News release from House Democratic Caucus:
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (July 17, 2013) – The Tennessee Black Caucus released the following statement in response to the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida:
“This was a disappointing verdict that just goes to show we have a long way to go until all Americans enjoy true equal protection under the law,” said Rep. Larry Miller, Chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus. “While we mourn and pray with the Martin family, we must also work hard to stop this from happening to innocent children here in Tennessee.”
On Sunday July 14, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators released a statement of support for the Martin family and reiterated the NBCSL opposition to so-called “stand your ground” laws across the country. In December of 2012, NBCSL ratified resolution LJE-13-06 “urging state legislatures that have adopted ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Shoot First’ laws to reform or repeal them and we also support the review and investigation by the United States Department of Justice referencing the Zimmerman case.”
School board races in Memphis have never attracted the kind of money that they got this year, reports the Commercial Appeal. (There was similar activity elsewhere in the state.) Tens of thousands of dollars poured in from political action committees, essentially allowing anonymous outsiders to shape education policy, long the domain of locals.
National money has long been part of school board elections. But until now, it was raised mostly by teachers’ unions.
In the new era, education reform advocacy groups, passionate about their views on public education, are harnessing millions in contributions to further their work. Because many, including Stand for Children, are registered as social welfare groups under 501(c)4 laws, they aren’t bound by campaign contributions caps can spend freely on political campaigns from the money they raise for their social missions. They also do not have to reveal their donor’s identities.
“This is a new phenomenon,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Many of these groups are either brand new or fairly new to education reform.”
What they have figured out, Petrilli says, is that it is not “enough to publish white papers and op-eds. They need to be engaged in political advocacy.”
So instead of watching the teachers unions handpick the board members who “sit across the bargaining table from them,” Petrilli says the groups are out to level the playing field. “This is going to become something of an arms race.”
Stand for Children, active in Tennessee since 2005, poured $153,000 into seven school board races here. The bulk ($40,000 apiece) went to races in District 1 and 4 where political newcomers Chris Caldwell and Kevin Woods unseated Memphis stalwarts Freda Williams and Kenneth Whalum.
Some of Stand’s largest funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton family, but they also include the Memphis-based Hyde Family Foundations.
“All of our actions were geared toward ensuring that we had elected officials who would really work to improve outcomes for all our children,” said Kenya Bradshaw, executive director of Stand’s Tennessee affiliate.
Unified Shelby County School board member Kenneth Whalum is questioning the connection between school board candidates endorsed by a public education advocacy group and the candidates’ allegiance to the Transition Planning Commission’s plan for merging the school districts. “If our children are for sale, I need to know exactly how many votes they are worth,” he said in a press conference Monday outside the former election commission offices Downtown.
Whalum lost his bid for re-election by 88 votes to opponent Kevin Woods, endorsed by Stand for Children. If he must prove fraud to get a recount, Whalum said his lawsuit against the Shelby County Election Commission will include subpoenas for correspondence between the advocacy group Stand, the unified school board and the TPC.
“Oooh, I look forward to this,” he said.
Kenya Bradshaw, executive director the Tennessee chapter of Stand, is a member of the TPC.
Last week, Stand announced it spent $153,000 on seven local school board races, including Woods’ race against Whalum. Most of the money spent on the campaign, Bradshaw said, came from an out-of-town donor, whom Stand said gave $200,000.
Bradshaw would not identify the donor.
Whalum wants to know what influence that person may have had on the TPC or the school board. “If there is a connection between a sitting member of the TPC, sitting members of the school board and the single-source $200,000 contribution, we’ll find out.”
Last week, Whalum said he would not seek a recount. He said the onus was on him to win by an indisputable measure.
He changed his mind Sunday, at his wife’s urging, saying voting errors in the election itself, redistricting that moved him from his Orange Mound base and evidence that Stand had heavily invested in his opponent created a “perfect storm of coincidences” he could no longer overlook.
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is one of at least 20 states that have the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law that has been at the center of a national debate since a neighborhood watchman killed an unarmed black teenager in Florida last month.
The laws, which are sometimes called the “Make My Day” law or the “Shoot First” law, say people have no duty to retreat from confrontations outside their home and can use deadly force to protect themselves.
Supporters of Tennessee’s law and others like it say the statute is necessary so law-abiding citizens can defend themselves when confronted by criminals. Opponents of the law say it gives the legal blessing to commit murder and innocent people, Florida teen Trayvon Martin, are often the ones that wind up dead.
The law here says people can use deadly force anywhere — inside or out — provided they have “a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”
People can be mistaken about the nature of the threat but it has to be “believed to be real at the time” of the confrontation and based on reasonable grounds.