At least six sitting Republican representative – including the chairman of the House GOP Caucus and the Education Committee – were defeated in Thursday’s primary elections and a couple of others had close calls.
On the Democratic side, four incumbents were also unseated, but that was the result of redistrictign that had pitted incumbent-versus-incumbent in four races.
The upset of the evening statewide was the defeat of House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville by Courtney Rogers, an Air Force veteran who benefited by more than $75,000 worth of spending by the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s Political Victory Fund targeted Maggart for attack radio ads and billboards after blaming her for failure of a so-called “guns parking lots” bill that would have allow gunowners to keep their weapons in locked cars, even in the parking lots of companies that ban guns.
House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, was the second most prominent member of House GOP leadership to lose. He was narrowly defeated by Dale Carr, a Sevierville auctioneer who said the incumbent had lost touch with Sevier County voters.
Both Maggart and Montgomery had outspent their opponents overall by substantial amounts and both had staunch support from Gov. Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and other established state Republican leaders.
Also losing bids for reelection in the Republican primaries Thursday were Reps. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City, defeated by Kent Calfee of Kingston, and Dale Ford of Jonesborough, defeated by James “Micah” Van Huss, an Army veteran; Don Miller of Morristown, defeated by Tilman Goins; and Linda Elam of Mount Juliet, defeated by former Rep. Susan Lynn.
The only incumbent Republican state senator to face a serious challenger, Doug Overbey of Maryville, had a win of almost two-to-one over Scott Hughes. The win was tantamount to election with no Democrat on the ballot.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and mayors of the state’s three other largest cities talked to Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leaders Wednesday with a consensus concern about a trend toward the state taking power from local government.
“That’s our No. 1 priority,” said Rogero of the joint visits of the “big four” mayors with Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and others during the day.
“At the state level we don’t like the feds telling us what to do,” she said, and local governments feel the same about state officials dictating to them.
The other mayors were Karl Dean of Nashville, A C Wharton of Memphis and Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga.
“It was the first time all four of us have been together,” she said. “So it was great to get together and talk and to be in sync with each other on the issues that impact the big cities.”
Rogero cited some examples of pending legislation that could have a negative impact on local governments. One is HB3386, which would prohibit local governments from requiring city contractors to provide a specified level of benefits to employees.
Memphis, for example, now requires city contractors to pay more than the federal; minimum wage. Knoxville does not and Rogero said there are no plans to do so.
“Whether we do it now or not is not the issue,” she said. “It’s another of those bills that preempt local authority. We would like to have more autonomy on the local level and have the state let us make the decisions on what’s best for us.”
Another bill Rogero criticized was HB2989 is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. The measure would allow a landowner who has legal rights to use property for purposes outside zoning laws to extend that “non-conforming use” to adjoining properties that the company or individual owns.
The mayor said that passage could jeopardize zoning regulations needed in city redevelopments such as South Waterfront, Cumberland Avenue and Downtown North.
Haynes said he is willing to work with city officials on revisions to be bill, including a change to assure that a property owner cannot buy adjoining property and then have a “non-conforming use.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Police have arrested four more Occupy Nashville protesters and briefly detained a journalist who was trying to cover their activities.
The protesters were cited for disorderly conduct because police say they refused to leave the middle of the road and protest on the sidewalk, according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/v47Xvw).
Matthew Hamill, who hosts This Occupied Life on 107.1 WRFN-LPFM, Radio Free Nashville, told the newspaper that he was rounded up while videotaping the protesters, but released about 30 minutes later without being charged.
He is the third journalist to be detained while covering the activities of Occupy Nashville protesters.
Such detainments have drawn opposition from the public and media organizations, which argue it leaves an information blackout on the Occupy movement and the government response.
Metro police defended the actions of the officer.
“In reviewing the video, the officer is speaking in the context of the individual ignoring previous commands to remain on the sidewalk. You hear the officer telling him he should not have walked out into the street,” police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said in a written response. “Press status does not override the law. Any citizen of any profession is required to obey police lines and directives. Once the situation was evaluated, he was released without being cited.”
The arrests came as the first major gathering of Occupy protesters from across the state occurred at the plaza outside the state Capitol. About 200 people from Knoxville, Johnson City Chattanooga and Clarksville gathered with Nashville protesters to strategize and focus their efforts.
Legislation to set up a school voucher program for the first time in Tennessee has been revised by its lead sponsor while the state’s biggest school systems — including Knox County — are launching a lobbying effort against it.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, sponsored a voucher bill that passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House. In a news release, Kelsey said he is filing a new and revised version of the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act” (SB2135) for the 2012 legislative session.
The revision adds what Kelsey describes as an “accountability measure” that will require some testing of student performance lacking in the original proposal.
Data from other states shows similar programs have improved student performance, Kelsey said.
“This train is moving. It’s time for Tennesseans to jump on board,” he said.
As with the previous version, the bill applies only in Knox, Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties and only to children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
According to Kelsey, for a family of four, that would include students in households with incomes below $42,000 per year. The scholarships would be in the amount of half the money that state and local school systems spend on each child — $5,400 per year in Memphis City Schools, $4,200 in Shelby County Schools, $5,400 in Nashville Schools, $4,600 in Chattanooga Schools and $4,300 in Knox County Schools.
The Knox County Board of Education last week unanimously approved a resolution calling for defeat of the voucher legislation, according to Indya Kincannon, former chair and now vice chair of the board. Other systems are likely to act on similar resolutions soon.
“Taxpayer dollars should stay in public schools rather than go to private schools that can pick and choose their students and may or may not be teaching them things that are appropriate,” said Kincannon.
She said the Knox County board believes a voucher program would be a distraction to major reform efforts already under way across the state and “would undermine public confidence in public schools when we are poised for huge improvements.”
Further, she said, private schools that would receive funding through the proposed program lack accountability. She said the accountability provisions in Kelsey’s bill are “nebulous and unclear about who is going to check up on them.”
The Coalition of Large School Systems, which includes the Knox County system as a member, has retained the Southern Strategies Group to lobby against the measure, with Robert Gowan as leader of the firm’s efforts. The coalition also includes school systems in Davidson, Hamilton and Shelby counties. In Shelby, the city and county school systems were recently merged.
Kinncannon said Knox County provides $25,000 toward paying the lobbying fee.
— Note: Contrary to the original post, the Knox County School Board vote on the resolution was not unanimous. Board member Cindy Buttry cast a no vote.