Monthly Archives: August 2015

Democrats file ‘no guns at concerts’ bill

News release from Senate Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE – Legislation filed today by Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris and state Rep. John Ray Clemmons will exempt events held in public parks and major sports venues from the controversial “guns in parks” law passed this year.

“Allowing guns in areas with large crowds where alcohol is consumed is a recipe for disaster, and creates a grave danger for law enforcement officers, who might not be able to distinguish friendlies with a gun from criminals,” Sen. Harris said.

“Concert promoters made clear that they want the ability to ban weapons at their events, and rely exclusively on law enforcement and security to keep attendees safe. Concerts generate millions of dollars of economic activity in Tennessee each year, and we have to take their concerns very seriously.”

SB 1432 would add a new exemption to the guns in parks law, so that guns aren’t allowed at events at public parks that require a ticket. The exemption would end at the conclusion of such an event.

The law also makes clear that the guns in parks law does not apply to stadiums and complexes used by a professional sports team to play, practice or train.

“The legislation is the result of feedback Sen. Harris and I received from law enforcement, business owners and families across Tennessee,” Rep. Clemmons said. “Everyone agrees that the law, as written, poses a serious threat to our families’ safety and our local economy. We’re proposing a common sense solution with the support of those on both sides of the gun debate to try and keep public events in Tennessee safe.”

Holt says he’s unfairly targeted by EPA

(Note: This is a response from Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) to the Environmental Protection Agency proposing penalties totaling $177,000 for pollution by his hog farming operation in Weakley County. Previous post HERE.)
News release from Rep. Andy Holt/em>
DRESDEN, Tenn., August 31, 2015– Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) says he is the leading voice against the EPA in the State House. Because of his opposition, the EPA now has him and his family farm in their cross-hairs.

“It’s clear what’s going on here,” said Holt. “In an attempt to stand for Tennessee’s farmers and small businesses, I have sponsored multiple pieces of legislation and led many requests to the State Attorney General to fight back against President Obama’s EPA. We saw President Obama’s IRS being used to target conservative groups, and now the EPA is being used in the same manner. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Nashville and serve in the state legislature. I wanted to keep farm families in Tennessee from having to endure the financially & emotionally crushing experience of dealing with an out of control regulatory agency; little did I know that this fight would become so personal.”
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Second lawsuit filed against state over education funding

The Shelby County School Board announced Monday it has filed its own lawsuit against the state over education funding, separate from one filed earlier by Hamilton County and other Southeast Tennessee school system, according to the Commercial Appeal.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Davidson County. It accuses the state of “failing to equitably and adequately fund public school education for all students,” the district announced in a release Monday morning.

School board chairwoman Teresa Jones called Monday a “pivotal day” for SCS.

“This is an unprecedented move for the district but we feel it is the right thing to do to ensure we can provide a solid, adequate, quality education for all our children,” she said.

The school board voted in May to hire legal counsel to fight the state over how it funds public education, acknowledging at the time a lawsuit was possible.

SCS is not the first district in the state to file suit over this issue. In March, Hamilton County and school boards in six smaller systems jointly sued the state. Metro Nashville and Knox County school districts have yet to get involved.

The 38-page suit is separate from the one filed in East Tennessee, SCS leaders said. Given Shelby County’s high poverty rate, SCS officials said they wanted to argue their point separately. the firm representing SCS has won a similar case in Kansas, district officials said.

State lawmakers have never fully funded the formula for public school allocations, called the Basic Education Program, or BEP. SCS leaders said previously if they were to get what the formula says it is entitled to receive, they would get $103 million more per year.

Haslam donates to 10 U.S. Senate campaigns

Gov. Bill Haslam has made contributions to the re-election campaigns of 10 Republican U.S. senators so far this year, building on a longtime lead over former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in political donations to candidates for federal office, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

In addition to about $43,000 in donations to Republican senators — $5,000 each in most cases; none less than $2,500 — Haslam in 2015 has also sent $10,000 to the state Republican Party’s federal election account and $5,000 to the National Football League’s political action committee donating to federal candidates, the reports show.

The FEC lists individual donations to candidates for federal office by donor name since 1997. A records search under the names “William” and “Bill” Haslam, then combining the two, indicates the governor’s total contributions through June 30, 2015, total almost $500,000.

For the former governor, the comparable total is about $220,000, according to a search using both “Phil” and “Philip” Bredesen. This year, the former governor had made only two donations to federal candidates — $2,700 to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and $5,000 to the state Democratic Party’s federal campaign account.
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Memphis official accused of sexual relations with minor

Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb was relieved of duty Sunday evening because of a criminal complaint alleging he had improper sexual relations with a minor, reports the Commercial Appeal. The story quotes city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons said.

The young man in his mid-20s (who now lives in Seattle) came forward with the allegations involving a relationship when he was 16, prompting an MPD investigation headed by Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong himself, Sammons said.

Armstrong and a pair of investigators returned from Seattle and, after a meeting with Mayor A C Wharton and attorneys Sunday, Lipscomb was called to City Hall and relieved of duty pending the results of an investigation.

“These allegations are extremely disturbing,” Wharton said in a statement issued by his office late Sunday night. “To ensure that we leave no stone unturned, in addition to referring this matter to the District Attorney General’s Office, we will also seek legal counsel as to if any other state or federal agencies should be involved in this investigation.”

The person making the complaint told police he received numerous wire transfers of cash from Lipscomb, allegedly to buy his silence, according to a source. He said some of those payments via Western Union were for $50, others for hundreds of dollars, the source said.

Lipscomb, a Booker T. Washington High and LeMoyne-Owen College graduate, took the helm of the city’s Housing and Community Development Division in 1992. He was away from city government for a brief time in the late 1990s, but his work led to major overhauls of the city’s public housing projects, and his involvement has been critical to many of the city’s major redevelopment works of the past two decades.

Duncan campaign’s $40K in tickets apparently broke law

For years, Congressman John J. Duncan Jr. has been buying tickets with campaign funds and giving them to constituents, even though that’s apparently a violation of federal law.

From Michael Collins’ report:

“If this is just giving tickets to sporting events and other events to constituents and was unrelated to any campaign fundraising, then it was a violation of the law,” said Larry Noble, former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission and now the senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that advocates enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Duncan’s campaign expense reports show he spent nearly $40,000 in campaign funds to entertain constituents at athletic events or the symphony between 2007 and 2013, the year he stopped giving out the tickets. Just $7,300 of that total was reported as being spent on fundraisers, which is allowed under federal law. The fundraising expenses included the cost of food and room rental.

Duncan’s office says he was under the impression campaign rules allowed him to use the funds to buy tickets to athletic events or concerts as long as he gave them away and didn’t use them himself — which, his spokesman says, he never did.

(Update/Note: Charlie Daniel’s take)

The purchases were disclosed on his campaign expense reports — frequently under the unambiguous heading “athletic tickets for constituents” — and federal elections officials never questioned the practice, said his spokesman, Patrick Newton.

“We’ve always reported and said what we were doing,” Newton said. “They never told us we couldn’t do it, and they go through our reports every year.”

Regardless, Duncan stopped buying the tickets two years ago after his campaign received a letter from the Federal Election Commission saying such ticket purchases were allowed only if they were part of a specific office event or campaign activity, Newton said.

The letter was a general advisory sent to Congress members and was not directed specifically at the Duncan campaign, Newton said.

Federal Election Commission officials declined to say whether Duncan was breaking the law, but referred a reporter to regulations that have been in place since 1995 and govern the use of federal campaign funds for entertainment.

TN Republicans warming to Trump? (despite ‘crazy things’)

Tennessee’s Republican officeholders are not endorsing Donald Trump, but some are offering favorable commentary about the billionaire presidential candidate who is leading national polls and who won a straw poll in Nashville after speaking the National Federation of Republican Assemblies on Saturday.

Examples of Tennessee GOP commentary on Trump from media reports last week:

“Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls, because he is speaking in a language that we all want to hear. Now, does he say some crazy things? Yes, he does. Will he be a crazy president? I think he would be. But he is speaking the language of people … who are fed up with the direction that we’re going,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, at a Shelby County GOP gathering, as quoted by Jackson Baker.

At the same Republican Women’s Club gathering, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Trump has evoked some “rancor,” but he thinks that’s a good thing overall.

“He’s stirring up the status quo, and people want straight talk. They want to hear what we’re doing to address the issues that they care about,” Norris said. “Problematic as it may seem, good for Trump for doing this, getting people fired up. It’s fine. It’s fine. … Good for Trump. … Do we disagree sometimes? Heck yes, we disagree. And Trump would have it that way, too.”

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann told the Times-Free Press that voters see Trump as “a straight shooter.”

“He’s not dependent on donors and lobbyists,” said Fleischmann. “He’s saying things most conventional candidates don’t say.”

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburgh, told the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro that Trump “has been really interesting because he speaks with no political filter.”

“I think some people find that appealing because they are really tired of politicians promising things and not getting things done. That’s not an endorsement of Trump. I just think it should tell people that they want to hear true speak and not political speak,” DesJarlais said.

At the Saturday speech to the Republican Assemblies group in Nashville, Trump was introduced by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, who also made clear she wasn’t endorsing Trump, though praising him. She had introduced Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz previously at one of his presidential campaign visits to Tennessee.

Blackburn told Newsmax before the event that Trump has excited conservative voters because of his talk about issues.

“Trump has said, ‘Wait a minute, the national security issue is at the top of the heap. The Iran deal is a bad deal. China debt, it’s a bad deal. Having the anchor-baby issue continue, bad deal. Not securing our border, that’s a bad deal,’ ” Blackburn said.

In the NFRA straw poll, Trump was the choice of 52 percent of those voting, Newsmax said, getting 220 votes of 420 cast. Cruz finished second with 100 votes, followed by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson with 46. Next in line were Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with 15 votes and former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina, with 11 votes.

Of the others on the 17-candidate straw ballot, the rest were either in single digits or got no votes at all.

Cooper, Duncan still undecided on Iran nuclear deal

Eight of the 11 members of the Tennessee congressional delegation say they will oppose the Iran nuclear deal when it comes to a vote, reports Michael Collins. Only one member, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis, supports it.

Two others — U.S. Reps. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, and Jim Cooper, D-Nashville — are still studying the deal and remain undecided.

Duncan “continues to read as much as he can about the pros and cons of the bill and wants to give it a little more thought and give his constituents more time to contact him before making a decision,” said his spokesman, Patrick Newton.

Duncan is thus the only Tennessee Republican member of Congress not to declare his opposition in advance — in most cases, as with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, via press release. Cooper and Cohen are the only two Democrats in the delegation.

AP story on Trump’s Nashville visit (with links to others)

By Erik Schelzig and Jill Colvin, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Donald Trump will decide soon whether to mount a third party bid if he loses the Republican nomination for president, the real estate mogul said Saturday.

“I think over the next couple of weeks you’re going to see some things that are very interesting,” Trump said after a speech in Nashville to a gathering of tea party activists.

“We’re going to make a decision very soon,” he added, “and I think a lot of people are going to be very happy.”

Trump has so far refused to pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, saying his refusal to commit gains him leverage over the party establishment, which has been caught off-guard by his early dominance in the race. He’s also said repeatedly that he’d prefer to run as a Republican as long as the party treats him fairly.

But to appear on the ballot in South Carolina and several other states, he’ll have to pledge to support the eventual nominee.

Trump was in Nashville to court tea party-leaning voters at a conference hosted by the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement to take back the Republican Party for the vast and disenfranchised majority of its members.”
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Sunday column: Eyeing the summer’s big city mayoral races

While Knoxville is poised to reelect Mayor Madeline Rogero to a new term with a yawn, voters in Tennessee’s two larger cities have been witnessing a wondrous summer spectacle of political combat between multiple mayoral candidates that has involved some wild spending and strange doings.

Whether this is a cause for celebration or envy in Knoxville, of course, is a matter of opinion. But for political junkie entertainment value, the contests in Nashville and Memphis are darn near on a par with the presidential campaigns on the national level – and the outcome will have ramifications in the rest of the state.

Insofar as general human interest goes, maybe Memphis tops Nashville. Consider that one of the 10 candidates, Leo Awgowhat, was charged last week with vandalizing a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest by painting “Aw Go What” on it – a new type of campaign ad? — and another, perennial contender Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, professes to come from the planet Zambodia.

By most accounts, incumbent Mayor A C Wharton is the favorite – but not by much – and his chief challenger is Jim Strickland, a prominent city councilman. The election is Oct. 9.

Memphis has a majority black electorate and race is often an underlying factor in its elections. Wharton is black and so are most other contenders, including another city councilman, the Memphis Police Association president and a former school board member. Strickland is white.

Insofar as spending goes, Nashville unquestionably tops Memphis. It appears that seven candidates collectively spent about $15 million prior to the Aug. 6 general election, not counting Super PACs that got involved. In Memphis, it appears the collective total so far is around $1 million – mostly by Wharton and Strickland – though more can be expected as the election develops. Rogero had $76,718 in her campaign account at last report.

Nashville does have a runoff, scheduled for Sept. 10. It pits Megan Barry, a city council member, and David Fox, a former school board member and hedge-fund manager in a classic liberal-versus-conservative contest. Under state law, all municipal elections are nonpartisan, but this one has strong partisan overtones – and many think that benefits Barry in Nashville, which is fairly characterized as a blue island surrounded by a red sea comprised of adjoining Middle Tennessee counties.

The biggest spender in the regular election, real estate developer William Freeman, finished third and is out of the picture. He spent about $4.5 million, most of it self-financing.
Fox leads Barry in spending, having pumped more than $1.5 million in personal funds into the pre-runoff race. He also was supported by $500,000 in spending by a Super PAC, which turned out to be totally funded by Fox’s brother, who lives in Connecticut.

Fox has sought to portray Barry, who presided at Nashville’s first gay marriage ceremony, as an extreme social liberal. Barry has sought to portray Barry, who attends Republican fundraisers, as an extreme conservative. Both try to portray themselves as somewhat centrist.

It’s notable that most of the state’s leading Republican politicians, including Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who represents part of Nashville in the Legislature, have declined to take sides – as has the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Last weekend, Fox attended a fundraiser for state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican presidential candidate, was keynote speaker. Johnson endorsed Fox and Barry subsequently declared in a debate that Fox, “left Nashville to get the endorsement of a Republican legislator who is focused on overturning the will of Nashville.” Johnson has indicated he may file legislation to override a Nashville charter amendment that requires hiring of local residents for work on city-financed construction projects.

That got more Nashville media attention, by far, than Walker’s campaign appearance. Johnson told The Nashville Scene that he endorsed because what happens in Nashville, as the state’s capitol, has an impact statewide and he think its important that a “pro-business” mayor be presiding there.

He included outgoing Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Mayor Phil Bredesen, who went on to serve eight years as governor, as examples of pro-business leaders, even though they’re Democrats. Bredesen has endorsed Barry.

The state’s “Big Four” mayors – those from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis – jointly lobby the Legislature each year on issues impacting cities. So there’s some common interest there. They’re also all Democrats now and, with Republicans dominating the statewide scene, the mayors are increasingly viewed as leaders within their party.

Dean and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is not up for reelection until next year, have been mentioned as prospective 2018 gubernatorial candidates. Maybe Rogero should get some attention, too, since she must be a consensus builder to avoid opposition in a city that is not as Democrat-dominated as others in the Big Four.

But then again, she isn’t getting much campaign experience.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for the News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.