Chattanooga area Democratic nominees slammed their Republican opponents for skipping a Tuesday night political event that focused on the redistribution of wealth, reports the Times Free-Press. In her opening statement at a forum sponsored by the Brainerd Unity Group, Dr. Mary Headrick, the Democratic nominee in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District, said Republican policies are helping “disintegrate” the nation’s middle class. She said reducing military funding and demanding more revenue from “the 1 percent” would result in a fairer tax code for all Americans.
But ultimately, the Maynardville acute care physician drew attention to the absence of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, the freshman Republican incumbent she’s trying to oust.
“As with the others, my opponent is not here to address you,” Headrick said. “Which I think is a disservice to the voters. I think you need to see us standing side by side and answering the same questions.”
Fleischmann will debate Headrick on Monday in Bradley County, but other Democratic challengers without a sparring partner Tuesday night are unlikely to get the same opportunity before Election Day on Nov. 6.
No 3rd Congressional District candidate, not even the two Democrats running for the seat, fully endorsed President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at a health care forum Monday night at Erlanger hospital, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Instead — and despite the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling on the constitutionality of the law — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and a bipartisan panel of five challengers suggested immediate repeal or major modifications, saying 2010’s Democratic-controlled Congress either overstepped its authority or didn’t go far enough to treat the nation’s uninsured.
“I would never dream of repealing something that has required so much to gain things like no exclusion for pre-existing illness,” said Dr. Mary Headrick, a Democrat and acute care physician from Maynardville, Tenn.
Speaking to an audience comprised mostly of physicians with the Chattanooga and Hamilton County Medical Society and Medical Foundation, which sponsored the debate, Headrick was the only Democrat — and candidate — to push for a single-payer health system overall and a public option in upcoming state health insurance exchanges.
But the incumbent and his three Republican challengers, Ron Bhalla, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, mostly criticized the latest attempt at national health care reform as a federal takeover of private markets.
The House gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill that calls for restrictions on the number of foreigners employed by charter schools and requires reporting of all funds they receive from outside of the country.
Pushed by The Eagle Forum, a Christian conservative organization, SB3345 says the local school system overseeing a charter school can require that no more than 3.5 percent of the schools employees be from foreign countries.
As originally proposed, the limitation would have been be mandatory, but as amended a local school system that oversees charter schools can grant a waiver. An earlier version also proposed restrictions on out-of-country funding, but the final version just calls for reports on funding from outside the United States.
In House floor debate Monday, House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner said the bill appears aimed at one “Muslim who practices tolerance” and cited an Eagle Forum website report on a Turkish man who has launched charter schools in both the United States and Europe.
When House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, said the bill is not targeting Muslims and “treats everyone equally.”
The bill passed the House 63-29 on a generally party-line vote with Republicans supporting it. The bill was approved 18-13 in the Senate last week with three Republicans, including Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, voting no.
Campfield noted that most Tennessee charter schools have fewer than 20 employees, wo the 3.5 percent mandate could basically block hiring of a foreign persons. He also questioned whether the bill run afoul of federal law prohibiting discrimination based on “foreign origin.”
The bill, which contains an exemption for hiring teachers of a foreign language, was promoted by supporters as a “jobs bill” that would give Tennesseans preference for jobs over persons legally coming into the United States on visas from other countries.
Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, in an article posted on the organization’s website, says charter schools launched by Fethullah Gülen has set up 135 schools in 26 states “after he figured out how to work our system and get the U.S. taxpayers to import and finance his recruitment of followers for his worldwide religious and social movement.”
Citing various media reports, Schlafly says most teachers are Turkish men and the schools are linked to “a close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants.”
Restrictions on immigrants’ involvement in Tennessee charter schools would be imposed by legislation that is the subject of a Tennessean report today. The measure, Senate Bill 3345, says chartering authorities may not approve schools that plan to have more than 3.5 percent of their staff made up of legal immigrants with visa work permits. The bill also calls on authorities to revoke schools’ charters later if they exceed the cap, and it requires schools to disclose the source of all donations from overseas.
There is no record of any schools in Tennessee exceeding that limit, in part because records aren’t maintained on employees’ nationality
The Tennessee Eagle Forum, which drafted the bill, is affiliated with the Eagle Forum, a national organization that wants to reduce the number of visas available to foreign-born workers and opposes the use of textbooks that it sees as favorable to Islam.
Last year, the Tennessee Eagle Forum urged lawmakers to pass the Material Support to Designated Entities Act, which would have declared some followers of Shariah to be terrorists. Muslim groups vigorously opposed the bill, arguing that Shariah covers a broad set of Islamic traditions, many of which have nothing to do with warfare or secular law.
Legislators later stripped out references to religion.
Like the Material Support to Designated Entities Act, this latest bill is sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman BillKetron, R-Murfreesboro.
Supporters say the measure is meant to encourage the hiring of Tennessee and American-born teachers by charter schools.
“The state of Tennessee is stating a preference that charter schools look to hire U.S. and Tennessee workers as a priority,” said Joanne Bregman, an attorney for the Tennessee Eagle Forum.
But charter school advocates fear the bill’s broad provisions could limit the ability of schools to hire the best instructors. Immigrant groups, meanwhile, fear it could limit participation in charter schools by people living in immigrant communities.
“The intent of this bill is really to put up barriers for anyone with a foreign background to be involved with working at charter schools,” said Remziya Suleyman, director of policy and administration for the American Center for Outreach, a Nashville-based group that lobbies on behalf of Muslims. “The tendency already is that it’s very difficult to get immigrants and refugees to participate.”
Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus tells the Kingsport Times-News that he asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation three months ago to look into why some people did not receive requested refunds for tickets purchased in advance of a GOP forum and dinner planned for Oct. 15, 2011, in Kingsport. On Wednesday, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm advised the investigation is still ongoing. She said the probe involves “missing money” associated with the canceled event and declined to provide further details.
“I had some complaints by some citizens that didn’t receive their money, and so I’ve asked the TBI to do an investigation,” Staubus said Wednesday.
“It’s still under investigation. It’s not complete, and so I don’t want to make any more comments about the nature of it than that. I did make a request to look into the circumstances of that forum.”
Staubus said initially three citizens came forward, and then he received “numerous” phone calls from other Sullivan County residents, as well as a few others in the Davidson County area. All the calls involved complaints that refund requests — some made prior to the event’s cancellation — were not honored, he said.
A forum on education reform, which was to have included U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, Monday at Knoxville’s West High School has been canceled.
The cancellation was confirmed by Knox County School Board Chair Indya Kincannon.
No reason was given for the cancellation, but Kincannon said the event might be rescheduled.
Gov. Bill Haslam also was expected to participate.
They would have been on a panel with state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and state Sen. Jamie Woodson.