Former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn, who in 1971 signed a bill into law that changed the way the state selects appeals judges, on Friday said that enacting the bill was a mistake.
From The Tennessean:
“At the time I signed it, I felt constrained by many other issues,” Dunn said. “I regret signing the retention election bill.”
Those comments followed a hearing at the Tennessee Supreme Court in which attorney John Jay Hooker, merciless critic of judicial appointments, presented his argument that state law says appeals judges ought to be elected by voters, not appointed. It’s a position Hooker has championed in court but lost so many times that, some joke, everyone has lost count — even Hooker himself.
“If you want to wear those black robes, not just for this afternoon, you have to run for it, and run the risk of losing,” Hooker said in a theatrical performance, punctuated by finger wags and podium pounds. “It’s not fun to lose. I’ve become a professional at it.”
The judges were not the typical members of the state’s high. Instead, they were appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam after Hooker complained that the usual justices shouldn’t hear the case since they were all chosen through the current system.
Hooker, a former Democratic candidate for governor who lost to Dunn, has sued the state and asked the special court to reverse a 1973 decision, Higgins v. Dunn, which supported the current system.
…Attorney Janet Kleinfelter, representing the state, said it was not the first time but should be the last time the state defends the way appeals judges are elected, known formally as the Tennessee Plan.
Kleinfelter pointed out that the system has twice held up on appeal, and that other state supreme courts, such as Georgia’s, have concluded that appointing appeals judges is constitutional.
“This judicial system is entitled to finality,” Kleinfelter said.
Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funds – to be matched with $6.4 million in state dollars – to provide pre-kindergarten classes to another 7,861 children under President Obama’s “Preschool for All” program, according to a White House estimate released Wednesday.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the governor will review the proposal, but is waiting for a Vanderbilt University study of pre-k effectiveness before making a final decision. The study, launched in 2009, will not complete its first stage until next year.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, a leading critic of pre-k programs in the state Legislature, said Wednesday the state should ignore the federal offer. He also voiced skepticism about the Vanderbilt study.
Tennessee now has a voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of low-family income. It will provide $85 million in funding for the current year to fund 935 pre-k classes enrolling about 18,000 students statewide, according to state Department of Education figures.
Obama’s proposal calls for providing $75 billion nationwide over a 10-year period to expand pre-k enrollment with new funding to come from an increase in federal cigarette taxes.
Some state legislators of both parties are criticizing the push to end the legislative session quickly, contending the rush has led to confusion and limited vetting of bills by lawmakers working long hours.
House Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn of Knoxville has become one of the first Republicans to publicly criticize the rush to adjournment, first in a speech to the House Republican Caucus in which he said some colleagues were left “glassy-eyed” by listening to bill presentations hour after hour. He repeated the criticisms in an interview aired Thursday on WPLN, Nashville’s public radio station, that irritated Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
“If the speaker of the Senate had to sit in on a committee and study 85 bills and sit there for six hours and try to do his work, he might have a different view,” Dunn said. “He doesn’t feel the pain that we are (feeling).”
Ramsey, specifically citing Dunn’s remarks, devoted the first portion of his weekly news conference later in the day to disputing the notion that lawmakers are working too fast in trying to meet the deadline he and House Speaker Beth Harwell have set for ending the 2013 session. At one point, they had set the date as April 19. Ramsey has since moved it up a day to April 18.
If the target is met, adjournment will come earlier than any annual session of the General Assembly since 1990, according to a listing provided by Ramsey’s office. Last year, adjournment came on May 2.
Legislators critical of the upcoming Sex Week UT say University of Tennessee officials moved in the right direction by cutting state funding to the event. But they would like to go further.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said that UT’s withdrawal Wednesday of $11,145 in state funds previously allocated to the weeklong campus program on sex and sex behavior topics was “a half-step.” About $6,700 in student fee monies are still being channeled toward the events, and Campfield said that should be eliminated, too.
“Those fees are mandatory for all students,” he said. “I don’t think most parents and students who pay them want their money going to promoting this kind of thing.”
By Thursday, donations and contributions had largely made up the difference as word spread online about the controversy.
Campfield said the Senate Education Committee has asked that UT President Joe DiPietro and Knoxville campus Chancellor Jimmy Cheek appear before the panel to discuss Sex Week UT and UT policies on such events. Or, as Campfield put it, “Explain the academic merits of a seminar on oral sex.”
In a House floor speech Monday night, Rep. Bill Dunn said plans for “Sex Week” at the University of Tennessee provide an example of campus organizations promoting behavior offensive to Christian students and why legislators need to protect them.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, meanwhile, said he expects UT officials to be called before the Senate Education Committee to explain the event, scheduled on the Knoxville campus April 7-12.
Campfield wrote members of the committee suggesting the panel reconsider its approval of UT’s budget for the coming year because of the event. He said Monday that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, told him reconsideration of budget approval would be difficult, but that UT officials would be summoned to explain Sex Week.
Dunn and Campfield, both Knoxville Republicans, cited a Fox News report on Sex Week, arranged by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee (SEAT).
Dunn told House colleagues that participants will engage in a scavenger hunt for a golden condom and that workshop topics include “getting laid,” “sex positivity,” “queer as a bug” and “how to turn up the heat on our sex drive.”
State legislation that would give local governments the power to create partisan school board elections is dead, reports the News Sentinel. Sen. Becky Massey and state Rep. Bill Dunn, both Knoxville Republicans, confirmed Thursday that because the Knox County Commission tabled a resolution to support the proposal, they will not present the bill (HB420), which they sponsored, before committee.
“I think the plan is that maybe (the commission) will look a little more into it over the next several months, but I’m not going to do anything with the bill,” said Massey.
The senator added that she and Dunn initially agreed to push the bill if the commission “had strong feelings,” but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Officials with the Knox County Board of Education said state lawmakers and the commission did the right thing.
“I’m glad everyone is taking a common sense approach to this,” school board member Indya Kincannon said. “We don’t need more partisanship. We have plenty of issues and challenges that we’re facing in our community and schools.”
School board Vice Chairwoman Lynne Fugate agreed.
“I’m not sure how partisanship would actually improve education for the children in Tennessee,” she said. “Without it . . . helps keep the focus on education and not on politics.”
…After Commissioner Mike Hammond argued last Monday that he wanted public hearings before approving a resolution expressing support of partisan school board races, the commission tabled the matter in a 6-5 vote.
Later, Hammond acknowledged that the board would probably not discuss it further until the state takes action.
But, the General Assembly wants to adjourn by April 19. And the only way for the commission to revisit the proposal within 90 days is if someone on the prevailing side wants to bring it back, and only if the official gets two-thirds support to do so from the 11-member commission.
Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy’s first major fundraiser for his 4th Congressional District bid is set for March 14 in Murfreesboro, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
Former Gov. Winfield Dunn; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson; and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, are among the honorary hosts. The per-person price of a ticket is $250 while tickets for members of the sponsor committee are $2,500 per person or couple and $1,000 for host committee members.
Dr. Warren McPherson and his wife, Beverly, are holding the event in their home.
Tracy, of Shelbyville, is running against U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a physician whose past personal controversies have made him vulnerable to challenge, Republicans say. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, also is weighing a bid, but Tracy has been the first challenger to announce officially
An article by Cari Wade Gervin takes a thorough look at the lay of the voucher landscape, ranging from a reception for legislators in Nashville to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Knoxville where Rep. Bill Dunn says he’s eyeing an amendment to go further than Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed. There are also a lot of details on how the program would work.
Excerpt: Servers passed around trays of hors d’oeuvres as several members of the House and Senate Education Committees sipped white wine and mingled with lobbyists and concerned parents.
The event was billed as the Nashville kickoff for “National School Choice Week.” A similar event in Arizona a couple of days before had included a performance by the Jonas Brothers; Nashville was not so blessed, but the evening’s panel did include former WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
NSCW bills itself as a nonpartisan awareness group that does not advocate for any legislation or candidates, but it’s clearly well funded. Every chair in the ballroom was draped with a bright yellow fleece scarf embroidered with the group’s logo–graduation caps flying through the air above the words “National School Choice Week”–and an additional table in the lobby was stacked with more scarves, in case you wanted to take some home to your family.
Before the panel began its discussion, it aired a short cartoon about school choice co-produced by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian think tank, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the leading national advocate for school choice. (The two groups have launched a pro-voucher website, ChooseMeTennessee.com, where you can watch the video yourself.)
“It’s just like picking a college. Or a grocery store. Or a shopping mall, car, church, job–you name it,” the video says.
That’s one of the arguments proponents of vouchers like to use a lot–that schools should be just another consumer choice. And maybe that consumer mentality has something to do with Overstock.com’s Byrne’s outspoken advocacy for vouchers, despite having never been married and having no children himself. (He’s the chairman of the board for the Friedman Foundation.) Byrne compared public schools to the Soviet agricultural system and said a market-driven system would breed more educational success.
…But proponents of a universal system, like much of the audience at the NCSW event, think there’s no reason to not make Tennessee a testing ground. At a legislative briefing at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce last week, Dunn, who says he has been a fan of school choice for over 20 years, said he is contemplating an amendment to Haslam’s bill that would open up vouchers to more students.
“I have told [the school choice lobbyists], bring me 55 votes, and I’ll consider expanding the bill,” Dunn says.
Newly elected Rep. Roger Kane, another House Education Committee member, also voiced his support for a wider program.
“It gives a parent a sense of choice. It brings it back to the local level. What’s more local than family?” Kane says. “I think its time has finally come.”
School board elections could become partisan contests under legislation filed by two Knoxville legislators who say they were acting at the behest of Knox County commissioners.
Current state law calls for nonpartisan school board elections. The bill (HB420) filed by Rep. Bill Dunn and Sen. Becky Massey, both Knoxville Republicans, authorizes county commissions to convert to partisan elections instead by a two-thirds majority vote.
Dunn said the idea was initially proposed by Commissioner Larry Smith in a conversation at a recent Knox County Republican meeting and was subsequently endorsed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. Massey said “a number of other constituents” had also supported the idea.
Both legislators said they also support partisan elections for school board members, though Massey said she does not plan to push forward with the bill unless the Knox County Commission passes a resolution of support.
“I personally like partisan elections,” she said in an interview. “It gives the voters a base to know a candidate’s core philosophy.”
Dunn voiced similar sentiments.
“It gives people more information,” he said. “It gives them kind of an idea what a person’s philosophy would be, whether more liberal or more conservative.”
Those who do not wish to be categorized as a Republican or Democrat, Dunn noted, can still run as an Independent.
Dunn and Massey both said the measure was not aimed at anyone now serving on a school board.
The Commercial Appeal has collected comments from various Tennessee Republicans on the split within party ranks between establishment and tea party types. Some excerpts: So what is the future of this apparently schizophrenic party?
“The bottom line is Republicans should never compromise on what we believe, never waver on our principles, but understand the huge task we have to better communicate with all Americans, not just a select few, our vision for the future generations of this country,” state GOP chairman Chris Devaney wrote a week after the Nov. 6 elections.
Many Tennessee Republicans enlisted to discuss the future of their party rejected the notion that the party is divided between extremist social conservatives and fiscal conservatives who hold moderate social views. It’s a big tent, they say.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a far-right party; I think it’s going to be a mainstream conservative party, which is somewhere between the two,” said East Shelby Republican Club president Arnold Weiner.
…University of Memphis College Republican Club vice president Kristoffer Adams, 30, agrees there are two factions in the Tennessee Republican Party but sees the benefit of such creative friction. “When you argue among yourselves, you make new points. You come up with new ideas.”
A somewhat contrary view is expressed by former governor Winfield Dunn, the first Republican elected to the executive mansion in half a century when he took office in 1971.
“I don’t think we have a divided party or a party separated into factions,” he said. “We have different opinions. We have people from a wide variety of pursuits, all of whom embrace a more conservative approach to government than we witness at the national level …”It behooves every one of us … to be absolutely certain that we avoid, to the degree we can, disagreements that lead to schisms that lead to more ambitious political factions,” Dunn, 85, advised.