Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle joined his House counterpart Wednesday in declaring disinterest in running for governor, even though he waged a brief campaign for the office in 2010.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said Kyle, D-Memphis, adding that he had hoped House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley would run. As for himself, Kyle said he is not really interested, though stopping short of absolutely ruling it out.
“I’ve thought more about ‘do I want to leave the Senate and become a judge or do I want to stay in the Senate.’ That is the decision I’ve got to make between now and the end of the year,” he said. “That’s what I’ve focused all of my energy on.”
Fitzhugh, who has toyed with the idea of running for governor since December, said earlier this week that he has decided to instead seek re-election to his West Tennessee House seat and another term as head of House Democrats.
Kyle ran briefly for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2012, then withdrew — along with three other Democrats who initially declared themselves candidates, including the party’s current chairman, former state Sen. Roy Herron. Dresden businessman Mike McWherter won the nomination, then lost to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senate Democratic leaders released the following statement upon completion of the 2013 legislative session:
“The session was sometimes complicated by the administration sending mixed signals,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney said. “Be it with Medicaid expansion, teachers with guns, or withholding assistance from needy families based on a child’s grades, the administration’s contradictory positions often left our state at the mercy of his party’s most extreme elements.”
“We’ve left unfinished business by not saving our people from Washington’s gridlock and inaction, which will cause seniors to lose Meals on Wheels,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said. “We had the ability to do it, but Republicans here refused.”
The Senate Judiciary killed Thursday a proposal to add a $2 fine on all convictions involving a crime committed with a gun, then use the resulting funds to finance gun “buy-back” programs.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, sponsor of the bill (SB1092) was peppered with critical questions by Republican senators.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he was concerned guns destroyed after a buy-back program could have been used in a crime and the possibility of ballistic evidence to solve the crime would be lost. Kyle said that is possible, but the gun was evidence that would not be available without a buy-back program. He also said buy-back programs keep ballistic evidence and serial numbers of destroyed weapons.
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, questioned charging the $2 fee statewide and earmarking for a purpose that may be used only in limited areas. Memphis has had gun buy-back programs recently.
And Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said the proposal raise the “question of whether guns really are a problem with public safety. I tend to think they are not.”
The bill got only three yes votes while six senators voted no.
NASHVILLE – Sara P. Kyle announced her resignation from the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Wednesday after 19 years of serving on the agency and its predecessor, the Public Service Commission.
“I have enjoyed working with and learning from the best and brightest team anywhere in the nation,” said Kyle in a statement. “I have truly appreciated the opportunities afforded me and I wish the directors and staff much success in the future.”
Kyle was elected to the PSC in 1994, becoming the third woman elected to statewide office in Tennessee. The PSC was abolished and replaced with the TRA in 1996.
Since then the TRA has gone through other changes that, in general, reduced its authority in various areas. A bill enacted at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam last year eliminated the TRA’s three-member full-time board and replaced it with a five-member part-time board, though Kyle remained as one of the part-time directors.
In her statement, Kyle said the 2012 law “severely limited our ability to render fair and just decisions.
“With less time and reduced staff, we have fewer checks and balances and less opportunity to protect Tennessee consumers from unfair practices in the utilities industry.”
A former teacher, legislative staffer and attorney, Kyle was elected as a judge in the Memphis City Court system in 1991, resigning from that position for her successful run as a Democratic PSC candidate in 1994. She is married to state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle.
Her current term would have expired next year. She had been appointed to the TRA by then-House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
— Update Note: For more details, see the Commercial Appeal report.
Jackson Baker has a report on Sen. Reginald Tate as a “symbolic figure” in the current state of Democratic senators dealing with a Republican “supermajority.” Tate is aware that some of his fellow Democrats consider him too tight with Republicans, especially with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the state Senate, who recently awarded him with prestigious committee assignments. But he denies that any strings were attached and says, “I never asked to be vice-chair of the Education committee. I never asked to be on Fiscal Review.”
Granted, while serving on the Senate Education committee during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, Tate had voted with suburban Republicans from Shelby County rather than with Democrats on issues relating to the enabling of suburban school districts in the county, but he explains that by referring to the fact of Memphis being so largely a black city and perhaps needing at some point to practice its own form of exclusivity.
“In the long run why woudn’t I vote fot that bill because it gives them the option to do what they want?” he says, seeming to make an argument for turnabout being fair play.
And he is frank to aver that Realpolitik influences his relations with the Republican majority, who, after all, have the power. “It just so happens that I’m not dancing to the music. If I can’t get you to help me, then I’m going to get somebody else to help me.”
Yes, he is friendly with Ramsey, but that’s because “he wants to reach out to the Democratic side.” Anyhow, “If I’m not dancing to Kyle’s music, what makes anybody think I’d dance to Ramsey’s music?”
While leaders of the House Republican Caucus contend the group can continue holding meetings behind closed doors, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris said Wednesday that he believes the Senate Republican Caucus is obliged to meet in public.
Norris said he would be willing to support an amendment to Senate rules that would “clarify” that GOP caucus meetings are open, though he believes they already are. His comments came during debate before the Senate Rules Committee on a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, to make the Senate subject to the state’s “open meetings law,” which now exempts the Legislature while applying to city and county government meetings.
Norris said the Senate in May of 2011 voted unanimously to incorporate a 2006 statute that says meetings of a quorum of the House and Senate must be open to the public except when considering impeachments of matters of state and national security. And to close meeting in such cases, there must be a two-thirds vote of the House or Senate, the statute says.
A quorum of the Senate is 22 members. This year there are 26 Republicans in the Senate Republican Caucus – up six from last session. That, said Norris, means the Senate Republican Caucus must follow the rules and have open meetings.
House rules, on the other hand, do not incorporate a reference to the 2006 statute and, therefore, the old statute does not apply. The law itself, enacted as part of a special session on ethics in 2006, says that it can not impact future legislative session but declares future sessions are “strongly encouraged” to bind themselves by incorporating the statue.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said in an interview that he the issue of opening caucus meetings has been discussed and there was an general agreement that, this year, the meetings would be open is legislative matters were discussed but close when “personal matters” are discussed. He conceded that what is covered by personal matters can be “deep and wide.”
In the last legislative session, House Republican Caucus meetings were routinely and regularly closed to the media and public.
Last session, the House Republican Caucus had 64 members, two shy of a quorum of the full House. This year, the Caucus has 70 members, well over a quorum.
Casada said he had not considered the suggestion made by Norris that, since the Republican caucuses now constitute a quorum of the full Legislature, they should have open meetings. He said the issue would be discussed in future House Republican Caucus meetings, including the possibility of incorporating the 2006 statute into House rules.
Norris suggested that Kyle’s push for a floor debate on adopting the open meetings law “would be a show” and that open meetings are already assured in the Senate. Kyle said he believes the current setup is not working and openness and transparency would be enhanced with legislators following the same law that applies to cities and counties.
Kyle put of a vote of the Rules Committee on his proposal.
The panel did approve six minor changes to Senate rules. One of them would change the titiles of committee officers from chairman, vice chairman and secretary to chairman, first vice chairman and second vice chairman. The panel was told that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey believes the term “secretary” is “antiquated.”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Sen. Jim Kyle pushed for greater transparency in the 108th General Assembly during the first day of session, by moving to apply the Open Meetings Act to the state Senate.
Sen. Kyle’s motion would have amended preliminary Senate rules to apply the act, applying the same standard to Senate caucuses that’s followed by local governments, Senate committees and the Senate itself. Sen. Kyle withdrew his motion when Rules Committee Chairman Mark Norris agreed to take up the issue.
“If Republicans want open government, they can join with us and support this proposal,” Sen. Kyle said. “By amending the rules, their deliberations will be subject to public scrutiny, as should be the standard in state government.”
Under former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the majority caucus meetings were open to the public, but that has not been the case under Republican control.
“We seven Democratic Senators represent not only our constituents, but the 2.5 million Democrats in Tennessee,” Sen. Kyle said. “Fighting for their values means fighting for open government. It levels the playing field for ideas, where they can be judged on merit, not politics.”
Perhaps on a bipartisan basis, state legislators are moving toward repealing Tennessee’s limits on political campaign contributions while requiring more rapid and complete disclosure.
Rep. Glen Casada, elected House Republican Caucus chairman last week, said Friday that concept is at the core of a “comprehensive” revision of state campaign finance law that he and Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron hope to introduce in the 108th General Assembly that convenes Jan. 8.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions, along with the ever-increasing expense of campaigns, mean that contribution limits are no longer needed or desirable, said Casada.
“A campaign is, in essence, getting your message out,” he said. “That is free speech and free speech costs money.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who was reelected to his post last week, told reporters that he has decided the time has come to “re-think” past support of campaign contribution limits because they are no longer effective.
“I’m coming around to that (repeal of limits),” Kyle said. “What we’ve found is that Republicans are so good at circumventing the law, why go through the effort?”
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Sens. Jim Kyle and Lowe Finney were both reelected Wednesday to lead the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Sen. Kyle was reelected Democratic leader, and Sen. Finney was reelected to chair the Democratic Caucus.
“I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to our members who reelected me to stand for Democratic values in the state Senate,” said Sen. Kyle, who is beginning his fifth term as leader.
“I am honored by the confidence placed in me by my colleagues, and I will faithfully fight for the values we stand for,” said Sen. Finney, who is beginning his third term as chairman.
In other business, the caucus made appointments to the Senate’s fiscal review committee and to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
Sens. Douglas Henry and Reginald Tate were reappointed to the fiscal review committee, and former state Sen. Bob Rochelle was appointed to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.
— Note: Kyle defeated Sen. Reggie Tate in the voting for leader in secret balloting — by one vote, according to some accounts.
News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats on Wednesday condemned the state sanctions doled out against Metro Nashville Public Schools over its denial of a single charter school’s application.
Gov. Bill Haslam, along with Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, announced Tuesday their decision to withhold $3.4 million from Metro Nashville schools. Huffman has gone to great lengths to recruit Great Hearts Academies to an affluent Nashville neighborhood, and now kids all over Davidson County will have to pay.
But Senate Democrats added that they would oppose any bill next session that gives the state sole authority to approve charter schools over local objections.
“I can’t believe they would punish our teachers and students because a political debate didn’t go their way,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said. “We teach our kids not to be bullies, and our state leaders need to heed that lesson.”
This move by state Republicans shows a tendency to put state power over cities and counties. It could have statewide implications. Now Republicans are hinting at a change in state law so that the state can authorize charter schools over local objections.
“It’s a disturbing message Republicans have sent to cities countless times: we know better,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Sen. Lowe Finney said. “I’m saddened to see students in Nashville shortchanged like this.”
“Republicans are always so outraged at Congress over federal mandates, but when it comes to cities in Tennessee, they won’t hesitate to impose their will,” Kyle added.
Tennessee has some experience with charter schools and out-of-state companies. Existing charters have shown mixed results. K12 Inc., a for-profit company operating a statewide virtual academy, is in the bottom 11 percent of schools.
“We need to slow down, take stock of the changes we’ve made to education in Tennessee over the past couple of years, and stop pushing for charters just for the sake of charters,” Finney said. “At some point we need to support the public schools we have.”