As a parting gift before leaving the state Legislature, five outgoing lawmakers spent more than $13,000 of taxpayer money to go on a four-day junket to Chicago, according a TNReport review of state records. Taxpayers are covering the costs for everything from airfare and mileage to staying in $227-a-night hotels and taking $40 taxi cab rides during the trip. The registration fees were as high as $615 per person for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in August. Some of the lawmakers, who had been defeated at the ballot box or announced their retirement, claimed five and six days’ per diem at $173 per day.
For lawmakers who knew at the time they would leave office after the November election, those bills amount to a taxpayer-funded “retirement party,” one critic said.
“People who serve in the Legislature for long periods of time tend to get a sense of entitlement about what the taxpayers owe them,” said Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, a taxpayer advocacy group.
What’s worse, he said, is that the speakers of both chambers signed off on the $13,388 worth of expense reports.
,,,The outgoing lawmakers are House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries on Aug. 2, four days before the conference, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
— Note: The article referenced above is, I think, the last story filed by Andrea Zelinski for TNReport. She’s moving to The City Paper, where she will continue to report on state government and political stuff, after a week or so vacation with her husband. The move has inspired some commentary — HERE, for Betsy Phillips, who is glad there’s a woman around among the dwindling Tennessee Capitol Hill Press Corps. I’m glad she’ll be around, too — not because she’s female, but because she’s a relatively fresh face compared to us old coots and is cool, competent and professional while actually paying a lot of attention to the ongoing process.
State Rep. Bill Harmon, of Dunlap, said Wednesday he will not seek re-election to the House but is considering possible races for the state Senate or Sequatchie County mayor.
From the Chattanooga TFP: “I’d like to thank all the people in the four counties I represented for the past 10 years for the opportunity to serve as their representative,” said Harmon, a Democrat whose 37th Legislative District includes Sequatchie, Marion, Grundy and Van Buren counties.
Harmon is the second House Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election following the passage of a Republican-drawn redistricting plan. Harmon’s home county of Sequatchie was placed in the 31st Legislative District held by Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City. The first Democrat to announce he wouldn’t seek re-election was Rep. Harry Tindell, of Knoxville, who represented the 13th Legislative District.
He said in early February that he wouldn’t be returning. By day’s end Wednesday, a third House Democrat, Rep. Janis Sontany, of Nashville, said she won’t seek re-election in the 53rd Legislative District. Harmon said the reconfigured 31st District leans Republican and there are two counties in it he never has represented.
Democratic Rep. Bill Harmon says he might run for the state Senate rather than for reelection to a state House seat that has been redistricted to pair him with Republican Rep. Jim Cobb.
The Senate seat in question is District 16, currently held by Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart, who has announced plans to run for the 4th District Congressional seat. Before and after redistricting, district 16 includes Sequatchie County, Harmon’s home. Most rate it as leaning Democratic, though not dramatically so.
In the House, redistricting pairs Harmon and Cobb in new District 31. The House district stretches from Sequatchie and Bledsoe through Rhea County, Cobb’s home, and into southwestern Roane County. Most rate it as leaning Republican, though not dramatically so.
“Probably,” replied Harmon when asked whether he could win against Cobb. “I’m first going to look at (running for) the Senate.”
“Can I win in that district? Yes,” said Cobb.
The Cobb-Harmon Harmon contest is the only remaining matchup between an incumbent Republican and an incumbent Democrat from the new House redistricting plan. The version originally unveiled had another – pairing Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Giles County with Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Hardin County. That match was eliminated in the final and revised version, which leaves Bass in District 70, comprised of all of Giles and most of Lawrence County.
Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Lewis County, who represents the House District adjoining the Bass District that was also impacted by the revisions, was apparently a key in Republican assent to the revision. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner say Hensley is considering a run for the Senate in the new, no-incumbent Senate seat created in Southern Middle Tennessee by the new Senate redistricting plan.
News release from Rep. Cameron Sexton’s office:
Nashville, TN – Over the last few months there has been a lot back and forth about the proposed closing of Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. The Department of Children Services has maintained Taft needs $37 million in improvements to remain open.
A bipartisan coalition of legislators joined together to oppose the closing of Taft Youth Center. Senator Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere), Representative Jim Cobb (R-Spring City), Representative Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap) and Representative Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville).
A few weeks ago Representative Sexton asked Commissioner O’Day to provide an itemize list detailing the $37 million price tag for improvements.
“Yesterday, Commissioner O’Day and her staff sent the requested information to us outlining the cost to rebuild Taft. It appears from the information we received, Commissioner O’Day is more concerned about the rehabilitation of the buildings at Taft than the rehabilitation of the students. To demolish buildings simply due to their age is short-sighted and leaves me to believe there is much more behind her proposal than what is being stated publically. I think it’s time we get to the bottom of it,” Senator Stewart stated.
In the release of information from Commissioner O’Day, DCS stated that five Taft buildings would need to be demolished and replaced at a cost of $28,790,737.50 due to the age of the structures.
“I have toured the facility multiple times and I am incredulous to the department’s desire to demolish buildings based simply on the year the building was built. Using that rationale, we should demolish the State Capitol and rebuild it because it is old too, built in 1859,” said Sexton.
— Note/Update: A Crossville Chronicle article on the matter is HERE.
A recent poll conducted on behalf of Knoxville mayoral candidate Madeline Rogero’s campaign shows her with a 2-to-1 lead over her next-closest rival among five candidates in the race, reports the News Sentinel.
According to the campaign’s poll, Rogero was backed by 40 percent of those surveyed, compared to 20 percent for Ivan Harmon. Mark Padgett received 13 percent, while 22 percent of respondents were undecided.
The race’s other two candidates, Bo Bennett and Joe Hultquist, split the remaining 5 percent.
The poll was taken among 600 likely Knoxville voters July 18-20 by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C. The results, which were released by the Rogero campaign Monday, have an plus/minus error margin of 4 percent.
…Harmon, 63, who has served terms as a county commissioner, city councilman and county school board member, said his campaign’s internal polling among 3,000 likely voters in early May put him at a close second to Rogero.
,,,Padgett, 33, said a poll of 400 likely voters taken on behalf of his campaign within the past two weeks put him within 7 points of Rogero — he was at 24 percent compared to Rogero’s 31 percent.
Georgina Vines has provided a rundown on campaign financial disclosures in the Knoxville mayor’s race: It’s clear from the latest financial disclosures of the Knoxville mayoral candidates that the business community that supports political candidates, most of whom are Republicans, is endorsing Mark Padgett, a Democrat and son of former longtime Knox County Clerk Mike Padgett.
The businessman’s supporters include family members of Gov. Bill Haslam, former Knoxville mayor. The Republican governor has said he’s staying out of the nonpartisan race. But Madeline Rogero, who ran against Haslam eight years ago and then became his community development director when he was mayor, has some business support, too, particularly among architects and prominent women.
… Rogero, also a Democrat, did get donations from two people key in Haslam’s mayoral administration – Larry Martin, deputy mayor, and Bill Lyons, senior director of policy and communications, both of whom have remained with interim Mayor Daniel Brown.
Her contributors also include Dotty Roddy, mother-in-law of Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy, who was a mayoral candidate until deciding in April to run for Jamie Woodson’s state Senate seat. Dotty Roddy made her $500 contribution after the councilwoman changed races.
In terms of fundraising, the campaign is between Padgett and Rogero. Padgett is the frontrunner, raising $146,865 in the last quarter ending June 30; Rogero raised $63,911 during the period. But former County Commissioner Ivan Harmon, who reported raising $20,700, said he’s not to be counted out. Former Councilman Joe Hultquist, a latecomer to the race, reported raising $10,035. Bo Bennett, a 911 dispatcher, reported raising $24.