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Gingrich Calls Santorum ‘Big Labor Republican’

By Ken Thomas, Associated Press
NASHVILLE — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Monday slammed rival Rick Santorum as a “big labor Republican,” accusing him of siding with unions over Memphis-based FedEx when the Senate grappled with a labor dispute in the 1990s.
Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman and House Speaker, is hoping to revive his struggling campaign in the South, and he tailored his message Monday to Republican voters in Tennessee. Although polls show a close race between Santorum and Mitt Romney, Gingrich challenged the former Pennsylvania senator and his conservative credentials.
“I think there are profound reasons that Rick lost the Senate race by the largest margin in Pennsylvania history in 2006 and I think it’s very hard for him to carry that all the way to the general,” Gingrich said. “Then he comes South and you take the case right here. He voted for the unions over FedEx. I suspect most folks in the state don’t know that. But in fact he was a big labor Republican in Pennsylvania and I suspect when you get to Memphis and you say to people, ‘Gee, this is a guy who wanted to guarantee that FedEx give into the unions.’ Santorum won’t be as popular the following morning.”
Gingrich was referring to a provision in a 1996 spending bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that sought to help FedEx truck drivers in their efforts to organize. A group of Democrats held up the FAA bill to protest what they said was an attempt to help FedEx prevent its truck drivers from forming a union.
In 2006, Democrat Bob Casey soundly defeated then Sen. Santorum.
Gingrich said if Romney wins the Michigan primary on Tuesday, “you’ll see things start to clarify. If, as people expect, you end up with a Romney victory in Michigan tomorrow, I think you’ll see Santorum getting a very different second look.”
Bypassing Michigan and Arizona, the other primary on Tuesday, Gingrich said voters in Tennessee and his home state of Georgia could rejuvenate his presidential bid, which has stalled since he claimed a surprise victory in last month’s South Carolina primary. The former House speaker said a handful of states voting on the mega-contest day of March 6 could propel him to wins in Mississippi and Alabama next month and delegate-rich primaries later in the spring in Texas and California.
“Then all of the sudden, the same media which said I was dead in the fall, I was ahead in December, I was dead in early January, I was ahead in mid-January, all of the sudden they’re going to say … Gingrich will be back again,” he said during a luncheon with local Republicans.
Tennessee and Georgia hold nearly one-third of the 419 delegates at stake in the 10 states voting on Super Tuesday, contests Gingrich views as crucial to his struggling presidential bid. His campaign sees a potential backdoor opening if either Romney or Santorum stumbles, setting the stage for another showdown in a prolonged series of primary contests.
At a rally on the grounds of the State Capitol, Gingrich, a former history professor, said President Andrew Jackson would have been “enraged” by Obama, citing the president’s recent decision to apologize for the actions of U.S. troops who burned Qurans while destroying documents on a military base in Afghanistan.
“Jackson understood that you want your opponents to respect you,” Gingrich said, overlooking a statue of the 19th century president riding horseback. “They don’t have to like you but they have to understand that you’re formidable and you’re dangerous.”
Later in the day, Gingrich was attending a rally at the State Capitol with former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
Gingrich was reaching for a strong showing in Tennessee even as a statewide poll underscored his challenges here. A Vanderbilt University poll showed Gingrich at 10 percent in the state, trailing rivals Santorum with 33 percent and Romney with 17 percent. The poll of 767 likely Republican primary voters was conducted Feb. 16-22 and had a margin of error of 3 percent.
“The race remains very fluid in this state and will likely continue to move in response to the primaries in Michigan and Arizona,” said John Geer, a Vanderbilt political scientist and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll. “Still, this poll suggests the climb is steep for the speaker, but far from impossible in this unpredictable year.”
Earlier, Gingrich attended a health care forum at the law firm of former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker Jr., R-Tenn., urging Republicans to think of this time as “the beginning of the replacement debate rather than just the anti-Obama care debate.” Gingrich has said he would repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law if Republicans win congressional majorities.
Gingrich has offered a number of alternatives to the new health law, offering a tax credit to help people buy health insurance or the ability to deduct part of the costs from their taxes.
The former speaker returns to Georgia on Tuesday for a three-day bus tour around his home state, hoping to halt a month-long slide.
“My basic hope is to pick up some delegates virtually everywhere, pick up a lot of delegates in the South and Southwest and then with Texas and California, be totally in the race,” Gingrich said.

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‘Big Four’ Mayors Lobby Governor, Legislators for Local Control

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and mayors of the state’s three other largest cities talked to Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leaders Wednesday with a consensus concern about a trend toward the state taking power from local government.
“That’s our No. 1 priority,” said Rogero of the joint visits of the “big four” mayors with Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and others during the day.
“At the state level we don’t like the feds telling us what to do,” she said, and local governments feel the same about state officials dictating to them.
The other mayors were Karl Dean of Nashville, A C Wharton of Memphis and Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga.
“It was the first time all four of us have been together,” she said. “So it was great to get together and talk and to be in sync with each other on the issues that impact the big cities.”
Rogero cited some examples of pending legislation that could have a negative impact on local governments. One is HB3386, which would prohibit local governments from requiring city contractors to provide a specified level of benefits to employees.
Memphis, for example, now requires city contractors to pay more than the federal; minimum wage. Knoxville does not and Rogero said there are no plans to do so.
“Whether we do it now or not is not the issue,” she said. “It’s another of those bills that preempt local authority. We would like to have more autonomy on the local level and have the state let us make the decisions on what’s best for us.”
Another bill Rogero criticized was HB2989 is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. The measure would allow a landowner who has legal rights to use property for purposes outside zoning laws to extend that “non-conforming use” to adjoining properties that the company or individual owns.
The mayor said that passage could jeopardize zoning regulations needed in city redevelopments such as South Waterfront, Cumberland Avenue and Downtown North.
Haynes said he is willing to work with city officials on revisions to be bill, including a change to assure that a property owner cannot buy adjoining property and then have a “non-conforming use.”

UT Believing In Better? ‘Big Orange. Big Ideas’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee has a new branding campaign: “Big Orange. Big Ideas.”
According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the slogan will be used in UT’s local and national advertisements and on its new redesigned website (http://bit.ly/w8xPlP).
Flags, posters and banners on campus Wednesday announced the new campaign.
Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the campaign provides a much-needed platform for telling the university story and strengthening its reputation.

Cohen Takes College Sports to House Floor

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., made a speech on House floor Thursday to pitch the idea of University of Memphis joining the Big East Conference. The Commercial Appeal says Cohen had one minute — and no timeouts — to play the role of Rick Pitino.
On Wednesday Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach, campaigned for the Big East Conference to consider inviting former Conference USA rival Memphis. Cohen, a Memphian and longtime fan of Tiger athletics, picked up the conference realignment ball Thursday and took his best shots.
During a brief plea on the House floor, Cohen said he wanted to encourage ”all the Big East presidents to consider the University of Memphis for membership.”
”Memphis is a major city, home of Federal Express and International Paper and other major companies. We don’t have a professional football team in Memphis so if we get in the Big East, in essence, you are our professional football team and the city would rally around it, unlike in Dallas and Houston where they have professional (football) teams.”
Cohen referenced Pitino’s suggestion to invite Memphis during his talk, the speech coming as the Big East considers adding Boise State, Central Florida, SMU, Houston, Air Force and Navy to offset the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and TCU.

Big 4 School Systems Oppose Kelsey Voucher Bill

Legislation to set up a school voucher program for the first time in Tennessee has been revised by its lead sponsor while the state’s biggest school systems — including Knox County — are launching a lobbying effort against it.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored a voucher bill that passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House. In a news release, Kelsey said he is filing a new and revised version of the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” (SB2135) for the 2012 legislative session.
The revision adds what Kelsey describes as an “accountability measure” that will require some testing of student performance lacking in the original proposal.
Data from other states shows similar programs have improved student performance, Kelsey said.
“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” he said.
As with the previous version, the bill applies only in Knox, Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties and only to children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
According to Kelsey, for a family of four, that would include students in households with incomes below $42,000 per year. The scholarships would be in the amount of half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child — $5,400 per year in Memphis City Schools, $4,200 in Shelby County Schools, $5,400 in Nashville Schools, $4,600 in Chattanooga Schools and $4,300 in Knox County Schools.
The Knox County Board of Education last week unanimously approved a resolution calling for defeat of the voucher legislation, according to Indya Kincannon, former chair and now vice chair of the board. Other systems are likely to act on similar resolutions soon.
“Taxpayer dollars should stay in public schools rather than go to private schools that can pick and choose their students and may or may not be teaching them things that are appropriate,” said Kincannon.
She said the Knox County board believes a voucher program would be a distraction to major reform efforts already under way across the state and “would undermine public confidence in public schools when we are poised for huge improvements.”
Further, she said, private schools that would receive funding through the proposed program lack accountability. She said the accountability provisions in Kelsey’s bill are “nebulous and unclear about who is going to check up on them.”
The Coalition of Large School Systems, which includes the Knox County system as a member, has retained the Southern Strategies Group to lobby against the measure, with Robert Gowan as leader of the firm’s efforts. The coalition also includes school systems in Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties. In Shelby, the city and county school systems were recently merged.
Kinncannon said Knox County provides $25,000 toward paying the lobbying fee.

Note: Contrary to the original post, the Knox County School Board vote on the resolution was not unanimous. Board member Cindy Buttry cast a no vote.