Two veteran state employees have been promoted to top posts within the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, where they’ll be tasked with correcting problems uncovered in a recent audit, reports the Tennessean. The department named Dustin Swayne as deputy commissioner — the agency’s second-in-command — and Linda Davis as administrator of the Division of Employment Security, which oversees unemployment claims.
The changes come within weeks of abrupt high-level resignations and the publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Three leaders resigned in mid-March: former Commissioner Karla Davis, former Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and Turner Nashe, former assistant administrator of employment security. The audit came out March 28.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has proposed legislation that would cut welfare benefits to parents whose children fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” in school, a move he says should inspire parents to take a more active role in helping students learn.
While the Knoxville Republican says SB132 is a step toward “breaking the cycle of poverty,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says it could make life more difficult for parents and children who are already struggling.
Campfield said in an interview that the best way to “break the cycle of poverty” is through education and a child’s success in schooling rests on a “three-legged stool” – teachers, schools and parents.(Note: His blog post on the bill is HERE.)
He said Tennessee has already embarked on education reforms designed to improve the quality of teachers and the quality of schools. There should also be a focus on the “third leg,” parents, he said.
“We’ve set the tone (through legislation) to push and improve teachers and schools,” Campfield said. “Now is the time to push those parents. This bill is giving them motivation to do more to help their children learn in school.”
Chas Sisk has a review of the House District 57 clash between Rep. Linda Elam and former Rep. Susan Lynn, which is something of a personality contest between two Tea Party conservatives.. Lynn said she believes she has the voters on her side. She points out that she carried Wilson County by nearly 1,700 votes in her unsuccessful effort against Beavers — a lead that evaporated in other counties.
Elam questions Lynn’s devotion to the 57th District. After reapportionment in January, Lynn’s home, off Coles Ferry Road, now lies in the neighboring 46th House District, Elam notes.
“She doesn’t even live in the district where she is purporting to want to represent people,” Elam said. “I see that as — I don’t want to say the word that came to mind. I see that as disrespectful to the voters.”
Lynn defends herself by saying that state lawmakers, including Elam, redrew the 57th District to exclude her. Although state law doesn’t require residency in a district — only that the representative live somewhere in a county that overlaps its boundaries, as is the case with Lynn — she pledged to move after the election.
“I think it’s extremely disingenuous,” Lynn said. “This is the area that I represented for eight years.”
The spat over district lines reflects the tenor of the race.
Elam is quick to highlight the contrast in style between her and Lynn, who frequently made headlines during her four terms in office. Elam conducts herself in public like the banking and commercial lawyer she once was, saying she prefers to work behind the scenes.
“I am levelheaded. I am solid. I am conscientious. I am easy to work with, and I don’t do drama,” she said. “I go down to the Capitol to do the people’s business.”
As proof, Elam points to a campaign fundraiser earlier this month in which 58 of her 63 House colleagues, including House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, were listed as co-hosts.
Lynn says she did not seek out news coverage, either, but admits that it finds her on occasion.
Attention-getting measures Lynn backed over the years include attempts to reverse the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee, reassert the sovereignty of the states over the federal government and protect people from having microchips forcibly implanted under their skin.
Such legislation was filed out of principle, Lynn said, not to grab attention.
“I don’t write the newspaper articles.”
Lynn also flips the drama accusation around. She notes that Elam was censured by the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners in 2007 over her handling of a sexual harassment complaint against the city’s public works director.
She also says Elam fought to hold onto the office of mayor even after 87 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots in favor of an ordinance barring city officials from holding other elected positions.
Elam defends her actions in both cases.
In the sexual harassment situation, Elam says that all she did was call the accuser to gather information about the complaint. She said the conversation had been blessed by the city attorney beforehand.
“Yes, I was censured,” she said, “but it was a very political vote on something where the city attorney (and) ethics officer said I hadn’t done anything improper.”
Andrea Zelinski has a report today on the House District 57 race in Wilson County. It seems almost an incumbent-versus-incumbent contest with the challenger, former Rep. Susan Lynn, using “re-elect Susan Lynn” yard signs. The actual incumbent, Rep. Linda Elam of Mount Juliet, can do the same, of course. “I don’t even have a logo that doesn’t say ‘Re-Elect Susan Lynn,'” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who served four terms in the state House before launching an unsuccessful run at the Senate in 2010. Lynn says it just makes sense to try and save a few bucks by reusing signs, stickers, T-shirts, hats and other sundry political paraphernalia leftover from her House District 57 campaigns starting in 2002 and ending in 2008.
Lynn faces Linda Elam, a one-time real estate attorney, formerly the mayor of Mt. Juliet mayor and — most notably — the incumbent who enjoys the House GOP Caucus’ support going into the August 2 primary election. The winner will run unopposed in November.
Elam, who is finishing up her first term in state office, kicked off her campaign recently with an event co-sponsored by 58 fellow Republican lawmakers. The GOP establishment’s endorsement, Elam says, represents a clear and “dramatic” message to voters signaling which candidate has proven she can “work well with their colleagues, get things accomplished and work on behalf of the people rather than their own interest.”
The race is one of several that political insiders are following closely. The race will also test the electoral clout of the business-friendly caucus leaders as they try to protect Tennessee incumbents from constitution-focused Tea Party conservative challengers.
“While Susan Lynn is one of my very best friends I’ve ever had, I know that my job as leader, when I was elected by the caucus, is to help the incumbents. It’s not a comfortable thing for me at all,” said House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, who was known to socialize with Lynn when they served as seat-mates in the Legislature together. “I know Susan would understand if she was in the caucus still. She would expect me to support her just as we are doing with Linda Elam.”
Aside from calling themselves Mt. Juliet conservatives seeking “re-election,” Elam and Lynn offer voters significant differences in style and background.
Lynn won her first House election in 2002, in the aftermath of the state income tax battles in the Legislature. She made a name for herself championing limited-government constitutionalism and state sovereignty issues. Some of her most well-known bills sought to restrict the effect of Obamacare on Tennesseans, ban the government from implanting microchips in individuals against a person’s will, and requiring those on public assistance to submit to random drug tests, a measure which won approval in a different fashion this year.
…”Some people would prefer to get in front of TV cameras and go wave signs and make wild accusations and things like that rather than the hard work it takes to be a responsible legislator,” Elam said.
Elam points out that she brings a “professional, level-headed, hard-working, sensible, collegial work environment to the Capitol,” painting Lynn as something of a drama queen.
“I think that’s absolutely foolish,” said Lynn.
Upping the stakes and adding drama to the Amazon.com tax-collection dilemma in Tennessee, the company announced plans Thursday for a 500,000-square-foot distribution center in Lebanon, Mike Morrow reports. The company said the facility will create hundreds of full-time jobs and that it plans to open the site this fall.
…. When asked Thursday afternoon for comment about Amazon, Yvette Martinez, a spokeswoman for the governor, replied by e-mail, “Hundreds of jobs for Middle Tennessee is great news.”
Rep. Linda Elam, R-Mt. Juliet, said the deal was a “wonderful” coup for Lebanon, but she said she did not know specifics about the sales tax arrangement.
“I would imagine it’s all under the same framework they agreed to previously,” Elam said. “I wasn’t involved in those talks.
“There are two ways to look at that. Are they all covered under the same deal, or do they have to be treated as they would have absent that agreement with the prior governor? On the other hand, you look at it and say because of that agreement with the prior governor they’re bringing thousands of jobs to three locations in Tennessee.”
Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, the House sponsor of the legislation calling for Amazon to collect from customers, said Thursday he had been unaware that the announcement about Lebanon was coming.
“I’m glad to see companies want to locate here in Tennessee,” Sargent said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people in Tennessee, anywhere in the state.”
When asked if he still planned to pursue efforts to force the company to collect the sales tax, Sargent reiterated his previous position.
“I’m going to get with the governor, Speaker (Beth) Harwell, Leader (Gerald) McCormick and see how they want to proceed on the bill, if they want to proceed, and where we’re going to head on that,” Sargent said.
“I don’t know what the incentive was to bring them to Wilson County, nor do I know what contract was signed on getting them there.”