Tag Archives: history

History Repeating Itself at DCS?

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen fired Michael Miller as commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services in 2003 and named another commissioner, Gina Lodge of the Department of Human Services, to serve as his interim successor.
About a decade later, we find Gov. Bill Haslam accepting the resignation of DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day and naming another commissioner, Jim Henry of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, to serve as her interim successor.
A clear distinction, of course, is that Bredesen fired his first DCS commissioner, saying he had been unable to provide “the cultural change” that was needed and as illustrated by various critical reports with a lawsuit involved and media attention.
Haslam’s first DCS commissioner resigned on her own violation, acknowledging she had become a “distraction” because of various critical reports with a lawsuit involved and media attention.
Haslam says he did not ask for the resignation and thinks O’Day had done “a lot of good things” to improve the department. Well, maybe.
O’Day helped prepare a DCS budget for the coming fiscal year that executes what comes across as a turnaround from two prior Haslam budgets. Until the plan outlined in his Jan. 28 “state of the state” speech, DCS had been in cutback mode along with most other state agencies.
The new budget will add 62 caseworker positions — a contrast with continuing cutbacks elsewhere in state jobs — with higher pay for those already there and meeting some new qualification criteria. There is still some DCS cutting, but the department nets $6.7 million in new money and more workers, presumably where they are most needed.
After Lodge did her stint as interim DCS commissioner under Bredesen, the former governor brought in Viola Miller, who had run the equivalent of DCS in Kentucky, to take the job on a long-term basis. By most accounts, Miller was a hard-nosed administrator but got the department on track toward resolving its long-running problems.
In 2010, the last year of Bredesen’s reign, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, issued a report declaring DCS had “improved drastically” since a highly critical 2002 review. Some child advocacy groups said nice things, too, and a lawsuit was resolved with a condition that the department’s doings be monitored.
State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, perhaps the Legislature’s best-known advocate on children’s issues, says she often clashed with Miller, “but at least she listened” and O’Day did not. Jones says DCS staffers told her that Miller considered Jones “our worst enemy” in the Legislature because of critical questioning and at the same time “our best friend” because of Jones’ willingness to support DCS in areas where she thought they were right.
Jones served on the Select Oversight Committee on Children and Youth, which focused on DCS and which was abolished by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year.
The monitor making reports in accord with the Bredesen-era lawsuit settlement reported last year that, after a period of significant improvements, reform efforts had lost momentum in 2011. Which, of course, was when the Haslam administration took over. In fairness, the report blamed many of the difficulties on the department’s new computer system, authorized under the Bredesen administration.
The department was also the target of a new lawsuit, brought by The Tennessean with other media outlets joining in, over access to records of children who died after DCS involvement.
The hope, of course, is that history will further repeat itself and DCS will be back on track toward improving things.
Henry, the interim commissioner, is respected as an advocate in the general area and as a man with very good people skills. Indeed, the governor might consider removing the “interim” from his title. He had a relatively warm reception at a Senate Health Committee hearing last week, appearing after O’Day resigned the day before she was to appear before the panel under what probably would have been considerably more hostile circumstances. Maybe Haslam will find his own new, improved second DCS commissioner.
Either way, it’s a shame that something wasn’t learned from DCS history to avoid all this.

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On Collecting Ballots for Abe Lincoln

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two collectors in Knoxville are trying to figure out what do with their latest acquisition: about 260 ballots from the 1864 Presidential election, most of which were cast for Abraham Lincoln.
Cole Piper of Knoxville said he and collecting partner Andy Simon of Maryville would probably sort through the items to find the ones they want to keep and may offer the rest to others.
Piper told the Knoxville News Sentinel (full story, by Mal Alder, HERE) that he and Simon bid $8,000 to purchase the collection of ballots, which were auctioned in Maryville last month. He said finding more than one ballot from the election is rare.
Most of the votes went to Lincoln and his running mate, Andrew Johnson, but 32 went to Gen. George McClellan and his running mate, George Pendleton.

TN History for Kids Offering New Booklets for Schools

By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For years, Tennessee history buff Bill Carey has been concerned about the lack of state history in the schools. Now he is seizing what he thinks is the best opportunity in decades to reverse that trend.
Carey is taking advantage of the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards that require English and reading teachers to make use of more nonfiction.
His nonprofit, Tennessee History for Kids, has created two booklets for use in those classes. One is for elementary and middle school children and is composed mostly of historical essays written by Carey with titles like “David Crockett loses his pants.”
“That’s the first one my kids wanted to read,” said Teresa Calhoun, who recently purchased a set of the booklets for her classroom. The fourth grade teacher at Indian Springs Elementary School in Kingsport said the booklets use stories to tell history.
“That makes it fun and interesting,” she said. It’s not like a regular textbook.”

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On Andy Jackson, the ‘Melting Pot’ Army, and the Battle of New Orleans

The News Sentinel takes a trip down Tennessee history lane with a Steven Harris story on Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, which includes commentary from a descendant of Andy and Rachel Jackson’s adopted son and various scholarly people. A recommended read for history buffs.
“It is really cool to know that you are related to someone who played such an important role in not only Tennessee history, but American history,” said Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Andrew Jackson VI, the great-great-great grandson of the former president.
Jackson VI has visited the site, which is now just a field, just outside New Orleans and likes to reflect on what it was like 198 years ago for his ancestor to deal with the preparations and the fighting.
“His army was a true melting pot army in that he had regular army, militia, frontiersmen that were volunteering, Indians, freed blacks and even pirates,” Jackson VI said. “You had everybody fighting the British in that army.
“I always thought that could show you what can happen in this country when you have everybody working together toward a common goal, because they sure did beat the tar out of the British.”
…Prior to the War of 1812, Tennessee was regarded as a frontier state and a non-factor on the national scene, according to Brown.
At the call of Gov. Willie Blount, some 3,000 volunteer soldiers joined the Tennessee militia, which in turn was to join the members of the U.S. Army in the southern theater, which involved a subset of the War of 1812 known as the Creek War.
This action first earned the state its nickname as the Volunteer state.
“Had Tennessee not participated in the southern fighting, there is no doubt the war might have taken a different direction,” said Tom Kanon, an archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
“Most of the fighting in the so-called Creek War was performed by Tennesseans, even though the overall plan called for a coordinated effort between some of the other Southern states and territories and federal troops. Although the ultimate outcome would probably have been the same, Tennessee sped up the process by conducting aggressive campaigns into the Creek Nation and ending the conflict by March 1814.”

Geography Primer: S.C. Is West of TN, Etc.

Tennessee History for Kids (which adults can read, too) has a new section on Tennessee geography. Included are “eight things about Tennessee geography that will surprise you, such as:”
* South Carolina is west of Tennessee
* Tennessee has more caves than any other state
* Elevation-wise, Knoxville is lower than Cookeville
* Memphis is much closer to Dallas than it is to Mountain City.
Direct link to the “eight things” is HERE.

A Memo on Past TN Legislative ‘Super Majorities’

Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, has sent members this memo on the history of partisan majorities in the Tennessee General Assembly:
Re: FACTSHEET about Supermajorities in Tennessee
The following information has been verified by the Office of the Librarian.
What is the largest House supermajority in Tennessee history? What Party was in power? Who was the Speaker?
* Governor Brownlow’s Administration in 1865 had a 99 House and 33 Senate
vote majority. (Note: They were known as “unionists,” according to Legislative Librarian Eddie Weeks — but effectively Republicans. Also, Weeks says the House had just 75 members and the Senate 25 in 1865. The size was expanded by the 1870 state constitution.)
* SINCE 1901: In the House of Representatives, at the start of 1939 (the
71st General Assembly), the party breakdown was 84 Democrats, 14 Republicans (70 majority D). The Speaker was John Ed O’Dell.
When is the last time a House majority had over 65 Members?
* At the start of 1977 (the 90th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
66 D, 32 R.
When is the last time a House Majority had over 70 Members?
* At the start of 1965 (the 84th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
74 D, 25 R.
Overall, are supermajorities common in Tennessee history?
* The last time one party held a 2/3rds majority in both Houses was 1977 (35
years ago).
* However, from 1901 (the 52nd GA) until 1967 (the 84th GA) the Democrats
never held LESS THAN a 2/3rds majority in both houses (67 years).
* The high points of control in those years:
* HOUSE: At the start of 1939 (the 71st General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 84 D, 14 R (70 majority D).
* SENATE: At the start of 1943 (the 73rd General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 30 D, 3 R (27 majority D).
* Even in 1967 (the 84th General Assembly), the Democrats still held a
2/3rds majority in the Senate (25 D, 8 R); their majority in the House was 58 D,
41 R; down from 74 D, 25 R in 1965.
* From 1969 until 1977, neither party held a 2/3rds majority in either
Chamber.
Bottom Line
* Since 1901 (111 years), there were 67 straight years of 2/3rds majority,
followed by once in the next 44 years.
* Supermajorities were once very common, but have been very uncommon since
1967.

On the State Capitol’s $15 Million Renovation and a $65 Desk

The $15 million renovation of the state Capitol building, now underway, has inspired former state Rep. Robert Booker to do a bit of research and to reminiscence. A couple of excerpts from the resulting op-ed piece:
The “Tennessee Blue Book 1967-1968” says, “Prison labor was used for most of the stone cutting and for a large part of the actual construction work.” The book goes on to describe renovations to the building that began in January 1956, when it received “a new copper roof, new windows, and 90,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone to restore the steps and terraces.”
The Capitol was started during the administration of Gov. James Chamberlain Jones, a farmer of Wilson County who had been elected to the Legislature in 1837 and again in 1839. He served as governor from 1841 to 1845, and was the first native Tennessean to hold that office.
According to G.R. McGee in his book, “A History of Tennessee,” published in 1839, Jones was called “Lean Jimmy” because “he was six feet two inches high, and weighed only one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
…I was a member of the Legislature in 1968 when it was decided that we needed new furniture in the House and Senate chambers.
Each legislator had the opportunity to buy his or her desk and chair for $65. They came with a list of the men and women who had occupied them through the years.
For 44 years now I have used that cherry wood desk and chair in the office at my house.

TN History Buff Alert: Maybe Hood Didn’t Foulup (at Spring Hill 148 years ago)

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood, often blamed for the Confederacy’s staggering loss during the battles of Franklin and Nashville, might finally get his due 148 years later, reports The Tennessean.
A never-seen-before cache of Hood’s personal papers — including handwritten notes, letters and field orders written by Hood and other Civil War luminaries — is now being pored over by historians who say they paint a fuller, more sympathetic picture of Hood.
Sam Hood, a retired West Virginia businessman and “collateral descendant” of the general, and Eric Jacobson, Battle of Franklin Trust chief operating officer, discussed the papers on Friday. They are in the midst of transcribing the letters and documents.
….Union Gen. John Schofield’s troops crept by Hood’s men camped in Spring Hill on Nov. 29, 1864, giving them time to erect fortifications in Franklin that proved devastating to attacking Confederates the next day. Sam Hood said eyewitness accounts in the papers, including Hood’s medical records, dispute the popular story that the general was under the influence of painkillers when the Union troops slipped by and put the blame on other officers.
“There’s more than one letter from eyewitnesses (identifying) who it was on the Confederate side who was responsible for Schofield’s escape at Spring Hill,” Sam Hood said.
(The article does not suggest who was responsible.)

On the Origin of TN’s ‘Sunshine Law’

The Tennessee Legislature, which through much of the 1960s would routinely exclude the public and press from lawmakers’ “executive session” meetings, in February of 1974 adopted a landmark law that states in its preamble:
“The General Assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”
The statute is known as the “Sunshine Law,” and passage marked a change in attitude from prior years. It also marked a rare case of legislative advocacy by the state’s newspapers, represented by the Tennessee Press Association, with the late Ralph Millett, then editor of the News Sentinel, and Sam Kennedy, then editor of the Columbia Daily Herald, as point men.
“We decided to take the initiative, something that, as a matter of policy, we did not do,” recalled Kennedy in an interview last week. Normally, he said, the TPA became active in the Legislature only in opposing bills considered bad, not pushing legislation considered good.
The full article, written as part of a News Sentinel series on the newspaper’s history over the past 125 years, is HERE.

A Lesson for Minority Democrats in Mike Kernell’s Memories?

Rep. Mike Kernell, defeated in last week’s Democratic primary by fellow Rep. G.A. Hardaway, looks back over 38 years in the Legislature in the Memphis Daily News.
Kernell won his first two-year term in the year of Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Democrats were ascendant – Republicans were on the ropes and Kernell remembers the Democrats getting elected knew it.
“People walked around like we’ve got the power. But it still broke into factions. That’s human,” he said. “What the Republicans did was, they made friends with the Democrats and actually became very influential.”
Kernell added there are some lessons there for the Democratic minorities who will return to Nashville next year without him. Democratic leaders have had real problems adjusting to life as the minority party in both chambers over the last four years.
“I’ve been trying to tell them to make friends and just withhold judgment. When two people become friends, then they start trusting each other,” he said. “When another person stands up on the floor and you eat out with them every once in a while, they are going to listen to you and they are not going to vote to cut you off. That kind of relationship is needed.”
And Kernell said there are already signs that Republicans on Capital Hill are beginning to do what Democrats did after they got used to being in the majority.
“It’s going to factionalize. That stuff happens. The honeymoon is over,” Kernell said.
But that doesn’t mean life will be easier for Democratic legislators, especially those from the most Democratic city in the state.