The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has acknowledged to the TBI responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voter opinions of state Sen. Stacey Campfield while declaring there was no intention of harassing those getting the calls or attacking Campfield, his attorney said Monday.
Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon, LLC, spoke “in a very lengthy interview” to a TBI investigator last week and explained that the survey was a matter of “internal testing” of the firm’s surveying system that went awry through a “computer glitch” that caused many of the 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls, said G. Turner Howard III, Farmer’s attorney.
The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols in response to an initial request to the TBI from Campfield. A TBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency has not turned over its final report to Nichols and declined further comment because the matter is part of “an ongoing investigation.”
Campfield said Howard’s explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” and that Farmer’s acknowledgment indicated political motives. Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary. Briggs’ first campaign financial disclosure shows $7,000 in payments to Cyragon.
Some of the Legislature’s top leaders were among more than 50 candidates who failed to report 181 political contributions totaling $145,875 when the Registry of Election Finance conducted an annual “crosscheck” review mandated by a current state law.
House Republican Chairman Glen Casada, sponsor of a bill that critics say would undermine the present law, was found to have two unreported $1,000 contributions from political action committees. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who staunchly opposed the bill, had more unreported donations than anyone on the list — 18 totaling $19,875.
Both men expressed surprise when contacted last week after Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, provided a list of the 2012 “crosscheck” results on request. Neither changed his position on the bill (HB643), which fell two votes short of passage on the House floor during the legislative session and which Casada plans to bring back for another try next year.
(Note: For the Registry’s list, click on this link: CrossIndexInfo.ods
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner released the following statement in response to the failure of HB702/SB830, the “state charter authorizer”:
“Earlier today the Tennessee State Senate refused to hear a bill that would have stripped away local control of charter school authorization for five counties in Tennessee.
“The Tennessee Charter Schools Association claimed in a release that “the concept of broadening educational options for Tennessee students has once again become the victim of politics, despite thoughtful consideration over the bill through ten committees and passage in the House yesterday with a vote of 62 to 30.”
“This is absolutely false.
“While hostage taking of legislation is not good governance, the result could not have been better for the people of Tennessee.
“HB702/SB830 was one of the most haphazard and poorly executed legislative packages in recent memory. The bill was significantly altered on at least five different occasions – not to make the bill ‘better’- but simply to gain the support of whatever particular committee was hearing it at the time.
“The House bill was passed on the floor after Republicans called the question and cut-off debate without a single person being allowed to speak on the bill. The legislation itself was brought in a last minute amendment that was not heard in a single House committee.
“House Democrats are grateful to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey for killing this bill this year.
“The highest performing charter schools in this state have been authorized and supported by their local boards of education. This legislation was brought out of spite because one charter school operator was not given a blank check to operate in Nashville.
“We hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle will come back next year with clear heads and realize that this was an unnecessary and damaging proposal for our education system in Tennessee.”
Andrea Zelinski has a thoughtful article on the Republican Legislature’s focus Nashville. An excerpt: Some say the conflict is political, the product of Republican majorities trying to dismantle one of the state’s last institutions of Democratic power. Others say it’s the result of a shift in values reflected in a legislature that is more conservative than the city it does business in. Some go further, saying the city has developed so much power and influence that a clearer focus is needed to ensure the success of the state as a whole.
The one thing everybody agrees on? Don’t expect the attention on Nashville to let up.
…”I think they view it as the last bastion they have to beat down,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the party’s caucus chairman, who characterized the situation as “open season on Nashville.
“Basically all the things they don’t like with America, they see it in Nashville,” he said. “And I think all the things that’s good about America is represented in Nashville. I think they have some issues with it.”
…(W)hen lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would undo the city’s rules ensuring prevailing wage standards for contractors doing city business…Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s prepared to sign, although added it’s a tricky issue.
“That’s a very fine line for me,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who adds that he’s sensitive to preserving local authority. The difference here, he said, is lawmakers have made the case to him that Metro’s current practice has effects beyond Davidson County.
That bill came at the hands of Rep. Glen Casada, a high-ranking House Republican leader from Franklin. The point of the bill was to standardize laws across the state, he said, and Metro Nashville mandating a standard wage in Davidson County could force unaffordable costs on companies doing business across the Tennessee.
“They are expanding their reach in areas they don’t belong,” said Casada about Metro’s government. “So a lot of legislators say, ‘city of Nashville, you can’t tell business that they have to pay a certain wage to do business with you in your town. We want all laws to be the same all across the state.’
“We look at it from a macro sense, the whole state, all 95 counties. The city of Nashville and the city of Memphis are looking at it from their perspective only. But their actions have ripple effects across the state, and so I think you’re seeing a butting of wills on direction.”
It amounts to a turf war, he said, and it seems to be more intense this year.
“The cities are just becoming very influential nationwide,” he said, “and so, Nashville is doing what they think is best. The problem is what they think is best, it flexes and comes up upon what state business is.”
“They’re expanding. They’re reaching areas they don’t belong,” he added.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After defeating several attempts by Democrats to dial back the proposal, the House on Thursday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to change the way the state considers injured workers’ claims.
The chamber voted 68-24, almost entirely along party lines, to approve the bill (SB200). The Senate would have to agree to minor changes before the measure can head for the governor’s signature.
A major feature of the measure is that it would remove workers’ compensation cases from the state’s trial courts and instead create special panels appointed by the governor to hear claims and appeals.
Democrats noted that the bill would grant all the power over the system to the executive branch without input or oversight from the Legislature.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville derided the new system as a “Tennessee kangaroo court,” and offered a symbolic amendment to simply do away with the state’s workers’ compensation program altogether. It failed overwhelmingly.
Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said the changes will jumpstart workers claims, removing uncertainty from both them and their employers.
Concerned with the prospect of a local government setting up what one leader called a “little people’s republic,” the Legislature’s Republican supermajority is moving on several fronts to assert state authority over cities and counties.
Some Democrats and local government officials decry the trend as an assault on local control and incongruous with Republican criticisms of the federal government for dictating to state governments.
“The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory.
Turner’s remarks came after House approval Thursday of a bill (HB501) that declares local governments cannot put conditions on their contracts with businesses that require the businesses to pay more than minimum wages set by state or federal law, provide insurance or family leave. It also prohibits local governments from enforcing any ordinance on “wage theft,” wherein a company fails to live up to promises to pay a given wage or provide benefits.
The bill was approved 66-27 on a mostly party-line vote — Republicans for it, Democrats against — after a sometimes heated debate. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, may have best summed up the GOP view of such legislation.
The Tennessean has a story, led on Harold Love Jr. (whose dad was a legislator in a different era), on Democrats hope to be relevant in the upcoming proceedings of the 108th General Assembly. For Love Jr., that means advocating strongly for his Nashville district, one running from North Nashville around to South Nashville and Trevecca Nazarene University. It also means trying to start conversations among groups that can help one another.
“For me, the opportunity is there because there are so many issues that are present in that particular community,” he said.
When running for his 58th District seat, Love Jr. said he would focus on solidifying these connections between the communities in his district to statewide organizations that can work with them to improve issues such as education, community health and employment.
“I think there are some issues that span Democratic or Republican affiliation,” Love Jr. said. “It’s not a party issue. It’s a Tennessee issue.”
The initiatives he wants to advance are ones he doesn’t expect to cost the state financially.
“I think we’re talking about collaborative efforts, or maybe just increasing awareness,” Love said.
…When talking to the full Democratic caucus on Wednesday, Minority Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said the incoming class of freshmen will provide new voices and energy to House Democrats. The class includes just five members: Nashvillians Love Jr., Darren Jernigan, Bo Mitchell and Jason Powell, and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville.
“We’ve got some ammunition that we desperately need,” Fitzhugh said.
Those freshmen, Love Jr. said, are ready to work with Democrats and Republicans and are optimistic that their lack of time in the legislature can be beneficial. With his father’s experiences at the Capitol in mind, he thinks communication and respect from both sides of the aisle can also be effective.
“We come in with a clean slate,” he said. “I think we also come in with our own ideas, not just for our district, but for how the party can move forward. We are all excited about what can be done.”
Rep. Mike Turner was reelected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Wednesday, defeating an opponent who had promised to be less caustic in criticizing Republicans.
Turner was challenged by Rep. Johnny Shaw of Boliver, who told colleagues “I think the world of Mike as a friend, but I just don’t think he has the leadership ability.”
Shaw, who would have been the first black elected as caucus chairman had he won, said he didn’t think the Democratic caucus “has been as inclusive as it should be” but added, “Above all, I think we need a leader who can be calm, cool and collected.”
Earlier, Shaw said Turner had been too insulting to Republicans on occasion.
Turner does have a reputation for colorful and sometimes confrontational commentary. State GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, for example, has twice demanded an apology from Turner – never received – for saying that racism as a factor in Republican opposition to President Barack Obama.
“You understand that if a guy got a gun on you, why you going to cuss him out? ” said Shaw. “That’s kind of an elementary phrase, but we’ve got to find a way to work with people even if they disagree with us and even if we don’t get what we want.”
Turner said in a brief speech that “we have tried to be more inclusive” in the caucus and contended House Democrats had been successful in the November elections, given the disadvantages of dealing with Republican-engineered redistricting. And he rejected the idea of being softer in dealing with Republicans.
“Now is not the time to be shy. Now is not the time to shrink,” Turner said. “We’re not going to just lay down and be run over.”
Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory is the current House Democratic Caucus chairman, but Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar in West Tennessee is challenging him in a caucus election later today. WPLN says Shaw believes Turner can be too quick to insult Republicans, who now hold a two-thirds super majority in the House. “You understand that if a guy got a gun on you, why you going to cuss him out? That’s kind of an elementary phrase, but we’ve got to find a way to work with people even if they disagree with us and even if we don’t get what we want.”
Shaw says the party also needs to come up with a strategy to start winning more seats than are being lost. He says the candidate recruiting process for the 2014 elections should already be underway.
Shaw says he believes he has support from most of the House Black Caucus. While that includes half the Democrats in the chamber, Rep. Turner still says he has the votes to retain his chairmanship.
State Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Boliver, has sent a letter to colleagues saying that he is considering a challenge to Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, for the position of House Democratic Caucus chairman.
House Democrats meet Wednesday to elect leaders for the 108th General Assembly, which convenes on Jan. 8.
Shaw, a former chairman of the Tennessee Legislature’s Black Caucus, was in Washington for a meeting of the National Conference of Black Legislators, according to an aide, and could not be reached for comment.
Turner said he is confident that he has the votes lined up to be re-elected as caucus chair and hopeful that Shaw may decide against putting his name in nomination as a display of unity among the minority Democrats.
Democrats hold 28 House seats in the coming session — 14 of them members of the Black Caucus, 14 white.
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley apparently has no opposition for re-election as House minority leader, the top leadership position for a House Democrat.