An aide to Sen. Ophelia Ford was fired Tuesday in the wake of a TNReport story that showed him apparently conducting political work while collecting his state paycheck. “As of today, Derek Hummel’s employment with the Tennessee General Assembly has been terminated,” Office of Legislative Administration official Tammy Rather told TNReport via email.
Hummel had been executive secretary for Ford, D-Memphis, since April, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. He’s also been working for the Phillip North campaign, a Democrat locked in a tight race against Republican Steve Dickerson for a Davidson County state Senate seat.
Full story HERE. Previous post HERE.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state Senate candidate is suing the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service over damage to his home during the 2010 Nashville flood.
Phillip North filed his suit Monday claiming the two federal agencies were negligent. He seeks $360,000 for a $200,000 decline in property value plus damage to items not covered by flood insurance.
The Democratic nominee in the 20th District told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/T8ZAXb ) it wasn’t great timing to have to sue in the middle of the campaign and he agonized over filing the lawsuit.
The corps has also been sued by Gaylord Entertainment Co. over the handling of the flood.
The agency successfully argued the government cannot be held liable in similar lawsuits from Hurricane Katrina.
A Tennessee Senate staffer appears to have been doing political work while collecting a full-time state paycheck, an apparent violation of state law, public records and documents reviewed by TNReport show. Derek Hummel has been executive secretary for Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, since April of this year, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. Over the past three months, he has also been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records and Facebook postings.
Hummel has identified himself as field director for the Phillip North for State Senate campaign. Hummel was paid $625 in September by the North campaign, according to campaign finance filings released last week.
When TNReport visited Ford’s office at the Capitol last week to interview Hummel, no one was present, but Hummel’s desk was strewn with what appeared to be campaign material, and political documents were visible on his taxpayer-funded desktop computer.
During an attempt to interview Hummel today, he accused TNReport of violating state law by calling him on his government-office phone.
“You’re an idiot,” Hummel told TNReport. “I’m calling Bill Fletcher,” he added, before abruptly hanging up. Fletcher is a prominent Tennessee Democratic campaign advertising specialist and political strategist.
…According to a state law call the “Little Hatch Act,” state employees are prohibited from “engaging in political activity not directly a part of that person’s employment during any period when the person should be conducting business of the state.” The law mirrors the federal Hatch Act.
— Note: The state Republican party’s rapid response team had criticizing news release out promptly. Here it is:
Tennessee Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas today released the following statement regarding a news report that Democrat State Senate candidate Phillip North’s Campaign Field Director ran campaign operations out of the legislative office of Sen. Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis) with state-owned equipment on state time: “Phillip North has set a new low for public corruption. Without ever serving a day in the legislature, Phillip North has managed to violate our system’s most basic legal and ethical boundaries. It is disgraceful that North would allow a state employee to work on his campaign full-time while drawing a check for full-time work from the taxpayers of Tennessee. North has broken trust with the citizens of Nashville by having taxpayers subsidize his campaign effort. He should immediately return to taxpayers the money his field director took while he was explicitly doing political work on state-owned equipment on state time.”
According to Stephen Hale, both the Democratic and Republican parties have deemed the state Senate District 20 race “critical.” The seat is being vacated by retiring Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville. Before redistricting, parts were represented by Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville.
Democrat Phillip North, an attorney, says he got in the race partly in an effort to keep the statehouse from tipping over completely on its right side. “History has shown us that when that occurs, no matter which party it is, it gives the extremists in the party too loud of a voice,” he said during an interview at his downtown law office. “So I think the party that’s in charge now has gone too far and is leaning too far in an extreme direction. I feel like a Democrat needs to be added to the Senate, specifically, because I’m afraid a moderate Republican is either going to be shouted down — or have opposition in the primary — by the more extreme faction in the party.”
Republican Steve Dickerson, a physician, is an example of the Republican Party’s healthy bench, the kind that Democrats say they need to rebuild. Dickerson ran against Henry in 2010 and lost, but said he had planned to run more than once all along.
“When I ran against Douglas Henry I knew there was a very good chance I would lose,” Dickerson told The City Paper at his Berry Hill campaign headquarters. “He’s, at the time, a 40-year incumbent, maybe the most revered politician alive in Tennessee, well-loved by Democrats and Republicans alike. So I knew if he came up in the general election, there was a very good chance I would lose. I thought this was a two-step process. I sort of, psychologically, and my wife in agreement with me, committed to two runs.”
…On social issues, Dickerson said that when he suggests, or advocates for, legislation, it will be aimed at jobs, education or reducing government waste, adding that anything else would be a distraction. North agreed, saying the legislature should put social issues “on the backburner” and “deal with the problems at hand that are more pervasive.”
The money is flowing in the 20th Senate District, with Steve Dickerson and Phillip North both bringing in more than $100,000 in the second quarter, reports Chas Sisk. Dickerson, who is locked in a three-way Republican primary for the Davidson County district, raised $100,040 between April 1 and June 30, supplementing the $106,964 that he collected during the first quarter. Dickerson has also loaned his campaign $100,000.
North, meanwhile, brought in $100,885 in the second quarter. North likewise has loaned his campaign $100,000.
The two far outpaced Republican Rob Mortensen, who raised $31,040; Democrat James Baxter, who donated $767 to his campaign; and Republican David Hall, who raised $150. Hall also loaned his campaign $6,976 and borrowed $1,040 from his son’s campaign, which he subsequently repaid.
The heated Republican primary has eaten into Dickerson’s finances, as he spent $126,237 in the second quarter. That amount was more than five times the $23,933 spent by North and nearly eight times the $16,047 spent by Mortensen.
The Tennessean reports on the race for Senate District 20, where the GOP has carved out section Democrat-dominated Davidson County that both parties say is split fairly evenly between Democrats and Republicans. If Republicans were able to pull off a victory, even the plantation of Andrew Jackson, the father of the modern Democratic Party, would be in their hands — proof of the party’s strength in Tennessee.
…The seat’s current holder, Democratic Sen. Joe Haynes, will retire this fall after 28 years in the legislature. Three Republicans are vying to succeed him: physician Steve Dickerson, executive Rob Mortensen and contractor David Hall. The winner will face one of two Democrats in the fall: attorney Phillip North or professor James Baxter.
…North is favored to secure the Democratic nomination — so much so that party officials assume he’ll win the primary. He entered the race with Haynes’ blessing and has sought out campaign support from the state party.
Baxter, on the other hand, has not contacted party officials about his candidacy or shown many signs, such as a campaign website, of actively seeking the nomination. He did not respond to messages requesting an interview for this story.
“We have not heard a lot from James,” Forrester said. “Technically, we’re neutral.”
The Republican nomination appears to be up for grabs.
Dickerson, who lives in the Whitworth neighborhood off West End Avenue, hopes to build on the name recognition and experience he accumulated in an unsuccessful run for the state Senate two years ago, when he lost by more than 13 percentage points to Henry.
Dickerson looks to be the best financed of the three GOP candidates. He had raised more than $100,000 for his campaign when the first round of financial disclosures was filed in April. He has loaned his campaign another $100,000.
…Dickerson’s opponents in the Republican primary are unlikely to be able to match him in spending, but they have both worked to build competitive organizations.
Mortensen, the chief executive of a child services firm who lives near Lipscomb University, said he is logging as many as 10 appearances a week and has recruited close to 30 volunteers, including former Metro Councilman Buck Dozier, from across the district to campaign on his behalf.
…Hall, a home renovator from Goodlettsville, holds a reputation within the party of being a strong campaigner after a surprise victory in 2010 in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. Hall upset a field of better-financed candidates mainly by employing his network of family and friends to knock on doors in Republican areas of Nashville, a strategy that he’ll largely repeat this year.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would allow school personnel to participate in student-initiated religious activities on school grounds has passed the House.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Phillip Johnson of Pegram was unanimously approved 93-0 on Thursday. The companion bill is scheduled in the Senate Education Committee next week.
The proposal allows school personnel to participate in such activities as long as they don’t carry into the classroom or conflict with the assignments of the participant.
Sponsors of the bill brought it in part to support a practice by students and parents who gather around schoolyard flagpoles to pray.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has said such prayer events are within the law as long as they are initiated and led by students.
Read HB3266 at http://capitol.tn.gov.
A Cheatham County lawmaker says he has reworked his “prayer at the flagpole” bill to meet school board regulations, WPLN’s Joe White reports. The new version closely follows a law passed in Florida. State Representative Phillip Johnson of Cheatham County threw away his original bill to allow teachers to gather at the flagpole for religious services.
The new version limits participation of school employees to events taking place before or after official school hours.
“Teachers, coaches, personnel – before the school day starts, if they want to meet and participate, they should be able to.”
The issue arose from an agreement reached by the Cheatham County school system and the American Civil Liberties Union, barring coaches and teachers from attending religious gatherings held on school property.
Under the new wording, the meeting must be a student-initiated event. The bill is one step away from a floor vote by the full House of Representatives. The Senate version is not so far along, but is scheduled in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.
UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) — An economic development consultant says Union City needs a full-time mayor elected by the people to help business growth.
Phillip Pinion, a former state representative, is behind the push to change from the current modified city manager-council form of government.
Pinion, a consultant for the Obion County Joint Economic Development Corporation, told the Union City Daily Messenger that the current system hinders economic growth.
A private act would have to be passed by the state Legislature among other hurdles.
Just this week, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. closed its plant in Union City, leaving 1,800 people without jobs
State Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, has apologized to “anyone offended” by his joking about Rep. Sheila Butt’s last name in a House floor speech last week.
Johnson regularly makes joshing remarks whenever a freshman representative makes his or her first appearance on the House floor to present a bill. When Butt, R-Columbia, brought a resolution to the floor on Monday night, Johnson began by observing that her maiden name was Keckler and questioning her about the name change with marriage.
People say his wife married a Johnson, he said, then inquired what people would say she married.
“One of those five Butt boys from Portland, Tenn.,” she replied.
Johnson went on with several puns and comments on posteriors. For example, he pronounced the word “ascertain” as if it had an extra ‘s,” and stressed the words “rear” and “behind” in other commentary.
“Do you see any crack in this legislation that’ll prevent us from crossing the great divide and bringing smiles to the cheek of every member of this House?” he asked at another point.
He concluded by declaring “I will no longer make you the butt of any practical jokes in this session.” Then, after pausing a moment, he added, “But.”
On Thursday, Johnson made an apology speech, also on the House floor.
“Sometimes my wit can push the envelope a little bit.. On Monday night I pushed the edge,” he said, adding praise for Butt as “a wonderful representative.”
“I apologize if anyone was offended by any of my words. They were all in jest,” he said.