Tag Archives: knoxville

House Democratic Chair Stewart visits Knoxville

In a trip to Knoxville, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart visited his parents and other Democrats, appeared on a party TV show and declared Democrats are still relevant in the Legislature though outnumbered, reports Georgiana Vines.

Stewart was in Knoxville on Friday to appear with his parents, John and Nancy Stewart, on the Democratic-TV program on cable networks and then met with Knox County Democrats at his parents’ home in Bearden.

Mike Stewart spent his teenage years in Knoxville after John Stewart moved the family from Washington to work as a TVA executive following a career as an aide to Hubert Humphrey, the former vice president and U.S. senator from Minnesota, and with federal agencies.

You could say Stewart, 50, cut his political teeth on Humphrey. On the telecast, a picture was shown of Humphrey holding 15-month-old Mike. Stewart said he remembered Humphrey from being with his father once in his office and Humphrey handed him a TV remote, a novelty at the time, “to keep me out of their hair.”

Stewart is a graduate of Webb School in 1983 and the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1987. He spent three years in the Army and returned to Knoxville in 1991 to attend the University of Tennessee School of Law.

Upon graduation, he went to Nashville to practice law and has lived there since with his wife, Ruth, a family physician, and their family. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2008.

Stewart cited the work of former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who represented the 13th District in 2013-14, as an example of a Democrat who can work with Republicans to pass legislation.

The example he gave was the Tennessee Community Schools Act, which allows a partnership with the school and community professionals for programs before, during and after school hours.

…Stewart claims to have no political ambitions beyond being in the state House, although his father would like him to run for governor someday.

“I am completely focused on being Democratic caucus chairman,” he said.

Rogero unopposed for reelection as Knoxville mayor

From the News-Sentinel
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero is unopposed in her run toward a second and final term as mayor.

Her only opponent, Buck Cochran, withdrew his candidacy for the position Thursday, according to the Knox County Election Commission.

Unless a strong write-in campaign is launched, Rogero can expect little competition in her run to a second term.

Contested seats in the 2015 Knoxville election now are only on City Council, where incumbents in three seats face challengers.

A primary will be held for two At-Large seats on Sept. 29. Incumbent Marshall Stair faces opposition from Carly Baskette and Pete Drew in the At-Large Seat B. Meanwhile, At-Large Seat C incumbent Finbarr Saunders is being challenged for the job by Kelly Absher, Paul Bonovich and David Williams.

Election day is Nov. 3.

Court praises policeman for not shooting knife-wielding 14-year-old

A state appellate court this week offered rare praise for the actions of Knoxville Police Department officer who risked his own life to avoid shooting a 14-year-old girl as she threatened him with a knife, reports the News Sentinel.

KPD Officer Thomas Thurman is being lauded for his handling of a July 2012 incident previously cloaked in secrecy as it involved a juvenile charged in Knox County Juvenile Court. With just a handful of exceptions, the public is barred from reviewing juvenile court records.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals spent several pages of its nine-page opinion in the girl’s case detailing Thurman’s actions as told by Thurman himself in testimony.

(Note: The full opinion is HERE. Basically, Thurmond answered a call about ‘some vague problem involving a foster child’ and, after being admitted into the home, wound up with the girl coming at him with a 10-inch knife.)

“As soon as I seen her, you know, I tried to play the situation down some and just tell her, ‘Hey stop that,’ you know, ‘Put down the knife,’ ” he said.

She didn’t. Thurman began easing his gun out of his holster as she began walking down the steps. But, then, in a split second he said felt much longer, Thurman decided two things — he was going to get stabbed but he was not going to shoot the girl.

“I just knew I was going to get stuck,” he testified. “I just didn’t know how bad it was going to be.”

He swapped his gun for a stun gun and fired just as the girl reached him. The knife flew out of her hand, hitting his leg, and the girl crumpled onto the stairs, crying, “sorry, sorry, sorry.” The knife did not cut Thurman.

…“Before we address the issue on appeal, we note that the record reveals, and the parties, the Criminal Court, and this Court all have acknowledged, that Officer Thurman did a commendable job during the very dangerous incident upon which this case is based,” the justices wrote. “Officer Thurman’s professionalism and ability to think clearly during this life-threatening incident resulted in a resolution that avoided injury or death. The outcome of the incident could have been very different except for Officer Thurman and his actions.”

As for the girl’s appeal of her delinquency by reason of aggravated assault, Assistant Knox County Public Defender Christina Kleiser won. The state conceded the girl was convicted under the wrong statute, so the appellate court dismissed the case.

Investigator’s report focuses on sexual remarks, not financial improprieties

An attorney hired by the City of Knoxville to investigate complaints from a demoted park manager has issued a nine-page report focused on alleged sexual remarks rather than alleged financial improprieties involving taxpayer money, reports the News Sentinel.

Those involved: Attorney Thomas Hale, who did the report; Don Richard Evans, former manager of Chilhowee Park, operated by the city; and Greg MacKay, Evans’ boss.
Evans’ 32-item list of alleged misuse of city personnel, equipment and money by the operators of the Tennessee Valley Fair at Chilhowee was relegated to a footnote, a News Sentinel review showed.

Hale blames his lack of focus on the taxpayer waste issue on Evans, Evans’ attorney and the city itself for failing to tell him about the whistleblower portion of complaints Evans is now suing over in Knox County Circuit Court until after he launched his investigation. Hale opined in the report there was no proof to back up Evans’ claims Mackay mocked him by suggesting Evans and another male city employee were having a homosexual relationship.

…Evans, a 20-year city employee, contends Mackay eliminated his job in October 2013 after the two clashed over Mackay’s alleged sexual smears.

According to Evans’ lawsuit, he and Bob Polk, the former Public Assembly Facilities director, both shared concerns fair operators were using city equipment, property and employees to put on the annual event.

Evans also contends his concerns received a sympathetic ear from another male employee. Hale did not interview Polk or the employee, who has since stepped down.

When Polk retired in November 2012, Mackay took over. Evans contends when he brought his concerns about the fair to Mackay, Mackay made “ridiculously vulgar and highly offensive comments,” including repeated claims Evans and the employee were romantically involved.

TN Republicans limit Obama bashing for Knoxville presidential visit

While Tennessee Republicans generally boycotted President Obama’s recent visit to Nashville and several issued statements bashing him generally when the topic was immigration reform (post at the time, HERE) the presidential visit to Knoxville today seems to have provoked a considerably milder GOP press release response – understandable, of course, since a bunch of Republicans were on hand and presidential praise for “Tennessee Promise” was the topic.

A sampler of Knoxville visit comments from Tennessee Republicans:

From Gov. Bill Haslam:

“The president recognizes that good things are happening in Tennessee. We are proud of the Tennessee Promise. It is changing the culture of expectations in Tennessee by encouraging more students to pursue a certificate or degree beyond high school. The Tennessee Promise is focused not just on access but success in terms of making certain that students actually attain their degree. We think having a mentor available for the students is an important part of achieving that success.

“Regarding the specifics of the president’s plan, we look forward to seeing more details in the coming days about the cost of the program and how it will be covered.”

From state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney:

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the President’s attempt to repackage the Tennessee Promise into a national initiative only gets it half right.

“While Tennessee was able to create the program without new appropriations or increased taxes, President Obama appears to be keen on maxing out America’s credit cards and forcing states to pay a portion of it as well. White House aides are already describing the cost as ‘significant’ to American taxpayers.
“In contrast, Tennesseans aren’t losing a penny on the Tennessee Promise. Without a realistic way to both balance our federal budget and ‘show us the money’, the President just looks eager to pile up more debt.”

From Sen. Lamar Alexander:

“The right way to expand Tennessee Promise nationally is for other states to do for themselves what Tennessee has done. Then, instead of creating a new federal program, the federal government can help in two ways. First, reduce federal paperwork for the ridiculous 108-question student aid application form which discourages 2 million Americans from applying for federal Pell grants that are already available to help pay community college tuition. Every Tennessee Promise applicant has to fill out this form. Second, pay for the millions of new Pell grants that will be awarded if other states emulate Tennessee Promise and if Congress reduces federal paperwork and allows students to use Pell grants year-round.

“The reason Tennessee can afford Tennessee Promise is that 56 percent of our state’s community college students already have a federal Pell grant, which averages $3,300, to help pay for the average $3,800-per-year tuition. The state pays the difference–$500 on average. Nationally, in 16 states, the average Pell grant pays for the typical student’s entire community college tuition.”
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Some TN-related quotes from Obama’s Knoxville speech

Tennessee-oriented excerpts from President Obama’s Knoxville speech, lifted from the White House transcript:

Now, part of the reason I wanted to come here was because Tennessee is at the forefront of doing some really smart stuff. (Applause.) And we’ve got some proud Tennesseans who can take some credit for the great work that’s been done. First, your Governor, Bill Haslam, who’s here. (Applause.) Your two very fine senators, — you’ve got Bob Corker — (applause) — and your senior Senator, Lamar Alexander, who’s a former Secretary of Education himself, so he knows a little bit about this. (Applause.) You’ve got Congressman John Duncan. (Applause.) Your Mayor, Madeline Rogero. (Applause.) And we’ve got Pellissippi’s president, Anthony Wise. (Applause.) Hey! And we’ve got all of you. (Laughter.)

…America thrived in the 20th century in large part because we made high school the norm, and then we sent a generation to college on the GI Bill — including my grandfather. Then we dedicated ourselves to cultivating the most educated workforce in the world and we invested in what’s one of the crown jewels of this country, and that’s our higher education system. And dating back to Abraham Lincoln, we invested in land-grant colleges. We understood that this was a hallmark of America, this investment in education.

But eventually, the world caught on and the world caught up. And that’s why we have to lead the world in education again. That’s why my administration is working to make high-quality early childhood education available to all of our kids. (Applause.) We know if we invest in them early, that it pays dividends on the backend.

…And this work is not easy. Sometimes it’s controversial. It’s not going to be the same in every state. But in places like Tennessee, we’re seeing incredible strides as a consequence of these efforts. Over the past few years, Tennessee students have improved their reading scores and math scores more than any other state in the country. (Applause.) That’s a credit to their hard work, their teachers’ hard work, to Governor Haslam’s hard work, leaders from both parties. It’s been a bipartisan effort. Every Tennessean should be proud of that.

…Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it — because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few. I think it’s a right for everybody who’s willing to work for it.

Now, the good news is, you already do something like this in Tennessee. You call it Tennessee Promise. (Applause.) So you call it Tennessee Promise, and we thought why not just build on what works. So we’re going to call it “America’s College Promise.” (Applause.)
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Republicans welcome Obama in Knoxville; tea party folk hold a ‘laugh-in’

President Obama will have three Tennessee Republican congressmen with him on Air Force One when he flies to Knoxville today – U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. along with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

Others will be welcoming him on the ground, ranging from Gov. Bill Haslam to recently-elected state Rep. Eddie Smith, reports the News Sentinel under the headline “Partisan posturing not making the trip with Obama.”

“Any time you get a president that comes to town, it’s great because it puts a spotlight on the community,” Smith said.

In a district that flipped parties, Smith sees the value of reaching across party lines to get things done. That’s one reason, according to Smith, that he’s going to see the Democratic president in person.

“We can disagree on how we get there and some politics,” Smith said. “At some point you have to sit down and work together.”

Granted, a state legislator may not work with the leader of the free world on much legislation, but Smith does recognize common bonds.

“There is a lot more that unites us than divides us,” he said.

…For those not pleased with Obama’s visit, limited roadside access to the presidential motorcade is a problem.

Instead of standing along Pellissippi Parkway in protest, the Knoxville Tea Party has asked its members to stage a “laugh in.”

Details came in an email to members Thursday.

“With security not allowing people on the near roads or overpasses — and no release of what time his majesty will decide to grace us — we’re taking another tack. If there’s one thing dictators hate — it’s being made fun of. So — we’re going to unleash a media ‘Laugh In protest,’ ” the email advised readers.

Members were encouraged to inundate websites of local media, including the News Sentinel, with posts about Obama, “to protest with humor.”

Obama proposes national free tuition program similiar to TN Promise

President Barack Obama will propose in Knoxville today that students across the country be eligible for two years of free community college, a move the White House says could put a college degree within reach for as many as 9 million students.

Further from the News Sentinel:

Taking a page from Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise scholarship program, Obama will propose offering two years of tuition-free community college to students in certain programs. To qualify, students would be expected to maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.5 and would have to make steady progress toward completing their degree.

In a video preview of his trip to Knoxville, Obama said he wants to make two years of community college free “for anybody who’s willing to work for it.”

“It’s something we can accomplish, and it’s something that will train our workforce so we can compete with anybody in the world,” he said in the video, which was posted on the White House website.

Obama will announce the national scholarship program,,,when he, Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, visit Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. Haslam also will be on hand for the announcement.

Afterward, Obama and the Bidens will travel to Clinton, where they will visit Techmer PM, a manufacturer that makes additives and colors for plastics. During the trip, Obama also is expected to launch a regional manufacturing hub that the White House says will help attract more good-paying, high-tech jobs to East Tennessee.

The manufacturing hub will be led by the University of Tennessee and will be home to public and private partners teaming up to develop materials lighter yet stronger than steel, said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. No other details were released.

Note: The White House press release is HERE.

More on Obama’s visit to Knoxville, Clinton

President Barack Obama’s first visit to the Knoxville area as president will take him to the campus of Pellissippi State Community College and to a Clinton manufacturer that makes additives and colors for plastics, according to the News Sentinel.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will travel to Pellissippi State in Knoxville on Friday, where Obama will discuss new initiatives he will propose to help Americans go to college and get the skills they need to succeed, a White House official said Monday.

Afterward, all three will head to Clinton where they will visit Techmer PM to highlight the administration’s efforts to create new, good-paying manufacturing jobs, the White House official said.

…The stop at Pellissippi State’s Hardin Valley main campus will be a ticketed event, and some of the tickets will be made available to students, said the college’s spokeswoman, Julia Wood. The White House will decide how to distribute the tickets, and Wood said she doesn’t know how many will be given to students. Details will be posted on the college’s website as they become available, Wood said.

“We’re excited about this visit and that they’ve chosen Pellissippi State,” she said.

The presidential visit, Obama’s first to the Knoxville area since he took office six years ago, is part of a three-day trek he is making to cities across the country to lay out specific policy proposals that will be included in his State of the Union address on Jan. 20.

Knoxville GOP House candidate voted in a Democratic primary?

State Democratic Leaders launched late efforts to shore up state Rep. Gloria Johnson’s campaign against Republican challenger Eddie Smith, reports Georgiana Vines.

That includes Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville, who is spearheading the House Democratic Caucus campaigns this fall, pointing out that Knox County Election Commission records show Smith voted in the 2008 Democratic primary when Barack Obama was opposing Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not sure why Mr. Smith is not being honest about his voting record. I have nothing against people voting for Democrats, but he should admit it. He also should tell if he voted for Obama or Hillary. Those are his choices,” Stewart said Friday.

Smith could not be reached on Friday, but his Facebook comment (noted by Stewart) denies he voted for either candidate.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley will lead a rally of Johnson supporters at (Johnson’s) headquarters before joining a door-to-door canvass of voters (Saturday).

Johnson, who’s in her first term, won two years ago in the district that had become more Republican under redistricting than when held by Democrat Harry Tindell for 22 years. She has been vocal on education issues that go against Republican leaders seeking a voucher system and other changes.

…Among those trying to rally supporters for Johnson this week was Democratic activist Jim Sessions, who sent an email that said, “Reports show that a surge of South Knoxville Republicans is swamping us. …They are outworking us. Gloria Johnson needs our help!!!”