A bill approved by a House committee on Tuesday will allow political parties and the Legislature’s partisan caucuses to more than double their contributions to state legislator campaigns.
The bill (HB643) by House Republican Caucus Leader Glen Casada would raise the current maximum donation from $40,000 to $150,000 in state Senate campaigns. For House campaigns, the maximum donation would increase from $30,000 to $75,000.
Casada earlier this year had previously planned to push legislation to completely repeal all campaign finance limits this year. But he said his thinking had changed after talking to others – including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who opposed a complete repeal – and the bill presented Tuesday is the replacement plan.
In practical effect, it would substantially increase the clout of the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the General Assembly, along with the state’s two party headquarters in funding legislative races. Current law already allows the caucuses and parties to accept unlimited amounts of cash from corporations, political action committees and individuals. The bill broadens there ability to spend such monies when collected.
The bill contains other provisions as well. One of them repeals an old law that prohibits insurance companies from directly donating to legislators’ political campaigns. Since state law, after a 2011 revision, allows other corporations to donate directly to legislative candidates, Casada said the measure simply puts insurance companies on equal footing with other businesses.
In the next session of the state Legislature, there could be three political parties, says Frank Cagle: the Democrats, the traditional Republicans, and a group of ultra-conservative members that can be grouped under the rubric of the Tea Party. This fall, in Tennessee, it won’t get any better for the Democrats.
Republicans are expected to pick up even more House and Senate seats, most likely they will have enough Republicans for a two-thirds majority in the House. That means they wouldn’t even need Democrats for a quorum and they can squelch any parliamentary maneuvers and can ram through any legislation they please.
That may not be a good thing. The new one-party rule of Republicans is unlike the one-party rule enjoyed by the Democrats for decades. The Democrats’ power in the House rested on a coalition between urban blacks and rural West Tennessee whites. In order to keep control, it was necessary for the House Democrats to be a tightly disciplined group. It was also necessary for conservative Democrats to reach out to conservative Republicans at times and form coalitions on a specific bill.
The Republicans, long in the minority and not having the power to govern, have several members who are used to being free agents. They have never had to be a disciplined group. It is also in the nature of conservative Republicans to resist authority. As former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker once observed, it’s like herding cats.
Seven incumbent Republicans were defeated in their primaries. House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny has said he may challenge Speaker Beth Harwell. There will be a bitter battle to pick a new House Caucus chair, since Debra Maggart was defeated.
Holding together all the different factions within the Republican Party will be a difficult job. In addition to the usual special interests represented by lobbyists, there is now the added pressure of the Tea Party groups who will be demanding ideological purity from House members. The pressures from all sides and the natural inclination of conservative Republicans to go their own way could split the House Republicans.
…When the Democrats practiced one-party rule, the Black Caucus was a reliable voting bloc that negotiated with the rural Democrats in order to get things for their urban districts. We may see the formation of a Tea Party Caucus that sets up as a separate entity in the House and performs a similar role for the Republicans.
But it won’t be about projects and patronage, it will be about ideology.
The state’s business community may grow to miss the Democrats.
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has ruled that the state may not enforce several rules that minor political parties claim are roadblocks to their candidates getting elected.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. refused to stay his earlier decision requiring the state to hold a random drawing to determine which candidate’s name goes first on the November general election ballot.
The ruling is part of lawsuit jointly filed against the state by the Green Party and Constitution Party, which claim that the state has imposed unconstitutional hurdles to third parties running for election in Tennessee.
“The candidate with the number one listing has a 5 percent electoral advantage because people who aren’t familiar with any of the names just pick the top one,” said Alan Woodruff, a Johnson City attorney who is representing the Constitution and Green parties.
State law currently says that a Republican will be listed first because that is the majority party in the General Assembly, Woodruff said. The law says that a candidate running as a Democrat will be listed second because it is the party in the minority in the state legislature, he said.
A federal judge has ruled in favor of Tennessee’s Green and Constitution parties’ joint lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Nashville that claimed laws on the books violated the state constitution by making it unreasonably hard for third parties to get their names on the ballots, reports the Johnson City Press.
The decision says both the Green and Constitutional parties can have their names on Tennessee’s 2012 ballot with their candidates. It also strikes down a state law declaring that the majority party’s candidates are listed first on the ballot. “This is a great victory for voters in the state, because now we’ve made it easier for new parties to form,” said Alan Woodruff, a Johnson City attorney who announced his plans to represent the parties during a visit to the Johnson City Press last summer. “This ruling removes limitations and gives people an option. I believe in democracy and that everybody that has something to say should be on the ballot.”
(Note: The full 90-page ruling is available HERE) Woodruff, a Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, said that though he is affiliated with a major party, he got involved in the suit to fight for equity for all parties.
On Feb. 3, Judge William J. Haynes Jr. ruled in favor of claims by the plaintiffs and against Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter and defendants Tre Harget, secretary of state, and Mark Goins, coordinator of elections.
Both the Green and Constitution parties are recognized by state law as a “minor” parties, which, by definition means they are required to file a nominating petition with the state’s coordinator of elections. That petition must bear the signatures of a minimum of at least 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election for governor.
Haynes wrote in his Feb. 3 order and/or judgment that he agreed with plaintiffs that that mark gives Goins leeway to raise the number at his discretion and therefore was “unconstitutionally vague, and imposes impermissible burdens on Plaintiff’s First Amendment right to associate as a political party.”
For a “minor” political party to get its name on the Tennessee ballot in 2012, more than 40,000 signatures would have to be collected by April 5. This law has not applied to the Republican and Democrat, or “major,” parties.
Haynes wrote in his opinion that the deadline was too early and unconstitutional, and that a more reasonable number of signatures for the nominating petition would be 10,000. This will need to be settled in the General Assembly.
“Any deadline in excess of 60 days prior to the August primary for the filing of petitions for recognition as a political party is unenforceable,” he wrote.
Haynes also declared that minor parties cannot be required to conduct primaries, which currently is state law. Woodruff has claimed that primaries are much too expensive, especially for smaller parties, and that nominating conventions would help relieve that burden.
The judge also enjoined the state from banning the words “independent” and “non-partisan” in a party’s name as it appears on a ballot, stating it violated the First Amendment rights of free speech.
He also said the state’s requirement that major parties be listed highest on ballots followed by minor parties and independents was unlawful, saying this is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Forth Amendment. He also ordered the state to hold a random drawing regarding the order of party names.
He also ruled against current state law that requires signatures on nominating petitions to be accompanied by party affiliation, stating this also violated First Amendment rights to privacy and political beliefs.
(Note: The state’s attorneys can appeal the decision. Meanwhile, a “caption bill” pending in the Legislature could be amended to make changes in the current law in accord with the judge’s ruling.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would make it easier for more political parties to be placed on the ballot in Tennessee is headed to the governor for his consideration after passing the Senate on Monday.
The measure sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville (HB794) was approved 24-9. The House unanimously approved the companion bill 92-0 last month.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to review the measure but hasn’t said if he’ll sign it. (Prediction: He will.)
Current law requires a minor party to gain the signatures equivalent to 2.5 percent — or about 40,000 — of the total number of those voting in the most recent race for governor, and it requires those signing the petition to declare their party membership.
The proposal changes that so any voter may sign the petition, regardless of association with the minor party.
The bill also gives a minor party an additional 30 days to return its petition to the state’s election coordinator for its slate of candidates to be placed on the ballot.