News release from Secretary of State’s office:
It has endured an army occupation, the interment of two of its founding fathers, and a car cruising through its hallways. Not to mention its role as the site of many of the most important events in Tennessee’s history. The Tennessee State Capitol building has many great stories to tell – and some of those stories were revealed in a documentary about the building that premiered last week. In attendance were state legislators, department commissioners, representatives from preservation groups and others.
The documentary was created by the staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It is the first part of a project that will eventually include a virtual tour of the Capitol building and its grounds, and feature stories about the building and influential people in Tennessee history.
When completed, the entire project will be burned onto DVDs that will be distributed to schools throughout the state.
The project is a result of the Tennessee General Assembly’s approval of Public Chapter No. 557, sponsored by Representative Jim Coley and Senator Ken Yager.
“I appreciate the support of the Tennessee General Assembly in the passage of Public Chapter No. 557, which has led us to the creation of a comprehensive digital record of the Tennessee State Capitol’s history,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “That history will be available to people now and in the future – 24 hours a day, seven days a week and free of charge – over the Internet. There are many things about the Capitol’s history that will surprise people. This building doesn’t have its own Trivial Pursuit game, but it could.”
“The mission of the State Library and Archives is to preserve Tennessee’s history for everyone,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “This video draws on some of the vast treasures contained in our archives to tell the story of the Capitol building.”
The original cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid on July 4, 1845. In the 14 years that followed, architect William Strickland – with assistance from Samuel Morgan, Francis Strickland and Harvey Ackroyd – designed and oversaw the building that is still in use today. Although the Capitol has gone through various renovations over nearly 170 years, many of the building’s original characteristics are unchanged. This historical national landmark is one of the nation’s oldest working statehouses still in use.
The documentary and information on the images used in the film are available at www.capitol.tnsos.net. Additionally, the virtual tour, mini-features, and fun stories about the Tennessee State Capitol will be available soon.
Carr Addresses Pro-Gun Gathering
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — At least 1,000 people gathered on the Legislative Plaza across from the Capitol building in Nashville to show their support for gun rights.
The “Guns Across America” rallies are being held in state capitols nationwide. Activists have promoted the rallies primarily via social media. They’re being held days after President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping package of gun-control proposals.
Many who came to the Nashville event carried signs and flags with messages like “Don’t tread on me.” A few also carried guns.
Republican State Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas told the crowd that “.any assault on the Second Amendment is an attack on any amendment.”
Carr has introduced a bill that would slap federal officials with a misdemeanor charge for enforcing the new proposals.
Note: The Tennessean story has the gun rally crowd at “more than 500.” There’s also this quote from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron: “I say, ‘No.’ I say, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ “
Anti-abortion Rally Marks Roe v. Wade Anniversary
Approximately 200 people gathered on the steps of the State Capitol to listen to guest speakers and show support for unborn life at the Right to Life Rally hosted by Tennessee Right to Life, reports the Tennessean.
“It was a healthy crowd,” said TRL President Brian Harris. “The Supreme Court certainly didn’t do us any favors making this ruling in the dead of winter, but this crowd shows our commitment (to) take a stand for human life.”
The rally coincides with the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. Tuesday will mark its 40th anniversary. Clergymen, laymen and children were among those in attendance, many holding signs with various Bible verses and anti-abortion phrases.
Kelly Lang clutched a black sign that read “I Regret My Abortion.” “There is so much pain that comes with it,” she said. “Lots of women don’t realize the emotional pain you carry.”
Officials are rolling out new security measures at the state Capitol this year, including machines that can scan identification cards, more cameras and permanent guard stations at each public entrance, observes The Tennessean. Similar measures are being implemented at adjoining Legislative Plaza, where lawmakers have their committee meetings.
Tighter security comes as state and national lawmakers prepare to debate the place of firearms in workplaces and schools. It also comes as the nation reacts to last year’s shootings in Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado.
But state officials deny there is a direct connection.
“It wasn’t a reaction to any one particular incident,” said state Comptroller Justin Wilson, a member of the State Building Commission, which signed off on the improvements.
“There’s just a need for greater security.”
The improvements are part of a larger renovation of the Capitol. Completed in December, the $15.7 million project mainly restored the Civil War-era building’s interior and upgraded the heating and cooling system. As planning for the project got under way, the Department of Safety and the Department of General Services recommended beefing up security.
The State Building Commission, most of whose members have offices in the Capitol, signed off on the improvements in late 2011. The decision came before the latest round of shootings, but it took place months after the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a political rally in Arizona. Occupy Nashville protesters were camped outside at the time.
News release from Capitol Resources:
(Nashville, TN)- Capitol Resources, the South’s leading government relations and lobbying firm, with offices across the region, is pleased to announce Tennessee Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas will head the firm’s office in the Volunteer State.
Nickas led the Tennessee Republican Party’s highly successful effort to expand the Republican majority in the Tennessee General Assembly, and he has worked on local, state and federal campaigns throughout the region.
Capitol Resources is one of the largest and most versatile state-based lobbying firms in the country, with offices in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.
“Adam is an excellent fit for Capitol Resources,” said Henry Barbour, a partner in the firm. “His leadership is proven and his drive is unquestioned. The GOP gains in the Tennessee statehouse were noticed around the country, and he will be a tremendous asset to our clients.”
“Capitol Resources has an established reputation for excellent service to its clients throughout the South,” said Nickas. “I look forward to helping our clients achieve their objectives and working closely with the leaders and members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Executive Branch.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Workers are putting the finishing touches on a renovation of the state Capitol as they prepare to re-open the 153-year-old building later this month.
The nearly $16 million project largely focused on upgrading electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. Parts of the building also got new carpets, paint and security upgrades.
The governor, executive staff, constitutional officers and legislative workers are in the process of moving back into the building that has been closed since May. The public will be able to gain entry on Dec. 17.
Visitors will now have to have their driver’s licenses scanned upon entry to the building, and a more extensive internal and external video surveillance system has been installed.
Officials declined to explain details or the rationale for the enhanced security.
The $15 million renovation of the state Capitol building, now underway, has inspired former state Rep. Robert Booker to do a bit of research and to reminiscence. A couple of excerpts from the resulting op-ed piece:
The “Tennessee Blue Book 1967-1968” says, “Prison labor was used for most of the stone cutting and for a large part of the actual construction work.” The book goes on to describe renovations to the building that began in January 1956, when it received “a new copper roof, new windows, and 90,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone to restore the steps and terraces.”
The Capitol was started during the administration of Gov. James Chamberlain Jones, a farmer of Wilson County who had been elected to the Legislature in 1837 and again in 1839. He served as governor from 1841 to 1845, and was the first native Tennessean to hold that office.
According to G.R. McGee in his book, “A History of Tennessee,” published in 1839, Jones was called “Lean Jimmy” because “he was six feet two inches high, and weighed only one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
…I was a member of the Legislature in 1968 when it was decided that we needed new furniture in the House and Senate chambers.
Each legislator had the opportunity to buy his or her desk and chair for $65. They came with a list of the men and women who had occupied them through the years.
For 44 years now I have used that cherry wood desk and chair in the office at my house.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Renovations at the state Capitol are giving workers the chance to restore some of the original features of the 150-year-old building including arched ceilings and other detail work.
Peter Heimbach Jr. of the state Department of General Services told reporters during a tour Monday that while mechanical upgrades are the main object of the overhaul, the state will also have a chance to restore vaulted ceilings and to seal doors that weren’t original to the building.
“We’d like to preserve some of the history of the Capitol and its construction,” he said.
Tearing out drop ceilings on the ground level and in legislative staff offices revealed arched ceilings original to the building. Demolition work on the men’s’ bathroom on the first floor revealed the outline of a former staircase and faux detail work that had been painted on the wall.
The discoveries in the old stairwell will be covered up again as the bathroom will need to be replaced, but the exposed arches on the ground floor will remain open, including in a former vending and break area that will become a conference room.
“This type of construction really hasn’t changed much since the Romans did it,” Heimbach said. “There’ s a lot of cathedrals in Europe that have this exact type of construction.”
Researchers who reviewed federal court convictions of state government officials from 1976 through 2002 say that the more isolated a state capitol is from the overall state population, the more corruption. (Note: The period would catch the convictions of Ray Blanton era officials, who were tried after he left office, and the “Rocky Top” scandal but not the 2005 “Tennessee Waltz” scandal.)
From a Los Angeles Times story on the study:
The most corrupt state capitals – Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., Nashville, Tenn., Pierre, S.D., Springfield, Ill., and Albany, N.Y., for example – are all more isolated than average. Nashville is the least so, being a major city in its own right although distant from other population centers in the state. Springfield and Pierre rank as the two most isolated on the list. The less isolated the capital, the more likely it is to rank low on corruption.
Isolation doesn’t explain everything, of course. Some states, such as Oregon, Washington and Vermont, have unusually low levels of corruption. But the impact of isolation appears strong.
What might cause the relationship between isolation and corruption, the researchers asked. One possibility was that newspapers, which provide most coverage of state governments, may be less likely to cover the capital when it is further from their circulation areas. So they examined the content of 436 U.S. newspapers, searching for references to state government. Sure enough, “in states where the population is more concentrated around the capital,” the study found “more intense media coverage of state politics, and therefore greater accountability.”
For example, they noted, newspapers in Massachusetts, where Boston, is the capital and by far the state’s largest city, cover state government more than do newspapers in New York, where Albany is a relative backwater.
“It stands to reason that when citizens are better able to monitor the performance of public officials and punish those who do misbehave, there will be less scope for the latter to misuse their office for private gain,” the researchers wrote.
The relationship between newspaper coverage and corruption has another troubling implication. In the past decade, the number of reporters covering state capitals has dropped sharply – a reduction of more than 30% between 2003 and 2009, according to a census by the American Journalism Review. If less coverage leads to more corruption, those staff cutbacks should provide plenty of work for prosecutors in years to come.
A century and a half ago, the new Tennessee State Capitol was seized, fortified and transformed into Fortress Andrew Johnson by the Union Army during its Civil War occupation of Nashville.
Now, Richard Locker reports, the Capitol is becoming increasingly fortress-like again as a result of security measures already made and new ones under way.
State officials are keeping the details secret, but they include heightened security checkpoints, which already require citizens to produce photo IDs to enter, high-definition cameras inside and out, license-plate scanners and others not known.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he doesn’t know details of the security plan. “That funding decision was made by the Building Commission, not by us, and that’s really important to note. That being said, I would hope that part of the reason for additional security is to make it so people can still access the building instead of just sealing it off and saying, ‘I’m sorry, there’s too many security reasons why you can’t.'”
Security officials proposed X-ray body scanners but they were reportedly nixed in favor of less intrusive metal detectors first put up in 2001.
The 153-year-old State Capitol closed last week for an eight-month, $15.3 million renovation project that mostly involves new heating, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems and interior refurbishing.
But the State Building Commission also approved various unspecified “interior and exterior security upgrades” in November and February, after top officials of Haslam’s administration — Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons of Memphis and General Services Commissioner Steve Cates of Nashville — recommended a package of far-reaching upgrades. The “Master Security Plan” for the Capitol complex is confidential under state law.
The Building Commission is composed of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Secretary of State Tré Hargett, State Treasurer David Lillard, Comptroller Justin Wilson and Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. It approved the upgrades after private briefings and no public discussion.
State Architect Robert Oglesby referred questions to the General Services Department, where Assistant Commissioner Kelly Smith initially said she was unaware of any security components to the overall project. She later acknowledged them but would provide no details.
However, two sources familiar with the projects said they include upgrading the existing checkpoints and installing high-definition cameras throughout the interior of the Capitol, the Legislative Plaza Building where state legislative committee hearings are held, and the War Memorial Building, which houses legislative offices.
They also said powerful new cameras capable of recording close-up images of people will be installed outside the Capitol and atop nearby buildings for monitoring the public grounds outside the Capitol and War Memorial Plaza, a public square with fountains across from the Capitol that is the site of occasional protests.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam has relocated to temporary office space while the state Capitol gets renovated.
The work on the more than 150-year-old building includes repairs and upgrades to heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems.
The $15 million project is scheduled to be completed in December.
Much of the mechanical and electrical equipment being replaced was installed in 1955.
The governor and about 35 staffers have decamped to the 27th floor of the nearby William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower while the work is under way.
The end of the legislative session last week signaled that work on the Capitol could begin. Staffers packed up offices and art handlers got to work covering up busts to protect them against damage.
The governor’s suite in the Capitol includes a reception area, a conference room and his personal office. The deputy to the governor, the administration’s top lobbyist and the finance commissioner have also vacated their offices on the main floor of the Capitol.
The change is perhaps most striking for Haslam staffers with offices on the subterranean level. The level was designed as an armory and fuel depot, but was converted into offices in the 1950s.
Those aides — including Haslam’s communications and legal teams — now have windows with unobstructed views of city.
Also affected by the Capitol renovations are the offices of the House and Senate clerks and the state’s treasurer, comptroller and secretary of state.
The work was originally scheduled to take place in 2011, but the newly sworn-in Haslam administration didn’t want to immediately move out of the Statehouse upon taking office.
Construction fencing is going up around the Capitol grounds, and all public entrances will be locked for the duration of the project.
The Capitol was completed in 1859, but the General Assembly began using the unfinished building six years earlier.