Tag Archives: lee harris

Democratic leader’s trip to White House rejected for reimbursement

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state senators have been reimbursed for out-of-state travel for meetings from Florida to Alaska, and on topics ranging from school vouchers to the dangers of radical Islam. But GOP leaders say a Democrat’s trip to the White House doesn’t qualify.

After failing to get reimbursed for a White House meeting on curbing gun violence on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris of Memphis is calling for changes to the state Legislature’s travel policies.

“Those on the other side of the aisle are frequently going to conferences on the state tab to talk about ways to expand access to guns,” Harris said. “This is part of being able to confront that, to engage in that debate and to be informed.”

Tuesday’s meeting is hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and includes governors, attorneys general, state lawmakers and local and tribal officials.
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ECD promoting GOP on Facebook?

More than half of the money a state agency has spent on Facebook ads targets supporters of Tennessee’s top Republican politicians, with none spent on Democrats, according to WSMV-TV. The report prompted a press release protests from state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and TNDP Chair Mary Mancini.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is to attract businesses to the Volunteer State, as well as to let the community know what’s going on. One of several marketing strategies involves paying for ads on Facebook.

What pops up in a user’s newsfeed may seem random, but Facebook can target users based on interests. And if you “like” certain officeholders, there’s a good chance you’ll see updates from the TDECD Facebook page.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is a nonpartisan state agency, except they’ve paid more than $18,000 to target people who “like” Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker or Sen. Lamar Alexander. Not a dime was spent on targeting fans of Democrats.

That fact troubles Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

“I think the real question is more so, who’s not getting the information who deserves to get the information?” Oppenheimer said.
… So why would an agency that’s interested in developing businesses and creating jobs not cast a wide net to garner fans of all political parties? The I-Team sat down with TDECD Commissioner Randy Boyd.

“Should politics be involved in a department that’s supposed to be apolitical?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“Politics is a pretty broad word,” Boyd said. “We have to work with the legislature and the legislature is always creating new legislation affecting things we do, and they are political. So in that sense, the politics of new laws and legislation do affect what our development and any department does.”
… Many of the ads pushed for more Facebook likes. Others were more specific, such as a post around Valentine’s Day 2014 that targeted users who like “Bill Haslam or chocolate.” But of all the metrics the department used, none mentioned Democrats.

“I think the blatancy of this may be a little different. Probably the thought is, no one is really going to find out about this sort of targeting,” Oppenheimer said. The professor said the strategy also resembles microtargeting, a tactic used during political campaigns to reach voters.

“It looks like something a campaign or somebody who’s thinking of running for office [would do],” Oppenheimer said. “It’s an attempt to get your message out and manage what you’re doing and who you are.”

Political watchers say there’s talk in Republican spheres about Commissioner Boyd running for governor.

Note: The Harris commentary is below. Continue reading

Dyer confirmed as Court of Criminal Appeals judge

The Legislature confirmed Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of Memphis lawyer J. Ross Dyer to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals’ West Tennessee division Monday evening.

From the Commercial Appeal:

Dyer, 43, who has been the chief counsel for Shelby County government since 2014, replaces Roger Page on the 12-member state appeals court. (Page was appointed earlier to the state Supreme Court.)

…Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said he believes Dyer has “significant professional experience that would make him suitable for this important public role” but also expressed concern about what he called a “significant error in judgment” by Dyer as county attorney in advising county officials not to share with the public a disparity study on contracting by Shelby County government.

“The report was paid for with public dollars and concerned a topic of public importance. … Further, the nominee advised the County Commission to only discuss the study in a private session because as I understand it, the nominee considered the disparity report to be a privileged document,” Harris said.

He also said he encourages the governor to make appointments “that reflect the diversity of perspectives that we see across the state. The governor has made four appointments to the Court of Criminal Appeals and three of the four have been former prosecutors and all four have been men.”

Note: The Administrative Office of the Courts press release is below. Continue reading

TN legislative leaders honor open records request

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While Tennessee lawmakers do not fall under the state’s open records law, the General Assembly’s policy is to make what officials call a good faith effort to comply with requests from the public.

Under those rules, lawmakers are asked to search their own correspondence and emails for records they consider to be responsive to the request. That’s not good enough for one senior Democrat, who argues that it shouldn’t be up to each of the 132 lawmakers to decide which documents to release.

“To trust the members I don’t think is fully responsive,” said Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. “The state owns these email accounts, and they should make sure they’re being fully responsive.”

A recent Associated Press request for a week’s worth of emails and daily schedules from legislative leaders in all 50 states was met with as many denials as approvals. In Tennessee, the top two Democrats and top two Republicans complied with the request.
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Lee Harris decides against challenging Cohen

State Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris confirmed Thursday that he won’t challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen for the District 9 seat in the Nov. 8 election, a possibility he had previously raised.

From the Commercial Appeal:

That could open the door to other challengers (to Cohen), including Republican Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar, who said he’ll decide in late February or early March whether to run for the office.

Harris, who has represented District 29 in Memphis since 2014, said he was approached late last year by several Memphians who wanted a new generation of leadership. The two Democrats have supported each other in past elections.

But after talking to voters, family and colleagues at the state-level, he said “now is not the time for me to run for Congress.” Instead, he said, he’ll focus on making progress on a Democratic agenda that includes education, criminal justice and public infrastructure reforms.

Asked if he would seek federal office in the future, Harris laughed and said he’s trying to get out of politics, but keeps “getting sucked back in.”

“I don’t necessarily believe it’s in my best interest, or anyone’s best interest, to spend a very long time in politics,” he said.

…Asked about Basar’s chances, Harris said he likes both Basar and Cohen, but would support the Democratic nominee.

“I think Cohen has been around for a long time, and I think he’s going to be ready for any challenge, probably,” Harris said.

Basar, who doesn’t face reelection until 2018, said Cohen has “done a great job of beating back anybody who tries to run against him.”

“From what I’ve seen, it would be a very difficult race to win at this time,” he said.

For now, Basar said he’s focused on local issues like education, and a murder rate that’s “going through the roof” this year.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Democratic legislators on ‘fact-finding’ tour re Haslam privatization plans

Seven Fortes and University of Tennessee-Knoxville employees, members of United Campus Workers, spoke at a roundtable with Democratic state lawmakers Tuesday, putting faces and stories to the concerns about Gov. Bill Haslam’s possible plan to privatize maintenance and management of state-owned buildings, reports the News Sentinel.

“I believe the folks here at our flagship university know a thing or two about how a campus works,” said Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis.

Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, organized the event that started their “fact-finding journey” to listen to impacted workers across the state. The next stop is Nov. 3 in Chattanooga.

Lawmakers have heard about the plan from consultants in Nashville, but not from the people on the job and those are the people that lawmakers should hear from first, Harris said.

…State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who also attended, said the Knox County delegation discussed the possible plan on Friday. He said the proposal is not as far along as portrayed, but there are unclear answers. And being with the UT workers reinforced what he already knew about their dedication and concerns.

There is worry statewide, and these stories can be shared with all lawmakers so they have informed opinions before making decisions, Clemmons said.

“What happens in Nashville doesn’t stay in Nashville,” he said.

Democrat sees opportunity with Republicans racing to ‘throw Haslam under the bus’

The state Senate’s two top Democrats say their party could win the governor’s office in 2018 if a “rabid Republican” wins the GOP nomination and a fellow like Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is the Democratic nominee, according to the Times-Free Press.

Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro mentioned two other prospective Democratic nominees for governor in 2018, when Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will be ineligible to seek another term — Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan.

Harris, the Senate minority leader from Memphis, said statewide voters don’t tend to favor “rabid Republican” candidates. And he expects state Republicans to race in that direction during primaries.

“It almost seems like it’s a race to see who can throw Haslam under the bus fastest to prove their bona fides,” Harris said.

That gives Democrats an opportunity, he said.

“[If] you get a sensible leader on the Democratic side — Andy Berke is somebody with a track record, for example, of leadership, and a record of success and somebody who knows how to work with a broader audience — then I’d bet on Andy over an extreme Republican,” Harris said.

…Harris thinks Democrats stand a good chance of gaining the gubernatorial seat. Tennessee is near the bottom of the list of national rankings for education and health care, he said.

“I think a Democrat who proposes a set of solutions that promises to take us to the top half [of national rankings] in these important categories is going to find a really ready audience,” he said.

And Yarbro said Tennessee’s deep, dark-red reputation is “a little overstated.”

Historically, he said, moderates on both sides of the aisle are the ones who win statewide elections. When the rest of the country went to the GOP in the early 2000s, Tennessee elected Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, he said. And he added that Haslam has always been a middle-of-the-road Republican.

“The Howard Baker wing of the Republican Party has continued to be the ones that won statewide elections,” he said. “I think this is a commonsense, small ‘c’ conservative state.”

…State GOP Chairman Ryan Haynes said Democrats won’t have much to campaign on.

“If you look at the record of accomplishments that our leaders have put out and stack them up against theirs, we feel very confident that we will keep the governor’s mansion in the next few years,” he said. “I don’t think any of those candidates are household names across the state.”

Norris vs Harris rhetoric war: ‘Muddled thinking’ vs ‘No one is leading’

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris recently had a press release war of words over a report saying that Tennessee ranks 36th among states in caring for children. (Note: Both releases posted HERE.) Now they’ve continued it in the Commercial Appeal.

Briefly, Norris began with a press release declaring dissatisfaction with Tennessee’s No. 36 ranking and calling for action to improve child well-being in the state. Harris followed with a news release noting Republicans killed Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee program, which he says would have improved health care for thousands of children.

So, Norris then sent the CA an email decrying “the theatrics and muddled thinking evidenced by Senator Harris’ press release.” An excerpt:

We actually increased funding for health and education in this year’s budget which I sponsor, but Senator Harris voted against it. In fact, he voted against any and all funding for health and education this year!

What have the Democrats done?

I organized a Nutrition Caucus which helped provide food for thousands of Tennesseans, but I don’t recall seeing him at any of our food packaging events. The budget I passed this year actually provided additional funding for food banks everywhere across the state (and community health clinics by the way), but Senator Harris voted against it, too.

With a record like that, and press releases like his, the Democratic Leader demonstrates that it is he who can’t be taken too seriously.

And Harris responded to that:

Luckily I’m not as sensitive as some politicians. Look, the record speaks for itself. Republicans are in charge and in too many categories we’re not doing well. There are too few good ideas coming from the other side and too much fear of voting on tough issues, like Insure Tennessee.

I’m sympathetic a little. I think I understand why few in their party wanted to carry the legislation and why they wanted to avoid a vote on giving insurance to working Tennesseans, veterans, and those with lower-incomes. The extremists dominate their party and there is a widespread fear of taking tough votes. The nail that sticks out will quickly get hammered back in by the far right-wingers. No one is leading.