A spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tré Hargett and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Sunday both welcome a settlement reached last week in a legal dispute involving state voter files, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Tennessee Democratic Party officials say their data experts found full or partial voter histories missing for about 11,000 state-maintained voter files they obtained last month. The assertions were introduced in federal court Friday in a lawsuit filed by Democrats and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who was turned away from the polls in the March primary.
“We’re actually very happy with this settlement,” spokesman Blake Fontenay said in a telephone message on behalf of Hargett and Goins, both Republicans.
“Just like we offered to let you look at voter files to verify they’re not missing, we’re happy to let a special master come in to do that and we welcome the opportunity. … We want to be transparent.”
Judges sometimes appoint special masters in complex civil cases where their expertise would assist the court. The Times Free Press reported Sunday that U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp requested both sides agree to a proposed consent decree. They did so Friday night, and it will be submitted to the court this week.
A federal judge this week will consider naming a “special master” to get to the bottom of Tennessee Democrats’ assertions that voter data files received from state election officials contained partially or even totally blank voting histories for an estimated 11,000 voters. Andy Sher reports: Attorney George Barrett, who is representing Democrats in a federal lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Tré Hargett and state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, said U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp heard the case Friday in Cookeville, Tenn.
The judge asked both sides to agree on how to deal with issues raised in court testimony, Barrett said.
Barrett, who is representing the Tennessee Democratic Party and former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said both sides agreed Friday night on a consent order, which they intend to submit to Sharp this week.
…”We agreed to ask the court to enter a consent order, first of all for the 11,000 voters with some kind of missing history between December 2011 and May 2012,” Barrett said. “We’ve asked the court to appoint a special master to investigate those facts and see what happened, if anything.”
…Democrats said they noticed the missing or incomplete voter histories while comparing voter files from December and last month, both obtained from the state. They said 527 Hamilton County voters were among those with missing information.
Democrats are not alleging the state deliberately wiped files, saying it could have been a mistake because Republicans, Democrats and independent voters were affected. But they still say an independent eye is needed.
The state Democratic Party’s communications director, Brandon Puttbrese, testified Friday and confirmed Barrett’s account of the hearing.
The state also has agreed not to purge any more voter rolls until after the November election, Puttbrese and Barrett said.
The issue is important, Barrett said, because an inactive voting history can lead to a voter’s being purged from the rolls.
An ex-police officer fired for acting inappropriately with a couple of teenage boys is among 37 civilian special deputies who are given full arrest powers and authority to carry a firearm by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, reports the Chattanooga TFP. None of the civilian special deputies has to undergo law enforcement training, but they have the same authority as an officer in full uniform, wearing a badge and gun. They are required to qualify with a firearm once a year, even though they are not issued guns by the department.
The remainder — and vast majority — of the 128 people who hold special deputy commissions are officers in municipal police departments who need countywide arrest powers to pursue suspects beyond their jurisdictions.
But it’s the civilian cardholders who open up the sheriff’s department for potential abuse with their lack of training and screening, according to a police ethics expert.
Weston Wamp questioned U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s congressional credentials during an aggressive debate Monday, attempting to define Fleischmann as an inflexible creature of Washington in the fight for the Republican nomination in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District.
From the Chattanooga TFP account: With the Aug. 2 primary election only two months away, Fleischmann arrived at a crucial moment of his re-election effort armed with a defense of his record and a list of shots targeting Wamp’s perceived inexperience as the 25-year-old son of the congressman’s immediate predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp.
Several times, Fleischmann described Weston Wamp’s reasoning as incorrect, inaccurate and, using a baseball analogy to describe a trio of answers, “0-for-3.”
Unbowed, Fleischmann’s young rival claimed to be the most powerful advocate on local issues like the Chickamauga lock and the most energetic person ever to run for Congress.
…”Just how much does it impact us when we’re represented in Congress by one of the most divisively partisan people there?” Wamp asked.
But Fleischmann said he’s respecting the 3rd District’s wishes.
“We have basically blocked the president,” he said of the Republican-controlled House.
By the end of the 90-minute debate, the scrutiny appeared to wear on Fleischmann, who received hoots from a host of twentysomething Wamp supporters when he said his only “special interests” are the people of the district.
That statement came after a debate moderator asked him to square his $363,000 in PAC contributions with a 2010 campaign promise that said “special interest groups in Washington will not find an open door in my congressional office.”
“If he didn’t leave his door open to special interests, he at least let the mailbox or the bank account — it’s a pretty clear violation” of the promise, Wamp said.
The exchange later put Wamp in the interesting position of slamming as “a snake pit” Washington, D.C., where his father broke a campaign term-limit promise to serve 12 years in Congress. (He served 16.) The younger Wamp also gave himself wiggle room on the PAC money question, saying he would accept it from organizations whose “principles and values are aligned with mine.”
In Tennessee, House Speaker Beth Harwell told Governing (Magizine) that she has had preliminary discussions with Gov. Bill Haslam about holding a special session if the law stands. An ad hoc committee for the exchange has been established, the governor’s office has continued to explore its feasibility and Harwell said the legislature could easily be recalled.
“It’s on the table,” she said.
Alexia Poe, Haslam’s director of communications, said there is a belief among the governor’s staff that the executive branch can do enough preparation before the next official legislative session to gain conditional approval from the federal government in January without a special session, but confirmed the possibility had been raised.
And while many state officials remain skeptical about the ACA’s long-term viability, Poe said Haslam believes Tennessee should take charge of its own exchange if necessary.
The governor “is less than thrilled with Obamacare and hopes it isn’t implemented,” she said. “But he also feels that it is our responsibility to be prepared in the event that it is implemented, and that the state running the exchange is the better thing for Tennessee to do.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says that, if Tennessee puts off setting up a health insurance exchange, it could miss a chance for federal money to pay for it.
From WPLN’s report on the matter: The exchange would be a hub where people and businesses shop for coverage, as required by last year’s healthcare overhaul. Last week state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey floated the idea of delaying a decision until the end of next year, and maybe holding a special session then.
That would let lawmakers put off a vote until after the Supreme Court has weighed in on the healthcare overhaul, and after next year’s election. Such a vote would also miss a federal deadline for grants to cover state costs for setting up an exchange. That makes Governor Haslam skeptical of a potential delay.
“My concern is, if you do that, the federal grants that are available might be gone by that point in time. I’m not certain it’s responsible for us as a state to push off the whole decision on whether or not we do it that far.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday floated the idea of holding a special legislative session next winter if it’s still necessary for Tennessee to come into line with requirements set by President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The Blountville Republican said in a speech at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce that waiting to hold a special session in December 2012 would allow time for a Supreme Court challenge or the presidential elections to reverse the tide on the health care law.
“Personally, I hope Supreme Court overturns it sometime this summer and says you can’t have these individual mandates that I think are blatantly unconstitutional,” Ramsey said.
“But we can’t assume that’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re in kind of a catch-22 situation.”
In an op-ed piece appearing in some newspapes, former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter is urging a special legislative session on job creation. While Congress trudges through the quagmire of partisan rancor, elected officials in Tennessee should seize the opportunity to do what’s best for our state and pass a bi-partisan jobs plan. Gov. Bill Haslam has the constitutional authority to call a special session of the General Assembly, a step taken by many of his predecessors — Democrats and Republicans alike.
Full article HERE.
Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, reports Andy Sher. Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.
Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.
In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”
“Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.
“It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.
Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.”
(Note: Employers of lobbyists file reports with the Tennessee Ethics Commission every six months, giving a ‘range’ of compensation paid to lobbyists and related expenditures. Link to the search website is HERE.
For example, AT&T (still registered as Bellsouth), traditionally one of the top spenders on lobbying (with over $1 million in sessions past), reported $300,000 to $350,000 in lobbyist compensation paid for the six months ended March 31, plus $50,000-$100,000 in related expenditures and a $22,406 reception. AT&T had 15 registered lobbyists.
Most famous lobbyist of the year, doubtless, was Fred Thompson, one of seven registered for the Tennessee Association of Justice and one of 199 registered to lobby on the subject of tort reform. TAJ reported compensation paid for the six months ended March 31 of $350,000-$400,000; related expenses of $25,000-$50,000 and a $8,250 reception.)
State lawmakers were treated to more than $500,000 worth of special luncheons and private receptions this legislative session, says The Tennessean. Special interest groups and lobbyists, ranging from the Tennessee Concrete Association to the Tennessee Bar Association, hosted 75 events, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
The most expensive tab was paid by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, which hosted a “Bell Ringer Country Luncheon” on March 2, which came with a price tag of $23,661.20. According to an invitation filed by the Farm Bureau with the Ethics Commission, the luncheon took place at the Sheraton Hotel.
Critics say the practice of hosting such events for state lawmakers creates an uneven playing field where corporations and special interests have better access to government leaders.
“We’re always dealing with concentrated benefits and distributed costs,” said community activist and tea party leader Ben Cunningham.
“That’s the reality of government. Everybody pays for it, and in many cases the recipients of government largess are small groups, small corporations … who can justify spending huge amounts of money on attaining special favors.
“That’s the nature of the beast.”
(NOTE: The listing of events and the price tag for 2011 is HERE. It’s not complete yet because some interests — Jack Daniel’s distillery and beer wholesalers, for example — have not filed their spending reports.)