Our school system is in desperate need of funds.”
But Mayor Andy Berke’s spokeswoman, Lacie Stone, said the city is still reviewing the opinion to decide what it means for Chattanooga.

While it may help answer a nearly $12 million question here, the attorney general’s opinion has implications for school districts and municipalities across the state.

Cities owe millions of dollars to county school systems after failing for years to send the required mixed-drink taxes to support local schools. The state-imposed taxes are shared with municipalities, which are required to give half the receipts to county school systems.

There was widespread confusion over the liquor tax issue — aside from Chattanooga, at least 15 other cities including Knoxville, Cleveland, South Pittsburg, Jasper and Manchester owe money.

Officials noticed last year that the payments had been inadvertently overlooked, said Gary Hayes, government consultant with the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service. After Hamilton County Schools officials discovered the shortfall, they asked state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, to request the attorney general opinion. The nonbinding opinions are the attorney general’s effort to interpret legal issues that have not been decided in court.

..The attorney general’s opinion found that county school boards can’t waive any past-due fees. Cooper said there is no statute of limitations on the fees and municipalities can’t offset the costs with local-option sales tax revenue. But, Cooper wrote, municipalities don’t have to pay it back all at once — they may agree on a payment plan.

Potential candidates for Mike Turner’s House seat already emerging

The Tennessean reports that there’s already a list of people considering a run for the House District 51 seat that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner is leaving. It’s a strongly Democratic seat.

Several young Democrats from the East Nashville and Germantown areas quickly expressed interest in succeeding Turner, though none of them were ready to commit to a race just yet. Democratic officials said they think the district is safely in their party’s column after President Barack Obama won it handily in 2012, when Turner ran unopposed.

Among the potential candidates are Metro Councilman Anthony Davis; Zak Kelley, senior policy advisor to state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the House Democratic leader; Wade Munday, treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party; software developer Freddie O’Connell; Tennessee Health Department procurement officer Eric Richardson, a former soldier who was wounded in Afghanistan; and former Tennessee Democratic Party executive director Jennifer Buck Wallace, now the Tennessee development director for Organizing for Action.

Meanwhile, a Turner campaign for mayor could bring a strong pro-labor voice to that race, which is likely to be crowded with candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Karl Dean, who took office in 2007.

“I am going to look at that,” he said. “That’s a little ways off yet, but I’m interested.”

TN Walking Horse industry applauds new bill by Blackburn

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is applauding a bill filed late Wednesday that supporters say will eliminate abuses while preserving the sport, according to The Tennessean.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is calling for scientific tests to detect soring instead of manual checks. Her bill, which has nine cosponsors, also keeps the tall shoes and ankle chains that mark the breed’s performance divisions.

It’s in response to a bill filed last year by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., supported by the Humane Society of the United States, that would eliminate that equipment, which they say can be part of the soring process. Soring is purposefully injuring the breed’s legs or feet to induce its longer, higher gait.

Blackburn’s bill “doesn’t call for the elimination of 85 percent of the breed based on equipment,” Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration CEO Mike Inman said Thursday. “One bill eliminates soring. The other eliminates the horse.”

The annual Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., is the sport’s largest event and showcases the performance division. Blackburn attended a $100-a-head reception held in her honor there last year. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, the breed’s registry, also supports the bill.

Rep. Stewart pushing worker safety bills

News release from Jobs With Justice of East Tennessee:
Rep. Mike Stewart (D., Nashville) has introduced legislation designed to bring greater worker safety to the construction sites in Tennessee. Stewart plans to present this legislation for action before the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee of the Tennessee House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 5, 10:30 a.m., LP 30, in Nashville.

Sen. Charlotte Burks (D, Monterey) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“The frequency of fatal and serious injuries to construction workers in Tennessee far exceeds the national average,” Stewart said. “These deaths and injuries result in permanent loss and suffering for the families of these construction workers. In all too many instances the incidents were entirely preventable if worker safety was a day-to-day reality on these job sites. Sadly, in far too many instances, that has not been the case. My bills, if approved, would make a big difference in favor of worker safety.”

The first bill, HB 2017, provides new authority to the administrator of the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) to require that contractors who appeal citations or penalties for serious, willful or repeat violations must remedy unsafe working conditions right away, no longer gaining an automatic extension until the end of all appeals. Today, unsafe working conditions can be maintained for many months, if not years, while the appeals process runs its course.

“We cannot afford to risk additional fatalities or serious injuries while a recognized unsafe situation posing a serious risk is permitted to remain uncorrected,” Stewart said. “Under the current rule TOSHA officials are often forced to settle for reduced penalties as the cost of assuring a speedy fix. This makes no sense.”

The second bill, HB 2018, creates a comprehensive system of safety on public works projects by identifying contractors with unacceptable worker safety records and barring the award of new publicly-funded construction contracts to these companies with a proven record of unsafe working conditions and performance. This new screening process will also appropriately credit companies whose commitment to safety is shown by past performance as well as by the systems they have in place for managing projects, training personnel, and preventing unnecessary injuries and deaths.
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Corker likes golfing with Obama — but not those dinner date talks

Sen. Bob Corker tells Politico that the famous dinner talks President Obama held with him and other Republicans last year “were never serious” and actually “tore down trust.” On the other hand, he really enjoyed golfing with the president.

“We haven’t had the ability to solve the major problems of the day because he’s afraid of his base,” Corker said at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast in downtown Washington. “So I would say to him: ‘Please don’t do that again, OK? Unless you’re in earnest wanting to solve a problem, don’t do that again. You’re better off not acting like you want to solve a problem when you really don’t want to solve it. That breaks down trust.’”

Obama seems to be taking that advice. With the exception of a private meeting with Speaker John Boehner earlier this week, Obama hasn’t reached out much to the GOP so far this year. He used the State of the Union address to say that he will take action using his executive authority if he can’t get past congressional Republicans.

While Corker was highly critical of the White House’s negotiating style, he praised Obama as a golf and dinner partner who “conducted himself very, very well” during meetings with his political opposition.

“I enjoyed it. People back home [in Tennessee] didn’t enjoy it so much, but I did,” Corker said of his golf outing with Obama. “We had to quit on [hole] 15 because we had a Senate vote and the president was visibly wanting to play three or four holes and finish this. And I enjoyed collecting the 20 bucks from him that he lost.”

Corker has, at times, played a conciliatory role by working with Senate Democrats on legislation and voting to move Obama’s nominees through the chamber. But he indicated that the Senate GOP’s dance with Obama last year has actually hurt bipartisan relations — and made him more distrustful of the White House.

“The last meeting that we had with them was about this one thing: Is the White House really interested in doing those things in a transformative way to save Medicare?” Corker said of the last meeting between the senators and Obama in August. “What they said is: The reason we got nowhere is because Republicans wouldn’t raise taxes. That wasn’t what the meeting was about!”

He added: “I wouldn’t engage in those conversations if I were them. Because I don’t think they were ever earnest. I think it was optics. It was disappointing.”

Senate votes to ban drones from watching hunters, fishermen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would prohibit the use of drones to conduct video surveillance of outdoorsmen in Tennessee without their permission has passed the Senate.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was unanimously approved 31-0 on Thursday.

Bell says his legislation (SB1777) would be added to the state’s current law that protects hunters or fisherman from harassment. He said the law should be updated as technology changes.

The companion bill is scheduled to be heard next Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed and the governor signed a measure to ban most warrantless surveillance by unmanned drones in Tennessee.

Haslam administration eyes privatizing some state park operations

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has issued a “request for information” to businesses on the possibility of privatizing operations at 11 state parks, according to WTVF-TV.

While the state insisted that it’s all very preliminary, the Tennessee State Employees Association expressed concern that it could become a sweetheart deal for big business.

“This is not a done deal,” insisted Tisha Calabrese-Benton, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
…(U)nder the plan being considered by the Haslam administration, operation of some of the state’s golf courses, inns and campgrounds, even marinas, could be turned over to a big corporation to operate.

…”Doing research to find out whether there are things that we can do to improve the way we operate makes sense, and that’s what this is,” Calabrese-Benton said. “And we don’t know what the outcome of that research is going to be. This is research.”

This effort follows a decision last year by the Haslam administration to outsource the management of state buildings to a big corporation. For career state employees, it can sometimes feel like they are under attack.

“Certainly, the operation of these parks ain’t broke,” said Bob O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association.
O’Connell noted that the state’s own figures show state parks are already operating in the black, with some 1,500 full-and part-time state employees on the parks payroll.

He fears that jobs will be lost if a big corporation is allowed to turn those parks into a profit center.

“If someone out in private enterprise has a better and more efficient idea, let’s not bring them in and let them take over and let them make a profit on this better idea. Let’s use their idea,” O’Connell said.

Calabrese-Benton said, “We are looking at every option and this is one of those options.”

State officials insisted that the idea of outsourcing park operations isn’t a radical one. After all, the national park system has done the exact same thing….The state pointed out that a few state park restaurants and marinas have already been outsourced.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Turner won’t seek reelection to House seat

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner announced today that he will not seek reelection to the House District 51 seat.

“This is a hard place to quit but I will not be running this time around,” Turner said in a brief House floor speech.

Turner, 59, who is has held the seat 14 years. A Nashville firefighter by profession, Turner has said he is eyeing a run for Nashville mayor next year. The current mayor, Karl Dean, cannot seek reelection because of Metro Nashville’s term limits.

UPDATE: Here’s the House Democratic Caucus press release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Nashville) announced today that he intends to retire at the end of the year after serving 14 years in House District 51. Rep. Turner has served in the role as Caucus Chairman since 2009.

“Serving the people of Tennessee has been the greatest honor in my life,” said Rep. Turner. “This was a very hard decision to make because I am extremely grateful for all the friends I have made since coming to the House. While I remain committed to serving the people of House District 51 and my fellow House Democrats as Caucus Chairman, I look forward to being able to spend more time with my family in the months and years to come.”

“Mike Turner is the epitome of a public servant. He has been a tireless voice for middle-class families, organized labor and the City of Nashville. On a personal note, Mike Turner has become one of my closest friends in the General Assembly. Serving with him in leadership has had a profound effect on me and has most certainly made me a better legislator and a better leader. I will miss my friend and as I have said on many occasions—if I ever find myself or my family in trouble, I want Mike Turner there and I know he always will be.”

“Mike Turner is and always will be one of my best friends in the legislature,” said Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis). “There was no greater champion of working men and women in this state than Mike. While I wish he would stay, I know he feels the time is right to leave, and I wish him and his family all the best.”

“Nashville and the Democratic Party has always had a great advocate in Mike Turner,” said State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville). “I have been proud to serve with him in the legislature and consider him one of my closest friends. I look forward to continuing to work with him to make Nashville and Tennessee a greater place for all.”

“My time in the legislature may be coming to an end, but I won’t ever stop fighting to make Nashville and Tennessee a better place for all,” said Rep. Turner.

House District 51 covers the areas of Old Hickory, Madison, East Nashville, Downtown Nashville, and Germantown. President Obama won the district with 66% of the vote in 2012, while Rep. Turner was uncontested.

Statement from House Speaker Beth Harwell:
“I appreciate Representative Mike Turner’s seven terms of service to this body, his district and Davidson County. Although we don’t always see eye to eye, I know his principles come from a place of genuine conviction. He has always been a strong advocate for his district and later, in leadership, for his caucus. I have considered it a pleasure to call him a colleague, and I thank him for his commitment to this state.”

See also Andrea Zelinski, who nicely rounds up Turner’s commentary in a meeting with media types.