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Tributes to Lois DeBerry

Here are some comments on the passing of state Rep. Lois DeBerry:

From House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh:

“I have known Lois DeBerry since 1974 when I was first elected to the House of Representatives. She had been elected just two years earlier and we were best friends from the very beginning. 

“Lois is a true Tennessee stateswoman. In the Legislature she led the way on a number of issues important to all Tennesseans including healthcare, education, corrections oversight, and economic development. The Lois DeBerry Center in Nashville, named after her, revolutionized the way we dealt with our incarcerated population and she deserves much of the credit for bringing our prison system out from under federal oversight and into the 21st century.  

She served with, worked with and provided advice not only to legislators but also to seven Tennessee Governors including Governors Haslam, Bredesen, Sundquist, McWherter, Alexander, Blanton and Dunn.  They all respected her opinion and listened closely to her advice.   

During my 18 years as Speaker of the House, Lois served as Speaker Pro Tempore–the first African American woman to fill this role. She was my constant helpmate and someone I could count on during those difficult days in the legislature. In 2000, the National Conference of State Legislators recognized Lois with the William Bulger Award for Legislative Leadership. This prestigious prize is given to one legislator each year who promotes the good of legislative institutions by displaying real leadership qualities, including honesty, integrity and hard work. That was the Lois we all knew. 

 Lois loved this state. She loved the people of this state.  She was the voice for people all across this state, who could not speak out for themselves in our governmental process; the poor, the oppressed, the proverbial people standing in the shadows of life.   She rebuffed repeated calls to run for higher office. In 1994 she even turned down a prestigious federal appointment from President Clinton, telling him that her work in Tennessee was simply not finished. 

I will miss Lois DeBerry. I will miss sitting with her on the floor of the House Chamber. I will miss her laughter and her great sense of humor that I saw so often in our daily discussions. I will miss her example and her leadership for our state. But most of all, I will miss my best friend.”

From House Speaker Beth Harwell:

“Lois DeBerry dedicated her life to service. From the Civil Rights Movement, to becoming the first female African-American Speaker Pro Tempore, Lois always made public service a priority. The impact she has had on this great state, the lives of countless Tennesseans, and people all across the country is astounding. She certainly made her mark on history, and it was an honor to know her and serve alongside her in Tennessee General Assembly. I valued our friendship, and will deeply miss her sage advice, and her remarkable sprit and smile. Her dedication to children’s issues, women’s issues, and criminal justice reform have resulted in a better Tennessee. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

From House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh:

“Lois DeBerry was my friend and my mentor. From my first day on the hill in 1994, she was someone I could turn to in every situation. She taught me the importance of working across party lines to get things done for the state, but also to never be afraid to stand up for a cause–even if sometimes you stand alone. Lois was a fighter. She always fought and fought hardest for children. She fought for those on the margins of society and for the city of Memphis which she loved so dearly. Most recently she waged a courageous battle against cancer, inspiring everyone with her upbeat attitude and her determination to survive. I loved Lois DeBerry. Her absence will leave a hole in the House that no one can fill; we are a better state for the service she provided. God rest her soul and be with her family during this difficult time.”

From Gov. Bill Haslam:

Coming in as a new governor, Lois quickly became one of my favorite people on Capitol Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication to her constituents. Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her.”

From Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron:

“Speaker Lois DeBerry was one of America’s Heroes and one of God’s Saints. “So many of us owe her so much. Speaker DeBerry led, she inspired, she witnessed with a spirit filled with The Spirit.
“Much will be said in the days ahead. Not enough can be said. We mourn her passing and celebrate her life.”
From U.S. Sen. Bob Corker:
“Lois DeBerry will be remembered as a tireless advocate for her community, and as one of the longest-serving women lawmakers in the nation and the first African-American female speaker pro tempore in the House, Lois’ legacy will be remembered in Memphis and across our state for generations to come,” said Corker. “I appreciate her many years of public service and her friendship and kindness. My heart goes out to her family during this difficult time.”
From Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle:
“Lois DeBerry was a peerless leader for her community, her city and for all women. It’s a uniquely American story – a woman who became frustrated with the conditions in her community and dedicated her life to making it better, rising to heights that no African American woman had seen before in Tennessee. We are deeply saddened by her passing.”
From Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney:
“Before I ever ran for office, I was motivated and inspired by the leadership of Lois DeBerry. She intentionally focused on tough issues, daring others to join her, and by her words could inspire people to take action and get involved. Tennessee has lost a great leader today.”
From House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick:
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Lois DeBerry, a legendary figure in Tennessee political history. I had the distinct privilege to serve with Lois in the House of Representatives for 9 years and I enjoyed our friendship. Her knowledge, experience and delightful personality will surely be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time.”
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (via CA story, HERE)
“Forget Democrat. Forget African-American. Forget state legislator. Lois is one of the individuals I trust the most for her counsel and advice,”
 

Duncan Breaks Ranks with TN GOP on Farm Bill

A scaled-down version of the Farm Bill passed the US House Thursday, and Tennessee’s Congressional delegation voted along strict party lines today–with one exception. So reports WPLN.
Knoxville Representative John Duncan is one of only 12 Republicans voting no.
The bill strips out any language governing food stamps, and that’s a big reason why Democrats don’t like it.
Duncan takes issue with a measure that would expand crop insurance for farmers.
 “You start a small business you have to pay 100% of your insurance, and then on top of that you

From a Wasnington Post blog, here’s a list:
The dozen GOP lawmakers who bucked the party were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Cook (Calif.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Matt Salmon (Ariz.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.).

Pilot Flying J Fraud Investigator Once Faced Similar Investigation

Excerpt from a Cleveland Plain Dealer story:
CLEVELAND, Ohio — R. Brad Martin was chief executive of Saks Inc. a decade ago when the luxury retailer was embroiled in a fraud investigation that found the company wrongly kept millions of dollars owed to clothing suppliers.
Martin today is the board member at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J who will sign off on an internal investigation into whether Pilot kept millions of dollars in fuel rebates owed to trucking companies.
The similarities between the two cases and the close ties between Martin and Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam — for years they’ve moved in the same social circles and their family summer homes are a stone’s throw from each other in the Smoky Mountains — make some question whether Martin can be objective about any findings of fraud at Pilot.
“At the very least there was a cloud over his tenure at Saks,” said Christopher Ideker, a forensic accountant who has participated in many audit committee investigations for companies. “To me, you have a guy calling the shots on an investigation about stealing from customers who was investigated for stealing from vendors. That seems pretty straightforward.”
Leland Wykoff, a shareholder with Saks and its predecessor for 15 years, said he quizzed Martin at Saks’ 2005 annual meeting about how clothing suppliers had been cheated. Wykoff said the CEO took responsibility for what occurred on his watch.
“I leaned forward,” Wykoff said Friday, recalling his conversation with Martin. “I pulled my glasses down on my nose and I locked eyes with him. There was a pregnant pause and I said, ‘Then why are you still here?’ You could have heard a pin drop.”
Haslam, owner of the Cleveland Browns, said he initially didn’t know about any rebate problems at Pilot but said the company’s investigation now shows that about 250 trucking firms are owed money. He suspended several sales managers and took other remedial steps after the April 15 raid by FBI agents on Pilot headquarters.
Chief among Haslam’s moves was his selection of Martin, 61, of Nashville, to oversee the internal investigation at the privately-held company, running on a parallel track to federal agents’ work.
Saks Inc., owner of the venerable Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain, came into regulators’ crosshairs around 2004.
…Saks ultimately settled the SEC complaint about its treatment of vendors without admitting or denying fault — shelling out about $60 million, according to C. Warren Neel, who was head of Saks’ audit committee.
Martin, CEO and chairman between 1989 and January 2006, was never charged in the wrongdoing. His brother Brian Martin, Saks’ general counsel, as well as two other executives, were fired over the scandal, though also never charged.
Neel’s committee found no direct failings among other senior officers. But the committee criticized the level of communication between Saks’ executive suite and board members, and recommended reducing or eliminating bonuses for Brad Martin and the company’s chief financial officer.
Martin stepped down as CEO in a management shakeup within months of the SEC settlement.
Neel, who served as dean of the business school at the University of Tennessee for 25 years and had been invited by Martin to sit on Saks’ board, said the in-house examination was difficult and very uncomfortable.
“The social relationships for me were a major emotional problem,” he said. “I was with friends.”
Neel said he found no evidence that Martin’s brother or other executives “were a major part of the problem, but the SEC required that we do something.”

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam was a Saks executive 1999-2001.

An Emkes Exit Interview: Overcoming ‘Steep Learning Curve’ for ‘Operational Excellence’

The start of a Knoxville Business Journal article on Mark Emkes, the recently departed state finance commissioner who may exemplify the kind of business-oriented guy Gov. Bill Haslam likes to have in state government:
Insofar as knowledge about operations goes, there was quite a contrast at the outset of Mark Emkes’ last two executive undertakings.
When he became CEO of Bridge- stone Americas Holding Inc. in 2004, Emkes says he had firsthand experience in virtually all aspects at the world’s largest tire manufacturer — from changing tires, his first job in a Texas Firestone store back in 1975, to subsequently managing company dealings in locales from the United Arab Emirates to Brazil. Firestone was acquired by Japan-based Bridgestone in 1988.
“You know everything they know,” Emkes recalls about managing the company’s thousands of employees in North and South America.
That was not the case when Emkes became CFO for the state of Tennessee, a position officially known as commissioner of the Department of Finance and Administration. That is the top position among the 22 commissioners hired by Gov. Bill Haslam.
“When I walked into this job, I didn’t know anything about state government,” Emkes says. “The learning curve is really steep.”

AP Story on Pilot Problems, Jimmy Haslam’s Comments

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam on Monday acknowledged a massive hit to the credibility of the family-owned Pilot Flying J truck stop chain following FBI allegations of the widespread fraud of customers at the country’s largest diesel retailer.
Haslam announced at the company’s Knoxville headquarters that he has suspended several members of the sales team after an affidavit filed in federal court disclosed secretly recorded conversations in which Pilot staff boasted about taking advantage of less-sophisticated trucking company customers.
“I, more than anybody, understand the damage that’s been done to our reputation, our brand and our relationships in the trucking community,” Haslam said. “Eight days ago I think we had the best relationships, the best trust in the trucking industry. And we now have the worst. I understand that, I accept responsibility for it.”
Privately held Pilot Flying J posted $29 billion in revenues in 2012. Haslam, who bought the Browns last year, is the brother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who also maintains an undisclosed stake in the company founded by their father with a single gas station in 1958.
Jimmy Haslam didn’t name the people placed on administrative leave, specify how many have been suspended or whether they are still being paid. He gave a statement to reporters but refused to take questions.

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Federal Affidavit Says Pilot Chiefs Knew of Rebate Fraud

Federal officials have unsealed the search warrants used in Monday’s raid on Pilot Flying J headquarters in West Knoxville, reports the News Sentinel.
A confidential informant working with federal agents has alleged that a rebate fraud scheme at Pilot Flying J occurred with the knowledge of top executives, including CEO Jimmy Haslam, according to an affidavit made public on Thursday.
The affidavit was filed in support of a search warrant application. Federal agents raided the company on Monday.
The affidavit was filed by Robert H. Root, a special agent with the FBI. It said that in May of 2011, a confidential human source, referred to as CHS-1, contacted the FBI to report knowledge of fraudulent activity by employees.
The affidavit said a current sales employee, referred to as CHS-2, had confided to CHS-1 that employees had been intentionally charging certain customers a higher price than the contractually agreed upon price, then concealing that fact.
The affidavit said CHS-2, a current regional director of sales, was contacted by agents in October and confirmed the existence of the fraud.
According to the affidavit, CHS-2 said the fraud has occurred with the knowledge of Haslam and company president Mark Hazelwood. Specifically the person said rebate fraud-related activities have been discussed during sales meetings in Knoxville at which Hazelwood and Haslam were present.
Root said based on information obtained in the investigation, there is probable cause to believe certain Pilot employees have conspired and schemed to engage in rebate fraud for many years.
Specifically, it said there is probable cause to believe certain employees conspired to defraud customers that were deemed by some employees to be too unsophisticated to catch that their agreed-upon discount deal with Pilot was being changed.

Politifact Finds Congressman Duncan’s Claim ‘Mostly False’

U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan’s assertion that 90 percent of felonies are committed by people who grew up in fatherless homes has been given a “mostly false” rating by Politifact.
The national fact-checking group looked at a comment the Knoxville Republican congressman made in a letter to a constituent: “Well over 90 percent of felony cases, all over the nation, are committed by defendants who grew up in father-absent households.”
A Duncan spokesman told Politifact that the assertion was based on “knowledge obtained from nearly eight years as a criminal court judge dealing with mostly felony cases.” And Gary Tullock, chief probation counselor, told him the figure was actually 98 percent.
Politifact looked at three studies on the issue, which pegged the number at around 60 percent.
An excerpt:
Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia, said that even if Duncan’s statistic were true, “it would be misleading and incomplete,” because it does not address how many people grew up in father-absent households and did not commit felonies.
“We could point out that 99 percent of felony offenders drank milk as a child, too, but it is easy to see the fallacy here because we have no preconceptions about milk the way we do about father absence,” he said. “Father absence is surely an important concern, but it is only one of a number of risk factors for felony criminal behavior.”
…The data we found supports Duncan’s impression that growing up in a fatherless home is one of the factors that contributes to eventual incarceration. But the quantitative research does not show the near-certain link between felonies and fatherlessness that Duncan portrays. We rate the claim Mostly False.

The full Politifact article is HERE.

Bill Cuts Unemployment Benefits for Jobless With Dependents

Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to slash dependent benefits for unemployed Tennesseans as a way to rein in a program that was expanded in 2009 under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reports The Tennessean.
The bill (HB639), which cleared a key House committee with little resistance on Tuesday, would save the state an estimated $62.5 million annually, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor. Those savings are necessary, supporters say, because $141 million in federal funds given to the state under the stimulus have run out, and Tennessee employers have had to pick up the bill.
A Democratic leader in the House called the proposal a bad bill that would hurt the unemployed in the state. But Republican leadership, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, said the state was fixing what amounted to an unfunded mandate.
Consideration of the bill comes one week after the Department of Labor’s unemployment benefits program was blistered in a state audit that found fraud and mismanagement that “threatened the integrity” of the unemployment benefits system.
“This is the very definition of an unfunded mandate,” said state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, adding that the state needed to halt the expanded benefits in order to preserve the health of the unemployment insurance fund. “Experts say there’s no way our fund could withstand another recession.”
Under current state law, unemployed workers receive $15 per week for each dependent, with a cap of $50 per week, in addition to their regular unemployment check. The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, and in the Senate by Ramsey and Johnson, would end such dependent benefits.
Unemployment checks for individuals are capped at $275 per week. A family with four or more dependents receives an additional $50 each week.
The bill cleared the House Consumer and Human Resources committee Tuesday with a voice vote, though Democrats such as Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, expressed their opposition.

Bill to Elect School Superintendents Gets Congressman’s Support

Legislation setting the stage for election of school superintendents in some Tennessee counties faces key votes this week in both the state House and Senate with U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. among its supporters.
“When the state went to appointed school superintendents, it did not take the politics out of the process,” Duncan wrote in a March 14 letter to state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “It simply put political control into a very small group of people.
“The overwhelming majority of citizens who have discussed this with me feel that they should be allowed to vote on this very important position,” Duncan wrote, saying he had been asked to do so by Claiborne County Mayor Jack Daniels.
The Claiborne County Commission has approved a resolution urging passage of the bill (SB916) Niceley is sponsoring. It is among several county commissions that have done so, although the Knox County Commission refused last month with some commissioners saying they wanted more public input and Commissioner Mike Hammond saying discussion of the issue is “a waste of time” until the bill becomes law.
A state law enacted in 1992 requires that all superintendents be appointed by school boards once those in office had served out their terms. Before that, the system for choosing superintendents varied from system to system, but many — including Knox and most other East Tennessee counties — held popular elections for superintendents.
The bill sponsored by Niceley and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, would apply only in counties or cities that had elected superintendents before 1992. In those places, the bill would authorize a local referendum on returning to elected superintendents — if the local county commission, or city council in cases of city school systems, approves the referendum by a two-thirds majority vote.

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UT Slashes Funding of Sex Week

Legislator criticism of the University of Tennessee’s Sex Week has led campus officials to announce they are cutting state funding to the event, the News Sentinel reports.
The weeklong series of events and panel discussions planned for the UT’s Knoxville campus, beginning April 5, has drawn unwanted attention from some state legislators, who have questioned the use of public money earmarked for the program.
Totaling $18,195, the bulk of the event’s funding — $11,145 — was expected to come from academic departments and programs, i.e. state funding.
Another $6,700 in student activity fees was allocated by student boards through UT’s Central Program Council.
On Wednesday, UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the use of student programming dollars will be allowed, but the state funding will no longer be available.
“We support the process and the students involved, but we should not use state funds in this manner,” Cheek said in a written statement.