Davidson County’s Democratic lawmakers voted Monday to replace longtime election commissioner Eddie Bryan with attorney Tricia Herzfeld, less than a month after Bryan sided with Republicans to give foreign-born voters extra scrutiny, according to The Tennessean. In a letter to the State Election Commission, state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, chairwoman of the county’s Democratic delegation, praised Herzfeld as “an exceptional lawyer in Davidson County who has worked tirelessly to preserve and protect the right to vote.”
….The change comes a week after The Tennessean reported that Bryan voted with two Republicans on the commission for a plan to review the citizenship status of recently registered voters who were born outside of the United States. Metro attorneys later said doing so would violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act — also known as the “motor voter law” — by creating two different classes of voters and scrutinizing one class more than the other.
The Metro Law Department urged the commission to rescind the vote when it meets next week.
Bryan, 80, said his vote for the citizenship review had “nothing at all” to do with the delegation’s decision, which he said was fine with him.
“I’m not upset about anything,” he said.
The House gave final approval Monday to a statewide referendum in November, 2014, on amending the Tennessee constitution to allow the governor to directly appoint judges of the Supreme Court and courts of appeal, subject to confirmation of the Legislature.
The constitutional amendment proposed in SJR2 would also provide for a yes-no retention election for the appointed judges when they seek a new term every eight years. In that respect, it is similar to the system now in place.
But the present system requires the governor to appoint the state’s top judges from a list of nominees submitted by a special nominating commission. The commission is eliminated under the proposal and instead the nominees would face confirmation by both the state House and Senate, though if there is no legislative vote on confirmation within 60 days, it is automatically confirmed.
The measure, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, was approved on a 74-14 vote, well above the two-thirds majority required to send the amendment to voters. On the House floor, there was no debate or discussion beyond Lundberg’s brief description of the measure.
The Senate approved the amendment 29-2 on Feb. 21.
The proposal is the second constitutional amendment to be proposed for the statewide ballot next year. Already approved was a proposal to insert into the constitution a provision intended to reverse a 2000 state Supreme Court ruling that says women have greater rights to an abortion in Tennessee than granted in the U.S. Constitution.
Legislation making it a crime for United Nations representatives to observe elections in Tennessee has suffered a setback in the House while a bill banning all noncitizens from polling places has won approval in the Senate.
Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said he introduced HB589 after learning the U.N. sent observers to Nashville for last November’s election to monitor for “human rights violations.” It makes election observation by a U.N. representative punishable as a misdemeanor.
News reports indicate a total of 44 U.N. observers were dispatched to the United States last fall, partly out of concern over laws requiring a photo ID for voting. One of those sent to Nashville was from France and the other from Armenia.
Van Huss’ bill had cleared the House Local Government Committee by voice vote after about 10 minutes of discussion with Democrats questioning the idea and Republicans generally praising it.
“The United Nations has no business in our polling places telling us anything,” declared Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
“If they’re looking for human rights violations, they’ve got hundreds of countries they can go to instead of America.”
But when the bill got to the House Calendar Committee, which routinely approves bills for the House floor with little discussion, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he has “constitutional questions” about the measure. He made a motion to refer the measure to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Thompson’s Station and Rep. Matthew Hill, chairman of the Local Government Committee, both objected to the move. Casada said “this is kind of unprecedented” and Hill said the bill had already been “fully vetted” in his committee and a subcommittee.
But Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he believed there was “no ill will” on Lundberg’s part and it was appropriate to resolve any questions before a measure is sent to the floor. Lundberg’s motion carried and the bill goes to his committee this week.
The Senate, also last week, approved 24-3 a bill by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, (SB549) that prohibits people who are not citizens of the United States from entering a polling place in Tennessee.
The House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, is up in the House Local Government Subcommittee later this week.
The United Nations wasn’t mentioned in Senate debate.
Bell said the bill was motivated by his belief in “American exceptionalism” and protecting the integrity of the ballot box. The bill includes a provision saying a noncitizen may enter a polling place to “provide assistance” to a qualified voter, which Bell said could include an interpreter or someone helping a voter with a disability.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, asked Bell if the bill would ban people from other countries observing elections to learn about democracy and how it works.
Bell said it would, though he said such people could still observe political campaigns and visit election facilities before voting day.
Van Huss was asked a similar question by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, in the House Local Government Committee. Van Huss said he agreed with Ronald Reagan that “America is a shining city on a hill” for the rest of the world and his bill would not impact such observers because it is “specifically directed at the United Nations.”
Former state Sen. Andy Berke won election as mayor of Chattanooga in Tuesday’s city elections with an overwhelmingly margin over opponents Robert Chester Heathington Jr. and Guy Satterfield, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “The time for renewal is now,” Berke told a cheering crowd of more than 200 people in the Waterhouse Pavilion at Miller Plaza.
Voter turnout was anemic, at just 16 percent, Hamilton County Election Commission records show. Of the 111,324 registered voters in the city, 18,194 ballots were cast.
Berke won 72 percent of the vote. Satterfield received 24 percent and Heathington recorded 3.7 percent of the vote. All vote totals are unofficial until provisional ballots are counted.
Once in office, Berke will make $146,607 annually and will serve a four-year term. He will oversee a $210 million budget to serve a city of 170,000 people.
Berke announced last May that he would run for the city’s top elected seat. Since that time, he raised more than $670,000, the most for a mayoral candidate in Chattanooga history.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the power to refuse the governor’s appointments to appeals courts in Tennessee.
The chamber voted 29-2 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. If the measure passes the House by a two-thirds margin, it will go on the ballot in next year’s general election.
The proposal would maintain the current system for holding yes-no retention elections for appointed Supreme Court justices and appeals judges. It would do away with an independent nomination commission that narrows down the list of candidates for the governor to choose from. That system would be replaced by a confirmation process in the General Assembly.
Supporters say the constitutional amendment would continue to prevent high-dollar judicial elections in Tennessee, while opponents argue that it conflicts with the state constitution’s provision that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
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.
Thirty-five years ago, Tennessee voters went to the polls and approved 12 of 13 amendments to the state constitution that had been proposed by the Constitutional Convention of 1977.
Next year, Tennessee voters will go to the polls and, probably, approve two amendments to the state constitution presented them by the state Legislature.
Much more uncertain is whether the Legislature in 2013 will decide to present voters with an amendment revisiting the subject of the amendment rejected in March 1978 and, if so, what the voters will do about it. In the past and in the future, the subject was a restructuring of the way we select Tennessee’s top judges.
Interestingly, the two amendments that will be subject to statewide referendum in 2014 both relate to court decisions. So did some of the items approved 35 years ago. It seems a majority of we Tennesseans can agree about what to do in reaction to judges; not on what to do about selecting the judges themselves. Or at least the judges who Tennessee voters can directly impact.
A judge has voided Pigeon Forge’s liquor-by-the-drink election and ordered a new vote.
From Jim Balloch’s report: It all fermented down to this: In the controversial Nov. 6 referendum that approved liquor by the drink for Pigeon Forge, there was no fraud.
But a series of errors by poll workers that let nearly 300 ineligible people vote are enough to invalidate the election and require a new poll, Chancellor Telford Forgety ruled Thursday.
“It is clear that this election must be set aside,” Forgety said. “The results of the election are without question incurably uncertain.”
He added: “There is no evidence of any intentional fraud by anybody. No evidence whatsoever … (these were) good faith mistakes.”
Forgety ordered a new election held in 45 to 60 days, as state law requires when an election has been overturned.
With dozens of spectators on hand to see the proceedings, the case was moved from the small Chancery Court courtroom to the larger room where Sevier County Commission holds its public meetings.
The Sevier County Election Commission will schedule an emergency meeting for as soon as possible, within public notice requirements, for the purpose of scheduling a new election, said the commission’s lawyer Dennis Francis.
The meeting could be sometime next week, and the election itself will likely be held “sometime in the middle of March,” Francis said.
Rep. Mike Turner was reelected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Wednesday, defeating an opponent who had promised to be less caustic in criticizing Republicans.
Turner was challenged by Rep. Johnny Shaw of Boliver, who told colleagues “I think the world of Mike as a friend, but I just don’t think he has the leadership ability.”
Shaw, who would have been the first black elected as caucus chairman had he won, said he didn’t think the Democratic caucus “has been as inclusive as it should be” but added, “Above all, I think we need a leader who can be calm, cool and collected.”
Earlier, Shaw said Turner had been too insulting to Republicans on occasion.
Turner does have a reputation for colorful and sometimes confrontational commentary. State GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, for example, has twice demanded an apology from Turner – never received – for saying that racism as a factor in Republican opposition to President Barack Obama.
“You understand that if a guy got a gun on you, why you going to cuss him out? ” said Shaw. “That’s kind of an elementary phrase, but we’ve got to find a way to work with people even if they disagree with us and even if we don’t get what we want.”
Turner said in a brief speech that “we have tried to be more inclusive” in the caucus and contended House Democrats had been successful in the November elections, given the disadvantages of dealing with Republican-engineered redistricting. And he rejected the idea of being softer in dealing with Republicans.
“Now is not the time to be shy. Now is not the time to shrink,” Turner said. “We’re not going to just lay down and be run over.”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Sens. Jim Kyle and Lowe Finney were both reelected Wednesday to lead the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Sen. Kyle was reelected Democratic leader, and Sen. Finney was reelected to chair the Democratic Caucus.
“I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to our members who reelected me to stand for Democratic values in the state Senate,” said Sen. Kyle, who is beginning his fifth term as leader.
“I am honored by the confidence placed in me by my colleagues, and I will faithfully fight for the values we stand for,” said Sen. Finney, who is beginning his third term as chairman.
In other business, the caucus made appointments to the Senate’s fiscal review committee and to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
Sens. Douglas Henry and Reginald Tate were reappointed to the fiscal review committee, and former state Sen. Bob Rochelle was appointed to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
— Note: Kyle defeated Sen. Reggie Tate in the voting for leader in secret balloting — by one vote, according to some accounts.