By Larry O’Dell, Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, once viewed as a rising star in the GOP, and his wife were indicted Tuesday on federal corruption charges accusing the couple of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in loans, shopping sprees, money for their daughter’s wedding — and even a joyride in a Ferrari — from the owner of a company that makes health supplements.
The 14-count indictment portrays the former governor as deeply entrenched in credit card debt even before he took office and willing to accept lavish gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who hoped the first couple’s endorsement for his products would propel his company to fortunes.
McDonnell and his wife both have firmly denied wrongdoing, and Bob McDonnell repaid thousands to Williams while he was still in office. Limited to a single term by state law, McDonnell left the executive mansion earlier this month in disgrace, his approval numbers low and his political future in tatters. At one time, McDonnell had been considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney, and the governor’s seat has opened the door to higher office since Thomas Jefferson held the post from 1779 to 1781. McDonnell delivered the 2010 Republican response to the State of the Union Address, and became chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2011.
Twelve of the counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison each, and two are punishable up to 30 years. Fines can range from $250,000 to $1 million. Continue reading →
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
Martin, Tenn.–The Tennessee Democratic Party released a radio advertisement featuring a West Tennessee senior citizen who filed an ethics complaint again John Stevens, an embattled attorney and Republican candidate for the state senate in District 24.
The one-minute spot features Ginger Virginia House, Steven’s former client. It’s running on radio stations throughout the senate district in Northwest Tennessee. House filed an ethics complaint against Stevens after he charged her for services that were never delivered.
The following is a transcription of the advertisement: “Have you heard about John Stevens, the candidate that ripped up a dying woman’s will, changed the beneficiaries of her will, and admitted to it in a sworn statement? When I heard about this, I had to come forward and speak out. My name is Ginger Virginia House. My husband and I also hired John Stevens to write a will for our family. But John pocketed our money, never did the will, and didn’t even return our calls. He shouldn’t treat people that way. Because of what John Stevens did to the dying lady in a coma, and to my family, I filed an ethics complaint against him. I understand that the woman in a coma wanted to leave her money to St. Jude Children Hospital, but John Stevens tried to stop that. I knew John Stevens and how he operates; John Stevens is a bad apple. If you can’t trust John Stevens with a will for senior citizens, you can’t trust John Stevens at all.”
You can hear the ad online at TNDP.org.
This is not the first time Stevens has found himself in ethical hot water. Court documents show that Stevens tore up the last will and testament of Ruth Karas while she was unconscious. Karas reportedly intended to leave much of her estate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
St. Jude and Youth Town sued to restore the original will, which directed her estate to be split between the two organizations, other than $100,000 left to Keras’ brother, Earl Allen.
According to court records, Stevens drew up a power of attorney on behalf of Keras, naming Peggy Wilkes of Carroll County as her attorney-in-fact. He also established a revocable trust establishing that upon her death its assets would be divided equally between Wilkes and Allen.
Virginia Abernathy, an 80-year-old retired Vanderbilt professor, is the focus of a Tennessean story on her role as “an emerging leader of the white supremacist movement.”
Abernethy appears on the Tennessee ballot as running mate to Gatlinburg-area filmmaker Merlin Miller, who is running for president of the United States. They are listed as independent candidates on the Tennesee ballot, but represent the American Third Position Party, or A3P.. The whites-only political party was formed “to represent the interests of White Americans,” according to its website. It has run a handful of candidates for offices as varied as the Mesa, Ariz., City Council and the New Hampshire governor’s office. Republicans in New Hampshire called A3P the party of “despicable racists.”
Abernethy calls all the attention misguided but amusing.
“I think it’s hilarious,” said Abernethy, speaking from the corner office on the Vanderbilt campus that is hers for life as a professor emerita of anthropology and psychiatry. “I’m 104 pounds exactly. I’m punching above my weight, to hear the SPLC tell it.”
She politely would like to set the record straight.
She is not a white supremacist, Abernethy said.
She’s an environmentalist and a scientist. She opposes most immigration. She’s a feminist who helped put an end to Vanderbilt professors calling female medical students “girls.” She’s a Christian and a European-American.
She is also, she said, an “ethnic separatist.”
“Separatism says, ‘Birds of a feather flock together,'” Abernethy said. “I say, ‘Let them.’ What I see is rampant racial discrimination against European-Americans. And I am not in favor of discrimination.
“I see African-American groups and Asian-American groups and I feel that we should respect our identity as European-Americans as well.
“I do not see anything whatever wrong with that.”
Assuming that the presidential race is already decided in Tennessee in favor of Mitt Romney, the state’s Democrats and Republicans are both providing party activists to work for votes in other states where the outcome is in doubt.
But Tennessee chairmen of the two major parties say there’s also a push to turn out voters for their candidates within the state, in part because of a belief that the margin of Romney’s win could impact the outcome in “down-the-ballot” races, including those for seats in the state Legislature.
For Democrats and Republicans alike, the top target for Tennessee out-of-state influence efforts is North Carolina, where President Barack Obama won a narrow victory four years ago and narrowly trails Republican Mitt Romney in recent polls this year.
News release from Tennessee Republican Party:
KNOXVILLE, TN – Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney debuted new technology at the Knox County Victory Headquarters today that will be used to help elect Mitt Romney and state legislative candidates in East Tennessee.
The new VOIP (Voice Over IP) phones, which are supplied by a Tennessee-based company, will allow volunteers to more efficiently contact voters in Tennessee and in nearby “swing states” like North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio.
“This is the most crucial election of our lifetime, and the Knox County Victory Headquarters is just one part of our overall Victory effort,” said Devaney.
“While working to expand our majorities on the state level, volunteers will also have the opportunity to call into or be deployed to a nearby ‘swing state’ like North Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio. The volunteer spirit of the Volunteer State is alive and well, and that will help propel our candidates to victory this November and ensure a reversal of the reckless economic policies of President Obama,” concluded Devaney.
The Knox County Victory Headquarters is located at 5410 Kingston Pike in Knoxville. Volunteers can sign up to participate in the TNGOP Victory program by visiting http://www.tngop.org/action/volunteer.html.
As state officials lambaste the Tennessee Virtual Academy for low achievement scores and discuss new oversight methods, The Tennessean notes that the school’s management company is facing an investigation in Florida, overcoming a list of citations issued in Georgia and recovering from reports of poor results in many of its schools. The virtual academy allows students in grades K-8 to take all their classes online, monitored by a certified teacher. It is managed by K12 Inc., a publicly traded for-profit company that has contracts for differing levels of involvement with at least 2,000 other schools across the nation.
In its first year, the Tennessee academy ranked among the bottom 4 percent of districts in the state on a measure that shows student progress from year to year.
K12 officials say the school can’t be judged fairly for effectiveness in its first year of operation and the score should only be considered a first-year baseline for future comparisons.
However, Tennessee is not the only state where the management company has been criticized.
A research paper published in July by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder recommended national education officials slow down the approval of virtual schools while examining effectiveness and cost. The study showed achievement scores of K12 students were not on par with those of traditional schools.
A class-action lawsuit against K12 is pending in a U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia claiming the company made inflated claims about its student achievement in an effort to inflate stock prices.
And The New York Times spent months researching the company before publishing an article in December critical of its test scores.
…Pitts plans to introduce legislation in January to allow a virtual school with poor scores to be evaluated each year instead of every two years.
“If we are going to hold teachers and students and parents accountable, we’ve got to hold virtual and charter schools just as accountable,” Pitts said.
…The Georgia Department of Education has threatened to shut down a K12 Inc. virtual school if changes to teacher-student ratio and caseload for special education teachers are not made by October. The changes have been made and the school is waiting for an examination of the changes, said Jeff Kwitowski, senior vice president of public affairs for K12 Inc.
Kwitowski believes K12 is taking the publicity hit for many changes sweeping the nation under the banner of “education reform.” The changes give parents control of their children’s education, which threatens the traditional educational power structure, he said.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Threats, denunciations and verbal potshots between the National Rifle Association and the leaders of the Legislature were common in the decades that Democrats ran the show in the Tennessee Capitol. Turns out Republicans are just as good at running afoul of the powerful gun rights group.
GOP leaders in Nashville infuriated the NRA this year by refusing to go along with a bill to prevent businesses from banning guns on their property, and now the group is using its deep pockets to try to unseat one of them. Elsewhere, NRA-backed measures also ran into Republican roadblocks in Georgia, Alabama, Idaho and North Carolina this year.
The NRA notes recent successes in the legislatures of Virginia, Ohio and South Carolina, describing the recent setbacks as temporary.
“First of all the legislative process is rarely quick and is rarely pretty,” chief NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox said in a phone interview. “We certainly take the long view and we’re committed to bring this not only to Tennessee but across the country.”
The NRA is backing up its words with campaign cash in Tennessee, spending $75,000 in an effort to defeat the No. 3 Republican in the state House, Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville.
Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session. But, as often the case, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up.
They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.
So begins a TNReport review of the end-of-session squabble over “local projects” in the state budget, which includes some fresh quotations. House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, admitted that the late-stage discernment of waste in the budget ultimately amounted to legislative “gamesmanship” — that, truth be known, there wasn’t much taste on anybody’s part for reducing tasty government handouts sure to wow the folks back home when it comes time for incumbents to brag on what they brung em’.
“It always happens at the end of the year. These are the things you just have to work out and take care of,” Sargent told TNReport.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, said he doesn’t think voters of a fiscally conservative bent ought to be of a mind to make the GOP’s big-spenders pay come election time.
Ramsey, a “huge believer in preserving history, preserving our roots,” suggested it’s natural to make taxpayers pick up the slack when private-sector fundraising for cultural-heritage conservation efforts comes up short.
“I think that fits right into my basic philosophy in general,” said the Blountville auctioneer, who often sells himself as a friend of Tea Party conservatives.
Still, Ramsey conceded not everyone may agree with every aspect of discretionary government spending in the coming year’s budget, especially when you get down to details.
He acknowledged that one of his own rather infamous pet projects — the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — probably “sounded awful” to those of a mind to zero in and identify the particulars of potential government waste. But GOP legislators even in the House rallied around the proposal to capture $500,000 from taxpayers’ wallets to help fund the $13 million as-yet-unfinished tourist trap located in Bristol, Virginia, just across the street and the state line from Bristol, Tennessee.
…”Republicans spend just like Democrats. When you’re in control, you’re going to spend money,” Owen said. “There’s an incentive there to spend taxpayers’ money on things that really don’t benefit taxpayers as a whole, that go to benefit a select few.”
Politicians and coal advocates from four states portrayed President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency as a coal job killing machine during an Abingdon, Va., rally attended by more than 1,000 miners and their family members on Saturday.
Tennessee was represented. An excerpt from Hank Hayes’ report: Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told the crowd there’s been a concerted effort by environmentalists over the last five years to shut down coal mining in Tennessee.
Ramsey noted legislation was introduced this year — and then defeated — to eliminate Tennessee’s mountain top mining.
“(Environmentalists) said ‘We’re only going to stop coal mining above 2,000 feet.’ … Well guess where all the coal in the state of Tennessee is? Above 2,000 feet,” said Ramsey, R-Blountville.
Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley, an Air Force veteran, explained the Obama administration’s attack on coal in military terms.
Shipley remembered military strategists telling him that any time 50 percent of a target is destroyed, it’s useless.
“The Obama administration is about to destroy the energy industry in this country. You must … we must remove that man from our White House,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, told the crowd. “How many of you all like to use air conditioning in the middle of the summer? How many of you like to use heat in the middle of the winter? How many of you enjoy non-kerosene lights all the time?
“Ladies and gentlemen, if the Obama administration continues, you will have to discover how you can live on 50 percent of your air conditioning, 50 percent of your heating and 50 percent of your lighting. That is unacceptable.”
Gov. Bill Haslam tells Andrea Zelinski that he signed the state’s $31.5 billion spending plan Tuesday, putting into action a state budget that is $627 million less than this year’s. In an interview with TNReport Tuesday afternoon, Haslam said he’s proud of the budget plan, which spends about $400 million more than he originally pitched to lawmakers and the public back in January.
“The ultimate budget had a lot of the things that we added back in when the revenue numbers improved,” Haslam said. The state spending plan runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
“I am somebody who believes in smaller government. I also think though, there’s critical services that we provide,” he said. “While we want to be really tough on how we spend taxpayers dollars, we also want to make certain we’re taking care of people we’re supposed to.”
…The governor’s budget includes spending on projects and programs lawmakers at one point flagged as pork barrel spending, including a $500,000 for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., across the street from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Republican district Bristol in Tennessee.
“It’s kind of an easy target to say, oh that’s in Virginia. Why are we funding it when it’s yards from Tennessee?” he said. “It’s not like we funded something that’s in northwest Virginia.”
When asked if he was “comfortable” funding the museum, he said “I think I am… it’s a little different situation because of the way the city of Bristol is laid out.”