Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle joined his House counterpart Wednesday in declaring disinterest in running for governor, even though he waged a brief campaign for the office in 2010.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said Kyle, D-Memphis, adding that he had hoped House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley would run. As for himself, Kyle said he is not really interested, though stopping short of absolutely ruling it out.
“I’ve thought more about ‘do I want to leave the Senate and become a judge or do I want to stay in the Senate.’ That is the decision I’ve got to make between now and the end of the year,” he said. “That’s what I’ve focused all of my energy on.”
Fitzhugh, who has toyed with the idea of running for governor since December, said earlier this week that he has decided to instead seek re-election to his West Tennessee House seat and another term as head of House Democrats.
Kyle ran briefly for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2012, then withdrew — along with three other Democrats who initially declared themselves candidates, including the party’s current chairman, former state Sen. Roy Herron. Dresden businessman Mike McWherter won the nomination, then lost to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
The lone Democrat to voice interest in running against Gov. Bill Haslam for governor said he’ll stick to running for re-election to his West Tennessee House district instead, reports The City Paper. “I’m committed to continuing as leader and trying to run for my representative position again. That’s what I’m going to do, I believe,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told The City Paper.
“I certainly hope that we can find somebody who will step forward because I do think some of the things that are happening in our state are not going the way that they could,” he said.
Fitzhugh first raised the possibility of a run for governor in December. (Previous post HERE)
See also, The Tennessean story.
Craig Leuthold, a former Knox County commissioner, was named by the current Knox County Commission Monday as trustee, filling the seat vacated when John J. Duncan III resigned July 2 after pleading guilty to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
From the News Sentinel: Leuthold said he would open the bookkeeping.
“I’m going to work toward changing morale,” he said. “I’m going to be transparent.”
Former Trustee Mike Lowe held office from 1994 until he was term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007. He surrendered to authorities in April 2012 amid grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury also indicted four others from the county’s tax collection department.
Leuthold worked under Lowe, primarily in satellite offices. He said he would draw on his familiarity with the office in his approach during his term that lasts slightly more than a year. The office will be up for election in August 2014.
Given the troubled history of the office, commissioners wanted candidates to promise openness. They differed on whether they wanted a political outsider or someone connected to county government.
Monday’s discussions included some political theatrics by commissioners, including a postponement proposal to allow absent Commissioner Mike Brown to join in the vote in August.
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says Republicans showed an inclination to “put petty politics above the safety of our students” during the legislative session by killing one of his bills.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada says that’s not so and Fitzhugh is “seeing a ghost behind every tree.”
The bill in issue (HB494) passed the Senate unanimously and cleared House committees system until it reached the Calendar Committee at the end of the session, where Casada declared it unneeded and “duplicative” of present law. He made a motion that, in effect, killed it for the year. The panel’s Republican majority backed him, scuttling the bill.
As amended, the bill declares that the Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission and the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, upon request of any school system, will provide advice on school security systems.
Fitzhugh said the move was retaliation for his vote against the state budget bill.
“This was a good bill that had bipartisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget,” Fitzhugh said in a news release distributed by the House Democratic Caucus.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” he said.
Casada said, when asked last week, that was “absolutely not” the case. Current law already allows the POST Commission to give advice to schools and the bill was “just playing politics” by Democrats seeking to claim credit for enhancing school security.
Current law apparently contains nothing that would prohibit the POST Commission from offering security advice to school systems, but nothing that explicitly authorizes it either.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an unusual and highly political move, House Republicans led by Chairman Glen Casada (R-Franklin) voted last Thursday to kill HB494 by Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley); this despite the bill having already passed the State Government, Education, and Finance Ways & Means Committees with a majority of support. The legislation would have helped local law enforcement increase security around school by working with the Tennessee peace officer standards and training commission.
“Republican leadership has put petty politics above the safety of our students,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This was a good bill that had bi-partisan support throughout the legislative session. Had I known they would take it out on our students and teachers, I would have voted for their budget.”
Under the proposed legislation by Leader Fitzhugh, local schools could have requested that the POST commission initiate a security assessment of each school. Once completed, local governments and LEAs would have had the option to adopt security recommendations. This legislation was introduced in light of Governor Haslam’s declaration that Tennessee couldn’t afford to put a safety resource officer in every school. This bill was a common sense way to increase school safety, without dramatically increasing state or local expenditures.
The House Republicans voted to send this bill back to the Civil Justice Committee, which effectively killed the bill this year, after Leader Fitzhugh and 13 other Democrats voted against the budget. The intent of Republicans to kill the bill became even more clear when three House committees opened up Friday morning to hear bills, but Civil Justice was not one of them. The Senate version passed 32-0 on April 11.
“Republicans leaders warned us about voting against the budget, but I never thought that in the wake of the horrors at Sandy Hook that they’d risk the safety and security of our children and grandchildren just to prove a point,” said Leader Fitzhugh.
Video of the Calendar & Rules Committee hearing on HB494 can be found here: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKySr0HBDUA
Representatives voting to kill the bill: Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson), Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer), Rep. Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville), Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova), Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).
News release from House-Senate Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE – House and Senate Democrats pushed in a Tuesday press conference for a full debate and an up or down vote on a bill to allow Tennessee to expand Medicaid.
“Unfortunately, this General Assembly has been in session for more than a month now, and we’ve spent most of our time on trivial matters,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “Whether we expand Medicaid affects the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans and has profound implications for our states budget.
“It’s time for us to do what the people sent us here to do and tackle the elephant in the room.”
Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker Beth Harwell have remained open to Medicaid expansion, and Republican legislation to block expansion was taken off notice in the House and Senate.
“Accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid will create thousands of new jobs and create millions in new revenues for state government,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney said. “If we don’t expand, Tennessee businesses will face millions in new taxes.
“This should not be a partisan issue. This is about jobs and people.”
— Note: The Fitzhugh/Finney bill on Medicaid expansion is HB290/SB604.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, says he was surprised to find a bumper sticker promoting his candidacy for governor on his desk at the Legislative Plaza last week.
The bumper sticker says, “Run Craig Run” and gives a website address — http://www.fitz14.com — that invites people to sign an online petition urging Fitzhugh to enter the 2014 race.
Fitzhugh, who held a news conference last week devoted mostly to legislative issues, said he knew nothing of the effort until finding the bumper sticker on his desk. The website has a disclaimer saying it is sponsored by Democratic Policy Council, a PAC with Regina Morrison Newman, a Memphis Democratic activist, listed as treasurer and very little activity reported in recent filings with the Registry of Election Finance. On it’s last filed report, the PAC listed a cash balance of $448.86.
Fitzhugh said he hasn’t decided on running, but probably will soon after the 2013 legislative session ends. Legislative leaders are predicting that will be by late April.
The lawmaker has often said he likes and respects Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who is already planning fundraisers for his re-election effort.
The closest he came to criticizing the incumbent during the news conference was to remark that Haslam has “failed to be decisive”as might be expected from a politician with a high approval rating — especially those issues pushed by the Republican Party’s “right wing.”
Asked to elaborate, Fitzhugh recalled former Gov. Don Sundquist once saying he was “irrelevant to the process” — a remark made after Sundquist was criticized for failing to sign bills passed by the Legislature allowing local governments to raise local taxes.
“I would hope that the governor (Haslam) is relevant to the process,” Fitzhugh said.
Does that mean he is comparing Haslam to Sundquist?
“No,” he replied after a long pause. “I’m just making conversation.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’ll get his 2014 reelection campaign underway with at least two fundraisers – one in Knoxville and one in Nashville – before the legislative session begins in January.
The governor was asked Monday about House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s statement that he is considering a run for governor in 2014. He said “Craig has every right” to make the campaign, but it doesn’t alter his own plans.
“We’ve always intended to have a vigorous campaign,” he said, declaring plans for the two fundraisers. He gave no details of the events.
“I’ve always intends to do this regardless of the circumstances,” Haslam said.
Under state law, the governor and state legislators are prohibited from political fundraising while the General Assembly is in session. The session starts on Jan. 8.
The Republican governor’s plans for an early start contrast with Ripley Democrat Fitzhugh’s vow to put off launch as campaign as long as he can in the belief “the shorter the better.” Fitzhugh also said he recognizes Haslam has high popularity ratings and “deep pockets” to run a campaign, but believes Democrats need a candidate to “rally around” at the top of the ticket in 2014.
— Note: Previous post HERE.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says he may become a candidate for governor in 2014, but not because he thinks a Democrat can beat Republican incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam.
“I don’t think Gov. Haslam is going to lose any sleep over me,” Fitzhugh said in an interview. “Our current governor is a good man with deep pockets and a 70 percent approval rating.”
Actually, Haslam’s approval rating was just 68 percent in a Vanderbilt University poll released last week. But that included a 60 percent favorable nod from those self-identifying themselves as Democrats.
If he runs, Fitzhugh said, “it would be an issues deal” with the idea in mind of having a statewide candidate on the ballot without big negatives to drag down Democrats seeking other offices, such as state legislator.
“It would have nothing to do with him (Haslam) personally. I like him very much,” said Fitzhugh.
This year, the only statewide Democratic candidate on the ballot was Mark Clayton, who had been officially disavowed by the state Democratic Party for what Chairman Chip Forrester characterized as “extremist views” and membership in an “anti-gay hate group.” Clayton nonetheless won 30 percent of the vote in losing to Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. And at the very top of the Democratic ticket was President Barack Obama, who Fitzhugh said “is not very popular in Tennessee” and got just 39 percent of the statewide vote in losing the state to Republican Mitt Romney.
“Democrats need somebody at the top of the ticket that people can rally around,” Fitzhugh said. “We didn’t have anything like that in this last election. Maybe there’s somebody else out there who can be that type of person. That’s sort of what I was thinking (when he decided to acknowledge an interest in running).”
Fitzhugh said he will delay a final decision on running as long as possible — “the shorter (a campaign) the better” — and much will depend on the way things develop in the coming 2013 legislative session.
“I don’t think we need to continue another two years down the road we’ve gone,” he said. “Not that it’s totally the governor’s fault that the Legislature passes these bills” focusing on controversial social issues rather than jobs and people while tuition increases annually at colleges, universities and trade schools and Republicans strive “farm education (in grades K-12) out to the private sector.”
“I’m not meaning to start a gubernatorial campaign right now. This is meant to try and get our focus back and move in the right direction,” said Fitzhugh, who was re-elected without opposition a new term as House Democratic leader last week.