State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, took the opportunity to visit with state jobs officials while in England to participate in a conference for political and business leaders at Queens College in London, reports the Jackson Sun. While there, Finney paid a visit to Regents University in London, a four-year institution with a partnership with the University of Memphis Finney met with Dr. Supti Sarkar and Colm Reilly, of PA Consulting Group, Tennessee’s London-based affiliate designated to help identify, engage and recruit potential economic development projects from throughout the United Kingdom.
“The people I met with are Tennessee’s point people,” Finney said. “I was not meeting with an owner of a company. (Sarkar and Reilly) are located in London. My visit to London was not a ‘trade mission’ in the sense that I was pitching to those companies.”
Finney said the meeting helped him understand what they are dealing with and what they need in their recruitment efforts as well as to let them know that the legislature is a partner.
Finney said the three-day trip was very productive and that it was made possible through a grant and not paid for at taxpayer expense
House Government Operations Committee Chairman Judd Mathney tells TNReport that he has some concerns about charter schools operated by Turkish Muslim Cleric Fethullah Gülen, but not necessarily with state legislators making a trip to Turkey financed by groups with ties to Gulen. (Previous post HERE.)
Mathney last year successfully sponsored legislation to limit the number of foreigners a Tennessee charter school can hire. Asked recently about his legislation in relation to the upcoming Turkey trip, Matheny told TNReport he believes “some of the Gülen schools…have brought in more foreign teachers than we would like to see in Tennessee.”
“I am very concerned about the proliferation of charter schools that are of non-United States origin and perhaps teach things that are contrary to our constitution here within our borders,” Metheny continued.
But Matheny also said that he’s not overly concerned about his colleagues being influenced by a free getaway.
“I’ve not talked personally with very many legislators that are going. Those that I have talked to seem to be in the frame of mind that they want to do the proper due diligence on both sides,” he said. “They also understand that those trips are not totally focused on charter schools.”
Matheny said that he had been invited on a past trip put on by the same group and declined the offer, but he was quick not to appear hostile.
“Turkey is a great ally, it’s not a country that we want to snub. It’s not a country that we don’t want to foster great relationships with,” he said. “I’m more worried about what’s happening domestically and what’s happening to our children. We want to make sure they are solid Americans.”
At least nine state legislators have signed up for a trip next month to Azerbaijan and Turkey that is financed by groups with ties to a famous Muslim imam, according to WTVF-TV. Five legislators went on a similar trip last year. In the waning days of this year’s legislative session, lawmakers debated whether proposed changes to the state’s campaign finance laws would open the door to foreign influence.
“If you want to know who contributes to my campaign, it’s as easy as the click of the mouse,” said Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Smith County Republican.
Still, what you won’t find online — and what Weaver did not mention — is that, in late May, a select group of state lawmakers will be jetting off for a 12-day, all-expenses paid trip, landing first in Azerbaijan, then heading a few days later to nearby Turkey.
The invitations came from a group called the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast — with the money coming from a sister group called the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians.
Both groups have ties to a movement headed by a moderate Muslim imam named Fethullah Gulen.
…(Memphis Republican Rep. Mark) White is one of the nine lawmakers who have accepted the invitation to go on the trip.
Others, according to a list provided to NewsChannel 5, are:
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah; Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville; Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis; Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis; and Terri Lynn Weaver.
Tennessee Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons has also agreed to go, as has his assistant commissioner David Purkey.
…Fethullah Gulen has generally drawn praise for his moderate religious views and his message of tolerance. Time Magazine just named him to its lists of the 100 most influential people in the world.
But a U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks describes his movement as being one that “officially professes to be interested in ecumenical understanding, but whose roots are intensely Islamic.”
As 60 Minutes reported last year, the movement is also behind a secular network of science and math charter schools that began in Turkey and has now spread to the U.S.
One of those is in Memphis.
…House Education Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, a Knoxville Republican who has been helping to coordinate the upcoming trip, keeps in his office mementos from both Azerbaijan and Turkey from a trip he accepted last year. Brooks said that there were five Tennessee lawmakers on that trip.
Other lawmakers, according to Brooks, were: Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; Rep. Joe Armstrong, R-Knoxville; Rep. Josh Evans, R-Greenbrier; and Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
It was trip that Brooks described as part economic development, part goodwill.
“What we gain is, one, an understanding of a society that wants to be a friend to this country,” he added.
But Brooks insisted that charter schools were never discussed.
In a sharp contrast to the grueling, down-to-the-wire campaign during his last run for statewide office, Sen. Bob Corker is off on a weeklong trip to the Middle East — just a month before voters decide whether to re-elect him.
“I’ve said all along that my campaign is going to be my service in the Senate,” the Republican told reporters when asked whether the trip was an indication he takes for granted a win over disavowed Democratic nominee Mark Clayton and other candidates.
In a speech before talking with reporters, Corker told the Nashville Chamber of Commerce that “I’m likely to be the lead Republican on foreign relations issues” when the Senate meets next year. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the trip to the Middle East will be aimed at gathering insight into the slaying of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya, Corker indicated.
“Maybe when I’ve returned from the Middle East I’ll have a better sense of what’s happened,” he said. “And it may just be that Libya has turned into a failed state and maybe it’s just that that the administration doesn’t want to discuss.”
Corker said security rules prevent him from giving specifics of the trip in advance, including whether Libya would be among countries visited.
The senator said he has visited 47 countries since being elected in 2006 and expects to finish reading former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s memoir while on the plane trip to the Mideast.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will travel to Japan next week with a delegation made up of business leaders and economic development officials from across the state.
“Tennessee has had a successful and growing relationship with Japanese companies for nearly three decades,” Haslam said. “I look forward to honoring and reinforcing the meaningful, lasting relationships between our state and Japan.”
There are 133 Japanese companies in Tennessee, representing more than $14 billion in capital investment and making Japan Tennessee’s No. 1 direct foreign investor. Japanese companies employ 33,000 Tennesseans with companies like Nissan, Bridgestone and Denso leading the way.
Last year, $1.6 billion dollars in Tennessee goods were exported to Japan, the state’s fourth largest export destination in the world. Tennessee also ranked in the top 10 of all U.S. states for Japanese exports.
The governor will meet with Japanese companies that have a presence in Tennessee, and the delegation will join delegations from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina to take part in the 35th annual Southeast U.S. Japan/Association (SEUS) meeting to promote trade, investment and understanding between Japan and the southeastern region of the U.S.
Since 2003, the seven SEUS member states have accounted for almost one-third of all Japanese investment in the United States. In 2012, the seven SEUS states exported almost $7 billion in goods to Japan.
This is Haslam’s first official visit to Japan as governor.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., made the rounds at the Republican National Convention last week, appearing at breakfasts and luncheons for the Tennessee GOP delegation before discreetly plotting his exit, according to Greg Johnson. “I’ve got some important business in the Middle East,” Corker quietly told a small group of convention-goers before taking his leave.
Corker surfaced days later in Istanbul, after visiting Turkey’s border with war-torn Syria.
“I just visited the border between Turkey and Syria and met with various groups representing the Syrian opposition and refugees,” said Corker in a statement. “Hearing the stories of what is happening every day to ordinary citizens in Syria challenges the most basic American sensibilities.”
Some 80,000 refugees have crossed over Syria’s northwest border into Turkey. More than 23,000 Syrians, including 2,200 children, have been killed in the conflict between those fighting for democracy and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, a man Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once called “a reformer.”
U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischmann said today they did not participate in or witness a late-night swim in Israel last year in which one lawmaker disrobed and jumped into the Sea of Galilee and others shed some of their clothing to go frolicking in the water.
Ditto with Rep. Stephen Fincher: “It was unfortunate that the behavior of some folks was not acceptable,” Fincher said Monday. “While this was going on, I was doing one of my favorite things — having dinner with my wife. More HERE.
Further on the DesJarlais/Fleischmann fromt from Michael Collins.
Both East Tennessee lawmakers were on the fact-finding trip to Israel with other freshman members of Congress and their families. But they said they did not participate in the questionable swim, which, according to a published report, may have been fueled by alcohol consumption and led to an FBI inquiry.
“While the congressman was on the trip to Israel reinforcing our nation’s relationship with this important ally, he was not involved in the incident in question,” said DesJarlais’ spokesman, Robert Jameson.
Asked if the Jasper Republican had witnessed the activity, Jameson said, “The congressman did not see the incident.”
Six Tennessee legislators leaving the General Assembly this year are in Chicago this week on what could amount to a taxpayer-funded junket, according to TNReport. Four retiring legislators and two state reps who lost their bids for re-election in last week’s primary have given the state notice they plan to get reimbursed for attending the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in the Windy City that began Monday, a trip that could cost as much as than $2,500 in registration, airfare, hotel stay, per diem and cab rides.
They are Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Don Harmon, D-Dunlap; Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.
One of the General Assembly’s highest-ranking Republicans says he trusts that the departing lawmakers have good reasons behind their decisions to make the trip.
“I know it will be beneficial to the others who attend to get the benefit of their wisdom and their years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. “I think discretion is the better part of valor with these things, and obviously they’ve exercised their discretion and think it’s fine to go. I’m not passing judgment on it.”
Legislators are permitted to let taxpayers foot the bill for out-of-state legislative trips, complete with a per diem, travel and lodging expenses. Even outgoing lawmakers are entitled, said Connie Ridley, director of Tennessee’s office of Legislative Affairs.
“Members of the General Assembly serve as a legislator until the general election in November,” Ridley said in an email. “They are no longer eligible for compensation of any form the evening before the November general election.”
— UPDATE NOTE: Herron, though authorized to make the trip, reports that he did not go.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is planning a campaign tour through East Tennessee on Monday, the day before the state’s Republicans vote in the Super Tuesday presidential primary, according to his state campaign co-chairman.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said it’s still up in the air whether Gingrich will travel by bus or by airplane on the journey through East Tennessee.
But he said it is firm that there will be stops in the Tri-Cities area, in Knoxville and in Chattanooga. Further specifics will be forthcoming later, possibility with more stops added, Shipley said.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who shares the co-chairman title in Gingrich’s Tennessee campaign, said in a blog post that Gingrich would be at Knoxville’s Sunsphere Monday afternoon and may possibly visit Oak Ridge as well.
U.S. Reps. Phil Roe and Scott DesJarlais have told Michael Collins that a weekend trip to Afghanistan left them convinced that American troops injured on the battlefield are getting top-notch medical care and that the overall situation in the war-torn country is improving. “As a physician, I was incredibly impressed with the level of health care they get on the ground and in the hospitals there in Afghanistan. The care they get is second to none,” said DesJarlais, R-Jasper.
Roe, a Republican from Johnson City and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he arranged the trip for the five-person congressional delegation because he wanted to see what kind of care soldiers are getting not only in Afghanistan but also as they are moved back into hospitals in the United States.
“I really personally don’t care what it costs to take care of these veterans that have served our country,” said Roe, a physician who served two years in the Army Medical Corps. “That is an obligation we have, and it’s a long-term obligation we have to care for them the rest of their lives.”
During its two days in Afghanistan, the bipartisan delegation visited medical treatment facilities in the field, received briefings on the war from military commanders and ate meals with soldiers. The group returned to the United States on Tuesday.