Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson today announced he will not seek reelection to his state Senate seat in 2014.
He’s been considering a run for mayor of Jackson, but declined comment on that possibility for now.
Finney, of course, is one of just seven Democrats remaining in the 33-member Senate — and it’s a safe bet that Republicans will go actively for his seat in 2014. Finney says he thinks Democrats can hold the seat and says some are interested — though he wouldn’t name them.
Here’s Finney’s email to supporters:
Today I am making an important announcement, one that I wanted to share with you – one of my friends and strongest supporters – before it’s out in the news media. After much prayer and thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to seek a third term to the state Senate.
I have had no higher honor than representing West Tennessee families in the state legislature. I am proud to have worked to improve health care for senior citizens, cut the sales tax on food and provide great opportunities for young students and veterans to attend college. I thank my wife, Tiffany, for her support all these years.
Although I am leaving the Senate at the end of next year, I will remain your Senator for Dyer, Crockett, Lake, Lauderdale and Madison counties until the November election. I will work even harder in my last session, and I will be available to serve you in any way I can. I remain,
County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday a legislative committee should look into the handling of a multimillion dollar state contract with a Chicago-based firm that once counted Gov. Bill Haslam among its investors.
But they also said they believe there was no wrongdoing in the contract with Jones Lang LaSalle or two other contracts negotiated by the Haslam administration to outsource to private businesses work formerly done by state employees.
“Just the whole idea of sole-bidding, I think that’s a legitimate concern for us to examine,” said Harwell. “I do not believe anything has been done wrong, but (a review by legislative committees) is appropriate.”
Ramsey also said he supports having the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel tasked with oversight of state spending, study the contracts. The panel tentatively plans to do so at a meeting next month.
Yet the Senate speaker, who also serves as lieutenant governor, was adamant in voicing confidence that no misdeeds occurred in contracts negotiated through the state Department of General Services, headed by Commissioner Steve Cates.
“I don’t believe this department has ever been run any better than it is right now,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think anything was done that was illegal and I don’t think that anything was done that was unethical.”
State Comptroller Justin Wilson said his office will be looking into “procedures” involved in the contract “to see whether or not they need to be modified or changed in any way.”
As initially reported by WTVF-TV, Jones Lang LaSalle initially won a $1 million consulting contract, competitively bid, to make a review of state-owned buildings and leases of property with recommendations for an office space “master plan.” That contract was subsequently expanded in stages to authorize up to $11 million in state payments.
The resulting master plan calls for the state to dispose of six buildings deemed “functionally obsolete,” for outsourcing of jobs now performed by Department of General Services employees and for leasing of more office space for state workers in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis. It is called “Project T3” or “Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow” and officials project it will save the state $135 million over the next decade.
Earlier this year, Jones Lang LaSalle won a second contract for management of office leasing for the state that is valued at up to $330 million, including pass-through costs such as utility and maintenance payments. The company stands to receive up to $38 million.
Also under one of the contract amendments, the company will act as the state’s broker for the new leased office space to replace the six buildings being abandoned. The firm will receive a 4 percent commission from the buildings’ owners based on the total gross rental fees the state pays over the coming 10 years.
In 2010 while running for governor, Haslam included JLL among a list of companies in which he had invested more than $10,000. He has refused to disclose the amount of any of those investments and, after his election, most of his investments — an exception being the governor’s stake in Pilot Flying J — were placed in a blind trust.
“He doesn’t know what went into the blind trust. He doesn’t know what’s in it,” gubernatorial spokesman David Smith said. “If someone is suggesting that Jones Lang LaSalle got this contract because the governor had a previous investment in it, that’s absolutely untrue.”
WTVF reported Haslam hosted top JLL executives for dinner at the governor’s residence on April 24, 2012, including former NFL star quarterback Roger Staubach and Herman Bulls, CEO of the company’s public institutions division. Also attending were Cates, Herbert Slatery, the governor’s legal counsel; and Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff.
Three months later, Cate joined Bulls and other JLL executives in a presentation to the State Building Commission that led to approval of contract amendments by the panel.
Harwell and Ramsey are members of the Building Commission and commented to reporters after a meeting of the five-member panel Thursday on other matters.
Ramsey said that Haslam, like anyone coming into government, would naturally have interests that could become a conflict. The governor handled that appropriately by putting his interests in a blind trust, said Ramsey.
“I don’t know that you could do anything more than that,” he said.
Ramsey acknowledged, in response to a question, that JLL could have an incentive for negotiating higher rental fees for the state since that would mean higher commissions for the company.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville told reporters he plans to write Harwell a letter asking that the Government Operations Committee be assigned to investigate the JLL contract and others.
Harwell said she had not received the letter, but believes the Fiscal Review Committee is the “most appropriate” vehicle for reviewing the contracts.
The Department of General Services has also negotiated a contract with Bridgestone/Firestone for outsourcing maintenance and repair of state-owned vehicles and a contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car for providing rental vehicles to state employees. The latter contract came without competitive bidding and with a former Enterprise executive hired by Cates to oversee the department’s motor vehicles division.
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
(April 19, 2013, NASHVILLE) – The 108th General Assembly today adjourned for the year after completing one of the most efficient legislative sessions in recent history. The April 19 adjournment marks the earliest the legislature has adjourned since 1990 using the least amount of legislative days since 1976.
“I’m extremely proud of the work accomplished by the General Assembly this session,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville). “In contrast to the irresponsible spendthrifts who reside inside Washington’s beltway, Tennessee’s Republican Majority came together with members of the opposition to pass a balance budget that reduces taxes and returns much-needed dollars to the state’s rainy day fund.”
“Not only have we instituted job creating workers compensation and unemployment reforms, we also stood firm against a federal takeover of our health-care system,” Ramsey continued. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Haslam and Speaker Harwell at the helm of a state that consistently leads the nation in small government and low tax fiscal responsibility.”
“I’m especially pleased that we have restored the traditional pace of our legislative sessions. The longer a legislature is in session the longer the average taxpayer has to watch his wallet,” Ramsey concluded. “I have always maintained that an efficient and focused General Assembly can finish the people’s business on time and save taxpayer dollars in the process. This year we have firmly established that the days of legislative sessions creeping into late May and June are over.”
The 2013-2014 budget passed by the General Assembly includes $43 million in tax cuts comprised of reductions in the Hall, death and food taxes. In addition, the General Assembly placed $100 million additional dollars in the state rainy day fund for a total of 456 million.
Among the many highlights of the legislative session was the administration’s workers compensation reform which takes claims out of the court system creating fairness and predictability for job creators.
Also crucial to the General Assembly’s job creation agenda was the continuing reform of Tennessee’s unemployment system. This year, in addition to strengthening the definition of workplace misconduct, the General Assembly refused to fund Obama’s stimulus expansion of the system creating a saving of over $62 million for the unemployment trust fund.
Tennessee is currently ranked among the lowest states in the nation in per capita in debt and per capital tax burden. The General Assembly’s continued pro-jobs, fiscally responsible, small government agenda has resulted in a triple-A rated bond rating for the state.
State Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat who succeeded longtime lawmaker Harry Tindell last year, is just into the third month of her first term but already is a target by Republicans in 2014, reports Georgiana Vines. She was mentioned last week in a news release put out by the Tennessee Republican Party in which she was criticized for pushing a bill (HB1301) requiring cities, counties and other political subdivisions to grant an unpaid leave of absence to full-time employees for service in the Legislature. The bill died in the State Government Subcommittee for lack of a second.
Chris Devaney, state GOP chair, said in the release that Johnson, an educator, pushed the mandate on local governments to make “a change to the law that she would personally benefit from.”
“It’s a lie,” Johnson said Friday. “That law had nothing to do with me. This is for police and firefighters. It came from another representative (Antonio Parkinson of Memphis) who had already used all his bills.”
State law already allows teachers to be given a leave of absence to serve in the Legislature, she said.
She said she feels another bill failed to get a second in the State Government Subcommittee on March 27 — even though it passed the Senate unanimously — because she is the House sponsor.
The bill (HB676) required meetings of certain boards and commissions, like the Tennessee Election Commission, be made available by video streaming over the Internet. The only Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar, moved for approval.
“I couldn’t get a second. Even the Election Commission unanimously supported the bill. I’m No. 1 the Republicans want to defeat,” she said.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, which represents the state’s 31 DAs, has issued the organization’s 2013 legislative agenda, reports the Commercial Appeal. Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is quoted. “In 2013, we’re focused on continuing our push to protect our kids, strengthen sentencing guidelines and fight drugs,” Weirich said. “If the legislature approves these proposed changes, I’m confident we will be able to accomplish these goals and more.”
The district attorneys are asking lawmakers to require people convicted of aggravated child neglect to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they are eligible for parole — the same as for aggravated child-abuse cases — rather than the current 30 percent minimum.
“Right now, there are individuals who are convicted of extremely serious child neglect — cases in which children suffer as much as those who are victims of physical abuse — who end up serving very short sentences. We need to change that to send a message that the state takes all offenses against children seriously, even if they fall short of the legal definition of abuse,” said Guy Jones, deputy director of the conference and its chief lobbyist.
DAs also want changes in state law that would allow them to prosecute a serial child-sexual abuser with a single trial even if the abuses occurred in multiple judicial districts. Currently, a defendant charged with multiple counts of child-sexual abuse involving different victims in different Tennessee jurisdictions must be tried separately in each of those jurisdictions.
– Note: See also the Kingsport Times-News, quoting Sullivan County DA Barry Staubus.
News release from secretary of state’s office:
Tennesseans who want to get a glimpse at the foundations of our state’s political and social history can do so with the help of a new resource from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records database is now online, providing an index to records from as early as 1793 through the 1840s. These papers chronicle the most important events in Tennessee history of that era, including the formation of county and boundary lines, the mustering troops for war and amendments to the state constitution.
Researchers of the Early Tennessee Legislative Records can see, for example, how the first legislative attempt to ban slavery in Tennessee was drafted and failed in 1819. Many of the documents indexed in the collection have not been seen since the original clerks folded them away at the end of the legislative sessions. Included in the records are acts, original bills, failed bills, resolutions, amendments, messages, petitions from citizens, and tally sheets showing how members voted on the issues.
During this period, the legislature dealt with matters now considered quite personal. Divorce petitions, disputes over land boundaries and requests to recognize illegitimate children all appear in the early legislative records. Genealogists and historians can learn a great deal about early Tennesseans and their lives from these files.
“This is an exciting addition to TSLA online collections, because the Early Tennessee Legislative Records are such a rich source of information about the beginning of our state,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “In addition to these records beginning with our state’s infancy, when Tennessee was merely the ‘Territory South of the River Ohio,’ TSLA also houses all the subsequent records up through the most recent General Assembly. The Legislative Records are a veritable gold mine for historians and average citizens alike.”
While the majority of the records indexed date from before 1830, newer records will be added on an ongoing basis. This is a collection that is constantly growing. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records index can be found online at phttp://tennsos.org/TSLA/rg60/
Georgina Vines talks with freshmen legislators about their orientation sessions…. and one who made a trip to Washington for an ALEC meeting, too. “It’s not government civics.”
That’s how newly-elected state Rep. Roger Kane, a Knoxville Republican, described orientation and GOP caucus sessions that he’s attended in Nashville to get ready for when the General Assembly begins meeting in January. The Legislature will have a large freshman class with 22 new House members and six new senators.
Representing the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, Kane said the GOP caucus session in particular was not something he remembered studying. The vote was done by a secret ballot.
“I thought it would be more of a voice thing,” he said.
….Orientation covered everything from security to offices. A tour of the newly-renovated Capitol was given. Presentations were made by the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
“They want us to be prepared so in January everything is not overwhelming and new,” he said.
Democrat Gloria Johnson, elected to represent the 13th District, also attended the sessions.
“As I am still teaching, I haven’t had the time I would like to get familiar with things there, so the day was definitely beneficial for me,” she said.
The Nashville meetings were Nov. 26-27,and then Kane went to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28-30 to attend a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC paid the transportation and expenses at the Grand Hyatt of freshmen legislators, Kane said.
He was the only newly-elected lawmaker from East Tennessee to attend the ALEC program, he said. Johnson did not attend, saying she chose instead to meet with constituents in her district.
…Kane said the group acknowledged it had taken some missteps and planned to focus in areas where it feels it’s the strongest. Its website said ALEC works on the principles of free markets and limited government.
“I’m being inquisitive and figuring out what these groups do for me, how I can be a part of it or not be a part of it,” Kane said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Voters who cast ballots Tuesday or during Tennessee’s 14-day early voting period talk about their selections and the general election.
The top race on the ticket, the contest for president between President Barack Obama, the Democrat, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, helped send Tennessee voters to the polls even though the race wasn’t close in this state.
— Collierville financial adviser Kevin Baltier cast his ballot Tuesday for Romney, saying Obama’s strategy to levy more taxes on high-income people would stifle job creation. Baltier said Romney’s economic plan would create an environment where people “would not be looked down upon for their success.”
— University of Tennessee English professor Nancy Henry, 47, said in Knoxville that the issues that drove her vote for Obama weren’t economic. “Environmental policy is very important to me. Education is really important to me,” Henry said. “Yes, the economy, but frankly, I live in a pretty prosperous town in a pretty prosperous part of town, so I don’t feel like I have been worse off than I was four years ago.”
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Buoyed by overflowing campaign accounts, redrawn legislative districts and an unpopular Democratic president at the top of the ticket, Tennessee Republicans are expecting to add to their already considerable advantage in the state House on Tuesday.
While seven Republican incumbents were defeated in the August primaries, there is little reason to expect any spillover into the general election. Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday predicted “a good night for Republicans,” with the GOP picking up supermajorities in both chambers.
The two-thirds majority would give Republicans the ability to overcome any procedural challenges by Democrats, and prevent the minority from being able to halt legislative proceedings by walking out.
“We’ve worked hard to get there both in terms of getting the right people to run, and getting financing set up,” Haslam said.
Republican candidates are unopposed in two newly-drawn districts in Williamson, Hamilton and Knox counties, and the GOP is confident of easily winning the West Tennessee seat held by Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, the Covington Democrat who was House speaker for a record 18 years.