NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A special panel of members of the state Republican Party’s executive committee is meeting behind closed doors to consider an election challenge in a legislative primary race.
The six-member subcommittee appointed by Chairman Chris Devaney was scheduled to meet in Nashville on Thursday morning to evaluate the challenge brought by Shirley Curry, who wants to overturn her four-vote loss in the House District 71 primary.
Adam Nickas, the executive director of the party, wouldn’t say why the public wouldn’t be allowed to follow the hearing and declined to elaborate on the basis for Curry’s challenge.
The special panel will make recommendations to the full executive committee on Sept. 5.
Messages seeking comment from Curry and Dennis were not immediately returned on Wednesday.
— Note: The six members of the subcommittee are Rob Ailey of Seymour, chairman; Betty Cannon of Nashville; Beth Campbell of Nashville, Kurt Holbert of Decaturville; Paula Sedgewick of Arlington and Ken Gross of Knoxville.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Republican Party is setting up a special panel to hear an election challenge in a legislative primary race.
Shirley Curry, a member of the party’s executive committee, is challenging her four-vote loss to incumbent Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah in House District 71.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney on Monday appointed a subcommittee to hear the dispute this week. A full panel is scheduled to meet about Curry’s and any other potential challenges on Sept. 5.
Curry has recused herself from the hearings.
Dennis was first elected to the House in 2008. His district was significantly redrawn in this year’s redistricting process.
Seven Republican incumbents in the state House lost their primaries on Aug. 2.
A Roane County election official is calling for an investigation into whether 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson violated the law by aiding the campaign of Dennis Ferguson for Roane County road supervisor, reports the News Sentinel.
Both Ferguson and Johnson are former state representatives and served together in the House — Ferguson as a Democrat; Johnson as a Republican.
“I don’t think it’s legal for a state employee to get involved in a partisan election using state resources,” said Roane County Election Commissioner Jim Ryans.
But Johnson depicts the matter as a “lapse in judgment” in which an employee reserved a domain name for the candidate as an unpaid favor outside business hours. He said no further campaign work occurred.
According to Ryans, Roane County Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway presented evidence to state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins last week, showing that the Internet protocol addresses for Ferguson’s campaign website were registered through the district attorney’s office.
The evidence also suggested that Johnson’s administrative assistant, Angie Vittatoe, registered domain names, including voteforferguson.com and voteforferguson.biz.
A Capitol Hill lobbyist looking to unseat a rank-and-file House Republican has a DUI in his history — a fact some lawmakers want to highlight although one of their party peers faces trial on the same charges.
Excerpt from Andrea Zelinski’s TNReport: The two legislators are careful to say the run-in with the law shouldn’t disqualify Lee Harrell from being seriously considered in the race against Rep. Joshua Evans for the Robertson County House seat, but firmly add that it’s a fact voters should know.
“I think it’s probably important for voters to have that information and be able to use that in their consideration,” said Evans, a Republican from Greenbrier and small business owner.
Evans is beating back a challenge from Harrell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee School Boards Association, in the 66th District encompassing Robertson County. The August primary election race is one of 21 this year where House Republican incumbents are trying to fend off challengers.
Harrell was arrested Sept. 4, 2010, on drunken driving charges and refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test.
“It was certainly a mistake, but I learned from it. I’ve moved on. I’m a better person because of it,” Harrell told TNReport.
According to the arrest warrant, Harrell was driving 80 miles an hour in a 55 mile-per-hour zone on I-40 in Nashville on a Saturday night and was seen “meandering back and forth in his lane of travel, partly crossing into other lanes.” The report said he had watery, bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and “lacked smooth pursuit” while performing field sobriety tests before refusing a blood-alcohol test.
His DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving. He pleaded guilty to the charge in January 2011, along with violating the implied consent law.
TNReport obtained documents about Harrell’s arrest from Rep. Vance Dennis, a Republican lawyer from Savannah who describes himself as a “good friend” of Evans, and provided the information for “personal” reasons.
Lawmakers have given final approval to legislation that would penalize people who file lawsuits that are later dismissed as baseless, reports The Tennessean. They would have to pay up to $10,000 to cover court costs and their opponent’s attorney fees. The legislation is the latest in a series of GOP efforts over the past year aimed at reducing a business’ exposure in civil lawsuits. Legislation approved last year capped non-economic damages at $750,000 and punitive damages at $500,000, with some exceptions.
Backers say the new legislation, HB 3124, will cut down on unfounded lawsuits and would apply only to a small number of cases.
“It is a very limited loser-pays bill,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, the bill’s House sponsor. “It goes to purely frivolous lawsuits, lawsuits that don’t have any merit.”
But Democratic opponents argue the legislation will restrict access to the courts only to the state’s wealthiest residents.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said it would make the state’s legal system more like Europe’s, where in many countries the losers of lawsuits must pay costs. The bill would have a “huge chilling effect” on average residents seeking attorneys willing to take on their cases, he said.
“The plumber who got run over by a car. The student who was walking to school and got hit by a bus,” Stewart said during House debate Tuesday. “Those are who will be the people who will be kept out of court by this law.”
The legislation would require plaintiffs to pay up to $10,000 when the court dismisses a lawsuit because there is no basis in law for the claim.
It would not apply to actions against the state or other governmental agencies or plaintiffs representing themselves, except where the court determines the person acted unreasonably or refused to voluntarily withdraw a dismissed claim. The legislation also would not apply to lawsuits expressly aimed at changing existing law or legal precedent.
The House approved the bill 58-38 on Tuesday and rebuffed efforts by Stewart to amend the legislation to apply to a defendant who loses a motion to dismiss. The Senate gave its approval in a 17-12 vote. If signed by the governor, it would apply to lawsuits filed on or after July 1.
After more than two hours of debate, the House voted 58-38 Tuesday for a “loser pays” lawsuit system that Democrats contended will intimidate average citizens from going to court against big corporations.
Under HB3124, if a judge grants a defendant’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit as having “no basis in fact or law,” the plaintiff who brought the lawsuit would have to pay the defendant’s attorney fees of up to $10,000.
Sponsor Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill would help “small businessmen and farmers trying to defend against frivolous, bogus lawsuits” and who otherwise would have to pay their own lawyers “thousands of dollars.”
Critics such as Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said the real effect would be to make people of modest means fearful of going to court when there was any chance of losing. Stewart said the “chilling effect” of a $10,000 penalty on average citizens would, in contrast, be inconsequential to wealthy corporations and insurance companies.
The House voted 72-21 Wednesday to send President Obama a resolution condemning his “rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline” while rejecting the idea of sending a similar message to the governor of Nebraska.
The resolution, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, says Obama “demonstrated that job creation is not a high priority for his administration, despite the nation experiencing an unacceptably high unemployment rate and an ailing economy.”
HR195 is the latest in a series of Republican-sponsored resolutions that have no legal effect but express an opinion on national issues, in this case TransCanada’s proposed construction of a 1,661-mile pipeline to transport oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.
President Obama, who is to be sent a copy of the resolution, recently postponed a decision on granting the necessary federal permits for the project, opposed by many environmentalists.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, proposed an amendment to Powers’ resolution that that would have directed a copy be sent to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, as well. The Fitzhugh amendment urges Heineman and Nebraskans “to expedite their environmental study and work with President Obama and
the federal government in finding a location through the state of Nebraska where the pipeline can be built that does not interfere with the water supply.”
If Republicans believe Obama has been an impediment, Fitzhugh said, they should also acknowledge that Nebraska’s concern over the route of the pipeline has been an impediment as well. The resolution should urge both impediments be removed, he said.
“Otherwise we have a House resolution that means absolutely nothing, a House resolution that doesn’t accomplish it purpose and a House resolution that’s done merely for political purposes,” he said.
On motion of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, Fitzhugh’s proposed amendment was killed on a 64-34 vote – Republicans voting to kill, Democrats supporting it.
But on the final vote for the resolution itself, unamended, several Democrats joined Republicans in support.
Tennessee lawmakers are gearing up for what could be an intense debate about police tactics, reports WTVF, which has been doing stories what is labeled “policing for profit” — or how some Tennessee police agencies routinely target out-of-state drivers for traffic stops, looking for large sums of cash that their agencies can keep on the suspicion that it’s drug money. “The intent of the bill (HB2334) is to make sure that all of those funds stay within law enforcement, just not specifically with the specific drug task force that is out seizing those funds,” said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.
When Dennis comes to Nashville, he travels through the 50-mile stretch of I-40 highlighted in our NewsChannel 5 investigation.
At least three drug interdiction units work that area, but our investigation found nine out of 10 stops occurring in the westbound lanes — that’s what agents call “the money side.”
“If they are concentrating solely on cash going one way, then they are abandoning the search for illegal substances coming in — and those substances do a great deal of damage to the citizens and children of our state,” Dennis said.
Under legislation he filed, agents could still seize cash that they believe to be illegal drug money. But that cash would no longer go straight back to the agency that seized it. Instead, it would go into a general fund for law enforcement. The state would then hand out grants to police agencies based on their needs.
The father of a murdered University of Wyoming student said Wednesday that Tennessee’s legislators appear to be creating a policy of “open season” on homosexuals through bills introduced and comments made.
“These bills disturb me, just the fact that they’ve been brought to the forefront and there’s so much publicity about them,” Dennis Shepard said at a Legislative Plaza news conference.
He noted that two Middle Tennessee teenagers have committed suicide in recent weeks and that relatives believe they were the target of bullying because they were gay.
“I’m concerned about the kids,” Shepard said. “.We’ve lost two in the last 30 days. We’ll never know what those two young men could have done to help the city, the state and the country.”
Shepard’s son, Matthew, was tortured and killed in 1998 after being chosen as a victim because of his sexual orientation, according to his father and testimony at the trial of those accused in the slaying. Dennis Shepard and his wife have since set up a foundation, named after their son, that among other things promotes enactment of “hate crimes” legislation that covers attacks based on sexual orientation.
Democratic Rep. Bill Harmon says he might run for the state Senate rather than for reelection to a state House seat that has been redistricted to pair him with Republican Rep. Jim Cobb.
The Senate seat in question is District 16, currently held by Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart, who has announced plans to run for the 4th District Congressional seat. Before and after redistricting, district 16 includes Sequatchie County, Harmon’s home. Most rate it as leaning Democratic, though not dramatically so.
In the House, redistricting pairs Harmon and Cobb in new District 31. The House district stretches from Sequatchie and Bledsoe through Rhea County, Cobb’s home, and into southwestern Roane County. Most rate it as leaning Republican, though not dramatically so.
“Probably,” replied Harmon when asked whether he could win against Cobb. “I’m first going to look at (running for) the Senate.”
“Can I win in that district? Yes,” said Cobb.
The Cobb-Harmon Harmon contest is the only remaining matchup between an incumbent Republican and an incumbent Democrat from the new House redistricting plan. The version originally unveiled had another – pairing Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Giles County with Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Hardin County. That match was eliminated in the final and revised version, which leaves Bass in District 70, comprised of all of Giles and most of Lawrence County.
Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Lewis County, who represents the House District adjoining the Bass District that was also impacted by the revisions, was apparently a key in Republican assent to the revision. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner say Hensley is considering a run for the Senate in the new, no-incumbent Senate seat created in Southern Middle Tennessee by the new Senate redistricting plan.