Monthly Archives: August 2014

Governor appoints David Purkey as TEMA director

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of David W. Purkey as a deputy commissioner of the Military Department where he will direct the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

Purkey has served as interim director of TEMA since the April retirement of Jim Bassham. He will also continue to serve as the governor’s Homeland Security advisor and assistant commissioner for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“David has extensive experience in emergency management and safety, and he knows how critical it is for state and local governments to cooperate during emergencies,” Haslam said. “I appreciate his continued dedication and willingness to serve his fellow Tennesseans.”

Purkey is a native of Hamblen County and graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1981 with a bachelor’s in Public Health. He earned a master’s in Public Health in 1987 from the University of Tennessee.

“Governor Haslam, Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, and Major General Max Haston have placed a great amount of trust and confidence in my abilities to lead public safety operations across our state,” Purkey said. “The Military Department as well as the Department of Safety and Homeland Security have accepted me as a member of their teams, and I promise my colleagues and local governments that I will not forget where I came from.”

In 1995, Purkey was appointed to the vacancy of Hamblen County mayor and was elected four times before voluntarily retiring in 2010.

He first entered government as a judicial assistant to his mentor, Judge James K. Miller. He has served as a 9-1-1 dispatcher; Morristown – Hamblen County Emergency Management director; Tennessee state trooper assigned to the Nashville and Fall Branch districts; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent assigned to the Chattanooga region; and police accreditation manager for the City of Morristown. He served in the Tennessee Army National Guard and United States Army Reserves for eight years, and he has been a licensed emergency medical technician for the past 35 years.

Haslam recently reappointed Purkey to the Tennessee Medical Examiner Advisory Council.

TN has more people abusing prescription drugs than alcohol

News release from state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services:
NAsHVILLE – Abuse of prescription opioids, ie: pain medications, is the number one drug problem for Tennesseans receiving publicly funded assistance for treatment services. Over the past decade, substance abuse admissions for prescription drugs like: hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone have increased 500%.

The situation has dramatically driven admissions to treatment facilities way up, from 764 in 2001 to 3,828 admissions in 2011.

“As of July 1, 2012, the number of admissions in our state for prescription drug abuse exceeded admissions for alcohol abuse for the first time in history,” said E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS).

According to a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 4% of Tennessean’s over the age of 18 and approximately 12% of 18 to 25 year olds reported using pain relievers recreationally in the past year.

“Many people needing substance abuse treatment are not getting the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney. “And of the number of Tennesseans who could benefit from treatment, only about one person in eight actually received it.”

treatment is effective and saves money

Substance abuse treatment offers both a benefit to those who receive it and a savings to communities.

“The greatest savings is a reduction in the cost of crime for law enforcement, general healthcare costs, court and victimization costs and increased employer earnings,” said Commissioner Varney. “And the gain can also be measured in lives saved from a premature death.”

In 2010, Tennessee’s 1,059 recorded drug-overdose deaths add up to an estimated 7,000 years of life lost, and a loss of earnings of approximately $238 million.

“We all pay a price when someone needing substance abuse treatment doesn’t get the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney.

Christian conservative likens TN GOP war over Common Core to Democrats dealing with income tax, abortion

The Legislature’s supermajority Republicans’ dealings with Common Core is somewhat akin to the Democratic Legislature’s majority of a dozen years ago dealing with a proposed state income tax and the abortion issue, opines Christian conservative David Fowler of Tennessee Family Action Council.

The income tax and abortion were the electoral issues that really began to change the complexion of the General Assembly. Republicans rode to the majority on the back of fiscal and social conservatives. One cannot deny the role that gun rights have played in the Republican party in recent years, but the two legs of the ladder on which the state’s Republican Party rose to its current dizzying heights are fiscal and social conservatism.
Like the two issues that divided the Democrats from the Republicans, if Republicans are not careful, Common Core and traditional social issues may divide the Republican Party itself. In this last election cycle, it seemed that the divide in the party between fiscal and social conservatives became more pronounced. Though one might not readily see how Common Core fits that divide, it does.

Those who push Common Core seem concerned that our students are not learning what is needed to have a strong economy in a global marketplace. They tend to be fiscal conservatives.

On the other side are those who seem concerned that Common Core elevates political correctness over our founding principles and gives too great a nod to big government, particularly the federal government, and to globalism.

However, many in this latter camp are also those we might call “traditional” social conservatives, those concerned about abortion, parental rights in education, the homosexual agenda, and threats to religious liberty. The two “sides” are not identical, but that’s what makes things so explosive politically—when you add them together, you begin to find a lot of upset people.

The bottom line is that Tennessee Republicans must find a way to address the issues social conservatives care about. Personally, I don’t think we have to choose between high academic standards and keeping liberal political philosophies and political correctness out of our schools. I also don’t think we have to choose between being socially conservative and being fiscally conservative. In fact, the former makes the latter possible.

But I do think this: Smiles of feigned concern and pats on the head of social conservatives by Republican fiscal conservatives may not work to keep everybody in the hoped-for big tent of the Republican party happy. In this last election cycle the rumblings were audible. If the trend continues, expect the rhetoric to escalate and for there to be more political bloodshed in the 2016 primaries.

GOP legislators instantly skeptical of Haslam proposing to expand Medicaid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s suggestion this week that he may soon submit a proposal for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee received some blowback from a fellow Republican leader in the Legislature on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, issued a statement to question the Republican governor’s suggestion that a proposal could crafted by this fall.

“It seems the governor is not very serious about whatever he has in mind regarding Medicaid expansion, because he hasn’t conferred with the General Assembly,” Norris said.

State lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill to require the governor to obtain legislative approval before he can expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Supporters dubbed the measure that Haslam later signed into law the “Stop Obamacare Act.”

Pennsylvania on Thursday became the 27th state to agree to accept Medicaid expansion under the federal heath care law, and the ninth run by a Republican governor.

Haslam told reporters on Thursday that he has begun talks with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, but acknowledged that any plan would require the support of a majority of state lawmakers in both chambers.

“It’s nice to say let’s put politics aside, but at the end of the day you also have to get it passed in the Legislature,” he said.

Haslam has been heavily criticized by Democrats for refusing last year to take $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered.

The governor has sought to negotiate a special deal for Tennessee that would allow the state to use the federal money to subsidize private insurance and promote healthier lifestyles through a series of incentives and to create a health provider payment system that stresses rewards for keeping patients healthy through preventative care and management of chronic illnesses.

But Haslam has declined so far to give specifics about what his plan would entail and earlier this year urged federal health officials to make a counterproposal that would be acceptable to both sides.

“They never really came back with anything,” Haslam said Thursday, prompting him to once again work on presenting his own plan with the advantage of knowing what has been approved and rejected in other states.

Haslam said his proposal would involve something that “financially works for the state long-term and … is something that we feel really does move health care ahead for everybody and doesn’t just expand coverage.”

Eight apply for appointment as TN attorney general

News release from Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts:
The Tennessee Supreme Court has received eight applications for the position of Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter.

The Court plans to meet Tuesday, September 2 to finalize details for the selection process and has tentatively scheduled a public hearing and interviews in Nashville the week of September 8.

The applicants are:

Eugene N. Bulso, Jr., Brentwood (attorney with general civil litigation practice)

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Nashvill
e (current attorney general)

Mark A. Fulks, Johnson City (Attorney with Baker, Donelson, based in Johnson City)

William N. Helou, Nashville (attorney with WSMLEGAL, a Nashville civil litigation firmset up in 2013)

James Douglas Overbey, Maryville
(State senator from Maryville)

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Nashville
(Legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam)

Andrew R. Tillman, Huntsville (Chancery court judge, appointed to the position in 2013)

E. Young, Brentwood (Former state solicitor general, now director of the Administrative Office of the Courts)

The Court last appointed an attorney general in 2006. Cooper has served in the role since his appointment eight years ago. The Tennessee Supreme Court appoints an attorney general for an eight-year term.

The completed applications can be viewed by clicking the llinks on the names listed above.

Study finds GOP state legislature gains in TN, elsewhere related to U.S. Supreme Court ruling

A new study finds that a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision bringing on a new era of political spending gave Republicans a measurable advantage in Tennessee and elsewhere during the 2010 and 2012 state elections for legislative seats.

The review focuses on state House races. In Tennessee, Republicans gained 13 seats in the 2010 House elections (going from 51 to 64 seats in the 99-member chamber); in 2012, they picked up another seven seats, achieving Supermajority status with 71 seats.

The overall study results are summarized in a Washington Post blog, GovBeat:

The advantage isn’t large, but it is statistically significant: The researchers found the ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC, was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race.

And in six of the most affected states — Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee — the probability that a Republican would be elected to a state legislative seat increased by 10 percentage points or more. (Note: The GOP upswing was highest, 15 points, in Tennessee and North Carolina.)

In five other states — Colorado, Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming — Republican candidates were seven percentage points more likely to win.
“Citizens United has given corporations and labor unions new means of influencing political elections,” researchers Tilman Klumpp of the University of Alberta, Hugo Mialon of Emory University and Michael Williams of Competition Economics wrote in their paper, “The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending and Elections.”

Before the ruling, labor unions were more freely able to spend on campaigns and elections. But by freeing corporations to spend their own money, the study found, “Citizens United has, on balance, increased the political influence of corporations relative to that of unions.”

The study focused on 22 states where bans on independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions were overturned by the Supreme Court’s ruling. The remaining 28 states, which never had bans on independent expenditures, serve as control states.

The full report of the researchers (PDF) is HERE. A couple of excerpts related to Tennessee:

Lastly, in Tennessee, one conservative group called the Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee (TLCC) made over $900,000 in independent expenditures(in 2010) targeting state House and Senate races. TLCC received over $500,000 in contributions from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), whose top contributors included a number of large corporations and business groups. (Note: TLCC is a PAC controlled by the Tennessee Republican Party to help GOP legislative candidates,)

…In Tennessee, the largest independent spender in 2012 was once again the Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee (TLCC), which spent over $400;000 targeting 21 House races…These sustained conservative efforts may explain why the effect of Citizens United on Republican election probabilities remained positive in most states after 2010, and the size of the effect has in fact increased in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Obama nominates former TN commissioner, Memphis TV station manager to TVA board

President Barack Obama has nominated two Tennesseans to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board of directors, reports Michael Collins.

Virginia Lodge, who served as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services from 2003 to 2011, and Ronald Walter, the president and general manager of Memphis television station WREG, were given the nod Thursday to serve on the utility’s nine-member board.

Their nominations must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Lodge is the chief-executive officer of FSI Inc. in Nashville, which provides production and distribution services for businesses. She also worked on former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s gubernatorial campaign and transition team and served as national director of GoreCorps for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000.

…Walter has served as president and general manager of WREG since 2004 and has held a number of other positions at the station.

Before coming to the station, he was vice president of customer relations for the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division from 1982 to 1987. From 1980 to 1982, he served as assistant to the utility’s president.

Ball calls for U.S. Senate candidate debate; Alexander dodges

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Gordon Ball is calling on Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander to debate him in major Tennessee cities, including Chattanooga, before the Nov. 4 election, reports Andy Sher.

“Televised debates will allow the voters of this state to see the stark differences in my vision for Tennessee and Sen. Lamar Alexander’s vision of Tennessee,” Ball, an attorney, said in a Wednesday statement.

Alexander campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said in an email response that “there will be plenty of opportunity in the next 10 weeks for Tennesseans to see the difference between Sen. Alexander’s opponent — who would be one more vote for the Obama agenda — and putting Lamar Alexander’s experience to work in a new Senate majority.”

Reisinger, however, made no mention of a debate.

During the GOP primary campaign, Alexander evaded a call for debates from tea party challenger Joe Carr, although he never came right out and said so.

Instead, he said it would be too difficult to schedule all seven people running for the GOP nod. He didn’t say whether he would consider debating all of them individually.

Alexander also said his record was well known. He said voters could find out more on his campaign website or “usually I’m walking down the street and they can ask me.”

No incumbent U.S. senator from Tennessee has debated a challenger since at least 1996 when incumbent Republican Fred Thompson held one debate with Democrat Houston Gordon.

In 2002 as GOP nominee, Alexander did debate Democrat Bob Clement for the open seat. But as an incumbent in 2008, Alexander refused to debate the Democratic nominee, former state Democratic Party chairman Bob Tuke.

Audit criticizes Chattanooga library for excessive travel payments, possible employee fraud

Chattanooga City Auditor Stan Sewell has issued a report criticizing Public Library Director Corinne Hill for excess reimbursements for worldwide travel and saying that her top two employees have been reported to the state for suspected fraud, according to the Times-Free Press.

Assistant Library Director Nate Hill and System Administrator Meg Backus were reported to the state comptroller’s office after auditors found they took multiple paid speaking and consultant jobs on library time. The total excess reimbursements that Corinne Hill and her staffers received and the amount of mismanaged funds are estimated in the auditor findings at nearly $3,000.

Sewell also found that the library lacks substantive travel policies and procedures and that the library’s governing board — formed in 2011 when the library came fully under city control — lacks checks and balances and doesn’t have any bylaws on the books.

Library board Chairman James Kennedy said Thursday the board will take each allegation seriously. At next Friday’s meeting, he said, members will go line by line through the findings to see what actions if any, need to be taken. But he said the audit findings shouldn’t take away from all that Corinne Hill has accomplished in her two years in Chattanooga.

“We will get to the bottom of it and get it right without any hesitation. Corinne is right there with us. She’s world class,” he said.

Since Chattanooga hired Corinne Hill in 2012 for $120,000 — one of the top 10 salaries among city employees — she has made sweeping changes to the downtown library that include revamping the forgotten fourth floor into a creative lab with 3-D printers and program tutorials. She introduced children’s reading programs and teen activities and her model has been copied in libraries across the country, earning her the 2014 national Librarian of the Year award.

Corinne Hill declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to the board. But in the past she has credited her success to support from inside and outside the library and said her staff nominated her for the national award.

However, Sewell said in his report that he launched the investigation after several library employees reported concerns of wasteful activity and abuse to the city’s hotline.

Haslam’s legal counsel, state senator, AOC administrator join incumbent Cooper in seeking AG appointment

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With Friday’s application deadline looming, the field of candidates to become Tennessee’s next attorney general includes the incumbent, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser, a state senator and the administrative director of state courts.

Attorney General Bob Cooper’s term expires at the end of the month, and the high court will decide whether to keep him or select another applicant to serve the next eight-year term.

The applications follow a contentious — but ultimately unsuccessful — campaign spearheaded by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to defeat sitting Democratic justices to give Republicans control of the state’s highest court.

That campaign heavily focused on the role of Cooper’s role as attorney general, including his refusal to join a multistate legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Tennessee is the only state in the country where justices appoint the attorney general.

Herbert Slatery, who has served as Haslam’s legal counsel for the duration of the governor’s first term, said Thursday that he chose to apply because “that sort of opportunity only comes around every eight years.”
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