Tag Archives: state capitol

Speakers disagree, so no guns at Capitol

Plans to let state handgun-carry permit holders carry their weapons in the Tennessee Capitol complex misfired Wednesday amid apparent disagreement between Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell over how to proceed, reports the Times Free Press.

Tennessee Highway Patrol officials wanted the two top officials to be in agreement before they would consider proceeding, according to Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider.

“They did not agree,” said Kleinheider, who wouldn’t elaborate.

Harwell’s spokeswoman, Kara Owen, said that from Harwell’s “point of view, it’s simply an issue of saving taxpayer dollars as the modifications to the building would have a cost associated with them.”

Owen noted Harwell realizes “we’re not going to be in this building [Legislative Plaza] much longer” with the General Assembly planning on moving in a few years from Legislative Plaza and the adjacent War Memorial Building to the now-vacant Cordell Hull State Office Building.

Because there were expected costs for “things that had to be done” in order to make Legislative Plaza and the Capitol physically capable of handling the situation, Owen said the speaker thought it best to wait until lawmakers are ensconced in Cordell Hull.

Haslam and Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who oversees the THP which provides security at Legislative Plaza, War Memorial and the state Capitol building, have been opposed to allowing permit holders to bring their weapons into the complex.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Harwell, Ramsey go for guns at the capitol (but not Haslam)

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If it’s up to the Republican speakers of the state House and Senate, the more than half-million Tennesseans with permits will soon be able to carry guns inside the legislative office complex.

The proposal announced Thursday comes as lawmakers in Arizona, Florida and Wyoming are also considering loosening gun restrictions at their statehouses this year.

But Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is raising concerns about the proposed change in Tennessee. Haslam said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he wants to keep the gun ban within the state Capitol building, which is connected to the Legislative Plaza via an underground tunnel.

“We don’t think that people should be able to bring weapons in here,” Haslam said. “This is a secure building. We’ve got metal detectors; we’ve got troopers with guns.”

Haslam said it would create a logistical problem in figuring out how to rescreen visitors to the legislative office complex when they enter the Capitol building.
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Capitol Commission sets stage for Nathan Bedford Forrest bust debate

The State Capitol Commission approved new rules Tuesday governing what memorials can go on statehouse grounds. The new rules don’t specifically address controversial calls for removing a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the lobby between the House and Senate chambers, reports WPLN, but they at least clear the way for discussion of removing the bust.

Commissioners approved the new policy swiftly and unanimously — likely because it’s so vague.

The rules don’t ban commemorations to anyone. That includes Forrest, the Civil War cavalry commander, slave trader and early supporter of the Ku Klux Klan whose bust has stood in the state Capitol for decades.

Bob Martineau, the state’s environmental commissioner and a member of the panel, led the effort to draft the rules. He says they’re not meant to settle the controversy.

“It doesn’t address any particular statue or monument in specific. What it does is look at is the criteria by which we should evaluate any one.”

Those criteria include historic and cultural significance, Tennessee values and the dignity of the state Capitol — any of which could be used to argue for or against the bust of Forrest. But for any decision to be made about the memorial, someone would have to petition for its removal.

Panel punts Nathan Bedford Forrest bust decision

A subcommittee of the State Capitol Commission, set up amid a dispute over calls to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust from the state Capitol building, has approved new rules for deciding what historical markers and statues should be displayed, reports WPLN.

The rules give the full Commission almost complete discretion over memorials. But it isn’t clear whether the new rules they will, or will not, have any impact on taking the Confederate cavalry general’s likeness out of the lobby between the state House and Senate chambers.

The rules don’t spell out who should be honored — only that works should “reflect the diverse people of Tennessee and their values.”

The move came at the end of a relatively quiet meeting attended by only about a half-dozen supporters of the Forrest bust. Elizabeth Coker of Rockvale called the policy “reactionary” and doubts state leaders will use it to take Forrest’s statue from its place near the entrance to the Tennessee Senate.

“I don’t think they have the votes necessary to remove him. But that’s not the point.”

The point, says Coker, is that Forrest is a hero to many in Tennessee. He may have traded in slaves, provided early encouragement to the Ku Klux Klan and failed to stop his troops from massacring African-American soldiers during the Civil War.

But he also repented of his misdeeds and supported Confederate widows and their orphans, Coker says. His bust also helps tell the story of how the state was divided during the Civil War, standing as it does opposite Admiral David Farragut, a native Tennessean who fought for the Union side.

The full Capitol Commission must approve the rules before they go into effect, but even that might not be the final word on Forrest’s bust. State lawmakers could wade into the controversy when they return in January.

See also The Tennessean,

New state Capitol sculpture depicts those involved in TN women’s suffrage movement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new sculpture planned for the state Capitol complex will celebrate Tennessee women’s role in passing the 19th Amendment.

In 1920, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the amendment that gave women the vote.

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1OBrB1S) the sculpture being molded by Alan LeQuire depicts five women who played critical roles in that struggle. Anne Dallas Dudley and Frankie Pierce were from Nashville, Sue Shelton White was from Jackson, Abby Crawford Milton was from Chattanooga, and Carrie Chapman Catt was a national leader who came to Tennessee to rally support for ratification.

The sculpture will also feature a relief at its base with three more contemporary female political trailblazers, showing what the work of the earlier suffrage leaders made possible. Jane Eskind was the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee. Beth Harwell is the first woman to be Speaker of the House. Lois DeBerry was the longest-serving member of the state House of Representatives, the second African American woman to serve in the General Assembly and first woman to be speaker pro tempore of the House.

The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument organization commissioned the work and is raising the $900,000 to complete it. The group’s website lists the various monuments around the state capitol that are dedicated to men but notes there is nothing that reflects women’s contributions to Tennessee history.

“We are seeking to rectify that with a monument to the Tennessee suffragists,” the site says.

Paula Casey, the group’s president, said, “Public art represents what people think is important. The fact that we don’t already have a statue like this shows people don’t know the story, and we want people to be grateful that this happened in Tennessee.”

The sculpture will be dedicated Oct. 27. It will stand in War Memorial Plaza outside the state capitol building.

Sunday column: Maybe Forrest wouldn’t have minded a bust relocation

There were many historic curiosities and/or contradictions in last week’s rush by prominent Tennessee political figures to disavow official state ties to the Confederacy, echoing similar sentiments elsewhere following the massacre of black South Carolina churchgoers by a white racist who apparently embraced the Confederate flag as a symbol of his views.

In Tennessee, the Confederate flag is not incorporated into any official state stuff unless you include a specialty license plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. About 2,000 are currently issued at an extra annual fee of $35 each – one of more than a hundred specialty plates available in a longstanding revenue-raising scheme for arts programs and other charities, each approved by virtually unanimous legislative action.

There was a Washington Post blog citing a flag researcher’s view that Tennessee’s flag has “pragmatic unity with the Confederate flag” – but that seems a very big stretch.

At any rate, with no Confederate flag flying over our state capitol, as in South Carolina or Mississippi, the Tennessee retreat from the Confederacy has focused in substantial part on Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the most remarkable and controversial figures in state history. In particular, there’s been a a bust of Forrest since 1978 in our state capitol building, which was completed in 1859 and built largely with slave labor.

Forrest was a wealthy slave trader and plantation owner at that time. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private, then rose to the rank of lieutenant general commanding a cavalry unit directed with awesome military strategy and unquestioned personal courage. What was most questioned in his military career was the massacre of black Union soldiers in an attack he led at Fort Pillow.
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On balancing of statues at the state Capitol

While the controversial bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is getting much attention lately, Richard Locker does a rundown on other Civil War iconography in and around the Tennessee State Capitol.

There’s a statue of Sam Davis, “boy hero of the Confederacy,” and a statue with an unidentified horse-mounted soldier who bears a strong resemblance to Forrest.

There’s a larger-than-life statue of newspaper editor and U.S. Sen. Edward Ward Carmack, who editorially attacked crusading black Memphis journalist Ida B. Wells for her work to halt lynchings.

But as controversy heats up over the Forrest bust’s presence in a prominent alcove between the House and Senate chambers, it’s worth noting that state officials have, over the years, taken steps to present at the Capitol a more balanced history of Tennessee in the Civil War and on issues of race.

The Forrest bust was moved a few years ago from just outside the House chamber to a spot across from a bust of U.S. Navy Admiral David G. Farragut, whose service for the Union during the Civil War opened the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico to Federal troops. The Union and Confederate officers were placed across from each other for balance.

Across the marble-walled second-floor legislative lobby from the Forrest bust hangs a large bas-relief bronze panel commemorating the Constitution’s 14th and 15th amendments, which gave freed slaves citizenship and freedmen voting rights after the Civil War.

…Adjacent to the Sam Davis statue is a small marble memorial commemorating the Africans who died in “The Middle Passage,” the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Schoolchildren who tour the Capitol grounds learn about Davis’ execution at age 21 by Union officers after he refused to identify fellow Confederates who gave him papers describing Federal fortifications. Nearby, they learn about the horrors and inhumane conditions of slave ships where “pestilence ran rampant” and, according to the plaque, millions died.

The Middle Passage memorial was erected in 1999. The placement was not controversial but the wording on its plaque prompted questions of accuracy. A Capitol Commission review later that year noted that while the text refers to the slave trade from “circa 1444-1860,” the first slaves did not arrive on what is now U.S. soil until 1619, when 12 Africans were brought to Virginia by a Dutch trader.

A panel of historians also questioned the plaque’s assertion that “upwards of 100 million Africans were transported” to the Americas, but none of the wording was changed.

State’s vital records office relocating

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee agency that provides copies of birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates is moving its Nashville offices on Tuesday.

The Tennessee Department of Health Office of Vital Records will now be located in the Andrew Johnson building at 710 James Robertson Parkway. The new location is about four blocks away from the old offices in the Cordell Hull Building.

Office hours will remain the same. They are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Certificates may be obtained in person, by mail or through the Internet. For information, call (615) 532-2679 or visit http://health.tn.gov/vr .

First step taken toward moving legislative offices to Cordell Hull building

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The State Building Commission has approved the first step toward making a building next to the state Capitol the new home of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The panel that includes Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville on Wednesday without debate approved expanding the scope of a $136 million Capitol complex project. That includes the overhaul of the Cordell Hull building that was until recently designated for demolition.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration last year reversed course on razing the building, and has earmarked $74 million to renovate it. Lawmakers later decided the building would make a good replacement for the underground Legislative Plaza.

The costs of the move and upgrades to fit the Legislature’s needs are estimated at $44 million.

“It’s a good business decision to do that,” Ramsey told reporters after the meeting. “This is terrible down here — we’re spending more on maintenance in this place than it’s worth.”

“Is it a lot of money? Yeah, no doubt about it,” he said. “But two-thirds of that was going to be spent whether we do anything or not.”

The 40-year-old Legislative Plaza would be turned into a parking garage under the plan, and a building next to the Cordell Hull would be torn down to make place for more parking.

Ramsey refuted a rumored deal with the Haslam administration that the Legislature would be given the Cordell Hull building in exchange for agreeing to the $120 million the governor had earmarked for a new state museum.

“That’s a bunch of bull, because that was in the budget before we even thought about the Cordell Hull,” he said.
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House votes against guns at the legislature; all dissenting votes from Democrats

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House voted Monday to remove the Tennessee Capitol from a bill to expand the areas where people with handgun carry permits can be armed, a move supported by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The chamber voted 72-14 against the amendment inserted by the Senate last week (on a 28-0 vote). The original bill would strip local governments of the power to ban all firearms in parks, playgrounds and ball fields.

(Note: The legislative website has the vote as 75-17, though it was initially announced as 72-14, as reported by AP and other media — indicating there were a few votes changes afterwards, as permitted under House rules so long as the change doesn’t impact the outcome. Those officially voting no, all Democrats, are listed at the end of this post.)

The measure now heads back to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said it’s unlikely the chamber will agree to the change. If that happens, the bill would go to a conference committee to try to hammer out differences.

“There are other improvements that could be made to the original bill,” Norris said.

Haslam earlier Monday expressed serious reservations about including the Capitol in the bill and said he supports stripping it from the legislation.

The governor said the Capitol’s safety and security officials have major concerns about the provision, “in terms of both the practical realities … as well as the process.”

The original guns-in-parks proposal passed the House 65-21 last Monday. Two days later, the Senate added the Capitol provision to the House version and passed it 26-7.

After Monday’s action, the measure could be back on the Senate’s calendar as early as Thursday.
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