State Attorney General Robert Cooper has emerged as a secret weapon for Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers seeking to douse some of the fiery legislation put out this year, according to Chas Sisk. But his legal advice may have put his office in jeopardy. A string of high-profile opinions has shown the political clout the attorney general wields.
Though seldom a focus of public attention, the state’s top lawyer has influenced some of the year’s biggest debates, touching on topics from animal cruelty to Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy. This was not the first time the attorney general’s legal acumen carried weight. But with Republican clout on the rise, support appears to be growing for legislation that would strip the attorney general’s office of some of its duties or change how he is selected.
Cooper, a Democrat with a studious air and a lawyer’s conciseness, seems unruffled by the possibility….
“This is an issue that’s been discussed for decades,” he said. “I think it really comes down to what sort of an office do you want the attorney general’s office to be — nonpartisan or partisan?”
…Cooper refused, for instance, to add Tennessee to a legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act three years ago, even as polls showed that a large majority of Tennesseans opposed the health care reform law. Cooper argued — correctly, it turned out — that the law was constitutional.
That decision and others like it prompted lawmakers to file seven separate bills this year seeking to change the attorney general’s duties or who decides to fill the office. In April, the state Senate approved one resolution that would give the legislature the power to pick the attorney general.
…(P)olicy considerations do not come into play, Cooper said. His staff of 173 lawyers simply respond to the questions they are asked by turning to the letter of the law.
“The history and tradition of this office has been that we provide nonpartisan, nonpolitical advice,” Cooper said. “That’s how we run the office. That’s how we are perceived, and I think people value the advice they get from us because of that.”
……After nearly seven years in office, Cooper says he is uncertain whether he will seek reappointment next summer.
“One of the beauties of this not being an elected office is that I don’t have to worry about getting ready for an election campaign, don’t have to be out raising money, doing anything of that sort,” he said. “So, at this point, I’m focused on the job.”
Some Northeast Tennessee legislators are opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher bill, according to Robert Houk. He suspects it’s not all a matter of philosophical differences. Now, the Republican governor and the GOP-led state General Assembly is looking to divert already limited state and local tax dollars away from public education to private schools. Haslam’s voucher plan is seeing opposition from teachers, school boards and Democrats.
And the governor’s bill is not getting any love from state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. Boss Hill has vowed to stand with the school boards of Johnson City and Washington County, which aren’t keen on the idea of losing precious tax dollars to private schools.
Even so, Hill is not necessarily philosophically opposed to school vouchers. Hill says he is opposed to the governor’s bill because it is aimed squarely at failing schools in urban areas (Memphis and Nashville) and not the better academically performing school systems in our area.
Freshman state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, agrees with Hill on this matter.
“I think vouchers are a good idea, but it’s hard to say what the details of the legislation will be,” Van Huss told Press staff writer Gary B. Gray earlier this month.
Actually, it’s not. The governor’s bill is pretty specific when it comes to the particulars of the proposed voucher system.
So what’s really going on here? Why do Hill and Van Huss (and we suspect Hill’s brother, Timothy, too) appear to be solid votes against Haslam’s voucher bill? Some Capitol Hill insiders believe it’s Hill’s way of exacting some revenge for Haslam’s overhaul of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.
Robert Houk says that state law should be changed to allow carrying of guns openly and without the need for a carry permit. Just maybe, he’s being a bit sarcastic. There’s nothing in the Second Amendment that says that an American must get a government permit to carry a gun, so why does the state of Tennessee think we need one?
I know there are some folks who say the permit is needed so that people will get the proper training in how to handle their gun. Poppycock! Everyone knows that a true American is born with gunpowder on his fingers.
The only people who might need training are liberals (because everybody knows, aside from Atticus Finch, liberals can’t shoot straight).
Meanwhile, Frank Cagle – clearly serious, not sarcastic – opines that gun owners should be taking the lead in backing sanctions against those who abuse their right to carry a weapon. He focuses on the “stand your ground” law and a couple of cases in Florida, one that’s received a lot of attention and one not so much — yet. Responsible gun owners cannot allow irresponsible gun owners to try and use law-abiding citizens’ hard-won rights and put those rights in jeopardy. Dunn has a carry permit. If he did wrong, it should not negate the responsible practices of literally thousands of permit holders nationwide.
Responsible gun owners should be in the vanguard urging prosecution of people who abuse gun rights.
Further, Otis Sanford brings up the topic in a piece declaring Gov. Bill Haslam needs to stand against more conservative members of his own party. This legislature is determined to enact a law allowing people with handgun-carry permits to bring their guns to work and keep them locked away in their vehicles — even if business owners don’t want firearms on their property.
Haslam and Ramsey disagree over whether a revised version of the bill should allow firearms on college campuses. Haslam wants colleges excluded. Ramsey thinks that’s an overreaction, but he has hinted of late that he may be willing to exempt colleges from the bill.
For his part, Haslam is no fan of the bill either way. But he knows that train has already left the station.
Pardon the pun, but Haslam should stick to his guns on this and other major issues, and not be continually swayed by a rolling tide of extreme conservatism.
— Note: The columns were written prior to the Connecticut school massacre.
The $15 million renovation of the state Capitol building, now underway, has inspired former state Rep. Robert Booker to do a bit of research and to reminiscence. A couple of excerpts from the resulting op-ed piece: The “Tennessee Blue Book 1967-1968” says, “Prison labor was used for most of the stone cutting and for a large part of the actual construction work.” The book goes on to describe renovations to the building that began in January 1956, when it received “a new copper roof, new windows, and 90,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone to restore the steps and terraces.”
The Capitol was started during the administration of Gov. James Chamberlain Jones, a farmer of Wilson County who had been elected to the Legislature in 1837 and again in 1839. He served as governor from 1841 to 1845, and was the first native Tennessean to hold that office.
According to G.R. McGee in his book, “A History of Tennessee,” published in 1839, Jones was called “Lean Jimmy” because “he was six feet two inches high, and weighed only one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
…I was a member of the Legislature in 1968 when it was decided that we needed new furniture in the House and Senate chambers.
Each legislator had the opportunity to buy his or her desk and chair for $65. They came with a list of the men and women who had occupied them through the years.
For 44 years now I have used that cherry wood desk and chair in the office at my house.
Rep. Sherry Jones, a Democrat, has made women’s and children’s issues the centerpiece of her 18 years in the legislature, reports The Tennessean in a review of the House District 59 contest.. Her opponent, Robert Duvall, the Metro councilman and Republican nominee for the race, said he is focused on bringing jobs and retail back to the district — and he is characteristically blunt about making his priorities clear, even in a year in which the “gender gap” has been an obsession of political analysts nationwide.
“What is more important right now? Women’s issues or putting people back to work?” said Duvall, who has been a councilman since 2006.
And that, as much as anything, explains the clear contrast in priorities between the candidates running to represent State House District 59.
“My number one priority has been children, healthcare and abuse issues,” Jones said. “Nobody else is as deeply invested in this issue.” The politicians are running to represent a somewhat economically depressed district in southeast Davidson County, including much of Antioch.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed three new attorneys to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves.
The new special appointees join two previous appointees to make up a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state. The governor’s new appointees are:
J. Robert Carter, Jr. is a criminal court judge in Shelby County, elected Judge of Division III in August 2010 after serving as an assistant district attorney general for 26 years before his election. Carter graduated magna cum laude from Christian Brothers College with bachelor’s degrees in English and Humanities. He received his J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law.
James R. Dedrick retired in 2010 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he had served since 1993 as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. He began his career with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1983 and was a federal prosecutor for drug, corruption, white collar, tax and other felony investigations and trials. He received his Bachelor of Science degree with honors from East Tennessee State University and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law with honors.
Monica N. Wharton serves as the chief legal counsel for the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, overseeing the risk management and legal affairs department since 2008. Wharton previously worked at the law firm, Glankler Brown PLLC, practicing in the circuit, chancery and federal court systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, graduating with honors, and she earned her J.D. from William & Mary School of Law.
Carter, Dedrick and Wharton join Andrée Sophia Blumstein and W. Morris Kizer on the Special Supreme Court. Blumstein and Kizer were originally appointed in July with three other appointees who recused themselves in late August. The Special Supreme Court will decide any appeal of Hooker et al. v. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by the governor.
The number of obese Tennesseans could double by 2030, reports WPLN. The Annual “F as in Fat” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust For America’s Health looked at data from the last two decades to predict future trends. By the year 2030, the study says more than 63 % of Tennessee residents will be obese. That would make Tennessee the fourth fattest state in the nation.
Jeff Levi is one of the authors of the report. He says the future numbers are based on how many Tennessee children have serious weight issues now.
“You know, this is an estimate of adult obesity. So, 20 years from now, kids who are five years old will be in that adult category. Kids who are 15 years old will be in that adult category.”
Levi says adulthood is when most people start to feel the consequences of obesity, including hypertension and diabetes.
According to the model used in the report, Tennessee could be number two in the nation for diabetes by 2030. Just last week, state officials were touting a slight decrease in the number of Tennesseans who are overweight and obese. However, the drop is mostly due to a change in the method used to track the conditions.
Veteran state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, was defeated in his bid for reelection by Micah Van Huss, a first-time candidate who owes much of his campaign success to a generous benefactor in Middle Tennessee, says Robert Houk. How could a political newcomer like Van Huss pull off such a win? The answer is easy — money. And not his own. A report in The Tennessee Journal (a weekly newsletter dedicated to Tennessee politics and business) noted that Andrew Miller, a Nashville businessman, was “financing independent radio attacks on state Sen. Doug Overbey, and Reps. Charles Sargent, Debra Maggart and Dale Ford in their Republican primaries.”
…Miller’s direct involvement in the 6th District race troubles some Washington County Republicans. One asked, “Why in the world would someone in Middle Tennessee care about who we send to Nashville?”
Several local government officials also told me they were disappointed to see Ford lose his seat in the House because they considered him to be their go-to guy in Nashville. That’s not something they say of Hill.
Republicans eating their own is certainly not new, at least not in Northeast Tennessee. Ford’s defeat reminds more than a few local politicos of the 2004 GOP primary that saw Hill knock off incumbent Rep. Bob Patton, R-Johnson City. Hill was aided in that race by a series of attack ads funded by individuals who lived outside the 7th District.
News release from he governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Robert Carter as the District Attorney General to the 17th Judicial District, which includes Lincoln, Bedford, Marshall and Moore counties.
Carter will replace current 17th Judicial District Attorney General Charles Crawford, who is resigning effective July 31.
“Robert represents the full picture of what we were looking for as the new district attorney general, and I appreciate his willingness to serve the citizens of the 17th District,” Haslam said.
Raised in Lincoln County, Carter has been an assistant district attorney since 2010, working in the child support division and, most recently, as the state DUI grant prosecutor. In the child support division, he established, prosecuted, enforced, reviewed and, when appropriate, modified all child support matters for the district.
As the DUI prosecutor for the district, he prosecutes in all courts and has responsibility for all criminal charges associated with each DUI defendant.
Tennessee regulators have taken a West Tennessee plastics manufacturer to court over violations of the state’s clean water act, reports The Tennessean.. But an environmental group is raising questions about the action because Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau once represented the company.
The Tennessee Clean Water Network, a Knoxville-based environmental group, said it notified regulators of the pollution problems at Teknor Apex in Brownsville. The group was set to file its own lawsuit in federal court when the state acted.
“Commissioner Martineau has a clear conflict of interest in this case, and we can only hope the filing of this lawsuit is not just a brazen attempt to insulate a former client from effective enforcement,” Renée Victoria Hoyos, the water network’s executive director, said in a statement.
Fines in state court are $10,000 a day per violation, while under federal law they are $37,500 per day.
Hoyos said TDEC could have avoided the conflict by allowing the water network to move forward with its lawsuit.
“We are already doing the enforcement action,” Hoyos said in an interview. “They don’t need to go after this guy.”
Martineau is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. Before Gov. Bill Haslam appointed him to the post in January 2011, Martineau was an attorney with the law firm Waller. He represented Teknor Apex while at the firm
TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Martineau had no part in deciding to file the lawsuit. When Martineau became commissioner, he filed a list of all potential conflicts with TDEC’s general counsel, she said. Teknor Apex is on the list.
Martineau did receive a letter sent directly to him from the water network about the problems at the company, Lockhart said. But she said the letter was then directed to the department’s attorneys.
“It is simply irresponsible for (Tennessee Clean Water Network) to make allegations of impropriety that have absolutely no basis in fact,” Lockhart said by email.
James Weaver, an attorney at Waller who represents Teknor Apex, said the firm goes to extreme measures to avoid conflicts with clients Martineau once represented.