Victor Ashe’s departure from a federal board that oversees the government’s foreign broadcasting agency is causing almost as much conflict as his tenure on the panel, reports Michael Collins. President Barack Obama is looking to replace Ashe on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent federal agency that watches over government-supported broadcasters such as Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe.
But Ashe’s removal has brought howls of protest from conservatives and some broadcasting groups, who note that he is the only Republican on the board, even though by law the panel is supposed to be evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. Obama has nominated another Republican, former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as Ashe’s successor. But Ashe’s backers argue he should be allowed to stay on as well given the dearth of GOP representation on the panel.
What’s more, some of Ashe’s defenders suspect he is being replaced because his attempts to ferret out waste and mismanagement have rankled the broadcasting agency’s top executives.
“He has upset a lot of people who were used to having the board rubber stamp what they want to do,” said Timothy Shamble, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, the union that represents broadcasters and journalists at Voice of America.
Shamble and others have written letters to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asking him to help keep Ashe on the board.
Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor who also served as U.S. ambassador to Poland, said he is not seeking another term on the board. Obama appointed him to the panel in late 2009 to fill an unexpired term. Ashe’s term ended in August 2010, but by law he is allowed to continue serving until his successor is nominated and confirmed.
“I will continue serving until replaced and work on those issues which I have previously worked on,” Ashe said via email, citing openness in government, less waste, fairness to employees and outreach to people living under repressive regimes that censor objective news.
Ashe said Crocker is “an excellent nominee” to serve on the board. But he, too, believes it’s important to have four Democrats and four Republicans on the nine-member panel. (By law, the ninth board member is the sitting secretary of state.) A bipartisan split on the board “helps to assure an objective, honest approach to news reporting,” Ashe said.
Right now, five of the nine board seats are vacant.
Rep. Vance Dennis told fellow lawmakers that his bill to rewrite Tennessee knife laws has “drawn some sharp criticism” from law enforcement officers, so he proposed an amendment “to strip out the language sheriffs think is too pointed.”
Members of the House Finance Committee agreed and cut the bill (HB581) down to the size approved by the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups.
As passed by the Senate 27-3 last month, the bill repealed most of current state law on knives – including portions that now ban ownership of switchblades and, in some circumstances, carrying knives with blades longer than four inches.
Those provisions were slashed from the bill by Dennis’ amendment. All that remains is a section that says no local government can adopt an ordinance regulating knives that is more stringent than state law.
The revised bill, containing only the “state preemption” provision, was approved by the committee and sent toward a House floor vote. Dennis told the committee he will oppose any attempts to change the bill back into the form approved by the Senate.
Terry Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, said the Senate-passsed bill is “a real officer safety issue” as he could personally testify “having been up against a switchblade” while serving as sheriff of Wilson County.
Ashe said law enforcement officers were “uniformly” against the bill in its original form, once they had heard about it, and believe that leaving only the preemption provision is “a pretty good compromise.”
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said current state law effectively prohibits carrying a knife for self-defense purposes and the original bill would have allowed that.
In the House committee, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, R-Ripley, at one point proposed an amendment to give brass knuckles equal footing with knives, but withdrew the idea after Dennis’ proposed his revision of the bill.
The state would put the property that was once home to Lakeshore Mental Health Institute up for sale to the highest bidder rather than transfer it to the city of Knoxville under legislation proposed by two Knoxville legislators.
The bill filed by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Steve Hall, both Republicans, was sharply criticized Thursday by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and former Mayor Victor Ashe. Both said a sale of the park could jeopardize the current city park located on adjoining land, and prevent its expansion.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam, also a former Knoxville mayor, indicated the governor backs Rogero’s view and opposes the proposal.
Campfield said it makes sense to have the state sell the land at fair market value and use the money to benefit mental health.
“I don’t think we need another park… a monument to someone’s vanity,” said Campfield. “We do need money for mental health.”
The bill as filed (SB1243) does not earmark funds received from sale of about 60 acres owned by the state to mental health, but Campfield said that is his intention and the bill can be amended to do so. He also said Knoxville can be given right to buy the land from the state at full market value.
“Let them (state officials) subdivide it up, put it out for bids, see what it’s worth and offer it to the city at that price,” said Campfield in an interview. “That would bring in a ton of money for mental health, where we have been cutting back year after year.”
Optionally, if the land goes to a private developer, it would generate property tax dollars for the city and county, Campfield said.
Rogero and Haslam have been negotiating a transfer of the land to the city. The present park is on Lakeshore land transferred to the city in 1999. Rogero said in a statement the proposed new transfer ties into a “longstanding agreement with the state” that “will protect the land as a public asset for generations to come.”
David Smith, spokesman for Haslam, sent a reporter a copy of Rogero’s statement and said in an email, “The state has a longstanding agreement with the city, and the governor believes we should continue with that agreement.”
“Selling the land would be a windfall to some land developer and harm the existing park,” said Ashe in a statement.
Terry Ashe will no longer be Wilson County’s sheriff after 30 years in the position, announcing Tuesday he has accepted an appointment to become the executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, according to The Tennessean. Ashe, 63, will relinquish his post as sheriff on Sept. 30, and will take over as full-time executive director of the state Sheriffs’ Association Oct. 1. Assistant Chief Robert Bryan will take over as the Wilson County sheriff.
“I’ve learned a lot about public responsibility,” Ashe said. “This organization has a great opportunity. We’re fighting for victims of crime across the state. The training that we’re giving our sheriffs totally relates to doing the right thing and learning how to run the office of sheriff and working with these jails and trying to make sure these jails are run right. That training we’re giving our sheriffs comes out of this organization.”
Ashe has been the acting director of the sheriffs’ association about two years while keeping his post as Wilson County sheriff. He was a unanimous choice by the sheriffs’ association, whose main objective is to train sheriffs across the state, Ashe said.
A flu shot campaign has resulted in former U.S. Ambassador and Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe becoming an advocate for contract workers of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency that manages U.S. government-funded news and information broadcasts in Europe and Asia.
Ashe is a member of the BBG board, reports Georgiana Vines, and in that capacity learned that the contract workers don’t get flue shots like others and that they have complaints about not being paid on time, too. Ashe, a Republican member of BBG since 2010, said he visits different work sections of the agency when he attends meetings in Washington, D.C., to familiarize himself with programs. At a meeting in October with English language servers for Africa, a contract worker asked why flu shots in the office building excluded her and others
Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, perhaps the best known supporter ofJon Huntsman’s run for the Republican presidential nomination, has joined Huntsman in endorsing Mitt Romeny now that the former Utah governor is out of the race.
In October, Ashe and his wife, Joan, co-hosted a fundraising luncheon for Huntsman at the couple’s Kingston Pike residence. The couple also qualified as delegates for Huntsman on Tennessee’s March 6 presidential primary ballot – comprising two of the three delegates Huntsman had statewide.
From the News Sentinel: “I certainly understand the reason that Gov. Huntsman decided to suspend his candidacy,” he said. “It’s just another example of him putting his country first.”
Ashe said during his time in the race, Huntsman provided a “valuable contribution to the debate and at 51 years old, he will be around in national politics for some time to come.”
Huntsman has endorsed Romney, and Ashe said that is where he has put his support now, too.
“Personally, him (Romney) being a former governor, which shows executive experience, and a success in Iowa and New Hampshire shows a strong cross section of Republicans favor his nomination,” Ashe said. “He presents the strongest alternative to President Obama.”
Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, also former U.S. ambassador to Poland and former state senator, has an op-ed piece in today’s News Sentinel that tells the story of his mother, Martha Ashe, and how she became the first Republican woman to serve in the state Senate. A recommended read for Tennessee history buffs and/or those interested in women in politics.
Republican presidential aspirant Jon Huntsman, while on a visit to Knoxville today, called the nation’s debt problem a “cancer” that has resulted into a national security problem, reports Georgiana Vines. Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, arrived in Knoxville for a luncheon at the home of former Knoxville Mayor and U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe and his wife, Joan, after speaking Tuesday in San Antonio, Texas. The San Antonio Express-News reported he spoke to a crowd of about 200 employees of USAA financial center there.
Huntsman is a former governor of Utah and served as ambassador to China under President Barack Obama. On the national scene, he has not been as successful in fundraising as two other GOP candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. He is hoping to score an upset in the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire.
Ashe (a former ambassador to Poland) said he expected about 100 people to attend the lunch. Among those he said he expected to attend were Knox County Republican Chairman Ray H. Jenkins; Becky Duncan Massey, Republican nominee for the 6th District Senate seat;, and state Sen. Doug Henry of Nashville, a Democrat and longtime Ashe friend.
The new head of a Tennessee agency that inspects and certifies jails will have authority over the jail run by her husband, Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe, reports Brian Haas. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Beth Ashe to be executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, an agency devoted to training, maintaining standards and inspecting jails in Tennessee. The appointment already has drawn fire for being a potential conflict of interest because her agency holds the key to keeping Wilson County’s jail approved to house state inmates.
“Her agency is responsible for inspecting and certifying her husband’s jail,” said attorney Jerry Gonzalez, who has represented inmates in lawsuits — including suits against Wilson County’s jail.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an ethical philosopher to recognize that that is an inherent conflict of interest.” John Lachs, who actually is a professor of ethical philosophy at Vanderbilt University, agreed, saying Beth Ashe probably shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place..
“The obvious first thing to do is to not even create this perception of a conflict of interest,” he said. “You just avoid it.”
But the governor’s office, the institute’s chairman and Ashe herself defended the appointment, saying that any final decisions on jail matters are decided by the agency’s board, not her.
“I don’t see the connection,” Beth Ashe said. “I answer to the board of control, so they give me my direction.”