Tennessee state legislators found themselves in the middle of Turkish protesters at one point during a 10-day tour of Turkey and Azerbaijan that ended last week, according to state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
“They were really a lot like the Occupy Wall Street crowd, or Occupy Nashville,” said Campfield, adding that he had talked with several of the protesters, who were in a peaceful mode when encountered by the Tennesseans in Istanbul.
“They had the same type of arguments” in complaints about capitalism, interrelated with what the protesters saw as unwarranted development of a city park, said Campfield, one of several legislators making the trip sponsored by the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast. On his blog, the senator posted multiple pictures and travelogue-like commentary on the trip. The pictures include shots of marching protesters and vehicles that had been battered or burned.
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.
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.”
A Knox County man has been charged with shooting a penned domestic turkey at state Rep. Frank Niceley’s Jefferson County farm, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Niceley said a flock of hens and two tom turkeys, kept by his daughter, were penned with a herd of sheep alongside hen the shooting occurred Wednesday.
“He just stopped and killed the biggest tom. He didn’t kill him with the first shot and had to shoot him two more times,” said Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “My wife (Cynthia) said it was just a mess.”
Niceley was at the Legislature in Nashville when the shooting occurred and related events as told him by his wife, daughter and a nephew who was visiting the family farm at the time.
The legislator said the man told family members that he thought the birds were wild turkeys. Wild turkey hunting season is currently underway.