Deep into President Barack Obama’s hourlong visit with House Republicans on Wednesday, reports Chris Carroll, someone stated the obvious: “Nobody in this room voted for you.” The freshly re-elected chief executive paused and pondered the Capitol Hill hostility for a moment.
“Well,” he said, “I voted for myself.”
“Some other guys and I got a good chuckle out of that,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Johnson City, Tenn. “At least he had one supporter there.”
A light moment to be sure, but the exchange illustrates the serious gap between all parties even after Obama’s separate goodwill sessions with Senate Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
The result of Obama’s closed-door charm offensive? Plenty of dish, but no developments. And certainly no “grand bargain” over taxes and entitlement reform.
“Hopefully, we can come up with something,” said U.S Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to. You never know.”
Dining on lobster Thursday at the Capitol, Senate Republicans applauded the president at least three times. But afterward, senators said the audible praise came only because Obama showed up. They denied any sign of a real breakthrough.
“We welcomed him and said this is the way presidents historically have dealt with members of the Senate,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.. “They’ve gotten to know them in an informal way.”
A state task force charged with devising an ideal plan allowing parents to enroll their students in private schools on the taxpayer’s dime is still largely divided on the best way to go about it, reports The City Paper. At the group’s highly anticipated final meeting, the Opportunity Scholarship Task Force struggled to agree on the specifics of a program it plans to recommend to Gov. Bill Haslam to consider pitching to lawmakers next year.
“It’s not a question of if we have more time, then we’re going to come up with the perfect solution,” said Kevin Huffman, commissioner of the state Department of Education.
“It’s a question of there are different potential options and there are pros and cons to all of them, and ultimately the General Assembly and the governor have to decide what they think,” he said.
Huffman declined to say whether or not the state should pursue a voucher program, which allows parents to send their students to private school using public tax dollars. Huffman said his job is to lay out the options and would not offer the governor further recommendations than what is in the report.
A Caucasian heritage and $75 are the price of entry into next week’s international conference for white supremacists in East Tennessee organized by Stormfront, the oldest and best-known website devoted to the “white pride, white power” movement, reports The Tennessean. Like a Facebook for white supremacists, Stormfront is the virtual gathering space for like-minded people to meet, post and respond to messages, tell jokes and offer political commentary in a variety of labeled discussion groups that range from “fighting white genocide” to poetry.
The Tennessee conference represents a rare offline gathering for Stormfront members. The two-day agenda includes a luncheon and workshops on immigration, political organizing and communications by some of the movement’s best-known contemporary leaders.
(The exact location of the conference isn’t announced until shortly before it opens, the story says, but apparently it will be in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area with attendance limited to 150.)
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The Hamilton County Commission has ejected two men who are opposed to the body opening meetings with prayer.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/N5eIlk ), Aaron Moyer was speaking during a public comment period Thursday when Commission Chairman Larry Henry told him to sit down. Moyer continued to speak and was escorted out of the chamber by a deputy.
The newspaper reported Tommy Coleman, who has filed a lawsuit to halt the prayers, was sitting quietly when he also was taken out of the meeting room.
Moyer said he was objecting to a commission decision to accept free legal representation from the Alliance Defense Fund in the lawsuit.
Coleman’s lawyer said his lawsuit now includes violation of Fourth Amendment rights which guard against unreasonable seizure.
Gov. Bill Haslam has sent an invitation to members of the UT Board of Trustee, the Board of Regents and others sheds for a meeting next week that will launch his planned review of higher education with an eye toward some sort of changes, reports Richard Locker. “Governor Haslam is kicking off his review of post-secondary education in Tennessee by convening higher education and business leaders from across the state. The meeting will also feature presentations by three leading higher education policy experts and the Governor will moderate discussions after each presentation,” the invitation says.
The governor’s press office said Monday that the invitation list also includes the top administrators of the two college and university systems, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (which serves 35 private, nonprofit institutions), the two speakers of the state House and Senate, the chairmen of the House and Senate finance and education committees, and officers of the Tennessee Business Roundtable and Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. The meeting will run from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the governor’s residence.
Haslam has said that topics he wants to explore include higher ed financing, construction needs and “governance” — the administrative structure of the two college and university systems and the campuses themselves. That includes, he has said, greater autonomy for the University of Memphis within the Board of Regents system.
And while state appropriations for K-12 public education have steadily increased during the recession, they have actually declined for higher education, including another 2 percent cut in general appropriations for the upcoming school year. As a result, tuition and fees have steadily increased as students and their families have picked up an increasing share of the costs of their college educations. Through the mid-1980s, the state paid about 70 percent of what its public colleges and universities cost to operate. By the 2011-12 school year, the state’s share was down to 34 percent for the universities and 40 percent at the community colleges, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
From 1993, when many of last year’s college freshmen were born, through the last school year, tuition and mandatory fees paid by in-state students on the state’s public campuses rose by an average 340 percent. Over the last two weeks, the two governing boards have approved tuition and fee increases of 8 percent at UT Knoxville, 7 percent at the U of M and several other TBR schools, and between 4 and 5 percent at community colleges.
CHATTANOOGA (AP) — Officials with the state Education Department and the Hamilton County School Board are pointing blame at each other for declaring a recent meeting closed to the public.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that public notice of Thursday’s meeting between the board and state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman was issued to the media last week. But when reporters tried to gain access to the meeting, they were denied (http://bit.ly/ygHHU4 ).
Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said local officials had decided to close the meeting because the panel was discussing a competitive grant. But school board chairman Mike Evatt and Superintendent Rick Smith said the meeting was closed at Huffman’s request.
Evatt said he saw no need for the panel to meet in executive session.
“It wasn’t my call,” Smith said. “It was the commissioner’s call.”
The meeting also included representatives of the local teachers’ union, the Public Education Foundation and school administrators.
Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said that the state’s Sunshine Law operates on the presumption of openness, and makes only limited allowances for executive sessions.
Flanagan noted that the first line of the state’s open meetings act declares that Tennessee’s policy is “that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”
The discussion at Thursday’s meeting focused on whether the county should apply for the state’s School Innovation Zone that would give them more flexibly to operate failing schools, such as offering longer school days.
Huffman said in an earlier speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club that he hoped the county would apply for the grant worth $30 million to $40 million.
“The idea is that districts would figure out what autonomy and flexibilities they would give to schools in the innovation zone,” Huffman said.
TVA’s board gathered privately the week before it voted last month to approve finishing a long-shelved nuclear reactor despite the federal Sunshine law that calls for openness, reports Anne Paine. Out of nine members, six took part in a tour and lunch together at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bellefonte nuclear site in Alabama, 110 miles southeast of Nashville. Officials insist there were no deliberations, which would have made the event illegal since a majority of the board was present.
However, the tour has unleashed more doubts among opponents of Bellefonte, who say the public agency continues to shield its inner workings from the public’s view.
“They make decisions in secret and the TVA board just rubber-stamps them,” said Garry Morgan, who lives a few miles from the Bellefonte site and has opposed its completion. It’s not the only time that the public is asked to trust TVA when its board gathers behind closed doors.