Albert Tieche is out at the Davidson County Election Commission, and Commissioner Jim Gotto announced he will be leaving as well, reports The City Paper. After a heated meeting where tempers where high and accusations flew, the commission voted 4 to 1 to fire Tieche from his post as administrator of elections. The decision follows a highly critical report from the state, detailing numerous problems with the execution of elections over the last year.
Before the vote, Gotto — a newly appointed Republican commissioner — accused Chairman Ron Buchanan of “fast-tracking” the process, and harboring a “deep personal bias” against Tieche. Gotto will remain on the commission through July 31, or until state Republicans can find a replacement.
“You’ve lost my respect and my trust,” Gotto told Buchanan, to loud applause from a room full of Republican activists who shared his displeasure with the chairman.
Both Tieche and Gotto left the meeting without comment.
Tieche appeared to be in trouble from the minute the meeting was called to order. As the crowded hearing room of reporters, activists, and a couple of Metro Council members looked on, a clearly agitated Buchanan began a lengthy statement by addressing the stream of mean emails he had received in recent weeks, some of which he said may have even crossed the line into being criminally threatening.
He also denied the rumors in those emails that he had been appointed with a directive to fire Tieche. In fact, he said, the only directive he and the other new commissioners received, aside from carrying out the duties of the commission, was to stay out of the headlines. Buchanan acknowledged that they had “failed miserably” at that goal.
The chairman went on to summarize a number of problems cited in state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins’ review of the commission, including failure to open on a Saturday during early voting, understaffed and under-resourced polling places, inadequately trained poll workers, and issuing conflicting reports regarding voter participation to the state. Along the way, Buchanan rejected just about every defense Tieche had offered for the failings.
Andrea Zelinski talks with Debra Maggart about the ramifications of the former House Republican Caucus chair’s defeat at the ballot box in the August GOP primary. Excerpts from a recommended read: “You could argue that I took a lot of bullets, in my position as caucus leader, for the caucus. And that was my job, and I did it,” said Maggart.
“No pun intended on bullets.”
…”All the lobbyists, all the special interest groups, have learned that if you just marshal enough and want to take one person out, you can,” she said.
“They’ve coined a new word called ‘Maggartized,’ ” she said. “If you don’t do what they want, they’re going to Maggartize you.”
That fear reveals something of a crack in the legislative Republicans’ armor as the party grapples with satisfying large swaths of business leaders and small business owners, the philosophical tea party groups disinterested in going along with the GOP’s political strategy — and everyone in between.
“I always said I just didn’t believe that people send us down here for any lobbying group, whether it’s for — I don’t know — any group, to use fear and intimidation to get their way. That goes against the very thing the Tea Party says all the time they’re against. It was just really a strange situation how all of that played out, that the gun lobby would turn on their friends. And they did,” she said.
To Maggart, the political realities of keeping happy an ever-widening Republican base apply not just to the guns-in-lots bill. The opportunities are great for other Republicans thinking long-term on the Hill to lose their seats when those in the far-right wing of their party pin members in uncomfortable positions.
Take former Metro Councilman and state Rep. Jim Gotto. He narrowly lost his bid for re-election to the state House last month to Democrat Councilman Darren Jernigan, a defeat Maggart contends could have been avoided had he not been pressured to vote for a tea party-driven health care compact bill.
The legislation as written, which Maggart said “didn’t do anything,” would ask the federal government to let Tennessee build its own health care program with other states, sending a message to the feds that the state was rejecting the Affordable Care Act. While demanded by tea party groups, the legislation gave fodder for urban Democrats to accuse Gotto of endangering the health benefits of seniors.
“We kept telling that group, the tea partiers, this is what’s going to happen with this bill,” said Maggart. “At the end of the day we had it on the House floor, and it died. I voted for it, but it died. It is one of the reasons why Jim Gotto lost. We lost a good House member because of different factions not listening.”
The risk of interest groups leveraging their power to bend lawmakers to their will has other ripple effects throughout the caucus. Take the $155,000 her campaign shelled out trying to keep her, an incumbent, in office.
“I hate it that we spent so much money on me,” she said, “when we could have spent it to protect Jim Gotto or to have helped a [Goodlettsville Republican] Charles Williamson get elected, or [Nashville Republican] Ben Claybaker.”
— UPDATE: Maggart continues her critique of the NRA in a video interview with the Huffington Post.
The candidates running for the State House in District 60 agree that creating more jobs and growing the economy are on the minds of voters in their area. But state Rep. Jim Gotto and Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan part ways on how to make any of that happen, according to The Tennessean. Gotto, the Republican incumbent, supports loosening restrictions on zoning and cutting red tape to encourage businesses to grow. Jernigan, his Democratic opponent, wants to create jobs by favoring local firms bidding for state and local contracts and offering tax credits for hiring jobless workers.
The men are running to represent the eastern stretches of Davidson County in Hermitage and Old Hickory.
In an interview, Gotto, 63, touted his record in the legislature of cutting taxes and helping the state balance its budget. “When you put more money in the hands of the people, especially businesses, it helps create jobs,” he said.
Jernigan, 42, said his plan to give Tennessee businesses first crack at state and local contracts will help make sure that money stays in the local economy.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy, Tennessee recently enacted a pro-abstinence sex education law that is among the strictest in the nation.
The most debated section of the bill bars educators from promoting “gateway sexual activity.” But supporters seemed too squeamish during floor debate to specify what that meant, so critics soon labeled it the “no holding-hands bill.”
One thing missing from the debate in the Legislature was a discussion of whether the law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last month really would help reduce Tennessee’s high teenage pregnancy rate. Experts say it won’t and warn that it leaves teenagers inadequately educated about sexuality and prevention of pregnancy and disease.
Tennessee’s pregnancy rate among girls 15 to 17 has dropped steadily since the first abstinence-focused sex education curriculum was put in place in the 1990s, according to figures from the state Commission on Children and Youth. In 2009, the latest data available, there were 29.6 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, down from a rate of 48.2 in 1998.
Yet the state’s teen pregnancy rate remains one of the highest in the nation, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization.
Democratic state legislators criticized Republican colleagues on Thursday for opposing legislation that would give Tennessee companies the first shot at working on state projects. From The Tennessean account: Four state representatives and two Metro councilmen who hope to join them in the General Assembly held a news conference to promote the Tennessee First Act, which would give preference to Volunteer State firms if their bids for public contracts are within a certain percentage of the lowest bids.
The idea was first introduced by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, in 2011 as HB 2079 but failed to advance to the floor of either chamber…. A similar measure was introduced as an amendment to another bill earlier this year but was rejected by Republicans, who hold a heavy majority in the House.
Councilman Darren Jernigan, who is running for the District 60 House seat and faces no primary opposition, called out Republican Rep. Jim Gotto, who voted against the amendment and will be Jernigan’s opponent in November.
“I think the people of District 60 would be appalled, especially those who are looking for jobs,” Jernigan said.
While Democratic state Rep. Sherry Jones called the proposal “a no-brainer” to create jobs for Tennesseans, Gotto said it represents a “protectionist” philosophy that he doesn’t accept because it would hinder commerce across state lines.
“The way you create jobs is by removing government regulations to help small businesses get started,” Gotto said. “You create jobs by reducing taxes, which we did.”
Further, from The City Paper: (Bo) Mitchell, who is running for the open District 50 House seat, recalled his experience working with Gov. Phil Bredesen, a time when he said if an idea “would benefit the people of our state, it didn’t matter if it was a Democratic or Republican idea.” He also touted the two council members’ work on the Music City Center project as an example of ensuring a preference for local workers, before returning to the refrain.
“I want to come to the General Assembly to create jobs, not controversy,” Mitchell said. “If we’re on the headline news, national news at night, I want it to be with how many jobs we’ve created with this program instead of some bill that will not create a single job for a Tennessean or educate a single child in this state.”
Not surprisingly, Towns gave the hard sell.
“Putting people to work — that’s something that all of us should work in tandem to try to accomplish,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to try to do otherwise. Unless you have a death wish for the state, death of the economy of the state. These are just simple things that you don’t have to analyze, you don’t have to fight about, you don’t have to debate about. Just put your back to the plow and push it, so our people can work. Simple as that. This is the cry across the land. To do anything otherwise, I would almost go as far as to call it treason to the people.”
And this statement emailed by Adam Nickas of the state Republican party: “Today’s press conference by Tennessee Democrats is another reminder that they are out of touch, out of ideas, but fortunately for Tennessee voters, they will soon be out of office.”
Thousands of Tennesseans who haven’t paid court costs and fines will start losing their driver’s licenses on July 1 under a law enacted by the General Assembly last year. Bob Fowler reports that county court clerks and judges, who are preparing to begin enforcing the law, have differing opinions about whether it’s a wise thing to do.
The law applies to misdemeanor and felony cases that were resolved after July 1, 2011. Defendants one year from the date of a guilty plea or conviction to pay off their court costs and fines and, if they don’t they are faced with loss of license. The revocations, thus, will begin after July 1, 2012. “Imagine the court having to have a hearing on every unpaid court cost case,” Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk Barry Pelizzari said. “It would be a burden that this system could not handle.”
“It’s going to be a huge mess,” Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge predicted. He said he expects to discuss the issue with fellow jurists during a judicial conference in June.
Roane County Circuit Court Clerk Kim Nelson offers another view. She said she’s “thankful that the Legislature has provided court clerks with another enforcement tool in collecting court costs.”
…State Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, spearheaded passage of the law. His main reason: “There’s almost $1 billion statewide in unpaid fines and court costs,” he said.
Defendants facing the loss of their driver’s license will now have “an incentive to pay their fines,” he said.
Gotto said he was asked to introduce the legislation by representatives of the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s office. “They see what a huge problem this is.”
Gotto said the law allows defendants unable to pay off their court costs in full within a year to either seek a six-month extension or set up an installment plan for paying.
“There are all kinds of safeguards to keep from disenfranchising any group,” he said, “but it brings some real consequences to folks who just won’t pay.”
Several clerks said they have either already sent out notices to defendants owing court costs in cases resolved last July, alerting them about the new law, or plan to do so soon.
The thrust of sex education classes taught in Tennessee schools will stay the same under a controversial bill awaiting the governor’s signature, according to the Department of Education.
More from Andrea Zelinski: The so-called “gateway sexual activity” bill seeks to punish teachers and third-party groups that promote “sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior” and rewrite state code to emphasizes abstinence education — both issues that caught the national spotlight this year.
“It really will not do much to change the current curriculum, the ways schools operate currently,” said Kelli Gauthier, a Department of Education spokeswoman.
Lawmakers easily passed the bill after much debate in the Legislature about whether abstinence education works, whether definitions of “gateway sexual activity” are too vague and whether teachers can get in trouble for not discouraging hand-holding, hugging or kissing.
The legislation points to the state’s current definition of “sexual contact” as “intentional touching of any other person’s intimate parts, or the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of … any other person’s intimate parts, if that intentional touching can be reasonably construed as being for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification.”
“Intimate parts” is defined as “the primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast of a human being” in state law.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s unsure what action he’ll take on the bill. From his study of HB3621 so far, “I actually don’t think it’s a big departure from our current practice,” he told reporters last week after a groundbreaking ceremony for a new science building at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
But bill sponsor Rep. Jim Gotto says the law’s current definition of abstinence isn’t clear enough.
Abstinence is “being interpreted as anything goes as long as your action will not result in a pregnancy. That’s exactly the way it’s being taught today,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Jim Gotto, R-Nashville.
According to the U.S. Census, the percentage of Tennessee teen pregnancies is down 19 percent to 9,254 pregnancies in 2010. But the pregnancy rate is still among the top 10 in the nation.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would require “family life education” curricula taught in schools to be abstinence-centered advanced in the House on Wednesday despite criticism that it’s unnecessary.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gotto of Hermitage passed the House Education Subcommittee on a voice vote. The legislation has become an alternative to a proposal that seeks to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students.
That proposal, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, seeks to limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade. It was considered in the House Education Committee last week, but its sponsor delayed it to allow lawmakers to consider Gotto’s more comprehensive proposal.
The bill would allow the teaching of safe sex, but the curriculum would have to be “abstinence-centered,” emphasizing that abstinence is withholding from “any kind of sexual contact.”
Mayor Ken Moore and the elected aldermen of Franklin, Tennessee, unanimously approved a resolution last Tuesday warning against overbearing central government. That may not be a surprise, reports Stateline, since Franklin is a conservative, reliably Republican city.
What is surprising is that the target of Franklin’s concern wasn’t the Obama administration or the federal government. Instead, it was the central government half an hour up the road in Nashville: the Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly.
The resolution included a list of 14 bills the mayor and aldermen opposed. On the list was legislation to substantially reduce local zoning and planning powers, as well as narrower bills to limit local regulation of signs, to ban localities from requiring residential sprinkler systems and to end local regulation of fireworks.
Taken together, local officials are worried that these bills will preempt powers they consider an essential part of their jobs. “All the mayors in our region,” says Moore, a Republican, “are quite concerned about this potential gutting of our ability to do what’s in the best interest of our communities
“All the mayors in our region,” says Moore, a Republican, “are quite concerned about this potential gutting of our ability to do what’s in the best interest of our communities.”
Debates about the relative authority of state and local government are not new. But in places like Tennessee, where Republicans claimed comfortable majorities in the legislature in 2010, they come with a different subtext.
Many of these state lawmakers have accused the federal government of adopting an imperious, one-size-fits-all mentality and of subverting the rightful powers of states. At the same time, many high-profile debates in the Tennessee Capitol over the last two years — on topics such as local wage rules and local non-discrimination rules, among others — have centered on the state trying to limit the power of localities to make decisions for themselves.
To some critics, that’s a sign of hypocrisy. What conservative supporters of these laws argue, though, is that localities sometimes use their power in ways that are inconsistent with values the state holds dear, such as defending property rights and reducing government regulation. Their case is that the only way the legislature can enact its vision for government is to use the power it has, not delegate it to others. Most of the legislation in Tennessee hasn’t passed yet and some of it seems unlikely to pass soon. Still, in Tennessee and elsewhere, it’s clear that for conservative lawmakers local control is just one principle, a principle that sometimes is superseded by others.
While the extent of local government autonomy varies from state to state, nowhere is that autonomy absolute. Even in states like Tennessee that offer limited “home rule,” state governments can act to overrule the localities. “What the locals need to remember,” says Jim Gotto, a member of the Tennessee legislature, “is that all the power they have is what has been delegated to them by the state.”
A trio of Republican-backed state development bills, pushed as efforts to “restore” property rights, has alarmed Metro Council members who allege the legislation would “gut” Nashville’s community-led zoning overlays that guide growth along corridors and in neighborhoods.
So reports the City Paper. More: Mayor Karl Dean opposes the state bills, suggesting they threaten local control, a stance that has positioned him opposite of a usual ally: the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying for the anti-regulatory land use legislation. Metro government provides the chamber $300,000 annually for economic development services. But on this issue, the chamber is pitted against Metro.
“[The mayor] cannot support anything that limits the power of local governments to protect neighborhoods and the quality of life of our residents,” Dean’s spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said.
Indeed, Metro leaders contend this legislative endeavor is the latest in a now-undeniable trend of the GOP-dominated state legislature: Use state supremacy to override, even circumvent, the autonomy of local municipalities. Moves seem to be pinpointed specifically toward Democratic-leaning Davidson County.
…The three state zoning bills, introduced by Hermitage-area Republican Rep. Jim Gotto, a former Metro councilman, would dramatically curtail Metro’s capacity to make and enforce zoning decisions, Metro officials say. In doing so, measures hand greater authority to private property owners on planning issues, limiting the reach of local zoning laws that developers have long bemoaned.
Gotto, a one-term legislator up for re-election in November, said his bills are “all about job creation.” For too long, he claims, building and zoning regulations have piled up, creating “layers” of bureaucracy impeding businesses from flourishing.
“It’s a restoration of some property rights,” Gotto said of his legislation, which could go before a subcommittee this week. “The pendulum has swung. We just need to re-balance this a little bit. I’m hoping some good, positive things will come out of this. We’re certainly not trying to shut down planning commissions.”
Collectively, the state bills broaden so-called “grandfather” protections for property owners, shielding them from local zoning laws enacted over time. Critics see the proposed policies as an attack on overlays and “specific plans” — sets of guidelines adopted over the past decade — aimed at improving aesthetics and fostering pedestrian-friendly growth in certain areas.
…One of the bills, HB3696, would apply vested rights to a development permit, overriding 70-plus years of Tennessee common law, according to the legal analysis of Jon Cooper, the Metro Council’s attorney.
…Raising many eyebrows is HB3694, which according to Cooper’s analysis rewrites state statute on “nonconforming property.” …According to Cooper’s analysis, the state proposal would protect all nonconforming property “forever” unless the property owner “intentionally and voluntarily relinquishes them.”
…Chamber officials and Gotto both credit Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s recent “Red Tape” statewide tour — which sought to identify ways “government makes life harder” for small businesses — for identifying zoning hurdles. Gotto’s bills resulted.
“While there are some situations when SPs [specific plans] and overlays are useful and beneficial, I have concerns when SPs and overlays are put on properties either without the knowledge property owners, which has happened in some cases, or against the wishes of the property owner,” Gotto said. “That’s what typically happens when you have these massive zonings and overlays.
A related state bill, HB1345, which Williamson County Republican Rep. Glen Casada has introduced, prohibits a local government from rezoning private property without the consent of affected property owners.