Author Archives: Tom Humphrey

About Tom Humphrey

Former News Sentinel Nashville bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, state government and Legislature news.

UT won’t penalize professor for tweet that ‘offended many’

The University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said Tuesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against Glen Reynolds, one of its law professors and a contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel for a tweet urging motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.

Further from the News Sentinel:

“The tweet was an exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Wilson wrote in a post on the law school’s website.

“Nevertheless, the tweet offended many members of our community and beyond, and I understand the hurt and frustration they feel.”

The law school had begun an investigation after a Glenn Reynolds’ tweet.

Twitter briefly suspended Reynolds’ account after he responded to a tweet from a TV news station Wednesday night in Charlotte that showed protesters — angered by the police shooting of a black man — on Interstate 277.

“Run them down,” he wrote.

Reynolds, the creator of the Instapundit blog, tweets from the handle @Instapundit.

Wilson wrote that the law school’s investigation included “an examination of the facts, policies in the university’s Faculty Handbook, and the law.”

She said she also talked to Reynolds, university leadership and the general counsel as well as students, staff, faculty, Alumni Council and Dean’s Circle.

“In short, no disciplinary action will be taken against Professor Reynolds,” she wrote.

Brooks running for House GOP caucus chair

State Rep. Kevin Brooks of Cleveland tells Nashville Post Politics that he’s running to become House Republican Caucus chairman, anticipating the man currently holding that office — Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin — will instead run for House majority leader.

“Glen and I have had multiple positive conversations,” Brooks said about his decision to announce his leadership bid during tonight’s House Republican Caucus fundraiser at the Hermitage Hotel. “It’s my understanding that Glenn wants to run [for Leader] … and tonight has been an very important evening — I feel like everyone I talked to offered me their support.”

Since last week’s announcement from McCormick that he wouldn’t seek the leadership role again, a number of legislators have stated or implied they want his job, the second highest ranking position behind House Speaker Beth Harwell. Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) told the caucus that she had already been planning to challenge McCormick, and Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) posted on Facebook that he was “prayerfully” considering running. Brooks also expressed an interest, along with Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and, of course Casada, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House.

According to Brooks, Casada is running for Leader. According to Casada’s staff Monday night, the legislator isn’t thinking past Election Day.

…”I think Glen and I will be a great team, should leadership allow us to serve together,” Brooks said. “He recruited me to run for office in 2006, and it’s a great feeling to think about serving with him now, together.”

Brooks may be the first name in the running for the caucus leadership, but he doesn’t expect to be the last.

“I would be surprised if no one else jumps in the race,” Brooks said.

Berke, staff used encrypted messages to communicate

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and City Attorney Wade Hinton on Monday said they’ve both used encrypted smartphone message applications to communicate government business, reports the Times-Free Press.

The app they used, Whatsapp, is an encrypted messaging platform that only allows message senders and recipients to store messages and phone calls. Unlike an email sent using the city’s email server, Whatsapp does not store messages sent by its users.

Concerns over text communications by Berke and his senior staff arose after a domestic incident involving adviser Lacie Stone and her husband, Bobby. Bobby Stone has alleged his wife was having an affair with Berke, who has denied the claim.

On Monday, Berke asserted the usage of Whatsapp or similar technology does not run counter to his administration’s commitment to transparency.

“I have used Whatsapp in the past,” Berke said. “I do not currently use Whatsapp to communicate with them [his staff]. We communicated with it and sent messages that have government business on them and comply with our [open record] responsibilities, just like our text messages.”

Berke did not explain why members of the city staff used encrypted messaging as opposed to regular text messaging or offer an explanation as to why he quit using Whatsapp.

Durham hit Florida fan during UT football game

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham hit a University of Florida fan in the face during the University of Tennessee’s football game Saturday and was escorted out of Neyland Stadium by a law enforcement officer, reports The Tennessean.

Several witnesses confirmed an officer approached Durham and asked him to leave. The recently expelled lawmaker complied and was escorted out of the stands by a Blount County sheriff’s deputy.

Photos and video obtained by The Tennessean verify that Durham was approached by the deputy and others after the hitting incident.

When initially approached by event staff, Durham said, “Did you see what he did? He pushed me. And I pushed his sunglasses off.”

A Tennessee fan who saw what happened said Durham was sitting with his wife and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a longtime friend of Durham’s. The Tennessee fan said a particularly boisterous Florida fan was yelling loudly, and at one point Durham responded to the yells. The Florida fan started yelling at Durham. Once the Florida fan yelled at Durham, the Tennessee fan said Durham turned around and hit the man in the face.

“As he hit the guy’s face, almost slapped at his face, he caused the guy’s glasses to fly off his face. (The glasses) probably went 10 to 12 people down the aisle and one row in front,” said the fan, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

…David Williams, son of former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams, who was seated three rows behind the Florida fan and four rows behind Durham, said, “I saw Mr. Durham turn around and basically smack the guy in the face and it knocked the sun glasses off his head.” Continue reading

Blues dropping ObamaCare in much of TN

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will not sell insurance plans on the Obamacare exchange in the state’s three largest metro areas next year, reports The Tennessean.

The insurer made “an extremely difficult but necessary decision” to leave the Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville markets as it tries to manage its number of members to hit a break-even point amid three years of losses, said Roy Vaughn, chief communications officer of BCBST.

“It’s not something we want to do but we believe we must look out for the health care and financial security for all the members that we serve,” Vaughn said in an interview with The Tennessean.

(The Times-Free Press reports the total of 214,000 Tennesseans impacted is more than half of those enrolled through BCBS statewide.)

The company formally made the change to its 2017 plans in a Friday filing with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — roughly a month after it raised the possibility of scaling back. Earlier this summer, BCBST requested — and was granted — state approval for an average 62-percent premium increase. The rate hike is still pending federal approval.
By the end of 2016, BCBST anticipates losses from three years selling on the exchange established by the Affordable Care Act will approach $500 million.

…The Chattanooga-based insurer, which was the only insurer that originally planned to sell statewide, expects to shed about 112,000 people from its rolls under the change and keep about 80,000 primarily in rural areas. Shoppers in the three metro areas will not be able to buy either on-exchange plans, where tax credits may be used, or off-exchange plans, which are not eligible for tax credits.

The decision will reshape open enrollment, which begins Nov. 1, for people who buy individual plans in the state’s three largest markets — and where Cigna or Humana, or both, are expected to sell plans. According to BCBST, 52,000 people in Nashville, 31,000 in Knoxville, and 29,000 in Memphis, will have to look to another insurer for coverage in 2017.

Vaughn said the structure of its 2017 footprint was designed to make sure there was at least one insurer in every part of the state. The 95 counties are divided among eight regions. In 2016, BCBST and UnitedHealthcare were the only two insurers to sell statewide.

BCBST’s decision increases the number of counties in which people may choose from a single company to 73 counties — up from 57.

(Note: A BCBS map showing county coverage in 2017 is HERE.)

On Coleman vs. Dickerson in Senate District 20

Excerpt from Nashville Public Radio’s review of the state Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson and Democratic nominee Erin Coleman:

Democrats have high hopes for Coleman. She’s a young mother and a business owner, a lawyer and an Army veteran — the sort of person who might appeal to voters in a Nashville district that’s generally suburban and right-of-center.

“We really feel like we’re headed in the right direction,” she tells one young man, “and people are starting to listen and recognize that there’s an election happening.”

“I also feel like a lot of Republicans are going to stay home,” he says.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” Coleman replies.

He means that Republicans are going to stay home because of Donald Trump. Continue reading

Matlock offers ‘covenant’ to House GOP Caucus

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock has listed what he calls “the guiding principles” of his effort to replace Beth Harwell as House speaker in a document labeled “Covenant with the Caucus,” reports Cari Wade Gervin. The Covenant was emailed to members of the House Republican Caucus.

The one-page “covenant” (Note: Copy HERE) still offers no specifics as to what kinds of legislation Matlock wants to push, but it does throw shade on aspects of Harwell’s tenure.

“After many conversations with friends and colleagues in recent months, it is clear that many of us have a shared sense of concern regarding the manner in which the House operates,” Matlock writes, before elaborating in sections entitled, “SERVICE,” “PROACTIVE INTERACTION,” “CONSISTENT STANDARDS,” “CONSISTENT STRATEGY,” “CONSISTENT SUPPORT,” and “CONSISTENT RESPECT.”

Matlock describes how his office will reach out to members, how he won’t bully them, and how he’ll stand by all incumbents during primary races. 

“I will promote and apply high standards of conduct equally among all members. We cannot secure an environment of trust and confidence apart from the consistent application of such standards (emphasis his),” Matlock writes in the “CONSISTENT STANDARDS” section.

…Matlock stated in his email he plans “to deliver a signed copy of the covenant to each of you in the coming weeks.” However, he added that he wouldn’t be “sharing details regarding specific goals for the coming Session” until after the general election in November.

Cohen on presidential election: ‘This is Armageddon’

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen kicked off a get-out-the-vote campaign by Shelby County Democrats on Saturday with a brief but fiery speech supporting Hillary Clinton and attacking Donald Trump, reports Jackson Baker.

“This is Armageddon,” Cohen told a sizeable (crowd) crammed into a meeting room at the headquarters. “We have a choice between a lady who wants to carry on Barack Obama’s legacy and …the most Neanderthal candidate we’ve ever had as the nominee of a major political party.”

Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump is “trying to win with lies and hate and misinformation,” and by “dividing people,” Cohen said.

Linking Trump to Russia, Cohen said, “We’re going to find out more and more about his contacts with Russia. We’ve never had a candidate in our history who owes so much, or any amount, for that matter, to a foreign nation. And particularly a foreign nation that is one of our most powerful enemies, or the antithesis of what America is about.”

Cohen said Clinton’s campaign was one of “looking out for America,” while Trump’s was devoted to “self-interest” and involvement with “oligarchs.”

…Scoffing at various public criticisms of Clinton for faults of her own, Cohen said, “The perfect is enemy of the good. And I’m telling you, Hillary Clinton is very, very good.”

Draft of TN social studies standards cuts references to Islam

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — Seventh-grade students in Tennessee would no longer spend as much time learning about the history of Islam by 2019 under a proposed draft revision being developed by state educators, a newspaper reports.

A section on Islam currently taught in social studies classes has been removed from the state Board of Education’s draft , which went online for public review Sept. 15, the Kingsport Times-News reported. Most of the sections involving Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions have remained in the draft in some form.

With the proposed deletion of the “Islamic World, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s” section, students would no longer be learning about the Quran or the differences between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the religion, the newspaper had reported. Continue reading

On Mike Smith, TN-raised presidential candidate

In an interview with the News Sentinel, independent presidential candidate Mike Smith — a Colorado Springs, Colo., attorney who was raised in Knoxville — acknowledges little chance of winning but says voters need more options.

“I’m unhappy with my choices in this presidential election and my question is, ‘what are you going to do about it?’ We’re not bound to vote for a Republican or a Democrat,” Smith said.

…He went to Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City for his undergraduate work, then got a master’s degree in 2002 from the University of Tennessee in human performance and sport studies with a concentration in sports management. Then, he said, he earned a law degree from Liberty University in Virginia and practiced law in Tennessee before moving to Colorado in 2012.

He opened Veritas Law Firm in 2014.

In addition to being on the Tennessee and Colorado ballots, Smith said he’s working to run as a write-in option in 30 states.

“It is a long shot, but growing up in East Tennessee, I’ve seen a few Hail Marys,” he said.

Although he’s calling himself an independent, Smith, a former Republican, said he still holds many beliefs that align with conservatives.

He breaks from Republican nominee Donald Trump on a few points. Smith sees building a wall on the Mexican border as an unfeasible, unrealistic way of handling immigration. And he said he believes Trump’s answer to the Affordable Care Act is a rehash of that same plan.
“His stances change frequently,” Smith said.