Monday, January 28, 2013

State of the State: the Democratic Response

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 7:03 PM

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Haslam Kicks Off Session with Shocker, Predicts GOP to Act Responsibly

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Nashville’s annual Invasion of the Hayseeds commenced this evening with the governor’s State of the State address to the Tennessee General Assembly—the one time in every session when our loony lawmakers try to act like adults. In keeping with this tradition, they listened attentively throughout the mind-numbing 43-minute speech, nodding knowingly and applauding occasionally as Gov. Bill Haslam outlined his proposals for the next state budget. The highlight? A scarcely noticeable—as in one-quarter of one percent—reduction in the sales tax on food.

More Haslam recommendations: giving tiny 1.5 percent across-the-board pay raises to state workers with the promise of bigger merit increases to come, squeezing another $20 million out of TennCare with new cuts in benefits, and raising the inheritance tax exemption to $2 million. That latter item will cost the state treasury about $20 million, roughly the same as the food tax cut. So it’s $20 million for a relatively few millionaire heirs and the same amount for everyone else in Tennessee. What could be fairer than that?

Against Democratic criticism, Haslam defended his administration's record of job creation, his stated No. 1 priority. He said 80,000 new jobs have started since 2011, and the state ranks first in the Southeast in manufacturing jobs created in the past year. "That's the good news," he said, "but it doesn't mean we can take our foot off the gas."

The governor also touted his previously announced plan to start the state’s first voucher program, paying for low-income children at the state’s worst public schools to go to private ones.

“If we can help our lowest income students in our lowest performing schools, why would we not do that?” Haslam asked.

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Marsha Blackburn Tells Morning Joe Haslam Won't Take Federal Funds to Expand Medicaid

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:37 PM

A new study found that if you turn on your television right now, there's an 86 percent chance Marsha Blackburn will be on it.

Congresswoman* Marsha Blackburn seems to have gotten out ahead of Gov. Bill Haslam when it comes to whether Tennessee will accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Just after the four-minute mark of her Monday morning appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, she was asked by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell whether Haslam would accept the federal money offered to states who decide to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — a question to which Blackburn gave a matter-of-fact "No."

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Audit Findings Critical of State's Film Incentives Program

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 1:31 PM

A report released today by the state comptroller's office calls out the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Revenue for "poor management and administrative oversight" of Tennessee's film incentives program.

The report contains the findings of a performance audit of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. Three findings are highlighted in particular:

1. The Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Revenue have disregarded their statutory responsibility and exercised poor management and administrative oversight of the state's headquarters film incentive program.

2. The Tennessee Spend, which is used to calculate the 17% and 15% incentive payments, is likely to be significantly overstated for reasons including poor internal controls, insufficient policy, and lack of management accountability among the departments involved with its determination.

3. The former Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music executive director, after signing statements of understanding for the Department of Economic and Community Development's Conflict of Interest Policy and Governor Bredesen's Executive Order #3, did not adequately disclose a personal connection to a law firm that appears to have been involved with at least three productions that received incentives.

The full report is available here. [PDF]

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Study: Lamar! Revealed as South's Most Heretical GOP Senator

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Our friends at Gannett report today on an independent voting analysis showing that Tennessee's own U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander sided with President Barack Obama on Senate bills in 2012 more than any other Republican Senator in the South.

At a political moment when GOP congressional leaders even rejected an invitation to screen Lincoln, with the president and the stars of the movie, Alexander's apostasy stands out. Gannett reports that Alexander voted with the president — that is, he voted for bills that Obama had publicly supported — 62 percent of the time in 2012, after doing so 63 percent of the time in 2011.

He even spoke at the president's inauguration last week. ("Quick, Bates! My fainting couch.")

By comparison, GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black sided with the president 11 and 13 percent of the time respectively. They each had "party unity" scores — voting the party line — of 99 percent. Alexander's party loyalty came in at 83 percent, compared to Sen. Bob Corker's 86 percent.

Does this really matter? It almost certainly does not. Every important Republican in the state, with the exception of Rep. Scott DesJarlais (but I repeat myself), has lined up to support Alexander's 2014 re-election campaign. And for Tennessee Democrats, Ashley Judd is not walking through that door.

Note (11:54 a.m.): I should also have pointed out a larger reason you can pass this study by. From deep within the Gannett article:

Because the Congressional Quarterly study focuses only on votes where the president has a clearly defined position, it covers a minority of Senate roll calls.

In 2012, for instance, the Senate took 251 roll call votes but Congressional Quarterly only found 79 where the president had a clearly stated position. And 40 of those were judicial nominations.

Alexander has a long-stated position that a president of either party should have his appointments barred only in extreme circumstances.

So, Alexander sided with the president on 62 percent of 79 votes, half of which were judicial nominations. This news is broken.

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Mayor Dean Ducks Gun Control Questions

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 10:22 AM

In the surest sign yet that Mayor Karl Dean holds statewide political ambitions, he went all weak in the knees when a reporter asked him to say what he thinks about gun control. Dean wouldn’t give an interview on the topic to the Knoxville News Sentinel. In a statement to the newspaper, he didn’t offer an opinion on requiring universal background checks or banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Boldly, Dean revealed "attitudes toward guns vary greatly," and he encouraged everyone on both sides to contact their representatives in Washington.

The mayors of Tennessee's three other large cities had no qualms about saying they’re for all three measures.

Either Dean is truly clueless about current affairs or he thinks he’s playing it smart politically, not wishing to offend anyone who might vote for him should he choose to run someday for governor or U.S. Senate. He might find many Democrats are less than eager to support a candidate who is so cautious, even when the only voters he might upset are survivalists and Second Amendment absolutists in the right wing of the Republican Party.

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Have the Tracks Been Laid or is the Final BRT Route Still Up for Discussion?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 8:12 AM

OK, actually Mayor Karl Dean's proposed bus rapid transit project will not include tracks, but rather buses occupying designated transit lanes. There is apparent disagreement though about whether the proposed route for the project — down West End Avenue to Broadway, and eventually over the river to East Nashville — is locked in.

From this week's issue of The City Paper:

But without a designated source of local funding, Holleman said, what could be a significant factor when it comes to determining which corridor would be best is missing. Until that is determined, who’s to know whether Charlotte should be used as the initial route, as part of a BRT expansion at a later date, or as part of the initial plan along with the West End corridor? Holleman insisted he just wants residents to have a chance to meet with the relevant officials to discuss what BRT on Charlotte, whatever the circumstances may be. It’s a discussion he said he believes can still be had.

“My understanding is that where we left it is, that there was going to be further discussion about funding, as well as logistics for the route, and that we were going to resume community meetings sometime this spring,” he said. “It was not my understanding that a final decision had been made.”

Of course, the route has been altered since the MTA board adopted its plan. Late last year, following discussions between business owners and transit officials, the downtown portion of the route was modified in order to avoid the ever-busy honky-tonk district on Lower Broadway. If that suggests the route in general is up for discussion, that’s not how officials involved with the project see it.

Ed Cole, executive director of the Transit Alliance, is one of the people Holleman has reached out to about organizing a public meeting on the matter. Cole told The City Paper that such a meeting should not revisit the earlier decision about the BRT route.

“In my judgment, and this is me — in that discussion, surely we could talk about why the decision to use West End and Broadway was made,” he said. “But the real goal I would hope of a meeting like that is to say, OK let’s see what we can do to put Charlotte on the priority sheet for a next phase of the project.”

McAteer concurred, saying that alternative routes such as Charlotte or Demonbreun Street were considered during the course of the study that led to the Alternatives Analysis.

“It’s not at a point where it could go down an entirely different road,” he said, when asked about the status of the route. “If you’re hearing that Charlotte could be an option, we’re past that. We got past that probably back in 2008 or something for the first BRT.”

The mayor's office would not comment on the record about the matter. Read the whole story here.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Roy Herron Elected TNDP Chairman

Posted By on Sat, Jan 26, 2013 at 6:34 PM

Former state Sen. Roy Herron is the new chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. The party's executive committee chose Herron over outgoing party treasurer Dave Garrison, by a vote of 39-27.

After his victory, Herron recalled the days when Democrats controlled the state, and said the legislature had gone "from common sense to nonsense" since then.

"We've gone from looking for a way that people could work together in a bipartisan way, and move Tennessee forward," he said, "to trying to drive Tennessee off into the right ditch so far that we're about to go underground."

Herron, who has drawn criticism from some in the party for being too conservative, attempted to highlight common ground, telling the committee that "those things that unite us as Democrats are far more important than those things that divide us." Among the uniting elements he cited support for public schools, expanding Medicaid, and a woman's right to an abortion when her life is in danger. (The latter being a particularly contentious issue between Herron and some in the party, since Herron describes himself as pro-life.)

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Friday, January 25, 2013

A Preview of the TNDP Chair Election [Updated]

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 4:00 PM

There can only be one
  • Two will enter, only one will emerge

Update (Saturday, 11:00 a.m.): In an email to executive committee members early this morning, Dave Garrison announced that he has secured the support of the House Democratic caucus, and that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner will vote for Garrison for chairman.

Late Friday afternoon, word was making its way to Pith, from multiple sources, that some among the House Democrats were attempting to shift caucus support to Garrison, and thus change Turner's vote. In a caucus vote earlier this month, House Democrats voted 14-12 in favor of directing Turner — their representative on the executive committee — to vote for Roy Herron. Now that Turner will support Garrison, we'll see if other committee members follow suit. Today's executive committee meeting starts at 1:30.


The Tennessee Democratic Party's executive committee will elect a new chairman tomorrow, thereby appointing a new captain to stand at the helm of this grounded ship.

The list of potential successors to the outgoing Chip Forrester has narrowed to two: current party treasurer Dave Garrison, and former state Sen. Roy Herron.

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Okay, Stacey Campfield — Starving Children? Really?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Y'all, this is getting sad. I mean, I do appreciate that Sen. Stacey Campfield has devoted himself to being Tennessee's go-to evil villain, but he's so terrible at it. You'd hope we'd get an evil villain like Lex Luthor, and we have the legislative equivalent of Gargamel.

In his first Smurftastic — or maybe that would be anti-Smurftastic — piece of legislation for the session, Campfield is sponsoring a bill (SB0132) that "requires the reduction of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments for parents or caretakers of TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school."

Yes, if your kid(s) fail to do well in school, Stacey Campfield wants to starve them. I'll give him points for being evil, but this is hilarious. I mean, what if you have one child who excels at school and one child who doesn't? Campfield is cool with starving the child who is doing well in order to punish the child who isn't? And if a kid is struggling in school, what study has ever shown that a way to get him or her to improve is to reduce the amount of food they get and increase the amount of stress on them? None! No one thinks hungrier, more stressed-out children do better at school. And what if their school just sucks? They get punished because they have a bad school?

But here's the worst part — Lex Luthor has Superman as a nemesis. Say what you want about how terrible Luthor is, his arch-enemy is Superman! Every day, Luthor can go to bed assured that he has matched himself against a worthy and difficult opponent. When Luthor does, rarely, succeed against Superman, it must be so sweet.

Campfield's nemeses are children. Literal, actual children. It's no challenge for a 40-year-old man to defeat a kid. There's no glory in it. You know what people think of a guy who has to win against kids? That he's pathetic. It's worse than plotting against Smurfs. I mean, they're small but at least they're adults. It's like Campfield looked around and said, "Hmm, I don't want to piss off any lobbyists. Who can't afford a lobbyist? Oh, right — poor kids. Great. I'll try to find ways to make their lives worse."

When your opponents are small and defenseless, it doesn't make you look like a big man when you set out to defeat them. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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